Writing Buddies & Why You Need One

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When writing The Dove of Hope, I had a full-time buddy that chatted with me on Google Hangouts every day.  We talked through plot problems, shared our favorite writing excerpts, and celebrated break throughs.  We both wrote 50K words that month and both finished our FIRST full-length novel (YAY!).

Now my “writing buddies” are whoever will listen! I grabbed my sisters (11 and 13) to help me outline R+B, a recent story idea.

SIDE NOTE: One of my favorite writing tips is think of what the reader would expect, and make the opposite happen.  

So I talked through a few scenes in R+B and asked my sisters what they thought would happen next or how a certain character would react.  Lemme tell you, it was SO MUCH MORE HELPFUL than I thought.  Originally, I thought I would listen to what they thought would happen and switch it up so readers wouldn’t expect the plot.

A few times they came up with the same thing I had outlined, so I made a note and moved on.  But the rest of the time – oh my goodness, they gave me such exciting ideas!!

So, here are the reasons why YOU need a buddy when writing – and like my sisters, they don’t have to be writers themselves.

 A fresh look is ALWAYS helpful.

I think we’ll all agree that it’s both ridiculously hard yet necessary to let someone read your work. Whether it’s during the outlining process or during DRAFT 5, you need it. Whenever you prefer to share your work.  A new set of eyes will help you find plot holes and weak characters.

 In the blogging world, it seems much easier to find people willing to talk which is a huge bonus to blogging for both writers who have support at home and those who don’t!

Encouragement is a must.

Seeing someone get excited after reading your story is amazing.  Yes, it’s hard to let someone in, but you’ll be glad you did.

My sisters have read (without my knowledge at the time…..girls)  a few of my stories. And the fact that they remember little things about the characters makes me SO SO happy.

You can work through problems.

Just like having my sisters’ opinions during outlining -it’ll save some time if you know your plot isn’t predictable BEFORE the words are on paper.

If you’re frustrated trying to figure out how to make your villain seem creepy or your climax more powerful, ask for ideas.

You don’t have to be an unsociable hermit.

We’ve all seen it happen during NaNoWriMo.  You lock yourself away, fingers flying, eyes locked on the screen.  Let’s not even talk about that last day when you’re scrambling to meet the goal and  may or may not be heard from for hours.

With a buddy, it forces you to come back to reality and chat – which is important.  And this is coming from an introvert 😉

It’s a 2 way street.

If you have a friend who is writing a story, then not only do you get help writing your masterpiece but you get to experience some one else’s amazing work! It’s so exciting to see my 11 year old sister ask for character name ideas for her own story after she helps me with mine. ❤

 

So next time you’re having some trouble with your plot, find someone willing to listen and start brainstorming! ((An amazing place to do this with online buddies is here – NaNoWriMo.org))

Do you have a writing buddy? Have you ever written a collab story (a HUGE goal of mine)?

 

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How to use Pinterest to Storyboard

I’ve talked about a few specific story ideas on here but I have so many ideas stuck inside my head that haven’t made it onto the blog.  Or only have a photo collage on my stories page. Each – not matter what stage of planning – has a Pinterest board:

Here are a few reasons why you should storyboard on Pinterest….

  • Aesthetic inspiration.  Lemme tell you, aesthetic boards are so pleasing ❤   If you’re not sure what you want to happen in the story or want a feel for how a certain location looks, make an aesthetic board. Set a mood. I recently created one for a coffee shop for one idea:

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  • Characters. Finding characters is easy on Pinterest – people in fashion, makeup inspiration, actors, etc.  And don’t settle for just one reference! I went through several men before I found the perfect Hunter (that sounds more romantic than I intended haha).

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  • Scene ideas.  Between photos from movies and writing prompts floating around, scene ideas are endless.  You can also pin quotes that create a scene in your head. For example:

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And thus was born the backstory to why Beau, a young soldier from The Davidson Effect, is not allowed to carry a weapon. Poor guy.

  • Shared authors. A fun thing about Pinterest boards – you can share boards with other pinners! When I was writing a script for a short that included every one of my friends and their siblings, I added each friend as an author.  I was able to see how they pictured their character and scenes they wanted to see in the script.  Very helpful if you have a writing buddy!
  • Frequent edits.  As the story changes,  I always go back and clean up my Pinterest boards. Make sure the pictures are still relevant to your story. Maybe I’m a little OCD, but I can’t stand boards that have over 300 pins….way too many to find inspiration.

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  • New story ideas.  While you’re looking for that perfect character for Novel X, you may happen upon a quote that sparks a new idea.  This could be considered a downside to using Pinterest haha – you may find yourself adding LOTS and LOTS of new stories to your mental to-write list!  Come on, we all have one, don’t we?

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So what are you waiting for? Go create a storyboard!  If you already have a few, it’s always fun to look through and see a visual representation of your future novel 😀

Do you use Pinterest for writing? What are your favorite things to look for – characters, quotes, scenes?

How I’m Plotting 

Plotting generally doesn’t work for me.   Extensive, scene-by-scene outlines make me lose excitement after plannin so many “boring” scenes.  AKA scenes that don’t involve fighting or romance.  But not plotting ends in me never starting because I never know where to start.

With the only novel I’ve finished – The Dove of Hope – I had a writing buddy that chatted with me daily so we kept each other writing without outlines to guide us. (SIDE NOTE: WRITING BUDDIES ARE AMazInG) We talked about endings and shared excerpts, but that was the extent of our plotting.

Without a friend to write with, I have a million unfinished projects.

When starting my most recent project, I decided to try a mixture of two plotting techniques – the zero plot method and the snowflake method.

To start off, an overview!

The Zero Plot Method

This method involves writing a quick draft without any details.  You describe the main events that happen with any important details and leave out the rest to fill in in Draft 1.  For example, here is part of my zero plot for the the first chapter or two for R&B, my current project.

R, a young widow, follows her mother-in-law M to her home town in Alaska after World War I. She is forced to sell her wedding ring in order to pay for room and food during the first few weeks. They come into town and discover it ridden with miners and railway workers after the Treadmill Mine incident the year before. In new surroundings, R is forced to quickly find a job, despite the abundance of workers, in order to open L’s broken-down shop. She runs into B, a handsome farmer, and M remarks how much he looks like O’s husband.  

Ignoring how rough it sounds – gotta love first/zero drafts – I wrote the main events in present tense to quickly get the words on paper. Try not to think too much about it and write through the whole story.

The Snowflake Method

This method takes plotting a little slower, leading up to a summary that basically is a zero draft.  I found the snowflake method on this site.  It takes you step by step, starting with a one-sentence summary:

A young widow struggles to open a shop in a growing Alaskan town while falling for a rich man.

You go on to create a quick one paragraph summary about each character in your novel. Next, you expand your one-sentence plot summary into a full fledged paragraph with characters and conflicts.

You continue to expand each sentence of the character and novel summaries into full paragraphs until you have a few pages of each. At this point, you have a zero draft and pages of character arc information.

The website leads you into creating a spreadsheet to lay out each scene from your summaries before writing the first draft.  I prefer not to do this step.  I also don’t expand the character summaries beyond one paragraph.  Once I go much farther past these steps, I lose inspiration and start drowning in the details.

Merging the Two

By the time I finished using these two methods (following the first steps of the snowflake method and jumping to the zero draft), I had created the following for my novel in a couple hours:

  • A list of major characters
  • A full paragraph description of each character’s goals, motivations, and a brief plot line.
  • A one-sentence book summary.
  • A full paragraph book summary with each major conflict and the ending.
  • A 3 page “zero draft” of my novel with major scenes involving the main characters.

What I didn’t create from the methods:

  • Full page character descriptions with small details like dislikes, favorites, physical descriptions, and backgrounds.
  • A spreadsheet of in-depth scene descriptions.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know that my favorite part of writing is creating characters.  That’s where the planning stops for me. I have a general view of what I want the character to be like but details don’t come out until I’m writing the first draft.  Once in the middle of writing, I create a more in-depth description of each character once I get a feel for them.

Remember, your plotting doesn’t have to be pretty either…this may or may not be a scene idea in my zero draft:

He has to find R is some amazing, exciting way and he FINALLY professes his love to her. Kisses may occur mwahaha

Then you start pounding out the words, filling in scenes here and there and most likely changing your outline as you go.

I’m excited to put these methods to use in all my unfinished projects!

How do you plot?  Or do you prefer to jump in without outlines?


 

Also, forgot last post, but I have a new blog design! I know…this is not the first time I’ve changed it.  But oh well!  🙂

The Importance of Planning

When I started the September writing challenge, I took a step back and evaluated my current novels for several hours. Attempted to plan and organize my ideas, I looked over my plots, settings, characters,  etc.  This led to lots of changes. A lot.  Despite not writing anything in September,  the changes I made will help in the future when I do finally sit down and write.

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Take The Davidson Effect. I almost threw out the entire story. Instead, I took out four main-ish characters, threw two of them into another story and the other two into my “character pit” for later use.

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The Stone Brothers? Changed the time period by 60 years. Considered (still am) taking out the two main characters. Added two characters from TDE into this story.  The new characters are actually going to visit the coffee shop (the main setting) from From Behind the Counter since they’re now in the same time period.  I love it when I can casually connect characters across novels!

Magical bird takes flight.

The Dove of Hope: changed the personality of the main character, developed all characters and plot more, and actually created an in-depth outline. Made the story more “mature” instead of sticking to my 13-year-old mind’s view of what makes a story exciting and interesting.

I cleaned up the Pinterest storyboards as well, cutting TDE down from about 422 pins to 120.  Now everything feels crisp and new!  My novels are slightly more planned now.

Even as a pantser,  I can appreciate how this helps.  Just like in chess, you have to plan your moves in advance to save you trouble later on.  Ignoring my lame attempt to connect the picture with the post (it’s late….), here are a few advantages of planning:

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// It helps create a more complex story.  Most people plan a couple scenes in their head before they write, but I’m talking about taking a look at each piece of the novel briefly.  Characters, plot lines, resolutions, surprises, relationships, etc.  It doesn’t have to be long, but try to figure out how each aspect of your novel is going to connect.

// You can decide what’s needed and what’s not before you start writing.  Granted, there will be things you have to remove and redo in your story afterwards but you could save yourself a little editing time if you determine beforehand whether or not to remove that one random character.

// You can evaluate the complete story.  I don’t know about you but when I wing it, I tend to forgot a few things.  With TDE, I rewrote the story several times and it just never worked.  Examining the story before I dive into writing yet another draft helped me determine what wasn’t working.  You don’t have to hope something will workout.

// You can avoid several roadblocks.  One of the fun things about being a pantser is even you don’t know what’s going to happen before you write it. It’s exciting to not have an idea before you get there.  Staring at a blank screen because you’re not sure where to go next, however, doesn’t help the story get done. If you write down a brief overview of a couple scenes (doesn’t have to be detailed or EVERY scene) you have in mind, it helps keep the story moving.  You may have an easier time transitioning from scene to scene if you know where you’re headed.

All of this said, you can’t plan everything.  Those times always come up when you’re a couple hours into writing, brow furrowed, eyes locked on the screen, cold tea beside you, enthralled in the story, and you add an impromptu plot twist or a new character.

What do you think about organizing before writing? Are you a planner or a pantser?

Long Time No See

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Okay, maybe it’s only been a couple months but that’s way too long. Things haven’t been super busy, which makes me even more sad because I actually had time to blog.  *sniff*  Since I missed the end-of-September post, here are a few updates.

The September Writing Challenge

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So…..I’m just going to say it. I failed.  Yup. I started off strong, but after creating a very in-depth outline with scenes and individual character arcs I just couldn’t get myself to write. I am officially declaring myself a pantser. I think trying to plan too much was part of the reason the story didn’t stick (the other part was just not making myself write. Good job, Madison).  The characters didn’t interest me anymore and creating a whole new outline 10+ days into the challenge didn’t sound too appealing at the time.

I will try again once I get on my new schedule for the semester and get into a habit of writing.  I’m telling you, not writing this summer really threw me off!

My Birthday!

SO excited! I’m officially an ADULT, guys.  I turned 18 on September 30th and had a wonderful amazingly awesome day.  First off, Seth somehow convinced me to drive to the gym super early to work out on my birthday.  What can I say – I’m easily swayed by that cute fella’.  After I got home, we started off with some French Silk Pie – our family’s version of birthday cake – before going shopping at the mall.

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Around 4:30 that evening, Seth came to our house and picked me up.  He told me I was getting my nails done before heading to a surprise restaurant.  That boy  <3.   We didn’t take any pictures for some reason (WHY???) but after getting my toes and fingers done, he drove us into Austin while I attempted to guess where we were going.  As we drove in the Domain (a shopping center) in Austin, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  All the restaurants looked so nice – there was even a valet service for a few of them.  We decided to walk the couple hundred yards instead haha.

The Italian restaurant he chose was amazing. The lights were dim and there was a revolving door to get inside. Guys, a revolving door.I felt like I was 5, nearly jumping up in down because I love revolving doors.  Seth joked afterwards that I got more of a kick out of the doorway than the actual restaurant!

New Job

I got a new job at a cute little pecan shop on the way into town. Not much to update here, but just throwing this up here since I mentioned it above. 🙂

Finally Finished Applications

I FINALLY finished applying to my top four colleges this week.  A few weeks after I planned to but it’s still before the deadline so I’m happy!  Now I just have to wait.

Writing

Since I failed the previous writing challenge, I’m going to get on a schedule with school and work before I try another one. Which is why I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this November.  (If you are interested, however, definitely check it out here!)

BUT I will be trying to produce more planned posts on here (not these rushed, draft-to-published-in-one-day ones).

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One of my most popular posts on this blog has been the Open When Letters tutorial, which has received about 20% of my total blog views.  I’ve been brainstorming a few more DIY tutorials to add on here because of this!


 

Sorry for the longish ramble and disappearance….I’ll be back!

Camp NaNoWriMo – September Edition

So there’s not technically a NaNoWriMo in September (it’s definitely not the national novel month). But, hey, they already have Camp NaNoWriMo so why not just take the challenge whenever you feel like it?

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I’m not going to sound like a broken record and describe how I missed writing while at camp but one thing’s for sure. I need to write. Big time.

(Oo and I’m writing a big end-of-summer camp post now – just waiting on pictures!)

This entire summer three stories needed to get out of my head and onto paper and two of them have been bugging me for years. I’m writing them this month because, despite school starting, I don’t have a huge work load (yay for gap year/breakish thing!). I have told myself this so many times but hopefully this time, with the blog, I can stay on target and at least get some words down on paper.

 nO MORE PROCRASTINATION, Madison. Gosh.

…And being the procrastinator/non-planning type I am, I just decided to make my own challenge today, ten days before September, so here goes nothing!

the stories

The Davidson Effect and The Dove of Hope. Both stories that I’ve written before and *ahem* did not cooperate. TDOH has one complete draft from 2012 that I’m rewriting and TDE needs a whole new first draft. Yay.

The third story is a children’s story about a bear cub. That’s all I have so far haha. The main purpose of this story is to draw my own illustrations to go along with it.

the plan

I’ll be treating this month just like a Camp NaNoWriMo: make my own goal and try to reach that goal in one month.  For this challenge, I’m going to low-ball it….20 K words. That’s about 667 words per day.

The goal is to pick one story and write the entire 20K words on that plot, but it may turn out to be words strewn here and there between the three stories. That’s the fun in not planning until right before the challenge I suppose!

Are you doing any challenges this month? What stories have been itching at your brain?

//Maddy


Sorry for the short post! I’ve been home for 10 days today and can’t wait to tell you guys about camp. I just need those photos from the camp photographer *crosses fingers they’re posted soon*.

Tips on Character Creation //Guest Post: Abigayle Ellison

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on developing characters – a.k.a my favorite part of writing!  They are the core of any novel.  If your character can’t win the hearts of readers, chances are the readers won’t read his or her story.

Creating interesting characters, however, can be tough.  And every writer develops their characters differently, which is why I asked my friend and fellow blogger, Abigayle from The Left-Handed Typist, to share her thoughts on how to create great characters.

Without further ado, here’s Abi!


 

Hello, everyone! I am so happy to be doing a guest post for Madison today! One of the most important elements of your story is having strong characters. Unfortunately, while they can be born overnight, they need time to grow just like real people do. These are some ways I help develop my characters. 🙂

I have found that one of the most important things to do before planning a character is to know their environment. That seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Well, what this means for me is that I have to conceptualize a basicplot with a beginning, climax, goal, and ending. While it may seem like a lot of unnecessary, preparatory work, it will save you time in the end. Imagine having to rewrite a character because all the sudden the plot is going somewhere they wouldn’t. Oops.

The first thing I always do when I actually get to brainstorming a character is decide what they are going to look like. Appearance is so important! I think it’s even more important in a novel, because, unlike a movie, you can’t take it all in at once. Instead you get to feed it to the reader gradually. Still, appearance is rarely a conscious decision, as a character usually comes to me with a face. However, you would not believe how smart it is to write all the details of that image down. I can never keep the eye colors of my characters straight! In fact, that is one of the key things I do: write it downThis may be even more important to do with characters who are less prominent. They may need a defining feature to stand out in the reader’s mind and you’ll want to write that down, too.

The next thing I need to consider is personality. While some characters come in a package deal and never need much thoughtful development, that is rarely the case with a main character. Main characters need special attention and love. One of the best things I have found to make myself form the person before sticking them in testing situations is to answer a series of questions. Character charts can be very helpful for this (Google fictional character charts), as can putting your character through the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I like to be prepared before I start writing. 😉

After this basic development, I have to throw my character into the playing field. However, I like to be somewhat of a plotter. So, I give characters tests in my head. I try them out in scenes I’ve come up with and go through it all a million different ways until I’m comfortable with how each character responds and takes action. I’ve been complimented for having such solid first drafts. That is because they are the first written drafts. Every major scene has passed at least a dozen drafts in my head. I find that the most natural time to do this for me is at night when I should be sleeping instead of directing my mental novel film. Don’t ever pass by the chance to try it out when you’re in the perfect environment, even if it does mean trying out the different reactions on your face . . . in public. You know it’s worth it!

It is only at this point that I feel any character auditioning to be my lead lord or lady has the right to appear in my first draft. Now, for those of you who like to jump in cold turkey (pantsers), don’t worry! I have never known anyone to be able to start a story without an idea of what it’s about and who’s in it. Even if you don’t realize it, your brain has probably already decided on appearance, personality, and the like. I just like to go over it intentionally before I get started. If your characters form better under the pressure of your pen than the command of your brain, that’s perfectly fine. Do what you need to do. The point is that at the end of the day, you have a character that has formed into someone strong, unique, and impressive at the expense of your toil and tears. If your current method isn’t working for you, get creative! Maybe you need to just jump in, or maybe some more planning would benefit you.

How do you create strong characters?


 

Thank you, Abi, for the wonderful tips!! And for being my first ever guest writer! *squeals*  Be sure to check out her blog, The Left-Handed Typist, to read more of her posts.

Writing Crawls

Hello! I’ve failed to crank more than one post out this week, but oh well. And I usually plan out my posts in advance (there are 7 draft posts and 1 scheduled post in my queue as of this morning) but this one struck me a few minutes ago. Yay for spontaneity!

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Have you ever heard of a writing crawl?  Writing crawls are prompts that allow the writer participate in a story while writing their own. It challenges the writer to come up with a certain number of words for certain situations. Before I get too confusing, here’s an example:

You wake up in a jungle, with no memory of who you are or how you arrived there.  Write 100 words to calm down. You notice the sound of water running nearby and stumble to your feet. You realize how thirsty you are and run toward the sound. Sprint 5 minutes. You arrive at the water and quickly drink.  

With crawls like this, you follow the story and prompts as you go.  I’ve seen other crawls that act as choose-your-own adventure stories too.

You are a brave knight who is rescuing a princess across the country.  You start out your adventure by purchasing supplies at the village store.  Sprint ten minutes to see what you can afford. >200 words = food. 200-400 words = food, weapons. 400+ = food, weapons, armor. Once you begin your adventure, you stumble across a dragon.  Write 200 words in three minutes (four minutes if you purchased armor) to defeat the dragon. If you failed, write another 500 words to run away. You continue on. 

And the crawls are surprisingly fun to write too!

I love both kinds of prompts, although I prefer prompts that tell you to write a certain number of words instead of a sprint which is timed. I write slowish 🙂  If you’re having trouble working on a story or want to have a little fun with your last stretch of words, you can find lots of crawls on nanowrimo.org.

Have you ever used a writing crawl before? Does it help you write more words? Would you like to see crawls featured on here?

Beautiful People: Round 1

(As I keep adding more blog posts on here, I will be trying to narrow down the variety of posts. There will still be plenty of posts about unrelated things like the formals, working at the property, thoughts, and other randomness, but I’m going to try to focus on writing from now on. )

I recently discovered the “Beautiful People” tag through a writing blog. It’s hosted by two lovely blogs, Further up and Further in  and Paper Fury. The point of the tag is to help writers learn more about their characters, beautiful people who deserve to have their story written, by asking ten interview questions every 5th of the month.

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For this round, I’m bringing in Rebecca Coulson from The Dove of Hope. 

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And to help me discover their voice a little more, she’ll be taking over from here. Hey, Rebecca! *waves nervously*

QUESTION 1:     What is your full name and is there a story behind why you got it?

Oh good, starting with an easy one. My name is Rebecca Coulson.  I’m named after my mom, whose middle name was Rebecca.  Ruth would have been much better – that’s her first name. Not that I’m complaining –

Alright, moving on. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

QUESTION 2:     How old are you, and when were you born?

I’m 16. I was born on March 27.

QUESTION 3:     Describe your physical appearance.

I have long blondish-brown hair and blue eyes. They’re gorgeous eyes. Really light like ice.  Madison’s really proud of them *smiles*.  I’ve got pretty pale skin too.

QUESTION 4:     Describe your personality first in one word, and then elaborate with a few sentences.

Oh gosh, isn’t this the type of thing you ask the friends of the person being interviewed? It’s fine. Just answer the question.  Can we go get Ethan instead? You’d like that, wouldn’t you.   *blushes* Alright…I guess surprising? I’m not terribly quiet but everyone is always surprised when I yell at someone or come up with a great plan.

QUESTION 5:     What theme song(s) fit your personality?

You probably have one for me, don’t you? Uhhhh….of course! *rushes to Google Play frantically*

This song fits my story in The Dove of Hope.

QUESTION 6:     Which one of the seven deadly sins describes you?

What kind of a question is this?? I like to see you struggleYou’re so cruel to all of us. I know.  Not that I’m any of them, but maybe envy would be closest.

QUESTION 7:     If you were an element (fire, water, earth, air), which one would you be?

Water. Definitely water. I’ve seen too much fire recently *shivers*.

QUESTION 8:     What is your favourite word?

Patriotic. I know it’s a more common word and not something intelligent-sounding like metanoia or ethereal. My dad taught me to be a patriot and it’s something that stuck with me. *sniffs* I’m so proud of you.

QUESTION 9:    Who’s one person you really miss?

My mom. She’s been gone for a few years now – died in a car accident when I was 10 years old.

QUESTION 10:   What sights, sounds, and smells remind you of that person?

I have an old locket of hers.  It’s actually kind of weird looking *squints at it*.  Haha you bet it’s weird. Just you wait.

Well that concludes the 10 questions for today! Thanks, Rebecca.  Maybe I’ll grab you for another set of questions later on.  Not to be rude, but I hope not.  That’s my girl.