Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Creating With the Seasons, Part II: Writing

Happy Spring, everyone! Taxes, allergies, never knowing if the weather is hot or cold or simply freezing . . . Yes, it's a wonderful time of the year.

In my last post I wrote about finding ways to use the various seasons as a creative direction for my artwork, especially for the days when I was stuck wondering what to paint. For today's post I want to discuss how to use those same ideas as writing prompts, starting with:

Poetry. Although it's now a few days behind us, April was National Poetry Month and one of the ways I celebrated was experimenting with some haiku. You might recall learning to write one in school, something teachers love to promote as for some lucky reason children seem to excel at the form. In case you missed out on those lessons (say it isn't so!) haiku is a traditional three-line poem from Japan consisting of a five-syllable first line, a seven-syllable second line, and a third and final five-syllable line. One of the most important elements of haiku is that ideally there should be some mention, or at least a reference to the seasons. A good book on the subject that encourages daily haiku writing is Clark Strand's Seeds from a Beech Tree. Even the title to me implies a seasonal sensibility as I imagine all those birch seeds flying around in a spring breeze. Beautiful!

Scenes in your novel. Winter storms; mosquito-infested summer camping trips; constant autumn drizzle . . . all of these things can enhance both the mood and the action of a well-written scene. Not only can seasonal details add plenty of drama or humor, but they can also be what spurs the action: a summer cloudburst destroying a high-society wedding, or the fatal consequences of SADD (Seasonal Attention Deficit Disorder) in a Yorkshire-based murder mystery.

Writing an entire short story or novel set in one specific season. Limiting your timeline to one specific season can both tighten your pacing (e.g., a goal that must be achieved during an explosive summer abroad) as well as amplify your story's theme, e.g., end-of-year gift giving can be the catalyst for a wealth of character reactions, from over-the-top shopping sprees to deep and dark financial woes, all to be dealt with during a single season of joy.

Use the seasons to bookend a story or novel. Begin your story in spring; end in spring twenty years later. Choosing a significant, stand-out season to begin and end a narrative can provide a satisfying sense of closure for both your characters and your readers.

Give your characters passionate reasons to love or hate an individual season. We all have favorite times of the year and so should your characters. Consider how the seasons might affect your characters' health, happiness, and/or plans for the future. What if they need to travel at a certain time of year, but their choices are blocked when they encounter overbooked hotels and flights which then spark entirely new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Or perhaps they suffer from "anniversary syndrome," every year reliving some terrible event from a distant summer that leaves them devastated and struggling to meet any challenges at all.

Seasonal or holiday foods. In some of my previous posts I've written about how much I enjoy books that include descriptions of food or cooking. I like authors who feed their characters as opposed to those who insist their heroine save the world with only a cup of coffee to sustain her, and she drank it three mornings ago. Showing your characters eat or prepare seasonal foods for any given holiday or time of the year is a great way to add metaphoric as well as literal descriptions of culture and character attitude (positive and negative) as seamlessly as possible.

Bundle up, or dress down for comfort. Be sure to keep your characters warm or cool with appropriately seasonal clothing. Then again, if you really want to torture 'em, ensure that they've got it all wrong: a padded raincoat in August; a summer dress for a winter party. I know from experience how difficult it can be to not have the right outfit at the worst possible time. Years ago I traveled to New Zealand in the middle of their winter (American summer) and due to an airline snafu I ended up staying in hot, humid Tahiti for two weeks with a suitcase full of sweaters and socks. Fortunately it was easy enough to buy myself a pareu and a new bathing suit to beat the heat and not stand out like a misinformed tourist, but think about how much trouble you could create for a fictional character in a similar situation. Heat rash, anyone?

Seasonal Journals. There's nothing quite as special as a journal dedicated to capturing the beauty and essence of the seasons. Whether it's an art journal, a travel journal, or a nature or gardening journal, writing down your impressions and activities amidst the changing of the seasons is a journal to keep forever.

Tip of the Day: In case you're considering writing a holiday novel, children's picture book, screenplay, or a series of craft articles for magazines, keep in mind to write and submit your material well in advance of a seasonal publication date. Six months to several years in advance of your chosen holiday is never too early. Some tricks to help with writing about fruit cake while you're sunbathing can include decorating a section of your writing space with a miniature Christmas tree in July, or doing the same with beach towels, sea shells, and resort posters in the depths of winter. Never let what the thermometer reads hinder your imagination.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Creating With the Seasons, Part I: Artwork

Happy Spring!

For everything there is a season . . . A time to write, and a time to paint. A time to be totally inspired and a time to completely lose it--

Hello, everyone! Time, where does it go? It seems like forever since I've had "time to blog" or do much of anything else for that matter.

My time shortage started early this year when I found myself fostering a stray kitten at work. I was well aware that 2022 was the Year of the Tiger, but the last thing I ever expected to find outside my back door was a tiny, hungry baby cat. She was adorable and I would have done anything to keep her (impossible at this current point in my life). Despite my lack of space and ability to be with her as much as I wanted, I did everything I could over a six week span to get her healthy, playful, and ready for adoption. It was one of the most fun things I've ever done and I still miss her to pieces, but now that I know she's in good hands and safely onto the next stage of her journey, it's time to get back to work: writing, painting, and yes, blogging.

Prior to kitten-sitting I had been planning to write a post about my intention to draw and paint within a series of some kind for the year. I'd often heard of artists painting a series of pictures as a way to go deeper into a single subject or theme and also bring some unity to their work. The idea appealed to me as I thought it could bring more focus and discipline to my daily sketching practice, focus that would help me produce more finished, polished pieces. The trouble was I didn't know what kind of series I wanted to try.

I tossed around a lot of ideas, e.g., choose a building I liked in town and paint it multiple times from different angles; create a series of pictures based on the displays at the dinosaur museum; sketch people and dogs at the dog park. Unfortunately, none of these ideas felt like something I wanted to work on more than once. Yes, they were interesting enough on their own, but to paint over and over? I was worried I would become so bored after my third attempt to sketch the downtown Wells Fargo building I'd never want to open my sketchbook again. It wasn't until my husband suggested I try basing some work on the seasons of the year that everything fell into place.

Suddenly I had specific goals to pursue. My first step was to sit down and make numbered lists under the broad headings of each season, brainstorming subjects that fit each particular time of the year. After that I created lists of sub-categories, for instance, under the heading of "autumn" the first images that came to mind were acorns and squirrels, sweaters and scarves, bonfires, steaming mugs of tea, rainy skies, and beautiful trees. Once I had those things listed I continued mapping entirely new ideas for a seasonal series based on each subject, e.g., squirrels in summer, squirrels in spring, squirrels bounding through the snow . . . it eventually became quite endless.

Another advantage to this plan that I liked besides never having to decide "what to paint" again is that, at least for me, the seasons signify different emotional and spiritual states to explore. Themes such as renewal, growth, and letting go, topics I would usually write about are now themes I can express through color and composition, showing joy or even a little sadness through a seasonal lens. 

Right now my first attempts to go with the seasons revolve around my sketchbooks and a small painting-a-day practice. I'm currently concentrating on trees including the quick sketch I've put at the top of this post, but soon those trees will be full of birds, flowers, squirrels and even kittens. I only hope I have enough time each day to keep going!

Tip of the Day: Spring is in the air, a great time for both writers and artists to consider starting a nature journal. Always keep in mind that you don't have to draw or paint to create a beautiful journal. Instead of drawing, try some collage using items like seed packets, handmade papers, or fabric. Experiment with dipping leaves, sticks, or pods in ink or paint and printing your impressions onto your journal pages, or paste in the actual plant materials. Take photographs and add them to your words. 

And speaking of words, that's exactly what I'll be taking a look at in my next post: Creating with the Seasons, Part II: Writing. See you soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Finding a Path for 2022

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It seems impossible that it was exactly two years ago that I last met with my various writer's groups, weekly drawing classes, and my illustration groups. Two years! Since then I've done everything in my power to believe the situation was only temporary and that one day we would all go "back to normal."

Today I realized I won't be doing that any more. And that's not such a bad thing. In fact, it's fantastic!

Moving away from my hopes and dreams for "normal" means that I can be open to change and new beginnings. Best of all, I can do it my way without fear of getting it wrong. In other words, I can experiment. Hanging on to "normal" means being stuck. This year I want to run with scissors.

At the same time, I do want to put my scissors to good use, cutting out a new path of possibility and creative endeavor. Some of the projects I'd like to work on this year with a renewed sense of joy are:

1. Update my website to include my beaded jewelry for sale.

2. Publish The Abyssal Plain.

3. Submit my novel, Ghazal, and my novella, The Seaweed Collector, for publication.

4. Finish the first draft of one new manuscript (not entirely sure yet which one this will be).

5. Continue painting and drawing, but with more focus on working within a specific series. (More about this in my next post.)

6. And of course, continuing with this blog.

2022 is going to be my year of optimism with no looking back. I'm letting go of both the good and the bad experiences from the last twenty-four months and I'm looking forward to the future, whatever it brings. 

Tip of the Day: Vision boards have always been my go-to way of establishing my goals and plans for any given year. For 2022, however, I want to change things around a bit. Instead of putting together a vision board, I'm going for a vision quest. Rather than searching out a dozen or so magazine cut-outs to represent or symbolize things I already want, I'm going to let the images search for me. I want to discover things I had no idea I wanted or that even existed.

Starting with a blank journal, every time I come across a magazine photograph, headline, or article that speaks to me for even the most trivial or surprising of reasons, I'll cut it out and paste it on a page. I'll let the journal develop like a mysterious road map inviting me into unexplored, but much-needed territory. I can't wait to see what happens--I can't wait to see where I go. Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Highlights of 2021

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Happy Holidays, everyone! Another year closing down, with plenty of time for reflection, celebration, and even a little joy. We can do it!

Around this time of year I always like to make a list of my most exciting or interesting highlights, the things that made the year special and/or memorable in some significant way. 2021 may still have been a difficult year to navigate, but there were definitely lighter moments, more feelings of optimism, and more opportunities to socialize than we had in 2020. Throughout it all, the one thing I truly learned was that we can always look for the silver lining, no matter what, and the following list comprises my own, personal top twelve:

1. I finished my work-in-progress novel, Ghazal. This was a big deal, I can tell you! What started out several years ago as a NaNoWriMo exercise took over my imagination and wouldn't let me go. I had to know more about my characters and their stories, and here we are today: a whole, finished manuscript.

2. In October I opened my first Etsy shop selling my handmade beaded necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. You can see them all by clicking here. Come on over and let me know what you think!

3. I got the chance to see some good friends again. After months and months of isolation, it was a major event to meet up in a cafe and share our various creative projects and plans while eating some great food. Just like we did in the "old days."

4. Albuquerque Urban Sketchers took the plunge and resumed their monthly meetings. I wasn't able to attend all of the outings, but the ones I got to participate in were both educational and inspiring.

5. Spring brought the opportunity to attend a Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum. It was great to rejoin the world through history and culture. And of course the artwork was spectacular.

6. I started work on two new book ideas. One is a mystery, the other is a historical Southern Gothic. Currently they are both messy first drafts that only make sense to me (sort of) but they will be interesting projects to carry with me into the new year.

7. My local library became so overloaded with donations they had a massive sale that continued for most of the summer. 50% off books that were originally priced at no more than one to two dollars each meant I got an entirely new shelf of excellent art books.

8. I signed up for and took several more Domestika online art classes. One of my absolute favorites was about starting and maintaining a sketchbook practice taught by artist Sorie Kim. 

9. And thanks to Sorie I filled several sketchbooks this year, exploring many new ideas, mediums, and subjects. Who knew I liked to draw frogs and lizards so much?

10. Which then led me to buy professional watercolors for the first time ever. I tried two different brands and with completely different results. It was an interesting experiment as I had no idea high quality paints could vary so wildly from brand to brand. In the end I had to discard one as being absolutely horrible: the colors faded into the page, no juicy life or sparkle, just very disappointing to use. On the other hand, my second brand, Winsor and Newton, gave me everything I was looking for: strong and vivid color from the first layer and a "brightness" that encouraged me to keep painting.

11. This might sound a bit desperate, but in July when we were able to go mask-free for a few weeks I got a professional haircut at a genuinely fancy-pantsy salon. At the time I went it was my first cut in over 18 months and it was a true joy. Due to renewed restrictions I haven't been back since, but it makes a nice memory. I'm sure to go back one day!

12. Caved and subscribed to Netflix. I'm still undecided on how good a move this was, but with my local movie theater having closed down permanently and not much else happening in town, TV is a welcome relief after a day of work, writing, and sketch-booking. There have certainly been some good series and films (amongst a sea of questionable others) and it was fun to not be the only kid on the block who didn't know what Squid Game was. Television, for all its faults and propaganda, can certainly be a comforting way to unite with distant friends, family, as well as total strangers and I was glad to take part.

In between all of these highlights there were of course plenty of simple but wonderful days painting on my balcony, enjoying a cup of tea, and walking through my amazing neighborhood. It may have taken a bit of digging, but there was always something meaningful and unforgettable to be found, each and every day. It was a year well spent.

Tip of the Day: The next time you find yourself seated by the fire or just beside a frosty window, be sure to have your pen and journal with you. Take some time to record and consider what made 2021 a year to remember; the highs, the lows, the things that made the year unique. I hope you'll discover there were many more moments of joy than you may have realized at first and that you'll be motivated to keep creating more. 

Wishing you all a brilliant 2022!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Introducing my Etsy Shop: Valerie Storey Designs


At last! I'm so happy to announce the opening 

of my Etsy Shop: 

Valerie Storey Designs

"Inspired by the past, created for today."

Earrings, bracelets, necklaces and pendants -- I have a brand! Everything is handmade by me, one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated and all with free USA shipping. 

Here's a small selection from the sixteen items I'm currently listing:


Although quite a few of the individual beads I've used were purchased right here in Albuquerque, many of them are from all over the world, collected during my travels to places such as Taiwan, Portugal, and Spain. I'm always looking for distinctive, unusual beads whenever possible, and often these are only available in very small quantities, guaranteeing that whatever I make from them will be one-time-only pieces.

Similar to the way I write and paint, my approach to beading depends a lot on the magic of randomness. I start with a handful of color (oh, how I love color!) and let the beads find their own way into a design often inspired by my many years spent visiting museums and galleries. Art history has always had a big influence in everything I do, inspiring my novels such as Overtaken and The Great Scarab Scam, but it's still a huge surprise to me to see how a piece will turn out: Egyptian, Etruscan Revival, mid-century modern: every bead tells a story!

One of the most surprising things to have come out of all this is my new appreciation for photography. Etsy requires a wide variety of product shots, and I have to admit the process was difficult for me to learn--I almost gave up at one point I found it so hard. But after several days of trial and error, I think I'm on the right track to figuring it all out: light boxes, satin drapery, as much daylight as possible . . . confusing at first, but like all creative endeavors, definitely worth pursuing.

Anyway, I hope you like my efforts and that you can visit my shop in time for the holidays! Over the coming weeks I'll be listing new items, so please stay tuned.

Tip of the Day: While I will always consider myself first and foremost a writer, art, beading, and working with hand-built pottery has enriched my life beyond measure. I can't imagine a day going by without at least a few minutes sketching or working on a new design for a bracelet or pair of earrings. The strongest advantage of having these varied interests is that they really do feed each other, especially when I'm stuck or hit some kind of road-block. Going back and forth between, say, a difficult scene in a particular chapter, to figuring out if blue beads look better with gold or silver findings, keeps my imagination active and open to receive the answers I need. Better than working solely on one project until you reach potential burn-out, always try to have another creative outlet ready and waiting. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Make the Summer Last

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Today is the last day of summer and I'm not very happy about it. Don't get me wrong, I love the fall and its "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," but this year I just can't seem to make the leap into duvets and cocoa. I want to make the summer last forever; phrases like "endless summer" sound perfect to my ears.
I wasn't always so eager to stay in summer mode or to keep wearing my standard summer wardrobe of shorts, T-shirts, and sandals for months on end. I used to genuinely look forward to watching the stores fill with fuzzy sweaters, coats, scarves and gloves while I wished the weather would hurry up and change so I could wear all those cozy items. One thing that I especially used to enjoy was the whole "back to school" vibe, but with online learning and nobody really in the classroom, I can't get excited about buying notebooks, pens, or art supplies. Even if the prices are crazy low (notebooks for 25 cents!) I find myself walking past the well-stocked shelves and thinking, nah, I don't need anything new.

My reluctance to leave summer probably has a lot to do with the fact that my every single waking summer moment seemed to be completely dedicated to work, both at my day job as well as with my creative life. Being consumed with work and productivity without the opportunity for much diversion meant I missed out on summer fun: no real vacation time, no trips out of town or overseas, no break in routine. Yes, I got a lot done, but, hey, I want to go to Paris!

These last few days have found me trying to make up for lost time with as much R&R as possible. Oddly enough, I subsequently discovered that I could be just as productive, maybe even more so, if I did give myself a break, such as:

  • Sitting on my balcony, staring at nothing, doodling in my watercolor sketchbooks: squirrels, goldfish, trees and leaves. The feeling that I didn't have to do this only made me want to do more of the same. Consequently I filled up an entire sketchbook in a couple of weekends.
  • Reading. Reading inspired me to jot down several new story ideas I wouldn't have discovered if I hadn't taken the time to, once again, sit on my balcony and dive into a stack of new books feeling wonderfully "lazy."
  • Going through old magazines at a leisurely and quiet pace has given me a huge, fresh supply of magazine cut-outs, suitable for both art and writing references.
  • Experimenting with a variety of gel, fountain, and brush pens encouraged me to freewrite several unexpected poems, snippets of dialogue, and scene descriptions I had no idea were out there waiting for me.
  • Walking for at least an hour in between writing, reading, and painting and with no destination in mind has given me time to think, ponder, plan, and regroup. Rather than wearing myself out, I became totally re-energized.
  • Restaurants. Because we hadn't taken any kind of holiday, my husband and I decided at the start of the month to go out to eat a little more than we usually do. Which then gave me extra time to read, paint, walk, and write without worrying about grocery shopping or clean-up. Delicious!

Time has become more precious to me than ever before. There is a lot I still want and need to do, but there's a lot I don't want to miss out on, such as feeling the sun on my face as I drink a second cup of jasmine tea with no particular agenda in mind. All good things that can be transformed into stories and illustrations once the temperature drops and I'm forced back inside my office-studio listening to the rain pummel the roof. It will be here soon enough.

Tip of the Day: Art journaling is a fun and easy way to make the summer last. Base your journal exclusively on what the summer of 2021 meant to you, or choose a favorite year from your childhood. Brainstorm or create mind-maps listing every special detail. Use your summer photos for sketch references. List and review any books you read. Write, draw, collage your memories and be sure to pour a cup of cocoa while you're at it!

Monday, July 26, 2021

I Finished My WIP! Now What?


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It only took about a year longer than planned, but I am happy to announce my work-in-progress novel, Ghazal, is finally, really and truly finished. The End. I made it!

Of course, now the big question is: what's next? Until it's published, is a work-in-progress ever finished? What steps do I, or anyone else who's completed a WIP, have to take in order to get the manuscript into print?

Here's my road map:

1. The first thing I always do upon finishing a manuscript at any draft stage is to print it out and put it away. I make sure I don't even peek at a single page for at least four to six weeks.

2. Once my manuscript is safely locked away, I take a break. Lunch with friends. Shopping, Drawing, beading--even a writing challenge such as Camp NaNoWriMo with a new story in mind can be a refreshing break.

 3. The next step after all those weeks of fun is to take the manuscript out of storage and read the whole thing through, but with this sole promise: that I will not, under any circumstance, write any kind of notes on the manuscript. Instead, I like to have a legal pad and pen ready to list my page and line numbers that contain typos, grammatical blunders, glaring plot holes or character inconsistencies such as wrong birth dates or a jumbled timeline. 

4. When I'm finished with that task, I then transcribe my list item by item onto index cards. I then go through the manuscript and clip my cards to the appropriate pages. I still don't rush to "fix" anything yet. Instead, I continue to let the manuscript rest while I write out the best ways to make my corrections. This is because sometimes rather than fixing a typo I might replace it with a better word choice, or I may eliminate the word altogether. The same goes for plot holes; filling them in too quickly can sometimes lead to an entirely new set of difficulties.

5. When I'm certain that I've found my problem areas, I use the notes on my index cards to make my corrections and then print out a fresh manuscript copy. 

6. My next job is to create a chapter-by-chapter outline. For this I again use index cards and note down the one-to-two most important scenes per chapter. I then type the list into chapter order. At the same time I also like to consider what the purpose of each chapter is. I do this for both my own notes and as a possible addition to the outline if I feel it will shed more light on the individual chapers.

7. Now that I have my outline, I write a one-sentence log line describing my book: a character, what he/or she wants, why they can't have it . . . . Very concise, very simple.

8. From this small start I then write a one-paragraph book description.

9. Followed by a one-page synopsis.

10. Followed by a two-page synopsis.

11. I then write at least three different types of bio-notes: a few sentences; one paragraph; half a page.

12. I research agents, editors, and contests.

13. I then write a query letter based on my synopsis.

14. My final step is to create 12 separate submission packages each one tweaked to individual agent requirements (e.g. one agent wants a letter, a one-page synopsis, the first chapter. Another might want a letter, an outline, a one-paragraph bio and the first 50 pages. Whatever, I like to have each piece prepared for when and how it's needed.)  Once my packages are ready, I send them out, usually by email or through an online submission form.

15. And while my book is doing the rounds, I get to work on my next manuscript. Yep, it never ends!

Tip of the Day: The whole secret to this final stage of manuscript preparation and submission is to remember Rome wasn't built in a day. It's tempting to want to get the whole thing over and done with and as quickly as possible, but baby steps are key. Set aside 30-minutes to an hour a day solely to work on each of the above steps. Take your time and enjoy the process. And keep writing!