Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Allons-y

My husband has beautiful eyes.

When he was young, his mother told him that, one day, a young lady would fall in love with those eyes. She was totally right


So when he told me that he wanted to drive to Bellingham before driving to Eugene (which happens before we drive to Lincoln City), I was, ultimately, putty.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sparkly Shoes Blog


I've been looking for sparkly shoes lately - sparkly shoes for less than $30.  Thing is, I couldn't find any that weren't:

a.) Open toed (too cold)

b.) Too tall (I'm already two inches shy of six feet. I don't need a 4.5 inch platform, thank you much. I'm going to church, not to Vegas.)

c.) Too expensive (though I found the perfect pair... for $149 plus tax.)

Yesterday morning, I *literally* woke up with one thought in my head - could I make sparkly shoes?

I asked my husband. Had to ask twice, actually, because I kept mumbling (first thought, you know). He thought the chances were pretty good.

When I was awake, I poked around online. I found this (rather adorable) video, which was a good start, followed by this excellent post. I used the Dainty Squid's method of mixing the glitter with the Mod Podge, using heels instead of flats and spending a long time taping up the edges before starting.

$16.99 Payless Heels
 I put on four coats, followed by a final topcoat.





Tesla, waiting for me to finish so I could come play.

Honestly, I couldn't be more pleased. Because I mixed the glitter with the Mod Podge, they don't shed at all - every bit of glitter is sealed up. I didn't even get through half of the $5 bottle of Martha Stewart glitter (in Hematite), either. The next time I do this (and there will be a next time), I'm looking forward to using another Martha glitter - the extra fine texture and sophisticated color really make the shoes special.

So there's my Christmas project - what are you working on?


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sur La Table




...is also the name of a store. But that's not what this post is about.

When not traveling, moving, or raising a spirited (read: obstinate) puppy, I've spent the past year cultivating a new book project. Though new is a bit of a misnomer, since it was cooking in my head well before Jayne made an appearance.

But it's been what I like to call a slow-cooker idea, requiring a lot of time to develop. In between, it has changed tremendously in the best way.

One key component of the book has been the same, however - it has always been about the food.

Well, that and two people who find each other. But they eat well.

The two specific kinds of cuisine found in the book are French and Italian. Now, I'm fairly conversant in Italian food. It's really pretty straight-forward and very accessible. Versions of it can be found in Olive Gardens, Macaroni Grills, and in every restaurant where someone boils pasta and tops it with sauce.

French food...it's a bit trickier.

There is often some technique involved in French cookery, and if not, there's the appearance of technique. You don't find Coq au vin in pizzerias, or cassoulet at buffets. Shari's does not have tarte tatin month. Here in Tri-cities, the likelihood of my finding a little French bistro is well below nil.

But I need it for the book, so I popped onto Amazon and picked out a small selection of books, as well as a blue steel crepe pan that I'm really quite in love with.  But along with the crepe pan, it's obvious that I'll also need a proper Dutch Oven soon, as well as a roasting pan and a tart pan (had one, but the bottom is missing and that's a somewhat crucial piece). Oh, and ramekins.
"Lodge" Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6-Quart
After flipping through the books - which look amazing - it's very clear that I will have to get over my dislike of whole roasted chicken specifically, and my inexperience when it comes to roasting meats in general.

(I've roasted vegetables - does that count for anything?)

But it's been a good year for expanding my repertoire, since I'm now quite proficient with cutlets, sauces, and roux making. Oh, and custard.

This is Walter. He likes custard.
Well, off to contemplate making potato leek soup.  Will post later as the food adventures continue...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankfulness


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

I'm all for giving thanks, and being thankful, and spending time with family, and eating.  Really, I am.  But I can sum up my feelings about Thanksgiving best in a recent Twitter post:




I have ADD. That's just the way it is. So Thanksgiving can be the Trifecta of stress for me. Don't get me wrong - my love of food and cooking is well documented. But cooking on a schedule is...dicey.  And cleaning? No, we're not hosting Thanksgiving (thanks be to heaven above), but we're still leaving, and being a woman, I don't like coming home to a messy house.

And travel?

Little bit traveled out.

Little bit.

A lot.

So throw in the fact that Thanksgiving food is not my kind of food and my general apathy towards professional football, and it leaves me with a strong desire to fast-forward to the yuletide season lurking around the corner.

(And if you've stepped inside a place of retail in the last month, you've caught it mid-lurk)

But I'm thankful for my husband, and his job, and our house, and my publishing career, and our wiggy dog. I'm thankful for red curry, sunny days, digital photography, antique china, Nars lipstick, how Danny looks in his motorcycle jacket, title insurance, new friends, old friends, Starbucks, good books, alpacas, freeze-dried beef liver treats, sale books at Barnes & Noble, red leaves, TJ Maxx, Nutella, full-spectrum light bulbs, Target, comfortable shoes, pink nail polish, candied ginger, the bulk section of WinCo, butterflies, dry shampoo, vacuum cleaners, pink spackle, Doctor Who, and the fact that the holiday movie season approacheth.

I'm thankful for my family, my parents, siblings, parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, aunts, cousins, uncles, and another holiday with my 95-year-old grandmother.

I'm thankful for my agent, for the wonderful editors I've gotten to work with, my publicists, and the booksellers who help people discover my books.

I'm thankful we found a truly crackerjack dog trainer to help with Tesla's "special needs."

I'm thankful that we are no longer building a house.

I'm thankful that the Lord is gracious.

Because of that thankfulness, I can handle a traffic-snarled bit of organized thanks-giving.

And after Thanksgiving?  Let the advent season commence!

Update: Also thankful for this - 




Yay! Sometimes it really is the little things :-)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rescue, Kiss, Repeat


I don't know about you, but I'm loving ABC's new show, Once Upon a Time. It's one of those rare TV shows that keeps getting better and better with each episode.


In the first few episodes, we see Prince Charming (whose real name is James, we learn), wake Snow White. Later, we learn how Snow and Charming met. It was the kind of meet cute that involves a lot of flirtatious squabbling, adventure, a grudging admiration and a certain amount of chemistry. She saves him. He saves her.

Rescue, kiss, repeat.

I love that.  I love it because it's a truer model for a real-life happy ending in marriage. It's not just the prince rescuing the princess in the classic model, or the princess rescuing the prince in the feminist model. Long-term love involves both.  Marriage is committing to rescue each other, over and over again. It's having each other's backs, it's being strong for each other.

Fairy tales will always have a special place in my heart, but I'm troubled by the lack of stories that involve courage on behalf of both men and women. East of the Sun, West of the Moon is one of the rare examples of a couple who must rescue each other. The prince, as the bear, rescues the girl from poverty.  The girl rescues the prince from the troll princess.

There is still a happily ever after for them, but both the man and the woman have had to work for it.

And that's how marriage is, isn't it? Courage is required for both the husband and wife to fight for and rescue each other, facing down despair, discouragement, illness, and injury in battle.

You never know how many battles you'll face in marriage, or when the next one will find you. The happily-in-betweens? Absolutely worth the work.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy End of Tacky Day


Okay, I know. Tacky Christmas decorations abound. But are they as tacky as Halloween decorations? No. Not at all. No contest.

Our neighbor down the street has an inflated skull with inflated ghosts coming out of it.

Really hoping that it'll get put away for storage. Also, really hoping they're just as into Christmas lights.  I love Christmas lights.

So...blogging this much. *Almost* as much of an epic fail as getting (or trying to get) Tesla's toenails ground at the PetSmart in Mount Vernon, WA.  (We ended up having to get a refund. It wasn't going to happen.)

We ended up, once we got back from the three-week Memphis/Little Rock/St. Louis trip, having to go to Portland (Anacortes for Danny), Anacortes (Mount Vernon for me), and Los Angeles (technically Foothill Ranch, east of Irvine).

By the end, I was a complete mess. Actually, I think I was a mess beforehand, but that doesn't mean we didn't have some fun. In California, we got to go to Disneyland (my first time!) and I got to hang out with my dear friend Kara and see her digs in West Hollywood. A grand time had by all, even for Tesla, who got to be admired by one and all on the tram to and from the Disneyland Kennels.

Now that we're back, it's time to return to the task of moving into our house. I'm just about done with choosing which photos need to be printed for which walls - I'm VERY excited about having artwork up! As the granddaughter of two artists, I don't handle blank walls well.  My brain doesn't know how to handle them..


In other important news - both ABC and NBC aired their fairy tail themed shows, Once Upon a Time and Grimm, respectively.


When the trailers were released, I thought Grimm looked a bit more focused. Having watched both pilots, I'm wondering if it's too focused - it feels more forced and rote than Once.

Not that Once doesn't have its awkward moments, but it's sticking close to the Hero's Journey arc for its heroine, played by Jennifer Morrison. You might remember Morrison as Cameron from House.  Now, I'm convinced that the writers for House kind of really hate women, since Cameron's character was wheedly and annoying. Not so with Emma Swan, who has got a backbone and knows how to use it. It's refreshing, honestly.

In Grimm, the lead, David Giuntoli, is stiff and bland. Werewolf Silas Weir Mitchell (Prison Break) is far more interesting, but it's tricky when the best character is a supporting character.

It often takes a few episodes (or a couple seasons) for a show to hit its stride. So we'll see how goes, but do catch Once - it's well-cast and has vision. Whether the vision is carried off or not remains to be seen, but I think it's off to a strong and inventive start.

Anybody else watching the two shows? What's your take?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Un Jour de Pluie


The rain, it comes.

You know you live in the desert when it rains and you're confused about what, exactly, is going on.  This is after 25 years in the Willamette Valley, where it rains 10 months out of the year.

Still. Brain trying to recollect what one does when it rains.

Tesla is completely befuddled by the moisture from the sky, because she spent her Spring rainy season in our corporate apartment as a young pup, only experiencing the rain that blew/dripped in past the patio covering.

video

(I apologize for the crick in your neck. I'm not techy enough to figure out if the orientation can be changed. But cute, no?)

Right now, Tesla will ring her bells to go outside; I'll open the door, she'll take in the scenery and decide - no, actually, not worth it.

Just kidding.

I've been reading The Paris Wife, FINALLY - I've wanted to read it for some time, but the Kindle edition is on the pricier side, and the wait list at the library took a long time...


...anyway, reading it now, and oh. My. Goodness.  Poor Hadley! An excellent read so far, The Paris Wife tells the story of the first Mrs. Hemmingway from her perspective, from meeting Ernest in Chicago to marrying him at the age of 28 (he was 21). They moved shortly after the wedding to Paris - and not the nice part of Paris, either - and make a home for them while he struggled to find himself as a writer.

Writers are difficult people in the best of times; Hemingway had hemochromatosis, the inability to metabolize iron, as well as (most likely) bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also drank like a fish.

Easy man to be married to? Not so much.


Another book that makes for terrific rainy-day reading?

Jenny B. Jones' There You'll Find Me  is perfect for a day with precipitation.  I should have realized it was also perfect for an airplane ride...I slogged through a truly terrible book (actually, two of them) on the flight back from St. Louis, which was painful because Danny's book was absolutely brilliant.

He'd giggle at his book and I'd role my eyes at the pages (and pages) of limp characterization.

I came home and pulled out There You'll Find Me.  I loved it for all of the reasons that I loved Anna and the French Kiss - a very real, very likeable heroine, a gorgeous setting, and a crush-worthy boy.

(Speaking of, Stephanie Perkins has a new novel out.  I'll get back to you on that...)

There You'll Find Me treads perfectly across themes of loss and hope, romance and change, friendship and grief.  Did I mention it's funny? That the protagonist refers to Pride and Prejudice as the single girl's Magna Carta?

Really, it's grand. Trust me.

So if it's rainy where you are - these are the books! Grab a mug of tea (carefully) and tuck yourself into bed with a book.

Or, if you're Tesla, you can go catch a raindrop.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tricks of the Trade


I mentioned on Facebook that I wasn't going to blog about ACFW until (at least) tomorrow, and that's still true. I've got, like, 500 photos from the Memphis-Little Rock-St. Louis trip that need to be loaded onto my computer.

It's a job, let's just put it that way.

Anyway, lots of exciting stuff on the horizon and the realization that my year of quiet has come to a close. Once book projects become official, I will have a lot of work to do.  This is good, because it's a little disconcerting to be a writer by trade and not have any official projects on the horizon.

I am a bit overwhelmed at the prospect, though, partly because the writing process for Sara (and Jayne, in some ways) was VERY stressful.  I have to remember that I've learned a lot; every book is a learning experience!

Several of my friends have books releasing soon, so I thought that until I get those 600 or so photos downloaded (which, I have to admit, are largely photos of waterlilies in various botanical gardens. Apparently I have a waterlily photography "issue"), I've definitely got time to share the bits of writer's life wisdom I've discovered along the way...


1.) When the going gets tough, the tough go underwear shopping.  And socks.  Basically, when you're on a deadline/ tight marketing schedule, laundry needs to not be quite so high up on the list. Stock up on undies and socks, and an extra pair of jeans for everyone in the family.

2.) Spruce up your own wardrobe.  The writer's life doesn't lend itself to business wear acquisitions, but you'll appreciate having go-to pieces of clothing for headshots, book events, and conferences.  Take a small chunk off the top of your advance and look for pieces that can be dressed up or down (like a silk blouse in a print) and worn for multiple seasons. I'm a big fan of denim suiting pieces for author events - a denim blazer or trouser pant looks polished without being stuffy.  You're a writer, not a stockbroker. Have some fun with your look!

3.) Set goals and stick to them. It seems basic, but it really is helpful.  Figure out how many words per day you need to crank out, be realistic, and work from there.

4.) When it comes to marketing, now is better.  When you get interview requests with questions, do them right away. It's much easier to get those done and sent off rather than keep track of the interviewer's schedule and have it leave the forefront of your consciousness.  Take a break from writing, set a timer, and answer the questions (however brilliant or inane they happen to be).  Just think back to the days of email forwarded surveys...


5.) Keep your files organized. I strongly recommend keeping your headshot jpg (in a large and small size) and book cover jpg (ditto) in the same folder (mine is labled "promotions"), as well as your press release and whatever interviews you're working on. That way, they're ready to go on a moment's notice whenever you're asked.

6.) Look sharp. Speaking of headshots, it's really best of an author shot to be a true head/shoulders shot. More than that, if it's viewed from far away or printed small, isn't going to read as well (and by "read as well," I mean that the image won't be quite as easy to understand or have the same visual impact). During the conference, there was one author who's photo made us scratch our heads until we figured out what was going on in that image.  Simple really is okay - it's your face we want to see!

7.) Synopsize! I totally made up the word, but you get the picture. Basically, if you're thinking ahead about your story's events and structure, you'll spend less time repaving over plot potholes later on down the road.  Seat-of-the-pants writing is only for people with years of time on their hands to write.

8.) Eat. Just not too much... Maintaining a steady blood sugar is important, so make sure you're feeding your brain as you work.  However, know that the write/snack/write/snack thing will come back to bite you - literally - in the behind.  Typing does not burn calories. Watch the munchies - eat smart.

9.) Take breaks. If you're not spending time with your family/friends/spouse/children/dog/cat/whathaveyou, you will become a hull of a human being and a sucky writer. It's okay to back away from the computer. Boundaries are your friend.

10.) Exercise.  I get through writer's block while walking with my husband (and these days, my dog).  The exercise does a lot for your body and your brain chemistry, so make sure to figure it into your schedule.

Remember, you can get creative with your exercise, as demonstrated here:



Well...it's my bedtime.  What tricks of the trade have you picked up?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ACFW from the Agent's Perspective: a Q & A with Sandra Bishop

If you're ACFW-bound, I strongly suggest taking a brief break from your packing.  On the blog today is my fabulous agent, ACFW 2010 Agent of the Year Sandra Bishop.  I asked Sandra a few ACFW-pertinent questions, which she was gracious enough to answer (and answer on a short time-frame).  This is information  you won't want to miss!

Hillary: As an Agent, describe the ACFW experience.

Sandra: It's fun. I get to wear dark glasses and skulk around looking for aliens.

H: What elements of ACFW surprised/interested you during your first conference experience?


S: That the "poolside rooms" in which they'd set faculty up for meetings were next to a covered pool. Actually, the organization and appointments are very well run. The staff is amazing and incredibly accommodating of faculty. I think they genuinely appreciate us.


H: When you're meeting with writers, what are elements that grab your interest?

S: Incredible writing. For me, it's always the writing. I see a lot of good writing, but that doesn't do it for me anymore.


H: I feel the same way about chocolate...back to the meetings, though - what are some of your pet peeves when you're meeting with writers?

S: When they don't actually bring a writing sample with them but say "they told us not to!" Who are "they" to tell you what you can have in your bag of tricks. If an agent or editor wants to see your writing and you don't have it, you've missed an opportunity to make a meaningful connection - or cross someone off your list.


H: Are there any cues that make you think, "Hey, this is going to be a really good meeting"?

S: Actually, when someone knows what they want from me. Even if it's just an opinion. Of course I love meetings with calm, focused, and confident authors who know what they are writing, and why. But, I also don't mind just encouraging writers who need it or talking through ideas - if they know that's what they want from the beginning so we don't end up with 45 seconds at the end of the meeting to talk about it.


H: Share a humorous, conference-related anecdote (you know how I enjoy humorous anecdotes).

S: I laughed about it now, though I didn't at the time. ... Once a writer refused to accept my advance critique saying I hadn't edited the whole thing and pushed it back across the table saying I owed him more. I pushed it back to him reminding him I really didn't owe him anything but that we could spend the rest of the time talking about his idea if he'd like. He pushed it back across the table again, stood up, and said "you are going to take this and I'm going to go talk with the conference director to make sure I get my money's worth." I took it and dropped the floor and said "any chance you might have had to work with me just landed where this is going. Good luck with the director." I like to think he learned a valuable lesson - and got his money's worth - though I doubt it. As it turns out, the director refunded his fee for the advance critique and invited him never to return to the conference.


H: Oh my goodness! I've said it before - do not be that guy!  It never ends well.  Let's talk food.  Mealtimes are generally conference-Kosher times to pitch to both agents and editors. What are good, non-obnoxious ways to gauge an editor/agent's interest?

S: Honestly, meals are hard because it's often times difficult to hear. If you don't get a chance to pitch your idea, don't despair. If you do, speak up and have a statement ready, which answers the following questions:
Are you published; in what genre are you writing; and what's the hook of your story. If they want to hear more about it, ask when they might have a few minutes to talk, or if you can contact them later. This gives others a chance and demonstrates that you're not desperate!


H: Because desperate is bad. Any additional tips for ACFW-bound writers?

S: Have fun, take notes, be assertive but not aggressive, and remember God may have plans for you you haven't even considered.

H: Excellent advice! Thanks so much for stopping by!


You may now resume your conference packing.  See you soon!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fashion Disconnect of a Delicate Nature

This post began to brew in my head when I watched last night's Project Runway, and came to a head when I read this post earlier today.

You can watch the episode yourself here, or read the EW recap here.
Basically, the episode's challenge involved husbands and boyfriends coming in to help design a runway garment for their significant other.  There were men who knew what their ladies enjoyed wearing and men who were aware that their sweethearts wore clothes, but couldn't describe these clothes, their colors, or their general shape.

Marilyn Monroe, en pointe
It was amusing.

I have full faith, for the record, that my husband would be very, very good at this.

Sofia Vergara
The trickiness with the challenge was that the designers were designing for clients, and clients are shaped differently than models.


Some designers celebrated this fact.  Others - Olivier - were displeased with the turn of events.  Sure, they want to design clothes.  Sure, these clothes become a line which would be sold to retailers with the eventual reality being that they would be worn by women....




Designer Olivier Green, pondering the breast situation
But for some...Olivier...this was a problem.  He liked to design for models.  Why?  They don't have breasts.  He's good with this.  More than good, because he prefers for women not to have breasts.  "It disrupts the line," or something like that.
Much was made over the fact that these "real women" had "large breasts," "large hips," "large everything."  Those of us in the audience could point that that these womanly attributes, for most women, are not "large," simply "existent."


First Lady Dolly Payne Todd Madison
Now, a good deal of humor was to be found, since one husband was quite vocal about his obsession with his wife's breasts.  He liked talking about them very much, awkwardly, and every time the subject came up, Olivier looked as though he wanted to curl in a fetal position.  He fussed about not knowing what to do, or how to sew around them, and when he found out that he was designing for a woman with breasts described as a "Double D" he was truly confused.



How confused? He had to have the concept explained by the checkout girl at Mood.  "It's a cup size," she said.

"Hellooo! Our swimwear doubles as a girdle!"
It's probably for the best that she didn't go into bandwidth, and the fact that a 34DD is a very, very different cup size than a 38DD.  He probably would have quit the show.


The fashion world's abhorrence of breasts has long been a subject of contention for me.  While some women have smaller breasts and some women have larger breasts, breasts are a genetically-given part of a woman's anatomy. They have purpose, as do hips.






Sophia Loren at Cannes

But for some reasons, breasts are not en vogue. This has not always been the case.  In fact, for centuries, it was considered a good thing for women to have breasts.  They went out of style in the 1920's, but returned a decade later, and continued until the 60's when the "Twiggy" look became popular.


Am not a fan of her myself.


Is it that breasts are so 1891?






Andrej Pejic, of the manly legs
There are beautiful, feminine women with small breasts.  There are beautiful, feminine women with large breasts.  My point is that fashion shouldn't exclusively design for small-to-nonexistent breasts.


But where are we now? We live in a world where you can have a man work the runway for both men's and women's apparel.  The women's apparel is not designed for a body that appears womanly.  The People.com article says that model Andrej Pejic looked just like every other young woman coming down the runway, but I'd like to point out that those are MAN LEGS.

I don't care how slim they are, the muscles are just structured differently.



Joan Harris, my hero

Add the fact that in 2010 alone, 319,123 breast augmentation surgeries were performed. Considering that 138,152 breast reduction surgeries were performed in the same year, it means that a woman is more likely to have cosmetic surgery performed on her breasts than any other body part.
It also means that, in America, they just keep getting bigger.

Just saying.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall 2011 Films to Look Forward To

On one hand, I have mixed feelings about the upcoming fall releases. We had a very strong summer when it came to female-centric films, between Bridesmaids and The Help.  So it's a little disappointing to look at the fall offerings and wonder - where are the ladies?

That said, there are films with huge potential coming up, especially since Oscar-bait films have begun to roll out earlier in the last few years.  Beginning with...

Drive - September 16



To say that Drive is "buzzy" is...so much of an understatement I can't think of a good metaphor.  It's been compared to The Godfather, early reviews are glowy, and it found much film festival love at the Venice and TFF festivals.

It has cars that go fast, so it's kind of automatically in watch-list, but the critical acclaim and solid cast doesn't hurt, either.

Moneyball - September 23



Brad Pitt's role in Moneyball has been called Redford-esque, and my guess that it's the role just as much as the floppy hair. With the screenplay by Stephen Zaillian (Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fisher) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The American President) and a strong cast, the film should be good even if the A's have been tanking.

The Ides of March - October 7



Clooney! Gosling! Giamatti! Seymour-Hoffman! Tomei! Wood!

That's pretty much all I have to say.

The Three Musketeers - October 21



I want this to be campy costume fun, in the A Knight's Tale, Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl tradition, and since there are ninjas (in, um *cough* France) in the trailer, it looks like the camp as well as the costume are fully accounted for. Actually, the ninjas bring to mind Brotherhood of the Wolf, that well-made French Canadian genre mash-up that brought werewolves and ninjas to France...same ninjas? Difficult to say. But there's a coming apocalypse in the French court (I hate when that happens), so we'll see how goes. The cast features several of my favorite import actors - Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, and Matthew MacFadyen, as well as Milla Jovovich having Fun With Wires and Swords.  As a Summit release, this movie has been paid for by the Twilight foundation. We'll find out in October if Summit can find success with a film that doesn't involve Perpetually Shirtless Young Men.

The Descendants - November 18



The "other" Clooney film, this one helmed by Sideways guy Alexander Payne. Will probably pick up an Original Screenplay nomination come January. The trailer looks a little aimless, but when it comes to picking scripts, George makes good calls.  And Judy Greer makes an appearance, though her moments of utter brilliance may be behind us.

Hugo - November 23



Heart keys, plucky children, funny dog cutaway shots, heartwarming adventure, brought to us by...Martin Scorcese?  C'est vrai, and with its cineast references to French film and toymaker Georges Méliès, it really looks terrific.


The Muppets - November 23



Oh, Miss Piggy. It's been too long.  I hope you and Amy Adams got along...

Quick Update: The Muppets camp just released this trailer spoof of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trailer.  It's awesome.



The Artist - November 23



Nostalgia is big business this year.  After the uber-successful Midnight in Paris, we have another look back in time.  This time it's the era of silent films, when screens (and the film stock) really were silver, toes tapped, and an actress could break hearts with the flutter of an eyelash. What I think has been discovered in the wake of Midnight is that, in our post-9/11 world, there is a market for well-made charm.

I have to say, The Artist is the film I'm most looking forward to.  I grew up on the song-and-dance films of Hollywood's Golden Age, so The Artist takes me to a happy place.  That said, I can't get over the scene in the trailer when the blond throws the newspaper at the dog.  Seriously! The dog?

What are you looking forward to seeing this fall?

Monday, September 12, 2011

ACFW on the Mind



This blog comes to you from the Mid-South again, though a few miles south of Memphis than before (we're staying in Southaven this go-round).  Danny had meetings and further work training to complete in the Memphis branch (though "complete" may be an optimistic term), and with ACFW coming up, we decided to connect the St. Louis trip with the Memphis trip and make it one, giant trip away from home.

Danny's busy in the office and hydraulics shop by day. I've been spending my time getting ready for ACFW.

I confess, my priorities are not as my agent would have them. I need to get together my pitch materials for my conference meetings...but let's be honest. Those (when the author chooses to focus on them) tend to come together quickly. You know what takes more time and effort?

Getting your ensemble for the ACFW Awards Banquet ready.

I've got the dress - it took two tries (the first color I ordered was back-ordered until the day *after* the banquet), but it arrived before we left and it's at an alterations shop as I type. I've got the shoes - picked them up to wear for Easter this last spring.  I've got the handbag - found it at TJ in Richland. Bought a cute little hair-clippy and bracelet yesterday. Still haven't figured out what lipstick to use, and if I'm going to get arty with my accessories and perform some last-minute tweaking, but the essentials are there.

So now that *that's* taken care of, I'm on to the task of getting the pitches ready. This involves creating a title and names for character for a story concept I've loved but hadn't spent time articulating the particulars of. Now, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I take my names very, very seriously.

For both Plain Jayne and Simply Sara, the main character names were entirely informed by the titles. This is not typically how I roll.  I research, I think about the character in my head, I write out lists, I wait for the right name to pop out and say that this is the one that fits.

Kind of like trying on shoes.

Also, I used to be pretty good at naming books.  I think that period of my life is over.

Next, I'm going to tidy up the first few chapters of my WIP (work in progress), since the second chapter isn't doing for me what I'd like it to.  Especially in an age when readers decide to purchase books depending on the strength of the sample offered on e-reader, the opening chapter and a half (or so, depending on the publisher) is even more important than ever. The days of easing the reader into a story are over. The days of being lazy about starting a plot are over. Bookselling is a competitive marketplace - edit! Tighten! Rewrite! You'll never sit back and sigh, "If only I hadn't given my book a stronger opening sequence."

Seriously.

In other random ACFW news:

Last year at ACFW was tough for me. I resolved then to do what I'm doing this year, which is arrive early to rest up before the conference begins.

I didn't know until a couple weeks ago that I'd be given two weeks to acclimate to the time change, but we'll still arrive at the hotel a day early to get settled and figure out the lay of the land.

Also, ladies, I highly recommend packing this product - Benefit's Eye Bright pencil. They describe it as a nap in a stick, and I would consider that to be an accurate description. I went searching for something, anything to fix my under-eye issues after our last drive back from Memphis - things had gotten so bad I avoided looking at myself in the mirror in the morning.  You can apply it under your under-eye concealer, on top of your makeup at the corners of your eyes, pretty much wherever you need to banish dark shadows. It really is magic, and I don't travel without it.

I also recommend packing plenty of cardigans as well as comfortable shoes - considering that you're moving from one part of a hotel to another part of a hotel, there's still plenty of time on your feet (especially if you're me and you're running late and you've got to seriously hike it from your room to the elevator, and the elevator takes forever and you'd totally take the stairs if you weren't on the ninth floor, and even after you've caught the elevator you make two or three stops before making a dash to the conference room on the opposite side of the building, down a long hall) *and* you never know how the a/c is going to be tuned. Layers are your friend.

Well, it's back to pitch-work for me. If you're at ACFW in a couple weeks, be sure to track me down!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Birthday Clafoutis and Book Proposals

See, I thought it was appropriate to make a cherry clafouti for my birthday because the word clafouti sounds like a party in and of itself.  Like confetti. It just tastes better.

I've been circling this recipe for a month or two, waiting for the opportune moment (i.e. a loving reunion with my KitchenAid and assorted bake-ware. Oh, and my sieve) to do something really special with a bag of cherries.

Life is a bowl of cherries. Preferably sans pits.
I could be wrong about this. All I know is:

A. There are a lot of cherries here.

B. There seem to be more cherries than back home.

C. Generally, like the dentist situation in Tri-Cities (*never* have I seen so many dentists' offices. Ever.), it means that there's simply more of them.

But I digress.

A few things about this recipe:

It looks great when you put it together, smells even better in the oven.



Also, it's like, *really* bland.

Fresh out of the oven.
I didn't use the kirsch the recipe called for, and my vanilla beans were about a year old and would have needed some TLC to be usable.  I used my good Mexican vanilla extract, and threw a bit of cardamom and ginger into the flan batter.

On the table, sunning itself.
What really needed to go in was another tablespoon of sugar (which is really something, coming from me - I don't like my sweets overly sweet) and a generous tablespoon of lemon zest.  And maybe an additional tablespoon of flour.


It's certainly not an ugly dessert.  Though I will say, once you cut into it, photogenic isn't a word I'd use.  And the cherries tasted really good. I have more left.  They may very well turn into these.

A note on book proposals: I chatted with my agent this morning.  I told her about how I'd gone to my first critique-group meeting here in Tri-Cities, and how I wanted to tweak the sample chapter in my current book proposal.  The group had pointed out some things about my transitions (mainly, there weren't any.  This is a fault of mine that I freely admit).  The chapter itself was written, mostly, three or so years ago, and I hadn't done a whole lot of heavy-duty editing to it.

My reasoning is that while the sample chapter you include with your proposal should be clean, they also shouldn't be over-thought.  Slaving away at that chapter is kind of like naming livestock - an editor may turn around and say, "Hey, we love it, but how do you feel about writing ______ instead?"

This has happened to me several times.  I've learned to put emotional distance between myself and these chapters.  I work on them, and then I move on.  It's a mental health thing.

Now, I want to work on the sample chapter because I want to like it more than I do. It's an easy fix.  But my agent did point out that editors can be wary of über-perfect sample chapters.  Kind of, when you think about it, like guys on first dates who say they love children, small dogs, and Jane Austen.

So don't kill yourself striving for abject perfection when you're including those sample chapters. Make sure they're really, really, good - and then move on with your life.  There are other things to pay attention to.

Like figuring out how to fix a bland clafouti.

Try saying that three times fast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reinvent Your Writing

Today's guest-poster, the lovely Lynne Gentry, knows a thing or two about reinvention.  Her debut novel, Reinventing Leona,  is all about making changes for the better.

Also red lipstick.  But I'll let you discover that for yourself.  Here's Lynne!

Writing good stories is like raising good kids, they never happen by accident. Someone has to invest a lot of time and effort in the project to achieve an award-winning result.

How many times have you thought you’d written the next bestseller only to take it to your critique group meeting and have them mop the floor with you? I’ve done it more times than I can count. Yet, every Tuesday night I print out a chapter and set off for another grueling round of iron-sharpening-iron.


Why do I put myself through this torture?

Because these trusted friends have only my best interest at heart. I’d rather hear what’s NOT working with my story in the comfort of someone’s cozy living room than have the flaws plastered all over an Amazon review.

True writing friends are not here to tell me I’m wonderful. They’re job is to make me a better writer. I’ll admit, crits can sting. But I’ve learned to consider their points and to think through why something tripped them up. Their suggestions challenge me to ratchet up the tension here or find a fresh way to drive my point home there.

Are you writing in secret?

Don’t do what I did. I wrote my first 400 page novel without letting anyone take a peek. When I finally summoned enough courage to submit the book to an editor, I received this terse response eight minutes later: I’m sorry, your writing does not measure up to the standards of our publishing house.

Ouch!

What did I learn? Don’t submit another thing until you get some help. I needed a group that would challenge, yet encourage a pleaser like me to continue in this often brutal and solitary calling.

Fortunately, I found a constructive writing group. And humbly submitting to the process reinvented my writing.

When I consider what each of the members of our writing group bring to the table, I’m reminded of how women used to gather around a well or quilting frame. Together, they helped each other raise their families, withstand the hard times, and make the world a better place.

What if writers did the same today? 


About Lynne's novel, Reinventing Leona:

Leona Harper loves being a pastor's wife. Her impressive resumé touts thirty years of coaxing hot water from rusty parsonage plumbing, planning church potlucks, and standing beside her husband while members take potshots at his sermons. Except for the little tiff with her grown children, Leona feels her life is right on track with the wishes of the Almighty...until her husband drops dead in the pulpit.

When the church board decides to fill the Reverend's vacated position Leona is forced to find a paying job, mend her fractured family, and tackle her fears. With life spiraling out of control, Leona might find the church members antics comical if she weren't so completely panicked. Can the faith of an overwhelmed widow withstand the added heartache of two resentful children and several underhanded church members?

If Leona can't trust God, how will she learn to trust herself?

Don't miss it! Full of warmth and wit, I recommend reading with a glass of iced tea.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Journey's End


And what a journey it's been.

We moved in November, spending the month in Portland, doing our best to stay dry.  We drank good coffee, dodged parked cars on narrow streets, and enjoyed living with family across the street from the Kennedy School.

We drove to Memphis in December.  We met some of Danny's extended family in the Little Rock Area, visited museums and restaurants in Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.  We got to meet Ree and Ladd Drummond at the now-closed Davis-Kidd Bookstore. We watched the Peabody Ducks swim in the hotel fountain and waddle down a red carpet to the elevator.

Also heard my first tornado siren.

Hoping it's the last.

We returned to the Pacific Northwest in early March and moved into a corporate apartment which, after living in a dark, smelly hotel room for three months, was particularly magical.  Throw in some sunshine, the ability to sit on a couch and have both an extra bedroom *and* bathroom, and we were in good shape.

We got a puppy, who turned out to be a teenage girl in disguise.  We also looked for a house, fell in love with one and watched as the deal fell through.  We began to build a second, which took...

...a while.

But it ended.

And we completed the sale.

And the bank did not laugh at us or throw rocks.

And we moved in.  Actually, not in that order.  We didn't actually fund before we moved in, which made me nervous that the bank would, at the last  minute, decide to laugh or throw rocks (not that they have reason to do so, but I'd had a *bit* of anxiety about the subject).

So now we have a house, our first house, and a garage and a KITCHEN and a yard and an actual dining room...

...Did I mention the kitchen?

It's good to be home.  I'm realistic enough to know that we'll probably move again, very possibly out of state again, but for right now it's nice to let some roots go deep.  And now that we're settled, life starts again. Work starts again.  There will be guest posts on this blog and more posts about writing, since I'll be back to full-time work.  Thanks for being patient through this unexpected hiatus, and don't worry - there will be more books!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Countdown


Very soon...

1.) Tesla will no longer have vertical blinds to drive us crazy with.

2.) Neither will she have a coffee table to hide under.

(We've been in a furnished corporate apartment)

3.) We will have COUNTER SPACE.

4.) And a full-sized fridge!  For the first time in four years!

5.) Our things will be out of storage. Including:

               a.) My KitchenAid! Sadie!

               b.) My pastry-cutter! Which I stupidly did not haul out to Memphis!
               
               c.) My knives!
               
               d.) My DISHES!!!
               
               e.) My husband's third and fourth pairs of cargo shorts! (It's been 90+ degrees around here since June, and he only brought two pairs to Memphis because we wintered in Memphis and bringing more seemed silly. O that we knew how we'd have only that which we took to Memphis for our first five months in Richland...in the spring and summer. Hindsight and all that.)
               
               f.) My desk!
             
               g.) My copies of Plain Jayne and Simply Sara! (So that when people ask to buy/ read copies, I'll actually have one on hand. Or, like, fifty.)
             
6.) No more crazy-loud upstairs neighbors!

7.) No more crazy-loud downstairs neighbors...

8.) No more housekeepers who show up at inopportune moments.

9.) No more housekeepers to take out the trash and occasionally scrub out the guest bathroom tub.  Hm.

10.) Likewise the landscapers...

11.) We'll have a kitchen with an actually, honest-to-goodness PANTRY!

12.) Also, we'll have real-live guest rooms.  With beds.  For guests.

13.) No more Oregon sales-tax exemption...

14.) No more state income tax (and if you're self-employed in the state of Oregon, you know there is a definite ouch factor there!).  Ooh, and LTD tax. For a bus I haven't ridden since my freshman years of high school.

15.) We'll finally have a home. And that is something to look forward to.

P.S. That picture? So totally not actually our house. Just in case you were wondering
                     

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Expecting Disaster


We've been in the process of having a house built here in Richland. There are days I feel our house has been built by Lemony Snickett - it truly has been a series of unfortunate events.

They broke ground in late March. The first disaster occurred when the builder began to build with the wrong interior plans. Unfortunately, we did not know this until after the house had been plumbed, which wouldn't have been an issue *if* we hadn't changed the way the master bath was laid out. (Our real estate agent, if you must know, did not forward the plans to the builder. But that, dear reader, is a sad story for another day). and the slab foundation was poured. The concrete was ripped up, the bathroom re-plumbed. Until just over a week ago, the hole remained, as a reminder that we should be wary.

You should know we have really wonderful builders. The work is very good. Also, they're all either Central or Eastern European, so it's kind of like having your house built by Tom Hanks' Viktor Navorski, though it's possible that Hanks' Navorski moved a bit quicker.

(It should be noted that one of our builders in particular has a very heavy accent, and has difficulty with his vowels. Particularly "e" sounds. "Beat" becomes "bit." So when he talks about sheet-rock and sheeting, read into that what you will.)

We've had to pick out carpets twice, bathroom flooring three times. The carpet was back-ordered, as was the first vinyl for the bathrooms. The second vinyl was simply not sent by the manufacturer - twice. The wrong laminate floors arrived. We picked out a new stove (first was back-ordered). Afterwards, we volunteered to pick out a new microwave hood and dishwasher, all of them in-stock in Tri-Cities, for the sake of avoiding disaster.

At this point, I find comfort in the fact that it is difficult to find back-ordered sod; likewise with paint (the paint was ostensibly applied earlier today. We shall see). All of the light-fixtures, that I know of, have been picked up and/or ordered. When I sent the list, I sent pictures,  item numbers, installation orientations, website links - basically everything short of a store manager's personal cell phone number. So far, so good.

We shall see.

Did I mention that while we've been doing this, we've also had a post-spay surgery dog in the house? A dog who doesn't care that the vet wants her to stay calm? Who isn't particularly worried when she starts bleeding from her incision site, or when said mess winds up on the carpet? Who, before we got her, trained herself to be immune to Xanax (it was deliberate, I'm sure)? Who has *literally* been climbing the walls?

Well, we do.

I've gotten to the point that when I see that I've got an email, I freeze up. I think, "what has gone wrong now?" This happened earlier today when I received an email from the builder's agent that simply read "Give me a call."

Did the carpet catch fire? Difficult to say. I called. I expected the worst.

"When they paint the walls," she asked, "do you want the doors to be painted too?"

Um, sure.

I realize I may be a bit overly twitchy.

So, should you ever decide to build a house, my first word of advice is to expect abject disaster.

My second word of advice is to keep a sense of humor about it. Because at the end of the day, it might be all you have left.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Us - Part IV


Four years ago today, I married my best friend.

When I wrote my second novel, Simply Sara, one of the themes that developed was the idea of home, and how home isn't necessarily a place.

What I've discovered in this past year is exactly how true that is.  Since our last anniversary, we've lived in Eugene, Portland, Memphis, and Richland.  At some point in the future (and goodness knows when) we'll move again, this time across town into our freshly-built house.

We've lived with family, we've lived far from family. But no matter where we are, my home is wherever Danny is.  As much as I miss my family, my friends, and the trappings of familiarity, I need Danny more.  No matter how unsettled our living situation is, as long as I'm with him, I can manage.

The thing is, no matter where we are, Danny's feet are still ticklish.  He still consumes large quantities of ice cream and Hot Tamales.  He still complains when his hair gets too long and it flops in his face.  He still opens my car door.  He still reaches for my hand when we walk together. He's still taller than me, even if I'm in five-inch heels. His smile still lights up his face (I know it's a cliché, but it's true). His hug is still the one that truly makes things better.  We still get each other.  Our "us-ness" remains the same, even if our location has shifted.

He's my home, and I wouldn't have it any other way.