Monday’s Muse (sort of)

Writing is like . . . Yeah.

I’ve written previous posts in which I’ve compared writing to anything from gardening, to an amusement part, to a road (with agents as a GPS). While those posts still apply, lately I’ve come to think of the whole writing process as something more like the Winchester Mystery House.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this phenomenon (okay, maybe it’s more of an oddity), here’s a brief summary (from what I remember off the top of my head—so if I’m inaccurate forgive me). After the death of her husband (who invented and produced the Winchester rifle) and young daughter, Mrs. Winchester is reported to have visited a medium who told her that the deaths of her family were due to the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifle. In order to keep the ghosts at bay, she needed to build a house—and not stop building it. So she did. If I remember correctly, she built onto the home for about 40 years (constant construction that went on 24/7). She would draw up plans and the builders would construct it no matter how strange the request. And some of them were strange, for sure.

There are doors and stairs that lead nowhere—supposedly to confuse the spirits and make them become lost so they wouldn’t find Mrs. Winchester. Anyway, you can look up more about the house if you’re interested, and I included a link to their website above.

So, how is writing like this crazy house? Let’s face it, we are very much like Mrs. Winchester. Of course, we may not be writing to keep the ghosts at bay (or maybe we are), but—much like her daily building that only ended upon her death—we too continue on in our writing. Day in and day out we keep working. Perhaps we’re a little crazy (some believe Mrs. Winchester was).

And like some of the staircases and doors in the house that lead to nowhere, sometimes the things we write don’t take us anywhere. We get rejections, but we construct a blueprint for a new work and get right back at it. We keep trying and building and learning and growing in our craft. Mrs. Winchester wanted to achieve success in keeping the ghosts away—and we want to achieve success in being published.

And like the crazy maze of rooms in the Winchester house, getting to our goal can be a crazy maze too. As I said, we usually have many false doorways and stairs that lead nowhere in our pile of manuscripts, but each one serves a purpose. Each new door and stairway and room kept the ghosts away from Mrs. Winchester, and our writing keeps us moving forward. We learn more and more with each thing we write.

So, writing is like the Winchester Mystery House. We’re never done doing it (at least not if we’re truly invested in our goal). Mrs. Winchester achieved her goal of keeping the ghosts away, and we, too, can achieve our goal of publication.

We just have to keep building.

Write on!

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Hello . . . hello . . . hello

Wow. Did you hear that echo?

Yeah. Things have been awfully empty and deserted in my blogosphere. I am still here even though I haven’t been “here” posting on the blog (poor neglected thing).

I’ve spent the summer in frustration and confusion and a bit of depression. I totally expected to have a new novel finished before the kids go back to school (which will be on the 29th of this month)—and—well—I don’t. Not even close. I’ve started and stopped several, but haven’t even made it to the midpoint on any of them.

I HAVE been writing and completed two picture book manuscripts so at least that’s something (right?). But the rest of my summer has been spent studying my craft. I’ve attended a couple of webinars, purchased many books about writing (probably too many), and have been reading blogs and books in my chosen genres and learning—and trying to figure out where I’m going wrong in my process. Because the rejections I keep getting tell me that something is obviously broken.

I even had a couple of industry professional critiques—which had helpful feedback, but not enough to get me that “yes” I want. So where am I going wrong? Yeah. I wish I knew. Even with all my studying and learning and trying to figure it out, I don’t have an answer.

I did learn quite a bit about plotting and structuring  and characterization (some amazing revelations occurred), but I haven’t been able to move forward. And it’s not for lack of motivation. I’m definitely motivated.

I have an unopened package of Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates (my favorite treat) just waiting for me. And all I have to do to open the package is reach the midpoint of a novel project. That’s it!

I want to open that package and enjoy a bite of chocolate heaven, believe me!

And yet, I can’t seem to reach the goal.

It’s not the fault of the stories I’ve tried writing—the concepts are good, the characters are good, the structure and plot and everything is all planned out (turning points etc.) and it is good—but me? I’m not so good.

And I don’t know why. If I knew what it was that’s holding me back, I could figure out a way to annihilate it and move on.

Have any of you ever gone through this? What is it? And how do I get myself out of it?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Write on (if you can)!

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Writing Advice from Doctor Who

Please forgive my absence here on the blog. I’ve still been having problems with my foot (went for more x-rays today). During my recuperation, I’ve been travelling with the Doctor. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of the universe and beyond. I’d like to pretend I actually stepped foot inside the Tardis, alas, it isn’t so. Nay, my journey was only taken thanks to DVD and Netflix. Still, I learned much from the Doctor and have returned to share the writing knowledge.

The Doctor: “What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

What it means to writers: If we are writing for children, we need to access the child within.

The Doctor: “That was a nice nap, now down to business.”

What it means to writers: Sometimes we need to take a break—and it’s okay. We’ll come back better able to do what needs to be done.

The Doctor: “The best way to find out where you are from is find out where you are going and work backwards.”

What it means to writers: Know your ending. Even if you don’t have everything planned out, it’s helpful to know where you want the story to go. Once you know your ending, you can work backward to make sure you have the character development and story arc you need.

The Doctor: “First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

What it means to writers: It doesn’t matter what writing method you use—as long as it works for you. You can write scenes out of order if you want.

The Doctor: “. . . The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

What it means to writers: Make sure your characters have a balance of good and bad things in their lives. It helps make them more real.

The Doctor: “You can’t rule the world in hiding. You’ve got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.”

What it means to writers: You’re going to have to promote your work—no matter how shy/introverted you are.

The Doctor: “Oh, marvelous. You’re going to kill me. What a finely-tuned response to the situation.”

What it means to writers: Make sure our characters act and speak in believable ways. They need to respond to other characters actions and words appropriately.

The Doctor: “I always like to do the unexpected, it takes people by surprise.”

What it means to writers: Don’t be cliché.

The Doctor: “I think you’ll find, Sir, that I’m qualified to deal with practically everything, if I choose.”

What it means to writers: Write what you know—and know that you can write about anything you want to—just make sure you research the things you may not be as familiar with/knowledgeable about.

The Doctor: “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.”

What it means to writers: Be you. Don’t try to be like writer X. Some people will like your work, some people won’t, but be happy with what you’ve done!

The Doctor: “I was trying to help. Surely even a blockhead like you can see that!”

What it means to writers: Don’t be close minded when it comes to critiques. The critique is meant to help—but you have to let it.

The Doctor: “Don’t worry. I always leave things until the last moment.”

What it means to writers: We aren’t The Doctor. We don’t have a Tardis. We can’t go back in time. Therefore, leaving things to the last minute when we have a deadline isn’t a good idea.

The Doctor: “No, there’s something else going on here. I was taken out of time for another reason and I have every intention of finding out what it is!”

What it means to writers: Explore new plot ideas. Don’t sell your characters and story short by going with the first thing that comes to mind. You may find the first thing ends up being the best thing, but at least explore other possibilities.

The Doctor: “Well, look at me. I’m old, lacking in vigor, my mind’s in turmoil. I no longer know if I’m coming, have gone, or even been. I’m falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense… Self-pity is all I have left.”

What it means to writers: This is how some writers may feel after plugging along in the business for an extended period of time. We aren’t alone. But don’t stay in the self-pitying phase too long.

The Doctor: “A little gratitude wouldn’t irretrievably damage my ego.”

What it means to writers: Form rejections and no responses hurt. But they’re part of the business so we have to accept them and move on.

The Doctor: “Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.”

What it means to writers: Whatever misery we are in, whatever struggles we may be going through, all we need is a little perspective—it won’t last forever.

The Doctor: “Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another.”

What it means to writers: Embrace your inner madness—let the creativity flow.

The Doctor: “We’re all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.”

What it means to writers: We are all in this together.

The Doctor: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”

What it means to writers: Make sure your plotting has twists and turns. Following the beginning straight through to the end makes a boring read.

The Doctor: “No. Impossible. I’m fully booked for the next two centuries.”

What it means to writers: It’s okay to say no when people ask you to do something that takes you away from your writing time.

The Master: “I don’t know, rocket fire at long range – somehow it lacks that personal touch.”

What it means to writers: Give our work the personal touch. Even if you’re writing fiction, there should be a part of you in your story somewhere. If there isn’t, you’re creating distance for your readers (the long range rocket fire). While this can still be a good story, making it up close and personal makes for a better reading experience.


Even though that final quote wasn’t from The Doctor himself, it was still from the series and is still good advice. These quotes and more can be found here and here.


Write on!

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Contest Winners!!

Thank you to all who participated in the contest (here and on LJ). I hope you’ll all read When the Butterflies Came because it is awesome!!! I assigned numbers to each entry and used to generate the winning numbers. So here are the lucky winners!

Grand Prize—Hardcover copy of When the Butterflies Came, beaded butterfly bookmark (indicate your color preference when you contact me with your mailing address), live butterfly garden, secret butterfly craft made by me.

Winner = Niki Moss!

First Prize—Sun Catcher project, When the Butterflies Came bookmarks, and secret butterfly craft made by me.

Winner = Akoss!

Second Prize—When the Butterflies Came bookmark and surprise butterfly craft made by me.

Winners = tworiveras and Holly Mueller

*throws confetti*

Congratulations to all the winners!

Please send me an email with your mailing information (joanstradling [at] live [dot] com but remove the spaces and substitute the appropriate symbols for the words in brackets). I’ll ship out the prizes as soon as I have the addresses. If I don’t hear from you within a week, I’ll assume you aren’t interested in the prize and will choose a different winner.

Thanks again for everyone who entered. I’ll be holding another contest soon featuring the Gustav Gloom books (because I LOVE them and want to share the love). So check back.

Write/read on!

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Recent Reads Review—When the Butterflies Came

As a reminder of my new scoring system, I’m using emoticons. Here’s what they mean:

Open-mouthed smile–WOW—I loved this book and will talk/have talked about/shared it with others.

Smile–Not totally in love, but this was a great book and I may talk about/share it with others.

Thinking smile–This was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not my favorite.

Sad smile–This wasn’t for me. I stopped reading and couldn’t bring myself to finish.

Steaming mad–How did this get published?

If you happen to be the author of one of the books I review, please remember this is my honest opinion. Don’t hate me if I don’t give your book a great big happy grin. I am only one reader in the whole wide readership and I’m sure there are those who’ll love your work—it just wasn’t me.

When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little—Open-mouthed smile—I’ve always loved Kimberley’s books, but I have to say, this is my new favorite. Maybe it’s because I love butterflies, or mysterious keys that unlock mysterious things—or maybe it’s the elements of mystery and danger woven so magically into the story. Whatever the reason, I can’t stop thinking about or talking about this book!

The Story—Tara Doucet (a.k.a “Pantene Princess” who tormented Shelby Jayne in Circle of Secrets) appears to have a perfect life—but, much like her house, the beautiful outside hides a crumbling mess inside. Tara’s beloved Grammy Claire has passed away. Tara might be able to bear it more if her mother hadn’t disappeared in a fit of depression or if she could talk to her sister, Riley. But Tara is alone in her grief and afraid it will swallow her whole. Everything changes when the butterflies appear. Tara knows they must mean something and when she starts getting letters with mysterious keys from her dead Grammy, Tara discovers she was right. And the butterflies that follow Tara are far from ordinary. They were Grammy Claire’s. Armed with her Grammy’s letters and the clues they contain, Tara sets out to discover what the keys open. Doing so draws her deeper into the mysterious world of Grammy Claire’s butterflies—a world that turns out to be far more dangerous than Tara ever imagined.

A heartwarming and uplifting story of hope, love, sibling rivalry, and faith, When the Butterflies Came fluttered into my heart and imagination with wings of graceful prose and vibrant, beautiful characters.


If you’d like to win a copy of the novel and other awesome prizes (including a live butterfly garden), check out my contest (LiveJournal link WordPress link—you only enter in one place but I’m including both links). I wasn’t able to do everything I planed to promote this book (thanks a lot broken leg—grrr), but the contest ends tomorrow so hurry and enter if you haven’t already done so.

Also, as an extra bonus, one lucky commenter on this post will receive a surprise package of butterfly themed items. Just leave a comment that says, “Enter me” if you want to be eligible for the package. This special bonus contest ends tomorrow so enter today!

Write/Read on!

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I Am Broken

So, things have been pretty quiet here on the blog. I meant to have more contests through out the week and more prizes and more fun and a book review for When the Butterflies Came, but pain kept me from hobbling out to my shed/writing room and since my laptop is out there, things didn’t get done. If you read my April 8th post, you know of my injury (but I’ll go into more detail later in case you don’t). I suppose I could have made hubby or one of the kids venture into my space and bring my laptop to me, but with the pain I’ve been in, I just wanted to lay in bed and let the meds do their thing.

This is my left leg (yes, I have very white skin and need to see some sun, but just concentrate on the bruising and swelling and ignore the rest):


I do have an ankle bone, but the swelling makes it look like I don’t. This picture is almost two weeks after the initial incident. What incident? Why the one where I slammed my leg into my dresser. Now that doesn’t mean I took it off of my body and repeatedly banged it on the dresser (get that image out of your mind if you can). No, I was running from my youngest daughter after waking her by tossing stuffed animals onto her until she was buried under a mass of fluffy furry things (it’s a game we sometimes play to keep her from being cranky in the mornings before school). She erupts from the burial and gives chase. I run to my bedroom where I jump onto my bed before she can get to me. We’ve done it many times before.

Unfortunately, hubby left his laptop and iPad on his side of the bed (nearest the door) so I couldn’t jump onto the bed like I usually do—well, at least not without the risk of breaking his electronics or hurting my self (ironic?). I could have hurried to my side of the bed, but my daughter was almost upon me. So when I reached the foot of the bed, I took my leap. My ankle veered off course. Really it should have followed the rest of my body’s trajectory, but for some reason it didn’t (which I’m sure wasn’t my fault—okay it probably was). My leg banged into the dresser. This caused massive pain and much crying and a little bit of blood (those aren’t razor cuts on my leg, but rather they are scabs from the healing scrapes where the dresser bit me).

After hobbling to take the kids to school, I went to Urgent Care. They took some x-rays and said it wasn’t broken and sent me on my way with an air cast and some crutches.

I wasn’t able to use the crutches because I’m a weakling and don’t have the upper body strength for it (my arms almost hurt worse than my leg—yeah, I need to do some weight lifting or something). So I spent a week limping around when I had to, but spending most of my time in bed with my leg propped up and some ice—which also hurt (even running my hand down my leg hurt). I’m not a wimp, mind you. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but this H-U-R-T. So I limped back to Urgent Care last Thursday. They said I should follow up with my Dr. because it “might” be broken after all (hairline fracture). So I set up an appointment and went yesterday (it takes a while to get an appointment with my Dr. sometimes).

And now I have this new stylish footwear:


I’ve been booted. This new footwear will be part of my wardrobe for the next four weeks.

As I said, being absent from the blog during the contest was not my intention. And because I didn’t get to do all the fun things I wanted to, I’m going to extend the contest so I can have the chance to do what I want. And since this is my blog—well, I can.

So the blog contest will be extended through April 30th. That gives me time next week to do all the fun things I wanted to do (and still time to prop my leg up and ice it to reduce the massive swelling that gives me an elephant ankle).

Now I’m going to hobble into the house to grab some lunch and get back out here for some writing time before the day gets away from me (it’s on the run and I’m falling behind).

Write on!

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Contest Time!!!

I know it’s not morning, but there was an issue at the kids’ school this morning that I had to take care of (had to go into the principal’s office). It’s all good, but it took most of the morning, and by the time I got home I had to get started on J’s school day (she does online school). So, it’s afternoon, but I promised a contest today and by golly you’re going to get a contest!

This contest is to celebrate When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little. This is an AWESOME middle grade novel!!

I’ll be posting a full review of it within the next few days, but let me just say that I LOVE it!! I’m a fan of Kimberley’s other books (The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets), but I really think this is my favorite. It’s not only a great coming of age story, but I loved, loved, loved the mystery aspect of this one in particular.

Okay, it may be partly due to the fact that I love butterflies and this book was chock full of them, but this book also has mysterious keys and mysterious people. Yeah. L-O-V-E!!

But I’ll stop gushing because I promised a review later, and you just want to know about the Contest!

First, the prizes!

There will be several winners (and more prizes to come over the next few days), but here are the main prizes.


One (1) grand prize winner will get:

A hardcover copy of When the Butterflies Came with a beaded bookmark made by myself, a Live Butterfly Garden (see picture below), and a secret butterfly craft made by me. This may be any one of the following: an origami butterfly, a butterfly mobile made from repurposed water bottles, a butterfly bracelet, a butterfly necklace, a butterfly scrabble tile charm/necklace—who knows what I’ll choose (thus, the word “surprise”)?

WTBC book and bookmark(okay, this is an ARC copy of the book because the hardcover was in the house and I was in my shed and I was too lazy to go inside to get the book for pictures—but I promise you’ll get a hardcover)

This is a close-up of the bookmark (it’s purple because I love purple, but I also have orange, blue, pink, green, or white butterflies and can make one of those colors if you prefer):

butterfly bookmark

And here’s the butterfly garden—you send off the coupon in the box and they’ll send you the caterpillars and food. Then you watch the metamorphosis and when the butterflies emerge, you can release them! YAY!

butterfly garden 


One (1) first prize winner will receive:

A Butterfly and Flowers themed Sun Catchers project. This is a kit that includes paint, a brush, the plastic sun catchers, and some window suction cups. You paint the sun catchers and hang them in your window—yanno so they can catch the sunlight. Fun! The first prize winner will also receive  some When the Butterflies Came bookmarks to share and a secret butterfly craft made by me. This may be a beaded bookmark, or any one of the other crafts I mentioned above in the grand prize section.

suncatcher and bookmarks prizes


Two (2) second prize winners will receive a When the Butterflies Came bookmark and a surprise butterfly craft made by me.

So . . . how do you enter? It’s so easy!! All you have to do is leave a comment telling me if you like butterflies. If you like them, tell me one reason why. If you don’t like them, tell me one reason why. That’s it!

Now, if you want more chances to win, you can spread the word about this contest (with a link) on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere on the internet and leave links to where you shared the love.

The contest will run from now until April 17th (that’s next Wednesday).

Best of luck!

Contest on!

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