Thursday, October 8, 2015

Out of the Box

Hi friends!

I didn't mean for the blog to go dark through September, but that is (clearly) how it shook out. We made an offer on a house on my mom's birthday - August 5th, had it accepted on the 6th, and closed on the 11th of September. Danny and his older brother moved the heavy furniture over the weekend of the 18th, and we moved most everything else the weekend after.

We spent the next week making trips back and forth (about an hour each way, in traffic) to finish packing and some fairly intensive cleaning of our rental townhouse.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fresh Flavor Sunday - Blackberry Banana Cake

It's been a summer of mood swings here in Portland - we've had very hot, very cool, and very stormy weather, as well as smoke from recent wildfires blanketing the valley.

So I haven't been as on-top of my blackberry picking as I have been in past years. We live near some wonderful walking paths, a lot of them lined with blackberry bushes, so I've been anxious to go out. Well, I finally got to it yesterday with my niece. We were fairly certain we'd get rained on, but this was a rare Pacific Northwest moment where the dark clouds blew away from us!

We had a good time, but didn't find the kind of volume I would have hoped for. A lot of the berries were either unripe, out of reach, or shrivelled on the vine. We hiked through some tall grass in hopes of finding better berries, but only found dried ones - and wound up covered in burrs for our trouble.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fresh Flavor Friday: Adventures in Gardening with Katherine Reay + Book Giveaway!

Hillary here - so delighted to have guest Katherine Reay to chat about her adventures in gardening!

My family loves food. When we lived in Ireland, another family and ours would get together and share a huge Sunday dinner – one that took hours to cook and an equally long time to enjoy. Now that we're back in the states, Sunday dinner remains one of our favorite family traditions. The menu varies – barbeque one week, Coq au Vin another and some multi-course Italian extravaganza at least monthly. We love the time together, searching for the menu, and the cooking. We endure the clean-up. In fact, when writing Lizzy and Jane, I tapped into this passion. Most of Lizzy’s food comes from family favorites.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fresh Flavor Monday: Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

If you're looking for a satisfying dish with a lot of flavor but not a lot of effort, heirloom tomatoes are here for you! They're right in season at the moment, so check out your farmer's market and better-stocked grocery stores.

Heirloom tomatoes are varietals that have been passed down in a family for several generations. We're accustomed to tomatoes that are round and evenly colored. Heirlooms can be yellow, purple, red, and orange, They can be lumpy and asymmetrical - no two are identical.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Eat Clean. Eat Fresh. Eat Local.

To celebrate the month of August and the recent release of Reservations for Two, my publisher and I are spending the month celebrating local flavors.

How do you join in? Snap a picture of celebrating fresh, local food (could be a recipe or a particularly lovely radish…be creative!). Post your photo to social media using #mylocalflavor and #ReservationsForTwo and you’ll be entered to win a Kitchenaid Mixer as well as a shot at one of 5 kitchen gift baskets put together by me! The gift baskets will include my favorite kitchen items, one of my favorite cookbooks and a copy of the book Reservations for Two.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer Breeze

Does it feel like this summer is breezing by for you? It feels like it to me!

First, I'm working my way through book three of the Two Blue Doors series, Together at the Table. Not unlike it's predecessors, it's wiggly and squirmy and has thoughts. Yes, I do realize I described Shiloh as a puppy (really, Shiloh now).

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Table by the Window E-Book Sale!

For a limited time only, A Table by the Window is on e-book sale! This is a rare, rare thing, so if you've been wanting to start the Two Blue Doors Series, or if you want to get a friend hooked (yes, you can gift e-books!) this is the perfect time!

And the other three novels - can't say enough about them, either. It's a great way to stock up your e-reader for the summer! Click the graphic to purchase any of the four titles on the e-book platform of your choice.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What's Up, Melissa Tagg? A Q&A and Book Giveaway

Delighted to have one of my very favorite people on the blog today - Melissa Tagg!

Melissa's latest book, From the Start, is recently out, and it's one of my favorite recent contemporary romances. Melissa is so incredibly sharp and witty in her writing - her dialogue pops, and her scenes are perfectly paced.

And because I always want to know more about things I love, I invited Melissa over to give us the backstory.

Hillary: Let's get to it! Tell us about From the Start - what inspired the main concept?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fresh from the Oven Sweepstakes - with Katie Ganshert!

It's a day to celebrate! Katie Ganshert's The Art of Losing Yourself and my Reservations for Two are officially three weeks old today!

To celebrate, we're giving away a copy of each book, as well as a bag of cornbread mix and a handmade, hand-stamped necklace. The pendant on the necklace reads faithful, a word that Katie and I agreed fit both books.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tales from the Greenroom: Six Minutes on Television

Quite a lot of work can go into six minutes of TV.

I heard from my publicist on March 4th that I'd gotten a slot on AM Northwest, which is the local Portland morning show, aired on the ABC affiliate station. "That's going to be rough for you," Danny said when I told him about it. "You're going to have to be up early."

My publicist and I went back and forth discussing recipes - because I had a six-minute slot, I decided to play it safe and make the cherry crostini that first debuted on this blog. The one complication? No fresh cherries. I prayed for weeks that the grocery stores would have some early cherries in stock, flown in from somewhere in Argentina.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reservations for Two Release Day Tiramisu!

It's been such a wonderful release day! Reservations for Two is officially out in the world (see purchasing options here).  I got to swing by a nearby Barnes & Noble location (our closest bookstore) and see copies on the shelf! So wonderful.

It's been a busy few few days - yesterday I appeared on our local morning television show, AM Northwest, and did a short cooking demo.

I'll post more fully about that experience tomorrow, but until then you can see the clip of me cooking and putting-together-sentence-doing here.

But back to Reservations for Two - it's officially out and about in the world, and to celebrate, I'm sharing the Home-style Tiramisu that Juliette enjoys during a visit to family in Tuscany.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt: Stop #14 (Pink Team)

Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! I am a part of Team Pink, and this is Stop #14. The Hunt begins at Noon Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 34 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!

If you're just joining us, there are two loops—pink and purple—and they begin at Lisa Bergren's site and Robin Hatcher's site for stop #1 for either stream. If you complete either the pink loop or purple loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete both loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and all 34 autographed books.

Please be sure to keep track of the clues at the bottom of every post in the loop and the favorite number mentioned. You'll need those clues to enter for the loop prize and every number mentioned in order to enter for the grand prize.

(Also, please don't use Internet Explorer to navigate through the loops. Some web sites won't show up using IE. Chrome or Firefox are recommended.)

Hillary here - welcome to stop #14, Pink Loop, of the Great Scavenger Hunt of 2015! If you're just popping in, do start at stop #1 for the full dish. 

I'm delighted to be hosting my friend here today, the delightful Katie Ganshert. Katie writes with great sensitivity and lyricism on a number of topics, infertility included. Read on to find out how her own journey inspired her latest release, The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing April 21st. 

In the world of novel-writing, authors can usually be lumped into one of two groups—character-first and plot-first. The names are self-explanatory. A character-first writer starts with a character and builds the plot accordingly. A plot-first writer starts with a plot, and then creates characters to carry it out.

I don’t fit into either mold.

My novels don’t begin with a character or a plot. They almost always begin with a scene. They’ll come to me at random times. While I’m driving in the car or taking a shower or lying in bed or sitting in church. The scene will play out—so real and vivid and enticing that I need to write it. And once I’ve written it, I need to find a story to go with it.

For my upcoming novel—The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing in a few short days—it all began with a parking lot and my irritation with an Expectant Mother sign. As a woman who has walked the path of infertility, those signs can feel like a punch to the gut. In the midst of my inward musings, the scene that would birth this novel took shape.

Here’s a snippet:
I wasn’t sure at what point the air inside Toys R Us grew too thick to breathe. Mandy’s words had brought in a high tide of what-ifs. What if we were never chosen? What if we went through the same thing Mandy’s cousin’s church friend went through? What if Ben and I were doomed to forever be in this place we’d found ourselves in, with no hope of getting out? I tried my hardest to shut the questions off.

God had a plan…

It was something I believed once, a long time ago. But now?

My hand settled over the flatness of my stomach, even as I attempted to keep the memories away. But they were stubborn, intrusive things, dredging up handfuls of doubt I was so sick of holding. Once upon a time, I naively thought God would bless Ben and me for doing life His way. Yet there I sat in the driver’s seat, a bag of baby items resting in my lap, with nothing but aching arms and an empty house.

A ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and reflected off a parking sign straight ahead of me: For Expectant Mothers.

My composure snapped.

Without warning, without forethought, I shifted into drive and hit the gas, a wild scream tearing up my throat. My car lurched forward and rammed into the metal post. The sign remained standing. Its resiliency blistered all reason. I threw my car into reverse, backed up, and ran into it again, flooring the gas until a loud crunch rent the air.

I blinked several times with the steering wheel gripped in my hands. Then I rose up in my seat. A stork carrying a bundled baby was taking a nosedive toward the cement.

The Art of Losing Yourself Book Blurb:

Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.
Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.
Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

The Scavenger Hunt Skinny:
Thanks for stopping by on the hunt! Before you go, make sure you write down the clues.

Secret Word: your
Secret Number: 7, because Danny and I married on 7/7/07 (Yeah, we were one of those). 
Next Stop: Katie's hosting Stop #15! Click here to continue. And if you're turned around, a complete list of the stops with links will be on Robin Hatcher's website.

Before You Go:

You can find ordering information for The Art of Losing Yourself here, as well as the first chapter.

Reflections on my own journey with infertility can be found here and here.

Also, you can enter to win a copy of my latest - and not yet released - title, Reservations for Two below. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the rest of the Scavenger Hunt!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writer's Corner - Writing a Synopsis: a three-step process to getting it done

If you hate synopses, you know who you are. The word gives you the shudders. When you have to write one, you whinge about it on social media.

I get it. I do. But there are two reasons why being able to write one easily will really benefit you.

First - synopses are a reality of the publishing industry. If you're pitching a book to an agent, to an editor, they all want to see a synopsis. And with good reason, obviously - it's faster to read a synopsis than an entire book.

And second, a synopsis is a very useful tool for getting from beginning to end. A lot can happen in 85,000-95,000 words, and it can be easy to lose your way. A synopsis is a road map, a planning tool to work out plot kinks before you're in 60,000 words and realize you've lost your way.

Writing a synopsis can be difficult for many fiction writers. It's basically the opposite of writing a book. But if you break it down into three steps and shift you're writing perspective, it's very, very approachable.

1. Make a timeline. I take a sheet of 11x17" paper and create a timeline with three-act structure in mind. It's okay for this to be messy, with thought bubbles connected to the timeline with long pencil marks.

And do use a pencil, because this is a rough, rough stage.

2. Make a bulleted list of plot points. This is simple - in a document, transcribe the plot points on the paper, filling in any blank spots. This is just a list. For your personal use, you could probably just stop here. But for a proposal synopsis, the next stop is to connect everything together.

3. Write the synopsis. Stay with me on this one.

          Tip 1. Tell, don't Show. For instance, if you're writing a book you'd say -

"Penelope held the potted rosebush in the crook of her arm, stroking a soft bloom with her fingertips. Her heart squeezed. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The house had been in the family for generations. It had survived war, flood, and a pernicious case of mold.

But it couldn't survive her brother's financial decisions. After three hundred years, the legacy ended with a bad investment made by Bernie Seymour-Weston.

The furniture had sold, the artwork too. All she had left of the house was a cutting from her great-grandmother's rosebush."

And in a synopsis, you'd say -

"After her brother loses the family estate, Penelope has nothing but a rosebush to her name."

          Tip 2: Lean into the verbs and keep the sentences simple. Protagonist does this, later protagonist goes there. Protagonist feels hurt, protagonist decides to become a garden consultant. A week later, Protagonist travels to Upper Winbaugh to an estate willing to hire her - and so on.

          Tip 3: Look at is as a series of actions and reactions. In the Writer's Block blog, I talk about how a book is a series of chemical reactions. So look at the synopsis as a way to write out the actions and the subsequent reactions.

          Tip 4: Don't overthink it. If there's ever a time to not self-edit, it's synopsis writing. Take a deep breath and dive in, relaxing into the style.

          Tip 5: Practice. When I was pitching the Two Blue Doors series, I had 25 or so versions of the proposal - that's how many times I wrote and rewrote and pitched and re-pitched the concept. And after that? Tossing out a synopsis feels much more natural. So even if it still feels tricky, keep at it. It's the writing equivalent of riding a bike.

          Tip 6: Make it a reference point. Think of this document as a handy cheat sheet, not only for plot but also for names and places. As you develop your story, character and place names can change. Going through your synopsis and putting the names in bold (just the first time, you don't necessarily have to do it throughout) makes it easy to go back and remind yourself what your character's assistant's name is the name of the fictional cafe where she used to work. 

Those are my tips. What do you think? What synopsis tips work for you?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Pear Squares: A Story of Dealing With It

Some days, everything goes fine. Yesterday was not that day.

I set out to bake the caramelized pear & buckwheat cake from Amber Rose's Love Bake Nourish cookbook. I've enjoyed several of the recipes in the book - she bakes the way I've learned I need to bake - with fruits, whole grains, nuts, and no white sugar. And considering that I had a.) four crazy ripe pears and b.) women coming over for knitting group, yesterday became baking day.

Everything was going fine - I caramelized the pears in butter and maple syrup, and while the pears didn't brown the way the book though they might, the mixture smelled heavenly.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writer's Corner: The Hands-On Approach to Beating Writer's Block

Let’s talk writer’s block today.

To really break down writer’s block, you’d need a book’s worth of space – because what we call writer’s block is kinda like Biblical references to leprosy – it’s a catch-all term for, rather than a skin disease, the problem of not being able to write effectively.

But the tricky thing is that writer’s block has all kinds of causes and variations - none of which, I'm sorry to say, involve putting down a book and watching an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. I've written out the processes that help me to work out problem spots and keep going; they're geared for fiction, and based around an understanding of three act structure, but even if you're writing non-fiction you'll find some crossover. Let's get started!

Step 1 – Admitting it is the first step
Sometimes when you’re thinking “I’m not feeling the book today” that’s actually code in your head for “I don’t like it because it’s hard,” which is also code for “I’m stuck.” You can “not feel it” for days – or weeks, or months. Once you see it for what it is – block – you can move forward.

Other times, if you're like me, you can wind up in a panic spiral. What started as "It's a problem" can turn into "I can't figure it out and I'll never have any ideas ever again." Which - no. Look at it this way - a block is your brain's way of telling you that your book is hitting a dead end. It's an alert system. So take a deep breath, trust your brain, and dig in.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catchy is as Catchy Does

So I shared this on my Facebook wall the other day, and the delightful Rachel McMillan has been complaining ever since that she's had the song stuck in her head.

I mean...there are worse things, because it's a legitimately good song. But since she's suffering, you know, I'm offering up some likewise solid yet ear-worm-y songs -

The Oscars Are Coming, and Other Sundry Things

Shiloh, snoozing against my computer.

THE OSCARS ARE THIS WEEKEND. I'm not even remotely ready, and more than that, I don't think I'm going to be able to do my annual coverage. I haven't followed the guild awards, and while I've managed to put together the blog in previous years even while driving across the country, this year I have to make a difficult choice: blog about the Oscars or write the book I've been hired to write.

I gotta go with option b. Which is deeply disappointing, I know, for the fifteen of you who enjoy the Oscar coverage (bless you, one and all). Rest assured I'll be live-tweeting through the Oscarcast, and rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy to win for Best Makeup. 

Also coming up: wrap-ups of Project Runway All Stars (oy).  Feeling very behind on everything, mostly because I am. Last month I had a dental cleaning, which lead to having fillings replaced, which turned into two root canals, which lead to one crown, and another a week later when the non-crowned tooth began to crack. 

Because I have the pain tolerance of a baby puppy (it's true), all but the cleaning were done under some form of sedation, with prescription painkillers in-between (not my favorite, but it was that or give myself facial frostbite with an ice-pack), and now that everything's FINE I feel rather like Rip Van Winkle, with an excessively long to-do list.

In other news: I read Lena Dunham's book for a book club, and was not a fan (reading it with jaw pain added insult to injury). I've started collecting potential titles for my own future memoir (don't worry - it won't be for another 30 years). My current favorite is "That Is a Very Bad Idea," but my sister's vote has gone to "For the Love of Joshua Harris, Please Stop," in reference to this article.

So that's me. What would you name your memoir? How do you handle book club picks that you hate? Which film (nominated or not) would you gift with a Best Picture Award? And what strange places do your pets choose to fall asleep? Let's chat.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Table by the Window - the gorgeous new cover!

So a funny thing happened...

The original Reservations for Two cover used an image that the designers at WaterBrook love for a long time - it was in the running for book one, and when we went in a different for A Table by the Window, the team looped back to the first image for the second book.

So time passed, I wrote Reservations, heavily editing Reservations, we're chugging away, the book is about to go to print...

...and then it comes down the information pipeline that the photographer (who is French) never signed the release for that image, and then stopped returning calls. Because...*insert French shrug here*.

But I'm at peace with this. Why? Because a week before my baby went to print, the designer went and made this STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS new cover that I love even more than the first. Are ya ready?

Reservations for Two Hillary Manton Lodge A Table by the Window

In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. I want to step inside and read a book, paint a canvas, camp out forever in that cover (I'm sure there's room service). I want to take Danny and have a twirl on that cover, and then eat a croissant. With jam.

Read more about the book and pre-ordering options (truly, if you love an author, pre-order her books), as well as the Reservations for Two Pinterest board here!

What do you think? Where would you like to go this chilly Valentine's Day weekend? Leave a comment below!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Notes on Jupiter Ascending

The good:

1. It's better than Underworld: Awakenings, which was the measuring stick I armed myself with when we entered the theater.

2. It looks great - the art direction, even when it's crazy, is top-notch, and there's some real imagination here. The best part of the movie is the bureaucratic wrangling necessary for Jupiter (Mila Kunis) to claim her inheritance. It's like Gringotts on steroids.

3. Some of the costuming is really lovely (though some of the accessories look like they came from the formal section at Claire's).

4. Channing Tatum is fully committed to his role as a genetically modified part-wolf mercenary. He's all in, bless him.

Channing Tatum w/ ear prosthetics and guyliner

5. Sean Bean. His character doesn't die, you guys! How great is that?

6. The sweet peas outside of Sean Bean's home - a witty (rather than head-bashing) nod to the central theme.

The not so great:

1. The studio bumped the release date back to winter for re-editing, and while the film usually makes narrative sense, the second half in particular is a celebration of awkward editing.

2. EXPOSITION. It's sci-fi, I know. There's a lot of universe building to accomplish, I get it. But so much of the dialogue is telling us, without any sleight-of-hand, how the universe works and who the characters are. Sean Bean, in particular, is "the guy who explains Caine the Wolf Hybrid," both to Jupiter and to Caine himself.

3. Eddie Redmayne's...everything. Eddie's a great actor, but the "too evil to speak above a rasp" shtick felt like twenty flourishes too much. When he yelled, I laughed. I don't think that's the effect he was going for.

The unintentionally funny:

1. There's a freeze-frame scene in which Eddie Redmayne's character is analyzing how his plot could have been foiled, and the way that tableau is arranged is HILARIOUS. Expect memes.

2. Sean Bean's "follow your heart" speech.

3. Basically anything having to do with the "romance." (There is no chemistry between the leads. Nada. And the "romantic" dialogue is, um, not.)

4. The creature costumes, particularly the bird-people and the elephant-esque ship navigator.

5. Mila Kunis' black dinner dress, which looks concerningly like an homage to Natalie Portman's black dress in Star Wars Episode II.

Because that's what you wear to dinner with your genetic son.

The forehead slapping:

1. Jupiter: for the central and titular character, she's given very little to do and no skills with which to accomplish her tasks. She doesn't ascend so much as drift upward. Channing Tatum has to rescue her a lot, twice to keep her from signing things. She cannot help herself. At one point she rattles off some tax code cleverly, which might have worked better if we'd seen her at least reading said tax code.

I've written about active characters before: one of the key components of an active character is an element of the extraordinary. A superpower. Now, it doesn't have to be a literal superpower, but it does have to be a way for that character to be able to uniquely contribute.

The Wachowskis give us nothing, aside from Jupiter's affinity with bees. The bees might have been enough if they'd been available in space, but alas. She has no special courage, wit, smarts, or skills to contribute. She's soft-hearted and naive, in a way that puts her (and the universe) in danger more often than not.

2. Also, she's not allowed to kill. If you don't want any spoilers, skip past to the next bold text. In recent media, we've seen previously non-violent protagonists such as Sherlock (in the BBC take) and Superman (in Man of Steel) kill their antagonists for the greater good. The antagonists pose a real threat to their loved ones and the world as a whole, and rather than leave it to others (or an unfortunate meeting with gravity) to right the wrong, the protagonists kill the antagonists.

But when Jupiter is faced with the opportunity to kill Balem Abraxas (Eddie Redmayne), he laughs and tells her she's just like his mother and won't be able to do it. So she shoots him in the foot instead, and runs away. However, she runs, and he chases, and it's another five minutes of action sequence. Eddie attacks her again, naturally, and she barely escapes while he falls to his death like a Disney villain. (She's saved by Channing Tatum, shortly after. Again.) Is it because she's female? Kristen Stewart managed to dispatch Charlize Theron's evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Katniss wouldn't have blinked. Heck, Trinity wouldn't have blinked. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against women being saved. But when it comes to the central plot, we need to see the protagonist defeat the antagonist herself, regardless of gender.

3. All that said, the film's gender politics are concerning. The most chilling moment, for me, was the sequence at the fertility clinic. To have a scene with a woman preyed upon while on a hospital bed, under anesthesia, feet in stirrups, anticipating an already ├╝ber-personal procedure such as egg extraction - it felt extremely tone-deaf. I've yet to see a movie in which a hero is attacked while undergoing a prostate exam, much less a sperm extraction.

I understand that the idea behind the egg-harvesting was yet another repeat of the genetics motif, but it didn't need to come at that expense. Being female is complicated enough.

Add the fact that title character, the one who's supposed to be ascending, has no skills and cannot actively contribute, and when she does try to do things, she must be saved from herself - we should be beyond this.

And in the end - I'll let you see that for yourself. Let's just say that I have questions about the aforementioned ascension.

Final Verdict: If you need a night out at the movies, you could do worse. Good on the Wachowksis for attempting something original and interesting, even if it didn't succeed. We had fun, I was glad we saw it.

However, while the film technically passes the Bechtel test, I'm still troubled by the film's treatment of the female lead. When we've got theaters full of Mockingjays and ice queens, astronauts and code-breakers, a queen of the universe should feel more transcendent.

What about you? What did you think about the movie? And if not, what films are you excited about instead?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Project Runway All Stars Recap 4.10: Always the Bridesmaid

Allison: Hey, y’all--so, this week, totally my fault with the late re-cap from last week’s episode. I had a heavy night of TV watching, what with American Idol, Parenthood AND Project Runway. Oh, what a night of tears and sadness. Bittersweet smiles, remembering better times. And then, the sweet, perfect demise of a once-beloved character who had lived in this world just long enough. I mean, after Project Runway, I had to watch Parenthood just to cheer myself up. 

Hillary here: it's not just Allison. I've been wrapping up last-minute book stuff, so forgot to get this one going.

I have to admit, I watched this episode prologue-style. Meaning, I watched the runway, all the while staring--unblinking--at my screen, wondering what sad set of circumstance brought about this tragedie de tristesse. Then I clicked “info” and looked at the program description. Bridesmaid dresses. (cue screeching violins) If kitten heels are the boiled carrots of footwear, then bridesmaid dresses are its less-impacting turnip cousin.

In defense of kitten heels: they’re nice for tall people and not as stressful on the knees. But I haven’t worn a pair in, like, ten years, so I might twist an ankle at this point.

And, yes. I know, I know--every bride out there thinks her bridesmaid dresses were perfect. Beautiful--that they were worn to luncheons and banquets and prom-chaperoning-adventures.

One of mine was worn to prom. Truth.

But really, those five little frocks I saw going down the runway on last week’s episode? I’ve seen most of them. In, like, Dillard’s. Or even JCPenney. How bad were they? I would buy them. Wear them, like to a luncheon or a banquet, or when I have to chaperone the Spring Formal at my Private Christian School in May. (except not the backless ones. I’d get fired)


So the episode opens up in Marchesa. But, to really appreciate where we are, you need to hear Dmitry say it. Marchesssssaaaaa.

Here Georgina is released from her chair and introduces to Marchesa co-founder Keren Craig. (True story: I have so many friends named Karen, I actually spell one’s name keren just to avoid awkward wrong numbers.) Keren looks like--you know how on the old sit-coms like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, Jeannie and Samantha put on dark wigs to play their own “dark” cousin? (or sister, whatever) That’s what’s going on with Keren and Georgina. Like, they have to be filmed with a split screen.

To the left: designers. To the right: (according to Michelle) Beautiful Sparkling Women. And Dana. Who is engaged to the “amazing” Peter. And who hasn’t decided on her bridesmaid dresses yet.

So, the challenge is a dress that can be worn on other occasions. (see paragraph above) The prize - Blingy-bling dishes, diamonds, seats at the Marchesa fashion show. Oh, and everybody in the cast is invited to the runway wedding, officiated by Alyssa, who became ordained just for this.

Moving on.

I’ll spare many details from the process, save to say that Dmitry touches Michelle’s boobs, after which she eats yogurt and lies to his back saying the dress is “pretty,” while telling the camera she thinks it’s hideous. Do not turn the workroom into a den of lies, Michelle. Sonjia has drawn a blank and is just going to drape and drape and drape until something works out. Then she cries in her salad.

I picture Dana crying into her salad someday, when she looks through her wedding album.

Fabio has chosen to work with silk organza, because apparently he’s never seen an episode of this show.

Helen’s cool.

Zannah comes in with Edward Chapman, Marchesa CEO and Georgina’s brother. Hubba, am I right, ladies? He strolls through, helping with the mentoring. Their pearls of wisdom:
“Simplicity always helps.” (Because Marchesa is ALL about the simplicity.)
“You need to take it from business to bridesmaid.”
“You have a very minimal taste level.”
“You have the master draper’s brother right here…”

The guest judge is Cat Deely. Who, I’m pretty sure is also Keren Craig.

The whole episode is basically a celebration of English Cheekbones.

The Runway! I’ll give you a quip from each designer as the models strutted the way only bridesmaids can…

“it’s beautiful and it’s flawless, but the back is really boring.” -- Helen

Helen: You used the matte and shiny?
Fabio: Yep.

“Oooh, yes, girrrl.” --Michelle

I know you’re shocked, but Michelle’s was my favorite - even with the fit issues. At least it was interesting. I think it’s the blandness (with bonus uber-formality) that makes so many bridesmaid dresses unwearable.

“I think if you put five bridemaids in this dresses, they’re going to look happy and beautiful.”

“I feel like bridesmaids are always so covered up and boring. Like--show a little skin.” -- Sonjia

How many weddings has she been to? Because there’s nothing like a bridesmaid’s dress to make a girl go looking for bra solutions. And Sonjia's dress is so...confused.

The winning designer is Helen! Which, I don’t really get, because I think her dress looks the least bridesmaids-y of them all. Like, it skipped the wedding and went straight to the corporate dinner.

Dmitry is safe.

Michelle and Fabio are on the bottom, and Fabio goes home. And I’m totally OK with that. He gets on his knees to give Alyssa a kiss, which was sweet, though. Thus ends another...

Oh--wait! It’s not over, there’s the wedding. The awkward, promotional wedding.

Right, the “wedding.” As in “sure, we will pretend to get married on cable television but we’ll do the real thing with family, in a building with architectural detail, and do these lights make me look sweaty? Because I feel sweaty.”

“Some say love is like fashion. It may have its ups and downs, but it never goes out of style.”
Really? Who are the some that say that? I kinda want to punch them in the throat with a Marchesa diamond.

Agreed. Go for it.

What did you think, readers?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Project Runway All Stars Episode 4.9 - The Ready to Wear Challenge

"I never really do anything extremely simple, because - why?" - Dmitry

Confession: it's been pretty busy around here. Danny returned from an extended work trip in Canada over the weekend - SO delighted he's back. I'm working on galley edits for Reservations for Two, and had to pause to have a couple fillings replaced on Tuesday (which turned into "let's root canal those instead" - which is a tale of woe and painkillers for another day).

Allison: Forgiven! I am in a blur of school and writing and the ridiculous amount of paperwork when a kid changes colleges mid-year. If only there were a pain killer for that!

Anywho, PRAS, is giving me a bad case of the forehead slaps. This week's challenge exists mainly to help promote QVC's unfortunately named G.I.L.I. line, which simply makes me think of Gigli. The designers appear thrilled, and I'm curious how much of it is genuine excitement. I mean, QVC is not Saks. 

It would be cool if they had, like, a challenge for high-end snuggies or something, though.

That would be hilarious. I'd watch the heck out of that. Lisa Robertson of QVC announces the project while wearing a dress that turns out to be a part of the G.I.L.I line, and is also on clearance.

They have a budget of $300 for their ready-to-wear separates looks and a fashion-forward look. The designers sketch in the workroom and skip off to Mood.

Sonjia's thing is that she doesn't much sketch - she gets her ideas from her fabric. And while Helen rolls her eyes at it, Sonjia's technique is not far from the idea of figuring out what to make for dinner by seeing what's fresh at the market. It's great if you want to do a salad tossed with pomegranate seeds, but you might not be able to find pomegranates when you want them.

After their "critique" the designers carry on. Fabio splatter-dyes his fabric. (can I just say...because I cannot wait until the end of the much I HATE what Fabio did with that fabric. That was, just--awful.) Jay's in a dither. Helen struggles with ready-to-wear. Dmitry is confident. Sonjia's not feeling one of her fabrics, but has a new idea during her confessional. Michelle is into sleeves.

Alyssa, Isaac, Georgina, and Zanna ring he closing bell at the NASDAQ, while the designers watch and squeal from the street. They aren't even allowed inside the building - they have to be as far away as possible.

Back at the workroom, the designers get more sewing in before the models show up. Dmitry did not leave seam-allowances! There's not a lot going on - I'm beginning to feel sleepy. My jaw feels achy. I'm considering my painkiller options.

This week's guest judges include QVC diva Lisa Robertson and stylist/designer George Kotsiopoulos.  

The judges love:

Dmitry's neoprene and lace looks - blue for the separates and yellow for the "fashion-forward" look. They're deemed not particularly fashion-forward, but still very pretty. The yellow/black will never not read "fancy bee" to me. 

Not crazy about the yellow, but I loved, loved that dress.

Sonjia's grey eyelet/ cutout separates and yellow tube dress w/ grey jacket. The separates have strong mix and match options, with the panel split on the yellow dress. They do like how "fresh" her looks feel. I am personally unmoved by the yellow dress.

Helen's fashion-forward LBD - well-structured and timeless. Kinda classic Helen.

The judges are conflicted about:

Helen's a-line skirt and swing top - a colorway only a model could pull off.

Michelle's print separates/dress - maybe not easy to wear, but fun and romantic. The panel is split on the print.

Both of Fabio's pastel looks - the dress reading young, and the separates too simple to stand out. Isaac finds them "slightly irrelevant." 

Allison: Just, ugly. Rarely do clothes look just ugly--but that was like, K-Mart ugly. Like, my friend Pam and I used to walk to K-Mart (back in 1981), and everything Fabio made today looked just like what was on the racks back then. I swear, I could smell the blue-light ham sandwiches when I looked at those clothes. I might have owned that blue top.

I think Fabio's stuff - I think Isaac is right. I think Fabio can exist too much in his own headspace sometimes for his work to feel necessary to others.

The Judges Hate:

Jay's shiny pant - "TAPER THEM!" - Alyssa insists.

Jay's red dress - "the place it ends is unforgivable, darliIng, unforgiveable" - says Isaac. And truly, it's not great. The top maybe isn't bad, but the bottom is the fashion equivalent of a fade-out at the end of a power ballad.

Results: Dmitry is second runner-up, with Lisa Robertson announcing Sonjia's win. QVC will produce one of the separates, though we don't know which.

Michelle is safest of the lower scores, with Jay and Fabio in the bottom. Alyssa observes, rightly, that Jay pathologically overthinks his designs. Fabio is told that sometimes his designs tend toward self-centeredness.

MIchelle’s design would have been better accessorized with a Virginia Slim.

Jay is off, which is....overdue. I wish she could have shed Jay and kept Justin around a bit longer. 


I think Justin could have nailed the Ready-to-Wear in a way that half of the group didn't.

Before Fabio is allowed to exit, Isaac observes he's been in the bottom a lot. "Don't do it again. I mean it," he admonishes.

Next week is Marchesa wedding-themed so - TULLE.

What did you think? We're down to the final five - who are your picks for the finale show?