Behind the Scenes of Somewhere Only We Know: Trees

In my behind the scenes post on Somewhere Only We Know’s setting, I wrote about how the clearing in the forest’s inspiration came from a classroom rather than nature. Even so, nature has a huge role in my book. Like Frankie, I feel closer to God in nature, and so when I was trying to create a space for all of the girls to come together, a clearing with a tree came to mind.

I know very little about trees, so I didn’t have a specific tree in mind when I first wrote the book. I just pictured it to be big and leafy. I chose which type of tree it was later on when I discovered what the name of one of the main characters— Lindsey—meant: “from the island of linden trees.” I learned that linden trees are large and deciduous, with a sturdy trunk and lots of leaves. A linden tree was the perfect, shady tree I needed for the girls.

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Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak was a huge influence on me when writing Somewhere Only We Know. Speak is about a young girl starting high school with everyone hating her because she called the cops at the big party over the summer. What no one knows is that she called because she had been just been raped. And no one knows this because she can’t speak about it. Melinda has trouble talking at all. After her rape, she fell into silence. But then her art teacher assigns her a subject to make art with for the entire school year—trees. Melinda has trouble creating art about trees at first, but she is inspired by her teacher’s words that became the epigraph of my novel, and she finally starts to heal:

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Trees are powerful. Trees are a beautiful part of nature. They are not perfect. They have their scars. But they also provide comfort and shade and homes for animals. Trees show me God, and they show Frankie God as well in my novel.

What I’m Reading: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Jenna Evans Welch’s debut novel, Love & Gelato, is such a fun and summery read and reminded me a lot of Jennifer E. Smiths books, like This is What Happy Looks Like. I usually don’t buy books before I read them, but when I was only fifty pages into this book and had to return my library copy, I went out and got my own copy. And it’s been a long time since I stayed up late reading a book, but I stayed up finishing this one. I love contemporary YA romances, and Love and Gelato delivered.

The books is about Lina, a girl who is spending the summer in Florence because her mother’s dying wish was for her to live with the father she didn’t know about. And even though Italy is beautiful and has amazing gelato, Lina just wants to go home until she is given the journal her mother kept when she lived in Florence before Lina was born. As Lina learns about her mother’s past and befriends Ren, she learns a secret about her past that changes everything.

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My favorite part about this book was of course the setting. I love books that can take you away to another place, and when I read Love and Gelato I felt like I was in Italy. Everything was beautifully described, and it made me really want some gelato. While I thought the mother’s journal entries lacked depth, Lina’s narrative was funny and engrossing. And though this book dealt with topics like death and domestic abuse, it was hopeful and for the most part light-hearted.

How to Get Ideas: Prompts

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. I’ve written about what if questions and titles, and today I’m going to write about prompts.

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To be honest, I usually don’t like writing prompts. When I think of prompts, I think back to my writing classes in college. The teacher would give us a prompt and everyone would write silently for ten minutes, and then people could share what they’d written.

For me, those ten minutes dragged on forever. I can’t write on cue. I especially can’t write on cue if it’s not one of my own ideas. Instead of trying to write something in answer to the prompts in class, I’d ponder them for a moment, then turn to the back of my notebook to write down ideas for something I was already working on. Then when my classmates would share what they’d written I was always amazed by what they could come up with so quickly.

But when I’m stuck on the ideas I already have, prompts are a great way to come up with new ideas. There are so many prompt books available, and all of them are full of ideas that could spark a new story idea. Most prompts are short, a one-sentence situation or a first line of dialogue. One book I’ve enjoyed is The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts.

Prompts can help to spark an idea in you and get you writing, but if you’re like me and don’t usually like prompts, what I’ve learned is that you need to make the prompt work for you.

What I mean by that is that you take the prompt and find some element in it that can help you. For example, if you’re stuck in the story you’re working on, but then hear a prompt about a character in a situation, you might want to try using that prompt with the story and characters you already have. You could insert the prompted situation into what you’ve already started, and that might give you enough help to keep going. Prompts can help you find what’s missing in your story to help you get unstuck.

Do you enjoy using prompts? How do you make prompts work for you?

Write Through It

God has shown up in my life in a very big way recently, and so today I want to share more of a personal story with you.

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I’ve been dealing with eye issues for ten years now. It started with just dry eyes in high school, but for the last several years, in the fall through the winter my left eye has been giving me trouble. Each year it got worse, with pain and blurriness and light sensitivity. I’ve been seeing a cornea specialist, but we were never able to pinpoint what exactly was causing the pain, and thus never came up with a longterm solution.

These past several months have been some of the worst physical pain I’ve experienced. I’ve had to sit in the dark at home with most of the lights turned off and the brightness turned down on every screen. I’ve had to take a nap every day or my eye wouldn’t make it through the evening. It was nearly impossible to write.

A few weeks ago I went to Disney World with my mom and sister, and I’ll never forget watching the fireworks the first night of our visit. I was tempted to not even go on the trip because of how bad my eye had been, but with a hat and two pairs of sunglasses, I managed to get by even though it was extremely painful. But as we watched the fireworks, I just started crying. Not because of how amazing the show was, but because even with two pairs of sunglasses on I couldn’t keep my eyes open to watch the show. And I love fireworks. I think they’re so beautiful and they’re one of my favorite things to look at. But that night I was crying because I thought this was just going to be my life from now on. The pain had gotten worse every year, and multiple doctors couldn’t figure out what to do about it.

Just before I left for my trip to Disney, God had answered my prayers about what to write. I know I told you I was outlining a dystopian trilogy, but that story never felt like the right story to write right now. And so I prayed for months until God gave me a new story to tell. And he finally did, with a story I am unbelievable exited about.

A few days after my eye got worse than it ever had before.

And then we left on our trip, and I cried all through the fireworks.

A visit to my eye doctor just after we got back left me with no answers, again. And that weekend I had to skip a concert I was really looking forward to because I was in so much pain.

I had another concert to go to that following week. A worship concert that I would be attending with my fellow lead team ladies from my church. My favorite worship bands were going to be there, along with a speaker I was dying to hear. I prayed each day that my eye would get better. I asked God to take away the pain. And I complained that I couldn’t work on this amazing story he gave me to tell because my eye hurt too much.

I spent the morning of the concert crying. I wanted to go, but I remembered how bad the fireworks had felt just a week before. I didn’t want it to hurt. I couldn’t even drive to meet up with the other ladies who were going. But I felt a little nudge, like I just had to go, and I asked if someone could pick me up.

This concert changed my life.

A woman from Bethel Music shared a testimony that I will never forget. She told a story of dealing with chronic pain for twenty years. She said she kept asking God to lift the pain because she didn’t want it. But then he told her she had to sing through it.

As I stood there in the tenth row with my two pairs of sunglasses on and tears stinging at my already burning eyes, I heard God speak to me.

“That’s why you needed to come tonight. I know it hurts, but you needed to hear this. She had to sing through it. You have to write through it.

Bethel Music then performed the song “Catch the Wind” and I knew what I had to do.

My whole life I’ve dealt with pain. If it wasn’t the crushing weight of depression and anxiety, then it was various forms of physical pain: a broken jaw, bad knees, a bad foot arch, asthma, horrible colds, allergies, stomach pain, mono which lasted half a year, and now incredible eye pain.

I kept complaining to God and asking him to lift this pain because I didn’t want it. I was done. I was tired of hurting.

But I have to write through it. I have a story to tell, a story of finding hope despite pain. God needs me to tell it. I have to write through it.

That was two weeks ago.

I had another doctors appointment one week ago. And instead of switching between trying to read in the waiting room and rubbing my painful eye, I decided to pray. I prayed that we’d finally find an answer because though I was determined to write anyway, it sure would be nice for my eye to get a little better.

And then my doctor suggested that I try a new eye drop. Doctors have told me over the years that preservatives in my eye drops could build up over time, but they never said they thought that was what was causing my problem. I’d avoided using the preservative-free drops because I’ve sampled every eye drop there was and this one bottled drop always felt the best to me. Plus preservative-free drops cost a ton more. But my eye doctor suggested I use them instead, and I listened this time and bought a box even though they cost a lot.

My eye was better the next day.

It’s been a week now, I’ve been able to work all day without naps, keep the curtains open, and turn the brightness up on my screens. I can even write this very long blog post without putting in a single eye drop.

God just keeps showing up when I need him most. He gave me a story, and now he healed my eye. And I’m going to write through whatever pain I face in the future, because that’s what God put me here to do.

My Favorite Genres

Last week I talked about the genres I don’t like to read, so this week I want to tell you the genres I do! There’s a few genres I don’t read because they don’t resonate with me and I don’t get a lot out of reading them. Because time is precious and I want to be spending my time on books that I get a lot out of, these are the genres I usually turn to:

Young Adult
Pretty much everything I read is YA. I don’t know if it’s because these books meant so much to me growing up or because I love a good coming-of-age story or because I make up stories for a living and don’t quite feel like an adult, but YA books have always been my favorites. When I go into a bookstore or library, you can find me heading straight to the teen section.

Science Fiction and Dystopian
I’ve always been fascinated with the future and with space, and so that’s why I’ve always loved science fiction books. I love the dystopian subgenre in particular because even though these stories depict negative futures, they’re usually full of so much hope.

Fantasy
I don’t read fantasy books as much because they’re usually so long and I have trouble sitting still long enough to read them, but I love fantasy books because of the amazing world building. Because I write a lot of stories set in the future, world building is a big part of my writing process. Fantasy books are a great addition to science fiction to read and be inspired about world building

Christian Nonfiction
My faith is the most important part of my life, and so I love reading Christian living books and devotionals. These books help me to focus on God and grow in my faith, which I always want to be doing.

Romance
I only recently got into the romance genre, but because I read a lot of heavy and dystopian books, romance novels are light and fun to take a break with.These are some of my favorite books in these genres.

These are some of my favorite books in these genres.

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You can definitely see the influence of my favorite genres to read on what I write. I primarily write young adult contemporary and science fiction because those stories have always resonated with me the most. What are your favorite genres to read and write?

Genres I Don’t Like

As a writer and a book-lover, I sometimes feel pressured to read and like all kinds of books. A while back I wrote a post on giving up on reading certain books, which is a way to respect your time a writer. It’s okay not to like everything. Everything was not meant for you to be read. And if you need to give up on reading a book that’s not resonating with you, you definitely should put it down and pick up something you’d enjoy more.

So today I wanted to admit what genres I don’t like and what books I almost never pick up. There are always exceptions, but for the most part these are the genres I avoid:

Classics
When I think of classics, I think of the books I was forced to read in high school that made me hate reading for a while. I just have so much trouble connecting to stories written so long ago. Plus the different styles of writing make most of these books a struggle for me to read. I much more enjoy contemporary stories, even though there are a couple exceptions on my favorites shelf.

Poetry
I’m sorry, but I don’t like poetry. I prefer straight-forward writing, and so I find poetry extremely difficult to get into. I don’t hate all poems, but I usually won’t pick poetry up by choice.

Horror, Thrillers, and Westerns
I’m grouping these together because I don’t have much experience reading any of them. But none of these genres hold any appeal to me.

Urban Fantasy
I’m honestly surprised I don’t like this genre because I enjoy that feeling of mixing past and present. Urban fantasy does this by setting magical elements (which you typically think of as belonging in fairy-tale-like settings) into a modern environment. But every book I’ve tried in this genre just hasn’t seemed to click with me. I think I just prefer fairy tales too much.

These books are a few of the exceptions in these genres that I actually do enjoy.

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What are the genres that you don’t like? Next week I’ll be talking about my favorite genres, so look out for that!

How to Get Ideas: Titles

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. Last time I wrote about what if questions, and today I’ll be digging into titles.

How to Get Ideas

I don’t pick up books based on their covers. I choose to read a book based on its title. A good title asks a question, and if that question intrigues me, I’ll choose to read a book.

For example, one of my favorite titles ever is Thirteen Reasons Why. The title of Jay Asher’s novel poses so many questions: Reasons why what? Did something bad already happen? Why are there 13 reasons? Does the number 13, which is usually thought of as unlucky, have any significance? The title alone makes me as a reader want to know what happens. And that’s what a title should do.

Because a book’s title can pose so many questions, titles are also a great place to develop story ideas.

When I was young, I kept a notebook of story title idea—of things that sounded cool but that didn’t really have a story to them, at least not yet. One of these titles was The Means. I thought The Means, as in “do the ends justify the means” would make for such a cool book, even if I didn’t know at the time what that book would be. But in my capstone fiction class when I was in college, I turned back to that title and started writing a book. Even though it will probably never be published, I wrote an entire novel based on that two word title. I took The Means and built an entire story around it about a reality game show where anything goes and the goal is to win by any means necessary.

Writer’s Digest’s July/August 2017 issue had a wonderful article about titling books called “Naming the Baby” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Mitchard suggested many strategies for naming a book such as places, common phrases made new, borrowed turns of phrases, and religious references. Titles can come from anywhere, but they must stand out and make people want to read the book.

What I’m suggesting is that you take something you think would be a good title and use that as your foundation to build your story around. Take a title that poses an interesting question, and then write a book to answer that question. Anything can inspire a book—why not the title itself?

Even if you have already got a seed of a book idea, you might want to come up with the title before you truly get started on writing the book. I have to know the title to be able to work on something. Having a title helps make the story seem more real, and it will also help you pinpoint the main theme you want your book to emulate.

What titles have made you want to read a book? Have you ever come up with a story idea from a title?