Viable Paradise XVIII and the Happy Writing Life

Sometimes you write short stories about color vampires and sleeping beneath blankets of sea, sometimes you critique other people’s equally odd and wonderful stories, and sometimes, well, sometimes you apply for writing workshops and find out you got in.

In other words, I’ve been accepted to Viable Paradise XVIII!

Dear readers, I am so excited. I get to have a story workshopped among speculative fiction pros like Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, and Sherwood Smith (and many others)! I get to talk about writing and books and narrative and YA fantasy for a whole week! On beautiful Martha’s Vineyard in the autumn! I get to eat delicious dinners prepared for us every night and take walks to see bioluminescent jellyfish! I get to meet writers I don’t yet know and room with them! I haven’t done anything like this since I attended Clarion back in 2006, and I can’t wait!

Just before I learned I’d been accepted last week, I visited my incredibly talented friends C.S.E. Cooney and Julia Rios and read them the story I’ll be workshopping at VP (which was also my application story). We also wrote, watched Firefly, discussed what makes a poem work, and ate lots of vanilla ice cream drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream. If you haven’t tried that last, do. It makes writing retreats even . . . sweeter.

And I’ve been reading so many wonderful books. Stories–the core of a writer’s diet. It’s like you’re a butter churn, and you fill yourself with rainbows and pieces of sky and end up with new seeds of your own stories. The latest on my to-read pile: Welcome to BordertownZombies Vs. UnicornsDark MetropolisOtherbound, and Stargazing for Dummies. Check them out if you haven’t!

Anyway, back to work! I’ve got a novel draft to finish, after all.

Story sale! Story sale!

I’m so delighted to announce that my short story “Krishna Blue” will be in the amazing lineup of the forthcoming YA speculative fiction anthology Kaleidoscope. Check it out below!

(Yay, wonderful diverse fiction that isn’t just about being diverse!)

This story is particularly dear to my heart; I began it in 2006 at Clarion, when I had the idea of an artist who eats colors, and then I kept rewriting it over the years until I finally got it right. And now it’s in . . .

Kaleidoscope-Postcard-1-706x1024Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

Table of contents (in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

“Welcome” by Will Alexander
“Double Time” by John Chu
“Celebration” by Sean Eads
“The Truth about Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar
“Careful Magic” by Karen Healey
“Chupacabra’s Song” by Jim Hines
“Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan
“Every Little Thing” by Holly Kench
“End of Service” by Gabriela Lee
“Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu
“The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara
“Signature” by Faith Mudge
“Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E. C. Myers
“Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix
“Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts
“Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar
“The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman
“Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar
“The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams

Just look at all those great names! I’m so excited. The anthology will be available soon, and you can find out more here: http://kaleidoscope.twelfthplanetpress.com/.

*happy dance*

The My Writing Process blog tour

Aspiring novelist  and fellow Sirens Conference goer Artemis Grey invited me to take part in the My Writing Process blog tour, and though I normally don’t do memes, Artemis is too awesome to refuse. So here are my answers to four questions.

1) What am I working on?

A short story about a shadow collector and my second novel, a young adult fantasy about a girl whose mother is from a Hindu constellation. I love mythic stories, so I’m writing one myself!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about South Asian American characters, both because that was my experience and also because there’s such a lack in the young adult North American market. Reflecting the real world for the win!

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s so much to learn about the world and one another, and books are an excellent way to step into someone else’s head. We all deserve to see ourselves, and we all deserve to see one another in the stories we read.

Also, I believe in magic and imagination, and I love fun, exciting, well-told tales. Young adult has a lot of those. There’s nothing like seeing what came out of another person’s cranial treasure box–and plumbing the depths of my own to tell the story only my personality and experience and brain could come up with!

4) How does my writing process work?

Now that is a question! I have been rethinking how and why I write over the past year or so, but it does seem to involve a bit of procrastination and what I call Adult Onset Perfectionism, where I want the first draft to be perfect. Of course that’s impossible, so what I’m trying to content myself with instead is editing as I go along–even though I know there will be revisions (maybe even heavy ones!) once I finish the draft. Still, whatever gets the words down!

Terri Windling talks a bit about the idea that some people are inchers, that they need to dip their toes and slowly slip into the water. I’d say that’s me for sure.

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Next up in the tour is Francesca Forrest, whose blog you can find here. Francesca is the author of the middle grade novel Pen Pal“Em is a twelve-year-old girl in a floating community off the Gulf Coast. Kaya is a political activist in a terrifying prison. They are pen pals. Em’s wistful message in a bottle finds its way to Kaya, imprisoned above the molten lava of the Ruby Lake. Both are living precarious lives, at the mercy of societal, natural, and perhaps supernatural forces beyond their control. Kaya’s letters inspire Em, and Em’s comfort Kaya—but soon this correspondence becomes more than personal. Individual lives, communities, and even the fate of an entire nation will be changed by this exchange of letters. Pen Pal is a story of friendship and bravery across age, distance, and culture, at the intersection of the natural and supernatural world.”

On spring and storytelling and website overhauls

It’s been a long, especially challenging winter in my part of the world, and even though spring has sprung, we’re still dealing with cold weather and the threat of yet more snow. I spent a lot of it feeling blue and trapped beneath my electric blanket. But nothing can stop the crocuses from popping their purple heads out of the ground, just as nothing can stop the light from growing longer every day. Happy things, these.

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I’ve been seeking refuge in Storyland, with revisions to one piece to get it just right, plans for revising another, and slow but steady progress on my second novel. Work on the novel involves researching Hindu constellations, which I know very little about, and relearning how to let my imagination flow, the way it did when I was little and unhindered by doubt. Laini Taylor talks about this sort of brainstorming here, where you throw out the first few ideas that come to you in favor of letting the more interesting stuff bubble up from the deep. You’re finding the real tale you want to tell, the way only you can tell it.

It’s a journey of discovery, really, something my Adult Onset Perfectionism struggles with. But I’m also very excited; I love my characters and my concept, and I’m curious to find out how the rest of the story goes.

Have a selfie of yours truly, dreaming about her characters while on a train. Yep, I totally got a starry circlet to wear for inspiration, and sparkly silver eyeliner, too!

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I’m grateful for many things, and one of those is how packed with joy and people my last few days have been. I got to go to New York City to see friends and attend the monthly KGB Fantastic Fiction reading, a good friend sent me a golden butterfly ornament in the mail when she knew I was sad, I made a trip to Fabric Row in Philadelphia to select fabric for the skirt yet another friend will be teaching me how to make, and yesterday I spent with my fellow Star-Dusted Siren Barb, who gave my website a complete overhaul. A fresh new look for a burgeoning spring, when old fears and thoughts are cast off like heavy coats.

And what do you think of the website makeover? It’s perfectly in keeping with the novel, and I’ve always loved the stars, anyway. The night sky holds a numinous magic for me, one that’s difficult to put into words. But hopefully I can manage it in the novel!

Ahhh, I just feel so full of joy and potential, sweet, raw, untapped possibilities. They’re a warm spring breeze to this girl who just broke free of her chilly, lonesome cocoon. Shaky legs teeter, and wings unfurl, still damp, still slightly unsure. What might lie ahead? Adventure? Inspiration? Fresh-baked cookies? I don’t know, but I have a good feeling about it. After all, no mud, no lotus.

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(a flowering plant my husband gave me)

Peeking into the box of forgotten dreams

(Laini’s Ladies “Blue Wings”)

I am committed to living a magical, creative life. I’m a writer, as you know. Writing’s not always easy, and I don’t do it as regularly as I wish, but I am a writer, and I make stories. But there are other ways creativity manifests in my life, and I want to talk about them now.

When I was younger, I drew and painted and made things out of Sculpey clay. I came up with magical adventures I went on both in my backyard and in my head. I put myself into the stories I read. If in life I thought something bad might happen, I brainstormed many different, richly detailed potential solutions. I imagined objects that no one had invented yet (I was so excited the day I learned there was a thing like GPS after years of yearning for it!).  My thoughts narrated my life as though I were the heroine in a novel. I felt magic in the air around me. In short, I was a very creative child.

But in high school, when I had to draw a portrait, when I had to draw a plant from nature, when I had to do a cut-paper record album, and everyone else in my art class was clearly so much better at all those things, my already bruised and beaten self-confidence crumbled. (I had a terrible, terrible time in high school.) I wasn’t anywhere close to what some of the other students could do without even trying, and so, I quit art altogether.

I was terrible, so why bother, right?

 

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The sad thing is, there was no one to tell me I had talent and just needed more practice, more training. That I could do this, too, if I just stuck with it. That maybe I didn’t know the difference between a 2H pencil and a 4B, but my shapes and my eye were good. So I went off to college, became even more intimidated, and then spent most of my adulthood convinced I was not creative.

That’s right; the incredibly imaginative child grew into an adult who thought she wasn’t creative. And she suffered for it.

As a kid, I wanted to learn how to dance. I wanted to learn how to sing.  As an adult, I had no idea how people made things, how they played instruments, how they envisioned things. That was totally beyond me, right?

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Any time I did dare to start something, I never stuck with it. I couldn’t make myself, not when I didn’t believe in myself. Instead, I just felt like a failure and quietly envied others.

But in 2006, I wanted to write fantasy starring people who looked like me, and somehow I applied and got into the Clarion workshop, and I began to study the craft of writing. I’ve been learning ever since.

Yet I still didn’t think of myself as a creative person. In 2010, I felt the strangest nudge inside me: it suggested I should take harp lessons! I had no musical training, no idea how to read music, no clue what the levers were for. But I found a teacher, I leased a harp, and I started learning how to pluck the strings–and for a year, I kept the whole thing a secret, just to show myself I could do it.

And I started to learn songs! Me, who thought she could never do anything like that!

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In 2012, I began dabbling in the crafting I so admired other people doing: paper crafts, felt pillows, hair accessories. And to my surprise, I found I could do it. My anxious mind loved coming up with ideas, and I kept trying them out, and the cycle began to feed itself.

Last month, I decided it was time to commit to learning how to draw. Enough of saying I couldn’t do it. Sure, I wish I hadn’t quit when I was seventeen, but I did, so all I can do now is move forward.

And I am. It’s frustrating, and of course I would love to be a lot further along than I am, but the only way to get there is to keep going. I’ve sprinkled the still lifes I’ve done recently throughout the post, mistakes and all. (Note: I’m not looking for critique on the art. It’s scary enough making these public!) I know they’re flawed. But I think it’s worth sharing them to prove that you really can start doing what you want at any age.

As poetess Mary Oliver said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?”

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Dreams aren’t just important; they’re vital. When we live our passions, when we use our gifts, we add to the beauty and light in the world, and we inspire others to do the same. Whether or not reincarnation exists, we only live this particular life once, so we might as well live it to the fullest.

If I can do this, so can you.

So tell me, what are the things you’ve always wanted to do but never have? And what’s stopping you from doing them now?

(Update: I’m currently having a server issue, so your comments are being saved but not showing up. But hopefully it will be resolved soon!)

Telling the truth

One of the greatest things about the Internet is the ability to talk honestly about life, to make yourself vulnerable and know you might be helping someone in the process. I can’t count the times seeing someone tell their truth has let me know I wasn’t alone. That affirmation, especially in this age of social media, where it seems like everyone else has found the secret to a perfect golden life—well, it’s a balm for my heart and a reining-in of my depressive tendencies.

So let me tell you a secret, and maybe it’ll help you, too.

I had a birthday in the late fall, and one of the things I promised myself was that I wouldn’t stop believing in my dreams, even if it seems like there’s no chance they’ll ever come true—that the closer I get, the faster they move away.

The other day I broke that promise. I woke up anxious to a rainy gray sky, and in my chest, something tugged. It pulled at things outside me, things I have no control over. It felt wistful and sad. It turned me into an outsider again, as I’ve been for most of my life. I tried to distract myself with errands and a book, and reminding myself of what I’d done thus far in my writing career, both publicly and privately. But none of it helped. I wandered into a library and just knew my books would never be on that shelf.

And it made me want to cry.

If you’re on this website, you know I’m a writer. Writers write, and writers usually want to sell their stories and see their books published. What’s scarier than the idea that the book you poured your heart and many years into might not go anywhere at all?

Is it because you wrote about brown people and used “weird” names for your characters?

Is it because you should have known better and gone straight to a niche publisher as you were advised, because writing about brown people with “weird” names immediately makes your book niche?

Is it because you just can’t write, despite all the years you’ve put into honing your craft?

Is it because you’re too strange in the way you see the world, so no one can relate to the stories you have to tell?

Or is it just because no one cares about those stories?

I’ve cried a lot this past year. Privately, in the company of my husband and friends, but I have cried. And I’ve said more than once that I want to give up, because who cares, anyway?

Even typing that is hard; the world insists I should be shoving down all this fear and wearing my game face. Never let anyone see I doubted even for a second. A professional doesn’t do that, even when things are stuck in limbo.

And things are in limbo, and I’m scared. Here’s where my narrative arc says I’m supposed to put on a bright smile and soldier forward. I’m doing that; I haven’t given up, and I do believe in my dreams, even if I falter. But I am scared. Scared that they might not come true after all.

My arc isn’t done yet, of course, “improper” as it may be, and I don’t know where I’ll end up. On bookstore and library shelves, I hope, as I work hard at putting down more words about weird-named characters who look like me. I can’t see the end of the story until I get there.

E.T.A.: Some of you have expressed concern to me after reading this post, and I thank you, but I want to stress that I’m doing fine and have no plans to give up. I just wanted to address some things that don’t get talked about enough. We all struggle on our artistic path in some way or another, and I personally find hearing I’m not alone in having doubts from time to time really helpful, so I’m sharing mine for anyone else who could benefit.

Two exciting things!

So I have two exciting things to kick off this October:

First, my dear, dear friend Jennifer Walkup is officially a published novelist! Her debut YA paranormal, Second Verse, is out in the world as of yesterday, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It turned out so beautifully, just as beautiful as the words inside. I got to watch this go from an early draft I critiqued to a final book, and I feel like a proud auntie. Go forth and get yourself a copy!

 

 

Secondly, my writing group, The Star-Dusted Sirens, now has a website! We’ll be taking turns blogging about lots of things and generally being opinionated, so make sure to check us out: http://stardustedsirens.wordpress.com. I adore this group of talented ladies and can’t wait to see what we all produce.

We’re also on Twitter as @stardustsirens, so don’t forget to follow us!

Happy autumn to you all!

Guest post with author Clovia Shaw and giveaway of her new book!

Hello, hello! Life’s been here and there and everywhere, but today I’m back on the blog with a treat for you. Copper artist and debut author Clovia Shaw has graciously agreed to write a guest post about what inspired her to write her new urban fantasy novel, Nogitsune.

Lincoln Black is nogitsune–a “field fox” cast aside by his family, an outsider among the hidden community of American kitsune descended from the shapeshifting fox-wives of Japanese folklore. When a curse pushes his harmless taste for his lovers’ vital energy toward monstrous, uncontrollable hunger, Linc is forced back to the one place he’d—almost—rather die than go for help: home. 

The first night back in town, a cousin he doesn’t know defies clan politics to enter his dreams. Wouldn’t you know, he wants to strike a bargain: Find a stolen piece of a stranger’s soul, and he’ll help Linc break the curse. 

That help comes in the form of Delia, a geomancer who knows every inch of the city, and whose energy Linc finds dangerously tempting. It would be too easy to lose his head, and drain her life away with no more than a kiss. Armed with a key to the magical pathways hidden behind the mundane world, Linc’s own sly magic, and a will o’ wisp with an attitude problem, they search for the broken piece of soul.

Too bad they’re not the only ones looking for it.

With his self-control slipping, Linc finds himself indebted to a cousin he can’t trust, running afoul of more than one god, and putting Delia in danger just by wanting her. He’s looking at a jacked-up choice: Die to keep the only person who cares for him safe, or risk becoming a monster straight out of Japanese fairytales.

How great does that sound? And readers, just for you, she’s giving away one e-book of Nogitsune! Details follow the post. Take it away, Clovia!

 

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The idea for Nogitsune came from a glimpse of old Japanese folk magic. While researching kitsune in general, I ran across a brief mention of something I hadn’t seen before in the lore. Much like the European practice of burying a live black dog in the churchyard to create a church grim to protect it against evil spirits, a similar ritual was employed in Japan to create guardian spirits out of dogs, and more rarely, foxes. I was struck by what a terrifying, awful way to die it would be, and what kind of entity would be created from such a death.

It stuck in my mind while I did other things, and when it was time to choose what to write next, it was still back there, skulking.

America has such a rich and varied cultural history an Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance featuring kitsune seemed like a natural. But I needed to get them here in a way that was equally natural, so I didn’t start out on a giant handwave. So, to history! The earliest Japanese in America were shipwrecked sailors, which didn’t work for my purposes. The next chance for my foxes to stow away had promise—men, women, and children, and foxes are all about family—but they came to Hawaii, and that was an additional cultural layer I felt like I didn’t have the resources or understanding to attempt, and it still didn’t fit well with the world taking shape in my head. I kept looking at the Gold Rush, and all those Chinese railroad workers—it was a perfect way to get kitsune out of closed Japan, to China, and into America. But that brings in the strong fox spirit tradition in Chinese folkways, too, the railroad, the Old West, and a lot more research as this fictional history began to live, breathe, and build itself.

Back with the developing characters, my MC, Linc, has a slight Texas twang when he’s being sarcastic. What. So back in I go, and I find out that Texas has an amazingly rich (and painful) East Asian history. From Pershing’s Chinese, to the Japanese Emperor’s gift of rice seed in 1904, and always the railroad, there are so many points in history where fox people would have been present, and stayed. Linc comes by it honest, and that’s important.

Kitsune aren’t just folklore and shrine guardians, they’re pop-culture icons, evolving along with Japan and represented in everything from manga to product packaging to theme weddings. They’ve also spread far beyond Japan in this capacity, with three generations of anime fans recognizing the characteristic fox-face smile, or the stylized facial markings taken from traditional theatre masks. So while I wanted to get it right, be careful with my research, to make sure my foundations were strong, respectful, my foxes aren’t old Japan’s foxes. And they wouldn’t be.

Beyond their reputations as dangerous seducers, kitsune are tricksters, habitual line-steppers who waylay travelers with awful practical jokes, and could never quite fake being human in the old stories. As fox-wives, their true nature is betrayed by their shadow, a peeking tail, a barking dog. If the fox is trying to gain enlightenment in the guise of a monk, the locals politely ignore the back hair and bad pronunciation, but they know. The longing to fit in, and the simultaneous inability to stand being normal, is a fundamental characteristic that’s compelling.

With Nogitsune, I tried to build an American fox subculture that feels real and familiar, that grows out of the real folklore in authentic-feeling—if sometimes unexpected—ways, and acknowledges that all families have their own histories and folktales. At some point, though, you have to be true to the book, to leap off and create the world your story and your characters need, and accept you’re never going to get it right for all readers.

But I can hope most of them will enjoy it despite its flaws, and as a writer, that’s all I really want out of any book: for people to enjoy reading it.

Thanks so much to Shveta for having me on her blog today!

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If you want to enter for a chance to win, just leave a comment either here or on the LiveJournal mirror by 11:59 EST on Friday, 13 September. (Please remember to include an e-mail address so I can contact you if you win!)

And be sure to learn more about Clovia at her website, http://cloviashaw.com!

My Readercon schedule

I’m super excited to be going to Readercon (www.readercon.org) for the first time! It’s a fun convention for people who love books, and it takes place in the Boston/Burlington, MA area from 11 to 14 July. Four whole days of talking to awesome people, eating good food, thinking about books, and generally having a blast! Some friends I can’t wait to see again, and others I’ll be meeting for the first time.

Here’s my schedule, in case you’re in the area. Hope to see you!

Saturday, July 13

10:00 AM    F    To YA or Not to YA. Jordan Hamessley, E.C. Myers, Phoebe North, Charles Oberndorf, Veronica Schanoes (leader), Shveta Thakrar. There are plenty of adult books with teen heroes, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Some books that were not aimed at teens when they came out are mostly read by them today, like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Some books are marketed as YA in one country and adult in another. So what makes a book “a YA book”? Do we just know it when we see it, or is there a way to pin this down beyond listening to marketing campaigns?

Sunday, July 14

12:00 PM    G    Writing for Younger Readers. Lisa Janice (LJ) Cohen, Jordan Hamessley, Alaya Dawn Johnson, E.C. Myers (leader), Phoebe North, Shveta Thakrar. How do middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) authors and editors write for children and teen readers? How do they make science fiction more accessible for kids, build complex fantasy worlds, and develop authentic characters with diverse backgrounds? This panel is ideal for anyone writing MG or YA or interested in finding books with plots as rich and complex as any novel targeted to adult readers.
Proposed by E.C. Myers.
2:00 PM    G    Teen Violence, Teen Sex. Steve Berman, Gwendolyn Clare, Jack M. Haringa (leader), Donald G. Keller, Phoebe North, Shveta Thakrar. As seen in bestsellers like The Hunger Games and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, today’s literary teen heroes, and especially its heroines, are more likely to commit violence than to have sex. Coming of age and coming into your own is often marked in YA spec fic by survival and destruction rather than sexual awakening. How is the exploration of violence in books related to consensual sexual exploration, and cultural anxieties and mores around it, in real teens’ lives?

Arts and crafts and spring!

Spring! Hooray, it’s spring (even if a bit of chill lingers like a unwanted memory of winter, haunting and gray around the edges but fading with each day that passes). And with spring comes the need to wake up, stretch, and refresh the creative spirit with movement. Like the purple crocuses dotting my lawn, I find myself eager to rise from my winter hibernation, tilt my head skyward, and greedily drink up every cheery yellow ray of the sun.

There are so many colors coming back to life that I find I’m deeply inspired to play with them and make my own version. I’d already tried my hand at paper crafts, which I still love, but now I wanted to branch out—not to mention I’d accumulated a pile of felt squares I had no idea what to do with. So I turned to a couple projects I’d bookmarked months ago and challenged myself to make them. (The Internet is amazing! So many creative, generous people just bursting to share their vision with you.)

First we have this happy flag bunting. (You can find the tutorial here, if you want to make your own.) I’ve loved flag bunting for a while now, and the smaller flags were perfect for my house, vivid and eye-catching without dominating the walls. I don’t know much about sewing—yet—and my little stitches came out crooked. Plus I didn’t have any red thread handy, so I used white. But a red Sharpie came to my rescue, and now you’d never know. *grin* Every time I see the bunting, the colors and the letters remind me to, well, be happy!

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As some of you know, I love cupcakes, and my kitchen is decorated with a cupcake theme. So when I found this tutorial for felt cupcakes, I knew I’d have to adapt that to make a garland to hang in my kitchen. And I did! I’m really pleased with the results.

 

Cupcake garland

 

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine was going through a very difficult time, and I wanted to surprise her with a gift, one I’d made myself. So knowing her favorite color is yellow, and she really loves flowers, I experimented and eventually came up with this magnet. It made her day, which in turn made mine! (A goal we share is to continually work on ourselves, blooming one petal at a time.) Also, how pretty is copper glitter?

 

Bloom Flower Magnet
Finally, my niece just celebrated her seventh birthday, so I made this sparkly butterfly barrette (tutorial here). I attached it to a bobby pin. It looked so sweet in her hair!

 

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So yes, lots of crafting lately. It’s fun and intensely gratifying, and the more I do it, the more inspired I get! It’s been a wonderful outlet in many ways, because it’s mostly just for me, and there’s something so empowering about looking at something and thinking, I made that! What should I try next that I used to think I couldn’t do?

Creativity really is a form of magic. You imagine something, you bring it into being, and then it exists where nothing was before.

Of course, let’s not forget my favorite medium of all, words. I’m cooking up a feast of story ideas and getting ready to start my second novel . . . more on that soon.

For now, what are your favorite arts and crafts? Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try but never have? Then why not give it a try now? You might be surprised and delighted by what you come up with!