Tag Archive | writer

Going Home Again

Author Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” But Thomas Wolfe didn’t grow up in Northwest Iowa.

Earlier this week, I traveled back to Sioux Center, Iowa for an author panel and book signing. It’s a place I know well. I grew up on a farm outside of Sioux Center and Hull, and if you’ve read my trilogy, The Dusty Chronicles, these places will probably sound familiar. The main character, Dusty Vermeer, begins to experience supernatural phenomena as she tries to balance out her feelings for her boyfriend and a spirit she’s never met. She goes to Boyden-Hull High School, attends a Reformed Church in town, checks out books at the local libraries, and goes on dates to the local Pizza Ranch and movie theater. The characters all call Northwest Iowa home: Dusty, Mark, Sadie, Kris, Sadie…to them it’s an amazing place to exist.

There are many locations I could have based my series, but Stephen King says one should write what you know. So, there’s a reason I chose to set my first book series in my hometown.

The people.

While I was only in town for a day and a half, I’d never felt more welcome anywhere in my life. I haven’t lived there in 30 years, but the folks are still as warm and friendly as ever. Everywhere I went, I was met with a smile and a “So happy to meet you!” People I had never met were friendly and welcoming. And, many members of my extended family still live there as well as quite a few of my childhood friends. They came out in droves to see me and support my career on Tuesday night.

 

While the whole reason I went back was to be a part of the Dessert with the Authors event at the public library in town, I was also determined to make the most of the short time I had there. I wanted to check out the areas that had influenced me when I was young – the same places that influenced many of the locations in my books. The first place I went was Casey’s Bakery at the mall just off of Main Street. Uncles, aunts, and cousins showed up to see me. As we all had coffee and breakfast together, I heard, “We’re so glad you’re here!” and “You’re far too skinny!” Both comments were good for my ego.

If you’ve read Imprint, you’ll remember a scene between Dusty and Sadie that takes place at Casey’s Bakery. Not only can you get cakes and donuts from there, but they also have traditional Dutch items such as almond patties and windmill cookies. After all, in a community that is primarily Dutch, it just wouldn’t be right without the Dutch baked goods. They also have an area where they serve hot breakfast items and have possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had…and as an author, I’ve had lots of coffee in my lifetime.

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Casey’s Bakery in Sioux Center, Iowa

Later, I went back to the old homestead…the place that inspired Dusty’s farm and where she met Jack, her soulmate.

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Remember that scene with  Dusty and Jack in the hay mow? Well, there you go.

My house still looks pretty much the same. The window in the upper left was my room (the same as Dusty’s) and the upper right was my brother’s growing up. And the doorway and stairwell that leads from the kitchen to the bedrooms upstairs hasn’t changed at all: the same door, the same wood paneling, and the same carpet on the stairs. It brought back a lot of memories of sneaking downstairs as a kid and trying to listen in on conversations between my parents and older brother. As the current owner walked me through the old house, I pointed out corners and rooms where major plots took place throughout the series. It was surreal to be back, walking through a home that had given me so many memories.

Later that day, I had lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center. That restaurant and the mall in town all played a part in my trilogy. I didn’t manage to make it to Hull’s Pizza Ranch where Dusty and Mark had their first date, but I’m hoping to make it there during my next visit.

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Mark and Dusty had a date night here. It’s also the same place that Dusty and all of her friends ate after a night at the indoor pool.

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The parking lot where it all went down in book 3. Mark – 1, Austin – 0.

In the early afternoon, a reporter from the Hull Index came to interview me at the Pizza Ranch. To be interviewed by my hometown newspaper was exciting and a bit frightening. The reporter, June, was wonderful and easy to talk to. I just kept telling myself not to let my “awkward” show too much because…well…I’m awkward.

The time finally came for the signing at the Sioux Center Public Library.

It wasn’t the same library where I’d spent hours upon hours as a child. Sadly, the building is long gone due to a fire. But upon walking inside this new library, the feeling was the same. And seeing my book on display as you walk through the front doors…it was a moment I will never forget. After all, the Sioux Center Library was where it all began for me. It’s truly where I discovered my love of books, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

During the event that night, I talked about my publishing journey, my books, and why I write young adult. I even talked about my #beceaseless campaign and how it came about. Friends and family showed up to support me as well as the other authors in attendance. I’m hoping to come back later this year and give a creative writing workshop to local teens. I may need to lure them in with pizza, but then who can say no to pizza?

IMG_20160413_104848It was wonderful being home again. In fact, it even got me wondering if I should move back there one day. Only time will. But I learned something this week. I discovered that you can go home again. Especially if your hometown is anything like mine.

Hear the Crickets Teaser Trailer

Hey everyone! And a happy 4th of July weekend to all of my US readers!

I have a little surprise for you. I have finally set my release date for my upcoming supernatural fantasy, Hear the Crickets.

So, in celebration, here is a teaser trailer to wet your whistle.

Stay tuned over the next 4 months for other announcements, teasers, and fun stuff.

Now, without further adieu, I present to you…Hear the Crickets.

Are you listening?

Hear the Crickets Teaser Trailer.

Why I Write

Many people are under the impression that authors write because they want to be famous. This is true in some cases. However, that isn’t always the case. Some do it to supplement their income. Others do it just for the joy of writing. Many do it because they feel they have something to share. For me, the reason I write is personal.

Growing up, I was told I could do anything I set my mind to. But each time I made a decision on what kind of career to pursue, someone in my life told me why I shouldn’t.

“You can’t go to school for journalism. No daughter of mine is going to be a filthy liar for a living.”

“I think becoming a radio D.J. is a bad idea. There’s no future in it.”

“You’ll join the military over my dead body.”

“You want to go to school to study literature? There’s no money in that. You need to be more realistic in your goals. Dreams don’t pay the bills.”

You get the point.

So, for years I went along with all of it and did what was expected of me. I went back to college and earned a degree in business. Any love of writing that I had left in me went dormant. I went about raising my daughters and going through my 9 to 5 days as if nothing was amiss.

And then in 2009, something happened that changed my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the start of something amazing. Something big. Humongous.

I lost my job.

Yep.

So there I was. No job and no way to help support my family. I tried to find a new job, but it was tough out there. I became withdrawn thinking I had disappointed my children and my husband. I cried almost daily and couldn’t get out bed. But after a few months, I discovered something that consistently seemed to cheer me up.

At the time, the Harry Potter movies (at least the ones I owned up to that point on DVD) played 24/7 in my bedroom. I watched them over and over – and over and over and over. They made me smile. They gave me hope. And they gave me an idea.

I pulled out my husband’s old laptop and just began to type. I’m not sure where the words came from, or the story for that matter, but they started to flow nonetheless. It began to develop into a narrative about a girl who discovered an ancient secret that was handed down from mother to daughter. Her newfound powers were to be used to save the world and her family. And since my oldest daughter’s birthday was coming up, I decided that I would finish it and give to her as a birthday gift.

When I finished, I thought the story was brilliant.

Looking back, the story was crap.

But I wrote it. I wrote every single word. I poured my heart and soul into the story, and in the end I dusted away any of the cobwebs that had gathered in my brain throughout the years. My juices began to flow and I wrote another book. Then another, and another, and another.

And then those same people who discouraged my dreams early in life came back and said all the same things.

“You can’t make any money writing books.”

“So after you write this book and get it out of your system, are you going to quit writing and get a real job?”

“Don’t you think your time would be better served cleaning your messy house than writing books? It’s not like you’ll ever be famous.”

But this time, I didn’t listen. I smiled politely and walked away.

Why did I continue to write? It wasn’t necessarily to become famous, or make a lot of money, or even to get noticed – although those are all nice goals.

It was because I’m not just an author. I’m also a mother to three amazing young ladies. They look to me for guidance in life – a role model to show them how life should be lived. And what kind of role model would I be if I gave up on my dream?

“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say.” I heard it a lot growing up – almost daily. But as the years passed, I realized that it was some of the worst advice anyone could have ever given me. Actions speak far louder than words. My daughters look to me to learn how to deal with life’s situations through my actions and reactions. Because – come on – let’s get real. How often do our kids really hear what we have to say?

I write because I want to show them that following your dreams isn’t folly. It’s important. It’s the dreamers in this world that have given us movies, books, music, television shows, new medicines, prosthetics, art, and a whole slew of other things that are important in this life. Einstein was a dreamer as was Edgar Allen Poe. They all dreamed of giving the world something we’d never seen before. Where would we be if they had given up?

My 2 oldest daughters

My 2 oldest daughters

My daughters need to know that failure happens. People fail every day. But if you get up each time, dust yourself off, and keep moving you haven’t truly failed. The only time you really fail is if you stop trying.

I have one daughter who dreams of one day working in TV, film, or Broadway as a make-up artist. I have another daughter who wants to become a pastry chef. Neither of these are “practical” goals. Some might even say they’re unrealistic or impractical. But why should that stop them from following their dreams?

My youngest daughter

My youngest daughter

So I continue to write – push ahead – improve my craft in an effort to make my children proud and show them how to succeed in life through example. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to make a million dollars. I only need to show them my resolve, and then maybe…just maybe…one day I can show them how that hard work pays off.

I am Not a Bestselling Author – But I am a Success

Far too often, people consistently look back at their lives and focus on the wrong things. They dwell on abuse, financial pitfalls, break-ups, or just the unfairness of life in general. I know. I’ve gotten hung up on every single one of those things myself. But over the years, I learned a valuable lesson. And I’d like to share that with you here.

My entire life has been one wrong move after another. In my early years, I made a lot of wrong turns and tended to be rash when making decisions. As I grew older, I tried to rectify that, but it seemed that bad luck just seemed to follow me no matter how hard I tried.

I was beginning to think I was cursed.

But then something happened. Something wonderfully – awful. And it changed my life.

I got fired from a job I hated.

Yep. I got fired.

At the time, I was thrilled (I really, really hated working there) and simultaneously thought it was the end of the world – that I was an incredible failure and had let my family down. Here, I was a smart, intelligent, well-educated woman whom – for the next 9 months – was unemployed and couldn’t find a job to save her life. And to top it off, my husband was having a difficult time acclimating to civilian life again after a deployment and was suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. His work prospects weren’t great, and he took a graveyard job cleaning up parking lots.

Paying the bills became difficult. At one point, we went 4 months without hot water. Taking showers became a whole new kind of adventure. I boiled water every night so the kids could bathe. A friend paid our past due electric bill so our lights wouldn’t go out. We tried our hardest to make things as transparent for our children as we could, but it wasn’t easy.

It was one of the lowest points of our lives.

With only days to spare and on the verge of having to live in our mini-van, we managed to move out of the rental home we loved and into a cramped apartment we hated with neighbors who were the epitome of awful. We ended having my husband’s GTO repossessed and nearly filed for bankruptcy.

I became withdrawn and stopped hanging out with people I cared about. I kept myself secluded, not wanting people to realize how bad it had become. I kept my friends and family away so they didn’t see what a failure I was.

Now, look. I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. Quite the opposite actually. Just bear with me.

It was during this very bleak time in my life that I rediscovered my love of writing. I used to write all the time when I was younger. Poems, short stories. I used to love the release it gave me from whatever thing I was going through at the time. It was like my own, personal therapy. And since money was extremely tight, and my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday approaching, I decided to give her something different that year.

I wrote her a book.

I called it “Schuyler and the Saga of the Sages”. It was a medieval fantasy about a girl who realized she had magical powers that had been handed down through the women in her family. I loved it when I wrote it. Looking back at it…it was god-awful. But writing that story – spending all my free time on allowing the words and characters to flow from my head onto the pages on that hand-me-down laptop – it gave me a sense of purpose. Like something had been missing from my life. It had taken those cobwebs in my brain and dusted them away.

I was hooked.

I needed to keep writing.

After 9 months, I managed to find a temp job in a call center. I was told that I was over-qualified, but I didn’t care. We needed the money, and I was willing to work as hard as I could to be the best phone representative I could be.

During this time, I came up with the idea of Dusty and Jack and quickly began developing their story in my head. I spent my lunches and evenings (after the kids went to bed) working on “Haunting”. I quickly realized that I was on to something and couldn’t get the story out on paper fast enough.

Once it was done, I revised it, edited it, and revised it again. It was a never-ending process while I tried to make the story as close to perfect as I could. My husband deployed again. He was off to serve his country, and I was left to raise 3 girls on my own. It made finding time to get any writing done difficult, but I always managed to find time.

Then one day while browsing the Internet, I discovered a contest called “Reader’s Favorite”. I could submit my manuscript, even though I wasn’t published, and have it critiqued and judged. I knew I wouldn’t win – after all – I was a nobody. But, I thought that I could use the critique to develop my writing. So, I went through “Haunting” one more time, made sure it was perfect, and submitted it before the deadline.

And then I forgot all about it.

I went about my days working 40 hours a week and taking care of my daughters’ needs. I was hired permanently at the call center and was promoted to supervisor in less than a year. That was when I began outlining the sequel to Dusty and Jack’s story.

And then I received an email stating that I was a finalist in the “Readers Favorite” awards.

Whaaaa???!!!!!

I freaked. I thought, no way! That’s not even remotely possible.

And then I calmed down. Just the fact that I was a finalist gave me confidence that maybe – just maybe – I could do this. Maybe I could do this writing thing on the side and make something of it.

And then the day came to announce the winners.

My finger moved down the computer screen until I got to my category. There were gold, silver and bronze medal and 2 honorable mentions. When I saw my book and my name in the silver medal spot, I thought I was hallucinating. My body went numb. And I began to cry.

My silver medal

My silver medal

The past few years had been difficult. We had struggled financially – nearly hitting rock bottom. And it almost destroyed us. But we kept pushing forward. And here I just won 2nd place in a competition where the other 4 finalists were already published. My self-confidence shot up. And for the first time in years, I felt invincible.

That was in 2011.

In 2012, I was offered a publishing contract by a small, indie press and the rest was history.

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Now, in 2015, I’m preparing to publish the final book in The Dusty Chronicles trilogy – the final chapter of Dusty and Jack’s romance. And I’ve also been working on a brand new stand-alone novel involving fallen angels.

Here’s where I try to make my point.

I’m not well-known. I’m not a famous writer. I’m not a New York Times bestselling author.

But I am a success.

How, you ask?

Because I am able to look back at all the bad times and see how far I’ve come. I don’t dwell on the past – I use it to me stronger. I use all of the shame and embarrassment as a learning experience – a way to inspire myself and others when it feels as though things can’t get any better.

Getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me. If that hadn’t happened, I never would have started writing again, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I followed my dreams, and they led me here.

I’m a success. It has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with fame. It’s because I am able to do something I love – something I’m passionate about – and it makes me happy.

And even though I’m not a bestselling author, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.

Tell yourself you can. Then do it.

Tell yourself you can.
Then do it.

So, no matter what’s happened to you, I’m here to tell you that anything is possible. Don’t let your mistakes dictate your future. You are more than your past.

You are a success just waiting to happen.

Young Adult Books and The Not-So-Young Adults Who Love Them

I often find myself in a bookstore these days. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil for my profession. Maybe I simply call it market research to see what’s out there and what’s hot. Or it could be that I tell myself I’m just browsing to get inspired. But most likely it’s just because I love books.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I peruse the aisles, it’s the influx of New Adult, or NA, books on the shelves. Their stories involve college age characters that will usually incorporate “hotter” story lines, allowing the writer to pursue topics or sexual situations that may be considered inappropriate for younger characters. There’s clearly a market for New Adult, and authors are taking advantage of the newfound enthusiasm in that particular genre…and rightfully so. In fact, I have quite a few friends who focus primarily on writing NA. I’m thrilled that these authors have created a niche for themselves and have given so many people a reason to pick up a book and read. To spin a familiar phrase – if you write it, they will come!

As for me, I am still in love with Young Adult. It’s the genre that got me to fall in love with reading all those years ago as a preteen. It focuses on an age that introduced us to first love, first heartbreak, complicated friendships, strained parental relationships, and searching for who we will one day become. And in high school, escape becomes vital to those kids that need a way to forget their own problems and issues. Being a teenager is rough – but reading about other teens who face, and defeat, adversity can offer the reader a positive outlet for their anxiety.

Now, there are those who will try to make you believe that YA books belong only in the hands of teenagers. They insist that adults who read YA are only looking for a simple and easy read – that these same adults are looking for uncomplicated stories that are nothing more than typical teenage angst. But I can tell you that those people are wrong There is nothing simple or easy about Young Adult. In fact, just head over to your local bookstore and pick up the hottest YA reads out right now. “Maze Runner”, “If I Stay”, “The Fault in Our Stars”, and “The Hunger Games” are just a few that prove that there’s nothing simple about the fictional life of a teenager. These characters are deep, complicated and thoughtful. They deal with real life issues like death, fear, love, hate, and injustice and handle it all with the grace and dignity that most adults would envy. They believe in the unbelievable and carry with them the unmistakable teenage spirit.

It isn’t so much about the age of those young characters as it is their attitude toward life. Think back to your own teenage years. You thought you’d live forever. You thought that you were indestructible. And when someone broke your heart or tore open your soul, you felt like your life was over and that you’d never be whole again. Yet, somehow you managed to bounce back each time and move on. As we grow older, we somehow become jaded and forget how to be as resilient as our younger selves. Bravery is something we seem to lose as we age, but I for one regain some of it each time I open my laptop and give my characters the strength to face anything that comes their way.

This is why I love to write YA as much as I love to read it. I’m able to discover strengths in my own characters that I didn’t know they had when I first began writing them. And somewhere inside those characters, I discover that I’ve placed a bit of myself in each one – the good, the bad, the fearful, and the brave.  I live vicariously through those characters every time I pick up a book. By reading (and writing) YA, we  can remind ourselves what it is to be young again – to be truly free from society’s idea of who we should be and how we should act. My characters say what I could never say at that age – do what I was too afraid to act on myself.

I recently reached out to a few of my friends and asked them why they loved YA and what it meant to them. Their responses were overwhelming, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

Author, Jo Michaels – “I get a kid’s perspective on things and get to watch someone grow up on the pages as they do things most adults secretly dream of doing.”

Author, Amy Miles – “Teens want to have a voice. To feel like they matter. That people hear them. Books give them an outlet to experience the world and feel like they can escape the terrible things that may be happening in their real life.”

Author, Eva Pohler – “I love YA because they usually portray a coming of age in which the protagonist comes into her own – becomes empowered. To me, that is very inspirational.”

Editor, Wendy Felber – “I read YA because there is a side of me that believes in the impossible possibilities. I think, as adults we are jaded, having to be so realistic that we lose the wonder and mystery, the innocence of not knowing our limits, of having no limits. In YA, I can live in those moments, remember what it is like to have no boundaries, and know that the older I get, I need to find some fiction to fit into my life and not live so seriously.”

Author, Chelsea Starling – “I admit to sometimes feeling jaded as an adult, and YA stories remind me what it feels like to be faced with responsibilities, huge mistakes (that seem so small now) and that soul-aching first love, which can never be repeated, no matter how we pine for it. It’s fun to live in those moments again, when all was wrong and yet so right with the world.”

Author, Elizabeth Sharp – “The characters aren’t jaded and they can still believe in magic. Their lives are still ahead of them, and everything that entails. And their emotions are so exaggerated – they love with all their heart, hate with every fiber, sorrow comes from their toes.”

Author, Morgan Wylie – “It’s about the ‘firsts’: First kiss, first breakup, first romance, etc. Especially as I read and write fantasy and paranormal, it’s also about the journey, about adventure, and escape…escaping the day-to-day things, the drama, the dullness – whatever it may be.”

So, to those who feel that YA books belong in the hands of teenagers – you are partly correct. The truth is that YA books belong in the hands of the young, both in age and in spirit.

Ever Wonder What I Sound Like?

I was recently interviewed by the lovely Amy Jones of YA Podcasts. If you’d like to hear the full interview, click on the link and download the MP3 where you can hear my man-voice (I like to compare it to Cathy Moriarty’s…well, maybe not quite THAT deep).

I discuss how I choose my characters’ names, why I absolutely LOVE writing Young Adult, what it’s like to balance being a writer and the wife of a US soldier, as well as listen to men as I read chapter 1 of the first book in my trilogy, HAUNTING.

Haunting: The Dusty Chronicles-Book One

Haunting: The Dusty Chronicles-Book One

And don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter on the bottom of their page for a chance to win a Kindle version of HAUNTING. Don’t miss out!

http://www.yapodcasts.com

 

Inspiration is Everywhere

As a writer, people often ask me, “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

There are some who believe that authors merely sit in an office with a laptop in front of them and just come up with ideas on the fly…that somehow plots and story lines come to us as we pound away on the keys.

Wrong.

Truth is, most of us find inspiration in everyday situations. Many authors will sleep with a pen and paper next to their bed in case they wake up from an ingenious dream. Some will overhear a person say something clever, causing the author to think, “I should put that in a book.” There are others who will simply walk down the street, look up, and see a cloud that resembles a dragon, and voila…a story is born.

Boy wearing a hoodie. Artist: Remi Martin

Boy wearing a hoodie. Artist: Remi Martin

Inspiration is everywhere. I have often found that the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. I love strolling through antique stores and finding odd items and photographs that make me wonder what kind of story they can tell. My 16-year-old daughter will draw sketches that have been known to give me ideas for characters in my books. I’ve also been known to browse social media and find photographs or phrases that influence my creativity on that particular day.

Even people themselves are great walking-billboards of ideas. The way they look, the way they talk, what they say…I can’t help but wonder who they really are and why they act the way they do. I guess I have a way of constantly wondering what makes people tick – a student of human nature.

Women working in a haberdashery in the 1930's.

Women working in a haberdashery in the 1930’s.

But what I really love is discovering new places. Comic book stores, rolling hills, a deserted gas station, a downed tree, a long stretch of highway, a tire swing, or an alleged haunted hotel…who knows what kind of stories could have taken place there in the past…or even the near future?

And that’s where it starts.

I escape in to my mind and begin to contemplate the “what-ifs”. What if fallen angels were real? What if ghosts could really interact with people? What if time travel was real? If I could go back in time, who would I want to talk to and what would I change? What if the apocalypse happened tomorrow? What if the world suddenly changed? What if the future we fear actually happens?

Then, I take those what-ifs and put them together with the items, places, or people I’ve met along the way. That guy that works behind the counter at the local coffee shop? What if he was a demon? Or maybe a demon hunter. What if an entire town of people suddenly vanished and no one noticed? How will society function one hundred years from now? Two hundred years? What if everyone you loved was tragically taken away from you? How would you react? In the end, one idea ultimately flows in to another until the basic plot becomes words on a page.

There are currently 8 pages in a Word document on my laptop with ideas for future story lines. My next project was inspired by the hills that surround my home in South Dakota and the idea that they would make a great battleground for a an epic battle. The main character came to me after seeing a dark photo of a girl curled up on a sidewalk when I was browsing through Pinterest late one night. The best friend of the protagonist is a frumpy nerd who loves comic books and role-playing games…and just happens to be inspired by one of the funniest, smartest, sweetest, nerdiest guys I know.

The comic book in my hometown in South Dakota. Can you say “nerd-vana”?

Creativity can strike anytime and in any form, and I have to be open to it when it does. I have become quite good at taking the ordinary and turning them in to something that I would like to read myself.

Which brings me to this. For those of you who have always wanted to write, allow me to give you some advice.

1) Write. Stop making excuses. Even if you can’t write every day, just write.

2) Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the story on paper and worry about making it perfect later.

3) The more you write, the better you’ll get. So write as often as you can.

4) Read, read, read. And don’t just read one kind of genre. Read them all.

5) Don’t play in to what is hot at the moment. If you want to write dystopian, write dystopian. If you want to create a world of vampires, write about vampires. They’re telling you that sci-fi is a dead genre? Write it anyway.

6) Open your eyes to everything around you. The places you visit. The people you meet. The items you see lying in the street.

Don’t ever underestimate your ability to create worlds. Every night when you close your eyes, your brain goes in to overdrive and generates amazing and colorful scenarios and narratives. The trick is channeling your subconscious and making it…conscious.

Go forth and write. And remember…inspiration is everywhere.