Pinteresting.


“A dream collage is pictures of your goals. It is like your future photo album.”
~Bo Bennett

Hello. My name is Shari, and I’m addicted to Pinterest.

Somehow I’ve managed to resist the pull of that wonderful, time-stealing vortex until recently, but last week I decided I really, really wanted to create boards for my books. I’ve always been a very visual person – when I write, the scenes kind of play out like movie reels in my head – and bringing the stories to life in another way sounded like such fun. Characters, settings, details and nuances that are woven into the fabric of their worlds … it is seriously such a blast to add them all. Does it serve a purpose? Maybe not. But maybe so. Just looking at the pictures deepens my connection with the characters. It takes the two-dimensional page and ups it a notch. It lets my imagination grow wings and fly free. I’ve found it to be especially helpful with my WIP. Each morning now, before I start writing for the day, I take a few minutes to look at the pictures, to close my eyes and see my characters living and breathing their Nashville love, and it does wonders to transport me from Pennsylvania to Tennessee and also to Portsmouth, Eden’s hometown. Yes, I am spending way more time on Pinterest than I should in the evenings. Yes, I am falling down that rabbit hole along with everyone else who’s a member of the site. But also, yes, it is such a joy to picture these worlds that, in ways, only live in my head. Some people might think it’s goofy. I think it’s fabulous.

Here are some snapshots into my characters’ lives:

Reflections of Me, Dear Ellie, and Mine to Love:

ROM/DE/MTL

Sands of Time:

SOT

Watercolors:

Watercolors

Fellow writers, anyone else create boards for your books? And who else is addicted to Pinterest?

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It’s Nicer to be Nice.


“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
~James Matthew Barrie

That was one of my Pop Joe’s favorite phrases: it’s nicer to be nice. He used to say it all the time, a smile in both his eyes and his voice. It’s been over ten years since he passed away, but still, I can hear him as though he’s right next to me. It’s a piece of grandfatherly wisdom I carry with me always. It’s also one that I feel like shouting from the rooftops sometimes.

Like yesterday.

If you live anywhere from Virginia to Massachusetts, you were probably expecting a snowstorm. Many got a winter wonderland. Others did not, swapping out the swirling flakes for heavy rain and strong winds. And, evidently, it made some people angry. I’m the first to admit that the forecast and the actual blast from Mother Nature didn’t line up. Philadelphia and the surrounding towns saw nothing more than an isolated flurry. Was that a surprise, given the predictions? Maybe. Did it warrant the backlash received by the poor meteorologists who, to be fair, said from the get-go that this storm would be tricky? Not in my opinion. Now, granted, I may be biased, seeing as how I worked at our ABC affiliate several years ago and had the chance to see firsthand how kind-hearted the weather team is, how truly passionate about their careers. But still … I was shocked at some of the comments they (and meteorologists from other media outlets) received last night. I’m not talking about the Facebook and Twitter posts that joked about the lack of snow or even teasingly gave the forecasters a hard time. It’s the hateful ones that were so horrible, these words filled with vitriol for professionals who were only doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Computer models are wonderful, but weather is capricious. It’s unreliable. Sometimes tracks change at the last minute. To verbally attack the meteorologists over it? No matter what you believe about hype, or sensationalism in the media, or news coverage … why is it ever okay to be so mean?

I don’t know, perhaps I’m just too nice for my own good. It’s certainly gotten me burned before. With the prevalence of social media today, though, it just seems like there are more and more examples of people speaking (erm … typing) before they think. And it makes me sad. No matter what sort of anonymity the online world brings about, there are still real people reading those words. Can we not have a conversation instead of spewing negativity? Can we not agree to disagree instead of putting others down? I know this is an idealistic view. I know there will always be divisiveness and I know that, though diversity is wonderful, there will always be different ways of expressing it.

It’s always been like this, I suppose, but one thing that stuck out as I was researching the 1950s for my current WIP is how much kinder people (as a whole) seemed then. I hope we can follow that example. I hope we can remember that it’s always nicer to be nice. I hope we can offer a smile instead of an accusation. I hope we can debate respectfully and build each other up instead of tearing each other down. I hope all the generous, genuine people who populate the online sphere can spread their presence even further.

(And, now that this snowstorm fizzled out, I hope we can leap forward into spring. Pretty sure that’s a forecast everyone will love.)

Cracking the Books … or the Internet.


“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
~Zora Neale

Ever since starting work on my new novel, I’ve become fully and unapologetically immersed in the lives of my characters. In just over a week, their worlds have become mine. Their stories have lit a fresh spark of interest. Their journeys have reminded me of the joy, the adrenaline, and the hope of beginning a shiny new project. Something I always try to do as a writer is push myself with each book – to tackle something I never have before, to stretch the story in different ways – and I think that will be true this time around, too. There will be two main characters instead of one. Two main settings instead of one. Two main time periods instead of one. Two main perspectives instead of one. Will it be a challenge? Probably. Am I excited about that challenge? Unequivocally.

But with this uncharted territory comes the need for a lot of research. It’s the first time I’ll be writing a book that’s partially set in the past, and even though the setting is a place I’m familiar with, there have certainly been significant changes over the decades. So … Google has become my BFF as of late. It’s truly amazing how much information there is online, just waiting to be discovered with the tap of a key and the click of a mouse. I’m hoping to do some interviews, too, to get firsthand accounts, but in the meantime, I’ve been poring over website after website. The “bookmarks” tab on my laptop looks like a library. And do you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some of the awesomely interesting topics I’ve learned about over the past week: Olympic swimming, nursing programs at the University of Pennsylvania, lifeguarding in the 1950s, graduate programs in Creative Writing, seaside towns in Virginia, the Nantucket Conservation Fund, bed & breakfast management, undergraduate programs in Architectural Design, drafting procedures during WWII, hurricanes that came ashore in Atlantic City, the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Steel Pier, the history of Lucy the Elephant, Nantucket public schools, and – my personal favorite – how to make saltwater taffy.

There’s still more research to go, but I’m honestly looking forward to it. I’m also eager to work on character sketches – four finished so far, several more to discover – and, of course, to dive into actually drafting this book. I adored writing about Sofie and Company for the past two and a half years, nothing will ever take their place in my heart, but at the same time, it’s positively invigorating to meet this new cast of people who’ll invite me along on their journeys. It’s like the air is buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to absorb its energy.

Tell me: what’s the coolest topic you’ve ever researched for work or school? And also: doing a taste test for different flavors and brands of saltwater taffy is totally justified, right? You know, to ensure accuracy and all. Anyone want to help me out in this venture?

A Tale of Two Pictures.


“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
~Ernest Hemingway

Journal

Guess who officially chose a writing journal and started working on her new novel last Thursday? Guess who is very, very excited about that? The idea for this one has been percolating for over a year now, and it’s been such fun to take it from something abstract to concrete. There’s still a lot of research and planning to be done before I begin writing, but I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t even mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just itching to write again after spending all those months editing, but I’ve always been a fan of this part of the process, too. There’s something invigorating about the plotting stage – the pages are still blank, literally and figuratively, just waiting for a world to be born, for characters to be born, for a story to be born. I’ve spent a lot of time these past several days fleshing out my two main characters and am almost giddy about their journeys. This book is going to be quite different from anything I’ve ever worked on, both format-wise and story-wise, and even though it feels strange to be visiting with other characters instead of Sofie and Company, it’s also exciting. I kind of feel like Pandora, but in a good way, about to open a new box and watch infinite possibilities spring up from inside. To Charlotte and Remi: I cannot wait to tell your stories. You are already like living, breathing people to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where those possibilities take us.

PortChick

I’ve mentioned my love of General Hospital many times, so it should come as no surprise that yesterday’s event with Laura Wright, Lisa LoCicero, Julie Berman, and Kelly Sullivan was a blast. Pretty sure they had the entire place laughing out loud for two hours straight. It was lovely to talk with Laura again, and I’m especially glad for the opportunity to meet Lisa, whose sunny spirit is truly contagious. As always, the awesomeness of the cast made me even prouder to be a GH fan.

Hmm, maybe one of my new characters will love the show, too. They do always say to “write what you know,” right? Off to brainstorm some more now …

Sweet Serendipity.


“In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work, and love. The other ninety-nine percent is due to our efforts.”
~Peter McWilliams

Sometimes I agonize over my characters’ names. I spend hours looking online, searching for the perfect name with the perfect meaning and the perfect origin. Other times, a name pops into my mind and – BAM! – that’s it. The character couldn’t possibly be called anything else. That was the case for my MC’s daughter. Sofie and Brandon named their little love Eliana Rose, Ellie for short. It’s a name I’ve adored forever, even more so now that Ellie has become a book-baby so near and dear to my heart.

So when, within fifteen minutes of arriving in Cape May on Monday, I saw an advertisement for a quaint, charming place called Ellie’s Bakery … well, how could I not be excited? Finish the first draft on Friday, discover this place on Monday. That has to be a sign, right?

I may or may not have forced everyone to drive there … and take my picture in front of it … and watch me take pictures of the sign … and listen to me yammer on about serendipity’s magic. But seriously, how cool is that? We’ve never been to Cape May before – we usually vacation in other shore towns – and I can’t help thinking that I was meant to visit this place at this time. I am a big believer in creating our own destiny and finding our own luck, but still, this twist of fate totally made my day.

YAY!!

Cape May, I love you. Serendipity, I love you even more.

Writing Roundup.


“We write every day, we fight every day, we think and scheme and dream a little dream every day. Manuscripts pile up in the kitchen sink, run-on sentences dangle around our necks. We plant purple prose in our gardens and snip the adverbs only to thread them in our hair. We write with no guarantees, no certainties, no promises of what might come and we do it anyway. This is who we are.”
~Tahereh Mafi

Ever since starting my new novel on Tuesday, my thought process has bounced back and forth between “writing-is-the-best-thing-ever-how-have-I-gone-without-it-for-six-months-!!!” and “wow, there is so much to figure out with this new story now that I’m putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) … where to begin?” Those two ideas may seem independent of each other, but as I’ve learned over the past several years, nothing with writing is ever an island. Everything’s connected in some way. In this case? The adrenaline-filled, giddy passion that comes from beginning a new manuscript actually makes me determined to be even more organized, even more thorough, even more resolute. In terms of planning and plotting ahead of time, I’ve always fallen somewhere in the middle: I do character sketches and draw up a loose outline, complete with main messages and a sense of beginning-middle-end, but I very much believe in letting the characters lead the way once the story unfolds. It’s amazing how they know their journey better than anyone – including me! – and can whirl it in entirely new directions.

That said, there are two areas that I try to hold control over, and I’m curious if it’s the same for anyone else.

Research: This has been necessary to varying degrees in my different novels – sometimes it’s enough to draw on my own experiences with people and places, sometimes there are specific terms and processes to educate myself on, sometimes I have to trust that even though I haven’t lived through the same situations as my characters, being able to relate to them on an emotional level is just as important. And sometimes, like with my current manuscript, it’s a combination of everything. This book has required more research than any of my previous ones: pregnancy progression, adoption rules and regulations, the speech patterns and development of a three-year-old, and so much more. I devoted two weeks to research before diving in, and even though my hands were itching to type, type, type, it was still a really awesome way to learn so much about so many things. Want to know what happens in the eighth week of pregnancy? I’m your gal. Want to know what happens in a home visit for prospective adoptive couples? I have three pages of notes that can fill you in. Want to know how many words are in a three-year-old’s vocabulary? A four-year-old’s? Take a guess and then I’ll tell you what the experts say. Even with all the research though, only five days into writing the new book, I am sure of this: it is not the same for everyone. Just like real people (that feels strange to say, because after spending a year and a half with these characters, they seem so real to me), our characters are unique. Statistics, benchmarks, and data are a guideline that help shape their experiences, but more than that, they shape them. Pregnancy is not just about how the baby grows physically – it’s also about how the mother grows emotionally. Adoption is not just about which forms have to be filed – it’s also about choosing your family and being the missing piece to each other’s puzzle. Three-year-olds are not just about developmental milestones – they’re also about playing make-believe, kissing away their mamas’ tears, building a castle out of Play-Doh, and accidentally ruining a two-hundred-dollar collector doll by helping her swim in the bathtub. Research is important, but it’s what our characters do with the research that matters most.

Schedule: This is more my curiosity than anything else, but fellow writers, I’m wondering what your work schedule is like. With my first manuscript, I’d work for four days straight, then take a day off to plot the next few chapters, then jump back into writing. With my second manuscript, I literally wrote every single morning that it was humanly possible. That book was the best and most magical writing experience I’ve ever had, and it was seriously an effort to pry myself away from the computer. In the two months it took me to do the first draft, I skipped writing only two days – when we left for our shore vacation and when we came home. Even while we were at the beach, I woke up with the sun to squeeze in writing time while everyone was asleep. With my third manuscript, I worked Monday – Friday and gave myself the weekends to plan, send out queries for the previous book, and (occasionally) take a break. Now, with the fourth manuscript, I find myself using a different approach yet again. It generally takes me two days to write a chapter (sidenote: it was so strange at first, going back to regular chapter format after writing the previous book completely in diary-style), so the plan is to write for six days, take two days off for planning, lots of querying, and time to (maybe) relax, and then leap back in again. It’s funny – and really interesting – to me to consider how different the scheduling has gone for each story. It’s fitting, though, I think, because the writing process is never the same. Each manuscript is special in its own way; each spins its own web. I learn so much from each one and I’m glad that they’ve all taught me different things. It’s exciting and invigorating.

Perhaps this quote by Walter Benjamin best sums it up: “Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”

Here’s to striking resonant chords, building sturdy foundations, and weaving beautiful tapestries.