• 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.

  • Book Preview,  Creative Writing,  writing inspiration

    Book Review: I Don’t Belong Here by Melissa Grunow

    About the Book:

    What does it mean to belong? In a place? With a person? To a family? Where do our senses of security and survival lie? I Don’t Belong Here ruthlessly investigates alienation during moments of transit and dislocation and their impact on women’s identity. These twenty essays—ranging from conventional to lyrical to experimental in form and structure—delve into the root causes of personal uncertainty and the aftershock effects of being a woman in an unsafe world. Provocative, authentic, intimate, and uncompromising, Melissa Grunow casts light on the unspeakable: sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment with precision and fortitude

    Review:

    Memoir is not something I read a lot of, although I’ve been trying to remedy that over the past few years with books such as Wild and The Glass Castle. I even took a course with Grunow a few months ago on writing creative nonfiction so I could sharpen my own skills. I was curious to see how her teaching style related to her own work, and I wasn’t disappointed.

    First of all, I love the theme of the book; after all, who here doesn’t relate to feelings of isolation and not fitting in? I Don’t Belong Here is divided into four distinct sections: “Unspoken,” “Displaced,” “Suppressed” and “Misunderstood.” She describes the death of a part of herself after a violent sexual assault by a boyfriend in the piece “Before and After.” The description of her experience is so painfully raw and honest that the reader wants to weep along with her.

    In “Fire and Water” Grunow dives into the differences between the destruction fire and floods can cause to a home, and an analysis of the impact each one leaves behind. “A flood is worse than a fire,” a co-worker tells her. “After a flood, you’ll worry whenever it rains.” She describes the damage a heavy rain and flood caused to her home in Michigan, and the effect of storms and tornados in her childhood years living in a mobile home. Grunow reminisces about riding her bike with her childhood friends, picking up the metal skirting from mobile homes that was blown about, balancing the pieces on her handlebars and cutting her knees as she pedaled. Anything, everything, can cut something else, she remembers.

    Grunow’s writing is rich, lyrical, and draws parallels the one would never even think of, making for a savory reading experience. She digs deep into her own psyche while exploring her decision to get multiple tattoos during her college years.

    I give workshops, presentations, trainings, all as a professional who appears professional. Underneath those layers, though, my skin sings a different song, a ballad of many verses comprised of love, pain, mistakes, imprinted memories.  I could especially relate to the piece titled “We’re All Mad Here: A Field Guide to Feigning Sanity,” where she writes about doctors, You will burn through doctors the way a middle school girl burns through crushes.

    I highly recommend “I Don’t Belong Here,” whether you’re looking to dive deeper into the world of memoirs and creative nonfiction, or seeking ideas for how to expand your own writing. There is much to dissect here, and I promise you by the last page, you will be ready to take a good, hard look at your own imprinted memories and how they have shaped your world.

    About Melissa Grunow:
    Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don’t Belong Here: Essays (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018) and Realizing River City: A Memoir(Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.

  • Creative Writing,  True Crime,  writing inspiration

    True Crime Wednesday: MurderCon-A Writing Conference of a Lifetime

    A few months ago, I got the opportunity to attend the writing conference of a lifetime. I had heard about Writers Police Academy, which allows writers to learn about police procedure and investigations from law enforcement experts. But when I learned this year’s academy would focus all on the crime of murder, and that it was only three hours away from where I live, I hopped on registration the second it opened. The conference lasted four days and was crammed full of keynotes, networking events and classes that took place both at our hotel and at the Sirchie Training Facilities in Youngsville, N.C.

    I took classes on things like “Murder Mayhem,” “Buried Bodies,” “Glorious Shoes: Footwear Evidence,” “Prints on the Page,” “The Art of Interrogation” and more. I also was fortunate enough to land an assignment detailing my experience in WOW! Women on Writing’s Fall e-zine, which explores the dark and twisty side of writing. Read my article here and then check out the other articles chock full of useful information on writing about mystery, thriller, crime and suspense. You won’t regret it.

  • Creative Writing

    5-Minute Memoir: The Keychain

    The keychain was bright red and made of plastic, probably purchased at one of the gift stores in the mall. I customized it with different colored letters spelling out my first name and added a plastic music note for fun, because I had always loved to sing. My mom had put our single house key on it, for the days I had to walk home by myself from the bus stop.

    Even though I couldn’t have been any older than 8 or 9 years old, there were days my mom had to work and I used the key to let myself into our house on a rural country road in central Texas after getting off the bus. I would make myself a snack, and curl up on the couch with a book and our fox terrier PeeWee while I waited for my parents. An only child, I was used to time alone when my parents had to work and I didn’t mind it. The only thing I minded was that one house on my route had two large dogs that often barked at me aggressively from behind a large metal gate, making me quicken my pace. Occasionally my grandmother would pop in from her home a few miles away to check on me.

    On this particular morning, my mom was still home when I tucked the key into the pocket of my pink shorts and made my way down the road about ¼ of a mile to the bus stop. I could see the other neighbor kids in the distance, standing on the corner and chatting. I was so focused on watching them that I didn’t notice the gate in front of the house with the two barking dogs was wide open. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dogs stand up from their spots in the yard, low growls reverberating in their throats.

    My heart was in my throat. My skinny arms and legs trembled, as I tried to gauge the distance from the house and the bus stop, and back again to my house. Did I have time to make it to either place? A voice in my head told me to stay calm. I weakly said, “Hey doggies. Hey good doggies. It’s okay.”

    That’s the last thing I remember before being toppled to the ground in the dirt driveway. I was too frightened to scream. I could feel their teeth pulling at my clothes, grabbing at the pocket of my shorts that held the keychain. As I struggled for breath I could see the flashing lights of the bus stop down the road, and the kids at the bus stop piling into it.

    Then it was gone.

    After feeling a sharp, searing pain in my leg, the dogs stopped their attack as quickly as they had started it. I stumbled home, sobbing, and was so shaken when I made it to the front door I didn’t even reach
    for my key to open the lock. I repeatedly rang the doorbell until my mom opened the door with surprise.

    The rest of the morning was a blur. My mom loaded me into her pickup truck and drove straight into the yard of the house with the two dogs, laying on the horn as the dogs circled the vehicle, barking. She honked the horn until a sleepy-looking young man came into the yard, and she rolled down her window.

    “Your dogs attacked my daughter!”

    He shook his head. “They wouldn’t do that,” he said, yawning.

    “Look at her leg!” my mom continued, her voice shaking with anger. “It’s got a huge bite mark in it!”

    I don’t know how the rest of the conversation went. The next thing I knew, we were arriving at an Urgent Care, where a kind nurse cleaned my wounds and asked me questions. I seem to remember getting some type of shot, but I don’t know what it was for. That night, my step-dad took photographs of my leg, which was black and blue with one clearly visible set of teeth marks in the middle of it. I reached my hand into the ripped pocket of my shorts, pulling out my plastic keychain. It had visible teeth marks in it from the attack.

    My existence changed from that day on, even though I don’t know what ever happened in the squabble between my parents and the owners of the dogs. I have a vague recollection that my parents brandished the photos and were able to get the medical bill taken care of, but I could be making that up. I do know that my mom drove me to the bus stop in the mornings for a while after that. And that in the afternoons, I dragged my feet slowly down the road, breaking out into a cold sweat whenever I approached that house, praying the gate was shut, and closing my eyes as the dogs barked at me.

    The keychain remained in my pocket, teeth marks and all, reminding me that although I had thought I was growing up in my independent time after school, I was still just a little girl after all.