Where Did My Inspiration Come From—Eight Days of Christmas?

I find inspiration all over. There is beauty and a storyline everywhere, just waiting to be written. Sometimes an idea comes to me fully formed and wrapped up with a bow. And other times—not so much. My process is usually to write out character sheets and a 1-3 page synopsis before I begin writing. I’ve written one manuscript with fully plotted scene cards. It was one of the cleanest first drafts I have ever written. The problem? I ended up falling short on word count and going back in and re-drafting it and adding in a second POV. Most of the time, I’m so anxious to begin drafting a story, that I don’t even have time to come up with every character name, or what their hair color is or even something big like their biggest flaw. I often find that when I’m drafting, my characters will flesh themselves out as I go and as I learn them more.

Plot: The inspiration for Eight Days of Christmas came when I first had the idea to write a holiday romance story. Christmas is my favorite holiday and it’s always been special to my family with lots of together time and traditions. I thought it would be so fun to combine traditions with lots of family time and what happens when family is spending so much time together. I had recently watched Sweet Home Alabama and came away from it with all the feels. It’s one of my favorite romcoms. The writing of both, the enemies-to-lovers and the second-chance-romance is pure genius. I thought, what if I wrote a book that had similar vibes and gave readers all those same feelings I get when I watch that movie? But have it be at Christmastime.

Character Names: Leo and Isabella’s names came to me quickly and as soon as I labeled these two characters, I never changed them. And I always knew that Isabella would be nicknamed Izzy and that would be a part of the story as well, how a nickname can be so important when called it by a special person. I had this vivid picture in my mind of Isabella, dark hair and eyes, a turned-up nose, a strong woman. For Leo, I had pictured someone tall, and I knew he was a former hockey player, so he had a nice physique. In my mind, he also had dark hair and eyes. And a perpetually three-day beard.

I have a note in my note’s app with name ideas for future manuscripts. I keep a list of first names and last names. But I never had to open my app for these two. I actually had Leo’s brother’s name—Landon—picked out right away too. Leo and Landon seemed to go well together and for the appearance of his characters as well. I’ve only known Landon’s in real life who are nice guys, and this Landon is not the exception. Though he has a bit of a player’s personality, so I pictured him being an attractive guy. Too attractive for his own good. Isabella’s siblings’ names Norah and Finn came to me quickly as well. But Finn took the longest. It was hard to find a name for the girls’ brother that went well with Isabella and Norah. I pictured Norah as a little taller than Isabella, sienna-brown hair, slender, and a bit like the actress Zoey Deutch.

Playlist: Music is a HUGE inspiration to me. And with this book, that was no exception. Part of the second-chance-romance was inspired by one song. Yep, you read that right. Now regardless of your feelings on country music, I believe they can tell a fulfilling story in about three minutes. So country songs are almost always on my book playlists. You guessed it; the song is a country song. Greatest Love Story by LANCO. If you don’t know the song, it’s about a couple that are teenagers and opposites but they are in love. The two go their separate ways when she goes to college and he stays in their hometown. She dates someone else until she returns and they realize there is still something there between them. It’s such a sweet and catchy song. Besides that one song, there are about fifty more songs on my book playlist. Feel free to check them out under: Eight Days of Christmas, account name: Starla_writes.

Setting: Pineridge is a fictional town in Colorado. I knew I wanted Leo and Isabella’s hometown to be a small town and since this book was going to be set at Christmas, it needed to be snowy and mountainous. In my mind, I pictured somewhere like Breckenridge, Vail, or Aspen Colorado. But I also included some inspo from the shopping in my own town that’s also a resort town near a mountain. Plus inspo from growing up in Canada, the deep snow, and the ice rink at my elementary school.

Again, there is inspiration everywhere. In the shows and movies I watch, the music I listen to, the people I follow on social media, my day job, travel, even a trip to the grocery store can spark creativity. You never know where a story idea could be lurking.

To see my inspiration Pinterest board for this book, please visit: https://www.pinterest.com/starlawrites/book-eight-days-of-christmas/

2021-New Year New You-keeping it simple

New Year’s resolutions are fantastic for some. They can inspire positivity, hold someone accountable, provide hope, and build confidence. They can also induce stress, create doubt and despair, and make someone feel defeated or inadequate. Instead of putting more restrictions and pressure on myself this year, (after what was a trying 2020) I chose only a few aspects to focus on. Limiting your goals can help keep you focused and on track without overwhelming you.

I chose these four to concentrate on:

  • What is your word of the year? And why?
  • What are you most looking forward to this month? This year?
  • What’s one goal you hope to accomplish this year?
  • What is one off the wall-wild dream?

My word for 2021 is HOPE. After everything our world went through in 2020, the main thing that got me through was hope. I have to constantly remind myself I need to have hope that things will get better. Otherwise many things can feel pointless.

This month, (is almost over, so for February as well) I am looking forward to finding some me-time/self-care. This year, I am most looking forward to my book being published. It’s a dream I’ve been pursuing for years and hoping for even longer.

One goal I hope to accomplish this year is something I haven’t told many people about. But I’ve been doing a ton of research and have already began, so why not talk about it? My goal is to write a screenplay.

One off the wall-wild dream I have is for my #PaulRuddWIP, (my book Learning to Fly) to be published, have a movie adaption starring Paul Rudd, and maybe even get the chance to meet him 🙂 Wild right? But it’s fun to have a dream we can either shout about hold close to our hearts.

Let’s not look back but instead, look forward. I hope you can find a few things to focus on so 2021 is your very best year!

New Year-New You? Nah…New Year-Better You!

*WARNING* Real Talk ahead…

I intended to write this post in January, after taking a couple of weeks off. But after a few events unfolded, they altered my post. I had planned on talking about your yearly writing goals and how to stay motivated. I had a ton of positive ideas on how to encourage you to reach those goals. But creating a list of goals and accomplishments felt jaded in light of those events.

In 2019 I was blessed with a new and unexpected friendship. She gave the best hugs and was encouraging me to say “no” to help me to not overcommit myself. Three days before Christmas she suffered several strokes and nearly lost her life. Miraculously, she not only survived, but grew stronger each day. She drew strength from her faith, family, and friends. She’s back home with her husband, two young boys and dog, (who won’t leave her side). When I got my first hug from her after she went through this ordeal, it felt the same as I remembered but also different. She’s a new person. She’s been given a second chance at life and she’s not taking it for granted.

So instead of a long list of goals for 2020, I’m trying to look at the big picture. I’m trying to look beyond 2020. But I’m also trying to take it one day at a time, focusing on making the best of each day. Last year I spent many days sick over worry and anxiety, bogged down by stress and depression. I’m hoping that in 2020 I find a way to feel refreshed rather than all the former mentioned. I hope the same for you.

This is the first year in quite a while, I haven’t written out my goals. Sure, I have some tucked away in my brain. Once in a while, I whisper them and on occasion, I shout them into the universe. My 2020 word isn’t RESOLUTE for nothing. I still have big hopes and dreams. But writing out a list of things I want to accomplish felt small in comparison to thinking what could be on my friend’s list for 2020. I’m assuming things like: Be thankful for each day, Make the most of each day, Tell family and friends you love and appreciate them, Grow stronger each day.

Sure, I still have dreams to publish all of my books, go on a fantastic family vacation before my son leaves for college this fall, and find a way to balance the day job/family/volunteer work/home/writing. But those felt minor in comparison to some big picture things. They say if you’d like to accomplish your dreams, you should say them out loud. I hope you’ll try it too. Here’s me, saying mine out loud:

My hopes for 2020:

  • Focus on today
  • Don’t allow the negativity of others steal your joy
  • Don’t give into anxiety; take control of it
  • Say NO; don’t overcommit yourself
  • Focus on what you actually have control over
  • If you feel yourself spiraling from depression, talk to someone
  • Don’t give up

I hope 2020 is off to a fantastic start for you! And if it’s not-well, we still have 11 more months to turn it around 🙂

Is There Something You’d Like To Say, Karen? (Tips for Writers-On Surviving the holiday with family)

The holiday season is quickly approaching. For most, that brings mixed emotions. While there’s often sadness over loved ones who are no longer with us, whether by choice or death, there can also be old grudges or ongoing family feuds. Spending time with family and loved ones can be difficult and wonderful and awkward. If your family is aware of your art/creative outlet/writing, you’re vulnerable for every nuance.

I’ve been blessed to have many supportive relatives. Some ask me how my pursuit to traditional publication is going, how my current project is going or what it is about, or they tell me to not give up and they’re impressed with my perseverance. For me, I find it comforting when people ask me questions about how things are going. It makes me feel as if they care and are truly supportive of my goals and dreams. Lately, I’ve been finding that since it’s been a few years since I’ve been back into writing seriously, some family members are over it, or bored. But what those people don’t understand, (because they haven’t asked) is a journey to traditional publishing is often long.

If I find myself frustrated by *family over the holiday, I tend to go quiet. Sometimes it’s necessary to isolate myself as well. Taking time by myself can help me regroup. People who don’t understand the industry or the process, don’t really understand either, 1.) why publication takes so long, and 2.) why do I keep going. Yes, traditional publication is the goal, but writing is therapeutic and a passion that has always been inside of me. So regardless if I ever get traditionally published or not, it’s important for me to reiterate to family that I’m not planning to give up on writing.

What can you do if you find yourself in the “hot” seat?

-If your relative is giving you a hard time about “still doing that whole writing thing”; force them to sit there and listen to an hour of you educating them on the process of traditional publishing.

-Be prepared to give an explanation of “why don’t you just self publish?”; while I both respect and support authors who self publish, it’s not for everyone. So be prepared to have an explanation for why this isn’t for you. And if you don’t have one, maybe self-publishing is right for you (?).

-If they ask you, “why don’t you just quit?”; for me, quitting isn’t an option. Writing is a form of “self care”. Quitting would’t be good for my disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s important they know that you have set a goal and you intend to work hard at accomplishing that goal to prove it to yourself. Also, for me, I want to show my kids that with hard work and perseverance, dreams can come true. Find your reasons and list them.

-You can also go with the, “give it to them straight” approach; if you’re outspoken, tell your family members exactly what you want to and need to. Be firm and concise. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells. They’re your family. If they don’t love you and can’t be supportive, that’s on them.

-You can also go with the, “isolation” approach; for some people it’s easier to keep your mouth shut and make nice and isolate yourself during a holiday gathering. While it’s disappointing if this is the case, this could be the healthiest approach for you. You need to protect yourself and your art. Take care of your mental health.

Good luck to all of my fellow creators. May you have a wonderful time celebrating with your loved ones and treasuring all you’ve been blessed with and are grateful for.

*To my family who thinks this post was inspired by you; it wasn’t. This is not about you 😉

Superwoman or Superidiot

Warning: Real Talk:

As I’m sitting here 4 weeks post a major surgery, I’ve done quite a bit of thinking and feel inclined to share. I’ve been called Superwoman by family members, co-workers, friends, and people in the writing community. While I believe they all intended it as a compliment, and I rightfully accepted it as so because I was wearing many different hats and succeeding, society has conditioned us in this way. Leading up to surgery I was a stressed out, overworked, exhausted, chronic pain sufferer. I knew I was all of these things but wasn’t sure how to change any of them. Being a wife, mother, full time employee, homemaker, writer, volunteer – I was afraid if I tweaked any of these Jenga blocks the entire tower I’d strategically built, (or had been built for me) would come crashing down.

So I challenged the tower. I continued to pull out a block from the bottom of the tower, (a piece of myself) and carefully place it on top of the tower, (my already overworked body) and hope and pray it wouldn’t topple over. The other part of the problem? My kids watched me do All. The. Things. I thought I was setting a good example for them. Showing them I can be a parent, a spouse, a full time employee, a volunteer and STILL pursue my dreams and they can too. My husband watched me do All. The. Things. I thought I was making him proud. Showing him I can juggle all the balls handed to me, still help in supporting our family while also pursuing my dreams. My writing community watched me do All. The. Things. I thought I was showing them a well-balanced lifestyle on how to accomplish their writing goals. By sacrificing sleep, social outings, and by working hard. I pushed through the exhaustion, the chronic pain, the stress and didn’t listen to my body.

When I had surgery, my body said, “Enough is enough.” The outcome? I had a stress reaction to the surgery. Ultimately because my body was in such bad shape beforehand. Which made my stay in the hospital longer and prolonged my recovery. Part of this was beyond my control. The stress of my day job and being overworked were not something I could change. My chronic illness is not something I can change. Besides the chronic pain I’ve suffered for over twenty years, the past year it has caused a severe interruption to my life. Either waking me up in the night or not allowing me to fall asleep, taking pain pills that do little or no help and clouding up my mind. But I did play a role in my exhaustion. My determination to see something through or to accomplish my dreams is something I value about myself and I know it’s a quality others see in me. But when is enough enough?

Society has conditioned us to put the overworked, the determined above all else, the exhausted, the Superwomen and Supermen on a pedestal. To look to them and think they have it all together. They’re doing it all. How about we come alongside them and encourage them, but then ask if they need anything. Maybe ask if they need any help. Ask them if they’ve gotten 7-8 hours of sleep in the past, oh, I don’t know, month. Ask them if they’ve taken a self-care day. If they’ve gone outside for a walk. Maybe ask them if they want to meet for coffee. Being determined is part of me and my personality and it’s never going to go away. But I know, when my recovery is done I need to ease back into things or I’m going to be right back where I started. I need some new tools. First, is listening to my body and no longer pushing it past its capacity. Second, I may need to ease back on my writing, my job responsibilities and my volunteer roles. Doing less won’t mean I’m any less of a Superwoman. Because some days, just getting out of bed and fulfilling my roles is a huge accomplishment. One day we’ll talk about anxiety and depression. Today is not that day 🙂

Thank and hug a Superhero in your life!