March 31, 2015

giving camp another try


Camp NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow, and I'm mentally packing my bags in preparation for attending. In case you don't know, Camp NaNoWriMo is brought to us by the same people who do National Novel Writing Month each November. It's a little different, because it's offered in the spring and summer, and participants can set their own word count goal.

I have participated a few times in the past with mixed results. On one hand, I've never reached my word count goal, which isn't great. But I have always managed to do some writing, which is good. That's why I say mixed. It's always disappointing not to achieve a goal, but writing five words is better than none.

This April, I set my word count goal for 25,000. It's how many words I need to write for a holiday novella that is due to my publisher this summer. So I need to make my word count goal for this month (no pressure). But it's also one I believe to be reasonable. It's half of what I write each November, and if I can average 1,000 words a day, I'll achieve the goal with time to spare.

To help myself succeed this Camp NaNoWriMo, I have taken a few important steps.
1. I've created a map -- an outline of the novella and detailed character sketches. I have a good idea of what I will be writing, which is half the battle, right? 
2. I've gathered rations. My kitchen is stocked with basically nutritious, but convenient meals to keep me fed throughout the month.  
3. I've tidied my living quarters. Not only will this give me a nice place to work, but it will hopefully help me avoid distractions. (I tend to reorganize my closet or start cleaning when I'm avoiding writing.) 
4. I've found a cabin of buddies to help motivate me throughout the project.  
5. I have my game face on. While most of my past Camp NaNoWriMo experiences have felt really rushed and last-minute, I'm going into this one feeling pretty good.

So wish me luck, my friends, and if you are also participating, I'm sending positive writing vibes your way.


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March 26, 2015

the great american whatever


"I wish you'd try writing the Great American Novel."

I've heard this a few times in the past year, and it always puts me on edge.

"What do you mean the Great American Novel?" I'll ask.

"You know. Something like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Grapes of Wrath," they might say.

"Do you think it has to take place in this past?"

"Kind of."

"That's historical fiction. And those books you mentioned didn't take place in the past when they were written. They were contemporary stories at the time." My blood pressure spiking, I have to ask, "Do you think the Great American Novel is supposed to be about a man?"

"Not exactly."

"Or maybe you think it needs to be written by a man. Name one book written by a woman that you consider to be a Great American Novel."

(Silence.)

At this point, I'm usually worked up enough to lose it. I go on a rant about the state of the publishing industry, the value placed on certain works, and the perceived sexism that exists. I'll list all of the books I had as required reads in high school, emphasizing how few were written by women compared to ones written by men. I go on to talk about how little I took away from most of those required reads, because I didn't connect with the characters. I ask why these books were considered so much better than others and who gets to decide.

It's not that I have anything against those books, really, aside from the fact that it's all so arbitrary. And the reason I get worked up is because I know what they mean when someone mentions the Great American Novel. They're saying those books are more important and are better than everything else and that I'm not a serious writer unless I am in the quest to write the Great American Novel.

I hate the labels we put on books, movies, and art. When we do that, it's like we're trying to place value on the work. Dramas are more valuable than comedies (or so it seems based on the bulk of the Oscar nominations each year). "Literary fiction" is more valuable than "chick lit" or "romances" or "thrillers" and so on.

But why does it have to be that way?

Look at that definition of the Great American Novel. According to Wikipedia (and, yes, I realize it's not a scholarly source, but this is hardly a scholarly blog):
The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that shows the culture of the United States of America at a specific time. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen.
Based on that definition, don't my books qualify?

Hard Hats and Doormats is a story about a young woman who is trying to figure out how to be an adult while out in the world for the first time. She was born in Iowa and lives in Houston and exists now. She works with men and women in the Gulf Coast oil industry. She falls in love, but struggles with having a grown-up relationship. It's set during the recession, and her decisions are often fueled by the fear of a shaky economy.

The Marrying Type is another story about a young woman, set in present day Charleston, South Carolina. She gets wrapped up in a reality TV show--a truly American institution of you look at the TV schedule. She struggles with proving her worth to her family, who will always consider her the youngest child in need of sheltering, even when she's far more capable than them. She's loved and lost, romantically and personally, and she's just trying to make it in the world.

Why do these stories matter any less than another book because they fall under a specific category on Amazon? Why can't they capture the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen because they have a happy ending? I work at my craft. I strive to capture human emotions and evoke feelings and ideas in my readers, even if the cover is periwinkle or has a fierce as hell woman carrying a hardhat on the cover.

I'm neither the first not most eloquent person to weigh in on this subject. There's plenty of discussion, debate, and even name-calling, which to me suggests there's a real issue here. I'm not telling everyone my books are for them. I'm not asking for my books to be added to an English Department's curriculum (I actually don't think it's fair to require teachers to use the same set of books year after year, because it stifles creativity and limits what books students are exposed to, but I realize that will never change).

I am asking for respect for myself and my stories. I work hard on them, and while they may not be a masterpiece to whoever decides things like that, they are everything to me. And while we're at it, can we just respect each other in general? What gives any one of us the power to decide what is great and what is not?

Basically what I'm saying is this: I'm going to keep writing the stories that feel the most authentic and real for me to craft as a writer. If they happen to fall into a category like chick lit, that's fine. I'm me, and what I create is ultimately mine. I can't pretend to be anything else.


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March 24, 2015

twenty-something

To celebrate the month of March and the release of Twenty-Something -- Marching Ink's first multi-author collection -- my label-mates and I are celebrating our twenties this week. I still have a year (and some change) left in my 20s. That remaining time left in my twenties, and what I'd like to do with it, comes to mind.

Thirty is by no means old -- far from it. But the big Three-Oh (or Dirty 30 if you like) seems pretty symbolic of reaching adulthood. At the very least, it's a milestone.

With my remaining one year, two months, and 21 days of being a twenty-something, I have big plans. I'm going to reinvent myself. Or rather, I'm going to enjoy my life and continue my efforts to be my best version of myself. I want to approach my thirties in prime shape with zero regrets. It's not about freaking out about a ticking time clock. It's just about being a woman on a never-ending quest for self improvement.

This all sounds totally chick-lit, and it is. But that's only half of it. A few months ago, I was day-drinking with a friend (before you judge, it was a glass of wine during an afternoon at Christmas) and we talked about everything we wanted to do by the time we turned thirty. Naturally, we were brainstorming blog names, checking for domain availability, and making our "to-do by thirty" lists before our glasses needed refills.

And so Defining 30 was born. During the time between my friend's 29th birthday and my 30th birthday, we would each set out to accomplish 10 individual goals each and 10 combined goals. And once a week, each of us will write one post a week

My goals are:

  • Pay off car loan.
  • Pay off my student loan.
  • Buy my own home or at least be buying ready.
  • Get within a healthy weight range.
  • Complete a 10K run.
  • Get back in the dating scene.
  • Write two holiday novellas.
  • Write two novels.
  • Book a vacation to somewhere I’ve never been.
  • Have a lunch/drink/coffee/dinner date with a friend once a week. 

And our combined goals are:

  • Visit Mansfield, Missouri, and the related Laura Ingalls Wilder sites.
  • Create and stick to a cleaning schedule.
  • Visit Burr Oak, Iowa, and the related Laura Ingalls Wilder sites.
  • Visit Independence, Kansas.
  • Refinish piece of furniture.
  • Make meal plans.
  • Book swap-trade once a quarter (six total books).
  • Re-read the Little house series.
  • Write a personal letter or note to someone once a month.
  • Have a writing retreat weekend.

We're two months into the project, and while I can't say I'm a totally new woman, I'm working on it. You can read about my quest for self-improvement here.

Twenty-Something is the first multi-author collection from Marching Ink and will be on sale April 14. Featuring three full length novels - Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman, A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March and Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie, the collection is now available for pre-order on Amazon for the discounted price of $1.99.

Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman 
After losing out on a coveted promotion at work, Lexi Burke is done playing the nice girl. Her first order of business: Giving in to her longtime workplace crush. But Lexi soon learns that balancing a workplace romance and her job might be harder than she anticipated.

A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March 
While Brynne and Portland seem to have an ideal friendship, cracks are starting to show as their lives take a turn for the complicated. Not willing to go to one other with their secrets, one woman begins to feel shut out and the other enters into a web of lies to protect herself. Their journey will explore several questions of friendship, and show that happily ever after might not be in the cards for everyone.

Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie 
When Roxy Rule shares a passionate kiss with her lifelong best friend, she must come to terms with her feelings for him while dealing with two sisters in full crisis mode, a boss who makes her want to stab herself with a letter opener and a fiancĂ© who can’t wait to walk down the aisle. Can she keep it together–or will she break under the pressure?


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March 19, 2015

reading in the kitchen - vanity cake


During the past few weeks I've been writing about myself a lot as I answer interview questions and assemble guest posts for my upcoming Chick Lit Plus blog tour for The Marrying Type. Consequently, I'm feeling pretty vain right about now, so this next Reading in the Kitchen recipe seems fitting.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the vanity cakes Ma made for a party as honey-brown, puffy circles. Once again, I'm using The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. In the cookbook, she explains that while Laura herself never learned to make the vanity cakes, her description is consistent with recipes for "vanities" of the time.

The ingredients in vanity cakes are pretty simple. You'll need an egg, a pinch of salt, and some flour. You'll also eventually need oil (or lard if you want to go the original Little House route) for frying and some powdered sugar to shake over the top later.


First up, I sprinkled a pinch of salt in with the egg.


And I mixed it together for at least a minute, per the cookbook's instructions.


Then I spooned in the flour a teaspoon at a time and mixed it until the batter was sticky. I divided the dough into six spoonfuls onto a plate of flour.


Then I flipped the dough in the flour.


And plopped the six balls in the oil. Take a look at that sizzle.

video

The cookbook said to fry the cakes for more at least three minutes. It also said if the cakes browned too quickly they were cooking too fast. I would guess these were in the pan for about two and a half minutes (but it could have been three) before I removed them. And they turned out just fine.

I set them on paper towel and shook powdered sugar over them.


My vanity cakes probably didn't turn out as pretty looking as Ma's. They were shaped kind of like cauliflower rather than cakes. This could be because I dropped them into the oil a bit timidly rather than forming them into cakes and placing them in more gently. Lesson learned on that front.

That said, they were still pretty delicious, so you can't completely judge a book by its cover.


I imagine you'd want to make more if you're sharing with more than one person. Or you could be a glutton like me and eat them all yourself.


To try the recipe for yourself, turn to pages 202 and 203 in the cookbook.


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March 17, 2015

my favorite fictional wedding moments on tv


Quick note: This is my 1,000th blog post on Change the Word. Can you believe it? Thanks so much for your readership throughout the years. It's been a blast.

I'm still in the mood to celebrate the release of The Marrying Type last month. Now that we've gone over some of my favorite wedding-themed books and movies, I'm taking my love for wedding-related entertainment to the small screen and highlighting my five favorite TV wedding moments.

Spoiler alert! I tried to come up with a way to write this post without including spoilers, but I couldn't. Sorry!

1. Leslie and Ben’s spontaneous wedding in Parks and Recreation. Who didn’t dream of Leslie taking Ben for her husband the moment he made his debut on the show? After seasons of wondering when these two lovebirds would get around to getting married already, we were happily rewarded in an escalated, last-minute ceremony. I’m a total sucker for the idea of two people in love deciding they can’t wait another moment to say “I do” and start their lives together.

2. Paul and Jamie’s rooftop nuptials in Mad About You. This happens early in the show, but to me there is nothing more romantic than two crazy kids who just want to get married going out and doing it on their own terms. I remember watching this episode with my mom as a little girl, and she said something like, “They had one wedding for themselves and one for their family.” I thought that was such a lovely idea. The best of both worlds.

3. Ross and Rachel’s drunk quickie ceremony in Friends. This was one of the last episodes I watched and thought “yes! yes! yes!” with this show, but it’s also one of my favorites. To me, one of the funniest moments in all of TV is Ross throwing rice in the air saying, “Hello, Mrs. Ross” and Rachel responding with “Hello, Mr. Rachel.” And then they walk out of the chapel in opposite directions. Hil-arious.

4. Jim and Pam's dual ceremonies in The OfficeI recently re-watched this episode of The Office, and I was reminded of why I loved this show so much once upon a time. It highlights the main cast and secondary characters to perfection, offers some laugh out loud till you cry hilarity while also tugging at the old heart strings. Plus, I could watch this clip over and over and never get sick of it.


5. Liz and Criss say “I do” in 30 Rock. I laughed so hard I cried watching this one. Particularly because we saw the reappearance of Liz’s Princess Leia costume paired with her explaining to Jack that dressed like that she felt like a princess. While we didn’t know her beau as long as we knew Liz, it was nice to see her finally find someone who got her.

Honorable mentions: John and Mary in Sherlock  and Bones and Booth in Bones.

About The Marrying Type
Always the wedding planner, never a bride, Elliot Lynch is famous for orchestrating the splashiest weddings in Charleston, South Carolina. When her father’s sloppy management practices leave them on the brink of bankruptcy, Elliot will do whatever it takes to save the family business. When asked to appear on “The Marrying Type,” a reality TV show about the people behind the scenes as couples exchange I dos, she says yes to the invasion of privacy (and the hefty paycheck that comes with it). 
With a camera crew capturing every detail of her life, Elliot faces her most challenging contract yet: planning a wedding where her ex is involved in every part of the process. Add in a lazy assistant, liquor-loving bridesmaid, and rival planner encroaching on her turf, and Elliot’s wedding season goes from high-end to high-stress.
Forced to confront her past, Elliot must live out her troubled present on national TV if she has any hope of saving her future.

Buy the Book



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