Writer’s Block: When your imaginary friends aren’t talking to you.
Writer’s block is no joking matter. We’ve all heard of it and most of us have experienced it at least once in our lives. My writer’s block lasted a couple of years and I worried I’d never write again. It was caused by stress. We lost our home to fire one January and my father died the next January, followed by the loss of my mom’s home due to hurricane flooding and then she fell and broke her hip. That was a really f-ed up couple of years and writing well, it took a backseat. My brain couldn’t even function.
Illness, stress, overloaded with work, family obligations or other things that stretch us too far, can impact our writing. Is this writer’s block? It’s probably a lot more than just writer’s block but for a creative who is unable to create whether it’s writing, painting, or crafting, that feeling of being stopped up and fuzzy, not ourselves is a very real problem. It’s how we express ourselves and when we’re dealing with extra stuff being able to express ourselves is often how we cope. Take away our best coping mechanism and well, shit happens. It’s like being on an infinite loop. We can’t create because we’re stressed, we want to create to relieve stress and become more stressed because we can’t create. Yeah, that’s not an eruption ready to explode.
This type of writer’s block may require more than a few simple steps. If you can’t solve this on your own by taking a break, changing your creative outlet, or asking others to take on some of the work, then you may need to seek professional assistance like a counselor or doctor. There is no shame in asking for help. If you need to see someone for a mental or physical health problem, please do so. I cannot say this enough, you cannot take care of others until you first take care of yourself.
If your writer’s block isn’t health related or due to stress, then it must be about the writing.
If you are just beginning your project and you are having trouble getting started. Have you really thought about your story? As a pantser much of my story is worked out in my head but each story is different. Some I start with a scene in my head, and I need to understand it. Some I have a character and I need to put them in a situation. Other stories I have pieces I need to string together, and some come to me whole cloth and just need to be stitched together. If you are a plotter or planner, perhaps you can’t get started because you’ve not planned enough. If you are a pantser or someone who visualizes their story, perhaps you’ve not thought about it enough and got a complete picture. What can you do to get excited about writing this story? Maybe it’s not the right time to write this story. Maybe you need some more research. Maybe you need a picture of your characters or your setting to jump start your story.
If you’re in the middle of your story and suddenly everything comes to a screeching stop, you may have written yourself into a hole you can’t dig out of. Back up. Read what you wrote before. Go back to the last place you felt was moving along well and read from there on. Usually, once you go back you can see where you’ve gone off the rails and get back on track. If not, ask what needs to happen in order to get to the ending you imagine. How will they have they reach their goal? Or if you want to keep them from achieving their goal, what needs to happen to keep them from getting what they want? Keep asking questions until you find the answers to set your story back on track.
If you are at the end and you’re stalled for how to bring it all to a close. Imagine the final scene. What do you want the reader to feel when they close this book? Are we going to have a happy ending? Or maybe, we’ll have an ambiguous ending. When you decide on the final page of the story. Write it backwards to where you are stuck and then edit. If you’re not sure how you want to end it, try a couple of different ways. Save the other endings for your newsletter or website as alternative endings.
I hope this helps. As we continue to plod our way through NaNoWriMo and other deadlines, remember to stay hydrated, take a few breaks and stretch not only your muscles but your mind as well, and keep on writing. Happy writing, y’all!
Author Sunday, Interview with Sarah by Sherri Lupton Hollister
I am so excited to be a part of Sarah Maury Swan’s author friends’ group. We are getting ready for our next Author Sunday, October 29th at the New Bern Farmers Market 1 to 4 pm.
If you have been around New Bern, you may have seen a little lady on a trike or one of those rolling walkers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is your average little old lady. Sarah Maury Swan is timeless. She is an adventurous soul from her days in the Peace Corps to raising horses, Sarah doesn’t balk at any challenge. I want to be her when I grow up.
Sarah, how many of these Author Sundays have you put together at the New Bern Farmers Market so far?
Sarah: This is my third.
How did you come up with the idea for this local author event?
Sarah: Julie McKeon, who runs the New Bern Farmers’ Market asked me if I would organize a semi-annual “Authors’ Sunday” similar to the one that was held years ago before the market was open every Saturday. Seemed like a good idea to me.
Sunday, October 29th we’re expecting close to forty authors from all over eastern North Carolina. How did you meet all of these authors?
Sarah: Some I knew through local events, but most of them I met thanks to Michelle Garren Flye and her store, Next Chapter Books and Art. When I mentioned the possibility of doing this, she sent out the notice to the authors who sell their books at her store. But I also sent out notices to Carteret Writers, Pamlico Writers and North Carolina Writers Network. We limited the area to eastern Carolina writers as those who live anywhere on the Eastern Raleigh edge. It’s been fun to get to know so many talented people in this area.
You’ve been writing for a number of years, but you’ve only been published a few, tell us a little of your journey to being a published author and why you chose to be indie published.
Sarah: I come from a long line of writers and book readers. So, any chance I had to write, I did. But I didn’t start writing for publication until I was in my sixties. I’m pleased to say I almost immediately got published in magazines. And when I submitted my middle-grade novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, to the Dutton imprint of what is now part of Penguin/Putnam, the editor I sent it to liked it well enough to send it along the chain of editors until it reached the marketers who said they wouldn’t buy it because they already had a horse series in the works. So I sent it down to Peachtree in Atlanta. The editor there wrote back to me saying she liked my writing and the premise of the story, but didn’t connect with my main character, Emily. She asked me to rewrite the book and send it her again. Well, when an editor says that, by gum you rewrite the story. The second time I submitted everybody says it was a good book, but the marketers said they had another horse book in the works. I put Emily aside and wrote Terror’s Identity, which I published through Sable Books. By that time, I was in my mid seventies and decided I didn’t have the time to wait around for my books to be published through trade publishers.
What is your latest book about?
Sarah: Little Bits: A collection of short stories is a collection of short stories that had previously been published in Michelle Garren Flyes’ Next Chapter Literary Magazine. It came out this past summer. My latest novel, Earthquakes, came out just in time for COVID-19 to shut the world down.
What are you working on next?
Sarah: My first ever early reader book, Space Junk, is at my editor’s and I am finishing up another young adult novel, Bad Hair Day, about a sixteen-year-old girl who learns that her idea of having things go wrong is nothing compared to what her cousin’s bad hair day means. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a murder mystery, Serendipity’s Conundrum. Since the main character is a 82-year-old woman who rides a purple tricycle named Gertrude, the story is more a cozy mystery than Sherri’s spicy mysteries.
We will have a couple of food trucks and coupons for a local restaurant and Next Chapter Books, so come on out and choose a few books for yourself, family and friends, grab a bite to eat and support local businesses.
Sipping Sunshine Lemonade and Tea Truck will be there, along with The Burger Bus a new addition to the food truck scene from Swansboro that is US Veteran owned.
We will have live readings throughout the day by various authors.
Sarah will also be speaking at the Pamlico Writers luncheon, Tuesday, October 31st, 11 am to 1 pm at the China Bay Buffet Restaurant Chocowinity, NC. You won’t want to miss either of these events.
Welcome Jessica to my Creekside Café. I am excited to get to know you better! From your bio I learned you were a tattoo artist in New York and then backpacked your way around Europe, now that sounds like a few interesting stories right there.
Jessica: Hello Sherri! Thanks for having me on.
I tattooed for three years, working my way from an apprenticeship to becoming a full-fledged tattoo artist. Ultimately the industry was a bit rough for me, but it was a good learning experience. As for stories, I do have a silly anecdote. One coworker’s young daughter named their dogs Chaos and Discord. They got out occasionally, so passersby would see this big biker guy running down the street shouting, “Chaos! Discord!” which was probably alarming for those not in the know.
As for backpacking through Europe, that was a lot of fun. I saved for two years to afford the travel expenses and time off work, but it was worth every penny. If you ever want to backpack on a budget, I highly suggest finding opportunities to work for room and board. The WorkAway app connects volunteers with hosts. For half of the trip, my homebase was a hostel in Budapest, where I ran the front desk part time. From there, I could travel to other countries whenever I had a couple of days off.
Sherri: Your debut novel, Stem & Stone was released in September, and you have another book coming out in January but it’s not a sequel, is that correct? Will you have a sequel to Stem & Stone?
Jessica: You’re right that Light Step, the January 16, 2024 release, is not a sequel to Stem & Stone. They do take place in the same universe though, and I have another novel I’m working on that ties them together. I also have a sequel for Stem & Stoneoutlined but it’s not a project I’m working on at the moment. There are some other manuscripts I’d like to finish revising first.
Sherri: What inspired this unique story? Tell our audience how this idea came about and why you chose to write young adult fantasy versus adult fiction. Your upcoming novel is adult fiction, we’ll talk about it in a few minutes, but tell us about Stem & Stone.
Jessica: I was reading about J.R.R. Tolkien when I first began conceptualizing the plot of Stem & Stone. He’d set out to write a fable, and that sounded like an interesting project. Stem & Stoneis more my contemporary fairy tale, than a fable though.
The first draft was for me, and while I researched a great deal to flesh out the characters and setting, I didn’t give any thought to how the story would be marketed, once published. It was several drafts later when I began seriously thinking about getting the story out to a wider audience. While learning about the querying process, and what defines the age brackets novels are marketed to, I realized my story didn’t cleanly fit into any age category. Petra, the protagonist, is eleven, which would indicate this as a middle grade story. However, there were some scenes that parents might deem inappropriate for today’s children.
I altered the story to better fit the middle grade market, but those changes understated the themes. Finally, I ran in the other direction, leaning heavily into the darkness. Due to the inclusion of violence and gore, Stem & Stone is for young adults or older readers. I prefer writing fiction for adults because nothing needs to be softened.
Sherri: Now, your upcoming novel, Light Step is a bit different, an adult fabulism, (I had to think about the meaning of that for a minute.) Why the change in genres? What are you hoping readers get from Light Step and how does this differ from Stem & Stone other than the reader’s age?
Jessica: I’ve found I don’t have strong preferences regarding the genres I write. I keep a running list of potential plots and delve into whichever seems most promising, until that draft is complete. I have many manuscripts on the backburner, awaiting revisions, and they include paranormal fiction, epistolary horror, an attempt at a family saga, etc.
Fabulism and magical realism are my favorite genres to read though, and I’ve found that my adult protagonists often have a more contemporary, grounded, setting than my younger protagonists. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up so that’s probably a factor.
Haruki Murakami’s novels have a dreamlike quality and that’s what I hoped to achieve with Light Step, whereas Stem & Stoneshould be unsettling.
Sherri: You are a graphics artist and I see that you and Victoria Moxley worked together to design the cover of Stem & Stone. How was it working with a partner to create your cover? What does the cover convey? How does it help a reader find your book in a sea of other YA dark fantasy books?
Jessica: I went to college for graphic design, and while I enjoy the more illustrative aspects of the industry, I found that the majority of graphic design jobs provide less creative freedom than I desire from a workplace. So I’m more of a commercial artist, and sometimes a fine artist, than a graphics artist nowadays.
When Victoria and I first discussed the book cover for Stem & Stone, I explained how, because digitally illustrated covers have flooded the marketplace, I have a preference for tangible illustrations. I love paper craft, and provided an inspiration Pinterest folder showcasing book covers using this medium, but stated that I was open to other mediums. I sent her a picture of a paper craft illustration I’d made of the St’Avgull, a magical flower that serves as a portal in Stem & Stone. She found the craft to be of quality and suggested we use it in the cover design.
Sherri: Have you been to Iceland? What was your experience like? Or why did you choose Iceland for the setting of the beginning of your story?
Jessica: I haven’t been to Iceland yet but it is absolutely a goal! Culturally, they allow for the possibility that elves exist, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a fairy tale. Their government protects sites of supernatural significance so when I eventually visit, I plan to tour some of those.
Sherri: You published your book with Tea With Coffee Media, what was your experience like? If another writer came up to you and asked about publishing with Tea With Coffee, what would you say to them?
Jessica: I’ve had a very positive experience publishing with Tea With Coffee Media. Aside from how (very) professionally they conduct all official business, they also host monthly marketing lessons for authors, which I’ve greatly benefited from. Whenever a writer mentions they’re looking to publish, I suggest they check out Tea With Coffee Media.
Sherri: You are a fantastic artist. Do you design covers for other authors? Does your art factor into your writing? Is there a connecting theme between your writing and your visual art?
Jessica: Thank you! I haven’t designed book covers for other authors but I would be open to the idea, if an author contacted me proposing a project. My art background has factored into some of my writing. One of the back-burnered manuscripts has an artist as the protagonist, but I’ve also found that I tend to be precise when describing colors and textures. And, of course, I enjoy making illustrations to accompany my writing.
Sherri: How long have you been writing and when did you know you wanted to be a published author?
Jessica: I always wanted to be part of the literary world, but growing up, I didn’t think I had the stamina to finish writing a book. With a passion for art, I went into graphic design planning to become a book cover designer after graduating—which didn’t exactlypan out. I was living in Albany NY, which isn’t quite a publishing hotspot, and as a non-driver, I was very limited in where I could work.
I wrote my first novel in the summer of 2012, when I was working at a resort, right before entering my senior year at the College of Saint Rose. The story was a mess but it proved to me I could at least meet the word count. From then on, I had the idea that I might one day publish but I wasn’t actively looking into how to go about doing that. I wrote Stem & Stone in 2018, as my NaNoWriMo project, and I began seriously querying it in 2020. It was the third novel I’d written.
Sherri: What are you working on now? Do you have anything else planned?
Jessica: Right now I’m about to jump back into revising Soul Walker, my paranormal fiction. It’s the story that ties Stem & Stone to Light Step and it’s been in the works since 2016. I’d like to see it completed and out in the world.
Sherri: If you enjoyed my chat with Jessica then you can follow her on social media, the links are below and check out her debut novel, Stem & Stone. If you are looking to publish, promote or for book editors or formatters, check out Tea With Coffee Media. https://teawithcoffee.media/
Are you any good at crossword puzzles? If you have read my books, this one is easy. I’m giving away a $5 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner. Fill out the puzzle send it back to me and get your name added to the drawing. I will draw Halloween, October 31st, 2023 and announce the winner November 1st!
As a writer we spend a lot of time alone with our keyboards. I recently had the chance to attend a festival and while my goal was to sell books, what I received was even more valuable. First, the connections I made prior to the festival by doing promotions for myself and other participants by reposting and engaging with the other attendees helped me to be seen on other Facebook pages while sharing my page with others. Part of promoting ourselves requires us to reach out to others and share our space. In my case, the Fish and Farm Festival was a local event which I wanted to promote not just because I was going to be there, but because of the work these folks have been doing to help restore our town.
The second thing I received was the chance to get to know my fellow Pamlico Writers’ group member, friend, and the lady who has taken on the task of event programming, Mandy Monath. When we’re at a meeting or event there are the demands and expectations of other people and as leaders of PWG it is up to us to made sure everything is done, having a few minutes to talk candidly and get to know each other was a real boon. We were able to share personal information as well as make plans for upcoming events. Taking a few minutes to really get to know your fellow authors, group members, and even readers is a luxury few of us take time to enjoy.
Thirdly, meeting readers and writers and being able to help them discover something they need or would enjoy even if it’s not your book. Having a writer-friend come out just to buy your book and be able to introduce her to your other writer-friend. Sharing information and learning from each other, taking the time to listen as well as impart.
Over the years of engaging with other writers I’ve discovered that everyone has something to share and no matter where we are on the scale we need to stop and listen because things are changing too quickly to believe that even as an experienced author we have all the answers. I have learned as much from a new writers as I have from a seasoned author.
My advice, such as it is, if you have the opportunity to attend an event make the most of it and remember selling books is only a small part of what it’s about. Being an author, especially an indie author is about building a strong foundation–make connections and friends, get your name out there–these are all important parts of the process. Like building a house, we first have to dig down and place footers, pour a foundation, we need to start strong in order to build a viable author career.
I will be at the Fish and Farm Festival in Aurora Saturday, September 9th. Come by and visit if you’re in town and if you want, you can buy a book. Remy’s Dilemma, the final book in the Harrell Family Chronicles is available along with all of my backlist. Come on out and join the fun. Food vendors, crafters, musicians, games, tractor pull and more. I had so much fun last year. I can’t wait.
After the festival, books will be available at the Blue Crab in Aurora, The Next Chapter Books in New Bern, and as soon as I can get there, the Riverwalk Gallery in Washington. If you want a signed copy of any of my books, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, $16 per book in continental United States.
If you prefer ebooks, my Harrell Family Chronicles are on sale for $1.99 each, don’t miss your chance to get them for this low price. (Regular price $3.99 each)
Do you like Horror Movies?
Carnival of Darkness starts Friday, September 22nd at Raised in a Barn Farm, and continues through Saturday at the historic Turnage Theater where the Haunted Pamlico will be showing submissions to their Carnival of Darkness film competition. With hundreds of film entries from all around the world, live action entertainment, awards and attractions, the Carnival of Darkness starts the haunting season with a true carnival experience. If you love spooky and things that go bump in the night, you won’t want to miss this event!
In honor of my friends at Haunted Pamlico I’m giving away a free ticket to the Carnival of Darkness weekend to one lucky winner, a $25 value. To get your name in the drawing, all you have to do is post a review of any of my books and email me a link to the review(s). The review has to be current 2023. It can be on Amazon, Goodreads or Bookbub. Each review will get another chance to win.
The drawing will be Wednesday, September 20th. The winner’s name will be given and they will be able to pick up their ticket at the event. Good Luck!
Setting is more than just a place. Often where a story is set is more important than even when it takes place. A romance set in New Orleans would be very different from one set in New York City. When we think about horror it is often in a small rural setting but when it’s done in a suburban setting or in a city, it takes on a different feel.
I love any story set in Louisiana or North Carolina because I’ve lived in both places. I also love to read a lot of westerns both modern and historical because of my travels. Feeling a connection to the places I read about is part of the fun, but I also love to read about the highlands of Scotland and Regency or Victorian England even though I’ve never been there.
Part of what I love about reading and writing about different places is becoming immersed in the setting. Victorian London fog evokes danger and mystery. A stone castle alone on a windswept mountain can give you the feeling of strength and solitude, or if viewed during a storm, fear and uncertainty.
Setting combined with weather, time period (era), season and the emotions of the point of view character can influence the reader’s feelings. If a determined optimist arrives during a terrible storm to a cold, ancient stone castle, they might be glad to be out of the storm and notice all the faded beauty and majesty of the castle, thankful for a fire in a hearth to chase away the chill. On the other hand, a grumpy, pessimist might see the same castle with its cold stone and faded glory as another burden to bear. Someone who is a bit melodramatic and fearful might view it all with a sense of foreboding and fear.
To give the reader the most accurate version of what you wish them to know and feel about the setting, be sure to have one of your point of view characters react to it that way. If you wish to surprise your reader or mislead them, do just the opposite. Remember in jaws, the characters are all reacting to a day at the beach. They are mostly happy, excited, having fun…until disaster strikes.
With hurricane Idalia just making her way past North Carolina, I wonder how writers might portray this event differently depending on their experience. Here we had little more than a tropical storm but down in Florida the experience was a bit different. Using natural disasters in a story, severe weather, even terrible events, can add another layer of drama, fear, and even depth to the setting, time period and even the characters’ growth. How a character reacts to these things can tell us a little more about them.
How do you feel about setting, weather and events in your stories? Do you like to read about them? Do you write about them?
sherrilhollister.com/Suspense She Writes Bookstore Dismiss