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Monday

Meet Janice Thompson!

Today we have a special treat... and interview with the very-funny Janice Thompson. If you haven't read any of Janice's books before and you're a fan of romantic comedy like Jenny B Jones or the yet-unpublished stuff I've written, I know you'll love Janice.

I didn't conduct this interview myself, so you'll notice there are fewer ice cream references than usual, but I think you'll still get a few laughs out of it. So without further adieu, please welcome Janice!


Who (or what) influenced you to become a writer?
From the time I was a little girl, I always had a creative bent. I loved to sing and dance. I got involved with drama in high school and ended up writing a little play, which we performed. In the late 70s my father moved our family to Los Angeles so that he could get into the movie business, (as a producer). He encouraged me to co-author a screenplay, which I did. In fact, I joined the screenwriter’s guild at age 18. Quite an honor! After I got married and had my children, they showed an interest in theater, too, so I ended up directing and writing musicals for Curtain Call CafĂ© (a Christian theater group). From there, my interests spread to books, and I started publishing fiction for the Christian market. I’ve now published over 80 books, everything from inspirational romance to non-fiction devotionals. I would have to say that my father was a huge influence. He passed away in ’06, but did a lot of writing in his lifetime (both screenplays and lyrics to country songs).


Janice, can you tell us about your latest book project?
Yes, I’m so tickled to share the news about my comedic historical, WEDDING BELLES, which is releasing on May 1st. Most of my readers know that I love to write light-hearted tales, and this one is no different!

What is the story behind this book?
I received a call from editor Susan Downs, who shared an idea she had for a series of books titled “Belles and Whistles.” The books in this series, she explained, must be historical, set in the west, with funny, quirky female characters. Because I write romantic comedy, she thought I would be perfect. I quickly put together a proposal for six books and two were picked up right away: WEDDING BELLES and SLEIGH BELLES. I was commissioned to write WEDDING BELLES first and had a blast doing so! The basic premise for the book was developed before I started writing, but something significant happened along the way to change my plans drastically. I needed a sneaky reason for Lottie Sanders (my heroine) to bring a group of women to Estes Park Colorado as potential brides for the town’s men. About a week after I got the contract for this book I went to a local restaurant that happened to be hosting a melodrama during the dinner hour. As I watched the drama take place, I realized this was my answer! Lottie would write and direct a melodrama to raise funds for Parker Lodge (owned by the young man she secretly loves). Out of that came the rest of this fun, melodramatic tale!

Can you share the “official” synopsis?
Lottie Sanders would do just about anything for the man she secretly loves. When Gilbert Parker suggests they put on a play to draw people to his family’s lodge, he begs Lottie to direct it. Lottie agrees to help, but is also worried if they cannot pull this off, Gilbert and his family will lose the lodge — and she will lose him. When the local single men look at this as an opportunity to catch a bride, they secretly hatch their own drama to win the hearts and hands of the actresses.


Why did you choose to write this book under the name Janice Hanna, instead of Janice Thompson?
Ooo, great question! I write most of my contemporary novels (like the WEDDINGS BY BELLA series) under Thompson and historicals (like the LOVE FINDS YOU books) under Hanna. My maiden name is Hanna, and I love to write under that name to honor my father, who passed away in ’06. I think he would have been very proud of this particular book.

Is there any connection between the WEDDINGS BY BELLA series and this one?
Nope. None whatsoever. Just an interesting coincidence with the titles/names.

What’s the deal with the wedding stories? Why do you write so many books with wedding themes?
My four daughters (all in their late 20s/early 30s) got married within four years of each other. Talk about wedding chaos! At writer’s conferences I’ve been told to “write what you know” and I certainly know weddings. I worked for a short while as a wedding coordinator and have catered many a wedding and/or bridal shower. It just makes sense to keep my writing wedding-themed, as much as possible!

What are Reviewers saying about WEDDING BELLES?
I just found out that Romantic Times gave the book a four-star rating. Woo-hoo! Here’s what the reviewer said:

Hanna’s Belles and Whistles series launch is filled with mayhem, drama and, of course, romance. The characters are engaging, witty and willing to do what they need to get what they want. Hanna’s magical touch ensures the book brims with laughter, charm and style.

Reviewed By: Patsy Glans
What outside interests do you have?
People might be surprised to hear this, but I bake cakes. Wedding cakes. Shower cakes. Birthday cakes. You name it, I bake it. In fact, I was once asked by a local restaurant to bake cakes for them.

Cute cover! What’s the story behind it?
My heroine, Lottie, is a tomboy. She’s not much for dresses. In fact, she wears pants most of the time. The men in Estes Park make it their mission to get Lottie “gussied up and lookin’ like a lady” as the story progresses. Of course, she’s still pretty attached to her cowgirl boots, so giving those up isn’t an option. I love the cover, because it merges the boots with the wedding dress.

How much research went into this story?
I drove to Estes Park while working on this book. Even though I had been many times before, I needed to see the area again so that I could envision it through Lottie’s eyes. The wonderful people at the Estes Park Museum spent a great deal of time with me, talking about the history of the area and pointing me to just the right research books to write. So, I would like to think I’ve got most of the historical elements right. I added the Stanley Hotel, of course, and the Stanley Steamer. But the setting for my story is Parker Lodge (which is completely fictional). Because I’m passionate about photography, I took dozens of pictures of the area. I particularly enjoy my trek up into Rocky Mountain National Park, where I did my best to absorb all I could about the scenery.

What are some of the most interesting things you found about this subject that you weren’t able to use in the story?
I learned a lot about the health benefits of living in Colorado! Did you know that Freelan Stanley (the man who designed/built the Stanley Hotel) came to Colorado at his doctor’s recommendation because he had tuberculosis? His health improved dramatically while in Estes Park.

What inspired and surprised you while you were writing the book?
I was directly inspired by the team of actors and actresses (here in Texas) who performed the melodrama. That little “spark” of inspiration completely changed the layout of my story and allowed me to tap into one of my strengths: directing. Many people don’t know that I spend part of my time working as a director at a local Christian theater and I love anything and everything about putting on shows.

What do you hope the reader takes away from the story?
Two things: I hope they see Lottie as the precious girl she is. I also hope they learn that perceptions are just that. . .perceptions. They’re not fact. Sometimes we look at situations and think we’ve got them figured out. When we give them a second look (and a third) we realize we were dead wrong.

What is the next project you’re working on?
I’m currently writing a novel titled LET THEM EAT CAKE, which is part of the new WEDDINGS BY DESIGN series from Revell Publishing. Many of my readers know me as the “Bella” author (from the WEDDINGS BY BELLA series). In this new series, readers can catch up with Bella, DJ and the whole gang!

What do you do when you have to get away from the story for a while?
I spend time with my grandbabies. I have six darling grandbabies with number seven on the way.

God has really been moving in your writing life. What do you see on the horizon?
I feel so incredibly blessed at this particular season in my life. I’ve been through several hard things over the past several years, but through it all, God has been right there, walking me through one book project, then another. He has used the writing to bring healing in so many areas, and I’m so grateful for that! I’ve made Ephesians 3:20 – 21 my life verse:  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. God IS able to do so much more than I could ask or think, and He keeps proving that to me. In spite of any weakness on my part (and there’s plenty, trust me), He entrusts me with this gift (writing). I will use it to His glory as long as He allows.

Please give us the first page of the book.

A Reckoning in the Rockies
Estes Park, prepare to be razzle-dazzled! Parker Lodge, located on the beautiful Fall River, continues to offer the best entertainment in town. This month’s event is certainly no exception. Join us this coming Friday evening, April 27, for a rousing performance by local musician Jeb Otis, who will play several well-known ballads and folk tunes on his saw. Otis, who hails from the Estes Valley region, will be appear- ing at the lodge for one night only, performing before a packed house. C’mon out and share in an evening of fine food, rousing entertain- ment, and heartfelt fellowship. Front-row seating for the first ten guests to arrive. —Your friends at Parker Lodge
Estes Park, Colorado, 1912
“Jeb Otis says he’s going to jump off Longs Peak and end it all.” “What?” Lottie Sanders looked up from the rippling waters of Fall River into her boss’s worried eyes. “He’s going to end it all? Why-ever would he do that?”

“Oh, you know how he is.” Gilbert Parker plopped down next to her and sighed. “Melodramatic. Always wanting attention. Just like the other men in this town. He’s frustrated because the Widow Baker won’t give him the time of day, so I guess this is how he plans to remedy the problem.”
“He’s going to remedy the problem by taking his life?” Lottie swallowed hard. “Won’t that defeat the purpose?”
“Who knows?” Gilbert offered a little shrug, and a hint of a smile turned up the edges of his lips. “But if it’s any consolation, I reminded him that he’s got a concert coming up this Friday evening, so maybe he’ll wait till after then to do himself in.”
“One can hope.” Lottie thought about the many times Jeb and the other fellas who frequented the lodge had posed such ludicrous threats. How weary she’d grown of their antics. “What’s it going to take to convince Jeb that he and Althea Baker are as different as night from day, anyway?” she asked. “They would make a terrible match. I’m surprised he can’t see that for himself.”
“True.” Gilbert released a sigh. “But I guess it’s true what they say—love is blind.”
“Mm-hmm.” It’s blind, all right.

How can readers find you on the Internet?
Facebook: Janice Hanna Thompson
Twitter: booksbyjanice
My online courses: www.freelancewritingcourses.com

Where can readers buy this book?
They can email me for an autographed copy: booksbyjanice@aol.com. They can also purchase online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Christianbook.com

Thursday

A Compassionate God

So, it's Thursday... not Monday or Wednesday, the days I said I was going to post. I'd originally planned this post for yesterday, but I was too tired to write it then, which actually is so fitting with the theme of today's blog.

Tuesday I got in a car wreck. Nothing major, just got rear-ended at a red light. Could've been so much worse, and I'm thankful it wasn't, but really, aren't all car wrecks at least a little frustrating? Then yesterday, I managed to lock my keys AND purse inside my trunk, something I've never ever done. I've never locked myself out of anything. I'm usually that annoying person saying, "You have your keys, right? Do you have your keys? Don't shut the door unless you have your keys." But now I've got my Cocker Spaniels beside me, birds singing outside, and life is back to normal. So let the blogging proceed!

Lately God's really laid on my heart this idea of adequacy. I would really encourage you to read through the first few chapters of Hebrews (especially chapters 4 and 5), because I can't put them all here, but there's so much to be said. Chapter 3 discusses the issue of rest, and the means God made to allow His people (us) to enter into that genuine rest, apart from our merits or our own attempts to earn rest. But chapter 4 is what I want to discuss today. It says in verses 14-16:

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are,-- yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

So where am I going with all of this?

Well, what's been rattling around in my heart is this very simple concept that is somehow also very difficult to accept.

Christ cares for you. I mean, really cares for you. He cares so much that he was willing to go from a state of wholeness and perfection and make himself vulnerable to sin, to hardship, to disease. He cares enough that Hebrews 5 says he learned obedience to the Father so that he could become that perfect sacrifice for you, so that he could become the very template for our obedience to him.

But the reason that I'm writing this blog is to ask something. Do you really believe that? I mean, really believe all of it? Because sometimes I do, and other times I only believe it in part.


Here are some of the other things I believe:

1) I have excel at things to feel good about the job I've done.


2) I need people to look up to me and admire my hard work to feel validated.


3) No matter how hard I try, I never feel as if it is enough.


4) I have to keep praying over and over again before it gets through to God.


Let's be real here. I don't like the fact that a little corner of my heart believes these things, but it does. Frankly, I think I was born believing these lies--I certainly have had nothing but support over the years from my parents and family, and I haven't really struggled much for the success I've achieved thus far. So unless you count my failed attempts at any type of athletic activity, my guess is, these are just parts of my personality I've internalized.

But let's look at those verses again.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are,-- yet he did not sin.

Jesus empathizes with you. Did you catch that? He empathizes with me. He became like us not only so that he could be the sacrifice for our sin, not only so he could keep us from hell, but also so he could empathize with our daily struggles, our daily lives.



We serve a compassionate God.

Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

And we can be confident of our purpose in him.

Why is it so important we get this in our heads? Because what we really believe about God, who we really believe he is and how we really believe he perceives us, is how we live our lives. It's how we treat other people and it's how we do ministry. And it definitely affects how we write. How will we ever effectively share God's love with the hurting if we don't even know it ourselves?

What lies do you struggle with when it comes to God's love? What verses and quotes can we use to help reaffirm the truth of who we are in Christ?



Photos from: http://www.ipernity.com/doc/lea.ipernity/4708771, http://www.xweather.org/lightning

Wednesday

Manageable Chunks

Today I got in my first fender bender. My car Amelia is doing fine, considering, but it was pretty unnerving. You always feel like you're going to have a warning for these things, but I was just sitting at a red light like normal, and the people in front of me didn't go whenever the light turned green, and I thought I'd be nice and give them a second.

Not a good idea.

Next thing I know, the lady behind me hits me, and my car's getting pushed forward. I'm fine from all this, except for the somewhat sore neck that I'm hoping improves by tomorrow instead of getting worse. But it was a less than ideal afternoon.

I've had several things floating around in my mind today that I want to blog about, but the thing I can't get away from is this. What do we do when we don't know where to start? I'm going to apply this to writing, but it really can apply to just about anything in life.

The announcers on K-Love this morning were talking about how a study showed that most people don't clean their houses as much as they should because the thought of cleaning the whole thing feels overwhelming. Can you say, "oh, yes"? Haven't we all been there? (If you haven't, don't tell us. We'll either hate you or bribe you to come clean our houses.)



I've been feeling like this with writing my new book lately. I really like how my last book ended up, and I've been spending so much time brainstorming the new one that I felt stuck, like I couldn't come up with anything at the level of my last book. But the thing is, the last book didn't start off at the level it ended up. I worked on it and edited it until it got there. Sometimes deeper moments, surprising scenes, and evocative imagery don't show up until after the first draft. Way after. Comparing a yet-formed idea to something already edited is just not fair to that fragile, budding new idea.

Then one of my fellow Alley Cats, Julia Reffner, mentioned something that really stuck with me. She said she felt God telling her, "WRITE YOUR STORY," and He will teach you what you need to know.

How can I learn if I am not producing something to learn from? 

So many times we get paralyzed in life because we are afraid of failure, and this definitely happens with writing. But don't hold your first draft to such a high standard that you can't produce it in the first place.

What was K-Love's solution to the cleaning problem? They said the experts suggest you create manageable chunks. Set a timer and clean your house one room at a time, for several minutes at a time.

The same applies to writing. Sherrinda did a great post at The Writer's Alley today about #1k#1hr, which means you try to write 1,000 words in one hour. I did this yesterday and was amazed at the results! If you're struggling to fulfill the calling you know God has placed on your heart, set more manageable goals and trust Him to do the rest. Because if you keep looking at the height of the mountain, you won't be able to pray your way up. You've got to take one step at a time and pray you won't fall off. ;)

Do you ever struggle with feeling overwhelmed in life or in your writing? How do you manage the goals you set for yourself?


*Photos from http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_6789698_write-book-one-chapter-time.html, http://carusoblog.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83453d8b869e20115707a55d7970c-popup, http://www.artisticflowerarrangements.com/blog/2009/03

Sunday

The Meet

Let's talk today about that moment that sometimes frustrates writers but hooks readers, the thing the rest of your book hinges upon and that contests, agents, and editors all judge you upon.

The meet.

Which usually happens in the first chapter of a romantic book.

Sometimes writers complain about the typical romance structure feeling formulaic, and as a writer, to a certain extent I can understand that, because you may feel limited in what your creativity can do. And let's not forget there are exceptions to the "rule" (such as Sleepless in Seattle). If you think your story could be an exception, go for it! But most stories aren't exceptions, and for good reasons.

Because as much as writers may think they want to break with tradition, the formula exists for a reason. It works. As a reader of a lot of Christian romances, I can tell you that I have put many of them down after feeling frustrated by the story. A good rule to follow is that if something doesn't feel fun to you to write, it probably won't feel fun for someone else to read. But even if it is fun for you to write, that doesn't necessarily mean someone will want to read it. You have to prove to readers that your story rocks. And one way to do that is through establishing a really great "meet" between your hero and heroine. When a reader sees chemistry between the two main characters, it will make him or her want to keep reading! Looking back, I realize that some of my own favorite books held my interest because they had such a great first meet, and then had me wishing throughout the whole book that the hero and heroine could have that kind of moment again. In many ways, this mirrors the basic doctrine of Christianity, if you think about it. We were in perfect communion with God, we fell away from that, and we've been longing for it ever since. And isn't that what Christian fiction should do, demonstrate to the world the relationship between Christ and the church?

So here are a few ways you can keep your "first meet" interesting...

1) The spark. We want to see the "it" factor when we read. We want to think, "Oh yeah. I remember that that feels like," and we want our heart to skip a beat as we live vicariously through this heroine who's just found a major hottie.

2) The conflict. You need a reason to keep your hero and heroine from falling in love immediately, and we need a reason to worry. If the spark is really as true as you make us think it is, then these two people need some major obstacles to keep them from a relationship. If you can find a way to incorporate the conflict/obstacles into this first meet scene, all the better for your book because we know right off the bat what they're up against.

3) The need. Running opposite the conflict you set up, you need a force that pulls the hero and heroine together. It can be simple thing, like being neighbors, or a more complicated thing, like an arranged marriage. But if we don't have the assurance that the hero and heroine are going to be in regular contact with each other (resulting in more conflict and obstacles, of course), we won't want to keep reading. So be sure you build this element in early on, maybe even into your "meet" scene.

What questions do you have about these things? Do you like writing the first meet?

Wednesday

The Call

First of all, I want to send out a big congratulations all the 2012 ACFW Genesis Contest semifinalists, especially my fellow Alley Cats who made the cut: Cindy, Pepper, and Casey! I am so proud of you and am cheering you on!

But some of you did not make that cut. And this blog is for you. This is not the blog I’d planned to write today. But throughout the afternoon, my perspective changed, and I want to be sensitive to that because I suspect many of you are feeling the same way.

As I’m sure many of you already know, the results of the ACFW Genesis contest have been released. As the day rolled by yesterday, I found myself checking my phone more and more often. What began as a casual, “Oh, are the results being released this week?” turned into me jumping every time my phone made the slightest noise, or even lit up in my purse. Could that be it? I kept thinking. Could that be . . . the call?

Moment of transparency: I really thought I was going to semifinal. Last year I semifinaled, and have since signed with an amazing agent, so it only seemed logical I would semifinal again. And I’ll be honest, I had hopes of making it further than that. Don’t we all? So when the only phone calls I got were from a bogus home security company, let’s just say I was a bit rocked.

As in, I drove through McDonalds for French fries and changed into my fuzzy pajamas as soon as possible.

I don't handle failure well. I was always the kid who studied the spelling words she already knew, whose good grades contributed to her confidence. Yes, I realize the contest is subjective and it doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. I’m sure the rest of you who didn’t semifinal know the same thing. But that knowledge doesn’t chase away the feelings of insecurity and doubt that come knocking on our heart’s door, does it?

But as I sat back and thought about it, and as I considered what I would write for this blog, a thought hit me.

Who’s call am I most worried about? A judge’s, or God’s?

The space you enter when you approach failure, disappointment, and discouragement is the space that defines who you will become as a writer. Are you concerned with the praise of others, or with the praise of God? Who are you writing for? Whose story are you telling?

If you are here, reading this, it’s probably because God has called you to write. So look at the feedback you receive with an open heart, continue improving in the craft, and seek critiques whenever you can. It’s okay to need encouragement from other writers and to seek a mentor. But at the end of the day, know where the treasure of your calling lies. With God. And with God, all things are possible, through Him who loves us and has called us according to His purpose.

Philippians 1:16: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

How do you handle the inevitable disappointments of the writing life? How can we use these things to strengthen our approach to writing and stories, and to glorify God?

Sunday

Evoking Empathy

Something I've really been working on in my writing lately is creating more empathetic characters. My agent recently gave me a piece of advice that really resonated with me: readers want to imagine themselves as your heroine.

Of course they do! Seems like common sense, right? So why do I look for this characteristic as a reader but not necessarily as a writer? As a novelist, I get so concerned with voice and plot-oriented planning that sometimes I totally loose track of the real heartbeat behind a book: the characters.

If you don't believe your characters, your readers won't either.

I'd be willing to bet many of you are writers today because of fictional characters who impacted your life in a non-fiction way. I know I am! For me, I'd always loved reading, but my first experience with a character who really resonated with me was Robin Jones Gunn's Christy Miller series. I can remember waking up early some days (a big feat for me!) because I was so excited to read these book. I can remember sitting in my bedroom for four hours at a time, devouring the romance between Todd and Christy and wishing for my own Todd to come along. Many of you probably had the same experience with Todd and Christy. And then years later, when the Katie Weldon series came out, I literally sat in that same bedroom with tears streaming down my face as I "caught up" with these old friends who meant so much to me.

That is the kind of character writing we should strive for as writers. So as you're working on your writing projects this week, remember that characters who impact (and sell well, for that matter) are characters who we care about. So what if something terrible happens to them if we don't like the characters? If characters are well-sketched, something as simple as a difficult phone call can be more impacting than something tragic loss in the family.

Make us feel their pain and their joy, their struggles and their triumphs. We want to rejoice when they succeed and cry when they fail. Think about The Help and how this story accomplishes these things so successfully.

Now that is the mark of a really good story.

Thursday

What It Means to Write Christian Fiction


My most recent book is a redemptive story where the heroine initially thinks God has forgotten about her as a result of the mistakes she's made in life, and then finds healing as she realizes her conception of God's mercy has been wrong so many years. Because of this, the scene where the heroine reconciles her relationship with God is very openly Christian in its framework... I list Bible verses, and she goes through steps of spiritual healing. But much of the rest of the book is more thematic in its Christian content.

So as I'm working on plotting my latest project, I'm contemplating where the heroine is on her spiritual journey and am considering making her more "Christian" from the outset, because I think it suits her character well.

I have read several books by writers like Robin Jones Gunn that are clearly geared toward equipping a Christian audience, and when written well (as in the case of any of Robin's books), these stories have really impacted me to deepen my own faith.

But I have also read books where the Christian thread feels so artificial that I wish the author would've just left it out. You've probably heard this joke before, but is it really "Christian fiction" just because someone gets saved in the ending?

Because this is such a hot button topic, I'd love to hear what you think. What makes Christian fiction "Christian" to begin with? Is it Christian themes? Verses quoted? Christian characters? As a reader, are you willing to read "secular" romances so long as they are clean? And second, if you're a writer, what category of Christian fiction do you find yourself drawn more towards?


*Photo taken from http://edit911.com/2012/02/christian-fiction-secular-fiction/

Monday

Immeasurably More...




Ephesians 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his great power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Photo from http://godlivesandloves.tumblr.com/post/9586377482/now-to-him-who-is-able-to-do-immeasurably-more

Wednesday

That Lightbulb Moment

I'm having a hard time concentrating. That's because there's a lovely-smelling soy candle burning beside me that transports my mind to Hawaii, and because there's a little icon on Cara Putman's face looking at me from the "recently downloaded" file folder at the bottom of my screen. Speaking of Cara Putman, her newest novel, A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, released this week, and if you haven't already done so, you should splurge and go buy yourself a copy. The setting is fabulous, and Cara's a great writer. A review will be forthcoming once I finish the story!

Isn't the cartoon at the right hilarious? I was looking for the perfect brainstorming clip art, and let's just say it found me. Something about the largeness of this guy's head gives me the giggles.

Today I thought I'd ask your input on something I've been struggling with all afternoon. Brainstorming! In the past, I've always been blessed to have about seven book ideas in cue mentally at all times, so I've never really had to fish for a new concept. But I'm trying to push myself and branch out a bit, and let's just say, coming up with something from scratch is hard! Have you all experienced this? Here are some pointers I've found either work well for me, or I've heard work well for other people:

1) Don't try so hard. This is a big thing for me. When I'm fretting over finding a perfect idea, my creativity takes a hike. If I casually think about stories while, say, I'm driving or taking a walk (or buying unnecessary shoes), it seems that the ideas flow so much easier.

2) Look to news stories for inspiration. I haven't tried this one myself, but in a workshop I once attended, James Scott Bell explained that he got the inspiration behind the opening scene of one of his books (I think it was Try Dying) from a real news story that he found very moving.

3) If you know the setting or target audience, familiarize yourself with it. If you're going to write YA, check out YA websites. If you're writing historical, try to visit historical sites near your town that might jog your creativity.

4) When all else fails, just sit down and write. Doesn't matter if it's good. Doesn't matter if you use those exact sentences. If you write long enough, you'll likely stumble into something great, and you'll also have already coached yourself to write past the doldrums.

5) Talk through your ideas with a critique partner, a good friend, or a chatty Starbucks barista. Sometimes working through something verbally is the best way to get things flowing in your mind.

I want to hear from you! How do you get ideas for your books, and how to you go beyond writer's block on those days when your creativity seems to be stuck?