• Creative Writing,  Lifestyle

    Classic Memories

    My first car looked a lot like this one.

    You never forget your first car. I know I will always remember mine—and for several reasons. First, I look back at that time in my life and realize I had no clue how much cars and insurance cost and how blessed I was to even have one on the day I turned 16. I didn’t work and save up money so that I could purchase my own car, I expected my parents (who both worked hard but did not have the funds to purchase their only child a brand-new car) to provide me with one.

    Looking back, I realize that was pretty presumptuous of me. Instead, my stepfather purchased a used car for me in cash from one of his friends. It was a 1986 red Dodge Charger. At the time, it was seven years old, but age didn’t matter to me. It was sporty, flashy and gave me my own set of bragging rights. The handle on the driver’s side door was broken and I would have to jiggle it a certain way to open it. It was also a five-speed and I remember both the joy of learning how to change the gears and the fear of pulling up to a stop sign perched on a hill (I lived in the mountains of western North Carolina). Unbeknownst to my parents, my friends and I had plenty of adventures in that car, such as the time I got it stuck in a curvy, muddy ditch and a truck full of football players from our high school happened to drive by and lifted the car back onto the road on their own. Whoops.

    I didn’t take care of that car like I should have. I wish I would’ve, because I’m sure I would have had many more adventures. Instead, I drove with reckless abandon like the teenager I was, and almost a year after I got the Charger, I took another one of those mountain curves too fast and crashed the car into a rock wall in front of a church. Miraculously, I only had a scratch on my neck from my seat belt. The car, unfortunately, did not make it.

    I thought about that wreck when the time came for my own daughter to start driving. Even though she is about as cautious as they come, I know teenagers. Driving can be tricky business, and I know accidents happen. We discussed options with her and decided to let her take the car I had driven for years (a Honda Pilot) because, as we joke, that thing is a tank and about a solid as they come. She spent a year practicing driving this car, took her driving test in it, and I purchased a newer vehicle for myself. I’m grateful she understood that we wanted her to drive an older vehicle for at least a year, see how it held up and then see if we needed to find another car. The funny thing is, I dropped her off at school on her first day of Kindergarten in that car and she now drives it to high school. Talk about a dependable car.

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime

    How I Started a Podcast

    This article appears this month in the June 2020 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.

    It was while interviewing Davidson resident Stacey Simms about her Diabetes Connections podcast for CURRENTS several years ago that I first learned about podcasts. For anyone unfamiliar, a podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening. There are now more than 800,000 active podcasts available worldwide, if that tells you anything about their popularity.

    When a friend started telling me about some true crime podcasts a few years ago, I started wading my way into the podcast waters. I loved studying the different formats, the choices of music and sound effects, and the way all the elements could come together to tell a compelling story.

    How hard would it be to create my own podcast?, I thought to myself more than once. In my spare time, I would jot ideas down in a notebook. What type of equipment would I need? What would the format be? How would I learn all the technical aspects of production? How would I find content? I even attended a specialized writing conference in Raleigh last summer, t “MurderCon,” so I could glean more ideas and network.

    Finding myself with extra time on my hands thanks to COVID-19’s shelter-at-home orders, I gave myself a deadline to finally get a podcast up and running. I honed in on a topic (missing people) and came up with a title, “Missing in the Carolinas.” I bartered services with a graphic artist friend of mine to create the cover art (she needed editing done for her online business).

    I began writing scripts. I bought a microphone and started playing around with GarageBand on my computer. I begged one of my teenagers for help. I bought stock music and created an introduction that could be used at the beginning of each episode. I tried recording the first episode, and quickly learned a read-through of each script is mandatory before hitting the record button. I also may have deleted the audio more than once when I was only trying to erase part of the recording. I researched the best media hosts for the podcast, because you have to buy a membership to one before you can get it to “feed” into places like Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, etc. This was uncharted territory for me.

    It was much harder than I anticipated. But after producing the first few episodes, I realized it would be silly not interview guests if I could find them. After recording one interview via Zoom, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the audio quality and am now looking for other options.

    Although it’s been a slow process, I’m proud of the new skills I’ve taught myself—audio production, recording, interviewing, media hosting, creating an e-mail list, script writing—just to scratch the surface. So far, I’ve invested a small amount of money into this project and am not receiving compensation. It’s a complete passion project, but one that I hope will grow over time and generate more interest. And if it can be used to help solve a missing persons case, well, that would be worth the time invested. Wish me luck.

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle

    Quarantine Life

    It’s been a strange past month with the shelter-at-home orders here in North Carolina thanks to the spread of COVID-19. We are a fortunate household to have one adult who has been able to transition to working from home completely, and another (me) who works as a contract employee for a magazine, and I’ve also been able to keep generating income through my clients. We are blessed, because we know others who have had to temporarily close their family businesses.

    I feel for my kids. They miss their friends, their IRL contact, driving back and forth together to school, and randomly stopping by Dunkin’ Donuts for iced coffees and donut holes. We miss simply being able to hop in the car and eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant, but we are trying to order food from local restaurants at least once a week to keep supporting them where we can. We are fortunate to have Wi-Fi and four separate computers so we can all work and attend classes and Zoom meetings without having to share devices.

    We are also sad to have missed a fun spring break trip we had planned to New Orleans, where my son was excited to see the Pelicans in person and witness Zion Williamson’s ball-handling skills. I simply wanted to hear some jazz music and eat a beignet at Café Du Monde.

    During this time, we are also lucky the weather has been so beautiful, and that we have access to a greenway right in our neighborhood. While we’ve all gained a few pounds from all the snacking we’ve been doing, we are also exercising outdoors more than we ever did before. We’ve also had more family move nights during this time, and today we even got out and explored a nearby botanical garden together.

    I’ve also tried to stay busy by finally reading books that have been on my shelves for some time, taking online webinars and workshops on the craft of marketing and writing (I took a great one from Jenna Kutcher on list building) and continuing to work on my passion project, a true crime podcast I plan to launch in early May.

    I don’t want to take this extra time for granted, because there were a few times in the past few months where I wished for time to slow down because I was rapidly approaching burnout. I do hope we can all safely return to a sense of normalcy sooner than later, but I’ll trust the experts to let us know when that time is.

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime,  writing inspiration

    My Top Five True Crime Posts

    Round-ups are some of my favorite posts to read, and hopefully this one will be no exception. In this post, I’ve gathered up my top five posts all about true crime–whether it’s discussing theories behind the addiction to missing people or specific cases that have stuck with me over the years.

    Situational awareness. A glimpse into the dark side of humanity. The adrenaline rush. In this post, I take a deep dive into Three Reasons Female Writers are Addicted to True Crime.

    The Case of Mike Williams. This story out of Florida intrigued me from the moment I learned about it, from the shifty wife to the “best friend” who sold him a hefty life insurance policy before he went missing, to the theory that Williams fell into a lake during a fishing trip and was eaten by alligators. Nope and nope. The update post shed light on recent developments.

    Why I find the Parcast podcast Unsolved Murders is so intriguing.

    As a mother, this case haunts me. Hopefully the loved ones of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman can find closure soon.

    Who was in the Polaroid? This case fascinated me so much that I wrote an award-winning suspense short story based on the events.

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    My 2019 EOY Writing Wrap-Up

    It’s Dec. 31, and a lot has happened with my writing this year. Because I’m such a fanatic about listening to EOY wrap-ups from other entrepreneurs I follow, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the accomplishments and setbacks I’ve experienced this year. Let’s get right to it.

    2019 started with a bit of a quandary. To be honest, I was working in a job that made me question my skills and talents on a regular basis. I think a lot of it was that it was a structure (the company was a nonprofit organization) that didn’t have a lot of built-in support for my position, in addition to converging project management timelines, which have never been a strong skill set for me. By spring of this year, I was feeling unaccomplished, unappreciated and my self-esteem was so low that I was having a hard time writing creatively, despite the fact that I had a lot of projects in the pipeline.

    In May I was approached by a local magazine I’ve freelanced for frequently in the last 10 years, and when I had the opportunity to interview for the editor position, I jumped. Even though the job would bring its own set of challenges, I knew most of the people that worked there already and knew the tone and style of the publication like the back of my hand.

    However, because I’m always so concerned about not burning bridges in the publishing industry, I gave a long notice to my job and had the first magazine deadline overlap with my last two weeks at the job I was leaving. My editorial job is remote, but juggling e-mails, phone calls and planning meetings while trying to introduce myself to the writers and photographers and work on transitional documents proved to be quite challenging. The first deadline of the magazine also coincided with our annual family vacation (which we had booked with some family friends at a beach house in Florida) so I felt like I was editing stories and proofreading pages almost the entire time I was on vacation. That was a tough time and I still feel like I never got a proper vacation, although I did get an extra paycheck out of the overlapping job duties I did for two weeks. I’m not sure it was worth it, though.

    Here is a breakdown of everything related to writing/publishing I worked on this year:

    Since August, I’ve produced six issues of the magazine I work for, Lake Norman CURRENTS, and one newcomer’s guide that the company also produces for that magazine. I’ve personally written two advertorial articles, six Editor’s Letters and 23 feature articles ranging from 250-650 words and 11 business profiles, in addition to various calendar of events sections and product spreads.

    For WOW! Women on Writing, I wrote 26 blog posts, interviewed 13 writing contest winners and finalists, helped judge two flash fiction contests, and wrote one e-zine article in October about my experience attending MurderCon.

    For Writer’s Digest, I helped judge one of their self-published book contests, which required me to read and review 22 books.

    Writing Contests: I didn’t have any luck with writing contests, but I entered six short story contests and two creative non-fiction contests. I also entered two pieces in literary journals, where I received one rejection and am still waiting to hear back from the other. I also published my young adult novel, Between, on Wattpad back in August, and it has received almost 500 reads at this point.

    I’m also in the process of developing a true-crime podcast, and have purchased some of the equipment already and have my first episode’s script written. I hope to get that off the ground by the end of January, so stay tuned!

    I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged, because I had wanted to accomplish more with my creative writing last year, but considering I’ve made slightly more money in my actual career this year, and produced a heck of a lot of valuable and helpful content and human-interest stories, I think I can settle back and give myself a much-needed pat on the back. I’ll do a future post soon on some of my goals for this coming year.

    How did you do with your writing projects this year? I’d love to hear some of your accomplishments, goals, and “never doing that again!” stories!

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  Lifestyle,  writing advice

    A New Decade of Writing

    It’s hard to believe we’re about to conclude another decade. I’ve been reflecting on this a bit, and marveling about how far I’ve come since I graduated from college, with a stack of credit card bills and student loans to pay off, and working two jobs so I could support myself. And even then there were plenty of days where I was eating pasta with plain tomato sauce for almost every dinner. If I wanted to get fancy I would throw some feta cheese on top.

    Back then, I never dreamed I could make money writing from home, and that research for a million different topics would be right at my fingertips. I took any and every job that came my way, even when it had nothing to do with my communications degree that had a concentration in print journalism. Slowly, I worked my way into the industry, starting with a job cranking out press releases and editing a university alumni magazine for a small public relations firm to freelancing for websites and regional print magazines. I’ve now been writing professionally for almost 20 years, and have my dream job of being a magazine editor while still writing creatively on the side.

    The last few years have been good to me–by keeping me employed while opening up different paths that are better suited to my skills. I’ve been able to develop long-standing relationships with other writers and editors, and we all help keep other encouraged (and employed) at the very times we need it most. (I encourage you to check out my latest post over at WOW! Women on Writing on why you should be networking over on LinkedIn.)

    I’m also ready to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a child dreaming of a being a DJ on a radio station. I will be venturing into the podcasting world, combining my love of missing persons cases with a journalistic approach. I’ve purchased the equipment and am preparing the content as we speak. I’m blessed to be able to follow my passions, wherever they may lead me.

    I’m happy to be a part of this community and feel many more great things ahead in 2020. Cheers to you, my friends, and thank you for continuing to read and support my work.

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    Setting My Intentions Each Day by Journaling

    A few months ago, I heard a podcast episode that pitched the product, the “Start Today Journal.” I started to shrug it off at first, because as much as I love writing, I haven’t had too much luck with journaling over the years. But as motivational speaker and entrepreneur Rachel Hollis began explaining the methodology behind this journal, I grew more interested.

    What a lot of us fail at is having too many goals at one time, which can lead to overwhelm, causing us to beat ourselves up time and again when we don’t achieve any of them. Hollis developed a practice that focuses on writing down ten goals over and over. And here’s the kicker—you write down those goals as if they have already happened.

    This practice starts you out by doing an exercise where you envision what you want your life to be like in ten years, down from the kind of home you live in to what kinds of vacations you take. Then you envision what types of dreams you need to achieve in order to accomplish that type of lifestyle.

    I’ve been journaling with this method for almost three months, and my goals are starting to become so ingrained in my mind that I do things to work toward them without even putting much thought into it. I start out each day by writing down five things I’m grateful for, and these vary depending on the day. Then I write down the same ten goals, in the exact same order, and at the end, I write which one I’m going to achieve first. I do this with my first cup of coffee, so you can see that it isn’t a process that takes very much time out of your day. But it helps set the day on the right path.

    I’ve written things like what my annual income is (again, as if this has already happened), how much money my podcast is generating per month, that my kids went to college debt free, etc. At the very end of the page you write down which goal you achieved first. This changed for me after the first week, when I thought realistically about what goal I have the most probability of achieving first. My podcast is still in development, for example. So every day on that line, I write, “I’m an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.”

    I didn’t realize it when I first ordered the journal, but each one has enough pages for 90 days worth of goal-setting and dreaming. This helps you flip back pretty easily and see what kind of progress you’ve made in a short amount of time. My husband was so encouraged by watching me use my journal that he already bought me a thick, lined blank journal with a cute cover that I can use for my next 90 days worth of goals. I’m ready to start 2020 off with a bang!

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle

    The Realities of Seasonal Affective Disorder

    This is a time of year I dread–when the days are shorter, colder and there is less sunlight to go around. I never really realized how much it affected me until the last few years. Before, I would acknowledge that yes, I tended to stay indoors more November through March and reach for the carbs, and it became more of a chore to take my dogs on our daily walks.

    Now, there’s no denying it. Being in my early 40s, I’ve also struggled with insomnia the past two years. I will be perfectly fine, and then once in bed, I can’t shut my mind off. I start thinking of social situations where I said the wrong thing, friendships I’ve lost, mistakes I’ve made with my kids, arguments with family members, work deadlines that never seem to end . . .

    Symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder include difficulty concentrating (yes), having problems with sleeping (yes), low energy (yes), feeling hopeless or guilty (yes) and changes in appetite.

    I’m at that point in the season now where I’ve gained a few pounds because of all the starches and sweets I’ve been craving, and the weather has prevented me from participating in my preferred forms of exercise, walking and running outdoors. Last night I had another night of no sleep, and I’m at my wits end. I found a therapist about six months ago so at least I’m able to discuss my worries, exhaustion and general anxiety once a week, and I’m determined to get back on track with logging in all my food on my WW app and get back to exercising. (I have a gym membership. I just have to make the commitment to make the ten-minute drive over there on the days when the wind is bitterly cold outside). Struggling with Seasonal affective disorder is also not conducive to creating, so I’m hoping once I battle this out I’ll be able to get back to my writing projects that also bring me joy. I keep joking that I need to plan a tropical vacation in the middle of the winter to combat the SAD, and one of these days I’m going to finally follow through with that plan.

    I’m wondering who else here gets a hefty dose of the wintertime blues. How do you get through it?

  • Creative Writing,  Music,  writing inspiration

    Review of “Stranger Songs” – A Musical Tribute to the Show “Stranger Things”

    Check out all merchandise related to “Stranger Songs” at https://shop.ingridmichaelson.com/

    Few things make me happier than writing about pop culture. I just completed a post for WOW! Women on Writing about why I loved the Netflix Original Series “Stranger Things.” One of the things I couldn’t get to in my post was Ingrid Michaelson’s tribute album to the show, so I decided to continue with the theme and write about the collection of songs here.

    I hadn’t yet watched the show when I heard about the release of Michaelson’s “Stranger Songs,” and I waited until I was familiar with the show before downloading the album. There were a few songs that immediately drew me right in, starting with “Hey Kid,” a song about the sweet relationship between the papa bear Hopper and the tender-hearted but badass character “Eleven.” From there I had the song “Hate You” on replay. It made me feel so much empathy for Steve, who was portrayed as such a jerk in Season 1 but who became one of my favorite people in the world by Season 3. The song describes his relationship with Nancy and how he knew he couldn’t hold on to her, as much as he wanted to, but he still couldn’t bring himself to hate her. “Bad Things” and “Pretty” also focus a lot on things “Eleven” goes through during the course of the first three seasons. “Christmas Lights” is another one of my favorites, because as a mother of a teenage son, I could totally relate to the wild devotion Joyce has in the search for her son Will in Season 1. “Take Me Home” is the quintessential coming-of-age ballad that will whisk us all immediately back into our childhood and teenage years.

    I think though, that even if you haven’t seen the Netflix series, you won’t be disappointed by this album. Ingrid Michaelson fans who appreciate good songwriting layered with the musical stylings of some of our favorites from the 1980s (“Christmas Lights” features chords reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” will find plenty to put on repeat here.