Random Inspirations

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

You Are What You Read: Reading and Its Influence on Writing

I’ve been reading YA fiction, in some form, since elementary school. As I reached age 20, I began closet-reading it, because I figured I was “too old” for the stuff. However, at some point in my early 20’s, I realized it was actually okay for adults to read YA novels, and, in fact, many people were doing exactly the same thing. As a result, I’ve shamelessly devoured these juicy literary concoctions ever since.

When I was growing up, I wrote voraciously, illustrating my stories and stapling them together into “books.” The heroines were always exactly my age, perhaps a year or two older. But when I reached my twenties, I found that I no longer wrote about people “just my age.” While I grew older, my heroines stayed in the YA age group.

I always thought this phenomenon occurred simply because I loved my teen years and found the activities, interpersonal relationships, and daily dramas to be so vivid and ripe with storyline possibilities.

But I’ve realized that there’s another factor at play as well: I am what I read.

It’s a well-known fact that writers are a product of not only their training, but what kind of literature they prefer to read. In essence, we are what we read. That’s why one writer can incorporate such an eclectic mix of elements into his or her fiction. It’s also why certain authors in the paranormal genres mix some contemporary elements with others that are pure magic. We learn by reading, and the things we read show up in our writing…sometimes entirely unbeknownst to us!

I adore contemporary YA fiction, but I also frequently indulge in the classics, especially the literature of Jane Austen. Emma  is one of my favorite books, and the movie Clueless, which was based on Emma’s classic storyline, was a fave of mine growing up. That’s why I was blown away when my writing instructor, MG and YA author Nancy Butts, told me that Aubree, the heroine in my upcoming novel, reminded her of a Jane Austen character with her relentless honesty and endearing blind spots, and that I reminded her of Jane Austen in the ability to capture the dynamics of a “small, encapsulated society such as high school.” I’d never realized I incorporated these elements into my writing. Yet, because of what I read, they showed up.

I subconsciously incorporated elements of the beloved classic Emma while writing my new novel, because I am what I read.

I subconsciously incorporated elements of Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Emma, into my upcoming novel…because I am what I read!

Now that I’m working hard on my Amish YA fiction novella, I’ve been peering into a new genre, the wonderful world of Amish fiction. I just downloaded several Amish fiction works on my Kindle, and have already dove into one! If anyone has recently read some great Amish fiction, please let me know. 🙂

Writers out there, how are you what you read? Who are some of the most influential authors you’ve read, and how have elements of their writing shown up in yours?


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Life by the Checklist: Achieve More than You Ever Thought Possible

Checklists are our friends, and they’re also my current obsession. I’ve always used checklists to an extent. In school, my homework was organized on a checklist. When I moved out on my own, my grocery lists took the form of a checklist. When I worked as a pharmacist, I was often so busy during my workday that I’d forget to do anything out of the ordinary (i.e. training modules, etc) unless I wrote out a checklist.

But over the past few months, I’ve realized that my checklists have become even longer, more inclusive, and totally crucial to my life.

A little background: My last few months were pretty hectic. I was planning our wedding without using a wedding planner, which is a huge yet extremely fun checklist in and of itself. We were also selling our condo in Chicago, and believe me when I say that was pretty labor-intensive. We had to stage the place within an inch of its life because prospective buyers expect city condos to look absolutely perfect and not the least bit lived-in. I was preparing for my career change, working on website building and promotions, which would all culminate in my retirement from pharmacy. Add California house hunting trips to the mix, and I had a convoluted soup of things to do. This didn’t even include basic functions like working full-time, exercising, writing, and maintaining relationships with important people.

I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar — we’ve all been there. It was difficult, but it was also one of the most productive times of my life. I enjoy optimizing my days, although this took it a bit far. 🙂 My brain was overwhelmed, swimming with endless tasks. It felt like I was juggling and I could drop everything at any moment and be standing before an audience, totally vulnerable. So, I started living my life by the checklist, and my checklists helped me to keep everything in check!

Yesterday's checklist, complete with huge check marks! ;)

Yesterday’s checklist, complete with huge check marks! 😉

I began writing a daily checklist, and I had so many things to do that they frequently spilled from the front to the back of the Post-it note. Sometimes, I would also write a checklist for the week. I recommend daily and / or weekly checklists for anyone, because they helped me in so many ways. Here are just a few:

  1. Sense of accomplishment: Ticking items off that checklist feels beyond amazing.
  2. Less forgetfulness: I’m pretty good at remembering things, but we all have our point of saturation. When things get too crazy, checklists are the best way to remember everything.
  3. Power of focus: Seeing all the day’s tasks in front of you keeps you focused on completing them one by one.
  4. Better sleep: Insomnia can be caused by the stress of knowing you have a zillion things to do. Since I started living by the checklist, I’ve fallen asleep more quickly and slept more soundly.
  5. Organizational value: Checklists keep you organized and give direction to your day. They’re essential if you’re planning any event that needs to be super-coordinated (i.e. a wedding), but they’re just as applicable when you’re simply planning your everyday tasks.

You’ll be glad to know that the wedding and the move went off famously! Much of that was due to great teamwork. (Thanks Antonio!) However, I believe my endless stream of checklists had a lot to do with it as well.

Of course, my one warning about checklists would be that they’re addictive. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have a whole new battery of checklists. These center around organizing the new house, as well as accomplishing my writing goals and setting up a home office. It seems like the checklists are never-ending, but I like it that way!

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Five Reasons to Love Novellas

As I’ve been hammering out my Amish YA fiction novella, I’ve realized how much fun novellas are to read and to write. Did you know that some of the most famous classic literary works, such as Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol were novellas?

Novellas comprise the literary genre halfway between short stories and novels. As their name implies, novellas are shorter than novels, yet longer than short stories. However, the main trait that distinguishes novellas from the other genres is their level of conflict: Novellas have more conflict than short stories, yet less conflict (and less developed conflict) than novels.

Since novellas are often intended to be read in one sitting, they’re usually written without chapters, but I’ve found that there’s really no right or wrong. I’m writing my novella with short micro-chapters, and I find that these chapters break up the plot more neatly and improve the overall flow.

There are just so many reasons to love these cute little “mini novels.” Here, I tell you five:

5 things to love about novellas

5 of the many things to love about novellas

  1. Since they’re shorter than novels, they’re a quicker, more focused read.
  2. They leave readers more satisfied than short stories because of their deeper conflict.
  3. They’re ideal for reluctant readers of any genre, especially YA, because of their length and the relative simplicity of their plots.
  4. They’re a challenging writing exercise because they encourage authors to choose words and descriptions more wisely.
  5. They’re ideal for reading — or writing — in a series, because they really are addictive.

With all these strengths, it’s no wonder that some of the best-known classics were novellas. In fact, I think novellas are ready to make a comeback, especially in YA!


Emo YA: Making Your Highs and Lows Work for You

Young Adult fiction is full of epic highs and crushing lows, much like the teen years themselves. It is highly dramatic by nature, radiating with vivid emotions.

As I’ve written my own YA fiction, I’ve realized something that other writers might find useful: The mood of the author, and the circumstances in his / her life, will influence the moods of the characters and the atmosphere of the story. Therefore, if a writer is having a particularly turbulent or extremely happy time in life, he / she should try to have the characters’ lives mirror this, as it will paint a more vibrant emotional picture.

And sometimes, a writer may not even have to try. Often, writers may incorporate their highs and lows into the characters subconsciously. This was exactly what happened when I wrote my contemporary YA novel, which will be released in a matter of months.

Just like the skyscrapers of a great city (here, San Francisco), life has its highs and lows. Make sure to use them in your writing!

Just like the skyscrapers of a great city (here, San Francisco), life has its highs and lows. Make sure to use them in your writing!

In the novel, Aubree, the fourteen year-old heroine, starts out on top of the world. But a move to a new city and a huge, super-competitive school undermines her self-confidence. At a writing conference last year, I learned that one of the most important page-turning traits of all fiction, especially YA, is to really torture the heroine. The main character has to face a seemingly never-ending series of problems to keep readers engaged.

Since I was going through a rather difficult time of transition, stress, and emotional upheaval myself, I found it easy to translate my mood into the story. Aubree certainly was tortured as she navigated a maze of family, social, boy, and identity crises.

For me, torturing the heroine was therapeutic. I was able to pour my own strong and rather dramatic emotions into the tempestuous teenage heroine, and in the end, all that powerful passion translated into art. My mom told me that sometimes artists have to suffer for their art, and I truly believe that other writers going through hard times should use writing as therapy…and create a high-tension page-turner in the process!

As my own real life sorted itself out, so did Aubree’s fictitious one. It was easy to reconcile Aubree’s problems because my own life was also reconciling. The concluding chapters of the novel are decidedly more light-hearted. Aubree will always be a dramatic character, but her mood is more stable, as befits an ending.

So the take-away is this: When the going gets tough, the tough write fiction. If you’re feeling a little emo, write a story with high emotion!

But before you go paint the town with words, I should conclude the post with one caviat. It’s great to infuse your work with passion, but at times it may get a little too emo. At times like that, I recall a conversation that I had with my dad when I was about four and we were listening to Mozart. My dad told me, “Mozart’s music is so perfect because he never takes it too far.”

Take-home message: If you’re feeling a little too rambunctious, vent another way or you’ll take it too far and cross that fragile line into the melodramatic. It’s all about moderation. And furthermore, writing may be therapeutic, but it should never be used as sole therapy. Emo can backfire. So make sure to infuse emo into your writing responsibly. 😉


Cross-Country Road Trip: The Observations and the Inspiration

Today feels like such a Monday…but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s a day to get back to work after an exciting wedding, honeymoon, and cross-country move to California. And by “get back to work,” I mean working on one of my favorite things: writing!

Antonio and I decided to do a cross-country road trip for our honeymoon. We both adore road trips, and we’d never taken a looong one together before. Plus, it eliminated the concern of shipping my car from Chicago to California — Why not just drive it? So, my new hubby and I took to the highway, and discovered America in a brand-new way.

We had no definitive plan of which stops we wanted to make; we brainstormed where we’d stay as we burned up the miles. Here are the places we visited, and my reflections on each one.

  • Omaha, NE: Home of epic steaks and Warren Buffett. We tried a whiskey-marinated steak for the first time, and believe me when I say Omaha steaks are pretty impressive. My biggest observation was how much open space there is in this great country of ours, as we cruised past miles of corn fields. After driving through Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, I can honestly say that I experienced the bread (and corn) basket of the nation firsthand!
  • Denver, CO: The mile-high city is truly a melting pot of interesting people, and its nightlife is vibrant. We hobnobbed with the fun crowd of Hamburger Mary’s, witnessed a game of Jenga using the world’s largest block set, and enjoyed drinks with fun names like “The Unicorn.” The view from our hotel was phenomenal, and the pool there was equipped with cabanas and a full bar…not too bad! 😉
Denver city view

Denver city view

  • Boulder, CO: I honestly think Boulder is one of the healthiest places on the planet. It’s so green, and everywhere you look, people are jogging and riding bikes. And let me tell you, physical activity is not easy here with the altitude. I was feeling blah as my body acclimated, but soon the mountain air invigorated me.
  • Beaver Creek, CO: This community is famous for its ski lodges and breathtaking views. I’ve never been to the Swiss Alps before, but Beaver Creek looks a lot like the pictures I’ve seen of them. As we drove through the mountains, Antonio and I mused about how man could never create something so incredible as those rugged mountains, canyons, and creeks. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our everyday lives that we forget how many things in this world are much bigger than us. This leg of the road trip was the perfect reminder.
Stunning mountains and gorges near Beaver Creek

Stunning mountains and gorges near Beaver Creek

  • Moab, UT: More marvelous beauty, this time in the form of tall mesas and multilayered red rock arches. We stayed a bit outside of Moab, however, and realized things were a bit too quiet for us. After all the natural wonders, we were ready for something dazzling and man-made, something vivid and commercialized. So, we drove toward…
Rock formations in Utah

Rock formations in Utah

  • Las Vegas, NV! An interesting side note: As we journeyed through the supposed deserts of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, we were struck by some crazy thunderstorms. At some points, we could barely see out of the car. And the normally sunny Vegas was cloaked by thick, dark clouds. This didn’t stop us from getting out and enjoying the fine cuisine, bright lights, and boundless energy of Sin City. The weather cleared up and we had plenty of pool time. We saw a show and even won some money at roulette. We selected the numbers and colors on the board by what we felt in our hearts, not any set mathematical strategy. This could, in fact, be the theme of our honeymoon: choose your destination based on what you feel in your heart, and you will win!
Sunset at the Paris in Vegas

Sunset at the Paris in Vegas

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