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One Writer’s Staycation & How You Can Recharge At Home

20 Jun

I recently took a week-long staycation, which consisted of me laying around my house doing absolutely nothing productive. I won’t lie, it was bliss. 

Usually, I like to talk about writing and publishing here on the blog, but I realized one vital truth while I was out: Breaks are a part of writing. If you don’t take breaks—if you don’t live—you’ll eventually suffer from burnout. To be honest, I’ve been suffering from burnout. (I should take my own advice from 2016: How to Avoid Writer Burnout.) This was my first week-long vacation in three years. Maybe more. I honestly can’t remember. Between moving and changing jobs three times, I found it incredibly difficult to justify a break. Now I realize I didn’t need justification. Working hard means getting breaks. (Granted, it’s easy to say this in retrospect. In reality, I honestly couldn’t afford to take much of a break until now, but that’s another discussion for a different day.) 

In the end, breaks are important. They can also be inspirational! In fact, I was inspired to be a little nicer to myself by writing this blog post instead of the more detailed one I had planned. (Considering how long I was gone, I’m a bit swamped with catching up with work and revisions at the moment.)  

For fun, I thought I’d share my staycation ideas with you, especially since these ideas are social distance friendly, on the cheaper end, and might just help you have a day to unwind. 

First and foremost, I promised myself two things when I went on my staycation:

  • No “serious” writing: What do I mean by serious? I mean anything that you plan on pursuing seriously. For me, that meant NOT working on my revisions. It’s not much of a vacation if I replace it with my other career, right? I actually made this mistake once during my last trip. I flew the whole way to Charleston just to pull out my laptop and work on a R&R for an agent that ended up quitting before I finished the rewrite. Biggest vacation regret ever. 
  • Staying offline as much as possible: As a writer and program manager who manages social media, I spend an ungodly amount of time staring at screens, let alone being online. I promised myself I’d log off as much as I could. And I did! TBH, it was my favorite part. I think this is a good idea for many of us. The internet is an awesome place, but it can also be very distracting. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged on for “just five minutes” only to realize a half-hour has passed. For this reason, I recently took Facebook and Twitter off my phone, and it’s been a godsend. 

So, what did I do during my staycation? 

  • Baking Day: I love baking. It keeps me off my phone and computer, and I get to have a delicious treat after. Recently, I haven’t been baking as often, but this past week, I baked my first Japanese roll cake. (Strawberries and cream!) I definitely recommend choosing something you’ve always wanted to try but have never felt energized enough to pursue. It was so satisfying! 
  • Spa Day: I had a spa day with cucumber/lemon water, face masks, Epsom salt, etc. 
  • TBR catch-up: Here’s the thing, I have A LOT of books I want to catch up on. But reading many of those novels felt a lot like industry research to me, even if they are books I personally want to read. So I set out to catch up on my Webtoons. If you haven’t given Webtoons a chance, I highly recommend them. I caught up on Siren’s Lament, SubZero, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Midnight Poppy Land. The artwork is beautiful, and so are the stories. 
  • Fondue Night: Who needs a fancy restaurant when you can recreate one at home? I made fondue and chocolate dip, picked up all my favorites, and had a blast. 
  • High Tea: Before everything shutdown, I went to high tea at a local historic house that happens to also post their recipes online. Check it out. You can have high tea at home! 
  • Movie Night: I’ve fallen behind on many of the films I’ve wanted to see the last few years, so I set aside some time to watch Get Out and Knives Out, and they were both amazing! 

Basically, there’s lot of fun activities you can do at home, and you don’t even need to take significant time off to do so or spend lots of money. Most of these could be done on the weekend. I’m definitely going to partake again! And hopefully, I’ll have less burnout this year, more laughter and fun, and my work-writing-life balance will be—well—more balanced. 

How do you recharge?

~SAT

P.S. When I made it back to work this month, I was awarded Mid-Continent Public Library’s Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award, which is given to a library employee who dedicates extra time and energy to their community. I was totally blown away. Working at The Story Center over this past year has been a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes our community. Keep sharing your stories, everyone! The world needs them.

Black Authors I Love + Resources

6 Jun

Today I wanted to share Black authors I love and some that I’m looking forward to reading this year! Why? It’s important that we all take the time right now to read and listen to Black stories, reflect, and help in any way that we can. Sign petitions. Educate yourself. Spread the word. I also wanted to share some resources, so that you can help support Black voices.

Books I Absolutely Loved:

Honestly, there are so many books I love, I could go on forever, so I’m talking about my top three, and placing more in the photo below. I hope you check them all out!

  1. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton: Dhonielle Clayton is one of my favorite authors. I first started following her after I read Tiny Pretty Things, which was a duology co-written with Sona Charaipotra. Everything she writes is amazing. So much drama! So much luscious description. So much fun!
  2. Pride by Ibi Zoboi: I recently reread this novel, and I loved it as much as I did the first time. The characters are really realistic, and I loved watching them grow. I really enjoyed the cultural aspects of this novel, too. Family is so important in this book, and it was really refreshing and lovely. This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling.
  3. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: The emotions in this book leap off the page. I read it in one sitting, and I’m always recommending it at the library. It’s worth reading over and over again.

More Books To Check Out:

What books by Black voices have you read that you loved? What books are on your TBR? I’m always looking to expand my list! Also, every Monday, Sandra Proudman and I run #Giveaways4Writers on Twitter, where we give away query critiques, pitch feedback, and more. On Monday 6/8, we’ll be giving away query critiques to two writers who give a shoutout to their favorite book by a Black author. Announcement goes live at 8 AM (PST) on Sandra’s page, so give her a follow.

How Can You Help?

Here is a link to a National Resource List curated by Dr. Joan Morgan. It includes nationwide charities, free legal help, mutual aid funds, protest tips, and more. I love this document because it breaks everything down by topic, as well as highlights how those who don’t have the ability to donate or protest can help. It’s a fantastic resource, and I encourage everyone to check it out.

More Resources:

Open Yale courses: African American History: From Emancipation to Present

13 Podcasts to Listen to This Black History Month (And Every Month): I’m a huge fan of podcasts. Code Switch is a great one, too.

How to Financially Help BLM with NO Money/Leaving Your House: This is a YouTube video that you can play to help collect funds for the movement. Do not skip the ads.

If you have more resources, please drop them in the comments below!

~SAT

P.S. I was SCBWI KS/MO’s featured author of the month for June! Check out my interview here for writing tips, publishing insight, and a shout-out to my hero, A.K.A. my dad. 

How Virtual Write-Ins Help Me During COVID-19 Lockdown

2 May

It goes without saying that life is strange right now—and stressful. As someone who has moved every few years my entire life, I adapt to change pretty quickly, and yet these amount of sudden changes (and the constant drone of breaking news) has created an environment requiring constant reevaluation. 

I’m exhausted, y’all. And I’m sure many of you are, too. 

For me, Kansas City went on a stay a home order back in March. That’s when I began working from home, readjusting my schedule, and trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to continue with “normal” life, even though “normal” had been redefined. 

During the first week, I did okay. Dare I say, too okay. 

I got up at the same time, wrote during my “lunch break” like I would normally do at work, and went about life as if it were normal. But life isn’t normal. Working from home is different than working in an office, not that I haven’t experienced that before. I used to be a full-time freelance editor who worked from home. But that was when I was an independent contractor. This situation isn’t that. The main difference? Everyone else in my life is adjusting, too. We aren’t alone, but at the same time, we are having to help each other and cope with one another’s stress levels, which were all heightened simultaneously. 

Before I knew it, goals I was on top of at the start of this year slid off the radar. Between work and home life and the stress of the world, I had to put my writing on the backburner. This included not only working on my own projects but also “attending” my usual writing groups, even though we converted to the virtual world. I normally have time and energy to devote to others’ work, but I simply didn’t have much leftover energy at all, and it felt wrong to attend if I couldn’t offer the basics. That being said, I didn’t want to disconnect completely. Doing that can cause even more depression and anxiety. So, I reevaluated. 

If I didn’t have the time and energy to devote to my writers’ groups, what could I handle? What did I want? More importantly, what did I need?

I definitely wanted more time to write, especially after finding myself unable to write as much during my lunch breaks (or even on my weekends, due to a lack of energy). I also wanted to stay connected to my writing friends. Luckily for me, a few writer friends reached out to me, asking if I wanted to come to their virtual write-ins. No critiques, no editing, no expectations; just a bunch of writers writing about anything. If you can make it, great. If not, we’ll see you next time.

This is what I had been looking for. 

This is my setup! My desk is really short, so I stack my computer on top of three books to get eye-level during video conferences, then put it back down when I’m writing. ^_^

At a virtual-write in, it’s just you and a bunch of other writers sitting down at their computers to write. We’re not reading what the other is writing; we don’t even necessarily talk about what the other is doing. We just show up and write. It’s such a simple concept, and yet it feels so huge and wonderful right now. It helps me feel connected and focused, and knowing that I have one coming up helps me look forward to something on my calendar. It reminds me that even if I don’t get anything done on my lunch break, I have an hour set aside here and there to get something done, and I’ll have fun while doing it. 

This past month was my WORST writing month this year by far, but I think we can all be kinder to ourselves right now. One of the ways I’ve learned to be kinder to myself is by communicating my limitations to my friends and creating new spaces to explore my current energy levels, and I highly encourage you all to try the same thing. It may not be a write-in. It might be a brainstorming session or a critique group or a million other things. But write-ins have helped me tremendously.  

How to create a write-in:

  1. Send out a call – let others know that you’re trying to organize a virtual write-in via email or social media. If you have a time/date picked out, let everyone know. (Don’t forget the timezone!) 
  2. Use Zoom – send out the log-in information the day before via email (or try another platform, dependent on what everyone has access to). I recommend Zoom because it’s free for forty minutes, and that might be a good time limit to try something new. I’ve attended ones that are thirty minutes and ones that are two-ish hours. For me, 1-1 ½ hours works best, with a little extra time to chat. 
  3. Now write! – It can be easy to get lost in conversation (and some of that is a good thing)! But if you’re there to get words on paper and you find yourself getting distracted by convo, set timers to chat and timers to write. Having a host who is in charge of these aspects helps, too. 

I hope this stirs up new and fun ideas for your writing life! 

It sure has helped me. Whether or not they continue when the world opens back up, I don’t know—I hope so!—but I’ll never forget those that reached out and made me feel more connected in a lockdown than I could’ve ever imagined. 

What are ways you’ve tackled your writing during this time? 

~SAT

Shannon’s Top 5 Scrivener Tips

18 Apr

It’s no secret that I love Scrivener and have since I first bought it back in 2016. In fact, here’s my first ever post about it: Writers, Should You Get Scrivener? Granted, I’ve learned a lot about Scrivener since 2016, and the software has upgraded, which is why I thought an updated post talking about my favorite features might give some insight into those who are curious and/or help out those who have it but feel lost.   

Before I begin, I want to clarify that this isn’t a paid promo. Scrivener has NO CLUE I am writing this. I am just a regular author, who bought and explored the software all on my own, and I’ve used it ever since. These are my favorite features and ones I actually use every day. 

1. Keeping Track of Writing Stats (Including Overused Words)

The other day online, a fellow writer asked me how I kept track of my stats. (For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I often chat about how many words I write a day, or month, and what that means to me and why.) I’ve always been a numbers person. Spreadsheets are where I LIVE. I tend to use them in retrospect, meaning I like to look back at what I accomplished every month, and seeing all that work helps me stay motivated the next month. (I’m the type to feel like I didn’t do anything if I don’t have something tangible in front of me, and since writing tends to be on a virtual space, my spreadsheets become that tangible thing.) Scrivener actually tracks stats for you. Select Project from the top menu, then Writing History, and it will break down your averages for you, day-by-day, and monthly. In March, I wrote on average 1,193 words a day, but if you look at the breakdown, I have days I never wrote as well as negative days (days where I deleted more than I added). It’s really interesting because you might also notice patterns. Ex. I wrote 3,365 in one day. If you check March 22, you might notice that’s a Sunday. Of course I was more productive. I wasn’t at work. 😛 If you really want to go deep, explore Project->Statistics->Selected Documents->Word Frequency, and it’ll show you your most frequently used words. Might help you find those pesky repeats that you can change or cut.

2. Color Coding revisions

I didn’t want to start with this one, because I’ve been talking about it on the blog a lot. Like, a lot a lot. In fact, I just wrote a blog post—How I Revise My Novels—about this very topic. I use the Revision Mode in Scrivener all the time, even while I’m initially creating, but I mostly use it when I’m revising. To get there, you’re going to want to click, Format->Revision Mode->Select Color. Be warned: Once you’re in that mode, you will have to turn it off to get back to another color. I love this because it helps me keep my revisions straight. But another tool that does that is the snapshot features. 

I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

3. Snapshots of previous versions 

The Snapshot feature allows you to save various versions of your book. I have screenshot me snapshotting. (I hope that makes sense.) You can find that screenshot below. Basically, after every time I finish writing a chapter (or revising it), I take a snapshot. (Which is the little camera icon on the far right.) I name the file something that makes it clear to me what version it is and hold onto them. This is super helpful while revising, mostly because you can go back if you realize Version 2 was better than Version 3. You can also click the “Compare” button and it will show you the differences. The photo below is showing you my very first draft compared to my most recent draft. As you can see, there were a lot of changes. In fact, you can see from this photo that I’ve been writing this scene since February 2018, I’ve rewritten it four times, and had it beta read. Another huge feature that I use in this part of Scrivener is the Comments button to add comments from betas, but that’s another feature entirely!  

4. Linguistic Focus

Under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Linguistic Focus, you’ll find an array of options: Nouns, adverbs, dialogue, etc. This is one of my favorite tools (and one I think is often overlooked), because it allows you to look at any given file in one way. Looking to cut out those pesky adverbs? Highlight them. Wanting to see how realistic your dialogue feels without the action tags? Make it stand out. In my screenshot on the right, I highlighted my dialogue only. It helps me see the spacing, but also lets me focus on the flow of my characters’ speech. I mostly use this for dialogue, but I’ve definitely used it for other things, too. What’s really neat is how it counts it, too. For instance, I had 93 quotes in this chapter, 944 verbs, 210 adjectives. Granted, it isn’t always perfect, but it definitely speeds up the process of cutting out certain phrases. 

5. Character Name Generator 

Okay, so I admit, I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, I think it’s an awesome tool that is often overlooked, and it’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. If you’re curious how I actually name my characters, read my blog post Naming Your Characters. Mostly, I use Babynames.com, yearbooks, and Pinterest boards. The reason I included it in my top five despite not using it is to highlight how neat all the options and tools are, even if I don’t personally use them during my writing journey.

These are just my top five tips, but honestly, I could go on forever. Scrivener has a countless number of tools, like the progress bar and target goals. It can honestly be overwhelming (but in a good way). I admit I don’t use all the tools it offers, but isn’t that the beauty? You can use what you need and want to pursue your art. But first, you have to understand what they offer and why, which is why I want to leave you with one last tip—my #1 tip. 

My #1 tip? Take the time to go through the tutorials when you download it. Without them, I would’ve been lost and confused, either giving up completely or struggling along with very few of the tools Scrivener has to offer. 

Are there tools you love?  

Let me know if I missed your favorites! Maybe there’s a feature I would love but have yet to hear about or use. 

~SAT 

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted to attend any of my events but couldn’t due to distance, now is your time to shine! I’ll be teaching a publishing course virtually on Monday, April 20: Online Publishing Events and Opportunities at 6:30 PM (Central). It’ll be on Zoom, and you can find more details on The Story Center’s Facebook by clicking here. See you then!

YASH Spring 2020

31 Mar

Welcome to the YA Scavenger Hunt!

Hello! I’m Shannon A. Thompson—YA SFF author, librarian, and neighborhood cat lady.

About Me!

  • During the day, I am the Program Manager of The Story Center for the Mid-Continent Public Library, the largest library system in Kansas City, but at night, I write stories about monsters and mayhem. I’m currently revising a monster book that takes place in space. I’m represented by Katelyn Uplinger at D4EO Literary Agency.
  • From 3/20-4/20, all Clean Teen Publishing books have a 60% discount as part of the Authors Give Back sale on Smashwords. Did I mention book 1 & 2 in both of my series are now free? Stay inside and read
  • I’m addicted to coffee, KDramas, and Sailor Moon. I most recently finished My Holo Love, and I’m dying for more recs. 
  • I have two cats that I call my little gremlins: Boo Boo & Bogart. Follow me on Instagram to see photos. 
  • I’m on Wattpad, where you can read the Tomo trilogy, a YA dystopian set in the near future, where an illegal drug causes the user to see the future. 
  • If you have any questions for me, ask away on my FAQ page! I’m always here to answer.
  • I’m on TEAM PURPLE this year.

Searching for my exclusive bonus content? You’ll have to keep searching.

Somewhere on this blog hop, you can take a look at mood board for July Thunder/July Lightning. You can also enter to win a copy of any of my books below. Please note this year due to the COVID-19, this season we are offering E-Book or Audiobook downloads only as grand prizes. I’m offering a $10 e-giftcard to any bookstore below. Before you go looking for it, check out the amazing author I’m hosting.

But maybe you need the rules first.

Scavenger Hunt Prize Rules

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the PURPLE TEAM, and then add them up. (Don’t worry, you can use a calculator!)

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 5 at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Now that we all know the rules, please welcome…

I am super excited to be hosting…

LM Preston!

About the Author

L.M. Preston, a native of Washington, DC. An avid reader, she loved to create poetry and short-stories as a young girl. She is an author, an engineer, a professor, a mother and a wife. Her passion for writing and helping others to see their potential through her stories and encouragement has been her life’s greatest adventures.She loves to write while on the porch watching her kids play or when she is traveling, which is another passion that encouraged her writing.
 

About CAGED FIRE

EmVee refused to believe in monsters, until she became one. They say you can’t run away from your problems. EmVee knew from experience it was true. She and her father tried to run, until the truth came and got them. Now with nothing to lose, she must confront the monster that changed her life forever. Unfortunately, she has to work with his best friend, Kayson who she is almost sure, isn’t quite as nice as he seems. Kayson revealed not just why her father disappeared, but a new world of magicals that wanted the debt he left behind to be paid.

Exclusive content: 

Bonus Materials for Scepter of Fire: Coming May 2! Watch the trailer.

“Do you want to escape here? I can help you.” Dex wanted out of this place.
 Nash smiled, “Yes, but now is not the time. We have to wait for her to hatch. I need her for a successful escape. It’s why I implanted a song in the guard’s mind to put her with me.”
 “You manipulated my friend Trey?” Dex wiped a hand down his face. This guy Nash was dangerous. Dex could feel it, only now, Dex felt it was time to stop trying to be the nice guy. He would survive. Finding a way to say his family would start with getting out of here, even if making a deal with this little devil would do it.
 Nash lifted an eyebrow, “I hummed him a tune.”
 “Whatever. You want my help getting out of here? I’m offering as long as we go our separate ways.”
 “I will take your willing help.” Nash cocked his head to the side, “Although, if I wanted it, I could make you give it, you know.”
 Dex crossed his arms over his chest, “Isn’t a free give better?”
 “Oh it is. What will you give me for helping you get free?”
 Dex frowned, “Give you? I got nothing.”
 “Everyone has…something.”
 “What are you? I like to know what kind of creature I’m bargaining with.” Dex didn’t want to give this imp anything.
 “I am many things, yet in part, not a human like you.” 
Dex caught a hint of regret in his tone. Dex could swear Nash had a hungry gleam in his eye. Trey had warned him that Nash was pied piper and Rumpelstiltskin. Dex knew the pied piper had something to do with music. He had no idea what a Rumpelstiltskin was, and he had a feeling he shouldn’t mention it to Nash.
 “You need to tell me specifically what you want before I can agree to anything.”
 One side of Nash’s lip kicked up. “Her. The pixie-human. Give me her.”
 Dex frowned, then scratched his head. Why would Nash ask him to give up the pixie-human? The girl wasn’t his to give, he didn’t even know what it looked like.
 “Not mine to give.”
 Nash shrugged, “Then I won’t help either of you.”

Thank you for coming on, LM!

Fun fact: I hosted LM Preston in YASH Spring 2018 too. It’s so much fun to reconnect and see what’s new. With everything that’s going on, reaching out and reconnecting is so important! I have a goal of reaching out to 23 friends this week. (Okay, okay, so maybe two.) I suggest taking that information and entering the YASH contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me and many more. Just check out all these awesome titles on the PURPLE TEAM.

To enter, you need to write down my fav number, and find all the other numbers on the PURPLE TEAM, add them up, and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

Exclusive Giveaway!

Thank you so much for stopping by! While you’re here, don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter bonus contest I am hosting exclusively during the YA Scavenger Hunt. One lucky reader will win a copy of ANY of my books or a $10 e-giftcard to any bookstore. Please note, due to COVID-19, I am offering downloadable eBooks and audiobooks this season. Good luck!

Enter this Rafflecopter for your chance to win.

Ready to move on to the next link in the hunt? Then head on over to visit author PINTIP DUN’s page.

LINK TO NEXT BLOG

Writing Science Fiction with Science Resources

7 Mar

Science fiction, by definition, has science weaved within the story, but as a science fiction writer, I often get asked where my inspiration comes from. Where do I learn about science? Do I have a science background? How does one get started when pursuing science fiction? All great questions!

There are many ways to find inspiration when tackling science fiction. First and foremost, you’re going to want to figure out whether you’re writing hard sci-fi or soft sci-fi. As the name suggests, hard science fiction typically requires more rigorous research; the science has to make sense and have strict, believable rules, whereas soft science fiction is a bit more lenient. After that, you’re going to want to study sub-genres, such as space opera—like Star Wars (though you could make the argument Star Wars is fantasy, not science fiction)—or cli-fi (climate-centered science fiction, such as The Day After Tomorrow).

Decisions aside, science will come into play, so where do you start?

Many get science fiction inspiration from, well, reading and watching science fiction. And that’s totally valid. But aside from reading the latest science fiction books, or watching that hit near-future TV show, there are more resources out there—and you’re going to want to expand your knowledge if you want your story to stand out from what’s already out there.

Magazines & Newsletters

I’m lucky enough to work in a library, but I’m especially lucky that my library provides free magazines. Subscriptions can get expensive; even the online versions can cost money. But I can pile up a collection of science journals and magazines on my desk every month for free. (Here is my plug, asking you—yes, you—to go get a library card.) I love flipping through magazines like Wired, Scientific American, and Discover, not to mention magazines covering topics I’m not so great at, i.e. fashion. (I mean, clothes have to exist in the future too, right? But I digress.)

If you don’t have access to magazines, there’s always the online sphere. One of my favorites is Futurism. Articles cover quick, trending topics, as well as some obscure, bizarre news. You will absolutely feel inspired by all the weird, possible, amazing tech out in the world. And who knows? Maybe you’ll dream up your own.  

Podcasts & Audiobooks

There are some awesome science podcasts out there, and most of them are free. Some also have Patreons where they offer additional content. My favorite is Flash Forward, a podcast that explores future tech as if it already existed. They start with a “play” in the time of the tech, and then talk to experts about all the nitty gritty details that go into it. An episode I recently enjoyed was CRIME: Moon Court. There’s also the Ologies podcast, a comedic science podcast that explores all the different “-ologists” of the world. Did you know there are experts in procrastination for instance? Listen to this episode of Volitional Psychology, and maybe you’ll find ways to stop procrastinating on your scientific research. 😉  

Similar to podcasts, there are always nonfiction audiobooks. Last year, I enjoyed Astrophysics for People on the Go by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte. Two starkly different topics. And yet, I learned so much—all while doing the laundry and dishes.

Channel your inner three-year-old: Ask why, why, why, why

Let’s pretend for a minute that audiobooks, magazines, and podcasts don’t exist. Do you know what you still have? The world! Science is happening all around you every day. I mean, how does your coffee pot heat up? How do those lights at work know when to turn on when you enter the building? Why do those clouds look purple and bumpy today?

Ask yourself why and how about anything and everything—and then, look it up. Read everything you can on it. Or dream up your own world’s explanation.

Science is often found in the little everyday things all around you.

Discover truths. Discover possibilities. Discover the future.

Discover science.

~SAT

P.S. Sandra Proudman and I started a new weekly hashtag on Twitter called #LiftABookUp. We announce themes on Tuesday and spend Wednesdays lifting up books we love. I hope you’ll join us to chat about science fiction books on March 11! Find Sandra Proudman @SandraProudman and I’m @AuthorSAT

You might also notice that I have a new headshot. I recently chopped off seven inches of hair. (YES, SEVEN INCHES.) So, I figured it was time. I managed to get my favorites in the pic: coffee, cats, and world domination (for cats).

If you’re new around here, I post a new article on the first Saturday of every month. Let me know what you want to hear about next in the comments below, then check back in on April 4. If I choose your idea, you get credit!

Tracking Character Motivations with a Free Spreadsheet

1 Feb

It’s no secret that I’m currently revising a manuscript. I’ve been talking about revising a lot lately and giving glimpses into what my revision process looks like. I’m currently on my third draft of a multi-POV sci-fi novel, and I am still smoothing out my character motivations. (What can I say? It can be tricky! Especially when you change something in chapter 3 and it causes a domino effect for the next thirty chapters.) In fact, character motivations can get trickier the more you revise. Why? Because you have to remember the exact decision each character made and why in this particular version. Obviously, you might see where lines start to blur. No one expects you to remember every little detail of every manuscript you’ve ever written, but readers do expect consistent, believable characters. And it’s your job as the writer to deliver.

One way I track the motivations of my characters is an Excel spreadsheet. 

If you follow me elsewhere, you might have seen me upload the photo of my Excel spreadsheet, which actually led me to today’s topic. I received a lot of messages asking for more information and tips on motivations, so I thought I would dive deep into this topic today. 

Motivations are important. So. Incredibly. Important. Without motivation, characters will come across as bland and unbelievable, which, quite frankly, makes them hard to follow or care about. There’s a lot to consider when choosing any particular character’s motivation. (Did I mention that ALL of your characters need a driving force? It isn’t just your protagonist, though your protagonist’s will probably matter the most since they are, well, you know, the protagonist.) Mostly, I find there’s a misconception that the bigger the motivation, the more important the story will feel to the reader. But it’s really the opposite. The more personal the motivation, the better. Why? Because the reader is more likely to empathize with personal stakes rather than worldly stakes. Which one do you care about more: A main character who must save the world or a main character who must save their little sister while the world is ending?

Typically, readers are drawn to characters who have personal stakes driving their motivation, even if the overall arc is huge (like saving the world). A great example is Katniss Everdeen. While she is the heroine at the center of a dystopian novel – and saving her country could’ve been the driving force – her true motivation was keeping her little sister safe. Without having a sister to save, Katniss wouldn’t have volunteered. (We know this as fact, because she had been in many lotteries before, and hadn’t volunteered before her sister was chosen.) Without a sister, Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss. Which is why what happens to her sister is so devastating. This sister-led motivation also creates a solid foundation for the reader to see why saving the “world” matters so much. (Why save a world if you don’t care about anyone in it?) Personal motivation will resonant more; therefore, allowing worldly stakes to have a solid platform. So let’s talk about those stakes. 

Your characters’ motivations should be challenged at all times. This is mostly referred to as “raising the stakes”. 

Ex. What does Katniss have to sacrifice in order to save her sister? What does saving her sister do to others around her? How does that affect Katniss’s future decisions? When does it change her decisions and motivation?

In addition to paying attention to your characters’ motivations (and upping those stakes), it’s important that your characters (especially your protagonist), change. At the end of the book, your characters should not be the same people we met on the first page. If they are the exact same person with the same feelings and motivations, then what actually happened in 300 pages? 

By creating a spreadsheet, you are forcing yourself to answer hard questions: “Did my character change in this scene? Did those changes push them forward or hold them back? Did it affect the story at all?” Spoiler alert: you should be answering YES to each of these questions, from chapter one allllll the way to the end.  

Typically, when I start writing a novel, I know where I’m going to begin and end. It rarely changes for me. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever started a book when I didn’t know the ending (or have a really close idea to what my ending would be). Why? Because the beginning tells me who the character started as, whereas the ending tells me where the character ends. The middle is going to be my character arc (herein referred to as the “rainbow”). If I don’t know where that rainbow is going, I will struggle to form all those colors that makes the story colorful, let alone form an ending that’s a believable treasure chest of gold. 

The spreadsheet helps me most out in the middle. I’ve found the middle is a place where a lot of writers struggle. In fact, the place I always get stuck at is about 65%. And when I get stuck, I love to work backward. This is where my motivational spreadsheet becomes super helpful. I can see where I want my characters end and compare it to where I got stuck. Then, I can ask myself, “What has to happen to these characters to get them here?” Once I start brainstorming, I can fill those motivations in. 

A spreadsheet is additionally helpful if you have multiple POVs or characters (ex. if you are struggling to track minor characters or the villain’s motivations), especially if Character A and B know something that Character C has yet to learn. In the end, I track the following: Chapter number/title, Chapter Summary, Character A, Character B, etc. (Typically listed in the order of importance.) I put the POV note in the chapter number. I also sum up what Character C is thinking/doing even if they don’t physically appear in a particular scene. That way, I am forcing each character to have their own presence, even in the “white noise” of their nonexistence in a scene. 

I highly encourage you to try this out if you are struggling with motivation, pushing stakes, and/or filling in that ugly middle. I gravitated toward this method because I’m an INTJ. I thrive with tasks dependent on logic. (Which is also why writing can be so hard sometimes.) Characters, as we all know, aren’t always logical, and yet they need to make logical sense to the reader. This single truth can feel like a huge contradiction to fledgling writers, when it isn’t. Not really. In reality, readers need to understand your character, even in your character’s most illogical moments. They need to believe that your characters illogical moments made sense to your character. Ex. Let’s say Character A loves Character B, and Character B has been kidnapped. Character A has a chance to save them, but only a 2% chance. And if they took that 2% chance, there’s a 98% chance they’ll both die. And yet, there’s no other chances coming their way. Logically, Character A should probably save themselves and hope for another chance. But we’re reading about heros! Character A is going to take that 2% chance, with all odds against them. Your reader should get that. They should feel how emotions have driven their decision-making. 

That’s what a spreadsheet is for. It’s forcing you, the writer, to give us those reasons, and making sure you’ve made those reasons clear in your story. 

Download your free Excel spreadsheet here. 

How do you track your character motivations? 

Also, what else do you want help with? I love to hear from you! In fact, it helps me help you more when I hear from you. I heard a lot from a lot of you all in my latest newsletter. (Whaaaaat? Shannon, you have a newsletter? I do! It releases once a quarter, and I always include more writing tips, sneak peeks at my work, and an exclusive surprise giveaway. Subscribe here.

My blog posts happen the first Saturday of every month, so check back in on Saturday, March 7. 

~SAT

2020 Author Goals

4 Jan

2019 is over, and honestly it feels like a blur. 

I know this post is going to seem like a hard brag. I promise that isn’t my intention. I accomplished a lot this year, but I can’t say that I allowed much happiness into my life, especially toward the end of 2019. The beginning felt like a lot of highs: New job! An agent! Another birthday! The end felt like a lot of lows: My cat’s health problems. My health problems. Student loan problems. My depression. 

I’m still in a depression fog at the moment. I won’t lie. I had a really difficult time even stringing together this blog post. At the same time, though, that’s why I forced myself to write it. 

We need to take a moment to acknowledge all of our hard work. 

Today, I ask you to join me. 

Grab a pen and paper. Think of everything you did in 2019, and write it down. Leave nothing out. Include all the things, even the little things others might consider insignificant. With every bullet point you add, really think about all the help you received, the support, the encouragement, the opportunities, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion. Have you thanked these people? Have you thanked yourself for trying? Have you allowed yourself the space to celebrate and be happy? 

In 2019:

  • I was promoted at the library to Story Center Program Manager. Now I’m surrounded by storytellers all day, and I absolutely love it! 
  • I guest spoke at numerous teen writing groups at various libraries, my local chapter of SCBWI, and at Writers United for Johnson County Library
  • I also had my first school visit, ever
  • I was chosen for a mentorship through Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 
  • I got a literary agent! 
  • I also went out on sub with my agent. 

Capture

Photos show my writing retreat, finishing a WIP, releasing a book on Wattpad, my first school visit, and my new job, which included hosting a publishing panel at Johnson County Library and meeting Janet Evanovich!

But that’s not all! I released Took Me Yesterday (book 2 of the Tomo Trilogy) on Wattpad after readers kept asking for it for five years. I attended two conferences, went on a writing retreat, hosted #BeMyLi, was included in YASH twice, and attended my local critique group every month. (Not to mention exchanged pages with online beta reader friends all year long.) And I tracked my progress. 

I began 2019 with 26,996 words in a YA science fiction novel. I was also, 55,623 words into a revision of my historical fantasy. 

I end 2019 not only with a completed version of my YA science fiction novel, but a majorly revised and polished version, too. I’m on sub with a different science fiction novel, and I finished revising my historical fantasy as well. I even started a new project! And I’m brainstorming even more. 

In 2020, I already know that I’m teaching my first writing course. Only in a few days, too. (If you’re in Kansas City, join me for Getting Started on a Writing Project.) I’ll be teaching my first publishing course in April during Publishing Week at the Library. I also have plans to attend the Kansas City Writing Workshop and the LitUP Festival. And I’m sure there’s more to come: more firsts, more rejections, more congratulations, more plot twists, more tears, more laughter. 

I know this because I’ve written articles just like this one for the past four years:

And every year, I read each one in rescinding order. 

This year I didn’t know if I wanted to write this article. I didn’t think I could. But after reading my past posts, I remembered why these have become so important to me. I can look back. I can remember. I can put it all in perspective. 

Right now, my 2020 perspective is hopeful. Grateful. Humble. 

I promise to try my best to be my best self: as a librarian, an author, a cat lady, a friend. 

I promise to continue.

What do you promise? 

~SAT

My Favorite Books of 2019

7 Dec

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 98 books this year, and it was the year of the audiobook! My new job requires a lot of driving around to various library locations. I’m often spending 2 hours on the road, an hour there, an hour back. I’ve really embraced my time in the car by listening to audiobooks, mostly nonfiction (because I have the hardest time listening to fiction? Is that just me? I love reading fiction, but it doesn’t seem to stick when I listen to it. Anyway…)

Just like last year, I wanted to share my ultimate favorites in each category. These books didn’t necessarily release this year. I just read them this year. If you want a complete list of books I read, check out my 2019 Goodreads challenge. Also, follow me on Twitter! Every day in December I’m sharing a book I read this year and why I loved it.

I hope you find something to read!

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Favorite Picture Book

Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s The Favorite by Stacy McAnulty

What can I say? I’m a sucker for cat books, especially black cat books. But really, this is an adorable book. The artwork is clean, crisp, and fun. Plus, there’s all sorts of pets in this book, so if you have a little one who love animals, this is a great one.

Favorite Middle Grade

Tunnels of Bones by Victoria Schwab

This is book #2 in the Cassidy Blake series, so definitely check out book #1, City of Bones. It’s about a girl who can cross the veil between the living and the dead, with a plot twist. Her best friend is a ghost! And she travels with her ghost-hunting parents to various famous locations for spiritual activity. It’s spooky and fun. I cannot wait for book #3.

Favorite Book Told in Verse

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

This beautifully written book is told from the perspective of a young girl who must leave Syria. While she’s in America, she must cope with her family left behind, the new family members she lives with, and culturally differences. It’s really powerful, and I encourage everyone to read it.

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Favorite Graphic Novel

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

This is such a powerful (and important) graphic novel. It’s technically a nonfiction graphic novel, too, which is a genre on the rise, and I really enjoyed reading this. It’s a real-life account of George Takei’s childhood spent in a Japanese internment camp in the United States. What I found especially powerful about this graphic novel is how Takei decided to stay in his child’s mindset, showing how he perceived his reality and what was happening to his family. It’s very touching and absolutely disturbing at the same time. I also enjoyed the artwork and the few notes Takei included to explain what was actually going on. Both of his parents were amazing people, but I really remember his mother from the graphic novel. She was a saint.

Favorite Adult Fiction

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

I’m a huge fan of TOR, and this is one of their recent releases. It’s very, very short, so if you want a quick read, I recommend this one. It’s a future America, where everyone is pressured to carry firearms with them. (Your life is your responsibility.) To remind citizens of this, America hosts a gameshow where they randomly orchestrate mass shootings. That’s all I’m going to say. The book is absolutely politically charged and very heavy, despite its short length, and I found myself thinking about this book for months after reading it. To be 100% honest, I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorites while I was reading, but at the end of the year, when I was reflecting on everything I read, I didn’t forget this one, and I wanted to desperately to talk about it again. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is. That’s why I recommend this one.

Favorite Adult Nonfiction

In Praise of Poison Ivy by Anita Sanchez

This category was arguably the hardest one for me to pick a winner. 2019 truly was the year of adult nonfiction. I read so much of it, and I’m only starting to read more. There are a bazillion books I wanted to put here, but in the end, In Praise of Poison Ivy stayed with me the longest. Why would I read about poison ivy, you ask? I mostly picked it up because I was rewriting my botany-focused books and wanted to expand my knowledge. And I couldn’t put it down. The history of poison ivy – how it was discovered, why it was spread world-wide, which famous figures in history wrote about it – is fascinating. I honestly couldn’t believe everything I learned in this book. Plus, now I have tons of home remedies for poison ivy.

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FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT CONTEMPORARY

Doomsday by Katie Henry

This book is about a girl who believes the world will end one day, and she is ready for disaster. She doesn’t like to call herself a prepper, so I won’t either. In the end, though, I really loved this book. Honestly, it was a book I could’ve used as a teen. It has some great conversations about anxiety and mental health, and I really appreciated it. There’s also aspects of religion (particularly Mormonism) that you don’t typically see in young adult novels, as well as conversations on homelessness and generational trauma. It’s a bit long (over 400 pages), but I thought it was well worth the read.

FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION

Contagion by Erin Bowman

Technically, I wanted to nominate both Contagion and its sequel Immunity for this category, but the second one would’ve forced me to talk spoilers, so I thought I’d focus on book 1. This book is amazing. It takes place in space, but isn’t too bogged down by science, and it’s full of action, plot twists, and terror. I was legit scared while reading parts of this book, and that never happens. I loved everything about this book, but I don’t want to say too much, because I think it would spoil some of the experience. Just know that you’ll be terrified and thrilled while reading if you love science fiction and are okay with being scared in space.

FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT DEBUT

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

This book is incredibly sweet, also very honest. It follows Frank Li, a Korean-American teenager, as he navigates dating with his parents pressuring him to date a Korean girl rather than his American girlfriend. But he is navigating so much more than that. I highly recommend this book. There are so many layers, I can’t even get into all the characters. I picked it up thinking I was reading a love story, when I ended up crying over his family’s relationships. It’s a very touching book, about family, friends, loss, and culture.

Biggest Surprise

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The Kingdom by Jess Rothenburg

I love young adult fantasy and science fiction. It’s sort of my thing. So it might come as a surprise to many of you that MY biggest surprise was a YA SFF crossover, but I’ll explain. THE KINGDOM was heavily marketed as HBO’s West World for young adult readers. And I admit, I am not a fan of West World. (What?! I know. But I digress.) I LOVED this book. It takes place in a Disney-type theme park, where patrons are invited into a princess-filled world to fulfill all their dreams. Except there’s been a murder. And we’re reading the book from the potential murder’s perspective. Also one of the robot princesses. There are so many awesome plot twists in this book, subtle nuances, and conversations on AI, freedom, and dreams. I loved everything about it. I felt so immersed in the creativity, and the time shifts from after the murder to the times leading up to the murder kept me captivated until the end. So good!

MY ULTIMATE FAVORITE

American Royals by Katharine McGee

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If you’ve been following me for a while, this might not be a huge surprise for you. I’m a HUGE fan of Katharine McGee. The Thousandth Floor trilogy has a place in my heart as one of my favorite light sci-fi series. This is her newest series. It follows multiple characters just like her last series, but this time, it takes place in an alternate America, where America has a royal family. The drama is there, the tension is unbreakable, and the plot twists keep coming. I love how McGee always makes the worst possible thing happen to her characters right when you think they might get a chance at happiness. It’s such a guilty pleasure, and I didn’t put this book down once. I cannot wait for the sequel. I am DYING for the sequel. I need it now.

I hope you enjoy the reads!

What were your favorite books this year?

~SAT

Took Me Yesterday is here!

2 Nov

Took Me Yesterday, book 2 of The Tomo Trilogy, is finally here.

I feel like I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops for weeks now. And honestly, I should’ve been able to give this to y’all years ago. For those of you who don’t know, Take Me Tomorrow was originally published in 2014 by AEC Stellar Publishing, but was taken off the market less than three months later when the publisher unexpectedly closed. I spent a long, long time trying to find another home, but alas, publishers aren’t very keen on previously published pieces, which I totally get. Hence why I went back to the Tomo trilogy’s original home: Wattpad.

So many of you have waited literal years for an update on this series, and I hope the wait is worth it. Truly. Thank you for your continuous questions about this series, the encouraging the emails, the reviews, the love. It really pushed me to make this happen in any way that I could. I also know a lot of you have already been asking about paperbacks. Right now, I am only posting this book on Wattpad, but if there are ever paperbacks available, know that I’ll announce it and reach out to you. Also, if you haven’t read book 1, there are spoilers in book 2’s description. 😉

Happy reading!

TOOK ME YESTERDAY

Ebook - Took Me YesterdayTwo months have passed since Noah Tomery escaped the Topeka Region, and Sophia Gray is alone. Lily is under house arrest, Miles is missing, and her father is absent at best. Worst of all, her best friend Broden is up for execution for his crimes.

With the government watching her every move, Sophia does her best to survive. And she’s done pretty well—until now. On the night of Broden’s execution, she cannot stand to be alone, and she risks everything to meet up with Lily to watch his death together. Only, he doesn’t die. He escapes. And the State will not let him go. Sophia knows she’s next.

Forced to flee the only home she’s ever known, Sophia crosses cities ravaged by the drug war with Lily and her loyal dog Argos in tow. When tomo loyalists promise to deliver them safely to the Raleigh Region, where the Tomerys live, it soon becomes obvious that some have other plans for Sophia’s life.

Sophia has to come face to face with what, exactly, the clairvoyant drug does, and how her childhood binds her to tomorrow—and yesterday. But first, she must navigate the tomo empire itself, including its leader: Noah’s father.

Not everyone will survive.

Read Chapter One: I Could Not Promise

I will post a new chapter every Saturday, with the exception of the first Saturday of the month, which is dedicated to blog posts like this one. Soon after, I hope to post Never Taken, book 3, as well.

Want to support this project?

Please star chapters, share on social media, and check out my published works.

Thank you so much for continuing to support me,

~SAT

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