Category Archives: Inspiration

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

Chapter 2

Sugar here, calling myself out for not posting this morning like I was supposed to. But I had 2 good reasons. I thought next Monday was my day.  AND today was my last day at work. I have worked in the same place for seven years. My very first job out of college. I love my coworkers and my building, but I don’t love the job anymore.  I was finding myself so exhausted, so stressed out that I couldn’t write.  My brain just couldn’t handle another thing and there were times when I was so overwhelmed by it all that I just didn’t want to get out of bed.  I know they call it work for a reason, but I knew I couldn’t go on like that. So I made the decision to leave.  I’m not going to be able to survive on writing alone. I’m going to work but at job that won’t suck the life out of me.

I need to write. Some people do it as a hobby. They can pick  it up and put it down when they want. But I need to write and when I can’t do it I feel bad, like I’m depriving myself of some sort of essential nutrient. And that job was making it hard for me to do what I love. So today was my last day and while I have very good memories of that place I don’t for one moment regret  saying goodbye.  I have two books coming out this fall. I’m under contract for three more. I am lucky. I know it’s a blessing to have these things when so many writers are dying to get where I am. So I am going to take this opportunity now, because I don’t I’ll always wish I had.

I feel like I started chapter one of my adult life there. Now it’s time for me to start working on chapter 2.

Sandra Orchard’s Latest Mystery in the Port Aster Series is Out

Hello Readers, Katy Lee here with a heads-up on Sandra Orchard’s Blind_Trustlatest mystery, Blind Trust.  And let me tell you she really stepped up the suspense with this second book in the series.  Back in November I brought you my thoughts on the first book Deadly Devotion. Click here to read A Great Whodunit, Sandra Orchard Style.  A great, well-developed beginning to the series that laid the foundation for the three books so well that I cracked open Blind Trust and jumped right into the excitement without a moment of delay.

Kate Adams, amateur sleuth is  caught in the middle of a case again that has nothing to do with her…or does it?   She’s about to find out.  Blind Trust ends with a great cliffhanger leading into the third and final book.  The back of the book gives the reader a taste of what’s to come, but it’s not enough, I say.  Looking forward to it, Sandra!

And here’s a bit about Blind Trust:

Kate Adams had no idea she was carrying counterfeit money, and she can’t believe that it came from her sweet neighbor. Or that it lands her in the middle of another one of Detective Tom Parker’s investigations. Determined to prove her neighbor’s innocence, Kate stumbles into a pit of intrigue that is far deeper than a two-bit counterfeit operation–and strikes too close to home for comfort. As family secrets come to light, her world–and her budding romance with Tom–begin to crumble. To Kate, it’s clear that she won’t be safe until she uncovers all of Port Aster’s secrets. But is it too late for her and Tom?

Award-winning author Sandra Orchard draws readers into a world of rogues, red herrings, and romance as she unfolds the continuing story of amateur sleuth Kate Adams.

Amazon Buy link: Amazon

i-Movie & Book Trailers

As I’m counting down to the launch of my next book, PIECES of LOVE, due out in a few weeks, I figured I would do something a little different this time. I finished and posted my book trailer before the book’s release. You would think this would be a no brainer, but I’ve published five novels and haven’t managed to do this until now. With good reason, I assure you. I can’t tell you how long it takes me and my husband to produce a decent trailer. Don’t get me wrong. He is an amazing source of technical support, but he’s a super busy guy and can’t always work to my time schedule. I also get frustrated in trying to share my creative vision with him in a way that translates to exactly what I want. Yes…I’m afraid I’m a bit picky. So this time, I took it upon myself to learn how to use i-Movie, and created my own book trailer.

I thought I would share the process with you today.
First off, I recommend finding the right music. There are several stock music sites that offer “free” music, but it can take hours of listening to samples to find just the right piece, and the selection of free titles is limited. It’s likely you’ll pay a nominal fee for what you want. Be sure to read the fine print because you may also only have the music rights for a specifically contracted period of time. The most important thing is to find music that is released under a Creative Commons license, and to give the artist credit when due. Here are a few sites where you can find music suitable for book trailers.

http://www.incompetech.com

http://www.audionautix.com

http://www.danosongs.com

http://www.ccmixter.org

Since I’d gone this route before and found the process daunting, and I wasn’t willing to pay someone big bucks to do  a trailer for me, I almost wasn’t going to have one this time around. As the fates would have it, my main character in PIECES of LOVE, Lexi, plays guitar, sings, and writes music. In my efforts to help readers connect to the character on a deeper level, I was inspired to write lyrics into the book. Of course, then it dawned on me that I should also try to put music to the words. Not that I’ve ever written a song or know how to write music, but what can I say…my muse was feeling adventurous. With a step in faith and a little effort on a lunch break, the tune came to me, and I recorded it into my phone (love those apps). Then I took it to my pal, lifelong musician, Ozone Pete, who plays guitar and “knew a guy” who could help with a professional recording. Six months later, we spent a day with Jim Fogarty of Zing studios in Westfield, MA. All in all, it took a total of about fifteen hours over two days and I had a theme song—now available for download on i-Tunes.

It was the perfect choice for the book trailer.
Once I had the music, I was ready to start on the hard part. Being techno-challenged and averse to learning the Mac’s operating system, I was prepared to defer the actual trailer production to my husband, but as I said, that wasn’t to be if I wanted it done sooner rather than later.  I bit the bullet, so to speak, and dove in.

I used parts of the book’s blurb and boiled the synopsis down to a paragraph, creating a “story board” with 8-10 slides to “tell” the story. I figured each slide would require about 6-10 seconds—long enough for viewers to read. Adding the transitions and front/back matter, I was able to keep the whole production at about two minutes.
Using stock photos from Big Stock Photos, each costing about $5-10, I chose photos that reflected the blow by blow description of the story. Uploading the music and photos to my husband’s Mac and importing it all into i-Movie was a challenge for me (being Mac deficient) but a snap for hubby, so I let him do that part. Once I had all the pieces there to work with, it was a matter of choosing an appropriate segment of the song to match the story board. Two minutes is a bit long for a trailer these days, but I had a certain timing in mind for the slides and the music selection to work together.
Caution: Timing each slide and transition accordingly is an OCD sufferer’s nightmare…or dream come true, LOL. I tweaked and cajoled this thing to death, but the final product was worth it, IMO.

Yes, countless hours went into the project, and there were studio costs, but in the end, for a few hundred dollars, I have a product I’m proud of and it’s exactly what I envisioned. I can use it to promote my book as well as the song on i-Tunes, and at the same time, offer an entertaining connection for my readers who might find it interesting to hear the author singing the theme song.
As much as I’m not a big Mac fan, I-Movie is a powerful program! Once I figured out how to use all the neat features, the possibilities seemed endless. There are several backgrounds, title fonts, and styles to choose from for each slide, special affects you can apply to pictures and transitions, and many variables you can and can’t control. For instance, I wanted to blur a couple of the photos but couldn’t do it in i-Movie, so I exported them to Power Point, manipulated the shots there, and then saved them to the i-Movie event I was working on. It was simply a matter of playing with the program and figuring out what worked. Of course, when I ran into trouble, hubby was there as tech support.
Once I had fine-tuned my baby and edited the crap out of it, I published it to You-tube and shared it on all my social media sites. It had over a hundred hits the first day! I’m glad so many people have enjoyed the production and I truly appreciate all the positive feedback.
If the DIY version seems too daunting, save your pennies, because a decent trailer can run you anywhere from $300-$1200. I’ve seen them for more and I’ve seen them for less, but you definitely get what you pay for in this case. I once paid $50 to a supposedly reputable person and was less than satisfied, so lesson learned for me. Until I can afford to pay the big bucks, I’ll continue to go the DIY route.

What do you think of book trailers? Are they an effective promotional tool? Seen any you love? 

He Ain’t Heavy…

This post originally appeared on The Jaunty Quills , but I thought it was good enough to post here too.

As a writer I love getting emails from readers. Who doesn’t?!  It really is one of the unexpected pleasures of the job.  But what was even more unexpected was the subject of so many of the emails that I have received this year. His name is Walter, and he is a character in my first book, Dangerous Curves Ahead. A lot of readers have really connected to him. And that surprised me. Walter is not my hero, or some other hot guy in the book. He’s my heroine’s father. A sixty year old college professor/ scientist with a vast knowledge of useless information and an awesome collection of ties.  Walter also has Asperger’s. If you don’t know what Asperger’s Syndrome is, it’s a part of the Autism Spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties with social interactions.  I’ve gotten so many emails from women who have someone like Walter in their lives.

The question I get most from them is how could you have written Walter so accurately?

The answer is simple. I can write Walter so accurately because I have a Walter in my life and his name is Jason.  Unlike Walter, Jason is no brainy science guy. He’s just my big brother who loves chocolate cake, bouncy balls and visiting Disney World. Jason has a more severe form of Autism than Walter. He’ll never live alone or drive a car. He’ll probably never have a family of his own, but that doesn’t mean his life is empty.

It’s hard to explain what it was like to grow up with an older sibling that isn’t “normal”. It’s different experience than a parent raising child with a disability. I didn’t go through the grieving process. I didn’t have to put in all the work that my parents did to make sure my brother had a full and happy life. I was simply born into a world that built so much around Jason. It’s a nice world but, as a sibling it was hard to know my place at times. I had no brotherly guidance, no one to scare boys away, none of the typical big brother experiences that my friends had. Instead of my brother going first through the world, my parents looked to me for all the major milestones. I was the first to read and write and navigate social pressures. I was the first to drive a car and go off to college. And I wanted to do everything so well because I knew Jason couldn’t.

It wasn’t easy having a brother who covers his ears when things get too loud, and talks to himself, and spends so much time staring off into space. It’s was annoying constantly apologizing to people when he bumped into them because he has no awareness of his body. And it was annoying that the only thing he ever eats when we go anywhere is a hamburger. As a kid the only thing you want to do is fit in, be like everyone else. But it was hard for me be like everyone else when my brother is like no one else I know.

I think I once said to him, “If you’re going to be Autistic, why can’t you be cool like Rainman and count cards?”

To which my father replied, “I know. You could at least help me pay off this mortgage.”

Some people might be horrified at that exchange, but that’s the way it is in my family. Yes. He’s different. And maybe he won’t do all the things I got to do, but he’s NOT to be felt sorry for. He’s not to be treated less than. We joke and tease because that is what our family does. That’s how we show love. Autism is a huge part of who Jason is but Autism is not all he is.

He’s the oldest of five kids and he knows it. He doesn’t let us boss him around, and if we try to he says, “Go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone!”  (Which I didn’t realize that he got from a Billy Joel song till I was older. How awesome is that?)

He’s a pretty smooth liar. He once called me the B word. (I probably deserved it.) And when I asked him to repeat himself he said, “I said pitch. Pitch the ball.” (No, he didn’t.)

Jason is also incredibly sweet. He likes to squeeze my nose to show me affection. He makes sure I don’t go more than three weeks without visiting him and when I see him he always tells me I’m beautiful.

I love him. Probably a little more than I love my other brothers and I’m protective of him. Because he is different, because so many people just don’t understand him, I go out of my way to make sure no one takes advantage of him.  It’s not a position a lot of little sisters find themselves in, but I don’t mind because I know if he could, he would do the same thing for me.

So, I may not have had the big brother experience that most people have had but, having a brother who is different has shaped who I am. He’s made me more patient, more understanding and more open than I would have been if I didn’t know him.

Plus he helped me write Walter . And Walter is a pretty cool dude.

So what about you? Do you have a special relationship with one of your siblings?

Getting Back on your Luge

Olympic-RingsHappy Olympic Games! These two weeks every two years bring great excitement to my home. Winter or summer, doesn’t matter, we are glued to the games. We enjoy it all–wins, defeats, but especially the personal victories.

I’m sure you have all seen Shiva Keshavan get back on his luge as he raced down the course after falling off at a deadly speed . What an amazing victory, not to mention he’ll be known forever.

Stories like Shiva’s are the ones I can relate to. I think we all can. There we are, racing toward our dream, and Bang! We fall off course. For many, it’s the end, maybe out of fear or discouragement or anger. We say we tried, and no one will fault you, because you did.

But what if you get back on the course? What if you use every last ounce of determination to take one step toward the goal again? Or in Shiva’s case, get that luge back under you. What if you move every part of your mind, body and soul until you are back in the race again? There’s still no promise of a win, but I think it’s safe to say you sure will be remembered differently.

You’ll be remembered as the one who got back on the course and back in the game. A victory in itself.

So, whatever it is you are racing toward. Expect to be pushed/knocked/beaten off course. It’s a given, and everyone will even expect you to accept it.

Be the one they remember who didn’t.

Keep moving and play hard, and enjoy the games!

My Year in Review….. What I learned about my writing self.

Goodbye 2013. Hello 2014. I’m looking forward to next year. I have four books coming out in 2014. Four. Four full length novels, two of them under the name Ginger Jamison. It’s going to be an exciting year.

This year was exciting. I saw the publication of my first book, Dangerous Curves Ahead. I got offered a contract with Harlequin. I wrote my first novella. I got some really good thoughtful reviews.

I also wrote. A lot. 2013 is probably the year I wrote the most.But I’m not necessarily saying that that was a good thing for me. Three of the four books that are coming out next year I wrote this year. Plus the novella. And I had edits, torturous edits. Though my writing, in my opinion, got sharper and I managed to write upwards of 7000 words a day. There was a time when it wasn’t fun. When it felt like work. Like it felt like I had taken on way too much. And maybe I did. I burned myself out.

I only read five books this year. Five! That’s nothing for me. There was a time in my life when I was reading a new book every other day. But I didn’t read because I didn’t have time to. I had to write. HAD to. My laptop was a permanent accessory. It was chained to my arm. I had no life. I missed happy hours and day trips. I bailed on dinners and wrote for hours and hours on vacation. I was a shitty friend. I was an absent daughter and sister. But I had to put out good books.

Some people would scoff and say “But your published. Poor you, that’s a problem that we all would like to have.” I would tell those people to suck it. A whole other set of stress, problems and responsibilities comes along with that contract. Plus I work. Full time. In a job you can’t half ass. I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t go change anything that happened last year. I’ve had a great experience with both publishers. I’m just telling you my story and  that I learned a lot about myself in the process.

1. When under extreme stress and a deadline I can write half a novel in four days.

2. I have a really hard time writing endings. It might be because I love being in that world so much that I don’t want to leave it. Or it could be because I just suck at writing them.

3. I really, really, really hate being edited. I hate the whole freaking process. I don’t care what anybody says. Yes, I know the book is twenty-five times better when I’m finished with it, but I hate it. I dread getting my editorial letter. I probably always will.

4. People who give me unsolicited advice about publishing and my career or think they know everything really annoy me. (Okay, so maybe I didn’t learn that this year.) (I also have to stop myself from telling people the reason they aren’t published yet is because they spend more hours playing stupid Facebook games than they do writing. And to not bitch about it.)

5. I need to plan my non writing time. I need to be social and hang out with friends and flirt with cute boys.

6. It’s okay for me to take a break from writing. I took nearly two months and not because I planned to, but because I was so fried I didn’t have any other choice. It helped. I needed to recharge my brain.

7. The best way (for me) to get back into writing is just to write. To make myself sit down in a chair and write. And to talk about/brain storm with somebody who’s not a writer. And to be around other writers because they inspire me.

What about you? How was your year? What did you learn about yourself?