The Christmas Bike: pre-order!

I am excited to announce that my third novel,

The Christmas Bike,

is set for release on October 11, 2016 and available for pre-order! (click on link)

9781462119325

Here is a brief synopsis:

Christmas is already going to be tough for Marie and her family. When a series of events is set in motion long before a Christmas Eve tragedy, she is too occupied to notice God’s grace. An emergency letter to Santa sets her on a quest for a Christmas miracle. With time running out, she prays for the first time in a long time. A miracle does happen, but it is not what she expected.

***

This story is true and it happened to me. I wrote this little novella beside the fireplace and twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, while the rest of the house slept. The inspiration to write this story was because of another author who had a similar situation happen to her during the holiday season. I will write about that experience in a later post.

IMG_5546

I also wrote The Christmas Bike as a Christmas gift to my mother and sisters.

I had no intention to seek publication because, to me, it wrote more like a journal entry and less like a structured book. My feelings were raw, my memories thick. It’s the kind of story that was written in a blur of magic.

I hope it feels like magic when you read it. I hope you in turn notice the little miracles in your life, connect the dots, and know that you are not alone.

My publisher and I have been collecting endorsements from people. But my favorite endorsements are personal ones that came from my sisters and mother who encouraged me/forced me to seek representation.

Here are a few professional endorsements:

The Christmas Bike is a tender and sometimes heartbreaking story, told with a rare authenticity; a real, behind the scenes view of motherhood, of struggle, and miracles. Sugar doesn’t fix everything.Angie Fenimore, NYT bestselling author of Beyond the Darkness.

The Christmas Bike broke my heart, then mended it. I love this book!
– Tonya Vistaunet. Owner of A Happy Vista and author of the Color Land series.

Charming narration and a heart-warming journey—I laughed, I cried, and then I went back and read it again.
Laura Rollins, author of Shadows of Angels

The Christmas Bike is more than just another Christmas story—it’s one of resilience, of hope, and of finding the grace we long for.
Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived and All Better Now.

You are welcome to follow more of my journey writing this novella by viewing my hashtag on Instagram #thechristmasbike.

FullSizeRender-55    FullSizeRender-54

Thank you! I can’t wait to get this book into stores and into your hands! And with a price tag that costs less than a gourmet cup of hot cocoa, The Christmas Bike is a perfect read for a winter’s night.:)

  • Tara

To view my other books you can click here.

 

 

Fairy Gardens & Writing: how they relate

FullSizeRender-12

Planting fairy gardens is one of my favorite things to do every spring. I do this for one of my jobs and on occasion, I teach how-to’s.

I’ve planted countless container pots over the seventeen years I’ve been doing this, but planting fairy gardens feels completely different and is always exciting to me.

Here’s why:

I escape into the mini world I am planting. Just like I escape into the worlds I create while writing.

FullSizeRender-11

The writing and planting connection didn’t come to me until recently, while teaching a customer how to plant a desert landscape fairy garden.

“That’s the fairies’ winter home,” I said to her. “They go there when the frost covers their forests,” I said.

The woman looked up at me with big eyes. “Ohmygosh. Yes! I didn’t think of that, but yes!”

I twirled over to another customer. “Oooo,” I said. “I like how those stepping stones trail off beneath that maiden hair fern. Where is it leading to?”

The girl looked up at me and showed her toothy grin. “A waterfall.”

And that’s when years and years of why I love planting mini landscapes, clicked.

It all stems from creating a believable SETTING!

Now, there are rules to planting fairy gardens, just like there are rules to writing.

FullSizeRender-4

1- Scale: Nothing bugs me more than having a huge fairy, or dog, or bird bath right beside an iddy-biddy fairy house the same size. You need to have stepping stones in relation to the fairy house or have people bigger than animals. So, look for trinkets and decor that are to scale.

Scale in writing: This is called world-building. What are the rules, the magic system, the laws? Keep it consistent, and tight, and to scale. Don’t make the reader confused with things that don’t make sense.

 

FullSizeRender-9

2- Plants: To set your fairy garden up for success, the plants all need to be able to survive in one pot together. Don’t plant outdoor with indoor. Or succulents and cacti with ferns. Or sun plants with shade plants. I know this seems like common knowledge, but this is the #1 issue I’ve seen. People buy plants just because they are pretty and then wonder why the beautiful flowers aren’t blooming inside in a dark room.

Plants with writing: I could go on, and on, and on about setting. In fact I have, many times on this blog. Here’s an award winning article I wrote about setting, if interested. I am extremely picky of the plants I see in novels. If the author names a real plant, in my mind, it better be able to grow in that realistic setting. If it’s fantasy, well, go crazy.

 

FullSizeRender-7

3- Layers and texture: A woman I helped the other day was creating an herb fairy garden. She had rosemary, lavender, and curry all grouped together. She asked why it wasn’t working. I moved a few things around and added parsley, basil, and thyme between them. “It’s because all those plants have the same, slender leaves. See how they stand out now that they are next to other, cohesive plants with different texture?” I said. Think how a real forest grows with tall trees, shrubs, then ground cover. Add layers.

Layers and texture in writing: Resonance. Hints. Metaphor. What are you trying to say to the reader? What is the underlying theme? That’s the layers. – Voice. Substance. Emotion. How do you want it to make the reader feel? That’s your texture.

 

IMG_5846

Now, the fun part about fairy gardens is the play time. It’s the escapism. I made this one of The Shire. The whole time I was planting it, I thought about how much I love Tolkien and the vibrant way he creates setting. A customer came in and bought it right as I put it on the table to sell. She was a huge Tolkien fan like me. We were kindred spirits right away and it was because of the playful, whimsical thing that I’d created. It was cool.

As authors, writing should be fun. Creating things are fun. You have the power to create a world that others can escape into. I watch kids, and adults, play with the gardens I create, just like people can read the books I create.

And giving people that escapism to another world, is pretty cool.

FullSizeRender-3   FullSizeRender-6

IMG_5850   IMG_5844-2

Here are some of my Instagram photos. You’re welcome to follow me for other planting, art, or writing tips.

FullSizeRender-53   FullSizeRender-19  FullSizeRender-13

Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara

IMG_5940

 

Award time!

Last week I won a writing award at UVU for my unpublished YA fantasy novel, Vagabond!!!
When I sat down after my speech and chapter reading, I realized I didn’t thank my mom, or my husband, or anyone, really. 😬
My Mom came to the banquet with me because my husband was out of town. Her and I share the same mind and the same interests. She’s written 5 books, yet has no desire to publish them. (But she should!) She’s painted her entire life, yet has no desire to sell them. (But she should!) My mom’s my hero.
Also, I’ve been blessed with an incredibly supportive husband. He puts up with these two crazy ladies in this photo, that alone makes him a saint. 😀

13051617_10208133034237308_6003125679425612820_n

Ironically, last nights writing award banquet was also the night of the art show opening at the ‪Springville Museum of Art‬. You know, the show where I was rejected.
Lean in and I’ll whisper something to you… “I’d rather win a writing award than be in an art show.”
😀 🎉
You win some and lose some. Next year, how ’bout I try harder to do both.

13002619_10208133105519090_6114578234416280266_o

Thanks for stopping by.

-Tara

Job Shadow

One of my favorite recent experiences of being an author was when I had a few teenagers as job shadows. I spent an afternoon in my home with a few budding authors from Junior High.

They came prepared with samples of their work for feedback. I lugged out the huge white board and we discussed plot and character arcs. We even packed a lunch and half way through the job shadow, we went on a “writer’s-block-plot-walk” around a lake in my neighborhood. As I pointed out details and incorporating the senses, I told them how important it is to transport the reader.

I couldn’t believe their level of talent! Kids can be so determined when they’ve found their passion. Their excitement for writing rekindled mine.

It made me think how writing is cross generational. Some of my favorite authors are twice my age. Age is just a number and it’s weird to be that to someone else. I found myself really enjoying their company, their own stories, and their recommendations for books.

Words unite people. Stories and books unite people. I have no doubt that I will see these kids at some of the writing conferences I attend in years to come. They were excited to learn of the many wonderful youth opportunities within the local writing community.

Recently I opened thank you notes from them. I blushed and looked around thinking, “me? You think that about . . . me?” Among other things, they expressed how great the life of an author must be. I laughed and thought that maybe I’d done them a disservice by not informing them of the intense peaks and valleys authors traverse. (see my earlier post)

Still, their enthusiasm made me think that I should enjoy every stage of my writing career more fully. If you doubt your value, or talent as a writer, (or any profession, really) then share your experiences and knowledge with people who are just starting out and look at you with stars in their eyes. It’s kinda cool, kinda funny, and . . . kinda intimidating.

Now, here are a few of my favorite writing quotes.

Happy writing. Thanks for stopping by!

Tara

 

Author Life Month

February was Author Life Month over on Instagram and Twitter. I decided to post the photos—and captions about the photos—from my feed onto my blog. I didn’t post every day,  but I tried. My favorite day was “Challenge Overcome.” It made me realize that every person struggles to be creative. Everyone has the same doubts and the same insecurities, no matter where you are in your career.

Day one. Here was a breakdown of Author Life Month.

FullSizeRender-48

Day Two. Author photo.

FullSizeRender-51

Day Four. Work in Progress.

FullSizeRender-45

Day 5, 8, 9. Book cover comps, awesome moment, challenge overcome.

FullSizeRender-43

Day 10. Non-author photo.

FullSizeRender-44

Day 16. Where you write.

FullSizeRender-42

Day 17. Where I relax.

FullSizeRender-41

Day 22. Dedication Page.

FullSizeRender-49

Day 23. Bucket List item done.

FullSizeRender-39

Day 26. Favorite book outside of genre.

FullSizeRender-38

Day 27. Your signature.

FullSizeRender-37

Day 28. Favorite event accessory.

FullSizeRender-36

Another non-author photo of when I was in Hawaii a couple weeks ago. 

FullSizeRender-47

So there you have it. Find your tribe, it makes the highs and lows bearable.:)

Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara

 

 

Death in Writing

This past week has reminded me about the frailty of life.

I started writing this blog post about how to capture death in our writing two weeks ago, before some of my favorite people in the entertainment industry passed away. Also, my husband’s childhood friend passed away suddenly and we went to the funeral over the weekend. I thought to discard this post because what is my little voice going to illuminate that others have said better? But I’m feeling brave, so here goes.

First off, I loved David Bowie. I loved his theatrics. He made me brave in my art and I’ve listened to him while I create art, music, and words. As a child, I fell in love with him in Labyrinth and then I became a big fan afterwards. Honestly, the Goblin King stirred the first feelings of being seduced to something that seemed wrong, but made my heart race in an unexplainable way. I talk more about that in an old blog post HERE.

Also I loved Alan Rickman most notably, for me, as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Snape. His voice will forever be one that hypnotizes and calls to us beyond the grave.

*This is where my post begins that I started writing

before any of these deaths occurred. *

I have thought a lot about portraying death through writing. I’ve killed off many of my characters and am in the process of learning the best ways to do that. After considerable searching and research, I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

I’ve gone to many, many writing conferences and realized that I don’t recall seeing very often classes available on how to write about death. Yes, there have been crime scene classes and murderous weapon classes, but not really ones that focus on the aftermath of death. So, I did a little bit of digging through old conference schedules and writing seminars and it’s true, this topic isn’t offered much. And yet, so many characters die in books.

The below photo is one of my most pinned images on my Pinterest account. Which tells me that people are searching for validation and understanding about the grieving process. They are searching for an emotional connection.

Let us, authors, give that to them.

FullSizeRender-35

How do we honor deaths and portray it properly in our novels?

  • First – You, the author, have to care about the character. If you don’t care about them, then your readers won’t care. If they don’t feel a connection, then it will come off stilted, forced, and cheap. “It’s not about the death; it’s about the life.” So breath life into your character before you take it from them.
  • Second – Why is the character dying? Sometimes it propels the story or main character forward and is needed. I both love and hate to kill off characters. Most, well all, of the time it is necessary for the story to continue forward.
  • Third – Have the dying character leave a legacy. Have their death have meaning afterwards. Show how your character has been strengthened after the death of a loved one. Make them proud.
  • Fourth – Don’t leave your surviving characters to grieve alone. I realize that happens in real life, but long passages of isolation in fiction, with only one character, tends to get a bit boring. The reader will start to look for “white space” or dialogue. Your characters can grieve in their own way, but on your timing. Don’t let it go too long with bloated writing. The character might start to come across mopey or whiney and that dilutes a good death.
  • Fifth – Take a break from the scene and then come back to re-read. This is important because often times the writer gets too sappy, or the scene is too long, or not long enough. I fully believe that we should write with your whole heart during the sad scenes. Let the words flow. Then come back with new eyes and see if you captured the emotion you wanted or if it sounds forced or unnatural.

Tips to get in the mood.

 Let me clarify that this is not the action leading to the death. This is the after effects, the grief. This is the shock, the depression, the denial of which your characters will feel after the murder, or sickness, or how ever your character died.

  • Listen to sad, melancholy music. My go-to is Moonlit Sonata by Beethoven (Link to song). On repeat, over and over. I’ll play it on the piano even. Pandora has countless hours of sad melancholy music playlists. I don’t know if it’s physically possible to write about death while listening to poppy or happy music. I’ve found that during these scenes I don’t like music that has words. Except for Darkness, Darkness by Robert Plant. I LOVE that song. Here is the song link. I really hope I didn’t jinx Robert Plant. He’s another old man crush. Even more so than Bowie, more so than just about any musician.
  • Pour out your own emotion. If your scene doesn’t make you cry or sad, as an author, there is no hope that it will make your reader cry or feel emotion. So dig deep. Write the scene with all of the emotion and feelings attached. Do not fight, do not filter your words. It is therapy. Feel what you write, if you want it to be felt by others. HERE is a link to a blog post I wrote about crawling out of a hole, especially when writing a memoir.
  • You have to be in the right mood. Sometimes I want to write action scenes, or kissing scenes:), or happy scenes. Other times I want to write about depression and sadness and darkness😦. The key is to not force what you are not feeling. It will totally, completely reflect into your writing.
  • Go to a cemetery and just sit. Read the headstones, feel the spirits who dwell there. Embrace that death surrounds you. You will hear things, if you listen long enough. Isn’t being a writer observing human nature? So why is that any different than observing the unseen?
  • Visit a mortuary. Over Halloween I took a youth group to visit a mortuary. Yes, I’m morbid like that. But it was fantastic! We asked the mortician all these bazaar questions, visited the crematory, and saw the ins and outs of the workings of the place. I learned so much about the proper care and respect that they give the bodies to prepare them for the funeral.
  • Attend a funeral. Of all the funerals I’ve attended recently, two funerals in the past five years really effected me. I don’t know how to write about them right now without getting emotional, but I will try:

The first one is about my Grandmother. She collected porcelain bird figurines. Ironically, at the same time as her passing, I was right at the crux of a death scene in my novel Broken Smiles. I had jumped around to other scenes because I was intimidated about writing that scene. Months and months before my Grandmother’s passing I had written about ceramic birds that were touched upon in Broken Smiles, but later became my Christmas novella Eight Birds for Christmas.

So, ceramic birds and writing were a big part of my life at that point. Then my Grandmother’s own death came, followed by her funeral. It was an emotional time for me and I lived far away from my parents and siblings. Deep melancholy had been settling over me for a while before. I felt lonely and sad that I hadn’t seen her the days leading up to her passing.

At my Grandmother’s funeral I spoke and compared her aging body to a cage around a free bird and I paralleled it to her ceramic bird collection. Many of the words made it into my book Broken Smiles. During the plane ride home, the words flowed out of me and onto travel pamphlets and any scrap of paper I could find in the airplane. Here are some condensed words, straight from my book.

***

She smelled odd, old, and decaying. Her pallor and limp gray hair made her look eighty instead of forty-eight.

Her voice trailed off. It was strange how long she held her breath.

After a few minutes she let go of her life with a sigh. Her hand fell slack, and the wrinkle lines smoothed on her face.

Her spirit ascended like a bird finally being released from its golden cage.

***

The second funeral I attended was of someone that I had an incredible amount of guilt over. Luckily, about a week before the person’s passing, I was able to make amends. Still, to this day, a huge hole resides where that person used to dwell.

Because of these raw feelings, I was able to relate, fully and completely, with a character I wrote in a novel that murdered someone unintentionally and the guilt that followed. The novel hasn’t been published yet so I don’t want to go into further details, but to me, nothing I’ve written has effected me more. Nothing.

—That is where you need to go emotionally when you write about death.—

There is no skimming around it, no brushing it off. You have to feel the fiery despair of an ernest soul if you want it to be felt by others. You have to live the emotion and recreate it on the page. It is gut-wrenching and hard, but so satisfying.

It’s therapy.

And you never know how your words will effect a reader. Think back to how many times a book made you feel something, or made you cry. Like I said earlier, people are searching for a connection to understand death. Words tie people together.

I hope I have done this topic a bit of justice. If you have comments or experiences in your own writing or reading, I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tara