Struggling with Creativity

I’m having a hard time writing right now. It’s not because of stress. I think I write better in times of stress – which is why approaching deadlines bring out some of my best work.

But, right now I sit at my computer and I stare, then I feel fatigued, finally I get back up and find something else to do. Then I tell myself to go back to my computer, sit and stare, feel fatigued, then get up and find something else to do. It’s the never-ending, exhausting cycle.

It’s possible it’s because we have everyone home right now. I’m used to hours upon hours of solitude — just me and the dogs and cat. I can go into my fictional world and I can stay there until one of them nudges me to go outside or until an alarm goes off reminding me to return to my regular world and greet my children after school.

Right now, there are noises, voices, activity. I have meals to cook, the kitchen to clean, laundry to do. The boys are doing school all day, until 4-5 as a standard, and I help them off and on. We’re taking walks, playing games, staying engaged and encouraging.

But I have the ability to shut an office door and a household of people who respect that shut door, so I’m not entirely convinced that is the reason.

My husband is high risk if he gets COVID-19, as is my father and father-in-law. Military service comes with a price and their bodies paid that toll. We all know if one of them gets sick, it will get bad before it gets worse. That kind of puts our household into a little bit of tension.

But we’ve socially isolated and Gregg wears masks and gloves whenever he goes out. We’re super careful, knowing the longer it takes for him to get this highly contagious virus, the longer doctors and scientists have to develop treatments and/or vaccines.

It’s possible any or all of those excuses are the reasons I cannot create. However, I think it’s way more than that.

Right now, in Alexandra’s Appeal, Alex and Jon are enjoying a summer afternoon in New York City. They’ve had lunch at her favorite deli, they’ve strolled along her avenue, he’s checked into his room at the Viscolli New York…it’s normal and nice and Alex has big news she’s contemplating springing on Jon.

Drive-through COVID-19 check in Staten Island. Source: Business Insider. Click picture for article

But, right now in New York City, there are over 30,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. There are only four countries in the world with more positively tested people than just NYC. The people in the streets wear masks. Many businesses are closed. There are no shows playing on Broadway, no ferries to the Statue of Liberty.

As I sit down to write my romance, my mind won’t let go of the fact that my happy summer day is right now entirely fiction. What will this summer look like? I have no idea. But I think it’s going to be different from what it has ever been, and not just in New York.

I don’t think that when this social distancing order is lifted that everything will go back to “normal”.

This is a global crisis. It’s going to take a long time to discover our new normal once the initial first wave passes. People will be coping with financial struggles, dealing with loss. I have a feeling there will be new rules and regulations that we’ll need to get used to.

All of that gets in my way when I sit down and try to write. This logical part of my brain won’t let me go into the fictional world I’m creating, and when I try, reality tries to seep in. When I mentioned this to a professional novelists organization I’m a member of, about half of the responding authors are feeling exactly the same thing (so at least I know I’m not alone.) But, the other half claimed that our readers need our fictional world right now, because the real world is as uncertain and as scary as I’ve said here. I totally get that.

Today marks my 8th anniversary since I published my first book: Sapphire Ice. In the last 8 years, I’ve written 30 books, countless articles, spoken and taught around the world, and cultivated relationships with and prayed for authors and readers through the globe.

I know my writing is a gifting from God. My mission statement is to prayerfully craft stories as modern day parables to uplift fellow believers and minister to seekers in our fallen world.

I don’t feel like God is done with me yet. I feel like I’m still on mission, still to use my gifts and keep writing. What’s more, God already knows what this summer looks like, what next year looks like, what next decade looks like. If I’m crippled with uncertainty, it’s not coming from Him.

So, I’m determined to pray through it and find a way to write around the full household and the underlying heightened awareness of our current situations. And my prayer is that this summer romance brings joy and peace to a population who needs extra doses of that right now.

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Interview with Zoe M. McCarthy and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m excited to  have Zoe McCarthy as my guest. I very much enjoyed her interview, including reading with rapt attention her experience in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis! Zoe is giving away a copy of her latest release. Read on to see how you can enter to win!

Tell us a little about yourself. I was pegged an expressive analytic in a personality test. Isn’t that an oxymoron? But it’s true. I couldn’t survive without creativity and expressing my imaginative ideas. Yet, this retired actuary* and introvert receives her energy from being alone in her home office overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Believing opposites distract, I have seven Christian contemporary romances involving tenderness and humor. To satisfy my analytical side, I also have a book out on writing. My husband and I enjoy canoeing and spending time at our lake cabin, where I write during month-long sabbaticals—alone.

*Actuaries perform all the mathematical analysis for insurance companies, pricing products and estimating reserves to pay claims.

Tell us about your current release. The Irresistible Woman in a Blue Dress is the third book in the Twisty Creek Series. After book one had a title and cover with a red dress and book two had a title and cover with a black dress, I wanted a blue-dress book. I spotted the photo with a woman wearing a blue gown and knew I had to write a fashion model’s story. Here’s the cover blurb.

Overworked Chicago fashion model Vivian Day flees a difficult photo shoot in Roanoke, Virginia, and heads for a three-week vacation in Tennessee.

But when Vivian detours into the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, her car breaks down on a remote mountain road. Home-improvement-store manager Brayden Cole gives the frustrated woman wearing a blue gown and flip-flops a ride and, while her car’s in the shop, a room at his mother’s house in Twisty Creek. Brayden’s mother urges him to entertain the big-city woman. Brayden, who considers himself a magnet for women’s woes, reluctantly introduces Vivian to the mountain lifestyle and breathtaking views.

Now, as Vivian experiences the simple mountain life, she realizes her stressful career and demanding agent, who’s her mother, are draining joy from her life.

How do you push back the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher (or agent or audience if you self-publish)? I’ve done three things to build confidence in my writing. First, from the beginning, I have attended writing conferences and workshops, read Writer’s digest articles, and ingested several popular books on writing. Second, because I love learning about the writing craft, I write blog posts on writing. For whatever I’m dealing with at the moment in my writing or marketing, I Google articles and consult my bookshelf resources. Then I write a blog post of what I learned. An agent and an editor recommended I write a book from my blog posts. Seeing what I learned made me confident in my writing, I wrote Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days to help others to be assured in theirs. Third, through my traditional publishing, I found an editor who is on my side and is tough on my writing. Because I trust her, I became confident to be a hybrid author—indie and traditional publishing. I hire her for every book.

How did you determine to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? At first, I trusted only the traditional publishing process to help me offer well-written books. The belief-trend at the time was that most self-published books were substandard. I didn’t want my stories to be lost in that negativity to indie books. Then an award-winning author invited me to be part of a five-author Valentine’s Day romance collection. It was a very positive experience. I hired my editor to edit my short book. Sales were great. Reviews that mentioned my story in the collection were encouraging. The collection won Interviews and Reviews’s book-of-the month award. I liked the speed between our finishing our books and publication. I liked being able to track sales online. We were allowed to publish the print copy of our books a week after the collection released, then when the six-month Kindle offering ended, I was able to indie publish my book. I joined a second Valentine’s Day collection and am in the process of contributing to a fall collection. After I experienced the collection process and my husband became my partner in self-publishing and marketing, I self-published more stand-alone books and series. However, for the speculative story that has unexpectedly grabbed me, I plan to have my agent shop it to traditional publishers.

Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as they write? I do both. I believe in the Hero’s Journey that Christopher Vogler advocates. Once I have my idea, I flesh out the twelve journey steps that take my protagonists through their struggles and crises and that develop my character arcs. The Hero’s Journey keeps me from having a sagging middle. And the process allows me freedom to develop as I write sub-events within the steps. Also, I feel free to let characters face different struggles or react differently than my plan if the new idea is stronger than my original one. As for my characters, I use the Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi to develop traits that have developed from their past wounds; how they react to new situations; and what event shows they’ve overcome their wounds’ ills. Also, as I plot and develop characters, I consider my audience. Although my main audience is women over 45, I’ve found that these women buy my clean romances for their daughters and granddaughters. These young adults, teens, preteens have become part of my audience. So, in planning crises and how I present them, I remind myself a thirteen-year-old will read the book.

Where is the strangest place you’ve had a great writing idea? One summer, while my husband and brother-in-law followed golf pros around the course at the PGA Seniors Golf Tournament, my sister and I sat in canvas chairs on the seventeenth green. We watched the pros and their caddies putt through. In one group, a tall young caddie and a petite female caddie, with her blonde ponytail protruding from the back of her pink ball cap, stood on the edge of the green with their backs to us. All sorts of sappy ideas went through my mind. I turned to my sister, pointed, and said, “My next book is about those two caddies.” And it was—The Putting Green Whisperer.

What’s the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS. When I was fifteen, the Coast Guard stationed my family in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The five-square-mile base had gray Naval busses, a PX store, a teen club, and two beaches where Cuban soldiers spied on us from surrounding cliffs. On October 22, 1962, our high school principal announced on the PA system, “When the lunch bell rings, go directly home. Don’t go elsewhere.” The bell rang, and on my gray bus, the buzz started. Some kids had an inkling of what was happening. I was clueless. I saw suitcases on yards in the officers’ housing where I lived. At my house, I raced inside and called, “Mom, what’s going on?” Mom said, “I don’t know. We’re to pack a suitcase and stand out front.” I packed one skirt, two blouses, and my hair rollers. My younger brother arrived, and my father stopped by for a quick good-bye. In less than two hours, my mother, brother, and I stood in line to board the military transport, USNS Upshur, which authorities had detained for a week, the captain claiming a broken boiler. We sailed three days to Norfolk, Virginia, where it was snowing. For a teen, the time on-board was exciting. The guys avoided the army sergeant who tried to keep them from us girls, and the girls avoided the enlisted men’s wives who’d been made MPs and ordered us to clean diapers out of toilets. President Kennedy came on the ship’s PA system and apologized for uprooting us. In Norfolk, we were processed and directed to a hangar stocked with donated coats. My mother left the decisions to me. I chose my grandmother’s Florida home over my grandparents’ in Ohio, because I had summer clothes and my sister attended the University of South Florida. Unlike many teens who didn’t go to school and stayed in the Norfolk area, my mother had us in Tampa schools the following Monday. After three months, we returned to Guantanamo. I was ecstatic.

Here is where you can find Zoe online:

https://zoemmccarthy.com

https://www.facebook.com/ZoeMMcCarthyAuthor

https://www.instagram.com/zoe_m._mccarthy/

https://www.twitter.com/ZoeMMcCarthy

Zoe is giving an ebook of The Irresistible Woman in a Blue Dress to a reader! See below how to enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 3/23/20 – Social Isolation Week 2 – Autism – Book Anniversary – 5-Book Giveaway!

Hello! Welcome to Monday Morning Coffee and Chat! Today I’m talking about the first week of homeschooling and autism, my 8-year anniversary of publishing, the 5-book ebook I’m giving away, speaking, teaching, and a 4-books for 1 paperback sale.
Links talked about in this video are:
free Yesterday’s Mail ebook: https://www.inspyromance.com/putting-myself-into-a-character/
and:
Buy Sapphire Ice paperback and get the other 3 books free: https://www.paypal.com/instantcommerce/checkout/B8B9NQG2SRQBW

The books discussed in this chat are:
Chasing Pearl
Yesterday’s Mail
Sapphire Ice
Greater Than Rubies
Emerald Fire
Topaz Heat

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Interview with Melissa Jagears and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m so happy that Melissa Jagears is joining us. For one, she homeschools three kids and STILL WRITES. I haven’t written a word since my kids have been home socially distanced from the world. I have massive respect for any writer who homeschools. But beyond that, her book sounds SO GOOD. Seriously. Check it out – and check out how you can enter for a chance to win a copy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I’m a way too busy lady! I homeschool my three kids, teach Spanish classes, write and edit books, and try to keep my house clean!
I grew up in Branson, Missouri, professionally taught English as a Second Language, but now I’m a Kansas girl and teach everything under the sun. 🙂

Tell us about your current release. I wanted to write a marriage of convenience story where the reason they wed for convenience was stripped away from them immediately after they exchanged vows. What would they do when they found themselves permanently tied to a stranger for no good reason? Here’s the official blurb:

Marrying a stranger to save a ranch is one thing; losing the land on their wedding day is another.

Desperate to keep the ranch where three of her children and a husband lie buried, Annie Gephart must marry or sell. Which of the few bachelors in town would consider a surprise proposal to wed a plain widow with a rebellious daughter, a spirited boy, and unpaid taxes—without laughing in her face?

Jacob Hendrix has never fully let go of his ranching dreams despite ending up as a small Wyoming town’s marshal. The job wouldn’t be so bad, except he’s more errand boy than lawman. When Annie proposes marriage without a single coquettish bat of an eyelash, can he commit himself to a woman he hardly knows for a choice piece of property he’d be an idiot to pass up?

But taxes aren’t all that threaten Annie and Jacob’s plans. Cattle rustlers, crumbling friendships, and wayward children make this marriage of convenience anything but. When they lose what they’ve sacrificed everything to save, will the love of a stranger be enough?

Romancing the Bride is the first book in the Frontier Vows Series by award-winning Christian romance author Melissa Jagears. If you like heartwarming marriage-of-convenience stories, you’ll love this sweet romance filled with endearing characters.

How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it? I got LOTS of professional opinions when I started out. Not just my friends and family thoughts or hobby writers, but I sought out writers who were studying story craft and were serious at getting published, in a critique group initially.
You have to find picky critiquers but ones who’ll critique YOUR story, not tell you how they’d write it if it was theirs. Then I put my work into professional writing organization contests. Once I started consistently finaling, then I figured I was getting good enough to approach agents. I also kept writing. The more books I wrote and struggled through to get my critiquers to like it, the more confident I was in being able to satisfy a reader.

Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? I watched a lot of 40s and 50s movies in high school and Gene Kelly’s slanted smile? How could you not fall for that?

Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? I’m a huge plotter. I do a lot of plotting work, and when I think I have a solid story, I write a book length document telling the story to myself. This is when my plots can unexpectedly change as I figure out what will and won’t make me happy as a reader. THEN I write my story in fiction form. The story is pretty concrete at that point, but I have fun “hearing” their funny jokes and finding out all the little details–bringing them to life.

What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer’s block? Taking a shower. Something about being busy doing something on automatic stuck in a boring box frees the brain. Or prostrate on the floor with a notebook beside me when no one’s around.
Something about being flat on the floor takes away all distractions–nothing I can do in that position but think.

Do you write your books for your own enjoyment or more for what you think people would want to read? My own enjoyment. If I don’t want to read it, I’m going to be awfully bored writing it.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a great writing idea? It’s not exactly strange, but I was in a pickle ten years ago when I got a great idea at a bad time. I was visiting some childhood friends and was driving eight hours back home when my brain just decided to pour out ideas (for Romancing the Bride, actually.) But I had to get home by a certain time. I couldn’t stop. But I know from experience if I don’t write my ideas down immediately and try to “remember them later” I’ll forget. But I couldn’t write while driving! This was before cell phones and GPS. So I hit every town on the highway until I found an office supply store. Bought myself a voice recorder and talked all the way home.

Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? Nancy Drew, the Nancy Drew Files specifically.

Here is where you can find Melissa online:

website – www.melissajagears.com

facebook – https://www.facebook.com/melissajagearsauthor/

newsletter – http://melissajagears.com/phplist/?p=subscribe

Melissa is giving away an ebook or paperback (US only) copy of her book Romancing the Bride to a reader!  See below how to enter to win:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 3/15/20 – Changes to Virtues and Valor, How Social Distancing Is Affecting Us

Hello! Welcome to Monday Morning Coffee and Chat! Today I’m talking about being at home with my family, changes to the Virtues and Valor series, and a shift in writing schedule.

The books discussed in this chat are:
Virtues and Valor Series
Temperance’s Trial
The Dixon Brothers Series book 2, Alexandra’s Appeal

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Interview with Erin Unger and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m happy to have Erin Unger as my guest. I’m a fan of anyone who lists Mary Higgins Clark as a favorite author — but beyond that, I’ve been connected with Erin in the Christian writing community for a long time and I’m THRILLED that she’s finally a guest here! I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. Read on to see how you can enter to win a copy of her latest release.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi everyone! I’m so excited to be on Hallee’s blog. I was raised in the hills of Virginia, exploring abandoned houses and reading the scariest books I could find. After marrying so young it would make a great romance novel, I have enjoyed an exciting life with my hubby. But my fast-paced life sometimes rivals the suspense in my books thanks to all of my mostly grown children and a couple of grandkids.

Tell us about your current release. Worthington Investigations is on another grisly case in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

When P.I. Shauna Pratley heads up the investigation for Christopher Newen, a rural firefighter, she only wants to solve his father’s murder not fall in love. She’s struggling to decide if God’s directing her to leave the team and re-enlist in the Army.

Christopher Newen may be used to the blazes of fire but not the heat ricocheting between him and Shauna. He needs the team’s help but has no intention of letting flames ignite between him and Shauna…yet her protective nature and fun-loving personality draw him in more than he wants to admit.

How will they work together to find a killer without letting love get in the way? Will they have to admit maybe God has used the horrors of evil to bring them together for good?

Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? This is going to date me, but my first screen crush was Tom Cruise. In Top Gun he was so alive and roguish.

Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? I am a plotter through and through. I’ve been known to have a sixty-page outline before I start a book. I feel like the outline is the bones and organs of the story and the actual writing is the skin and circulatory system of it. It gives me a chance to be creative twice with one story!

Do you have pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? I always have a pre-determined length decided because it depends on the standard of which publishing house I am writing it for.

What is your preferred method of writing? Since laptops are easy to take anywhere, I have always preferred to type my ideas and stories on my computer or cell phone. Even editing is easiest for me to do on the computer.

Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? I was an avid reader as a child, and I read thousands of books growing up. My most favorite were Mary Higgins Clark and Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew).

What do you do when you hit a roadblock and have NO idea what to write? As a writer, hitting roadblocks is common, but I have a tried and proved method for getting through it. I write the scene or character in question and circle it. Then I write every possible characteristic or situation I can think of. I circle the one that feels the most right. And I keep doing this until I have solved the complete scene.

Here is where you can find Erin online:

www.erinungerwrites.com

https://www.facebook.com/ErinUngerWrites/

https://twitter.com/erinungerwrites

https://www.instagram.com/erinungerwrites/

Erin is giving away an ebook of Summer Flash Burn to a reader! See below how to enter to win:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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