This week I’d like to share with you the convoluted and not always easy process of developing your story idea — the one that’s been rattling around in your head, waiting to be written. Ideas are pretty easy to come up with, but organizing the storyline, the characters, the conflict, and the action take a lot more doing! Your brilliant idea must now evolve to create situations to introduce your characters. Where is this great story idea going?
It’s not as easy as just letting your imagination flow and letting it go where it takes you. From the introduction, to the drama, to the conflicts, and their final resolutions, a finished product must follow a set of rules for your story to be the great success you’d like it to be. I’ve talked about those rules in previous blogs, so today I’d like to tell you how my “brilliant idea” became the finished book I hope you will all read someday!
I like to write adventure stories with a touch of magic. Myths that are part of our world’s culture and legends have always intrigued me, so that is what I choose to write about. It’s important for you to write about what interests you, whether it’s science fiction, romance, or a thinly disguised autobiography. If your story idea intrigues you, write about that. Be yourself, because that is what will shine through. It’s not a good idea to write something just because you think it might sell. That story won’t have your full involvement, and it will show.
I’m just starting research on the fourth book in my Alex Cort Adventures series. I have a title, and an idea of where the story is going, but I don’t have all the characters “imagined” yet that I will need to tell my story. This is another step for you to think about in developing your story. Who is going to “tell” the story? I use that word with caution, because it is very important to show what happens in a scene while the action is commencing, not just tell about what happened after the fact.
Secrets of the Crystal Skulls, my third story in the series, takes place just after Atlantis is destroyed by a sorcerer. I have an ensemble of characters I like to include in every story, so I already know that adventurer Alex Cort, archaeologist Andrew Seaton, and a young woman named Angel, who calls herself a witch, are going to be involved. My stories wrap around these characters, and each of them contribute to the action of the story with their own points of view. If you only have one book planned, even if you plan a series, it is important to create “character arcs” that show how your character(s) evolve and grow. How will they be different, better, wiser, than they were in the beginning of your story? Conflict and Character Arcs are two subjects your editors will mention to you often. Be sure to include both!
The other characters you will need are those who bring conflict: How do they connect to your main character? How to best introduce a romantic partner? It’s hard not to give too much away in the beginning. It’s important to sprinkle “backstory” bits of information about your characters throughout, not just dump in a paragraph or two at the beginning. Weave this personal information you created for your characters into the storyline. It isn’t always simple, but it is important to lead your readers into becoming involved with, and care about, your characters.
When writing is a joy, you’ll never have writer’s block!
Video: Alex Cort Adventures, Book 3: Secrets of the Crystal Skulls
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Readers often ask me how I come up with my characters. So, here are some character development tips based on how I do it. It’s pretty interesting how it happens!
My story, like A Shadow Away, starts with a myth or legend that interests me. That legend determines what country (real or imagined) the story will take place in. I’m also interested in archaeology, science, magic and metaphysics, so I weave those elements into my stories as well. Those decisions lead me to outline events, actions, mysteries, problems — and the people who will be needed to experience the “drama.”
Character Development Examples
My characters evolve from the story I want to tell. My three favorite characters appear in each story of my “Alex Cort Adventures” series, starting with A Shadow Away.
First is Alex. He loves adventure, has a curiosity about this world, and isn’t afraid of danger. Magic is a mystery to him (not to me), and he finds himself attracted to a woman who mystifies and unsettles him. It’s up to Alex to get Andrew out of trouble when he gets over-enthusiastic.
Dr. Andrew Seaton is an eccentric British archaeologist who’s always getting himself into trouble. He gives me the chance to take us all on expeditions and searches for long-lost treasures. With him, I can share what I’ve learned over the years with my long-time interest in archaeology. Andrew’s approach is scientific, but he loves legends and superstitions, so he adjusts to magic pretty easily. With him I can write about everything from science to superstition.
Last, but certainly not least, is Angel. She calls herself a witch and has her own kind of magic. With Angel I can write about magic, fantasy, and the supernatural.
As for how they got their names, they named themselves. And each has their own point of view to add to the scenes of the story. When I have to come up with answers to a glitch in the plot, the most amazing thing happens when I am stumped for a solution. Time and again, it’s one of the characters who comes up with the answer. I can’t give them all the credit, though! Another solution for a glitch in the plot is to reverse the scene, or characters, or give the problem to a different character. Seeing it from a different perspective sometimes provides the clue I need for a solution to keep the story moving.
Creating a Villain
The villains vary, depending on the location and plot of the individual stories. In A ShadowAway, Andrew’s corrupt colleague and a black-market art thief want the jeweled statue linked with the lost city of El Dorado for themselves. The second book, All Under Heaven, for another example, has a sorcerer, a magician, mythical elemental dragons, and a ghost. They are all fun to write about, and I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I did writing them!
I hope you have a happy summer. Whether you travel, or stay home with some time for yourself — take A Shadow Away with you for an adventure in your imagination!
Video: How Do You Go About Writing a Book?
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This week, I would like to talk about my favorite instrument — the banjo. I’ve always loved the sound of bluegrass music, and I always listen for breaks with the banjo solos. Some tunes call for bands to play at blazing speeds. I like listening to them, but that’s not the kind of music I enjoy playing myself. I like some rhythm in my tunes, a little slower pace with syncopation — that’s my kind of music!
If you play the banjo, or just love the sound of it, Tom Adams is my hero. I absolutely love the way he plays. He also writes original tunes, and I liked so many of them that I got his whole book of tunes, with accompanying tablature. They’re better suited for intermediate to advanced banjo players ’cause they’re not easy, but I do love every tune! If you’re interested in learning more about Tom Adams, you can find him at www.AdamsCountyBanjo.com. I’m not promoting him, I’m just a fan!
Comedian Steve Martin also plays a mean banjo, and he is one of the guys who inspired me to learn. He plays fast, three-finger style too, but the last time I saw him, he played the clawhammer style. Clawhammer is okay, but for me, I prefer the sound of the three-finger style.
I still love my violin and playing Irish music on the fiddle, too. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to pursue music right now, because I am very involved in the marketing and publishing process of A Shadow Away, the first book of my “Alex Cort Adventures” series. In addition, I have just completed my second book, All Under Heaven, a time-traveling adventure in ancient China, with a sorcerer who controls mythical dragons and wants to force my hero, Alex, to find the enchanted cauldron of the First Emperor of China. It is now going to the copyeditor/proofreader and will be released in the fall of 2018. The third book, Secrets of the Crystal Skulls, a different take on the legend of Atlantis, is now entering the editing phase, so that it can be released in the spring of 2019. As wonderful as my stories are, there is always a bit of editing needed to make sure they are “perfect” for you to read and enjoy.
Again, all that editing and correcting and copyediting and proofreading takes time! And that’s why I don’t have time right now for my banjo, or anything else, really. If I play a little, then don’t get back for a while, I forget the progress I made and have to start all over again. That’s happened to me at least three times, and it’s very frustrating! I learned a beautiful boss nova tune on the guitar — and now it’s completely gone from my brain. Muscle memory is very interesting, because my fingers can remember parts of the tune even if I can’t. That’s why practice and repetition are so-o-o-o important!
Music is a part of my life, and always will be. It gives me joy, and a sense of accomplishment when I learn a new piece. I’m happy to say that while I will still be involved in my weekly blogs, writing articles, and doing radio interviews, I have scheduled time for my music in a way that I can still write my fourth book, The Black Horseman, set in Ireland, which will be released in the fall of 2019.
I hope you all enjoy music of some kind in your lives, too.
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Imagine you’ve just finished the perfect novel and edited it yourself way more than once. But even when you think you’re done—you’re not done. Now comes the professional editing portion of your writing program. In today’s post, I hope to shed some light on the book editing process, and all of the various book editing services out there.
You can always have friends and family read what you wrote, but they aren’t professionals, and besides, they care for you, so you can’t count on getting workable feedback you can use to improve your writing. And your writing can be improved, no matter how attached you are to your brilliant ideas!
After I finished what became known as the “First Draft” of A Shadow Away, I researched editors for a professional opinion—and found there are about five different kinds. Be specific when you look for an editor. Ask about their experience and training, and it’s important to know what genre they specialize in, so they will have an affinity for your work. Be aware of untrained editors, because they could actually do more harm than good. Get recommendations from your writing group or someone who’s been down the road before you, and check their work.
I started with a Content Editor to make sure my story flowed, with no holes in the plot. She also checked that my characters were strong individuals, and that the voice and setting of my story were all written well.
After I made corrections based on her comments and suggestions, I was ready to engage a Copy Editor for another go-round of re-writing any mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. Luckily, I have a good grasp of the nuances of the English language, but my biggest trouble is knowing exactly where commas should go. They are peskier and not so obvious as I once thought!
A Line Editor is a good choice for you if self-publishing is your goal. They combine the jobs of both Copy and Content Editing, so you’re getting two editors for one, which is a good thing if you’re on a budget. A Line Editor will thoroughly check your manuscript word by word.
After all the editing and rewriting, you are now ready for a Proofreader. Their job is to find any mistakes that may have been overlooked in each of the editing processes. I know, right? You’d think your manuscript has been edited to death, but mistakes do creep through no matter how diligent you and your editors are. So always be on the lookout for new errors!
The final rewriting begins after Beta Readers review your book. They shouldn’t be professionals in the publishing business. You can prepare a list of questions for them if you like, then check sites online where you can find beta readers willing to give an honest assessment of your work. The best are avid readers in your genre.
You are probably wondering what all this is going to cost. Find out whether the editor or proofreader charges by the word or the number of pages, and whether they offer a package deal for second edits and proofreading. Be sure of all your costs up front—and get it in writing first!
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Preparation for recording video interviews begins long before the camera rolls!
When I began my book marketing efforts for the first book in my magical adventure series, A Shadow Away, I had no idea what to expect for my first on camera interview. I soon learned that, several days before the actual taping, I needed to decide on a topic for the interview. What questions would I be asked? How should I prepare the best answers for what I wanted to say? How can I remember it all?!
Even after answering many of the same questions multiple times, I found I didn’t want to prepare cookie-cutter answers. I love my book, A Shadow Away. The storyline is an exciting adventure, and the characters have come alive for me. I love to listen in on their conversations, and they are people I enjoy spending time with. So, I want my answers to show my excitement about the story. I draw pictures with words to let readers feel what it’s like to hike through a Brazilian jungle and lose themselves in a magical world of their imagination.
It’s easy for me to do on paper/computer, but how to condense that feeling into thirty-second responses for video? It’s a challenge! Here are 5 ideas to help you prepare for your 15 minutes of fame:
Especially on TV, it is important to maintain a high level of excitement to capture the audience, and your host. Emphasis on keywords adds interest. Remain poised, because how you present yourself is as important as the words you use to express yourself.
Make bullet points of topic responses, rather than scripted dialogue. Get the general gist down, then try to let the answers flow. Review the answers you expect to be asked early and often! Take time to get them into your head, so they become automatic.
On camera, look at your host when you speak. Engage them in your conversation. They are people, too, and appreciate it when you recognize them. Use their name, and be gracious.
Do some vocal exercises beforehand. When you see actors in movies preparing with “mee mee mee/maa maa maa,” etc., it does help to open your mouth, so you can be understood more clearly when you’re speaking in front of the camera later on.
Practice loosening up your throat if you have trouble speaking. I spend most of my time in front of a computer, so I can go long periods without speaking at all. I was given very good advice to lower my voice an octave. Doing that really does take the strain off vocal cords!
I will have to take my own advice several more times, because my “Alex Cort Adventures” is scheduled to launch at least 6 books in the series!
Well, there you have it. Really, the hard part is preparing for your interview. The day before, put all you’ve been doing out of your mind, and relax. When interview day comes, briefly run over your thoughts to remember the flow. And when the lights go on, have an interesting conversation with your host. Good Luck!
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Hello! Summer is here and it’s time to plan some summer vacation fun! If you decide to take a trip, I want to share a few tips with you. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer, or about to set out on your first journey of adventure, traveling is a great experience. It can also be an important way to learn interesting things about our country or this world, the people, and their cultures.
Don’t rush! Spend time to fully experience everything you can about the location you’ve chosen to visit. You will have so many more happy memories!
Here are my tips for you:
Take advantage of travel during non-peak periods, if you plan to travel later in the year. Costs are usually less for everything from flights and accommodations, to entrance fees and attractions. And, there are fewer crowds.
Baby Boomer tip: Use any discounts you qualify for. One of the perks of being a senior citizen is the wide range of travel discounts that are now available to you.
Go for longer visits. Spend time at your destination. Plan to see just one city, or country, and experience it more thoroughly. That’s the best way to soak in the local flavor.
You might appreciate someone else making the arrangements, and group travel provides security for solo travelers, or if you’re not confident about planning all the details on your own. Groups eliminate worries about finding transportation, missing an important site, or not speaking the language, if you are traveling abroad.
If you prefer to go it alone, it’s important to do your research: Decide on your destination, then search the Internet for flights; browse hotel and restaurant reviews, and read up on what to see in the places you’re planning to visit. Preparing can be part of the fun of travel, too! If you have any concerns about getting around or being able to visit popular sites, look for day tours with reliable companies, especially those offering front-of-the-line access, or other methods for avoiding the crowds.
And last, seek out new experiences. Make a to-do list for your visit — and when you’re there, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
I hope these tips give you insights and inspiration. Safe travels!
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You’ve done all your research for your story — now what? In today’s post, I will show you how to create a storyboard for a book.
When you’ve completed your research, the next thing to do is create a “Beat Sheet.” It’s a way to organize your story into a sequence of events. Each action is a “Beat” that you can write down on a legal-sized notepad. It doesn’t have to be a whole sentence. Just jot down the action points of your story. I keep my notepad as a back-up, to compare my first ideas with what I come up with later in this process. When you’re done, use those beats to create sentences and paragraphs, and you’ve created your “Outline.”
Don’t panic! You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” There are many book and online sites by reputable authors willing to show you how to structure your story and develop your characters. There are formulas about how a story should be told, and it’s best to learn the rules before you decide to break them!
Now that you’ve got your outline, it’s time to put all the pieces together. The best way to organize your outline so you can work with it is to create a storyboard. It can be a cork board with pins, or whatever material and size that works for you and your living space. It’s important to choose one big enough to hold all the scraps of your ideas for your book. I chose a white board about 4 feet by 3 feet. It’s large and sits on a heavy-duty easel held by clamps. It’s what works for me.
I didn’t know all this before I wrote A Shadow Away, which was written by a method called “seat of the pants.” I was lucky to have a good background in storytelling for my first book, which leaped from my imagination fully fledged—with revisions, of course. Remember what even a notable author like Steven King said, “Writing is rewriting.”
Before writing my second book, All Under Heaven, where Alex, my hero of the “Alex Cort Adventures” series, is teleported to ancient China, must rescue Andrew and save a doomed ghost, I took time to research “the rules” and found all the things like plot points and structure and beat sheets I’m sharing with you here. And that’s when I learned about storyboards.
I use 70 divisions for my board, divided into the 4 different parts of my storyline: Introduction, Create the Drama, Escalate the Drama, Resolve the Drama with a satisfying ending. To help me find the section I want to work with, I numbered small post-its from 1-10, 11-20, etc. up to 61-70, and stuck them, evenly spaced, on the left side of my board. What’s great about a board set up this way, is that you can shuffle your plot ideas around as new ones come to you or when you need an extra section to expand on a previous idea. It’s very flexible this way, and the board also allows you to scan the flow of your plot after changes, to make sure you’re staying on track.
At first, I just posted my ideas under colored pin-magnets, which you can also get at an office supply store. I didn’t number each note until a friend pointed out how awful it would be if my board got knocked over. I didn’t even want to think about that happening! Previously, I had color-coordinated the four plot parts, but after I got that advice, I numbered every single one of the notes placed in the 70 segments, and paperclipped each segment for double protection. It took some time, because I was nearly through posting my plot ideas, but it’s worth doing for peace of mind.
I hope this idea works for you. It will simplify your life, believe me!
For a more comprehensive tour of my latest storyboard, watch the video below:
Video: How to Create a Storyboard for a Book
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These days many people feel they have a story to tell and want to write a book. If you are one of them and don’t have a clue how to get started, here are five helpful tips for how to start writing a book.
Before everything else, do your homework!
There are several different kinds of research that must be done before you ever sit in front of your computer or pick up that pencil to create your work of art. Learn from others who have gone before you and made mistakes. It’s not necessary to “reinvent the wheel” when published authors want to share tried and proven ways to structure your story and develop your characters. Buying their books is an investment in your future.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by writing what you know.
When you write about a subject you are familiar with, you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for that subject than if you picked something to write about because you think a certain story might sell.
Even more important than knowing something about your particular subject, is to select one that interests you. If what you write about is interesting to you, there is a good chance your topic will be interesting to others, as well.
Learn all you can about the story you want to tell.
Now the second phase of research begins. Don’t be disappointed! Research can actually be a lot of fun when you are learning about a topic you enjoy or one that interests you. Libraries are full of books from which you can glean information. I mention libraries first, because they are a great place to be quiet and organize your thoughts. I take a notebook with me and write down all the interesting facts I find surrounding my story. You will learn a lot of other facts along the way, and that can be very interesting too.
Computers are the more usual mode of creating documents these days, I know, but there is something satisfying about the mind/hand coordination of the written word when doing research.
Don’t worry about what is pertinent, just write down everything you think might have some bearing on your story. You might not use all the facts you garner, but you will find enough useful information that can be put somewhere to add depth to your story.
Some people like to listen to music, but I find complete silence and undisturbed writing time is the best way to get my thoughts on paper. You will find what works best for you if you are really serious about writing your novel.
Create a storyboard.
The best way to organize your thoughts about your storyline is to create a storyboard. I use a white board with colored magnets to anchor the different parts of my story.
There are four basic parts to every novel, and each has a purpose. The first part introduces your story idea and makes the rest of your story meaningful. The second part places in jeopardy the characters your readers have come to care about. The third part increases the level a drama, and the fourth part deals with the resolution of the hero/heroine’s conflicts, the pay off for everything he or she had to endure, and a satisfying ending.
I wrote my first story by the “seat of your pants” method. That is an actual term! Some writers choose this method when the story flows into their imaginations. The characters they’ve created “come to life” and the story takes the writer into that imaginary world, complete with action and dialogue.
I was fortunate because I had a good idea of plot structure and the points necessary to move my story along. Again, there are many “How To” books by published authors who are willing to show you how to structure your story from introduction to denouement. Focus on the plot and setting, decide on the characters who will best tell your story, and how to introduce the conflict(s) facing your hero. Will the main character narrate? Whose point of view is important to your story? These and other questions can be found at reputable websites. Don’t be afraid to explore! There is a lot of useful information available. Choose what works best for you.
There are rules about how a story should be told, and it’s best to learn the rules before you decide to break them!
When you feel prepared — just start!
Don’t worry about being perfect, just get your thoughts down at the beginning. Later on, as you get into your story, you may think of better ideas, or another way to approach a situation. It’s always easier to correct some idea with a better thought than to wait for the perfect inspiration, which may never come.
I hope these tips help you to get started. Writing is an exciting journey, and I hope it brings you joy. I wish you the best of luck!
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This week I’d like to share with you some of the many myths and legends that have captured my imagination over the years and inspired me to write A Shadow Away, then the magical adventure series “Alex Cort Adventures.”
The first legend I wanted to write about is El Dorado. People still wonder about the Lost City of Gold, and just like Atlantis, nobody knows where it actually might be. In a jungle, certainly, but which one?
I chose to place my El Dorado somewhere in the vast expanse of Brazil. I love Brazil. I love the music and their joy for living, so naturally I was drawn to that location. Languages have always fascinated me, too, so I set about learning the words and phrases I would need to tell my story.
That’s part of what makes writing fun. I like learning about people, their culture, their language. It makes the story more interesting to me and I think to you who enjoy reading about the escapades of my favorite characters. Three main characters tell the stories: Alex, ex-cop detective and art theft recovery expert, is curious and brings a sense of adventure. Eccentric Andrew, the archaeologist, loves the dichotomy of science and superstition. Angel brings magic, fantasy, and the supernatural to my stories. With her, I can weave time travel, teleportation, mythical creatures and paranormal beings into my stories.
I love to write about magic, adventure, and lost treasures, so one book turned into a six-book series when I thought of so many other legends that color our world.
In my second book, All Under Heaven, I write about ancient China and the First Emperor, Qin (pronounced Chin) Shi Huang. The word “China” came from his name. Qin searched for the mythical Ninth Cauldron to legitimize his reign. Alex must find the cauldron to save Andrew and rescue a doomed ghost. Will he succeed? Magicians and sorcerers want him to fail.
Atlantis is the mythical theme of my third book, Secrets of the Crystal Skulls. Who doesn’t still wonder where Atlantis is and what happened to it after all these centuries?
I put my own twist on the fate of Atlantis with a sorcerer who tries to control its destiny with a giant crystal obelisk. Alex, Andrew, and Angel will have to time-travel, enter the Underworld, and try to defeat the sorcerer who still has his own agenda.
Irish Legends of woodland faeries, elves, and leprechauns—who doesn’t love them! My fourth book will be called The Black Horseman. Mermaids, trooper faeries, beings and creatures who live in the Otherworld, perhaps even a mis-placed Excalibur, will feature in this adventure.
Book five, a prequel, tells the tale of when Alex first joins Andrew. A treasure recently unearthed at a dig outside Saqqara suddenly disappears but who, or what, stole it and why? So many myths! So many legends! It will be fun to weave a story from these threads.
The sixth book in the “Alex Cort Adventures” begins outside Mexico City at the ruined Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Ancient Aztec rituals, the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, and ghosts from the past all figure in a chase that leads Alex and his friends in a pursuit from Mexico through the capitals of Europe.
That all sounds exciting even to me! Can’t wait to write the rest of these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them. See you next week!
Video: What made you start with the El Dorado story?
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This week I’d like to write first about TV shows that expand my imagination. Everyone benefits from new ideas, and writers thrive on inspiration. I especially enjoy science programs, because there is almost always something that triggers an idea for a plot or storyline.
One of my favorite TV shows is How the Universe Works. Scientists are making many discoveries that can add fuel to science fiction writers’ imaginations, because what we are discovering “out there” is often more strange and bizarre than the most vivid writer’s imagination. I also like Secrets of the Earth, because even our own world is far more active and volatile and less safe for many of us than we like to believe. From tornadoes to floods, from wild fires burning out of control to the latest volcanic eruption, the mostly safe world we knew before is starting to fight back.
National Geographic, NOVA, and the Science Channel all offer insights into this wonderful world we live in. When I see the beauty of nature and the abundance of myriad creatures that surround us, I realize how fragile the world is that has been created here.
Magazines offer a great deal of information I find interesting, too. I’ve always been fascinated by earlier cultures and civilizations, and Archaeology magazine delivers the latest discoveries and updated opinions about what transpired before our own civilization progressed, from hunter-gatherers to farmers, to the beginnings of our first cities.
Discover and Smithsonian magazines always have articles I find interesting in a social context, as well as nuggets of some new piece of information I can use to think about as a writer to further a story line or create another plot for a new adventure.
My oldest and dearest friends are the many books I’ve read over the years. Besides a love of art and music, I developed an early interest in science as well. I always loved adventure stories, and the magical fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm. The books of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series are very entertaining stories of mystery and archaeology, which have always appealed to me. Other favorites include books like The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, and Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.In Search of Schroedinger’sCat, by John Gribbin, afforded me an introduction into the strange and unpredictable world of quantum physics. So, you can see how I wove all the threads of what I learned over the years into my magical adventure series Alex Cort Adventures.
I believe research can be fun. If you are reading about something because it interests you, chances are it will be interesting to friends or your readers as well. At the very least, you will always have something new to talk about!
A number of movies have been inspiring and entertaining over the years as well. Who doesn’t love Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And now there is a new take on an older story, A Wrinkle in Time.
Tell me about your favorites — I’d love to know! Where do you get new story ideas?
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