Wanderlust: A Big Dream’s Small Beginnings

I was raised in a small town in northern Utah. It is a beautiful little town surrounded by majestic mountains. Pine trees are everywhere. Everyone knows everyone, though it has grown significantly since my childhood. The kids I graduated with are the same kids I played with in kindergarten.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. But I never felt like I belonged. Growing up, I didn’t have any friends. People were friendly to me, but we weren’t friends. Eventually, I made some friends, but that ended in disaster. (That is a story for another day.)

When I was in the seventh grade, I discovered my love for writing. J.K. Rowling was a big influence on that discovery, but there was one other person who had just as much, if not more, influence: Nicholas Sparks. (Yes, I was that sappy hopeless romantic who read The Notebook before I even started high school.) I lived for his books, so it was only natural that I pick North Carolina for the setting of my first (cringe-worthy) novel.

It was a teen romance novel (because what else would it be?) set in Wilmington. The heroine was a stubborn, guarded preacher’s daughter who finds it in herself to forgive the star football player for the pain he caused her. They were both seniors facing an uncertain future. (Yes, it is as cringe-worthy as it sounds.)

In my research, I came across the University of North Carolina. I’d never thought about where I wanted to go to college, (Give me a break, I was twelve.) but the idea of going out of state intrigued me.  It meant exploring a world outside of Utah, of finding myself and somewhere I belong.

I’d been bitten by the bug.

Discovering UNC was merely the spark that started a fire that has been growing in me ever since. My journey started with that one moment, and it hasn’t ended yet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I started high school, North Carolina was my goal. When it was actually time to fill out applications, I knew I couldn’t just apply to one school. I applied to Western Carolina University (a cheaper alternative to UNC), University of Washington, University of Maine, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Utah and Utah Valley University. (My father made me apply to the last two, citing safe bets. In all honesty, though, he was right. Somewhat. Don’t tell him; it will go to his head.) Western Carolina was my number one choice, and the day I got my acceptance letter, I screamed. Yes, I screamed. Scared my mother outright! It was the first of five acceptance letters; I did not get in to Washington. But that was okay. Washington was pretty far down on my list, anyway.

I must pause this story here to make a confession. I am LDS; my religion is very important to me. Don’t worry, I have no intention to use this site to force my religion down your throat. But to understand my story you need to understand what I believe in. Going out of state was not just some middle school fantasy I carried with me through high school; it was a spiritual prompting I felt.

I struggled with the decision to move out of state for a very long time. Everyone in my family was telling me I shouldn’t go, that it was going to be a major culture shock, that I was going to hate it and come back, so I might as well just stay. It was like I was at war with myself. One part of me knew what I was feeling, what I wanted, but another part of me questioned the validity of the spiritual promptings I thought I had. I agonized constantly over whether I really had a spiritual prompting or if I had confused my own desires for spiritual promptings. Not only that, I agonized over where to go. Was North Carolina where I needed to be? Or was it Maine? Or Georgia?

Finally, I decided that whichever school offered the most assistance (because out-of-state is ridiculously expensive) would be where I would go. This was not an easy decision to come to, but in the end, I knew it was the one that made the most sense.

Maine took the lead, offering me a thirteen-thousand-dollar scholarship. It was by no means a full ride, but it did cover about half of my tuition. It wasn’t what I had originally planned, but I was still excited. I was finally leaving Utah, and despite what my family said, I knew it was a good thing.

Then God intervened.

Throughout my senior year, I searched high and low for a job. I wasn’t naïve; I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap moving to Maine. I probably did thirty interviews before graduation. None of them panned out. I’d had one job before, one job interview. Clearly, I was inexperienced.

By the time July rolled around, I knew I couldn’t go to Maine in the fall. I had no job, no money. I didn’t even have a car yet! That broke my heart. I wanted so desperately to leave Utah, but I felt like I was being trapped in the very place I wanted to leave. It terrified me, too, to think that maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was never supposed to leave Utah. To never see the world, to never experience other cultures, to wake up in ten years and realize I never did all those things I wanted to—that was my greatest fear.

But it couldn’t be fixed. I couldn’t pull a few thousand dollars out of thin air (no matter how much I think all of us wish we could). There was no getting around it. I had to stay in Utah. But I still felt in my heart that that wasn’t right. I wasn’t meant to live and die here and never experience anything outside this bubble. So, I made a decision. First, I needed to find a job. Then, I would start my generals at Weber State the following year. I would finish my associate’s degree here in Utah and transfer when I was finished.

I didn’t find a job until August, five months after graduation. It paid very little, and the commute was atrocious, but it was a start.  A year flew by. I worked, and I worked, and I worked. The problem was that I was only working part-time, for minimum wage. Needless to say, I wasn’t saving very much.

Then, God intervened yet again. He gave me the perfect job. Two miles from my house (versus twenty-five), and two dollars more an hour! And, better yet, He led me to the exact choice I feel is right for me.

My dream is to attend American University in Washington, D.C.

Don’t ask me why. I have no idea. Heaven knows I have absolute no desire to be a politician. I don’t know what is waiting for me out there, or why I feel like this is something I need to do, but I do know that whatever it is will be more amazing than anything I can possibly imagine. It will be an adventure, one I’m hoping you’ll follow me on!

Now, you may be wondering why I am telling you this. The truth is that I feel like I am finally on the right path. God led me to that crappy job because it was the only way to get my dream job. He led me to the decision to start this very blog. I would like to think that, another year from now, I’ll look back on this article and be so grateful I went through everything I have because it led me to something better. I finally feel at peace with the choices I have made because I know that there is a reason for what I have been through.

I have never been more at peace with a decision. I don’t know what is waiting for me or there, either, but it is going to be one heck of a ride!

So, what do you say? Do you want to tag along for the ride?

3 Plotting Methods For the Pantser In You

Plotting is tricky. Especially if you’re a pantser, like me. When I started writing, I would just sit at the computer and type whatever came to my mind. Of course, this resulted in an awful, disjointed first draft that still repulses me to this day. In my defense, I was only twelve and trying to write a romance novel, when I knew nothing about romance. There is nothing wrong with this method. I’m still guilty of using it on occasion, but there are some genres that require just a bit more planning.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out the best way to plot when I needed to. I’ve tried a few different methods I’ll lay out for you here. I may have found the perfect method for me, but you never know which one works best for you.

After I finished writing An Unexpected Romance, my first romance novel, I turned my attention to another genre: mystery/thriller. In a few months’ time, I cranked out a novel I called Love Lost. It was the story of two cops who fall in love while undercover as husband and wife assassins for the Russian Mob. Yes, it was terrible, but again, I was only twelve. However, with that book, I did discover my love for mysteries. I had always loved reading them, but I’d never really thought about writing them.

A few books later, I began work on a trilogy. I wanted to write a story about the dynamics of a partnership when they’re affected by a kidnapping. Basically, the initial story was about a woman who is held hostage for months. When she is released, she discovers that her old partner, the man she loved, hadn’t even been looking for her. He didn’t even realize she’d been missing. So, she comes back with a huge chip on her shoulder, but she must put it aside because they have to catch a bad guy. I called it Fatal Attraction. I am still working on it today. It no longer has anything do with the original storyline I came up with; it is no longer called Fatal Attraction. Now, it is about a woman investigating her father’s murder. Her father, the director of the CIA, left her a package with the instructions to give it to a man named Jack Logan, but when she discovers that Jack Logan died a week after her father, she teams up with his son, Jack, Jr., to investigate. Amid all of this, there is a frame-up, fake deaths, and many other twists that I will not give away because I would like you guys to read it at some point. As you can see, this sort of plotline requires a little more plotting than your average romance novel.

I began investigating. I knew I needed some sort of plan; at the very least, I needed to know the layout of the case my characters were investigating. I needed to know what clues they would find, and when and where they would find them.

The first method I tried was a simple bullet list. I pulled up a document on my computer, or sometimes used a notebook, and just started listing. The section was headed by the chapter number, and the main bullet points were the major points that were going to happen in that chapter. Any sub-bullets were the clues they found, awesome lines that popped into my head, etc.

This method worked great for a while, but I would always, inevitably, give up and just start writing. I’d type up a few chapters, until I hit a roadblock, and then I would go back to my bullet list. It was an endless cycle that just wasn’t accomplishing what I needed it to. So, I went back to the drawing board.

The next one I found was on Pinterest. It is called a plot board, and it was shared by Shaunta Grimes at A Novel Idea. For her blog post, click here. Here is the gist of it. I took a trifold cardboard display board and divided it into three acts. The first flap was act one. The middle of the board was act two. The last flap was act three. Then I wrote scene ideas on post-it notes and stuck them where I wanted them. What I loved about this method is how easy it is to change when you change your mind. All you have to do is move the post-it notes! However, I never really understood how to divide my story into acts. I worked much better with chapters. This would be a great tool for screen plays or theater, though. For me, it just didn’t work.

And now, the winner. The last idea I had came from my own mind. I was frustrated because I’d been working on this trilogy for so long, and I still had no idea what I wanted to happen in the story. I knew from the other methods I used that I wanted something visual because that is how I have always learned. I also wanted something simpler than a post-it note cardboard but also something I could still easily change when my ideas changed. So, I came up with my own version of a plot board.

I bought a large whiteboard on wheels that measures, I think, six-by-eight feet. It is also double-sided, so there is plenty of room to plan a whole series. Once I bought the board, it was as simple as creating a timeline. I just drew a line across the board and use tick marks for my scenes. I have different colored markers for various parts: blue for the flashbacks, green for time changes in present day (because what murder mystery is solved in one day?), and red for any edits I make to that specific timeline after everything is said and done. What I love about this is that it sits next to my desk, and I can see it every second I am writing. I don’t have to flip through notebook pages or set up a trifold, but it is still so easy to change and rearrange. Honestly, though I have never done this, if you wanted to make it even easier you could still use post-it notes. Another advantage is how much room it gives me. I don’t just have my plot lines on this board. This is also where I brainstorm names, places, titles, etc. I also keep notes on it, so I can keep track of the smaller details (like the identity of the killer and the evidence against them).

Every one of these methods is very helpful, but it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me. That, I believe, is the trick. There must be some trial and error on your part. Use your imagination. What works for you does not have to be traditional nor does it have to make sense to someone else. It just has to make sense to you. Then again, isn’t that why we’re all writers?

Until next time, I hope this helps!

© May 2018 ALL IMAGES EDITED USING CANVA DESIGN AND PHOTOSHOP

My Works

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It has been ten years since Alex Williams’s life changed forever. Six months following his ten-year-old brother’s suicide, Alex fled the city that never sleeps and attempted to start over in Los Angeles, haunted yet comforted by the fact that he can still see his little brother. When he arrived, he found something entirely unexpected: a girl by the name of Miranda Hall, a girl broken and beaten relentlessly by the monsters in their school. Amidst the pain and tears, these two found in each other the solace and love they’d always needed.

Now, ten years later, Alex’s life is changing yet again. Struggling to raise a four-year-old girl with an absentee wife he still loves dearly, Alex receives a phone call in the middle of the night. A dear friend has passed away. Her brother, Troy–also a dear friend, though in high school he was anything but, filled with guilt and regret over all the things he did in high school and all the things he did to drive his sister away, has vanished. Alex is the only one who can find him. But now he has a bigger responsibility: bring his friend back from the depths of despair. He has a plan, too. But will one decade-old story be enough to save Troy from himself?

10 Quirky Facts About A Quirky Girl

Hey, guys! In light of my new blog, I thought I should probably introduce myself to you a bit. I have pulled together a list of ten facts about me to set the tone for this new blog. Yes, I am quirky, but aren’t we all?

    1. I am an all-or-nothing k
    2. ind of girl. I either really like something, or I really don’t. There is no in-between. It may seem like it may cause problems (and i

  1. t has), but I think it is a blessing, too. It gives life more meaning, more color, I guess.
  2. I’m a movie girl. There are maybe two movies I actually don’t like. (The ending of Remember Me. Really?) I can quote a ton of them, too.
  3. I really like I mean, really. It is borderline obsessive. I have basically sold my soul to Dean Winchester. If you watch Supernatural, we’re practically family. If you don’t know what Supernatural is, read my article here. Give it a try! You just might fall in love with hit.
  4. I watched my first silent film a few months ago, and I loved it! It was the original The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. I loved it! It took a few minutes to get used to not hearing the music I know and love. Once I moved past that, I saw the beauty and elegance in it, and I fell in love. (Although I still prefer Gerard Butler, because who wouldn’t?) If you haven’t seen the silent film version, I highly recommend it
  5. . However, be warned. It is certainly an acquired taste.
  6. I am a Psych-o. I grew up on I have seen every episode multiple times, and I can quote a lot of lines. Shules all the way! And that movie revival? I was dying! Honestly, if it was any other show it probably would have sucked, but because Psych was already a silly, fantastical show, it worked! (This was before Supernatural. Although Psych still holds a special place in my heart, nothing beats Supernatural.)
  7. I love country music. It is almost all I listen to. I do listen to some other genres, but probably ninety-five percent of my playlist is country. I will probably recommend some country music, so if you don’t like country, you should probably skip over those articles.
  8. Brantley Gilbert all the way! He is my favorite singer. Some of you may not know who he is; some of you may. He is considered country, but he has a lot of rock in him, too. His music makes me happy. If you don’t know who he is, give him a try. Even if you don’t like country, you might find some songs you still like. Like I said, there is a lot of rock in him.
  9. I have the travel bug. Bad. I grew up in a small town where everybody knew everybody. That certainly didn’t help my case. I never felt like I belonged in that town, and all I want to do is travel to see the world. Much to my family’s chagrin, of course.
  10. I am terrified of escalators. I am incapable of riding them, unless absolutely necessary. I will take the stairs or the elevator. I know, it’s ridiculous, but I’m always scared my clothes will get stuck in them. On the occasions that I absolutely had to ride the escalator, my legs were jelly, and I hated it. So I will not ride them if I can avoid it. My best friend makes sure to make fun of me for it every time we go to the mall.
  11. I dream big. Maybe a little too big. I have all these things I want to do, and a few are a bit out of reach. But that is part of the excitement, isn’t it? That will make it much more satisfying when it happens because so many people told me it wouldn’t.

Well, that’s me. Now tell me about you!

© May 2018 ALL IMAGES MADE USING CANVA DESIGN

Unfiltered by Lily Collins

Recently, I began working on an essay for my English class. I chose the topic of body shaming. I had already written one of my papers on this subject, so I thought the jumpstart would help. I scoured books, magazines, and of course, the internet to find the information I needed for my argument. But one source took me by total surprise and may even change my life.

We all know Lily Collins. The daughter of famous musician Phil Collins, Lily is a talented actress herself and has starred in movies such as Mirror, Mirror; City of Bones; and more recently, To the Bone. Well, this past year she returned to her journalist/writing roots and released a poignant autobiography titled Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me. In this novel, Lily tells all about her struggle with anorexia and bulimia, the rocky relationship with her father, and the dark exes of her past. In doing so, she reminds us all just what it takes to be strong and confident.

I have never been one of those women who can walk up to any guy she wants and flirt or look in the mirror and think of myself as sexy. In fact, as I’m writing this, the voice in the back of my head whispers that it is probably not good enough. Simply put, I have never had any confidence in anything I have ever done. I don’t think of myself as beautiful or desirable. I don’t think of myself as particularly talented, but this book has shown me that I am not the only one. It doesn’t matter what a woman looks like or acts like; society always convinces us that we are not good enough. But in following Lily’s journey to overcome this, I have learned that it is not a one-time battle. It is an everyday choice. I do not battle bulimia or anorexia, but I know all too well what it feels like to think you are not pretty enough or thin enough or smart enough to ever be good enough for someone. There are days when those thoughts consume me entirely. I cannot bring myself to smile, I cannot bring myself to drown them out. I just let them wash over me.

This book taught me that you must take it one day at a time. You must make the decision every single day. It is not a one-time choice, and it is taken care of. Every morning when you wake up, you must decide that you will not let those thoughts get to you. You must decide to believe in yourself. You are the only one who can say, “I am good enough”, because, as Lily points out, no one can truly love you until you love yourself.

It is the biggest struggle I have in my life. The voice in the back of my head is very loud, but I can drown it out. So, I am issuing all of you a challenge. First, read this book. It is my firm belief that every woman—whether she considers herself insecure or not, confident or not—must read this book.       Second, I challenge all of you to make the choice. Every. Single. Day. You are good enough, you are pretty enough, you are enough. Every day, decide not to let the voices get to you. Decide to believe in yourself. Trust in yourself. It may not happen overnight, but I promise you, your life will change.

I will be taking this challenge, too, because I want to be comfortable in my own skin. I want to feel beautiful. I don’t want to rely on someone else to do those things for me. And bless you, Lily Collins, for sharing your beautiful story. What began as research for a school paper has changed so much in me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Your story will impact the lives of so many women in unimaginably beautiful ways.

© May 2018 ALL IMAGES MADE USING CANVA DESIGN