Access Your Creativity

“Life isn’t about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw

Whenever I teach freshman composition courses, I like to start the class with a quote on the board. Sometimes we talk about it, sometimes we write about it, and sometimes it’s just there. I think it’s a good way to get fledgling writers thinking because before you can write anything, you have to engage your brain. We think first, then we write.

writingAs a writer, I always struggle with the thinking more than the writing. Some writers come to the page full of ideas and struggle to figure out how to write them. I come to the page ready to write, but often wonder who and what to write about next. I think it’s because I’ve already developed a lot of stories. I’m at the point in my career where I need to continually recharge my creativity.

If you’re new to writing, you’ll be surprised how soon this happens! You think you’ve got enough story ideas for a lifetime, but each book requires so many characters, so much conflict and so many layers of backstory. You tap a ton of creative resources each time you put you pen to paper. It’s important to recharge your ideas early and often before you turn to the blank screen and realize—“ack! I’ve got nothing!”

flowerNot that this has ever happened to me. Cough, cough. But I was fortunate enough to attend a fabulous workshop on maintaining creativity early in my writing journey and I’ve revisited the tips from my old mentor Dewanna Pace many times over the years. She advised a lot of practical things, really breaking down how to experience the world around you in a new way. There are the more obvious things like checking out the newspaper, or different news/magazines than you normally would and visiting new places. But she also helped me to see how to experience the world around me in a different way.

Rowan AtkinsonFor example, turn off the television and watch the actors. Learn about their moods and feelings through their gestures. Or explore the world through the five senses, really focusing on sounds or smells. Describe them. Write about them. Think about how your character would experience those same things. What smells have strong memory associations for them and why? What sounds would scare them and why?

eavesdropWriters learn early on in their journeys that as chroniclers of human drama, we must be keen observers. That means staring conversations with strangers. Eavesdropping whenever possible. Searching for subtext within the smallest of gestures. Make it a game and you’ll feel more creative. Try the exercises when you’re not on deadline and you can really have fun with them. – Joanne

wishme***What do you do to kick start creativity? I have a copy of Karen’s debut adult romance novel, WISH ME TOMORROW for one random commenter! If you haven’t read the reviews of her fantastic book for Harlequin’s Heartwarming series, please take a moment to visit her at today!

Gah! Free Topic! Are you NUTS?

Free topic for a writer is NOT ZEN. It’s a blank page of possibility and possible disaster. Free topic is how we begin each book: a scene, a character, an ending line, an image, a phrase … Then we develop and marry the idea for a year or two or three … or more. Many of us are already married and know that it’s work … work work work. So diving in, in writing, isn’t diving in, but testing the waters because once we’re in, there’s nothing that will get us to write our way out of it. There’s no such this as Divorce Court for WIPs and writers.

I'm so here!

I’m so here!

Free topic is empty space, our relationship with that space, and how we’ll create a new world out of that space.  It’s like dating, the giddy part, until we realize we’ve spilled mustard on our shirt and forgot to put deodorant on before that crucial first date.

I know. What am i complaining about? Don’t I love this? Yes. Free topic is GREAT when it’s not an imposed free topic. But when we’re “given” a free topic, we’re stuck thinking about all the things we should’ve written about, could’ve written about, didn’t write about … because there was just too much pressure in one white space of blogphere! And I’ve got mustard on my shirt!



Dramatic? Well, yeah. I’m a writer.  Sure, some are the Marcel Prousts of the cyber-world. I’m more of a stutterer. My brain gets cluttered. I don’t know where to begin. I do, however, have a good idea where this should end.

Happy end of August!



Interview with Ellen Booraem about her latest release Texting the Underworld

Hi, all,

I’m here today with our own Ellen Booraem to chat with her about her new book Texting the Underworld.

But first, here’s a bit about Ellen and her book:

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem

Texting the Underworld
A fantasy for ages 10 and older
Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers

Texting the Underworld

Conor O’Neill always thought spiders—and his little sister, Glennie—were the worst kind of monsters life had in store. That was before an inexperienced young banshee named Ashling showed up in his bedroom.

The arrival of a banshee, as Conor soon learns, means only one thing: Someone in his family is going to die. Not only will Ashling not tell him who it is, it turns out that she’s so fascinated by the world above that she insists on going to middle school with him.

The more Ashling gets involved in his life, the harder it becomes to keep her identity a secret from his friends and teachers—and the more Conor worries about his family. If he wants to keep them safe, he’s going to have to do the scariest thing he’s ever done: Pay a visit to the underworld.

If only there were an app for that.

booraem--author pic Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld, a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat South Boston boy and a determined young banshee, hit bookstores in August (Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers). Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (Penguin/DBYR, 2011) and THE UNNAMEABLES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008). A Massachusetts native and former weekly newspaper editor and reporter, she lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She’s online at, and also blogs at The Enchanted Inkpot ( and Scene13 (

If you were headed into the Underworld for, say, a week, what three things would you want to have along?

  • The head of a jackal (so everyone would think I was the Egyptian death god Anubis and let me in without a hassle). (Anubis might catch on, though.)
  • A sweater (it gets cold underground).
  • My cell phone (in case they get a signal).

What’s your favorite scene?

The one that was the most fun to write was when Conor, his sister Glennie, and the young banshee Ashling sneak Grump (Conor’s grandfather) out of the hospital. Ashling and all the humans are invisible, but Grump’s wheelchair is not. Confusion ensues.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The one with the biggest oog factor for me involves a bunch of spiders, including a tarantula that climbs onto Conor’s hand and moves up his arm. I hate spiders. My skin was crawling the whole time I was writing, and I kept checking to make sure nothing was creeping up my back.

LENA (shivering): My skin would be crawling too! 🙂 Thanks for chatting with me today, Ellen! Texting the Underworld sounds amazing and fun. (Thanks in advance for the spidery nightmares. ;))

What’s your favorite cupcake?

My favorite cupcake is devil’s food with fudge frosting and sprinkles.

LENA: Mmmmmmm…. Sounds Yummy. Sending one your way! Also, I found this one, which looks perfect for texting:

iPhone cupcake

iPhone cupcake (photo courtesy of clevercupcakes @ Flickr Commons)

A question to part with: Besides spiders, what creepy and/or underworldly things (or books) keep you guys up at night? 🙂

At What Point, Do I Have to Stop Proving Myself?

This question has been nipping at the back of my heels since acquiring my agent, John Rudolph at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m considered a “newbie” in the literary world, but the question still begs: at what point do you get to skip the submissions, bypass the rejections and have publishing houses approach you with contracts?

My friend and author of Relic, Renee Collins’, hypothesis is that if you make the NYT Best Seller’s list twice, then you’re set. Is there a formula? Do the great fall?

I guess I feel like it’s a crapshoot. In my day job, I have direct control over the success. The more I work, the more successful we are. I also have tangible results within a few weeks of treatment. I know exactly what needs to happen next in order for people to walk out with a great smile and perfect bite. But in writing, you love your book, and stories; you think you have the next big thing. You might spend months or even years perfecting it. Then, all of the sudden you get a ton of rejections. All the work and all the time you’ve invested is for a book that no one will ever read.

At this point in my career, I’m comfortable with Extracted. It’s been accepted, but now I have to prove myself again for Prodigal. I’m not suggesting that we should be complacent or static, but some indication that I don’t have to prove myself would be nice. Now that I have an agent I feel like I really have to prove myself. Every time I send my co-author, Sherry, a chapter I get nervous. Will I disappoint her? Does Stephen King, still feel that pressure, or does he just write whatever he wants, knowing his publisher will automatically accept it?

Does anyone else ever feel like this? Do you ever feel like you’re always going to be questioning if you’re good enough to run with big dogs? Or, perhaps, not worthy?


Back to Work

Being off the grid and in a different location for nearly six weeks has been a great learning experience, even if somewhat painful in the beginning, and I still have another two weeks before I can get back into a serious writing routine (I’m currently writing this from a hotel—but hey! at least they have internet).

Now that the summer is almost over, I find myself taking another serious look at the work-related resolutions I made last January, and I’m feeling more motivated to make some changes after seeing real results (as forced as they were).

1)   My office is a chaotic disaster zone compared to the room I was in for the summer. I’ve come to realize that all my complaining (several years worth) about clutter has been nothing but a huge waste mental energy. Taking care of it once and for all would SO be worth the effort, and the energy could definitely be put to better use.

2)   With such drastic internet restrictions (and a clutter-free workspace), I experienced some serious writing progress. I think I might *gasp* shut down my browser and schedule internet time instead of checking in several times an hour.

3) I realized that I’m not getting any work done by hashing out scenes for the 40th time while I ought to be sleeping (or hiking or 4-wheeling or pretending to pay attention to what the kids are doing) on the pretense that all I’ll have to do is type it out when I get back to the computer. I’m just missing out on much needed sleep and life in general. I deserve a break! And sleep!

4)    As much as I’m dying to get back to work, I’m going to do my best to write ONLY when the kids are at school. I’ve gotten better about turning off the writer in me to put more of my attention in the real-life present. It’s a lot less stressful for everyone when I’m not trying to work at all times.

So that’s the plan and I hope it sticks! How ’bout you? If you’ve taken the summer off, do you plan to make any changes before you get going again?

Publishers and Authors Beware: FONT PIRACY

First there was/is Book Piracy, which we cannot control. Big publishers, small presses or self-publishers, it doesn’t matter. People will upload and download your baby whether you like it or not

Then there’s Photograph Piracy. We’ve learned not to use photographs without giving the photographers their kudos. These days, I just buy whatever photograph I want to put on my blog. End of stress.

Now there’s Font Piracy.

You CANNOT download fonts online and use them on your books WITHOUT authorization from the publisher. That is stealing, plain and simple.

Today, I got a BIG scare when I was contacted by this very nice, polite gentleman that I’d used his fonts on the covers of my books without his permission. His name is Juan Casco (he gave me permission to use his name and approved this post). His beautiful font is Romance fatal serif.


He has the right to be angry if his beautiful fonts are being used without compensation After all, he worked really hard to come up with them just like we work hard to write our books. In fact, I stopped by his website and he specifically states that the fonts are for private use not for commercial.

The problem is I didn’t download the fonts. I’m not computer savvy to pull that move. I wouldn’t know how to add them to the list of fonts on my software. When my hero in Runes and Immortals was nominated for YA Crush Tourney, a friend asked me to download certain fonts and use them and I was totally clueless. Happy I didn’t.

Back to fonts and piracy. Since the book in question was my first attempt at self-publishing (Betrayed before Spencer Hill Press)

Betrayed final 03 sharpBETRAYED

I had to explain that I used Adobe Photoshop to create that particular cover but a friend finished the cover for me for free and she is the one who added the title. Now whether my friend got permission to use his fonts is another story.


As if that’s not bad enough, my books Runes and Immortals, also has his fonts. My name on both covers is done in his fonts (beautiful, aren’t they?).

Runesgirls hugeimmortalsgirl huge with logo

He’s contacted my talented cover designer about this, but I spent the entire afternoon discussing this situation with Mr. Casco. I took screen shots of the Adobe Photoshop file among other things, but we finally reached a satisfactory arrangement because as much as I hate piracy, I hate to be accused of something I didn’t do. I have never downloaded fonts in my life.


Mr. Casco was very polite and understanding, but not all people are like that.

Here are places you can buy fonts: