~ By Rebecca Grace Allen
Let’s be brutally honest here: 2016 totally stunk. As a writer and, well, a human, I struggled on every level. My creativity shuddered to a halt. I hit a massive writers block. My relationships suffered. I gained ten pounds. There were times when I wondered why I was doing this whole writing thing in the first place. Then I remembered, it’s because there are stories bubbling up inside me that I have to tell. Stories that I hope will be timeless, ones that will live on beyond me. And sometimes, to write that kind of timeless tale, I need a little inspiration.
Sometimes I find that inspiration in Shakespeare.
I saw my first live Shakespeare performance when I was 14, in a black box theater in Manhattan. I immediately fell in love—with the language, the costumes, the drama, and how the themes of betrayal, corruption, deception and love still rang true today. In high school English class, I adored reading Hamlet while everyone else rolled their eyes at the iambic pentameter. I became an English major in college, and rushed to enroll in a Shakespeare course, dutifully carrying my 2057 page, coffee-stained Riverside Shakespeare around campus. (I also went to a school where a lot of student-run events took place in a building named Falstaff’s. Eat, drink and be merry, anyone?)
These days, I don’t crack open that old Riverside (which, yes, I still have) all that often, but I do watch movie versions. And I’m still amazed at the timelessness of the stories, the classic romance and angst, and how we continue to make his work relevant by creating modern adaptations of it. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite modern-ish adaptations:
West Side Story (1961)
It’s not modern, but it’s the best variation on Romeo and Juliet in my opinion. (Don’t get me started on the Baz Lurhamn version *shudders*.) The idea of putting those star-crossed lovers from rival families into warring gangs and setting it all to music was just brilliant. As an aside, I once performed in an adaptation called South Shore Story, where the North Shore conservative Jews of Long Island were foes of the South Shore Reformed ones. “I feel frummy, oh so frummy...”
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
This one isn’t a modern take at all, but rather what I consider a perfect portrayal of exactly what The Bard intended. The performances are perfect—I heart Kenneth Branagh’s “Love meeeee! Why?” Plus it’s got Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington and Robert Sean Leonard.
Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)
I’ve always loved this comedy of errors, and the idea of characters falling in love with the wrong characters only to finally end up with the right ones. That’s what romance is made of, right? And with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck, how can you go wrong?
Modern setting, techno music, classic language, and Ethan Hawke. Did I mention Ethan Hawke? Oh, and yeah, Ethan Hawke.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This modern version of the Taming of the Shrew will always be one of my favorites. Classic 90’s. Classic Shakespeare. And Classic *sigh* Heath Ledger.via GIPHY
Now in 2017, I think of myself, and all the rest of us writers, contributing to the collective cannon of literature. It’s a tough time in the world out there, and I know now, more than ever, we creative types have to keep creating. After all, it wasn’t easy in Shakespeare’s time—bear-bating and no indoor plumbing!—and he kept writing. We can keep writing, too.
Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! A caffeine addict, gym rat, wife, and fur-mommy, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her newest release, TAMING SUGAR, is a modern day, BDSM, Taming of the Shrew, and releases on January 19, 2017.
FoodGreece being Greece, the book naturally has a lot of scenes with food. One of my characters, after having been away from Greece for six years, returns and is served snails. In the original scene, that's it. A relative is cooking snails. But thanks to an actual experience in my cousin's kitchen, the scene now has the added flare of a snail climbing out of the pot.
Then, to my delight, I got my hands on some family recipes, including the recipe for a cake that appears in the opening scene of the second book of the trilogy.
Around the Village
In my fictional world, the village bakery is owned by protagonist Katerina's family.
Here's the real thing, complete with dakos.
On a whim, I decided to tell the real-life baker that I was writing a book about a Cretan bakery and asked if I could look in the back. She gave me a quick tour, but wouldn't allow photos.
Still, I now have a better idea of what I'm writing about.
Then there's the village museum, old church and school where protagonist Evi spends time with Mathaios.
Whenever I pass through the area, I feel like they're going to show up.
(Note the retsina bottles in the museum window. I haven't decided how to work that into the story, but the possibilities are endless.)
Let's not forget the beach. My characters spend a lot of time there, doing yoga, drinking frappe, taking boat rides, swimming, etc.
The DonkeysAll three books revolve around a fictionalized version of a donkey sanctuary that's in the mountains right above the village. While I was writing the drafts, all I had to go on was the sanctuary's Facebook page. But now I can say that I've actually been there and I've fallen in love with the donkeys and the rescue dogs. Because I've learned what it feels like to hug a donkey (they're so dirty and fly-covered, but it's worth it), I must, must, must rewrite a few of the scenes. I also visited the sanctuary's gift shop, which they use for fundraising. Some of my characters paint rocks and knit toy donkeys, and now my descriptions will be more authentic. As an added bonus, on the way home from the sanctuary, I got to visit a farmer who picked fruit for us and introduced us to his animals. My books are already filled with goats (and sheep, “and stuff”), but now I have this experience to draw on. I can't wait!
The BeesThe second book of the trilogy involves complicated scenes involving beekeeping. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the village beekeeper gives workshops and was thrilled to answer my many questions. In Greek, my name means honeybee. Sorry about the silly selfie, but here I am in front of "my name."
The beekeeper is anxiously waiting to read my books, which may have something to do with the fact that I promised to put him in the acknowledgments.
Whatever the reason, I appreciate the pressure.
The PrettyLastly, I'll leave you with some random but pretty village pictures that are rotating as my desktop wallpaper as inspiration.
Now What?I know that most of my writing won't happen here, but I'm thankful that I've got my photos, my souvenirs, and my memories to keep me going once I leave. I've also got YouTube, so I can close my eyes and pretend I'm there. (Cretan music sounds nothing like "Zorba." It's its own genre.) There you have it! Let's give the science fiction and fantasy writers a run for their money. If you need some inspiration, take some time to build your world. Take or find photos (even make a collage), listen to music (even create a playlist), bake (smell and taste are surprisingly powerful), or do whatever it takes to dive head first into your contemporary yet fictional world.
* How do you build your world? Leave a comment and let us know!Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com
~ By Liat Behr
Podcasts are a hands-free way to learn new things, especially when you’re on the go. Think of them are your own personal radio show, custom-tailored to both your interests and time-slot. If you aren’t yet listening to them, you should be.
Here are my favorite 4 podcasts that will inspire and motivate every writer.
You don’t necessarily have to be a writer to enjoy this podcast. But you do have to be an artist - or one who embraces a creative life.
This podcast is #1 on my list for writers, because as writers we all know what it is to become stuck; we can’t write, we fill with self-loathing, we feel empty, vapid and don’t believe in our creative abilities.These feelings weigh us down and pull us into a downward vortex from which it seems impossible to extricate ourselves. But it’s Elizabeth Gilbert to the rescue. Through her Magic Lessons podcast, and her interviews with amateur writers, artists and even experts, we’re better able to understand the process of creativity which helps us learn to be more patient with ourselves and ultimately helps us crawl out from the depths of despair and triumph to the pinnacles of our creativity.
The Creative Penn is the inspiring and motivating podcast from author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn. It sometimes takes time for Joanna to actually start the interview because she very sweetly acknowledges her listeners’ comments on social media - usually Twitter (so, yes, if you enjoy the podcast take the time to let Joanna know - @thecreativepenn). But when Joanna does get to the podcast, it’s sheer value. You will always learn something new. Joanna meets with different guests - authors, entrepreneurs and other creatives, and together they tackle discussions on the writing process, writing techniques, nifty tools, tips and other helpful information that will inspire and motivate you to become more efficient, productive and better writer.
This Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins is another podcast for creatives, not necessarily writers. But it’s definitely a podcast every writer needs to be listening to.
The crux of the podcast is that as creatives our portfolio consists of many different activities. And that to be a successful creative you must consistently create. So you may writing in addition to creating images (if you’re a photographer or graphic designer) and blogging and travelling - or any number of different things that make up your life. Jeff Goins, master blogger and writer chats with creatives to learn how they’re making a living from their life’s portfolio, talks about their passions and struggles. Listening to this podcast you’ll gain insight and perspective into making your work and our world more rich and exciting.
Writing Excuses is the podcast with the most comic tagline - “fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not smart.” The real reason that Writing Excuses is short (a bit longer than 15 minutes but not usually longer than 25) is because listening to this podcast is a great writing excuse - but it’s a short writing excuse to remind you that you took a break from writing only to get back to it with renewed energy. Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler are knowledgeable, intelligent, and entertaining. They do their listeners a great service by discussing different elements of the story - what works and what doesn’t, conducting great interviews, and fielding questions from their audience - but not all at the same time. You can however consistently count on them for a thoughtful and inspiring prompt as well as a book recommendation.
Longform was recommended to me by my friend and columnist Tiffanie Wen. It’s a podcast of compelling conversations with journalists, authors and editors. At times it focuses on reporting experiences, other times it will give you a rich insider’s view of the writing life. Alternating Longform hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky and Evan Ratliff are skilled interviewers. And every single time you finish listening to this podcast, you will walk away feeling fascinated, excited and inspired to keep writing. Because though the writer’s life is not a glamorous one, it is exciting and authentic living that will always lead to surprises.
I know I said 4, but here’s a bonus podcast from Melina (aka Melissa):Alastair Stephens is just one of the many podcasts produced by StoryWonk. Any podcast from StoryWonk will help you spark your imagination improve your craft. But The Journeyman Writer delivers bite-sized writing tips and answers your burning questions about storytelling, industry, and your life as a writer in a straight to the point format. Note: While you're checking out StoryWonk, grab a drink and listen to Will Write for Wine, the podcast that preceded the StoryWonk empire. You'll learn as much about craft as you would from graduate school, but you'll laugh your heart out while you're studying. Trust me.
* Do you listen to podcasts? Which have helped you? *Liat Behr is a copywriter, novelist, and blogger. When she's not writing she's either reading, learning a new skill or listening to a podcast. Her evening hours are devoted to her family who love her pizza and sushi but hate just about everything else. You can visit her on her blog - The Behr Truth at http://liatbehr.com/.
1. Sam without a shirt on.(I could stop here, because seriously, do you need more reasons than that?)
2. Dean’s expressions.Dean is the soldier of the two brothers, powering through no matter what, but he’s also the comic relief. And whether he’s smiling, laughing or crying, Dean makes some of the best faces out there. I sometimes work on writing down the way he looks to practice how characters express emotion. Check out this Buzzfeed post of the top 25 Swoonworthy Dean faces.
3. Real men do cry.Sam and Dean are some of the toughest characters out there. They’ve lost both their parents, as well as their pseudo father figure Bobby Singer. They have both literally been to hell and back. Everything in their worlds wrecks them, so when their emotions break lose, these guys aren’t afraid to cry. And their beautiful crying faces motivate me to write characters whose sadness breaks through in the same way.
4. Smexin.This show has some of the most incredible made-for-TV sex scenes I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for some hot and heavy inspiration, here’s Sam and Ruby. You’re welcome.
5. Angels watching porn.Sam and Dean are both befriend by the angel Castiel in season four, and many of their adventures with Cas have him trying to understand human behavior. I’m always struggling to put a bit of comedy in my books—they’re usually extremely angsty—so I’m always looking for comic inspiration. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything funnier than an angel trying to understand porn.
6. A seriously badass soundtrack.AC/DC to Iron Maiden, Metallica to Led Zeppelin, and even nabbing Kansas’ “Carry on My Wayward Son” as the theme song, Supernatural is a classic rock lover’s dream. I’ve often pulled songs from it for some of my writing playlists. Even the actors rock out to it.
7. Awesome pop culture references.While the overarching theme of the show is on the dark side, many of the episodes are on the lighthearted side, and the writers are always poking fun at pop culture. This doesn’t necessarily help with my writing in anyway, but it is pretty entertaining! Season 6, episode five is about vampires and is titled “Live Free or Twihard.” One of my favorite episodes, “The French Mistake” has Sam and Dean magically appearing in a world where Supernatural is an actual TV show. There is also more than an occasional reference to the Back to the Future movies. (Thanks to Buzzfeed for this awesome side-by-side comparison.)
8. The concept of brotherhood.I don’t have any siblings, which makes it challenging to write about both sibling rivalry and the bond that exists between brothers. Supernatural has both in spades. Sam and Dean often poke fun at one another, but they will also do absolutely anything for one another. They literally have died for one another. (And come back to life afterward several times over– yay for TV’s reality-bending rules!) Nothing is more important to these two than family, and the actors are really like brothers in real life, which I love. Here they are at Jared’s wedding.
9. “Wink wink, nudge nudge” moments.The writers are always putting in little mentions to current events which break across that fourth wall, such as this awesome line from Crowley, the King of Hell, in Season 11, episode 22. He’s another character you can be inspired by, because he’s a villain and a bit of comic relief all rolled up into one with a lovely accent to boot.
10. Jared’s always keep fighting campaign.Recently, Jared admitted to suffering from depression, and has now become very vocal about it with his Always Keep Fighting Campaign. I’m always impressed when any celebrity speaks up for mental illness, and in recent months, he has spearheaded a bunch of fundraisers. Other cast members from Supernatural have gotten on board with his campaigns as well. If all that’s not enough to get you watching, and maybe gaining some hero-spiration of your own, I don’t know what is. Check back with me this November after I go to my first Supernatural Con! Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a double concentration in Creative Writing and Literary Comparison, as well as a Master of Science in Elementary Education, both of which seemed like good ideas at the time. After stumbling through careers in entertainment, publishing, law and teaching, she’s returned to her first love: writing. A self-admitted caffeine addict and gym rat, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and a cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her new release, The Theory of Deviance, is out on August 2, 2016.
1. PersistenceYes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. You can pout for a day or two (want some Belgian chocolate? a grande margarita?), but then you need to revise your manuscript if there's room for improvement -- and, let's face it, there usually is -- and submit the damn thing again. How many times? Well, IMO, until you get the answer you want to hear.
2. A Killer Work EthicBe responsible. Get done what you say you're going to do. Or, to quote the wisdom of one of my favorite fortune cookies: "Always over-deliver & under-promise. (Lucky Numbers: 28, 29, 16, 52, 38, 14)" It's stunning how often people don't follow through. Unless a family or health crisis prevents you -- because, on rare occasion, there ARE legitimate reasons for not finishing a project on time -- show how incredible you are by not being a slacker.
3. Creative ThinkingThere will be moments when readers won't get your story's humor (trust me on this) or like your "unusual premise" or relate to your offbeat characters/plot/narrative style. Still, don't play it safe and write something that doesn't have a shread of risk in it. Use your imagination. You're special. It'strue, you REALLY are. Show us your unique vision in some way.
4. OptimismYes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. (Do you hear an echo?) I'm not advocating rampant Pollyanna-ism. It's useful to see the world as realistically as you're able...BUT, there's no need to be the Loudest and Most Insistent Voice of Doom in the Tri-State either. You're allowed to grumble sometimes. (Though, if at all possible, try to avoid tactless ranting on social-media sites, okay?) But then, if there's any kind of a bright side or silver lining to be found, please try to find it. It'll most likely make you feel better, and it'll most certainly make other people more inclined to want to lend you a hand.
5. CuriosityWhat do you care about? What are your passions? What makes life worth living, in your opinion? If you can't answer these questions, for heaven's sake, don't work on a manuscript right now. Go out into the world and experience some of life until you DO know. Ask yourself, "What if?" Ask other people, "Why?" and "How?" and "Then what happened?" When you're bursting with something you just have to try to express, THEN go home and write about those sensations, thoughts, emotions, situations and complications... Attempt to write what you care about so passionately that it inspires curiosity in others. And above all, Aspiring Writer, hang in there. It's a long road, this journey of ours, but you can do it. Here's wishing you the fulfillment of your every literary dream~ Marilyn p.s. I don't think my list of gifts is an exhaustive one. What qualities would YOU give to other writers? Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato.
Are there any songs that have taught you about craft and story-telling? Leave a comment and let us know!Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.