9/11: I Remember

World Trade Center Towers view from the Empire State Building, 7/11/2000
World Trade Center Towers view from the Empire State Building, 7/11/2000

In my search for throwback pictures, I came across this photo that made me pause. This shot was taken from the Empire State building fourteen months before the tragedy of 9/11. I was a 16-year-old girl on a missions trip to NYC, marveling at the beauty of the Manhattan skyline. Not once did I imagine that skyline would change, that these buildings wouldn’t stand forever.

Fourteen months later I was in college, watching on TV as the second plane struck its tower. Classes were cancelled, an emergency chapel meeting called.  Even as I write this, I’m reliving the abject horror I felt, the tears I couldn’t contain. Not then, not now.

I wasn’t there on 9/11, but I was watching like the rest of America, the whole world really. I’ve only been to New York City once, fourteen months prior to 9/11.

And I still remember.

What’s Your Writing Process? The Blog Tour

I’ve been invited to share about my writing process. Thanks to LeAnn Campbell, a fellow OakTara author, for including me in this relay blog tour. Check out LeAnn’s writing process, or one of her children’s mystery novels at OakTara.

Here’s a snapshot of my writing desk:

My Writing Desk

My Writing Desk

It’s got all the essentials–my writing notebook, marketing plan, brainstorming timer, random post-its, Jane Austen the action figure, the writer’s prayer, and my scene notecards.

Time to answer a few questions about my writing process.

What am I working on?

While trying to build a marketing plan from the ground up, I’m currently working on my new novel, Crossing Nexis, the sequel to my debut The Nexis Secret. Nexis will be a four-book series, but for some reason the sequel was the hardest to wrap my brain around. So many sequels miss the mark, disappoint readers, or are just plain bad. Yikes! That’s a lot of pressure for a writer, especially with books like Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) to set the bar super high.

Lucky for me, I have great friends who are willing to slog through beaucoup details to help me develop my story. My psych-major friend helped me make my bad guy more lovable, maybe even an option for my heroine. The love triangle will rev up and not because the hero breaks up with the heroine. I’ve had to make some hard choices in plotting my sequel, but trust me–the book is much better.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Tricky question, because there’s not a lot of Christian YA angel books. The main differences about The Nexis Secret are the concepts, Bible conspiracy and the idea of the Seer, aka one girl who sees the unseen world of angels.

I tried to be relevant to the current market, so this book could crossover onto mainstream shelves. That’s where the differences are clearer, angels in my book don’t fall in love with humans. Though there is an element of Bible conspiracy, I keep the angel parts true to the Bible to show the difference between light and dark. The Nexis Secret is meant to be a clean read and an option for current readers of popular YA literature.

Why do I write what I do?

I discovered the power of words at a very young age. That’s why I want to foster that love of reading in teens, a time when I needed direction the most. I write for teens who want an alternative to the stuff they deal with everyday at school, and who are curious about God. Fiction is a great avenue to explore questions about religion, which is another reason I keep it clean. Sometimes I feel like I never grew up, which only fuels my passion for writing for young adults.

How does my writing process work?

Someone asked me this recently and I couldn’t give them an answer. After mulling it over, I discovered my writing process is very organic in the idea stage, but much more thought-out in its execution.

In the idea stage I literally gather ideas in my mind and hold them there until a solid idea forms. I write down tons of trigger phrases on post-its, but I don’t use them much. I just wait for the idea to solidify, until that last piece falls into place. That’s when the Eureka! moment hits and the idea comes out fully-formed.

Once the idea is fully realized the execution starts with scenes. I write scene ideas on note cards to get an idea of the progression and start working in Scrivener. If I get stuck I brainstorm for 5-10 minutes, usually on the emotion I want to convey. I’ve started emotion brainstorming at the beginning of each writing session, a technique I used for my writing lunch breaks when I worked in corporate America. It helps you focus so much faster.

Obviously there’s more to it, but that’s just how I get started. My first drafts are kind of like skeletons, depicting the bare action and dialog just so I know where everything goes. It usually takes me a second draft to fill in all the gorgeous details like setting, emotion, and imagery. Not to say things aren’t mixed and matched along the way, but I try not to edit myself too much until the third and fourth drafts. Once I turn my editor brain on I’m a stickler for details. It crushes the creative process, but somehow hones my word choice to make me seem more creative. Such a wonderful dichotomy. :)

I’ve found a few writing books to be the most helpful, which I’ll list at the end of the post. I’ve mostly taken bits and pieces to create my own process, which is what most writers I’ve met do. That’s why I try to learn as much as I can from books, writing seminars, and other writers. You never know what awesome tip you’ll pick up that will totally enhance your entire process. That’s why I love getting together with other writers.

Passing the Baton

Now it’s time to pass the baton to my writing friend, Holly Michael, author of an upcoming devotional book with her NFL son Jake Byrne, recent ACFW Genesis Semi-Finalist in the contemporary fiction category, and blogger at Writing Straight.

Check out more writers’ stories with the #MyWritingProcess Twitter hashtag.

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My Favorite Writing books:

–Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure a Great First Draft
by Laura Whitcomb

  • Great tips for writing better drafts faster

–Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

  • Really hones your plot ideas to the bare essentials, then helps you flesh them out to create more tension

–Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin

  • Illustrates how to develop not only romance, but fully-formed characters, and points of view. A surprisingly great resource

Also Helpful:

–Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

–Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Did you like this post?

Share, like, or leave me a comment about your own writing process.
I’d love to hear from you.

Pinnable Quote from Upcoming Novel THE NEXIS SECRET

Drumroll please . . . here’s a quote from chapter one of my upcoming debut novel, The Nexis Secret. Enjoy! :)

Image, Emily Cahal via freeimages.com

Image, Emily Cahal via freeimages.com

Background: The main character, Lucy McAllen, just moved to Riverdale, New York because her parents shipped her off to a boarding school.

A New All-Time Fav: Ellie Sweet #2

Ellie Sweet #2

Do you have those books that you just love and know you’ll read again, forever? Well I do, and Stephanie Morrill’s Ellie Sweet sequel is going on my Read Again shelf with all the other awesome books that spoke to me on a spiritual level. The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is right up there with Madeleine L’Engle, Kristin Billerbeck, Robin Jones Gunn, and Tracey Bateman.

Just because success has come to Ellie Sweet, doesn’t mean her life is any easier. She’s still flawed and relatable, and the haters are piling up against her in both her school and writing life. This time she’s learning to be humble enough to admit her mistakes, even overcome them. It just makes her feel that much more genuine, like she’d be one of my friends.

This book is so real in its coming-of-age glory that it’s hard not to picture yourself as Ellie Sweet on some level. Even in her writing success there are pitfalls, some people love her book and some people can’t handle that she’s getting published as a teenager. Life gets even more complicated when her relationships turn rocky. This is where the author really shines.

Boys and friends are still tricky subjects for Ellie, but not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. The messy parts of teenage life are left messy, giving a whole new meaning to our own personal struggles. Life is hard–but it still moves forward and there’s still joy in it.

Bottom line: The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is just that, an unlikely portrait of coming-of-age teenage life, mixed with genuine perspectives on building a dream career, dealing with family, and fixing rough relationships. A great, fun read that makes you think. I seriously can’t wait to see what Stephanie writes next! :)

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, http://www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out http://www.StephanieMorrill.com

What I’m Reading: Ellie Sweet #1

Ellie Sweet #1

It’s Ellie Sweet week here on my blog. My friend and fabulous author Stephanie Morrill released her latest book The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet about a novel writing teen who uses her friends as characters in her book. Makes you wonder if all writers do that, huh? Today, congratulations are in order because I just learned that this book received the coveted Grace Award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Ellie Sweet is a girl after my own heart–sweet and flawed, but lovable. From the beginning of the book Ellie is crushing hard on the new kid, while outgrowing her friends at the same time. Instead of dealing with her problems or getting even, like when her friends diss her, or her bestie starts dating her crush, she writes it all in her historical novel. Not your typical teenage response and I love it!

Maybe it’s because Ellie is a writer chick, but I can totally relate to her as she struggles with being an outsider. Sometimes that’s by choice, because she doesn’t drink or party much, but sometimes that’s just her nature as a budding writer. It’s the typical pose of the writer, observe and report and Ellie is no exception.

Out of nowhere her real life livens up as her crush wants to date her in secret, leading the the school bad boy to admit he’s crushing on her. The way Ellie deals with both guys, by bumbling through with all the grace and awkwardness you expect from a teenager, is refreshingly honest. Because let’s face it, teenage girls and teenage boys come from two different planets. In fact, it reminds me very much of my own high school debacles.

Suddenly the details of what Ellie wrote in her book get out, and her friends turn on her. Somehow she picks up the pieces and moves forward in a way that anyone who’s ever been bullied can relate to. We’re coming to the point where I don’t want to give too much away. Fortunately for you, Stephanie Morrill includes a link to the first chapter of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet on her Ellie Sweet Page.

Bottom line: my favorite parts of this book are the character, her voice, and the honest, awkward, and refreshing ways that the author deals with teen problems. If you like Sarah Dessen books and are looking for a clean, but realistic teen book, then The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet is for you.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for my review of the Ellie Sweet #2, coming Thursday as Ellie Sweet week continues.

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out www.StephanieMorrill.com

9 Author Photos to Choose From, Oh My!

It’s time to choose an author photo. My sister-in-law Joan Nelson took these lovely shots at their farmhouse in Topeka, Kansas. I asked for something young and fun and she totally delivered. She could be a pro photographer, seriously. Just one problem, I’m having trouble deciding on my favorite.

Maybe you can help. Check out the poll below and vote for your favorite photo. This picture will appear on all of my marketing materials, my back cover, the OakTara web site, and my social media sites. Which photo says YA author to you? Let the voting begin . . .

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I Need Your Feedback

The runners-up will find their way to other pages on this site. I even have an idea for my future web page design based a few of these photos. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. :)