From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Friday, June 27, 2014

Let a Funk be a Funk

Life, like the day to day of it, can be distorted and weirdified (yes, that's a word) in so many ways. I feel like that's been my life lately. A little bit funky.

And that doesn't necessarily mean it's anything soul-shattering or life-changing. I mean, sometimes it is, obviously, but sometimes things are just off enough that's it's a bit like a fun-house room with all the wonky mirrors. (Wonky...Wonka...I'm seeing a connection here...)


Some of that has been going on for me lately. It's been a little bit emotionally wonky, and my work is moving offices, and things (much bigger deal things) are going on in the lives of some of those I love most, and trips are being planned, and it's all great and good but just a little bit unsettling.

I've decided that sometimes that's just the way it goes, and that needs to be okay. It's been a true test of strength for my writing habits the past couple weeks, and I'm both happy to see that my habits have carried me through to making at least some progress, and I also have to acknowledge and accept that I have far from met my planned goals and daily schedule. Not even close.

And I'm sort of thinking that that's okay. Very temporarily, anyway. Even though lately I haven't been doing great at meeting my daily word count or submission goals, the past couple weeks have actually been quite a growth spurt and positive learning curve in a more personal way, and I've learned things about myself and my weaknesses and priorities and relationships. And I think that kind of thing tends to happen in the funky periods, where the slight craziness forces you to take a good look at yourself from new angles. And that in turn can, I think, help add a lot of depth and sagacity to your writing.

Now the next step in phases like this is to keep making progress, and keep working on getting out of the funk and back to normal status. There are a lot of ways to do this, and I've got a short trip coming up that I hope will be just the thing. The point is, while we need to keep working at things, we should also accept that things sometimes get weird, and let a funk be a funk. I think it's much more productive to take all the value you can from the funky times than spend it all beating yourself over the head about it.

So I'm going to do my best to keep working on productivity, and also just let the funky times roll.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writing Characters You Disagree With

This is something I've been thinking about recently.

A lot of times we create our stories and our characters based on ourselves, and things we feel the need to say. A lot of times our characters are ways for us to portray and defend out particular point of view. That's as it should be, I think. One of the greatest things about stories is that they provide a chance for our voices to be heard, via our characters. Being open in this way allows the story to connect with its readers who feel the same way. Like our good pal C. S. Lewis said, "We read to know we're not alone."

But.

What about characters you disagree with?

And I'm not talking about straw men characters--dumb, useless characters that "represent" the opposing point of view just so you can knock it down. I'm talking about really intelligent, engaging characters who fundamentally see the world differently than you do.

(Speaking of gorgeous, brilliant, fantastically written characters who see the world much more pessimistically than I wish to...)

This is an interesting challenge to think about, and honestly, I'm not sure it could ever be done perfectly, since we are in fact the ones creating all our characters. However it might be worthwhile to think about and try.

I think there are lots of different ways to do this. Your opposing viewpoint character could eventually come around to your perspective, or not. Or maybe, and this is perhaps my preferred method, your two characters eventually talk things through and realize that many of the areas they thought they disagreed on, they actually have a lot in common. Maybe your opposing viewpoint character isn't even looking for your main character to change their mind necessarily, they're just looking for some sympathy and validation. Maybe that's the journey your main character needs to go on--finding the right way to give the other characters the sympathy and validation they need. Maybe both characters have a lot of growing and changing to do.

So give this a try. Maybe something surprising will come out of it.

Have you ever written a character you disagree with? What characters from books or movies do you disagree with but also love?

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 23, 2014

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Every new place I live I am surprised at the uniqueness of the weather. We talk about similar climates, but there's just something different about each place, that adds to its attitude and personality. Like how San Francisco is always at a perfect breezy chill like no where else. (Sorry, my lovely little bay has the best weather of all the weather, and that's that).

Growing up in Utah, we got a nice seasons spectrum, with hot summers and snowy winters. But the cold in Utah feels nothing like the soaking, bone chilling ice bath of a cold night in New York, and let me absolutely tell you, the heat of a Utah summer is nothing compared to the blustery hotness going on here in Vegas. And it's only June.

I live in a hair dryer, people.

But we have clean air filters and thermal curtains over the windows and an industrial strength fan in the living room, so we should be able to survive the summer if we're careful to always park in the shade, step outside only when absolutely necessary, and bathe nightly in sunscreen.

Which, honestly, is basically the life of a writer anyway, right? Minus the sunscreen baths. Usually.


Maybe being aware of each places unique meteorilogical personality can help us as we write settings. It can help us truly bring a place to life.

What's unique about your home towns weather?

Stay cool and write on!

Sarah Allen

Friday, June 20, 2014

What Things Soothe Your Soul?

Sometimes I listen to barber shop music and it makes me feel like this:


Seriously. Listen to this song and tell me it doesn't feel like a deep tissue massage for your soul.


I also feel soothed by Brian Stokes Mitchell's voice and french fries and diet cream soda and thunder storms.

What soothes your soul?

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

Hey everyone! A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be contacted by the lovely Jackie Cangro to see if I would participate in a blog tour about my writing process. Of course I said yes. I am so glad I was introduced to Jackie and her blog, because I've found it very entertaining and inspiring.

The blog tour involves answering four questions, so here goes.

1. What are you working on?

So, I'm one of those nervous, superstitious writers that lacks the confidence to talk about what I'm writing in too much detail before it's done. I worry that if I say too much, the spark will die. But I will say this. I am working on another YA novel about a 16 year old girl named Gertrude. She is staying with her dog-breeder aunt for the summer and trying to figure out some very, very strange goings-on. I'm a little over half way done, I'm hoping to finish by the end of summer.

2. How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

Oh boy :) Genre has always been a hard one for me. What I generally write tends to be not quite contemporary and not quite paranormal. Usually I write ordinary people who have to figure out something wacky and quite extraordinary. I like writing somewhat quiet, obedient characters who have to find something deep inside themselves to deal with crazy circumstances that came about through no fault of there own. I like to write about sibling relationships, and how a loved ones trials and struggles can be even harder to deal and grapple with than one's own.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I really like writing normal, ordinary characters having to deal with abnormal things. I think its a fun, interesting way to explore human strength and resilience, and what that really looks like. I think there are a lot of great, wonderful characters who grow and progress through learning from their own mistakes, but I really enjoy writing characters who just want to be good and glide through under the radar but then have to very quickly find their own inner courage and identity to deal with something completely crazy and incomprehensible that the universe has thrown there way. Thinking of stories in this way also helps me with plots, because a character having to take steps to deal with whatever crazy thing has happened is what moves the story along.

4. How does your writing process work?

Man, I could write like three separate blog posts on this. So I asked my roommate what my writing process was, and this is basically what she said.

"When you are ready to start a novel, you think of a thing that makes your brain excited and something you want to say. You spend 3-5 months flailing and having angst about how to turn this idea into a thing. You have several nights when you stay awake until 3 am because your brain won't leave you alone. Those nights mean your idea is good. There is lots of this:

until something finally clicks and you figure out how to put this thing into a story. Then you work on a short outline and then when you're ready to start, you GO. And you write every day until its done and then you send it to your smart friends and there is more flailing about the responses your getting and then you submit and then its time to start over again."

So yeah. In the words of my roommate, that's my process :)

Thanks again to Jackie for inviting me to participate in this blog hop! Hope this is helpful!

Sarah Allen

Friday, June 13, 2014

Why I Believe In God (a sort of response to The Fault In Our Stars)

Okay.

You know those movies that really dig into an area or theme that means a lot to you, and even if they only touch on things, it gets you thinking? And when an incredibly beautiful movie does that in a way that's slightly off of what you think enough that it really, really gets you thinking?

So I went and saw The Fault In Our Stars last Thursday. (Everybody go see it. Seriously. So, so good.) It got me thinking in a way that required some time for me to gather my thoughts before I could give a coherent response. No guarantees on that coherence even now, but I know you guys are awesome enough that you'll bear with me, and forgive me this philosophical/spiritual thought pile of a post today. So here goes.

One of the big themes in both the book and the film of The Fault In Our Stars is this idea of oblivion. It's something the two main characters talk about a lot, and it's the way they talk about oblivion and the afterlife that got me thinking.

These two main teenage characters are very intelligent, and very self-aware. They talk very maturely about an afterlife and the eventual oblivion of all humans, and talk about it in an almost-but-not-quite nihilistic way. Their intelligent discussions are sort of a way of coping with this idea of nothingness, of total oblivion. A way of finding meaning in our lives despite that eventual oblivion. And I think that's beautiful.

But I'm just not convinced it's enough.

I'm going to get sort of beyond what the point of the movie was here, but I guess I came away from the book and the movie feeling ever so slightly invalidated. (Among other things that were much more positive. Seriously, read this book and see the movie.). I guess what I wanted was some sort of acknowledgement that believing in a real forever, believing that we and our stories won't face total oblivion, is an option. Because of the tone of the conversations between these two characters, like times when Hazel suggests that Gus ignore his fear of oblivion because "that's what everyone else does," I couldn't help feeling like intelligence was being equated with belief in oblivion, and whether or not that was intentional, I wanted to be like, hey, I can believe in a real eternity and be intelligent too.

I called this post "Why I Believe In God," and I guess the most pertinent and simple answer to that question is that I have experienced too many occasions where, to use a Lewis Carroll word, there's just too much Muchness for there not to be Much More.

When I listen to the words to Goodnight, My Angel by Billy Joel or Into the Woods by Sondheim--or when I see the Bellagio fountains or a Van Gogh painting--or when I eat a really, really good white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake--when I'm saving seats for Fantasmic with my family, then we all run to beat the crowd to the Indiana Jones ride--when I watch David Hyde Pierce or Meryl Streep--when I read Jane Eyre or anything by Wallace Stegner--when I think of Watson and Crick discovering the structure of DNA...I mean seriously, the human body is so meticulous and incredible and, well, miraculous, and then add to that the fact that we also have the faculties to study and contemplate and discover our own miraculous structure--its all just so much Much.

I have felt too keenly the universes awareness of me as an individual not to believe that what we have now is just the merest tip of the iceberg. As is so often the case, C. S. Lewis said it best when he said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." That is basically my life mantra.

Now, I'm speaking in very individualized terms here, and all of this isn't any kind of "proof" of anything. But in a way that's sort of my point.

The debate about faith and spirituality goes back basically forever. It feels like there's an infinite number of debates/discussions/arguments about things like certain words and etymology in the Bible, or the historicity of events in the Quoran, or scientific analysis of religious stories. My own thinking is that those kinds of discussions, while very interesting and potentially valuable, not only miss the basic point but are in and of themselves inherently flawed. I feel like basing a Faith decision on an etymological or cultural or geological analysis of a religious text or narrative is like forming an understanding of the human body when all you have is the left and right arms. In other words, there is just too much we don't know, in all these areas, including spirituality. If two things (like a Biblical narrative and some kind of analysis of it) seem to you to be both true and incompatible, it could very well be that we're just missing the connecting piece. It seems a bit silly to me to base a Faith decision on something like, say, archaeology, when archaeology itself is changing and digging up new and surprising things every day.

In other words, this goes deeper than our available tools for "proof."

Given themes like the one in The Fault In Our Stars, and the wonderful, intelligent characters discussing those ideas, it occasionally feels to me like I'm being taken less seriously, or being looked at as believing "unscientifically"? And again, I'm pretty sure that was not the intention in this case, but it hits a little too close to the times when that has been an issue.

I spent the better part of the 2008 Presidential Election arguing faith and religion with strangers on the internet. Admittedly not the wisest choice, but I'm a little stubborn and enjoy critical and analytical discussions. Anyway, I've seen all the old arguments. In situations like that one I have much less of a problem with the arguments themselves than with the attitude that often comes with them, that those who have decided on Faith are less intelligent/intellectual or naive or brainwashed or merely giving in to pressure.

My point is that the arguments and "proofs" are fallible on both sides. Again, it's not about "proving" one way or another. That's just not really possible. And whether a person has chosen Faith or not is not a statement either way on that persons intelligence or logical/analytical capacities.

I think its more about each individuals process, and how you've reached the decisions you've reached. I think it's definitely possible and even normal for people to choose faith because of naivety or stubbornness or pressure, just as I believe its possible not to choose faith because of naivety or stubbornness or pressure. And since we can't really rely on the old arguments and proofs, in a way it almost becomes more about not knowing.

Which is why it has never made sense to me when people say that Faith or religion is the safe, or easy, or comfortable choice. I think people can make it appear that way even to themselves by not thinking about things too hard. But real faith? Believing in the face of No Proofs? Whoo boy. It can be utterly terrifying. Believing in something deeper, more innate than proofs or even our own physical senses, is the opposite of easy. I think we want big Saul/Paul "Proving" experiences, but that almost never happens and we have to build our decisions with smaller, more day to day experiences. In my experience it can be a scary and awkward and gut-wrenching daily battle.

Nihilism takes little to no maintenance.

So then, why Faith? Because in my own experience it is, in fact, deeper than proofs or the learning I do with my physical senses. Because, if this makes any sense, a Van Gogh painting is more Real than a Van Gogh painting, a Stephen Sondheim song Truer than a Stephen Sondheim song. Because a Pixar movie means More than a Pixar movie and because DNA is more Beautiful than DNA and Colin Firth is sexier than Colin Firth. (He's the only thing that is). At least, that is what my experience indicates. And if that's the case, then there's a real Real and a true True out there.

So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. Er, I mean...no, Hazel Grace Lancaster, I don't think humans will face oblivion. I think we humans and our individuality and our Beauty and our Muchness will go on eternally, and have meaning eternally. This is all just my own experience, and maybe only some or none of it really works for you. If that's the case, then I want you to know that I value and validate your experience and struggles and am interested in learning from you. Because we may very well be, in some ways, holding different hands of the same body, and if we can respect each other and each be willing to grow, maybe we can find a way to meet in the middle.

Okay?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

100+ Paying Gigs for Writers

Remember how I mentioned I've been compiling my own list of all types of paying gigs for writers? Well I've finally posted that list here on its own page.

I'm sure that this list is only the tip of the iceberg. This comes with a standing request for all y'all to send me any suggestions to add to this list. I hope for this list to be a valuable resource.

I tried to separate these links into categories, things like literary magazine databases and paying blog gigs and greeting cards. If there are categories you think should be added to the list, let me know.

I want to recommend two additional resources/strategies to use in addition to this list. Firstly, The Writers Market books are an incredible resource of tons of great consumer magazine options. Way more than I could post here. So get that.

Also, another strategy I like to use is to find the blog or website of writers I love and find the bibliography page. This should give you a really great list of magazines that these writers have been published in, i.e., magazines for you to submit to. For example, I have found it helpful to look at the bibliography of writers like Mary Robinette Kowal, Nina Badzin, and the late, great Jay Lake.

One last word on this. I can intimidate myself by doing this research, just by virtue of the sheer number of possible options. This is why I've come up with the one a day rule. Nobody has to take on all of these options at once. Not even close. Just picking one resource to query or submit to per day, or even per week, is absolutely plenty. Or however you want to do it. My point is to take these options one at a time, and don't let the numbers immobilize you.

Anyway, hope this helps! Again, please let me know if there are ever any resources you think I should add to this list.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 9, 2014

How To Stop Worrying And Love Your Opening

Since I started the idea of making video tutorials for writers, I've been going through a lot of writerly videos on YouTube. There are quite a few awesome people talking about writing on YouTube, things like creative prompts or improving your grammar or things like that. 

In one of the videos, a commenter mentioned that she was having trouble starting her story because she knows how crucial those first pages are, and didn't know if she could really get it right.

The responses to her dilemma were very good, I thought. The emphasis was on just starting, and worrying about getting it right later. Beginnings are maybe the hardest part, and we talked a while ago here on the bloggy blog about how clear action is what agents and editors look for in a story's opening.

But for our first drafts, the key is to just get words on the page. This YouTube commenter was worried that her first chapter wasn't going to live up to the rest of the story. She was so worried about giving her idea the best start that she couldn't really get it going at all.

The thing is, I know plenty of writers who end up chopping the entire first chapter anyway. On Writing Excuses (the podcast I've mentioned several times and will continue to mention because it's awesome), Brandon Sanderson talks about how he chops the beginnings off his drafts almost every time. For a lot of writers, the beginnings of stories are more to help you as the author set things up, and then become extraneous once the story is done.

Beginnings are important--crucial, in fact--but unlike a racer, you can take as many tries as you need to get things off to a good start. That's what editing is for.

So the point is, don't stress. Just write.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dribble Drabble Roommate Babble

Picking a movie with my roommate often goes like this--

Me: I'm sorry, I've lost my ability to brain, I am going to be supremely unhelpful. 
Roommate: In other words you're just going to say no to everything I suggest until I give up and let you go back to watching Fringe.  
Me: ... 
Roommate: ... 
Me: ...No.
Yeah, I don't know how she puts up with me either.

One fun thing we do together is dribble drabbles. Dribble drabbles are 50 or 100 word flash fiction stories. We share different challenges or prompts with each other and take ten or fifteen minutes to write up a flash fiction piece and then share it with each other. It's been super fun, and an interesting exercise.

And that's precisely what it is--an exercise. This is a way to flex the writing muscles and try new things before the big projects. It's like squats before the marathon of working on a novel. It's fun and experimental, and something I might suggest if you want to play around with words for a while.

One of my favorite prompts we do is taking an image and doing a 100 word story based on that. Here are a couple of mine:


This is the trick his dad made. This is the card that ends the trick his dad made. This is the queen that’s on the card that ends the trick his dad made. This is the spade held by the queen that’s on the card that ends the trick his dad made. This is the grave dug by the spade held by the queen that’s on the card that ends the trick his dad made. Gone are the bones inside the grave dug by the spade held by the queen that’s on the card that ends the trick his dad made.

Or this:
 His arms reached around me, fingers set softly on the keyboard. His breath warmed my ear and he smelled like mouthwash and dryer sheets. What piece was I learning again? “Like this,” he said, fingers trickling up the keys like shivers on a spine. “Start the scale with your second finger.” He stayed bent over me while I placed my hands on the keyboard. I placed my fingers where his had been, played what he played. Up and down these keys, these strings, these vertebrae. “Very good,” he said.
Yeah, I had to get Benedict in there somewhere :)

But anyway, its been fun, and if you wanted to try it out I'd love to see the results. I've created an entire Pinterest board for these projects, which adds its own challenge because Pinterest only allows 500 characters in its image descriptions. There are only a handful up as of yet, but if you wanted to check it out I'd love some feedback.

Do you think this could be a helpful exercise? Have you done something like this before?

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 2, 2014

End of the Notebook Notes

It's always a bit of a nostalgic time when I finish one creative writing notebook and move on to the next. And this is one of those times.

My beautiful Van Gogh notebook is now full of scribblings and ramblings and doodles and ideas and blog topics and more weirdness. So I took myself out for some froyo to celebrate.

I have the next notebook purchased from Barnes and Noble and ready to go, but before I say goodbye to this friend who has been with me the past year and a half, here are some of the weird scribblings we've developed together.

"On the night of the full moon, Petie wears his glasses. On this night it is important that he wears his glasses, because on this night, he has monster school."

"Cats are people too. Sometimes they like chasing bugs around the house. Sometimes they just want to sleep."

"Like bullets they have no purpose outside of a body."

"Idea: becoming college roommates with Death."

"A little boy gets help from an alien to find the impostors who replaced his parents"

"Is there an exception to the rule that there are exceptions to every rule?"

Hope that adds a little inspiration to your day. Good bye, Van Gogh notebook. It's been grand!

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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