Inspiration Station: My Favorite Authors, and How They’ve Inspired Me to Write

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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I wrote my first story when I was eleven years old. It was in a Michael Jackson notebook. I sat at one of the end tables in the living room and scribbled out a story about me and some of my classmates getting trapped in a haunted house.

I kept writing on and off all through middle school, high school, and college. My inspirations came mostly from boys I had crushes on, “real” or celebrities; actresses I wanted to be like or wanted to be; song lyrics; TV shows; and words tossed out carelessly by a friend or family member. But as far as being inspired to write for publication? Well, that started with a gothic horror author named V.C. Andrews.

Say what you will about V.C. Andrews, but I absolutely love her original early stuff. Flowers in the Attic? Dark Angel? I got laughed at in a writing workshop course because I admitted I liked those books. But there’s a reason the books have sold a staggering number of copies. They resonate with so many readers, but for me it was how real the characters seemed to me. Heaven’s passion. Cathy’s over-the-top way of always living. I felt like I would look up from the pages and see them in the room.

I wanted to write books that moved others like that.

But my style is not gothic horror. My style is contemporary romance with lots of kissing and a good deal of angst. Still, reading an old V.C. Andrews book seems to help kick-start me back into writing.

I draw inspiration from many authors, but the ones that seem to really feed my fires are the following:

  • J.K. Rowling. I re-read the Harry Potter series quite often, and it never fails. As soon as I’m two pages in, my mind starts churning with all sorts of ideas. And because I don’t write fantasy, it’s not that I’m ripping her off. There is something in the way her words feed me that help me do my own work.
  • Sarah Dessen. I read a book of hers called The Truth About Forever, and in it was a side character named Monica. Monica moves very slowly and talks in a monotone, and I could not stop thinking about her, wondering how she looked, and if she flopped across the couch like the weight of the world was on her chest. I decided I needed to write characters that people thought about after they put the book down.
  • Jennifer Niven. Her book All The Bright Places actually inspired me to write the book I’m currently revising for my agent. Her writing is pretty but easy to digest, and her characters inspire so many fans. If I got fan art of my characters like she does, I’d feel as if I’ve really arrived. I want to inspire people like that.
  • Nicola Yoon. Her skill amazes me. The way she weaves stories in and out, the way she adds in quirky things to get the point across in simple and fun ways. The way you are immediately drawn to and falling in love with her characters. It always seems to come down to characters for me.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson. I met her years ago, and she inscribed in my copy of Speak: “Remember, pre-publication is a temporary condition. Keep writing.”  Learning about her drafting process (it’s intense), her research process (even more intense) showed me someone who cares deeply, so very deeply, about her work. And it shows through her words. I want that kind of discipline, dedication, and skill. And it was her who jump-started me back into seriously writing six years ago, with an exercise called Writing Fifteen Minutes a Day (WFMAD). She had two prompts every day on her blog—a fiction and a non-fiction prompt. Those prompts got my writing wheels going after having laid dormant for years, and I haven’t looked back (much) since.

Those are just a few of the authors who inspire me. It’s not always about lush writing, intricate worlds, or a breakneck pace. I simply need to care about the characters (including side characters), to want to go on these journeys with them, to live in their worlds and in their heads for a while.  And I want readers to care that much about the characters I create and write. I’m working on it! 🙂


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: 88 Cups of Tea Podcast

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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Last week, Kat Cho and I were lucky to be among 8 listeners to be interviewed for the 88th Milestone episode (embedded below) of my favorite podcast, 88 Cups of Tea! I like to turn to 88 Cups of Tea when I need writing inspiration. They also have fabulous information about publishing, and it gives you a rare behind-the-scenes look!

Some past guests include Leigh Bardugo, Morgan Matson, Kami GarciaRenee Ahdieh, Kody KeplingerJeff Zentner, Sabaa TahirJenny Han, Jerry SpinelliAlexandra BrackenV.E. Schwab (just to name a few), as well as agents, editors, and TV/film writers.

Yin and Moonlynn are such wonderful, big-hearted people, and they put so much love into this world through this podcast. If you’re looking for a supportive community, you can join the 88 Cups of Tea Storyteller Tribe on Facebook here. There are weekly check-ins, the opportunity to ask questions to future podcast guests, and lots of love from other writers.

Kat’s section begins around 1:37:40. I loved hearing about how she got into writing, her two WIPs, and her close relationship with her sister and her cousin, Axie Oh (whose book, Rebel Seoul, comes out September 15th!). I loved that Kat’s sister wrote her stories when they were kids! And I love Yin’s one-line pitch for Kat’s book: “Oh my God, she falls in love with her dinner!” Thanks, Kat, for the inside look into Korean culture and the inspiration for GUMIHO!

My interview begins at 00:19:35, and I absolutely loved chatting with Yin about my writing journey, my family, and my debut novel, American Panda!

The other ladies featured in the episode are lovely, fascinating, and inspiring, so please check out their sections too!

Happy listening! I hope you all love this podcast as much as I do and can find nuggets of wisdom and inspiration in each episode! Yin recommends starting with rockstar literary agent Joanna Volpe‘s episode. I also highly recommend Kami Garcia‘s episode, which discusses craft in depth and lists great resources (also listed on the show notes at the bottom of the page).

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Finding the Write Place: Beermiscuous

Finding the Write Place is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that highlights some of our favorite places to write here in the Windy City.

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BEERMISCUOUS

2812 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Monday – Thursday: 1:00pm – 11pm
Friday: 1:00pm – 12am
Saturday: 12:00pm – 12am
Sunday: 12:00pm – 8pm

(Hours subject to change. Please check the Beermiscuous website for up-to-date hours.)

Noise level: Before 2pm on weekends (and, I am told, before 6 or 7 on weekdays), it’s nearly deserted. After this time, there’s an influx of people who come to hang out, which brings with it a loud chatter. Throughout, the music is unobtrusive and tends toward funk and upbeat rock.

Availability of space: On a Saturday afternoon, busy but not overcrowded; I had no trouble finding a table that comfortably fit two laptops; there are also seats at the bar and upholstered chairs if you’re looking for a different work environment.

Bathrooms: Yes

Food: Yes (You can order directly through the bar for a Gino’s East pizza, or can bring in your own food. There’s a torta place just down the street, and if you’re willing to walk about six blocks you’ll find tacos, a brunch spot with wraps/sandwiches/waffles, and a funky Korean restaurant.)

Wifi: Free with social media sign-in, or you’ll have good connectivity to xfinity wifi if you get your internet from Comcast.

Outlets: Some (several booths have them, as does the fireplace/armchair feature).

Located on the southern edge of Lakeview, Beermiscuous is a fun place to work on weekends if you focus better with significant ambient noise—especially if you want to work past 5 p.m., when many coffee shops close. It’ll be quieter earlier in the day/on weekdays if you prefer a more traditional coffee shop feel. Inspired by classic european coffee houses, this is a place where groups of friends like to gather to catch up or play board games, but you’ll also find some individuals and pairs working at laptops or reading.

The bar has a rotating selection of 16 taps, plus more than 350 beers available in bottles/cans. If you’re indecisive, you can build your own flight from the tapped beers, and there are also non-alcoholic beverage options if you’re under 21 or prefer not to imbibe.

The bar staff is super friendly and knowledgeable, and thanks to the coffee shop vibe you won’t feel guilty for lingering. This is a great place if you’re more of a night owl, like ambient noise (or have good headphones), and want a laid-back spot with excellent craft beer options.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: Writing While Traveling

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

IMG_20170429_174707I don’t often talk about my manuscripts and works in progress on ChiYA, but this post does need a bit of that background before I delve into my recent trip and how it’s inspired my writing. I am Korean American and I love to use my personal heritage in my writing. Just the history of Korea itself lends such a rich source of inspiration for me that I could write all day about the rise and fall of kings in the Joseon era. Speaking of, my most recent WiP is based on Joseon traditions. So when I was traveling to Korea last month I figured I’d do some (more) research.

I have to say that I’m lucky enough to go to Korea pretty regularly. I started writing my last MS there and it really did influence how I described the world in my book (since it was set in a contemporary Korea).

I try to use my own lived experiences in my writing, but I try not to fall too deeply in the trap of describing a place in detail merely because I’ve been there. I like to think that worlds created in books, even if they are real places, have a level of discovery for the reader. I love getting a sense of the scene from my favorite books, but then layering my own imagination on top of it as a reader.

That’s what I try to do when I’m writing about places I’ve been, because I do believe everyone experiences places differently. I like to think I open the door and step aside to let the reader have their own time with the places I’ve created.

Something that helped me with this a lot this trip was the fact that my younger cousin was experiencing Korea for the first time. To see how she perceived these places that I’ve been to many times, and how she experienced everything in a way I’d never imagined, helped me understand a different perspective on things that might have grown “common” to me. It gave me back a sense of wonder of the new and it inspired me in my writing.

IMG_20170427_134638My tips for using your travel and experiences in your writing are:

  1. Include the things that drew you there in the first place, but don’t be too leading. Don’t try to force your experience on others, just let it be a guide to open the door to a new place and then let the reader experience the world as they will.
  2. Use your own emotional attachments to a place as a way to explain why something ordinary could become extraordinary. I love the smell of rice cakes, it’s kind of sweet and savory at the same time. When the sauce is too spicy it stings my nostrils, but it reminds me of so many memories of my semester abroad in Seoul. Those small moments make a place richer for me and I’ve used them to enrich my stories.
  3. Let a place speak for itself. This is something I think about a lot because I’m writing in a non-western world. I don’t want to frame everything from the lens of an American POV (even though I am a Korean American). I want the world to stand on its own without preconceived notions or biases.
  4. In that same vein, don’t force it. Make sure that you’re not layering expectations on top of your world (especially if it isn’t necessary for the story). I’ve read pages and pages of exposition explaining a place and then it turns out it never had any relevance to the plot and I was…baffled.
  5. Try to imagine the same place from multiple angles. I would suggest this for new and old places you’ve been. Sometimes, the old becomes new when seen from a different POV (like how my cousin helped me see Seoul in a new light).

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This post is brought to you by Kat Cho at ChiYAwriters.com.

Finding the Write Place: Kitchen Sink

Finding the Write Place is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that highlights some of our favorite places to write here in the Windy City.

KITCHEN SINK

1107 W. Berwyn Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
Monday-Friday: 6:30am – 5pm
Weekends: 7:30am – 5pm

(Hours subject to change. Please check the Kitchen Sink website for up-to-date hours.)

Noise level: quiet (most people working/studying alone or with one other person)

Availability of space: moderately crowded (it’s a small space, but I’ve always found a seat)

Bathrooms: yes

Food: yes (breakfast and lunch menus with vegetarian options, plus pastries)

Wifi: free with password

Outlets: some (along the walls)

Kitchen Sink is a cozy neighborhood cafe in Edgewater, just steps from the Berwyn Red Line stop. It’s a great place to grab coffee or a light, healthy lunch and get some work done. They also serve breakfast and pastries all day. The food is fresh and creative, with plenty of options for everyone. In summer, you can soak up the sunshine at outdoor tables, and in winter, a skylight keeps the back of the shop nice and bright. The music, which tends toward acoustic folk, is set low enough that it’s not intrusive.

Kitchen Sink has a fairly small seating area and most people seem to go there to work, so I wouldn’t recommend it for large groups. However, with its quiet, cozy atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to sit and write for a few hours alone or with a friend.

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This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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Last month, I attended the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop, put on by Madcap Retreats, founded by author Natalie C. Parker (ed. THREE SIDES OF A HEART). I primarily write #ownvoices point-of-view characters, but I want to include organic diversity in my casts. It’s important to me to write fair representation, so I knew this workshop would be beneficial. Plus, I always enjoy hanging out with writers and authors.

The workshop took place March 9–12, 2017 in the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. We stayed in a beautiful lodge that was never warm enough for me! There were hot tubs, fireplaces, and yummy food every day. I got to meet some amazing writers, eat lots of chocolate, and learn so much.

We started every day with breakfast at 8 a.m., then had instruction until noon, when we broke for lunch. Then more instruction and breakout sessions until around 3:30 p.m. There was a break until dinner, and then a panel after dinner. Long days, chock full of great information.

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(via Madcap Retreats)

The big speakers were Daniel José Older (SHADOWSHAPER), Nicola Yoon (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR), and Leigh Bardugo (SIX OF CROWS, CROOKED KINGDOM), but lots of wisdom was also dropped by Dhonielle Clayton (TINY PRETY THINGS, THE BELLES), Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, THE SHIP BEYOND TIME), Justina Ireland (PROMISE OF SHADOWS), Julie Murphy (DUMPLIN’, RAMONA BLUE), Adi Alsaid (LET’S GET LOST, NEVER ALWAYS, SOMETIMES), and Tessa Gratton (THE CURIOSITIES).

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(via Madcap Retreats)

There was a LOT of information presented at this workshop, so for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to focus on the things that spoke to me the most.

“Writing is personal, and personal is political.”

As writers, we have a great deal of power. We can lift up, or we can destroy. A carelessly placed word in a book could set off deadly ripples for generations. But the perfect sentence can give someone the strength to try another day.

As a writer for teens, I want to lift up. I want my readers to feel valued and like they matter. So the main takeaway I got from the workshop was that to write well cross-culturally, having empathy is KEY. If you are empathetic to the people you’re writing about, you’re naturally going to want to represent them fairly and with care. You will see these characters as 3D people, not as stereotypes or caricatures.

Writing cross-culturally does not mean simply race or ethnicity. It’s all identity markers, including but not limited to:

  • race
  • sexual identity
  • disabilities
  • religion
  • ethnicity

All of these are deeply personal markers, but also highly political. For some of us, our very existence is political. We are all programmed with unconscious stereotypes, and that carries over to our writing. So, how do we fight this?

In publishing, media, and movies, some groups are only allowed a single story. I’ve touched on this before. That story becomes the narrative for everyone in that group. Black stories are only allowed to be urban or Civil Rights or slavery. LGBT+ stories are all coming out narratives, just to name a couple. This single narrative creates stereotypes. Now, the stereotypes may not be untrue, but they are always incomplete. It robs people of their dignity.

Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (3:48) (entire talk)

So, how does one write cross-culturally with sensitivity and with care? How does one avoid writing this same narrative, this dangerous single story?

  1. Read widely. Check out books and writers outside of your comfort zone. Look at what came before and how it was received and criticized. Google stereotypes and work to deconstruct them. Learn your tropes, and keep them in mind as you write. TV Tropes is an amazing resource, but be forewarned—you can easily get lost in a weeks-long rabbit hole there!
  2. Write with empathy. See the characters as individuals. Be specific and intentional in creating these characters. Go deeper than appearance, the foods they eat, the clothing they wear. What is in their heart? What makes them vulnerable? Then, write for the entire audience, not just those who share your viewpoint.
  3. Get some diverse friends! Learn about them as individuals, not as one-dimensional figures to serve as plot fodder.
  4. Checks and balances. Get a reader outside your cultural lens. Get a reader from the group you’re writing about. If the cost is prohibitive, consider trade or another service. This is hard, heartbreaking work, and the readers deserve compensation. If you do make mistakes (and we all do and will), it’s OK. Accept it. Listen to feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, revise!

OK, this is a lot of work, right? Becoming aware of these stereotypes and actively working to fight them is a LOT. So why would anyone decide to take this on, if they simply want to tell stories? The answer is that writers tell truth, and the truth is that we live in a diverse world. And if you’re willing to study things like plot, structure, and pacing, why not study this important and essential part of characterization?

Finally, if you are writing cross-culturally, please be mindful of your privilege and whose spot you may be taking. Many authors of certain marginalizations are still being told “We already have our [insert marginalization here] book for the year, so we’re going to pass on yours.” And that spot is usually taken by someone from a dominant group. Ask yourself, always ask yourself, is this your story to tell? Are you willing to do the work to deconstruct stereotypes and avoid presenting people as one-note? Are you willing to focus on the smaller things, building a character from that soft place inside? Are you willing to be empathetic? If so, then you’re 90% of the way there.

The right book can create empathy, understanding, and possibility. The right book can change the world, or the world of one person. The right book can save lives.

Look at all these people who want to change the world.

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(via Madcap Retreats)


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

Inspiration Station: On Sculpture and Writing and Having Conversations

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

Some say it resembles a human skull; others say it’s a mushroom cloud. To me, Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy sculpture suggests the possible.

moore_nuclearenergyUnveiled at 3:36 p.m. on December 2, 1967, Moore’s sculpture commemorates the first self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction initiated on Dec 2nd, 1942, at, you guessed it, 3:36 p.m. It seems strange, perhaps even beyond the pale, to mark a moment that eventually led to so much death and destruction. But I’m one for remembering. For knowing the past so that we don’t replicate it, so we can learn from it. I never saw this sculpture as a celebration—indeed it’s not a beautiful work of art in a “traditional” sense, but it is conversational—as, I believe, Moore intended it and as I take it.

Perhaps more than any other physical thing, sculpture to me is most like writing. The artist or the writer begins with an idea, an intention and molds and crafts her medium to fit that concept, tell that story. But once that piece is in the world, it’s for the observer or reader to continue that conversation.

Nuclear Energy engages the viewer. It invites you in and through. This 12 feet x 8 feet weighty chunk of bronze, is solid and yet somehow airy. There are moments when it seems it can take off, unshackle itself from gravity. Smooth, worn, rough, it both blocks the light and lets it pass. Like Enrico Fermi and the other physicists of the Manhattan Project, this sculpture has and can keep secrets.

Often I’ve seen students huddled in the sculpture’s niches, rapt in conversation. Once I saw a Nobel Prize winning physicist sitting back in one of the recesses, eyes closed, head tilted back, face utterly peaceful. I’d like to to think he was solving some of life’s great mysteries, but perhaps he was merely thinking about his lunch. I’ve sat in that sculpture myself, many times—searching for shade, a place to rest, or a moment to think in a quiet hollow. This sculpture calls to the passerby to engage; it invites you in.

At some point, Moore must have thought his sculpture was done, that it was ready to be made public, to be seen, to be known. As I come closer to my publication date, I think a lot about what it really means for a writer to be finished with a book—the time between first draft and final pass pages, where the moments to make changes in the story narrow until they are gone. But that book is just beginning to breathe and be a part of a conversation. That book is on a new journey—true, it can’t really be changed, but it can still evolve.

Moore’s sculpture changes with the viewpoint the observer brings, with the sun and shadow and clouds. What a wonderful metaphor for writing—for holding on and letting go. For moving from a writer’s soliloquy to the wide and varied chorus of readers who honor the writer by engaging with their words, who carry on the conversation.

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This post is brought to you by Samira Ahmed at ChiYAwriters.com.