How Playlists and Music Help Fuel My Creative Process

In one of my favorite musicals of all time, Passing Strange, there is a song called “Church Blues Revelation/Freight Train.” And that song, written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, includes one of my favorite lyrics ever written in the English language. It goes as follows:

Music is the freight train in which God travels. Bang! It does its thang and then my soul unravels. Heals like holy water and it fights all my battles. Music is the freight train in which God travels.

And ever since I first heard this lyric at the tender age of fifteen (eight whole years ago, because I’m now, as my fifteen year old self would have said, so old) I’ve believed it to be true. I believe that God (and the things I think he stands for, like love and goodness, forgiveness and hope, peace and faith, etc.,) does travel to us and communicate through us, and it can completely unravel our souls.

Which is why I take music so seriously when it comes to my writing. Because my books (romance novels) are so deeply intertwined with ideals of love and hope, I want my soul to be as unravelled as possible when I’m writing it, which means finding the perfect music to do that unravelling.

I’ve seen some literary types on twitter who bemoan “those lady writers” who spend hours perfecting their pinterest boards for their books or finding just the right kind of tea or scented candle to get them in the writing mood, and that really bums me out because it’s clear that these kinds of people don’t get it.

Making art is hard. And sometimes, being in the presence of art (whether that’s something as simple as a candle or complex as an aria) is enough to give us the courage to keep going with that difficult endeavor. Listening to the perfect playlist prepares me to create. It transports me to the world I’m meant to be writing in. It makes me braver.

It unravels my soul.

If you’re interested in the kind of music that unravels my soul, I’ve embedded the spotify playlist for my upcoming release, The Christmas Company (available for paperback and e-book pre-order on Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and The Ripped Bodice now, also available in Target and Walmart on October 16th) down below. These were the songs I’d listen to in order to hear my novel’s voice, and I hope it gets you in the mood for some Christmas Magic.

Listen to my playlist for The Christmas Company here!

Five Writing Lessons I Learned from Netflix’s “Nailed It!”

As everyone knows, we are living in the era of peak TV. With so much binge-able content available these days, there’s a perfect show for everyone. Whether you like the high fantasy you’ll see in Game of Thrones, the tear-jerking family drama you’ll catch in This is Us or the thrilling escapades of a regenerating Doctor Who, you can flip on your TV or computer and find something you’ll love in seconds.

However, it wasn’t until March 9, 2018, that I believe we truly reached the era of peak TV, because it was on this date that Netflix released their triumph of an original series: Nailed It!

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For those who haven’t seen it, please stop reading this article and treat yourself to the first two seasons immediately. This joyful celebration of food and failure is hosted by the comedienne Nicole Byer and her renowned chocolatier assistant Jacques Torres, and across two rounds of competition, home bakers attempt to recreate stunning instagram-and-pinterest-perfect desserts. The results are often terrible and hilarious, but the spirit of the show is one of warmth and encouragement.

I’ve seen both the first and second seasons of this show more times than I’d care to admit, but it was only on my most recent re-watch that I realized how many wonderful lessons Nailed It! has taught me. I know I’m just a debut author who’s still very much trying to figure it out, but I’d love to share these lessons with you!

It’s okay (and even good!) to fail. 

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The entire premise of the show Nailed It! is based upon this fact. With so many cooking shows based around master chefs and world-renowned bakers, Nailed It! dares to tell the home bakers, the screw-ups, the folks who only know how to follow a recipe if it’s written on the back of the Betty Crocker box, that they’re valid and that their creativity matters. On Nailed It! you may mess up and you may not win, but missteps aren’t the end of the world and they might actually be good for you!

Laughter is the best medicine.

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Nailed It! is one of those shows I revisit on my “bad days,” days when I’m bummed about the state of my writing or nervous about the future. On days when I just need a break from reality and some time to laugh, Nailed It! is my go-to show. Part of that comes from the show’s dedication to joy. On Nailed It!, Nicole and Jaques and their various guest judges aren’t afraid to poke fun at the worst bakes, and it’s all in an effort to get the baker to laugh along with them. Doing poorly or not living up to the standard, whether in real life or on a baking show, can be devastating, but Nailed It! shows that a little bit of levity and humor can help even in the worst of times.

Find joy in what you do, and do what you find joy in.

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At the beginning of each episode, the contestants are given short introductions. These intros cover the basics of where they’re from, what kind of person they are (teacher, DJ, grandmother, etc.,) and, most importantly, why they’ve come on Nailed It! I love this particular segment of the show because it’s the segment that gives me the most hope. In almost all of these intros, the contestant says something to the effect of, “I love baking, but I’m so bad at it. And I want to learn how to get better and make something my family and friends can be proud of.” This sentiment has taught me that it’s actually not enough to just love writing, but to love it enough to find joy and happiness in it even when it’s bad. So often I find myself angry at the page because it’s not good enough, when actually, I can and should be happy that I’ve written at all and that I’ve had the privilege to write those words and share that story, no matter how bad it is.  If you love something only when you’re good at it, that’s not really love, is it? That’s vanity. And writing, like baking and all of the creative arts, really, shouldn’t be about vanity. They should be about joy.

Always Be Learning.

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Remember earlier when I said it was okay and even good to fail? Well, this is part of the reason why. While we can learn from our great triumphs, Nailed It! teaches us that we’re way more likely to learn from our embarrassing mistakes and failures than we are from our success stories. Indeed, I’ve learned more from the few hours of Nailed It! than I’ve learned from countless hours of watching Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen simply because it’s a show that highlights mistakes and advises you on how to fix them in the future. Nailed It! is a show that says, “feel free to fail! And when you do, inevitably, fail, make sure you learn from that mistake and grow from it.” As a writer, this permission to fail is liberating, because the knowledge that I’ll learn from the mistakes is a safety net.

 Celebrate your successes AND your messes.

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In the words of one of my other favorite products of Peak TV, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “you know it’s true, because it rhymes.” And to me, this is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. In this social media day and age, we are basically trained to only show our best selves and the absolute best things that happen to us. We put our best-face forward on these platforms, hiding from the world our shames and disappointments. I’m definitely guilty of this, especially when it comes to my writing. I don’t want to tell people about the days when I wrote -345 words, only the days I wrote 7,000 words. I don’t want to snap a picture of my rejection letters, only my contract signings. I don’t want anyone to know about my messy, anxiety-ridden, tear-stained, migraine-inducing, so-scared-and-worried-about-my-future-and-my-career-that-I-can-hardly-get-out-of-bed days, only those few, perfect glorious days when everything is perfect.

But the contestants on Nailed It! don’t have the opportunity to hide their messes. No matter how bad they’ve failed at their assigned task, they have to show their creations to the judges, the cameras, and the viewers at home. And that’s actually an awesome thing. By showing off their messes and their successes, their good bakes and their bad bakes, their lopsided gingerbread houses and their beautiful floating tea party cakes, the contestants are forced to come out of their own heads and see their work for what it really is. Because what sometimes ends up happening is that the work they hate and are embarrassed by actually has merit and can teach them something. And even if it doesn’t, even if it’s garbage, the fact that they finished the work and the fact that they presented the work means they’re perseverant, brave, and inventive enough to create something in the first place, and that is worth celebrating!

If you want to judge these lessons for yourself, my debut novel, The Christmas Company is available for pre-order now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, The Ripped Bodice, and will be available in Target, Walmart, and Meijer stores. The release date for this opposites-attract Christmas romance is October 16th. Read the synopsis below!

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She’s out to save her town
from a real-life Scrooge…

The small town of Miller’s Point is known across the country for their annual Dickensian Christmas festival. When the celebration is threatened by Clark Woodward, a miserly, big-city businessman, Kate Buckner steps up to save her hometown, their traditions, and her favorite holiday. But, along the way, she realizes that the man she’s trying to protect her town from might need some rescuing of his own.

With a lot of heart and a little Christmas magic, Kate is convinced she can teach Clark to love her favorite holiday. But can such different people learn to open up and love each other?

Fairy Tales, Romance, and what Queen Victoria taught me about writing love stories.

If you’ve been on the internet in recent years, you’ve probably seen some version of the sentiment, “teach your girls to be warriors, not princesses.” Particularly popular after the release of 2017’s Wonder Woman (which is especially ironic, given that Wonder Woman is both a princess and a warrior, but I digress), this quote is often seen in the context of de-valuing fairy tales, a sentiment that continued and gained even more popularity during the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. During that time, many, many of the internet’s biggest kill-joys wrote think pieces and tweet-storms about how we shouldn’t call what happened to Meghan a fairy tale, because fairy tales are apparently vapid and reliant on magic, whereas Meghan’s story was all about hard reality.

The kill-joys and I agree on one thing: Meghan’s story is about reality. Meghan Markle’s path to becoming a princess was filled with hard work and courage and determination. Where the kill-joys and I differ is that I see every single fairy tale– those stories about ordinary women who become princesses– as stories about hard work and courage and determination.

For awhile, I thought that I and the community of romance writers and readers were alone in feeling this way, in feeling that fairy tales are powerful tools for all people (but especially young women) to learn about their own power and their own strength.

But then, this weekend, I visited Kensington Palace in London. After exploring the wings of King William and Queen Mary, as well as the exhibition of Princess Diana’s fashion, I trudged up the stairs to the wing devoted to Queen Victoria.

The second (and largest) room in the entire Victoria wing was dedicated to her love story with Prince Albert. It detailed their first meeting (including a quote from one of Victoria’s letters, where she swoons over how handsome Albert was). It showed off letters they’d written to each other, gifts they’d commissioned for one another and even a song he’d composed for her. The room was filled with the loving words they’d shared.

The rest of the exhibition detailed both her private and public lives, emphasizing her strength, intelligence and tenacity as a ruler, but it was the room about her and Albert’s love story that has stuck with me.

The museum showed Queen Victoria in her fullness: showing off her girlish crush for the man who would become her husband while also celebrating that same woman for her brilliance as the devoted ruler of a nation. It reminded me why I write romance novels. It reminded me why I believe in the power of love stories.

Because whether we are queens or peasants, royalty or commoner, love can (and often does!) make us better and stronger people. And in the same way, fairy tales aren’t really about magical pumpkins or fairy godmothers, but about the magical, transformative power of love itself.

Feeding Yourself

Today, I’m going to talk about something a stranger told me that has permanently changed the way that I write books and tell stories. I’m also hoping it’s not just applicable to writers, but to who we are as people, as well.

But first…

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My book has a cover and it’s so gorgeous please just look at it and tell me it’s beautiful because every time I see it my heart skips a beat and I just can’t tell you how much I love it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten my fan-girling out of the way, let’s talk about advice.

Whether I’m writing or just generally living my life, I love to collect advice. I have a notebook I carry around in my backpack and when I write it in from front to back, it’s ideas for books and stories. When I flip it around and write back to front, it’s ideas or things people have told me that I want to remember and carry with me. I think it’s sort of poetic that my writing and the words other people share with me will, eventually, meet in the middle. I like the idea that I am filling the notebook with stories my heart wants to tell and the inspiration I got from people who shared their hearts with me.

I’ve collected some great ones. Always wear clean underwear. Never go see a movie you’re excited about with someone you don’t think you’ll love forever, because then you’ll always associate the movie you love with somebody you used to know, making the movie bittersweet forever. Dip french fries in your Wendy’s Frosty. Love passionately and discreetly. 

And there are two pieces of writing advice I’d like to share with you, each scribbled in the back of my notebook.

  • You aren’t a faucet. You can’t just always be running. 

A playwriting professor told me this once (shoutout, Dano!) and I’ve carried it with me ever since. I had expressed frustration because I had only written six days in a row rather than the seven I wanted. And then he told me that. You are not a faucet. You can’t just always be running. He continued that it wasn’t a defense of writer’s block. It wasn’t an excuse to not write, but rather to be gentle with myself when I needed a break, when my mind and my creative instrument needed a rest. After all, my body needs rest. I need to sleep. So, too, does my creativity. I think that’s also important for all of us, writers or no. We all need rest. We all need recovery. We all need to let ourselves be and breathe for awhile, instead of running ragged because we feel like we “should.”

  • When you’re feeling directionless or lost, feed yourself. 

This piece of advice actually came to me from Twitter. I had expressed my frustration at having too many ideas and too much anxiety to pick one to pursue. I was terrified that I’d pick the wrong thing or everyone would hate what I had chosen, or that I would, eventually, hate what I’d written. And the person didn’t mean that I should go out and eat a McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese Bagel with a cheap canned mimosa (though that is exactly what I did), but rather that I needed to feed myself creatively.

Like the above advice, this one is linked to rest and recuperation. But this one is also about refueling. What the advice-giver actually meant was that I needed to take time away from my computer and my own circular thoughts and my own internal critiques and worry. It may seem obvious, but I just needed to read. I needed to get in some comfy clothes, curl up with some tea, and simply lose myself in a book.

Reading is my escape. Reading is my happy place. But reading is also inspiration. It’s a way to feed myself, feed my creative brain and feed my inspiration. When I was a little kid, every single time I left the movies, I wanted to write a movie script. Seeing good movies inspired me to want to write good stories and bad movies inspired me to want to write even better stories.  

So, for all of you writers or creative people out there, I want to encourage you in these two things. When you’re struggling, make sure that you give yourself a rest (you aren’t a faucet!) and feed yourself. Give yourself time to find inspiration in both the good and the bad art that you consume. I promise your work will be better for it!

And for everyone, I think this advice still stands. Give yourself a break. Let yourself rest. And while you’re resting, give yourself something that feeds your soul. If you love reading, read! If you love horror films, watch one of those! If you love devotionals and prayer, set aside time to do that. You deserve it, and you’ll be a better you for it.

So, what is your favorite way to refuel? What great books have you read lately? I can’t wait to hear in the comments! 

The Power of Love

Hello, dear reader!

No, we’re not talking about Huey Lewis and The News today. For this, my inaugural blog post and in preparation for the release of my debut, The Christmas Company, I thought I would answer a simple question: Why do I write romance novels?

On the surface, it’s an easy enough question to answer. I write romance because I read romance. A lot of romance. I write romance because romance novels are what I know. They’re my favorite and people gravitate towards their favorites.

But, of course, there’s more to it than just liking romance. But liking romance novels is the start. To me, the appeal of the romance novel is that it is an unabashed declaration of the importance of joy. Each book is a 300-page assertion that happiness and love matter, no matter what a cynical world may say.

When I was a little girl, we used to sing this song at school. It went, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” And that is the reason I write romance novels. I write love stories because every time someone reads one, a little bit more hope and faith and optimism is put out into the universe.

And that’s the power of love.