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Get That Song Out Of Your Head

So, last weekend we went to see the new Mary Poppins movie. This movie is delightful, Emily Blunt is delightful and the music is delightful (go see if you get a chance).

But, I’ll tell you what’s not delightful. The fact that, since going to see it, the boyfriend’s kiddo plays the soundtrack, or sings that soundtrack, pretty much every chance she gets. Particularly the song, The Cover is Not The Book.

Now, I like this song, I really do. But, what started out as a lovely little diddy has now turned into the earworm from hell. It’s in my head all. the. time. And when it’s not, she turns it on and it wriggles its way back in.  

While many of you parents may not be surprised by this (Frozen, anyone?) I am new to this parenting/step-parenting thing and have not yet experienced the mania for a certain song.

So, in order to counteract this and get the song out of my head (before I started to hate it) I needed to take action.

I decided to put another song in.

Any other song. Any other catchy, obnoxious song. The Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast made its way in.  We’re Off To See The Wizard made an appearance.

And, it worked. When the original earworm would start to sneak back in, I would just repeat, “Because, because, because, because, becaauuuuse…because of the wonderful things he does.”

After the success of this method, I wondered…could this work in other areas of life?

If you don’t like the current song going through your head…change it.

If you’re not succeeding at your current focus, change your focus.

If you’ve been repeating, “I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book,” and you’re not writing a book, quit beating yourself up. Change your goal. Try, “I’m going to write a chapter.” Or, “I’m going to write 500 words.” And repeat that over and over until it’s true.

Or, shift your focus completely.

Writing goals have always been front and center for me. My head is constantly full of pesky earworms like:

“Write every day.”

“If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Or other not-always-helpful-idioms. It can get exhausting.

This year, I’ve shifted my focus a bit to my physical health. I’ve been spending time doing yoga, reading about it, going to the gym more, and trying to meditate. And ya know what? I started writing more.

Taking my focus off the song that was always in my head (the pressure to write all the time) and replacing it with a new song (go to yoga once a week, read a yoga book) made it easier to enjoy the original song again.

So, if you’ve got the same thing going through your head over and over, try changing the tune.

“I’ve already failed at my New Year’s Resolutions,” could be, “Today is another chance to set new goals.”

“I can’t find time to write every day…” could be, “Ten minutes is enough to get a few hundred words in!”

Don’t let a song stuck on repeat exhaust you. Get that song out of your head and pick a new tune.

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*I do not own the image associated with this post:

Creator:Photo Credit: Jay Maidment
Credit:Jay Maidment
Copyright:© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved..
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We Hope For Better Things the Perfect Book for a New Year

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartles was the perfect book to finish on the first day of a new year. A book about learning from the past to create new beginnings, it leaves you with feelings of hope, renewal, and an appreciation for those that came before you.

One of the first things I thought to say about this beautiful book was that it helped me rediscover my love of reading. A true page-turner, this was the first book in a long time that helped me recapture that feeling of needing to get to the next page, pushing it past my bedtime just to read another line and thinking about the stories and characters until I could again get back to the book. We all know how easily life gets in the way of reading. But true book lovers also know, and relish, that feeling of being so immersed in a book that you can’t wait to pick it up again. It’s been a little while since I felt that with a book. This book helped me recapture it.

Told from the point of view of three different women living in three different generations, each story is captivating and unique and immerses the reader in the lives of the storyteller. In a lot of books with more than one point of view, there’s typically one that holds the reader’s attention more than others, one that causes you to rush through the others so you can get back to the more interesting storyline. Not so in We Hope For Better Things. Each story, a journalist in modern-day Detroit, a farmer’s wife during the Civil War, and an upper-class white woman in the tumultuous 1960’s Detroit, has its own unique pull. When one chapter ends, you are sad to leave that time period only briefly before you are pulled into the next.

The stories that it highlights are important stories, stories that many, even those of us that live near Detroit, do not know, understand, or appreciate. I’ve always heard about the Detroit Riots, but that’s it….just heard about them. I was distanced enough from them in geography and time that they were never more than a historical event in the not-so-distant past. This book gave them life. It gave them faces. While fictional, it helped bring them to life for a new generation.

Beautifully written, the stories told in We Hope For Better Things, will stay with you long after you put the book down. I am happy to go into 2019 with the ghosts of these characters dancing my head. The front of the book contains a quote comparing this story to To Kill a Mockingbird and– much like Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Boo– Mary, Nora, and Elizabeth will now follow me wherever I go, reminding me that no matter the time period, there are always those that imagine that things can be better.

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Is Life Just a Series of Changes?

For me, the last five years have been a constant swirl of changes…jobs, relationships, new apartments, new cities, back to old cities, endings, beginnings, second chances….it’s exciting and, frankly, a little exhausting.

I’ve been known to say, in the midst of all these changes, that I’d be happy when things just settled down a little. When I was in the same place for more than a year, heck, even the same city, I could feel calm. When I wasn’t switching jobs (I guess it’s a millennial thing?) or healthcare or getting used to new situations, I’d feel at peace. But, I’ve been saying that for going on 5 or so years (I don’t even know anymore…time is irrelevant). And, as I step into something new once again, I step out of a year filled with moves, ending, beginnings, and second chances and face another year of intense changes.

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Faced with this reality, I have to ask…is this just life?

Do we ever really settle into life? And do we really want to?

I often hear friends or family say, “When things slow down we’ll…” or “When things are less hectic,” or “when I’m settled…”

But I’m starting to wonder, are things EVER less hectic?

It makes sense that I would crave stability. I lived in the same house for 13 years, attended school within 1 mile of that house and lived in the same town until I was 18. My brother and I thrived on tradition because, due to certain unstable characteristics of our home life, anything that was the same from one day to the next brought us comfort. So, it makes sense that when I am feeling burnt out or pulled in all directions I find myself wishing for the stability of a long-lived in home, familiar faces, and welcoming neighbors. But, the truth is, even when I had these things again in my late twenties, I wasn’t at peace.

I SAY I crave a life without constant change, but do I really?

If you think about it, there’s no growth without change….if things are constantly the same, you’re constantly the same. I am definitely not the same person I was before all this change kicked off and I sure as shit like this person a lot better. I know a whole lot more about myself including how strong I can be when I need to, what I want and don’t want in a relationship, what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m NOT.

“There’s no growth without change…”

Without all the changes of the last few years, I wouldn’t know any of that, and I would probably be very unhappy. Or, if not unhappy, definitely not satisfied. If all the tiny details of the road behind me hadn’t landed where they had, if any detail had been different, I might not be where I am. And while where I am isn’t perfect, I am happy with it. And because I’ve faced so many changes, I know I can face more.

I mean, even Disney addresses the need for change through Belle in Beauty and the Beast:

“There goes the baker with his tray like always,

the same old bread and rolls to sell…

Every morning just the same, 

since the morning that we came,

to this poor provincial town…”

belle

(Fun fact: I didn’t have the look up the lyrics for that…some things DON’T change…)

She’s bored with her life and hungry for change, even if it means living in an old castle with a grumpy beast.

So, it seems, despite my hopes for settling and calmness and stability, life is only going to keep changing and maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s all life really is, one change after another to help mold us, change us, and turn us into the people we want to be.

2019 is going to be a crazy year, people. And I can’t wait.

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How Country Music Inspired My Flash Fiction

From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.

Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.

Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.

These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.

Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.

I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.

The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.

In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.

I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.

 

See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

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Posts About Nothing: Good Morning, Alexa

Warning: This is a post about nothing. Nothing other than the random thoughts that pop into my head at any given time. Remember Seinfeld? They’re kinda like that. Amusing, but not really about anything in particular. You’ve been warned. Enjoy.

Alexa, Amazon’s AI helper, is great for a lot of things.

“Alexa, what’s the weather like?”

“It’s raining.”

“Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes.”

“25 minutes and counting.”

“Alexa, turn on the living room lights.”

“Here you go, ya lazy SOB…”

Just kidding, she doesn’t say that last one, that’s just how I feel sometimes.

But don’t get snarky with her.

“Alexa, that was a half-hearted effort…”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence. Here’s some information about farts…”

“Umm…no?”

She really did say that last one.

We also had Alexa and Siri have a rap battle. Alexa won. Hands down. She also has a really nice singing voice.

So, she has her perks and I enjoy telling her to turn on the light when I’m right next to it and asking her about the weather when I could just look out the window. What I DON’T enjoy is yelling at her first thing in the morning.

Boyfriend thinks connecting all the lights to her is brilliant. At night, it’s just, “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lamp,” instead of reaching allllll the way over and flipping it off. Which, I have to admit is nice on cold nights when I’m already curled up under the blankets. BUT, the mornings are a different story.

To turn on the lamp beside my side of the bed, I have to say, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s lamp.” Seems simple enough, right? The problem is, I don’t want to talk to anyone in the mornings. Especially a sassy AI with an attitude problem and a really loud voice.

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I’m telling you, Alexa can be a real bitch in the mornings.

In a grumbly morning voice, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom lamp.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD VOICE

“I’M SORRY, I CAN’T FIND AH-LI’S BEDROOM LAMP.”

From under the covers…”Noooo….”

“I’M SORRY, I DON’T THINK I CAN ANSWER THAT.”

“ALEXA, STOP.”

Silence. And it’s still dark.

At this point, I feel like I need coffee before I can even get the lights on and I am regretting letting Boyfriend bring another woman into the bedroom.

“Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom light…I mean, lamp!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that device.”

“Ugh, I give up.”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence…”

“ALEXA, STOP!”

So, while rap battles and talking about farts are all well and good, I think I’m better off waiting until after coffee to converse with the AI in my bedroom.

Anyway, if you’re ever frustrated with AI, just remember…it could be worse than Alexa. Find out how by picking up my book, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction” and checking out the story, “The Angels Inside Me.” You can get a sneak peek of this story here. 

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Use NanoWrimo To Your Advantage

That magical time of year is almost upon us. No, not Halloween. Nope, not even Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m talking about the time of year that writers both revere and dread–National Novel Writing Month. This month, affectionately known as NanoWrimo or Nano, is a torturous, I mean glorious, month where writers are urged to write a novel in one month. For the purposes of the month, this equals 50,000 words. Yup, 50,000 words in a month. Seems crazy, right? Well, most writers are a little crazy.

And, it can be done. Thousands of writers do it every year. I’ve done it twice.

And, sometimes, it gets pretty great results. Water for Elephants started as a Nano book.

While there are many awesome advantages to Nano, one of the downfalls is that it tends to leave out those not working on novels but still working on cranking out some words.

So, I’m here to say…

Use Nano to Your Advantage

If it’s not done right, Nano can be a huge waste of time. Devoting a month of your life to something that won’t see the light day is not a productive use of your time and is not the point of National Writing Month. The point of this writing sprint is not only the word count, it’s also to create something that can someday BE something. But, if a novel is not your focus and you spend a month pushing yourself to write 50,000 words that may never see the light of day…you’re kind of missing the point of the whole thing. The point is motivation. The point is creation. The point is to get off your butt and actually write.
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So, if a novel isn’t your focus…

Make it Your Own

If you’re not working on a novel, you don’t have to force it during Nano. For example, novels have not been my focus lately, flash fiction has. I just published a book of flash and would like to publish another fairly soon. In order to get some more material, I’ve decided to use NanoWrimo to crank out a ton of flash, fast. I may not write 50,000 words, but that’s not my goal. My goal will be to have enough material to get out a volume 2 of “Flash in the Dark.”

My Plan

So, what will I do differently? Rather than write 50,000 words in a month, my goal will be to write 1,000 words a day. In the flash fiction world, that’s an entire story. I’m not 100% sure what this will look like. Will I be able to write an entirely new, full story every single day? Maybe not. But I can get a lot of shitty first drafts done. I can flesh out some ideas. I can dig into a new idea I have but am not really prepared to write for November. I can get a lot of words on paper. Words that I am much more likely use than if they were written for a novel I wasn’t ready to write.
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To prepare, I am prepping daily prompts. I work best with a guide and parameters and I know that. So, I’m setting myself up for success.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re prepared, Nano is an awesome kick in the butt. It’s fantastic motivation. It’s encouragement. It’s a procrastination killer that can help you create a novel where there once was nothing. If a novel is your goal and you have an idea ready to roll, do it. Do it the way it was meant to be done. Sign up on the website. Go to write-ins. Set daily words goals and write your novel.

But, if you’re like me, working on another type of writing project but still need extra motivation in order to get the words out, do something different. Make it your own. Set your own goals. But still write everyday. Still go write-ins (they are a great way to stay motivated and connect with others doing exactly what you’re doing). Still get those words out and still create something awesome.

So, whether you end up with a new novel, a bunch of short stories, half a novel, or a play, you’ll have something that wasn’t there before and THAT, my friends, sure is something.

Curious about that book I spoke of? Check out Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction

 

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Finding Hidden Themes…In Your Own Writing

When I was in high school, my English teachers always asked, “What was this author really saying? What did they mean? What does this object represent?” And I, even though I loved English class but was still a moody teenager, would inwardly groan and wonder…can’t a rose just be a rose? They probably mean just what they wrote. And, because I already knew I wanted to be a writer one day, I would silently plead, I hope people don’t dissect my writing one day. I’m just going to write what I mean and I hope my readers can see that.

Well, surprise, surprise…I was wrong.

Turns out, as much as I actually do try to write what I mean, what I mean isn’t always super straightforward. Take that sentence, for example.

Let me back up. As I’ve been preparing to launch my debut book of flash fiction, I’ve been sending out copies to friends in order to get some feedback, create some buzz and get some reviews. My friends not only delivered feedback and reviews, but they also gave me a little glimpse into my own psyche.

“It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

Take this quote from a review from my friend, Stewart (and no, I did not pay him to write these incredibly kind things), “I think we’re given glimpses into the parts of Allison’s life which have hurt, brought joy, and lust for hope.” I certainly did not mean to give a glimpse into my life. In fact, most of these stories have a supernatural or sci-fi element and could not have felt further from my life when I was writing them. But then he says of one story, “On full display is the role of women of all ages in society,” and “It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

I don’t share these quotes to toot my own horn, though, toot toot. I share because, as we were discussing some of his observations, I realized that yes, my views of gender roles were on full display in many of my stories. In “The Final Cry,” which you can find in the Future Visions Volume 2 anthology, a married couple is faced with a brutal reality and the way they cope with their grief represents how I’ve always seen grief handled by the women around me.

He pointed out that he was surprised that it was the woman who took on a particular task that would (hopefully) help the couple move on from their grief and I realized I was surprised he was surprised. Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones. I knew I thought all of this, of course, but never was it so obvious to me than when the themes in my own writing were recited back to me.

Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones.

I was also asked, by another friend and an early reader of my book, if one aspect of a particular story was a theme for mental illness. I said no, it was simply about a mind control device. And then I thought about it and it turns out “simply” was the wrong word. While I did not intend this story to be about mental illness, I would never pretend to understand what it’s like to live with it, I have, as I explained to him, always been fascinated with “the line between reality and the things that exist only in our heads…” and the fear of not being able to differentiate between the two. And isn’t that a little bit the same as a mental illness? Our brains tell us one thing and pretty soon we can’t tell what part is true and what part is the disease.

Like I said, I have never had to personally deal with mental illness but I have had a loved one who struggled with addiction and I saw this line, the line between truth and the addiction, blurred every single day. I have always wanted to write about this but didn’t think I was ready. Turns out, if I take a closer look at my writing, I am already writing it in small ways.

So, why do I find this outside view of the themes in my writing so helpful? Because now that I am aware of how I feel, I want to explore it more. Why should we as writers take a look back at our own writing to find unintentional themes? It might just teach us a little bit about ourselves. And, if that’s not motivation enough, it might also give you more to write about.

I never wanted my writing to be dissected…now that it has…I’m ok with it.

What themes do you find yourself writing about unintentionally?

Psst…Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction, will be available on October 19th and the ebook is available for pre-order right now!

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