Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Shaking it Up With Some Middle Grade Fiction

I’ve finally (sort of) recovered from my Thanksgiving turkey coma and ensuing week of pure laziness…just in time to share my brand-new short story with you!

I usually write YA (Young Adult) fiction, but for the recent Writer’s Digest Short Short Story competition, I decided to shake it up a bit with an MG (Middle Grade) entry. MG readers fall between the ages of eight and twelve; they’re the adorable younger siblings of my usual readers.

There are some notable differences between YA and MG fiction. In MG, the stories revolve around problems as usual, but the problems are proportionally smaller, cuter, and more light-hearted than the more serious themes pervading YA fiction. Also, MG fiction is usually narrated in the third person. (i.e. “She did this,” as opposed to the usual YA first person, “I did this.”) As a child, I wrote my stories in third person, but as I grew up I leaned more and more heavily toward first person. It’s super-fun to return back to third person narration for a change!

One Last Chance to Dance centers around Arianna, a fourth grade girl who loves dancing more than just about anything. Her heart’s desire is to become the star of the spring dance recital, but it won’t be easy. She has to compete against Meredith, the class egomaniac who’s also the dance teacher’s niece. Plus, the girls must dance with boys during their try-outs, and Arianna’s uncooperative and annoying partner just might mess everything up!

Here’s an excerpt. What better way to rekindle your inner child this holiday season than by reading a little MG fiction? Or share it with an elementary school girl you know:) Look for the next excerpt coming soon!

Arianna took a deep breath. It was her big day: tryouts for the lead in the fourth grade jazz dance recital…and she was up next.           

Meredith was auditioning now. The bright overhead lights illuminated her bouncy ringlets, and she finished with a snooty smile. Everyone clapped as Meredith bowed dramatically.

“Good luck, Arianna,” Meredith said snidely as she flounced past and joined the other girls sitting on the glossy hardwood floor. “You’ll need it.”

“Just keep telling yourself that,” Arianna said, ignoring the butterflies doing plies in her stomach. She twirled to center stage, her long ponytail, silver hair ribbons, and favorite pink skirt swirling around her.

As the jaunty jazz number started, Arianna forgot about Meredith, the judges, and even her nerves, and became one with the music. She’d practiced the dance routine so much that it had become part of her. She whirled, leapt, and pirouetted, adding her unique flair to the routine that ten other girls had already performed. She finished with a flourish, and everyone except Meredith burst into thunderous applause. Arianna grinned. She loved dancing more than just about anything.

“That was awesome!” Arianna’s friend Bethany said. “You’ll be the lead for sure!”

But the judges’ opinion was all that mattered, and at that moment, they were talking intensely. Finally, Ms. Indyk faced the class. “Great job, girls!” she exclaimed. “I was impressed with all of you. In fact, we couldn’t pick our lead today! We will hold another audition next week, and four of you will have one more chance to dance.”

Who have they narrowed it down to? Arianna wondered, biting her lower lip. Hopefully me…but definitely Meredith.There was no way Meredith would be passed over. She was Ms. Indyk’s niece, after all.

“And our lucky girls are…Emily…Katie…Meredith…and Arianna!” Ms. Indyk said. “Your second audition will be a partner dance. Next class, you will rehearse with the boys from intermediate jazz!”

Arianna groaned, then clapped her hand over her mouth as Ms. Indyk frowned at her. She hated boy-girl activities. The boys in the jazz class were probably just like the annoying boys from school. They’d be stinky and grimy, and they’d probably tease her.

Uuuughh, Arianna thought. Dancing with boys will be a nightmare!



Five Cities in Five Weekends: How Travel Stimulates Creativity

I wasn’t raised as a world traveler. I come from a family of road-trip enthusiasts, and while I loved the closeness road trips brought us, they definitely limited our travel prospects. My first time on an airplane was at age twenty-three. Up until this year, the only time I’d ventured out of the United States was to watch Phantom of the Opera in Toronto in the seventh grade.

Lately, however, I’ve become somewhat of a jet-setter. Part of it has been brought on by the necessity of flying out to San Diego to see my fiance or to Pittsburgh to see my family. The other part, however, has been voluntary, because I’ve noticed that traveling stimulates my creativity in writing, art, and thinking in general.

In the past five weekends, I’ve been in five different cities, and they’ve all promoted my creativity in different ways. Is your city on the list?

1. San Diego, CA – I braved my mid-October head cold and enjoyed some much-needed sun time on the beach in Carlsbad with my fiance, Antonio, and some friends. There, we rediscovered our collective inner child, frolicking in the waves and doing tumbling and gymnastics moves in the sand. When I finally collapsed on my brightly colored beach towel, I marveled at how many ideas were floating around in my head for my Children’s Writer contest entry, a short story set in San Diego. Main Takeaway: Doing things you enjoyed as a child sets your creative juices flowing.

2. Los Angeles, CA –  Antonio and I met up at the lovely Loews Hollywood Hotel for the three-day Writer’s Digest West conference. We networked with brilliant professionals, listened to absorbing discussions, and acquired a wealth of knowledge about the literary world. I even went out of my comfort zone by participating in the Pitch Slam with agents. Afterwards, we were inspired to shoot our own video, the Five Super-Helpful Networking Tips posted earlier on the blog. Main Takeaway: Going out of your comfort zone facilitates creative momentum by educating and inspiring you.

3. Chicago, IL  – Okay, I cheated. I didn’t travel that weekend; Antonio came to visit. It was a relaxing but action-packed weekend of couples bonding, friends, and Halloween festivities. We enjoyed our favorite Chi-town hangouts, and even discovered some new ones. And our creativity was through the roof. We put together insane Halloween costumes, did some Class-A wedding planning, and Antonio encouraged me to put the finishing touches on my writing contest entries. Main Takeaway: Spending time with supportive people pushes your creativity to new heights.

Here are our creative Halloween costumes! We’re a disco man and a raver respectively:)

4. San Francisco, CA – Antonio and I met up for our good friend’s bridal shower, and enjoyed a weekend of sensory overload. We star-gazed at the Golden Gate bridge one night after clubbing, inventing our own constellations. We people-watched at Dolores Park, and saw many interesting characters, including a guy wearing a huge panda head and a completely naked guy. We marveled at the city’s artsy culture, and after my return, I was so artistically inspired that I crafted a really cool pop-up card for my mom’s birthday. Main Takeaway: Indulging your senses boosts innovation.

Here I am (2nd from left) in San Fran, toasting at the beautiful bridal shower of my friend Kristin Wansten (far left), with Katie, Katelyn, Kat, Angelina, Ewa, and Julie Howarth

5. Pittsburgh, PA – Home sweet home. The jet-setting life was catching up to me, and what better way to rejuvenate than by bonding with my family? My favorite home-cooked meals, a sushi and shopping date with my mom, cozy nights in with the whole family…just what I needed. I returned to Chicago rested and refreshed, with the energy and clarity to tackle the writer’s block that had plagued me late last week. Which brings me to my last Main Takeaway: Travel is awesome, but sometimes, returning to your roots can be the best way to jump-start your creativity.

1 Comment »

Five Fabulous Time Management Tips

In my advanced novel writing course, my first assignment was to send an introductory email to my instructor. After reading about all my hobbies and activities, my instructor, YA author Nancy Butts, humorously emailed back that she wondered how I get any sleep! She suggested that I write a book about time management. Even the best time manager couldn’t figure out how to to write two manuscripts simultaneously, so I’m blogging about it instead.

Here are my five tried-and-true time management tips.

  1. Limit Your Facebook Time. I’m not even on Facebook. While you needn’t go that far, just be aware that it can drain your time. Worse yet, it can demotivate you if you fall into the trap of comparing your achievements to those of others. I’m reading a fascinating book, Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade, that discusses this very phenomenon, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, simply keep in mind that even Mark Zuckerberg would probably admit that Facebook can be a major time-suck.
  2. Block out Your Days. Try dividing your days into hourly blocks, with specific things you want to accomplish in each block. Go a step further and write a checklist. There’s something about making a neat check mark next to a completed task that ignites your desire to achieve even more.
  3. Write Goals. We’ve all heard of SMART goals (i.e. those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound), so use them! Write down a list of goals every week, and celebrate when you achieve them. Having a clear vision of where you want to go will keep you focused and time-savvy while you get there…and that feels smart!
  4. Have a Support System. Make sure your family and friends are on the same page with your time-management goals. Ideally, they will respect your goals and help you meet them. We all pick up on the energy of our nearest-and-dearests–make sure your exchanges are positive!
  5. Set Aside Time to Rest. Don’t be so overzealous in your time management that you forget to recharge your batteries. Tired people are horrible at time management; you can’t be efficient when you feel like you’re about to pass out, and jacking yourself up with coffee is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Take the time to go out with friends, book a massage, or just sleep for eight hours straight–you’ll accomplish much more when you’re fresh.

Hope these tips are helpful to you! If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check off another item on my list. (Only half joking:)


Five Super-Helpful Networking Tips

It’s hard to believe that it’s been about a week and a half since the monumental Writer’s Digest West Conference in Los Angeles. The weekend was full of memorable firsts for me: first time in LA, first writing conference, first pitch slam. (FYI, a pitch slam is a high-octane event in which writers present a “pitch,” or brief description of a manuscript, to agents.) I met roomfuls of fun and fascinating people, and I even had some agents express interest in my upcoming manuscript!

Needless to say, it was an uber-stimulating weekend. Check out this video of helpful networking tips, shot after the conference in LA. Hope it helps you at your next conference or event!