December 1, 2010

crossing the finish line

Long time no see.

I suppose you could say I've been on a blogging hiatus the past few months. I know there are no good excuses, but I'm going to make a few anyways. Here are the top five reasons I have not been updating my blog:
1. I moved back to Nebraska in September, which essentially rocked my world.
2. I don't have Internet at home, currently, so I must depend on the kindness of strangers.
3. Since moving back to Nebraska, I've made five trips back to the Gulf Coast (No. 6 will be next week). That also means that I've had a lot of writing to do for work to complete various projects before the end of the year.
4. Football season started, and I spent a lot of Saturdays drinking beer and cheering on my Huskers during their final Big 12 season.
5. I've been busy writing a novel.

Yes, you read that correctly. I've been working on a novel. A few in fact.

During September I dabbled on a book that I first began to develop about two years ago. I made the outline and a detailed working synopsis. I also wrote the prologue and part of the first chapter. Then I stopped.

Then, Nov. 1, thanks to a one of my friends posting something on her Facebook profile, I realized it was National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. During NaNoWriMo people are challenged to write 50,000 original words toward a novel. The rules state that the words must all be produced between midnight Nov. 1 and 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30. Once you upload your text to the website, you're named a winner. There's no cash prize, or offers for publication, but you do get the satisfaction of being called a winner.

I first learned about NaNoWriMo last year. On Nov. 23. It seemed a little late to start then. However, because I'm a naturally competitive person, the contest appealed to me. I made a pledge that I would participate in 2010.

So, when I saw that post staring me in the face I decided I had to at least try. At 8 p.m. that day I registered for an account and began writing my working synopsis. Before bed I had outlined the first few chapters and written my cold open.

The next day I left for a quick business trip to Houston, but I went prepared. I used the flight to and from as an opportunity to keep working on my detailed outline. I was off to a great start.

It came easily to me at first. I'd been thinking about this book off an on for the past 19 months or so, and I was at a good place mentally and emotionally to finally write it. I figured writing 1,667 words a day would be no big deal.

Then work happened.

With a vacation from work scheduled for Thanksgiving week I had to gather two newsletters and write three before Nov. 18. Also factor in that I had four weekly projects shows to write out. Those first three weeks I was responsible for turning in about 24,000 words of content for work. Needless to say, that kept me pretty busy.

So, I decided, I'd write a little when I could and devote my nine-day break from work to my novel.

Then life happened.

My first few days of vacation I spent most of my time in bed nursing a rocking cold and fever. I hurt so badly I couldn't even read books let alone write them.

By that Monday morning I wasn't feeling 100 percent, but I figured I was well enough to write. And so I did.

So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

When I woke Nov. 28, my last day of reprieve before returning to the office, I sat at about 32,000 words. I had a long ways to go. So Sunday, I holed myself up at home all day and write more than 8,000 words. Before and after work (and during my lunch) I wrote the remaining 10,000 words Monday and Tuesday.

At 8:30 p.m. Nov. 30 I checked my word count and screamed (quite literally). I was at 50,167 words. I'd done it. I was going to be able to upload my text (encrypted, because I am a little paranoid) to the NaNoWriMo website for verification.

Without Internet at home I went to a local bookstore/ coffee shop to use their WiFi. Unfortunately, I was apparently not the only procrastinator uploading words to the website. My connection was so slow, and their server so busy, I couldn't even get the page to open before the shop closed at 10 p.m.

I couldn't believe it. I'd come all this way and accomplished my goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, and I wasn't going to be able to officially call myself a winner.

Then a good friend of mine saved the day. Using her High-Speed Internet, she uploaded the text on my behalf. Just after 10 it became official. I was a winner. I had taken the NaNoWriMo challenge and come out a winner.

Elated doesn't even come close to describing how I feel writing this.

I still have a ways to go on the book. I estimate that it will be between 100,000 and 110,000 words when it is completed, so I'm about halfway there, and will need to keep going. Plus, for all I know, I could have 50,000 words of crap sitting in my computer file.

But even with these uncertainties, I'm walking away from this experience knowing I can do it. I can write a novel.

(I'd like to note that even though I did spend a lot of my time writing, I still managed to have a life. For example, I:
• Read two novels and nine holiday novellas. This is less than I'd normally read, but still pretty good.
• Decorated two Christmas trees.
• Made 40 paper snowflakes to hang on my windows.
• Addressed and wrote out all of my Christmas cards.
• Baked three pies and three loaves of bread.
• Went to the Midnight Harry Potter screening, and attended a pre-movie event.
• Planned a book club and writing group.
• Watched all of the Husker football games with friends or at Memorial Stadium.)

For anyone on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo in the future, I encourage you to try it. You may reach the 50K milestone, but then again you might not. Either way, you're challenging yourself to be creative, get motivated and change your life.

With a clean bill of health, and a much lighter work load at the office thanks to my November marathon, I plan to keep working on my novel. If I really try, I hope I can have it finished by the end of December.

Wouldn't that be a fantastic way to end one year and begin the next?

September 2, 2010

no. 1: fun with dad

During my year in Houston, some of my favorite moments were the times my father came to visit me.

We went to a Nebraska football game in Waco, Texas. We celebrated Halloween at bars in Downtown Houston and The Woodlands. We saw NASA, Galveston Bay, Museum of Natural History and the Houston Symphony.

I was lucky enough to have him visit me four times — two of those on his own during interludes in business trips. It's hard to say in words how much it meant to me to have him there. Not only was he a much-needed reminder of home and what I have waiting for me back in Nebraska, but he also was an excuse for me to be a tourist in the city that I lived for more than a year.

Thanks for the memories, Houston. It's time to head back north.

September 1, 2010

no. 2: the hangover part two

No. 2: The Hangover Part Two

You've seen "The Hangover," right? Well, have you lived it? I haven't, but one night in February, I came pretty close.

I guess I should start from the beginning. Once upon a time...

On a February night, my friend Cathy and I decided we wanted to check out the barbecue that precedes the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. For those of you who don't know, the Houston Rodeo is one of the biggest rodeos in the world. This year, attendance was more than 2 million. The barbecue itself brought in more than 220,000 people. So knowing all of this, we figured us Nebraska transplants should probably check it out.

We had no idea what to expect. For this reason, we ended up stuck in traffic for two hours and spending another half hour finding parking (which we eventually did in a McDonald's parking lot). Not wanting to get towed, we each got a hamburger and walked to the rodeo grounds. In hindsight, getting those hamburgers probably saved our lives, because by the time we got to the event, they were no longer serving barbecue.

Cathy had some VIP passes for a few of the parties that are held at the barbecue. We decided to check out the biggest one first, and stood in line for a while.

While we stood in that line, Cathy looked around her and saw what people were drinking.

"Laura, am I going to have to drink domestic beer?"

As a bit of a beer snob, she seemed upset to see everyone throwing back Miller Lites. And while I didn't want to distress her anymore than she already was, I knew I couldn't keep the truth from her forever.

"Cathy," I paused, thinking of how best to put it. "Not only will you be drinking cheap American beer tonight, but it's probably going to be out of a can."

I could tell this was hard for her to handle, but I myself was thirsty and just wanted the line to move more quickly. I was also busy checking out all the cowboy hats, and feeling some envy that I didn't have one of my own. Sure, I was rocking my fabulous brown cowboy-style boots and jeans, and while — for one of few times in my life — I knew I looked good I just didn't feel country enough.

Cathy and I promised each other we would wear cowboy hats at some point that evening.

We finally made it to the front of the line. The bouncer, an older gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair and a handlebar mustache carefully guarded the door.

"It'll just be a few more minutes, ladies," he said, with a tip of his hat. "How're y'all doin'?"

Excited. Hungry. Thirsty.

As a true southern gentleman, the old cowboy pulled a couple of beers from his own personal stash and offered them up to Cathy and I.


We finally made it through the door, and I took a moment to appreciate the scene. A country band played on the stage, and people crowded the dance floor, two-stepping, or whatever it is people do in Texas. A good crowd also surrounded the bar — where booze was free — and I knew we were going to have to stock up on rations if we wanted to have a good time.

Being close to Mardi Gras, I also saw many people wearing beads. For whatever reason, this year I was obsessed with collecting strands of Mardi Gras beads, and I knew at some point I was going to have to get my hands on some. I didn't wait long.

On the way to the bar, I bumped into a nice young man wearing several strands.

"What did you have to do to get those?" I asked.

With a smile and a wink, he pulled off a strand and put it around my neck. He said something, but unfortunately I don't remember his exact words. I do remember thinking it was clever.

I admired my beads while we waited at the bar. I told Cathy we would need to find someone tall to help us get drinks, and a nice tall man in front of us overheard, and promptly ordered us a couple of drinks.

"Ladies," was all he said.

Impressed, we gladly accepted, but I also knew one beer each wasn't going to get us far. So the man helped me elbow my way up to the front where I caught one of the bartender's eyes.

"Four beers, please. And how about two shots of Patron, and two glasses of whatever everyone else is drinking?"

The obliging gentleman filled my order, and as we exchanged smiles something passed between us. I knew we weren't going to have to wait in line to score drinks the rest of the night. Based on the outcome, my guess was correct.

Having since made friends with another young man — this one visiting from Dallas — the three of us raised our tequila in toast.

"To the Houston Rodeo," I said, then threw back my drink. "Now let's get drunk."

What followed was a blur of fun and excitement.

The next clear thought I had was at 1 p.m. the following day. I woke up on my living room floor feeling exhausted and sick. I also wore my boots and shirt from the night before.

And I noticed I now sported about 10 strands of Mardi Gras beads and a cowboy belt — none of which I had prior to my mayhem the night before.

Oh my.

As I stumbled about my apartment, trying to ignore my reflection in the mirror, I knew I needed answers. I found my jeans near the door, my jacket close by. When I finally found my purse, I opened it looking for clues. It held my wallet and cell phones — thank God — more Mardi Gras beads, a gift certificate for dinner for two to a barbecue place and a can of beer.

Even as some guilt settled in, because I knew I had gotten out of hand and been reckless the night before, I also started to feel something else. Not quite pride, but quiet amazement.

I so seldom really cut loose, but after looking through my purse of one thing I was sure: I'd had a blast.

Using our vague memories, purses and cameras for evidence, Cathy and I were able to piece together the rest of the night.

Some of the happenings are better left unsaid, but here are a few tidbits:
• Cathy and I made friends with the nephews of the party's sponsor — a local barbecue joint. After we shared our sad story about missing out on all the barbecue, they gave us gift certificates to the restaurant.
• Our new friend from Dallas gave us cash to cover the cost of the cover to enter the barbecue.
• A nice young man taught us to two-step. At least he tried to.
• As we left the party, I bumped into a girl wearing what I apparently thought was a fantastic belt. I told her, and she took it off and gave it to me.
• We both wore several cowboy hats that night as we wandered the barbecue's grounds. Most of the obliging gentlemen to share their hats with us were old enough to be our fathers.
• Near the port-a-potties we made friends with a group of people who did a mini-photo shoot with us. They also gave me lots of beads.

All in all, Cathy and I learned valuable lessons at the barbecue. First, everything really is bigger in Texas — including barbecues — and you have to be careful if you decide to mess with it. Second, we all really do have a hillbilly bone down deep inside. Third, sometimes, you just have to cut loose from your uptight ways and live a little.

August 31, 2010

no. 3: my girls

No. 3: My girls

My mom and and sister each came to visit me while I was in Texas. They're perhaps my two best friends in the world, and having them here was amazing.

My baby sister Sarah came to visit in December. While she was here we hosted the "Third Annual Bad Sweater Party: H-Town Edition."

It was fantastic.

We also went on a Ross shopping spree, checked out NASA, and I took her to Galveston to wade in the ocean for the first time.

The only downside of the visit was that somewhere along the way, we ate something bad and both got food poisoning. Just in time to not be fully hungry still by Christmas.

One of the best parts about going back to Lincoln is that I will get to be with my sister more, and I'm so excited.

My mom also came to visit in the spring. (Dad joined us eventually that weekend, but I'll get to him later.) Once again, we checked out NASA, but we went to the Kemah Boardwalk instead of Galveston. I think it has to be one of my favorite places I've been in the Houston-area.

Mom always gives me good advice and support, so spending time with her was just what I needed.

August 30, 2010

no. 4: getting trashy somewhere classy

No. 4: Getting Trashy Somewhere classy

Living in The Woodlands means I am close to The Waterway, a really need stretch of bars and restaurants. It's more upscale than many of the other bars in the Houston area.

My favorite spot on The Waterway by far is Goose's Acre. It's right on the water, with a fantastic outdoor seating area (except it's too hot and humid to sit out there during the summer).

Other favorite spots include Crush, an awesome wine bar (with one level on the roof), and Baker's Street. The crowd at Baker's Street is like a cross of what you'd find in a college and and old person bar. Sometimes, the people there are so absurd, but the people watching is always good.

The best part about these bars... they're only minutes from my home, which means I could get my drink on without having to worry about a long drive.

August 29, 2010

no. 5: at the boil

No. 5: At the Boil

On the Gulf Coast — especially when you get close to Louisiana — crawfish is considered a delicacy.

Since I started working in this area in November 2008, I've eaten a lot of crawfish. But, it's always been a restaurant, and always out of its shell.

But this spring in Spring, I went with my good friends Amber and Heather to the Spring Crawfish Festival. At the festival, you buy boiled crawfish by the tub.

It was my first time dealing with crawfish this way, so I got some advice from Amber, a Galveston native.

I didn't do too badly!

After the crawfish, I tried another fair specialty for the first time: a fried Snickers bar.

It was entirely too delicious.

And to finish the day, frozen margaritas - in a pouch that goes around your neck! So handy.

August 28, 2010

no. 6: the 'skers

No. 6: The 'skers

Being away from home this fall was hard. It was the first time I'd been away from Nebraska during Husker football season.

I was home with family to go to the first game of the season, but I needed a place to watch the second. I found it at the SRO, where the Houstonians for Huskers meet for every game. Some of us were Nebraska natives and alumni, others were just big fans.

We cheered in good times and did rally shots during the bad. And it was always a lot of fun.

In addition to being a way for me to watch my team with people who love them as much (or almost as much as me), there were also a lot of fun moments. I won a t-shirt (which was a child's size, so I sadly could not wear it), and I also got to watch one of the games with special guest Mike Rozier. Here I am pictured with him.

All in all, it was nice to have an adoptive Husker family away from home.

August 27, 2010

no. 7: trouble with a capital "t"

No. 7: Trouble with a capital "T"

... And that rhymes with "D" and that stands for Drink Houston.

Everyone has their Everest, that mountain, that challenge they want to overcome. And since moving to Houston, my challenge has always seemed to be Drink Houston.

Sometimes, there are no words. This time, I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

August 26, 2010

no. 8: twi-hard: with a vengeance

No. 8: Twi-hard: With a Vengeance

I'm an obsessive person by nature.

When I was three I got really into "The Little Mermaid" and watched it a million and one times. When I was 14, I fell in love with "N'SYNC" and devoted my life to reading everything I could about them.

It's no wonder that when I finally gave into pop culture pressure and watched "Twilight" in October 2009 I was hooked.

I had no intention of ever reading or watching the saga, but one night in early October I was at Redbox and figured what the heck. It was, after all, October, and vampires kind of seemed like the way to go. I went out the next day and bought the book and its sequel, "New Moon." By the next weekend I'd purchased "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn," and the rest is history.

By this summer, I'd joined the cause and bought a "Team Edward" shirt, and was asking my friends to have a "Twi-hard" marathon with me. In one night, we watched "Twilight" and "New Moon" at home before going to the theatre to watch "Eclipse" (for the second time each).

So here's to you, Stephenie Meyer, for giving me something to have in common with teenagers around the world, and to you Robert Pattinson for giving me inappropriate thoughts (but hey, he's a couple months older than me, so I'm not robbing the cradle).

August 25, 2010

no. 9: you know, for kids

To commemorate the past 14 months of my life, I will countdown my top 10 "Most Memorable Moments," as a Texan.

No. 9: You Know, for Kids — My day as a volunteer at the Houston Children's Festival

In April, I had the opportunity to give back to my community as a volunteer at the Houston Children's Festival. In addition to being a weekend filled with fun, educational activities for families, funds raised at the festival benefit Child Advocates, Inc.

A little background on the festival from the press release:

Designated as "Houston’s Official Family Celebration," the Houston Children’s Festival, presented by Baker Hughes, is gearing up for its 22nd year as Houston’s favorite family outing. Scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, April 10 & 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the event takes place around City Hall, Tranquility Park and Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston. Designated as one of the “World’s 300 Unmissable Events” by Frommer’s Travel Guides, the festival is expected to attract an expected attendance of 50,000 plus people.

I worked the Saturday afternoon shift at SABIC Monster Math Zone. I work with SABIC Americas, Inc., and their Houston-based office to produce an employee magazine three times yearly. They are great clients and the employees consistently find ways to give back to the community. This year, as we pieced together an article about the event, I decided I wanted to get involved and help, too.

During my shift, I ran the geometry booth. For hours, I supervised children as they used geoboards to make shapes. I also asked visitors to use their knowledge of shapes and space to calculate how many of an item fit in a jar.

By the end of the afternoon, my feet hurt, my throat was hoarse and I was hungry. And I'd had a blast.

I also had good feedback from several of the parents throughout the afternoon. Many asked me if I was a teacher in my "real life," and I took that as a compliment. For years I planned to be a teacher and have the upmost respect for that profession. It got me thinking that maybe I should consider teaching as a future career move.

Most importantly, volunteering at the festival reminded me of how much I enjoy community service. I plan to do more of it in the future.

August 24, 2010

no. 10: home and away

In 10 days, I leave Texas for home, for good, for now.

Although Sept. 2 marks the end of my career as a faux Texan, I have made many memories along the way. To commemorate the past 14 months of my life, I will countdown my top 10 "Most Memorable Moments," as a Texan, beginning with...

No. 10: Home and Away — Nebraska vs. Baylor

The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers through the smack down on the Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas, Oct. 31, 2009. My dad, myself and our fellow NU fans were there to witness this humiliation.

Not only did Nebraska win big, but I'm pretty sure we had more fans there than Baylor.

In all fairness to our soon-to-be-ex-conference mates, football really isn't Baylor's sport, and Texas is filled with Nebraskans who usually only get one game in their state a year (which will stop happening in all likelihood when NU joins the Big 10 in 2011).

The day started off well. My dad (who was in town for the weekend) and I woke up early and drove to Waco. Along the way, Dad used his handy little Blackberry to look up facts about the Branch Davidians and we brainstormed costume ideas for that night.

We arrived in Waco before 10 and promptly started drinking beer, like all good Husker fans do. As my brother Mike always says, "I love early kick-offs. It's the only time it's socially acceptable to drink beer at 8 a.m."

We hung out at one of the many tailgate parties for Husker fans and watched Husker football Texas-style.

In addition to being a fun day with my dad and a chance to see my 'skers play, this game was also my first Nebraska away game.
Dad and I had such a good time in Baylor, we decided we want to do another away game. This fall, Mike, Dad and I will attend the NU vs. Texas A&M game in College Station, Texas. Even though I won't live down here, and it'll make for quite the road trip. I can't wait.

Check back tomorrow for No. 9 of "My Most Memorable Moments — Texas edition."

August 18, 2010

another appearance

I also make a brief appearance in another post on Brian Anthony Hernandez's blog. This time I weigh in on the future of the newspaper industry.

My response was bleak. While I believe in the future of news and media, I just don't see newspapers — as we have known them for centuries — making a full comeback. I believe the future is in multimedia reporting, as people are increasingly interested in getting the news as it happens.

Other journalists weighed in, too, and provided some great feedback.

Click here to read comments from myself and six other journalists.

guest appearance

This week, I had the opportunity to write a guest blog for my good friend and fellow journalist Brian Anthony Hernandez.

My friend Laura Chapman, who is a communication specialist in Texas, operates a blog about writing.

In this guest blog, she discusses mending her broken relationship with words and challenges journalists everywhere to rediscover the joys of writing – even at work. The next two paragraphs are excerpts from her guest blog.

“All too often I find myself writing to a formula or template. … It’s worked for me these past two years. Somewhere along the way, I fell out of love with writing. While I do not necessarily look forward to the articles I have to write for work, I have tried to be a little more creative, even if I can not push it too far. I have also put more time into writing for myself, both in my journal and in my personal special projects.

“As journalists, so often we focus on getting the facts and less on how we will present them. While the first part is certainly important, I challenge you to try something new with your writing, and rekindle the romance.”

Click here to read the rest of my guest bit.

August 8, 2010

book review: vision in white

Title: Vision in White (The Bride Quartet, book one) Author: Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts has once again ruined me for all men.

In "Vision in White," the first of four books about a quartet of best friends who run a successful wedding business together, Roberts sets up photographer Mackensie "Mac" Elliot with the elusive, legendary perfect man. Carter Maguire, PhD, is a beloved English teacher at the high school where he was once deemed a nerd and virtually ignored by his peers, including Mac.

Carter is smart (he has a PhD from Yale). He's compassionate (he has a three-legged cat called "Triad," whom Carter nursed back to health after being run over by a car). He is close to his family (every Sunday, he has dinner at his parents' house with his two sisters, their significant others and kids). He's no pretentious snob (he reads popular fiction along with the supposed literary classics — refreshing).

Most importantly, Carter is flawed, but in the most endearing of ways. He's shy and unsure of how to woo the woman of his dreams. After years of harboring a crush on Mac finally gets up the courage to ask her out for coffee, but frets he's made the wrong move. On subsequent dates, he agonizes about every detail to ensure it goes off well. He agonizes over the choice of restaurants and the bouquet of flowers. When he invites her over for dinner, he does a dress rehearsal in the days before to make sure he can cook everything correctly and on time. He even works from lists.

Simply put, Carter is absolutely, disgustingly, fabulously wonderful. Oh boy, I'm in trouble.

Too often in romantic stories the male heartthrob is a jerk, who doesn't know how to cope with his feelings. He (inadvertently) hurts the heroine, and must come to grips with the fact that he is a douche bag. Or, if he isn't a complete dick and recognizes and embraces his true feelings for the heroine early on, he maneuvers her to reach the point where she admits her feelings. That's not Carter.

Although Mac is ultimately the one who must overcome her hidden demons, Carter doesn't force her to do it any faster than she is able to on her own. He's waited to be with her for more than 10 years, but he's willing to put in the time to let her realize she loves him as much as he does her.

Carter also makes a move that left me breathless when I read it (and admittedly re-read, over and over):
He wanted more than a rational man could.
He stepped back, contenting himself with a brush of his thumb over her bottom lip. (p. 119)
Never in my mind could I come up with a gesture so tender or romantic. It sure got my blood pumping.

In addition to raising my standards in men, Roberts' "Vision in White" provided a delightful story about the strong lifelong connection between four women. Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker take their childhood pastime of throwing pretend weddings in Parker's backyard and turn it into a business. Each brings their strengths to play as a photographer, baker, florist and planner.

On top of being successful business parters, the women are first and foremost friends. Whether that includes taking a much needed girl's night in a New York City club, or discussing one of their problems over coffee.

I'd heard a lot of praise about this quartet before I decided to give it a read. If the first book is any indication, this series won't disappoint. I'd expect no less from a perfectionist like Roberts.

With book four in the series set to come out in November, I think I'll try to take my time reading the next two so I don't agonize about its arrival beforehand. 

Rating: 5 of 5

August 3, 2010

spicing up the news room

While going through some old papers recently, I stumbled upon a gag some of my old co-workers and I had while we worked at our college newspaper. My senior year, before the holidays, my friends and I decided to try our hands out at writing romance novels. And being competitive, we made it a contest.

The results were hilarious, and in hindsight so fitting of all of the writers. I'm just glad we had a nice mixture of men and women participating.

I'm sharing the rules and the prompt:

Congratulations on being selected to participate in the first ever Daily Nebraskan Romance Story Contest Extravaganza. With your efforts, you have made this activity a success. Well done.

Hopefully, we can leave behind a legacy of future contest participants who will continue to promote these great principles of writing.

Enclosed you will find the works of you and your fellow participants.

The rules for this contest are as follows:
1. We all use the same first line as a prompt for our story and setting (keep in mind it's a romance story, so it should be good).
2. Anything else goes. You can talk about quivering members and nipples till the vicar comes home (or even after if you fancy).
3. 500 word max. We're journalists, let's be brief.
4. We will share whatever we have done post-budget Thursday evening at 9 p.m.
5. There must be at least one other character to help "Patience" out.

Here are the prompts (courtesy of the book Johnny bought for Laura):

• Title: "Naughty by Nature"
• Setting: October 1808, Cheshire, England
• First line: "Patience Rose Farnaly was rebellious, opinionated and prone to lie."

So with that final note, please enjoy the submissions, in the order in which they were submitted to our judge. Thank you all for your participation and God Bless.

July 8, 2010


I had an opportunity to update much of the website.

Changes include:
• A new home page.
• New organization for pages.
• Biography, quick facts and resume under "About Me."
• Photos, links and documents under "Work Samples."
• Feedback from colleagues under "Feedback."
• Ways to contact me.

All I need to do is get my design clips uploaded, and we should be good to go. We're getting there!

July 3, 2010

penny for my thoughts

I decided to start a new personal journal! And by that, I mean I bought a book that I will write in. You know, old school.

I've kept maybe 10 journals since I was 14, and it's been two years since I last did. I've never been very faithful at it, but I think my subconscious detects when I am going through a time in my life when I need to, and I am pulled to he journal section at Barnes and Nobel.

Let's see how it goes!

June 29, 2010

new website

Welcome to my new website: This will be a one-stop shop for everything Laura Chapman — from my work as a new reporter and communications specialist to my progress as a novelist.

Please be patient as I take the time to construct this website and keep checking back for more updates.

June 14, 2010

twenty four

Today is my birthday. For whatever reason, turning 24 hit me hard.

Turning 23 was great. Fact: I rounded up my age to 23 since December the year before my birthday. But, 24 just seemed so much older. I think I just thought I'd have my life a lot more figured out by the time I'd been out of college two years.

I thought I'd have at least one novel written and have my career path figured out. I imagined I'd own my first home and live somewhere I loved. And while I didn't necessarily expect to be married or have kids, I at least thought I'd be on that path, and really I'm no where near as far as know.

But in the week before my birthday, I've come to grips with it. I realize that while many people are lucky to have done all of these things, I'm not alone. Some people go their whole lives without doing any of them.

Instead of looking at what I haven't done and want to do (which is what I usually do around my birthday), I decided this year to think of 24 things I've done in my life — one for each year I've lived — that I take pride in.

1. Learned to play six instruments. This includes the piano, clarinet, oboe, percussion, saxophone and English horn.

(Photo: Performing at one of our marching shows senior year.

2. Performed in a parade at Disney World.

3. Attended five proms in high school. Got good use out of the three dresses I bought when I went to the Millard West prom twice, and was invited to Millard North, Millard South and Skutt.

4. Graduated high school with 21 hours of college credit.

5. Adopted the two best cats in the world. Jane and Bingley have brought so much happiness to my life the past three years.

6. Spent 10 days in England. This included seeing all the big sites in London. I also took a Jack the Ripper tour that ended with one of my classmates and I grabbing curry and drinks with backpackers from around the world (some who I still stay in touch with on Facebook).

7. Had fun political encounters as a journalist. I saw Barack Obama right before he won the Nebraska primary, interviewed Rep. Lee Terry during a congressional hearing with C-SPAN rolling, offered one of three interviews granted by former Gov. Rod Blagjevich to discuss Illinois' mess of a state budget (I shared it with a fellow journalist and my editor, and I think the only reason I was offered was because I'd just written a story about one of his programs and was super nice to his communications people), etc.

8. Have earned a living writing since I was 19. Wrote articles in college that were picked up by the Associated Press and ran in various other publications (mostly college), but once featured on the New York Times' website.

(Photo: My paycheck from the Associated Press for stringing a story on a Goodyear strike.)

9. Earned a bachelor's degree in four years.

10. Spent a total of five days unemployed after college. After wrapping up my internship I had to wait a few days before finding out I'd landed my current gig.

11. Operated a locomotive by myself. Granted it was at speeds lower than 10 mph, but it was still awesome. The guys also gave me pie. This was also special because it happned on my first business trip at my first grown-up job. What a way to start off a two-year career writing railroad newsletters.

(Photo: Engine I operated in the North Yard in Amarillo, Texas.)

12. Checked important items off the bucket list for important sites I'd like to see. Saw both Niagara Falls at night and dawn and Boston in the fall and waded in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

(Photo: Boston in the fall. October 2008)

13. Shook hands with and personally thanked George Lucas for making the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas. (Episodes 4-6 only on SW and the first three Indie movies — its seemed rude to bring up his failures at the time.)

14. Met my childhood crush J.C. Chasez. I also shared a somewhat meaningful 15-minute conversation with him before receiving a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Sure, he didn't fall madly in love with me as I always imagined he would if we ever met, but it was still pretty fantastic. Plus, I was pretty drunk and managed not to make a complete ass of myself.

15. Saw Billy Joel and Elton John in their face-to-face tour.

16. Moved to a new state on my own.

17. Have worked from a home office since July 2009. My goal after college graduation was to do this by the time I was 30 — beat it by seven years.

18. Continuing to work on my dream: being a novelist. I wrote six chapters of a book before scrapping it to start over. Thoroughly outlined three books. I haven't met my goal to finish writing a novel, but this was a big step and I learned a lot through the process.

19. Learned to drink and love beer.

20. Lost 40 pounds in the last year.

21. Became (mostly) financially independent. I may struggle and not have much savings, but I own my car, pay my rent on time monthly and have insurance (renter's, auto, life and health).

22. Been to 26 out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia (not including airport stops): Arizona (1997), Arkansas (2009), California (1997), Colorado (1997), Connecticut (2008), Florida (2002), Illinois (1995), Iowa (?), Kansas (?), Louisiana (2008), Maryland (1999), Massachusetts (2008), Minnesota (2005), Missouri (?), Nebraska (1986), New Jersey (2010), New York (2008), Oklahoma (2004), Pennsylvania (2009), Rhode Island (2009), South Dakota (2000), Texas (2004), Utah (2002), Virginia (1999), Wisconsin (2000) and Wyoming (2002). (I've been to airports in Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina, but those don't really count.)

23. Fallen in love and been loved back. (I've also had my heart broken and recovered, which I feel were just as important in the grand scheme.)

24. Developed friendships and relationships with people coast-to-coast. I've also learned that while some friendships last years, other people are only in your life for a short time. That doesn't make their presence any less meaningful. (Cue: "In My Life" by the Beatles.)

Every experience, good and bad, has made me the person I am, today. I'm sure I could think of regrets, but what is the point?

I challenge all of you to look at the blessings in your life. Count them. At the end of the day, they are what matter most. Life is too short to have regrets.

And now for a look back at 23...

Favorite songs:
• "Then" by Brad Paisley
• "Imma Be" by the Black Eyed Peas
• "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
• "Don't Stop Believin'" Glee cover
• "You're Still You" by Josh Groban (This is an "oldie," but I just heard it for the first time this year.)
• "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum
• "I'm Alive" by Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews

Favorite new shows (or at least new to me):
• Glee
• Modern Family
• Dancing With the Stars
• Celebrity Apprentice

New states visited:
• Rhode Island
• Arkansas
• New Jersey

Major accomplishments:
• Lost 40 pounds.
• Moved to a new state.
• Became a fan of beer.
• Got my first place on my own.
• Learned to shell crawfish and ate a fried Snickers bar all in one glorious days.

Lessons learned:
• Don't speed. You get pulled over and apparently being polite and respectful won't get you out of a ticket.
• Know your limits when it comes to drinking. Otherwise, you might end up sleeping in a McDonald's parking lot, giving your number to awful guys or throwing up in a church lawn. However... you also might end up with a gift certificate to a barbecue joint, a cowboy belt and other fun tokens to remember the night out.
• Be comfortable being who you are. This can mean singing your heart out on a karaoke stage or stripping down to your swimsuit on the beach.

Goals for the next year (several of these are repeats from previous years):
• Eat healthy and exercise so I can continue to reach my target weight.
• Look for new professional opportunities and challenges.
• Finish writing a book.
• Check one item off of the bucket list.
• Spend more of my time and resources giving back to others.

May 7, 2010

faking it

An often forgotten chapter in my life, is that I once sold Mary Kay cosmetics. It's true. Just check my bathroom and you'll see the remnants of my brief career: half-used moisturizes, lip glosses and bunch of nail polish.

I bought my starter kit the summer after my freshman year of college thinking it would change my life, just like it did for Evelyn Couch in "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe." However, I soon learned I was not much of a saleswoman (my current bosses would also agree). By the following March, I packed up my inventory and shipped it back to Dallas, ending my career with MK forever.

My short-lived cosmetics career taught me more than the proper way to select eyeshadow (FYI, it's not to match your clothing) or how to write off business expenses on my taxes. It taught me that to succeed, I first had to see myself as successful.

All new MK sales representatives receive a copy of Mary Kay Ash's autobiography "Miracles Happen." The book tells about how she built her company from a one-person show, to a major multi-million dollar industry with hundreds of sales representatives nationwide. The key, she said, to success was simple: fake it till you make it.

I can't tell you how valuable that lesson was to me.

When hired at the Daily Nebraskan as a new transfer student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I'd only ever reported a few new stories, and all were for class assignments. My editor handed me three story assignments for the next week, and I pushed aside my worry and went to work, pretending I knew what I was doing. I remember making my very first call. I practiced my introduction over and over before I picked up the phone, until even I believed I was "Laura Chapman with the Daily Nebraskan."

I've faked my first few days at every job since, and it seems to be working for me. Maybe I can find a lesson in here somewhere for me, now. Maybe I can pretend I am a novelist, and get myself — and others — so convinced, that I can't help but finish writing a whole book. Might be something to it.

On another note, No. 9 in the "Project Boy Meets Girl" series will be out this weekend. I spent too much time working my job and playing after hours to do more than re-read the book that features our next couple. With any luck, I can get No. 8 out this week, too, as I've already done the leg work for it, too.

May 2, 2010

book review: nothing but trouble

Title: Nothing But Trouble
Author: Rachel Gibson
Release date: April 27, 2010

Rachel Gibson and her colorful cast of characters are back for another hot summer read. "Nothing But Trouble," Gibson's latest offering, takes us courtside once again as we catch up with the fictional Seattle Chinooks, hot off winning the long-sought-after Stanley Cup.

The book picks up where "True Love and Other Disasters" left off. Mark Bressler, the former hot-shot captain for the best team in the league continues to recover from a car accident that broke half the bones in his body, left him in a coma and ended his hockey career halfway through the season. Before he could lead his team to win the Stanley Cup.

Understandably, the now-sidelined Mark has quite the chip on his shoulder.

Enter Chelsea Ross. Twin sister to Bo, the Chinook's PR guru, Chelsea has an unimpressive Hollywood resume, which includes playing "scream queens" in horror movies, extras in daytime soaps and even a cheerleader in a Hillshire Farms commercial ("Go Meat!"). To pay the rent, she works as a personal assistant to the stars — from A-List to the D. After her most recent gig, Chelsea decides to take a break from Hollywood and accepts a temporary job as a personal assistant/ care provider to Mark while he recovers.

Mark doesn't need or want someone to babysit him. Chelsea wants the $10,000 bonus the Chinooks promised her if she stays three months. And somewhere in this power struggle, desire emerges.

That's where it gets good.

Like Gibson's other novels, "Nothing But Trouble" provides a quick-paced story packed with a quirky cast of characters — some new, and others old friends — in a hot and steamy package that will get your heart racing.

Mark represents the brooding, dark heartthrob who has fallen from grace into a self-imposed pit of despair. With a hot body and sex drive from which fantasies are made. Chelsea is the colorful, all-business woman looking to make changes in her life, and also manages to lift Mark from his darkness. With her help, Mark begins to see the light, and soften up. He even begins to think about his next career move, and helps coach an underprivilidged youngster improve his hockey skills. The reformed bad-boy-turned-sensitive guy never gets old or any less attractive.

Together, they conquer their personal woes and look to build a better future, each making concessions along the way. The novel also includes a subplot where Chelsea's sister Bo finds love within the Chinooks organization, too. Friends from the past, including Vlad the Impaler, are also on board for the ride.

As part of the fictional world she has created, Gibson also features cameos from her other leading men and women, including Rob and Kate Sutter of "The Trouble With Valentine's Day," John and Georgeanne Kowalsky of "Simply Irresistible," Faith Duffy and Ty Savage of "True Love and Other Disasters," and mention of Jane and Luc Martineau of "See Jane Score." "Nothing But Trouble" is an enjoyable, entertaining read and one Gibson's followers are sure to enjoy.

A fan of Gibson since I read "Sex, Lies, and Online Dating" two years ago, I eagerly awaited the release of this book. (I even ran to the store at 6 p.m. on a Saturday to make sure I could grab a copy when I belatedly remembered it had been released earlier this week.) And it didn't disappoint. Like her other books, her latest kept me captive, made me laugh and got my heart pumping. Fans should also be sure to check-out the excerpt included at the back of the book. Looks like we'll see another Chinooks legend take the plunge in spring 2011. 
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

April 29, 2010

the writer and the professor

PBMG No. 10: Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, Inc., New York, N.Y.
Edition: 1947 (originally published in two parts in 1868 and 1869)

Set during the U.S. Civil War and shortly after, "Little Women" tells the story of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March — growing up and overcoming their flaws to find a place in their society. The girls face poverty, illness and judgement along the way.

The scoop on Jo and Fritz
Jo, the novel's protagonist, is the second oldest March girl. Described as a tomboy, she struggles to find a place in her 19th century world. She cannot attend college, like the neighbor boy Laurie, or go to war, like her father. Like many of her contemporaries, finding a rich husband seems to be the only course expected for her, but one she does not wish for herself.

Instead, Jo hopes to become a writer. Throughout "Little Women," she tries her hand at poetry, sensational short stories and a novel.

Professor Friederich Bhaer, also called Fritz, is an older well-educated, but poor German. The professor teaches language at the boarding house in New York City, where Jo works as a governess. The two develop a friendship and respect for one another during the winter they spend together.

Professor Bhaer also serves as the guardian for his two orphaned nephews. They are the reason he left his homeland, and who he struggles to support.

WARNING: The following text contains spoilers.

The meet cute
Jo first sees Professor Bhaer when she arrives in New York to be a governess for Mrs. Kirke at her boarding house. She writes of it to her mother and sister.

As I went downstairs, soon after, I saw something I liked. The flights were very long in this house, and as I stood waiting at the head of the third one for a little serventgirl to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind nod and a foreign accent:

'It goes better so. The little back is too young to haf such heaviness.'

Wasn't it good of him? I like such things, for, as father says, trifles show character.

From there, Jo goes on to spy on the professor as he teaches and cares for the young children at the boarding house. They meet at last one evening, when they are introduced. He readily offers to help her should she need it along the way.

Their paths naturally continue to cross, and Jo often mentions him in her letters home. She defends this by writing, "On reading over my letter it strikes me as rather Bhaery; but I am always interested in odd people, and I really had nothing else to write about." (441)

Hardly over-the-top romantic, but acceptable coming from a no-nonsense young woman.

Scene stealer
The best part of Jo and Professor Bhaer's love story comes toward the end of "Little Women," in the rain, under an umbrella.

The good professor has come at last to visit Jo and meet her family. Jo, whose sister Beth - her closest friend and confidante - recently passed away, welcomes her dear friend readily. Only, perhaps now she feels a little more nervous around him and finds herself blushing more.

We readers of course know how Professor Bhaer feels about Jo, but nothing has been said on his part.

On the evening before old Fritz will leave, he and Jo bump into each other in town at the market. Both feel awkward, and neither says anything much. Their encounter seems to be near a close, when Jo lets a tear slip, and the two confess their feelings.

The professor, we learn, came to Jo upon hearing of her sister's death. He saw one of her poems published in a newspaper, and although it was printed anonymously, he knew she was the author. He came to see her, and hoped to find she might love him, too.

Despite their lack of funds, Jo's stubborn desire to stay single and the professor's commitment to raising his nephews, the two decide to give it a try.

"Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo? I must go away and do my work alone. I must help my boys first, because, even for you, I may not break my word to Minna. Can you forgif that, and be happy while we hope and wait?"

"Yes, I know I can; for we love one another, and that makes all the rest easy to bear."

Not too bad for a woman who didn't ever see herself settling down, right?

Why I love them
It's hard for me not to love two people who are so clearly awkward on their own, but who make sense when put together.

I must confess that like many of the novel's other readers, I did always like the idea of Jo ending up with her childhood friend Laurie. However, that would've likely been too neat of an end, and independent Jo needed someone more unique in her life.

Neither Jo or Professor Bhear could qualify as a heartthrob. Both are well-respected by those who know them, but are not sought after prizes. It's nice to see that even the awkward and seemingly hopeless can find love.

I also like what this couple goes on to do once married. They start a school to care for abandoned boys. Jo provides the love and care while the professor provides the education. Together, they make a great team, and one I dig.

Best lines
But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire, with the tired look on his face, and the heimweh, or homesickness lying on his heart. Once, when he remembered Jo, as she sat with the little child in her lap and that new softness in her face, he leaned his head on his hands a minute, and then roamed about the room, as if in search of something he could not find. (468)

She wondered what the business was that brought Mr. Bhaer to the city, and finally decided that he had been appointed to some great honor, somewhere, but had been too modest to mention the fact. If she had seen his face when, safe in his own room, he looked at the picture of a severe and rigid young lady, with a good deal of hair, who appeared to be gazing darkly into futurity, it might have thrown some light upon ght subject, especially when he turned off the gas, and kissed the picture in the dark. (594)

"Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" (620)

And, three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head of a long table lined on either side with rows of happy young faces, which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding words, and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer.' (635)

Coming up next...
The girl from the wrong side of the tracks and local royalty.

April 28, 2010

project boy meets girl

Most love stories have a basic formula. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. And then they live happily ever after. Why? Because it works.
I think the late Kate Duffy, romance editorial guru, said it best: "These two crazy kids are going to work it out. Even if she's a human and he's a demon, those two kids are meant to be together."
No matter how many times I see this formula, it gets me. If the two characters are dynamic and likable, and I enjoy their adventure together, I eat it right up.
I spent the weekend organizing my book collection, and along the way, skimmed through some of my favorites. A lifelong fan of love stories, I thought it might be fun to take a close look at my 10 favorite literary couples.
As I count down my top 10, I will look at: • The hero and heroine (their good and bad qualities); • The meet cute; • Major obstacle(s); • Words that melt my heart; • The scene that steals the show; • And the overall effect.
I hope through this project, I will learn more about what works and doesn't work for me in main characters to tell a compelling story. I can apply it in my own writing adventures and use it as motivation. At the very least, it will be fun spending some time with old friends while I review their stories.
UPDATE — Here's the complete list: 10. Jo March and Professor Baher of Lousia May Alcott's Little Women 9. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series 8. Annie Laurence and Max Darling of Carolyn G. Hart's "Death on Demand" series 7. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley of Jane Austen's Emma 6. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre 5. Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth of Jane Austen's Persuasion 4. Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon of Sophie Kinsella's "Shopaholic" series 3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of the L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" series 2. Elizabeth Bennett/ Bridget Jones and Mr. Darcy/ Mark Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the Bridget Jones series 1. Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series

April 27, 2010

my collection

As mentioned in my previous post, I reorganized my bookshelves (only to discover I need more — they won't all fit). Over lunch, today, I decided to do a quick inventory. Mind you, I did this quickly, and could be off plus or minus a few.

Here's the summary of the books currently on hand in the "Laura Chapman Collection":
• 301 fiction (adult and young adult)
• 60 non-fiction/ anthologies (I cheated in counting these. This includes non-fiction books, such as biographies, plus volumes of short stories, reference books, etc.)
• Seven cookbooks
• Three stylebooks (AP, APA and MLA)
• Three Bibles (New King James, New Revised Standard and New International)
• Three bound newspaper volumes
• One baby naming book (it's a resource)
• One dictionary
• One bartender's mixed drink guide
• One music book

That comes to 381 total, if my math is correct.

Interesting. I probably have that many more on my list of books I would like to own.

I don't know for sure what this says about me — especially considering the fact that I donated about 50 books to libraries and charitable organizations in the past couple of years.

Now, what would really be interesting is how many of these books I've read once, more than once or never. That would be the real scoop.

April 26, 2010

meeting old friends

I continue to find excuses not to blog — or work on my book. Between a hectic travel schedule, heavy workload and recent visit from my parents, it's been far too easy not to write.

I've got to get myself focused. So, I decided to start with something easy — reorganizing my book colleciton.

I moved and organized my bookshelves this weekend with a little help from Jane and Bingley (see photos).

I had the chance to skim through some of my favorite books. I love doing this, and don't get to as often as I'd like. For me, skimming or re-reading a book feels like spending time with old friends.

It got me thinking about what makes these books my favorite. It also inspired me to start a project...

March 4, 2010

a short update

Happy National Grammar Day. On this most holiest of days, I hope to make fewer grammar errors and write neater copy.

We'll see how this goes.

looking ahead for inspiration

I've been dragging my feet on the whole writing front. So, to get myself motivated this week, I decided to do some visualization - and it worked! I've worked on my personal writing (that is, work done exclusively for my novels) every day this week.

Here's what I did. I wrote a query letter. While researching publishing houses (I have a few that I'm eying as ones I would love to be associated with, even though I know it's really not all my decision) and saw most publishers want a query letter. And if you want them to even look at your manuscript, you better have a damn good one.

Here's how my query letter broke down after I wrote it (and I kept it short and concise and under one page in letter style):

Paragraph one: Like the lead of a good news story, this is where you hook the letter's reader and get them interested in your story.

Paragraph two: A brief summary of your novel. You don't have to give it all away! Think book cover teaser.

Paragraph three: A short biography of yours truly. In this paragraph, I wrote about why I am qualified to tell the story I've told, and included brief info about the fact that I am already a professional writer in the form of journalist.

Conclusion: Thank the person for taking the time to read your query. Also, for fiction books, include the length of the manuscript and the fact that it is completed.

There you have it. The nuts and bolts of a query letter.

For me, writing this query letter got me excited about my writing again. It motivated me, because I was able to imagine how exciting it would be to send that letter out to prospective agents and publishers.

Time is still a problem for me. Even now, I'm struggling to get this blog written three or four times per week. Today, I'm writing during my lunch break. I used my lunch yesterday to work on my book, and also have taken to working on my book after I finish working on the j-o-b for the day (I've already got my creative juices flowing). It amazes me that I switch gears so frequently, but I realize, that is possible because of the nature of my job. I'll work on one story for one client one minute, and the next I'm with another client doing a totally different project. Lucky me!

I'll give an update on my writing progress this weekend and set goals I hope to accomplish in the upcoming week. Next week will be a challenge, I can tell already, because I will be on the road visiting clients. Got to find a way to work through it.

I'll also have a book review up for your viewing pleasure sometime this weekend.

March 2, 2010

finding the time

My first obstacle in writing continues to be finding the time and motivation to do it. I know I have it in me to write a lot. My job involves filling newsletters and other publications with words I've written.

But the question for me is: How do I make working on my book a habit?

Two years ago, I attended a workshop with Stephanie Bond, author of the "Body Movers" series. Her advice: be disciplined. Make time to write and do it. Learn to write for 15-30 minutes at a time if you have other commitments. Jot notes about your book when they come to mind, even if you're working your regular j-o-b, o are out with your friends. It will keep your book fresh on your mind.

So basically, I guess I just have to make time. Easier said than done, but I've still got to do it if I want to make this happen. It will be a challenge. I was traveling for work all of last week and will be again next week, plus I'm visiting local clients this week and the week after next. However, I feel like I'm using that as a crutch. So... I need to get over it.

Sorry for short post. I'm trying to at least get a few posts a week and I figured a short post with some valuable advice from an industry expert was better than nothing!

On a side note, the next book I will review is a two-fer. On my way to Albany, N.Y., last week, I read "Night Tales: Nightshade & Night Smoke" by Nora Roberts. It's a two-in-one republished version of two books she wrote back in the 90s, but it was new to me.

February 27, 2010

book review: what happens in london

Title: What Happens in London
Author: Julia Quinn

From the back cover: "When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbor may have killed his fiancee, she doesn't believe it for a second, but, still, how can she help spying on him just to be sure? So she stakes out a spot near her bedroom window, cleverly concealed by curtains, watches, and waits... and discovers a most intriguing man, who is definitely up to something.

"Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security. He's not a spy, but he's had all the training, and when a gorgeous blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious. But just when he decides that she's nothing more than an annoyingly nosy debutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself..."

I picked up "What Happens In London" while grabbing some groceries at the store. It was a week before Valentine's Day, my love life has been stagnant and I thought I might live vicariously through some fictional characters for a couple of hours. I have read Julia Quinn's books before and enjoyed them. This book did not disappoint.

Right now I am focusing on characters in my own work, so I will focus on the ones Quinn created for the book.

The two protagonists — Lady Olivia Bevelstoke and Sir Harry Valentine — are quirky, fun and compliment one another well. Unlike most of her contemporaries, Lady Olivia enjoys reading the newspaper and staying up-to-date with current affairs. Sir Harry is studious and fluent in several languages. Quinn consistently gives her characters distinguishing personality traits, which I find admirable. I will have to tuck that bit back for my own character development.

I also appreciate that Quinn creates strong female leads that fit within the constraints of what was socially expected of the time frame. These women are independent, have their own goals and are likable. It can be easy in the romance genre to create static female leads, but Quinn follows the Nora Roberts' approach and designs her men and women leads to be more progressive.

The supporting cast provides additional comic relief. Their family members bicker, are overly dramatic and like to give the protagonists a hard time. That always adds some much-needed amusement.

The protagonists meet under unique conditions (unique for a beach read, that is). Sir Harry catches Lady Olivia spying on him, and their relationship develops over conversations spoken from their respective second floor windows. They continually get themselves in awkward social settings, but the reader can see a genuine emotional relationship developing outside of the physical one that inevitably develops in a romance novel.

I could probably go into more detail on this book, but I waited a while to write the review and I feel like going and doing something else with my day, so I will just end this post by saying this: I enjoyed this book. I would recommend it. I would read it again. Excellent characters with witty dialogue. The only thing off is the book title (although Quinn's book titles usually take some sort of spin on more modern pop culture references, so I will let it slide).

(Image from

February 26, 2010

what's in a name?

Naming a character is like naming your child. Granted, I do not have any children of my own, but I imagine it runs along the same lines.

The name your character has is the name it will always have. It can become a staple. Think Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Both names are iconic and part of the culture surrounding the stories.

But how do you come up with a name that fits your characters?

In "The Writer's Little Helper," James V. Smith Jr. gives the following checklist for naming characters (page 176-177):
• Brainstorm a list of names before you begin your novel.
• Don't use names of real people. (Personal note: I named my goldfish after my dad. It was funny until I called my dad three days later and said, "Bruce died." Don't name your characters after people you know.)
• Avoid names that begin with the same letter.
• Avoid names that can be both male and female.
• Be wary of first last names.
• Don't overuse alliteration — first and last names beginning with the same letter.
• Don't use names that sound like half the people in the phone book.
• And don't use names that rhyme in the same story.
• Be wary of long names.
• Be conscious of names ending in -s.
• Don't be cute.
• Don't use a name twice.

I like the name checklist idea for some characters. For my protagonists, I feel I have to give more thought into their names. These are the characters who are like my children, and I they are something I want to be able to live with forever. As far as the other characters, I have no hesitation just drawing from a list. In fact, I think it is a great idea.

A resource I keep on hand is a baby naming book. I swiped it from my mom years ago and it sits on my reference shelf along with my stylebooks and dictionaries. I also just received two phonebooks at my home, and I like the idea of paging through those (I credit Mr. Smith with that idea).

Just Sunday I sat down and created a list of first and last names for men and women. We will see how I can put those to use with my stories.

February 24, 2010

character development

Based on advice I received from Stephanie Bond, author of the Body Movers, at a writing conference, I decided to get organized about my writing. Before I start writing any of my books again, I am going to do some work before-hand, which will hopefully help me expedite the writing process.

This works for me (and is the way Stephanie Bond has made being a novelist her profession). As long as you stick with it. The only book I have made any real progress with included me doing some preliminary legwork. The prep work includes defining my characters and writing a working synopsis for the work. Doing this helps the writer know where the characters are going in the book and why.

That way, when it comes to writing the story, the writer can focus on the details and dialogue without having to wonder where any of this is going.

Here are some of the supplies I needed to get started.

Using a multi-tabbed folio (or whatever it's called) I include notes relevant to different novels I want to write. For example, if I want to write a book set in Upstate New York, I might include a map of the area, notes about the scenery and people. Or, if I plan to have a character be a firefighter, I might include notes about what this job entails. These serve as a handy reference if I need them while I work.

As I've mentioned before, I have several novel ideas. To keep them all straight, I have a folder for each. It keeps the information separate and are readily available while I work.

Inside the folder, I include my detailed chapter outline, my character sketches and other key notes that directly pertain to my novel's content.

I include detailed profiles of the key characters in my book. I am trying envelopes right now to keep them all separate. On the envelope, I include the character's name and a photo clipped from a magazine of what I think said character looks like. It helps to better visualize the character.

Inside the envelope, I include information about the character. Physical description, characteristics and the like. Also under Stephanie Bond's recommendation, I make a chart. The chart addresses what the character was like before the book and where the character will be in his or her life after the book. This develops the character and better explains the role he or she plays in the book.

If you want to write books with characters — as most do, I'm sure — a baby naming book is a handy resource. I use the one I swiped from my mom back in middle school. You can learn the meanings of names, which can help be a source of symbolism. Otherwise, it can just be a source for ideas so you can come up with clever name ideas.

There are also many Web sites available. I like Also, the U.S. government provides a list with statistics about popular names based on the year. This can be especially helpful if you want to know what names were trendy for a time period. It dates all the way back to 1879.

Another helpful resource to have on hand: magazines. On occasion, I find articles that help me come up with story ideas, or at least subplot elements. The magazines are also a good resource for looking for models/ people that look like what you imagine your characters to look like.

I have also spent much of my downtime this weekend re-reading books I enjoy. I skim the books and think about what makes me like the books. Emulation (not plagiarism) can be a great tool for writing.

At the very least, doing this prep work has helped get me excited about writing once again. I'm back into the mindset I had when I came up with these book ideas, and it motivates me to keep going.