July 31, 2011

shout out to you, reader

What a ride.

This month I made a decision to revamp this blog after more than a year of dabbling at it. I've enjoyed the process and finished posts immensely. Some highlights from July included:
•  A five-day series about plot development.
•  A farewell to the movie franchise inspired by one of my favorite books.
•  A re-boot of the Project Boy Meets Girl series I planned to write a year ago. We counted down my favorite couples appearing in literature from No. 10-5.
•  Stories from my adventures on the road, which included visits to the birthplaces of Carl Sandburg and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Thanks to you faithful readers, I've had a record number for pages views, and I've received kind words from many of you. My parents always told me that it didn't matter what others thought of me as long as I was happy and healthy, but any writer knows that positive feedback does wonders for the sol.

So in honor of your continuous support, I wanted to thank all of you for continuing this adventure with me.

I also invite your feedback. Please let me know if you have any reactions to my posts or have tips you would like to share with other authors. You can contact me by leaving a post here or on Twitter @lmchap. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking on the link on this page.

Thanks again for all you do as a reader. I value your time and look forward to sharing more with you in the future.

July 28, 2011

the officer and a lady

PBMG No. 5: Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth in "Persuasion"

Title: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Persuasion, published after her death, tells the story of a man and a woman who meet years after a failed relationship, and the obstacles and trials they must overcome to once again find each other's heart.

The scoop on Anne and Capt. Wentworth

Anne is the daughter of a British nobleman who falls from grace after loosing his money from irresponsible spending. Capt. Wentworth comes from a less noble family background, and is initially seen as an undesirable match for Anne. After becoming engaged early in life, Anne breaks off their relationship at the advice of her families and friends. They meet years later after Capt. Wentworth has made his fortune on his own terms.

Though their initial meeting seems to carry little emotion (at least on the good Captain's side), it is ultimately revealed that he still loves her and has measured every woman he's ever known to the one that got away.


The meet cute

Anne and Capt. Wentworth meet in their youth before the book begins. The fall madly in love after a few months of meeting, but are torn apart by their backgrounds.

In the book, they meet eight years after the fact. Neither has married. Anne seems to have no interest in the institution, and has in fact turned down a man who went on to marry one of her sisters, and the Captain is now in need of a wife (as all prosperous men of the time were), but hasn't found her.

Anne still feels for Capt. Wentworth, but he is determined to move on from the time she turned him away. He has more prospects now that he has made his fortune, and he considers marry for practicality rather than for love as he once wished.

They meet first as seemingly indifferent acquaintances, but eventually come together as friends to overcome adversity.

Scene stealer

Months after overcoming the aforementioned adversity — an accident which left a mutual friend in severe illness — Anne and Capt. Wentworth meet again while visiting friends in Bath.

In one fateful instance, the Captain overhears Anne tell a friend that she believes men forget their feelings for women sooner than the opposite sex.

"We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit."

It is at this moment Capt. Wentworth realizes Anne still cares for him, and he writes her a letter to say that his love for her has never gone away and he wishes for them to be together.

"I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant."

Soon after reading the letter, the two meet in a busy street and share a private moment where they renew their feelings. Neither has forgotten the other and neither wants to be with anyone but each other.

*Another sigh*

During this scene, we learn about Capt. Wentworth's heartbreak years earlier and his determination to forget Anne. Likewise, she reveals that she has never forgotten him and could never find another match like him. After little deliberation, they decide they will marry, and since their circumstances and ages have changed, their marriage is viewed favorably like everyone.

Why I love them

Have you ever been in love and given up on it for one reason or another? Yeah, so have I.

I am a total sucker for the story line of "the one who got away." In most cases, moving on to someone else turns out for the best, or it matters less after time passes, isn't it still nice when you see a case where love still concurs all?

Families and wars come between Anne and Capt. Wentworth — much better excuses than I've ever used — but after eight years apart, these two not only love each other as much as they did before, but their feelings are stronger.

And unlike Austen's previous stories, the heroine of this story is not a young 18- or 21-year-old, but a women in her late 20s (quite old to be a spinster for the time), and past her "prime." It's nice to know she can still find happiness in a good man. I know I'm not old, but I am no longer a young woman, and it is nice to see a couple who have gained more maturity and wisdom find love in a place they never thought to look again.

I find it terribly romantic to think that even after everything these two went through, both of them kept their love alive and were able to rekindle it. In most cases, only one person might carry on a torch for another (not necessarily this long), and nothing ever comes of it. You always wonder what could have been, and in this case you see where it works out.

I also like the idea of seeing two people who once had romantic feelings based in childhood develop into adulthood and have their love grow into something more realistic and strong. Had Anne and Frederick married years before, neither would have gained the experience and emotions that come from growing up, and who knows if they would have been able to so successfully combat the life obstacles that are bound to come.

I wouldn't be surprised if I someday write books where people who had a past come together years later. It's a fantastic story line no matter how you look at it.

Best lines

"We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit."

"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever."

"I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan."  

There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure every thing... There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had first been projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.

Read the original post to learn more about this series. You can also click on "pbmg" under labels to read couples 6-10.

Check back Tuesday for No. 4.

July 27, 2011

a picture's worth

Last week I spent six days on the road for work. I covered a lot of territory and met many people.

Here are a few statistics from my week:
•  I drove 2,209 miles in a car with more than 215,000 miles on the odometer.
•  I was in five states (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin) in six days.
•  There were three severe Thunderstorm Warnings in areas I drove through.
•  I crossed the Mississippi River eight times.

These stats don't mean much to anyone else, but for me it is all about the experiences I had while logging those numbers.

In addition to visiting some roadside sites (The American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, Carl Sandburg's birthplace in Galesburg, Ill., Leinenkugel's Leine Lodge in Chippewa Falls, Wis., Laura Ingalls Wilder's birth site and museum in Pepin, Wis.)

I also saw amazing scenery. Along the way, I took hundreds of photos, which I plan to store away as research for future writing projects.

If you look for it, inspiration can be any where. You can find it in how many miles you travel or by what you do along the way.

Where do you find inspiration?

July 26, 2011

the governess and the master of the manor

PBMG No. 6: Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is a faux autobiography about an orphaned girl named Jane who grows into adulthood and finds happiness as a wife and mother.

The scoop on Jane and Mr. Rochester

Jane's early life is filled with tragedy. Both of her parents die when she is young, and she is sent to live with family who mistreat her, before going to a school where she again faces hardships. She eventually reaches adulthood and takes a job as a governess for a young girl named Adèle, where she ultimately meets Edward Rochester.

Mr. Rochester is a Byronic-hero, who once lived a libertine lifestyle and is guardian to Adele, who may or may not be his daughter. He also attempts to commit bigotry by marrying Jane while he is still wed to a mentally unstable wife, who he keeps hidden away from the world. Knowing they cannot marry, Mr. Rochester instead asks Jane to run away with him to France to live as husband and wife, though not legally.

Still devastated by this news, Jane leaves his home to find a new place in the world, unwilling to sacrifice her morals and beliefs to be with the man she loves. More action happens, and eventually she reconnects with Mr. Rochester. He atones for his sins, and they all live happily ever after.

The meet cute

Jane and Mr. Rochester meet after she is already instilled at his home as a governess. While riding through a field one morning, Mr. Rochester's horse falls and he is injured. Jane offers her support to help him home.

She is intrigued by his dark, brooding ways. He is likewise interested in her caring, energetic personality. The two soon fall in love.

Scene stealer

One year later, Jane returns to Mr. Rochester after learning about the recent tragedy in his life. His wife set his house on fire and committed suicide, and during the fire he lost one hand and his vision while rescuing people from inside the home.

The day after their reunion, the two take a walk together, where Jane serves as Mr. Rochester's guide not only by leading him around the grounds, but by being his eyes and describing the scenes around them. The two eventually spill all of their history, reaffirm their feelings for one another and decide they should marry as soon as possible.

Dramatic? Yes, but lovely.

Why I love them

In many ways ahead of her time, Jane is an independent woman who eventually learns to balance her practicalities and morals with matters of the heart. Though at times overly dramatic, her story is a good one. She's a solid narrator and one you hope finds happiness.

As for Mr. Rochester — he's the original bad boy. He has flaws, many of them, and a past filled with debauchery and selfishness. He learns to change his ways and become a better man, though, because of his love for Jane.

Who doesn't love a reformed bad boy? We still see this character in modern stories, and I love it. It may not really happen in life, but it sure is fun to read about.

Best lines

"Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own. In pain and sickness it would still be dear."
(page 350)

"You will forget me before I forget you."
(page 368)

"... I cannot be so blessed after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I had clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now; and kissed her, as thus — and felt that she loved me, and trusted she would not leave me."
(page 505)

I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character—perfect concord is the result.
(pages 524-525)

Thank you for reading.  Check out the original Project Boy Meets Girl post to learn more about this series.

Check back Thursday for No. 5.

July 25, 2011

dealing with a steady stream of no

Rejection is hard to handle. Whether it comes from a person you ask out on a date or a literary agent you hope will represent you to the literary world, hearing "no" or "not interested" can do a number on your self esteem.

When a potential significant other turns you down, you get over it by spending time with your friends, over-indulging with a pint of ice cream or with retail therapy. It's probably the not the healthiest or most constructive way to deal, but it's what I do.

In my quest to find a literary agent, I find myself wanting to use those same coping mechanisms every time I receive a rejection notice. But I've decided that instead of letting myself slip into self pity, I should be more proactive with my response.

So I took to the web to find out some of the best ways to deal with rejection, and here's the top five points I took away from the research:

1. DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Easier said than done, I know, but remember that a "no" doesn't mean your project sucks. It might just be that the agent in question is more comfortable with a different genre or is overwhelmed with his or her work load.

2. REMEMBER, EVERYONE GETS REJECTED. When you listen to successful authors, such as Nora Roberts or J.K. Rowling, you hear the same story: The author contacted dozens of agents and was constantly rejected before finding the one that said "yes."

3. BE POSITIVE AND CONFIDENT. You have to believe in yourself and your project before you have anyone else do it, too.

4. PAY ATTENTION TO WHY YOU WERE REJECTED. The most common reason I have heard was that someone wasn't interested in my project. This means that I need to carefully look through each agent and see if he or she represents people who write books similar to mine. It wouldn't make sense for me to send women's lit to a person who specializes in memoirs.

5. DO NOT GIVE UP. You know the saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again?" Well it exists for a reason. If one person says "no," remember that there are still others out there.

Keep those in mind and remember that when you find the right agent, it will be right. You want to have someone on your side who believes in you and your projects as much as you do.

What advice do you have on getting over rejection? Post your comment here or respond to me on Twitter @lmchap.

July 22, 2011

my first little house

My travels this week took me somewhere I've always wanted to go: the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite authors.

Born in a log cabin 7 miles north of Pepin, Wis., Wilder went on to move around the country with her family then wrote the Little House series based on those experiences.

Though the cabin no longer exists, a replica now stands in the same place that inspired her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods. It is built with the same dimensions and creates the feel of what appeared in the books.

During my drive from the Twin Cities to Chicago on Wednesday, I decided to take the scenic route along the Mississippi River. It added about 20 minutes to my drive, but the view alone was worth it.

In my travels, I've seen the Mississippi from many points — between Minneapolis and St. Paul; Illinois' northern, central and southern border; in Baton Rouge, La.; and where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans.  This was my favorite. With all of the trees and rolling hills, I'm sure I saw the river at its finest.

I'm always struck by its intensity, and at times the fear associated with driving over those bridges, but in this instance I saw it at its most beautiful. It is such a powerful river, and its easy to see how it could inspire the likes of Huckleberry Finn, Popeye and other characters.

My mother read me the first book when I was 6. I loved it. The next few years I read the rest of the series, and they are still among my favorite reads.

Ever since, I always wanted to visit the Big Woods where Laura and her family lived, among the other locations in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, not to mention the places not written about, such as her home in the Ozarks. This was my first stop, and I found it fitting, because this was where her adventures started, too.

On the winding drive up the hilltop to the cabin, I thought about what I would find. I had a good idea of what the general layout would be, but I was worried I would find it abandoned and rarely visited. Instead, I saw one family leaving and another touring the little cabin. The family that walked the grounds while I was there included a mother and her two daughters who drove up from Florida. As a vacation, they planned to tour all of her homes.

Later, when I stopped by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, I again found several families touring it. I was thrilled to see two little girls picking out bonnets to take home with them to Colorado, and explaining Laura's story to their father.

When I was checking out at the gift shop, I bought myself a T-shirt and bookmark, I asked the woman who runs it if they have regular visitors. She said they are constantly busy and have many visitors during the town's annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Days every September. She said they have people come in from across the country, and even from around the world.

Visiting this site was a wonderful experience, and one I am glad I had. Moments like this serve as great inspiration for me. I credit these books with helping develop my passion for literature and for making me want to become a writer.

Here are a few of the photos I snapped during my visit:

The sign in Pepin directing visitors to the birth site.
The log cabin 7 miles north of Pepin, Wis.
Inside the cabin, including information about Laura and her family.
Remnants of a wooden fence on the grounds.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, Wis.

With that, I'm on my way back to Nebraska. I have quite the drive ahead of me, but I can't wait to be home. Thanks for reading about my most recent adventure. I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll be back next week with more.

I'd love to hear feedback from any of you. I also invite you to follow me on Twitter @lmchap.

July 21, 2011

the beloved daughter and the old friend next door

PBMG No. 7: Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley from "Emma"

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Emma tells the story of the title character Emma Woodhouse and her attempts to meddle in the lives' of others much to the chagrin of her neighbor and long-time friend Mr. Knightley.

The scoop on Emma and Mr. Knightley

Emma is the youngest daughter of Mr. Woodhouse, a wealthy man in Highbury. Her older sister and governess are both married, leaving her to the care of her father and to her own boredom. She befriends Harriet Smith, a young woman in the town without known parentage, and is determined to find her a suitable husband, leading them both astray of decency at times in the process. Emma is determined to never marry, but devotes her time to marrying-off others.

Mr. Knightley is the older brother of John, Emma's brother-in-law, and he is also a neighbor and close friend to the family. Mr. Knightley has carried feelings for Emma before she returns them, and attempts to lead her down the good path.

The meet cute

Emma and Mr. Knightley met long before the book is set, and they have known each other her whole life.

The readers meet the duo together for the first time shortly after Emma returns from her governess' wedding to a local man. Mr. Knightley teases her, and it is lovely and Austen-like.

Scene stealer

Near the end of the story, Emma realizes that she is in love with Mr. Knightley, after her good friend Harriet reveals that she too cares for him. Worried that she has lost all hope of winning him over, because of her previously careless and sometimes callous attitude, he and she meet upon his return from a visit to London to see his brother.

Though it starts awkwardly with both characters worrying about their hidden feelings for the other. Emma thinks he is in love with Harriet, and Mr. Knightley thinks she is in love with another man, Frank Churchill.

Soon, though, it goes quite beautifully. Both reveals their love for the other and they decide to marry.

What makes this scene so fantastic is the grand speech Mr. Knightley makes to Emma as he reveals his true feelings.

"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" — he soon resumed, and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have born it. Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me. Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice" (371).

My heart flutters every time I read it.

They talk more about their feelings and he reveals that he rode through the rain to be with her upon the discover that Frank was married to another. She tells him she's never cared for Frank, and only has for him. Lovely.

She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house… (374).

This scene is followed quite nicely with another. Emma tells Mr. Knightley she is worried she cannot marry him, because she does not want to leave her father and her father would not want to leave his home. The true gentleman that he is, offers throw out tradition to move in with her family.

…So long as her father's happiness — in other words his life — required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise (387).

Why I love them

Emma is not quite your classic heroine. Jane Austen even said she wrote her being a character she was sure few people other than herself would like. Even the wonderful Mr. Knightley is often short and seemingly rude, which makes them both flawed. Flawed characters are some of the best.

I also find it incredibly delightful to think that you could find that the person you are best suited to spend your life with is someone who has already been part of it.

Best lines

It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

"I cannot makes speeches, Emma... If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."
- Mr. Knightley (page 371)

Read the original post to learn more about this series. You can also read the previous entries by clicking "pbmg" under labels.

Check back Tuesday for No. 6.

July 20, 2011

my adventures on the road

I'm on the road for work this week, and the miles are piling up. I left town at 7 a.m. Sunday, and as of my arrival in Minneapolis Tuesday night, I'd added more than 1,150 miles on the car's odometer.

Despite the busy schedule I'm keeping this week, I decided to make sure to take a couple of moments every day this week to do something fun and unique to the area — to make my adventures real adventures. Thanks to my dad, I had some good ideas of what to look for during my travels.

While driving through Iowa Sunday, I saw a sign for the house that inspired Grant Wood's "American Gothic." So I took the exit and the 30 minute detour to check it out.

Yesterday, I took the Chippewa Falls, Wis., exit so I could drive by the Leinenkugel Brewery. It's home of Summer Shandy, one of my favorite seasonal beers. While in La Crosse, Wis., Monday night, I ate dinner in the downtown area and took a short walk along the Mississippi River.

On my way out of Galesburg, Ill., Monday, I stopped by the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, an Pulitzer Prize winning poet and one of my dad's favorites.

In honor of that, I thought it'd be fun to post a few of Sandburg's quotes:

"A book is never a masterpiece: it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man."

"Yesterday is done. Tomorrow never comes. Today is here. If you don't know what to do, sit still and listen. You may hear something. Nobody knows."

"Back of every mistaken venture and defeat is the laughter of wisdom, if you listen. Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us, and only for those who were willing to fail are the dangers and splendors of life. To be a good loser is to learn how to win."

"I'm an idealist. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way."

"Nothing happens unless first a dream."

"Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment."

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

"Every blunder behind us is giving a cheer for us, and only for those who were willing to fail are the dangers and splendors of life."

"Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years."

Some times it's great to take time for yourself and to find inspiration from other writers.

Today, I hope to visit an important site for one of my favorite authors, but I'm not going to say it in case I jinx myself. Hopefully, you can check back later this week to hear about my experience.

July 19, 2011

the bookstore owner and mystery consultant

PBMG No. 8: Annie Laurence and Max Darling from the "Death on Demand" series

Title: "Death on Demand" series
Author: Carolyn G. Hart

Carolyn G. Hart's Death on Demand series follows the misadventures of Annie and Max Darling as they solve murders in and around their new hometown of Broward's Rock Island, South Carolina. Surrounded by a cast of quirky and lovable (or obnoxious, depending on the circumstances) supporting characters, Annie and Max always seem to find themselves in the thick of it when crime strikes, and they must work together to find the guilty party.

The scoop on Annie and Max

Annie Laurence is a hard-working former aspiring actress who relocated to South Carolina to run the mystery book store she inherited from her beloved uncle.

Max Darling is an intelligent but idle man who comes from East Coast old money. In book one, Death on Demand, Max follows Annie to South Carolina to rekindle their relationship, after she previously ended it.

The two have seemingly little in common. Hart sums it up perfectly on pages 6 and 7 of the first book in the series:
She was poor.

Max was rich.

She'd grown up in a shabby frame house in a Texas prairie town.

Max had lived in lots of houses: a white stone mansion high above a Connecticut river, a rambling, weathered summer home with its own tennis court on Long Island, a penthouse high above Fifth Avenue, a medieval castle near a Scottish loch.

She'd scrimped through school on a drama scholarship.

Max lounged languidly through Princeton.

She liked life to be foursquare, aboveboard, and predictable.

He delighted in ambiguities, disdained certainties, and loved above anything to puncture pretensions.

Yet amongst there long-list of differences, these two take a second shot at love and come out winners, fortunately enough for us readers.

WARNING: The following text contains spoilers.

The meet cute

Before the series begins, Annie and Max met in New York City when she was trying to start an acting career. The two date for a while until, displeased with Max's lack of ambition or drive, Annie moves on to start a new life.

Unwilling to give up their relationship and undeterred by the fact that she moved hundreds of miles away, Max turns up in South Carolina after tracking her down using his cunning skills.

Max sets up an office as a detective agency as a consultant, and though she initially brushes off his advances, the two ultimately renew their feelings and become a couple.

Scene stealer

I have only read the first four books in the series, but so far each one has had a scene or two that made me adore Annie and Max.

In book one, I love the easy conversation and banter the two carry early on when they are reunited.

In Design for Murder, Max unsuccessfully tries to get Annie to agree to set the date and plans for their wedding, and finally succeeds in winning her over by giving her a one-of-a-kind gift (a letter written by Agatha Christie to her husband while she wrote one of Annie's favorite books).

Why I love them

Not only do they school the local law enforcement on solving crimes, but Annie and Max are a lot of fun.

For example, in book No. 2, the duo shows up to a mystery-themed costume party ball dressed as Nancy Drew and Joe Hardy. Completely adorable moments that make you smile and melt your heart.

In book three, Max and Annie star in a community theater production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," and in book four, they decide to spend their honeymoon taking a mystery tour of Europe.

They also have ongoing, good-natured banter and teasing about Annie's love of fatty, high-calorie foods (like drive-thru tacos, chili dogs and hamburgers) and Max's lack of real, meaningful employment (he owns and runs a consultation business, because he doesn't feel like taking the South Carolina bar exam or completing two-year training to become a licensed private investigator). My mother assures me this continues throughout the series.

The world is over-run with mystery novels, not that this is a bad thing, but what sets the best apart from the rest are the ones with characters that are interesting and who the readers want to follow.

They are genuinely fun and likable people to read about. I look forward to reading more of the series simply, because Annie and Max Darling put on a good show.

Best line

"Love, I've known you when you were up and when you were down. I've made love to you in the moonlight, danced with you until dawn, witnessed table piggery unbounded, admired your intellect, your serve and your verve..."
- Max Darling (Design for Murder, page 301)

Read the original post to learn more about this series.

Check back Thursday for No. 7.

July 18, 2011

write it old school

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is type one word.

Every time I sit down to work on my book or write an article for work, I find it difficult to get that first word written.

For me, an empty screen is more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper. Maybe it's the cursor blinking at me, or more likely it's that I spend so much of my day staring at computer screens.

Think about how much time you spend on your computer, whether you are writing, Tweeting or check Facebook, we devote hours of our days looking at a computer screen and it can be exhausting.

I explained this to my sister a few months back, and she gave me a great piece of advice: When you find it too difficult to type at your computer, and you feel writer's block setting in, step away from the computer, grab paper and pen and try writing out your thoughts by hand.

This works great for me. I find I am more readily able to write challenging passages by hand. I never write more than 1,000 words this way, but by the time I reach that point, I am more than ready to transfer my ideas to my computer document.

Some might argue this is a misuse of time, because you're writing everything twice, but for me it's a time saver. Instead of wasting precious minutes forcing my self to write and coming up short, I am at least being productive.

Plus, in many cases, I will edit or build upon what I initially wrote and the final product is much better.

I encourage you to try this method or find one of your own that gets you past writer's block and become more productive.

Let me know if you have any other tips that you would like to share.

July 15, 2011

follow friday - July 15

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, my literary community is growing.

In honor of these new friendships, I thought it'd be fun to do a #ff for some of my newest literary friends found thanks to technology.

Lee Baker: Find him online at www.leebakeronline.com.

Lacey Camey: Read her blog at www.lacycameywrites.com.

Melissa Foster: She's online at www.melissafoster.com.

Shawn Klomparens: Check out his awesome website and blog at www.shawnklomparens.com.

Lisa Kovanda: Her website is lisakovanda.com.

Julie Anne Lindsey: Find her online at blog.juliealindsey.com.

Lynn Mitchell: Read her blog at lynnmitchellblog.blogspot.com.

Michele Scott: Available online at michelescott.com.

Lawrence Sylou-Creutzo Jermark: Find him online at www.lawrencesyloucreutzojermark.com.

Check out their websites and blogs — each has great advice and information. All of them are also on Twitter. I encourage you to follow them.

before and after

Do you ever find yourself stuck in your book not knowing where to take your story?

A good way to resolve that is by thinking about where your characters started, where you want them to be at the end of the book and how you should get them the there.

An exercise I've used, thanks to the advice of another author, is to create a T-chart for the main characters, like the one pictured here. In the first column, list descriptions about where your character is in his or her life at the beginning of the story. In the second column, write where he or she is at the end of it. I typically match them up by topic.

This helps you develop the plot, because to get your character from where they are at the beginning to where they are at the end, something has to happen to them. What happens is your story.

Let's try an example for a character called Liza.
Before: She is a 24-year-old woman living at home with her parents.
After: She is a 25-year-old woman who share a small apartment in Chicago with roommates.
Plot development: Liza reconnects with two friends from high school, and together they move from the suburbs and into a tiny apartment in Wrigleyville.

Before: She is in a lackluster relationship with her college boyfriend.
After: She is starting a new relationship with an exciting man.
Plot development: Tired of his apathetic attitude toward their relationship, Liza dumps her college boyfriend. She celebrates with her friends by going to a Cubs game. There, she meets a man when they fought over who is the owner of a foul ball that landed between them. Throughout the book they try to settle this dispute and end up deciding to share custody and each other's company by dating.

Before: Liza works for a temp agency doing filling mostly secretarial gigs at a law firm.
After: She has an entry-level marketing assistant job for a green energy company.
Plot development: Liza sends out 100 resumes to 100 companies and lands interviews at five companies. She is a finalist at two and wins the job with the green energy firm by giving a dynamic mock presentation and press campaign cleverly using social media.

See — plot development.

This is a great resource for someone like me, because I typically know where my characters are before and after the book. It helps me focus in on the key points of their life that will be affected during the story, and I can determine the events that will happen in between.

It also helps you better know your characters.

Try it and see if it helps you.

July 14, 2011

the police chief's daughter and the bloodsucker

PBMG No. 9: Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from the "Twilight" series

Title: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn
Author: Stephenie Meyer

My name is Laura, and I'm a Twi-hard. I tried to fight it early on, but shortly after Breaking Dawn was released something happened to me. I rented the movie "Twilight," and I decided I should read the books.

I was hooked. I slammed all four books in about one week. While I still have problems with the books, I couldn't get enough of the human-vampire love. I still can't explain it, but there is something about that forbidden love that is so hot.

WARNING: Plot spoilers ahead.

I imagine most people have a basic idea of the plot, but I'll sum it up for those who don't.

Girl meets boy. Boy turns out to be a vampire. Girl falls in love with vampire. Vampire leaves girl. Girl meets werewolf. Vampire returns. Girl and vampire have angsty relationship until girl marries vampire, gets pregnant by vampire, becomes a vampire herself and lives an immortal life with her immortal family. And many people, vampires and werewolves fight, struggle and die along the way.

The scoop on Bella and Edward

Bella Swan is a nothing-special teenage girl when she arrives in Forks, Wash., to live with her father, the local police chief. She meets Edward Cullen, a vampire who has been alive for more than 100 years.

If it wasn't enough to live in constant fear that your boyfriend might one day snap and suck your blood, Bella has to deal with a best friend who is a werewolf — and who loves her in a way she cannot fully return - and two separate vampire covens that at one point in time or another want her dead.

The meet cute

Bella and Edward meet in the first book where most 17-year-old kids meet - in school. Bella sits next to Edward in a science class and has an immediate effect on him. Though he tries to avoid her, because her scent is too tempting to him, Edward eventually gives in and begins a relationship with Bella.

More angst continues.

Scene stealer

One of my favorite moments happens in Twilight, when Edward rescues Bella from the hoodlums in Port Angeles and takes her to an Italian restaurant where he finally reveals more of himself to her. While discussing Bella's tendency to find herself in trouble (no, not pregnant, at least not in this book) and his heroic desire to protect her.

"Did you ever think that maybe my number was up the first time?" Bella teases him on page 174.

"That wasn't the first time... Your number was up the first time I met you," Edward answers cooly on the next page.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for one-liners. The way Edward delivers them in books one through three often gives me chills. I like that.

Probably my all-time favorite scene is in Eclipse. The night before the battle. When Bella stays with Edward for some alone time. He asks her to marry him. She asks him to sleep with her. Both valiantly resist (until the next book). A good time is had by all.

My favorite part about this scene is when Edward teases Bella about the fact that their relationship has a gender stereotype role reversal: he's pushing marriage and she's pushing sex.

"You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama - twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girls virtue," Bella says on page 453.

Scene Stolen From Readers by Author

(Like a good little Twi-hard, I couldn't resist making this jab.)

I know this is supposedly a young adult series (psh), but I would have liked a little more info about Bella and Edward shacking up in Breaking Dawn. I'm not saying Stephenie Meyer had to go full romance novel, but a little something more than kissing on the beach and waking up the next morning would have been greatly appreciated. I swear, I'm not a total pervert, I just don't like being led on to end up with nothing.

That's probably one of the things I'm most excited for about the upcoming movies. I doubt Hollywood will be as big of a tease.

Why I love them

No matter how hard I fight it, I still find the whole thing completely romantic.

These two crazy kids are a modern day Romeo and Juliet, except it takes them longer than three days to meet, fall in love and marry. And Edward doesn't kill Bella's cousin. Despite the little elements that frustrate me about these story lines, there is something wonderful to me in the idea that two people would love each other so much, they would be willing to put everything out on the line for it.

For me, there was never a Team Edward or Team Jacob debate. I read Edward's intro to the series, and I was like, "Team who?"

Keeping with the timelessness, Edward comes from another generation and speaks and acts with chivalry. Some might see it as overbearing, and I'm not saying I'd want it every day, but I certainly enjoy reading about it.

He's smart, handsome and sparkles in the sun. He also has an eclectic, unpretentious taste in music (which I dig), and he plays the piano (I'm a sucker for musicians).

Though I have issues with Bella, in general she makes an ideal audience surrogate, who asks the questions and finds the answers we will need to know to understand the series.

As a woman, she is easy to identify with. She is a girl who does not give her self much credit and feels insignificant compared to her friends and family. I've read reviews where people criticize this fact about her, but to me, it was what gave her other flaws redemption and makes her a sympathetic narrator.

What I mostly like about them is the fact that they're a modern fairytale. Unlike any of the other couples I'll include in this countdown, they are the only one that is unobtainable (hate to say it guys, but vampires aren't real). Sometimes it's nice to slip away into a fantasy.

Best lines

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen," he answers promptly.

"And how long have you been seventeen?"

His lips twitched as he stared at the road. "A while," he admitted at last.
(Twilight, page 185)

Perhaps one of the most famous from the book/ movie series...

"And so the lion fell in love with the lamb...," he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.

"What a stupid lamb," I sighed.

"What a sick, masochistic lion."

(Twilight, page 274)

"The odds are always stacked against us."
(New Moon, page 508)

"What I want and need is to be with you, and I know I'll never be strong enough to leave again."
(New Moon, page 513)

"I promise to love you forever - every single day of forever. Will you marry me?"
(Eclipse, page 461)

I'm sure there are many others, but these books are massive, and I need to put the bulk of my efforts into being a Harry Potter fan this week.

Read the original post to learn more about this series.

Check back Tuesday for No. 8.

set the scenes

When you think of your favorite books, what were your favorite scenes? How did those scenes progress the plot?

In The Writer's Little Helper, James V. Smith Jr. says it is possible to plan a book by focusing on the ten key scenes in a book that progress the book's plot.

Smith uses this chart (as pictured in the book) to accomplish this:

Here is how it works:
• Start by planning Point A and Point X. You can better write a book knowing where it will begin and how it will end.
• Next, plot out the Point of No Return, final Complication and Ending.
• Fill in the remaining spots with complications that will carry the plot to these key points.

By using the Ten-Scene Tool chart, NAME believes writers can direct their story without becoming bogged down by taking too much time or focusing on too many details.

For my monthly writing group, I developed this example to illustrate how this tool can work using a well-known book.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

1. The Opener (Point A)*

Bella moves to Forks. Bella leaves Phoenix, Ariz., where she lived with her mother and step-father, to move to Forks, Wash., to live with her father. It is the town where she was born, but has not visited in years.

2. Complication

Bella meets Edward. Bella begins school at Forks. There, she observes the Cullen family and meets Edward. He acts rudely toward her, and it leaves Bella wondering what has gone wrong. She is unable to receive an answer, because Edward does not attend school the rest of the week.

3. Complication

Edward saves Bella from being crushed by a car in the school parking lot. While standing outside the school, Bella narrowly escapes serious injury from a vehicle skidding on ice. Edward saves Bella by moving her to safety and stopping the vehicle from hitting her. Bella seems to be the only person who notices how far away Edward was before the incident, and how much speed and strength he exerted to save her life. None of his answers satisfy Bella.

4. Point of No Return*

Bella learns Edward's true identity. Edward once again saves Bella's life while she is on a shopping excursion to Port Angeles. During dinner and the subsequent drive home, Edward and Bella exchange a great deal of information. Bella learns Edward can read minds.. Bella also tells Edward she has researched him and believes he is a vampire, which he confirms. She decides she is cool with that. "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him — and I didn't know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

5. Complication

Edward fills Bella in on the details of his existence. Edward takes Bella to the mountain-top to reveal more about his life as a vampire. This includes what happens to his skin ("… literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds…"); his thirst for her blood ("'… you are exactly my brad of heroin.'") and about how he came into his existence as a vampire, and the stories about the rest of his family.

6. Complication

Bella officially meets the Cullens. Bella visits the Cullen home with Edward. She learns more about him, his family and the seriousness that could result from their relationship (i.e. her death by vampire). She learns more about Dr. Cullen's history as a vampire. The readers are also introduced to the Volturie for the first time (They are not called by this name, yet.).

7. Complication

Bella becomes the target of a vampire tracker. While playing baseball with Edward's family, a coven of nomadic vampires come upon Bella and the Cullens. James, a tracker, detects Bella, a human, and decides to hunt her, because he knows the Cullens will put up a good fight. The Cullens decide Bella must leave Forks while they track down James.

8. Complication*

The tracker makes an offer Bella cannot refuse. James contacts Bella and tells her he has captured her mother. In exchange for her mother's life, Bella must ditch her protection and surrender. Bella decides to do this, and throws off the Cullens at the airport so she can go meet James and save her mother's life.

The Closer/ Climax (Point X)*

James bites Bella. Cullens kill James. Edward saves Bella's life. Bella meets James at the ballet studio. She learns that she was tricked, and her mother is safe. James attacks Bella, injures her and also bites her. Edward and his family arrive to save her. Edward must suck the venom out of her body, while his siblings destroy James.


Bella recovers and goes to prom with her man. Bella recovers in the hospital and has a serious talk with Edward. He fills her in on what she missed while she was out. She tells him she wants to become a vampire and he declines. Bella recovers, and Edward takes her to the prom, while she also receives a warning from the Black family.

While I do not exclusively use the Ten-Scene Tool as a planning device, I have found it a beneficial resource for creating a greater quality plot. With it I ensure a story moves in the correct direction and has enough memorable scenes in it to carry audience interest.

Thank you for reading this series. I hope you found these resources helpful for planning your own stories. I am sure there are more ways out there to to do it, and I would love to hear back from you on what you do.

By the way, I recommend Smith's book to anyone looking for a good resource on how to write a book. I've quoted him before, and I'll probably do it again, because it's just that good. You can order it here.

July 13, 2011

make characters matter

I am a big Harry Potter fan. I love the books, I love the movies, and I am excited to see the final installment in the saga tomorrow night.

Not only will the content itself probably bring me to tears, but watching these characters on screen for the last time will take it to another level. It will be like saying good-bye to old friends. I know I can pick up one of the books or watch one of the films any time I want, but it won't be the same. I'll never have that budding excitement and anticipation associated with this franchise.

I started reading the books when I was the same age as Harry. It was summer 1998 and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was newly arrived in the U.S. I devoured it and each of the next books in the series.

I even stood in line at my college book store to get Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I stayed up all night and through the next day to read so I could review it for my college paper's Monday issue.

Seeing the finale will be emotional. I explained this to my 11-year-old nephew who is just getting into the franchise and will go to the screening with me. Trying to comfort me, he assured me that I didn't need to cry, because it "wasn't real" and they were "just characters."

On one level my nephew is correct. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, Draco and the rest of the cast are fictional characters and only exist in our imaginations. But when you love characters as much as I, and millions of other fans, do, they take on deeper meaning. They're old friends.

That is how you know you have good characters. If you are sorry to see them go at the end of the book, and your imagination takes them on more adventures that are never published, you know you have succeeded.

It's a challenge I now extend to myself and all of you other writers. Create characters that matter and who people will give life every time they turn a page.

make an outline

If you want to be organized about writing a book, I say be as organized as possible — make an outline. An outline breaks down the order of key plot elements in your story.

Did you ever outline a paper in school before writing it? If so, it probably looked something like this:

I. Intro
- End with thesis statement.
II. Body
A. Point 1
B. Point 2
C. Point 3
IV. Conclusion
- Begin by restating the thesis.

You could outline your book this way, or do what I do: break it down by chapter. This gives you a better idea of how many chapters your book will be and where natural breaks in your story will occur.

When I outlined my first two books, my basic outline was about 2,000 words long. I had 16 chapters in one book and 22 in the other. Under each chapter heading, I had one to three paragraphs briefly describing the plot element happening.

It looks something like this:

Chapter one

Lisa arrives at work to find that her brother has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. Tyler, a bike messenger, unexpectedly finds himself involve in the investigation.

What is useful about having a brief outline like this is you know the key action that will occur in that chapter. It is also helpful later when you are pitching the novel to an agent or publisher. Most would like to see a brief outline before they read the whole book.

I alike to flush out my outline into what author Stephanie Bond calls a working synopsis. A working synopsis has more details and addresses each plot element as it occurs. Here's that same example flushed out.

Chapter One

Project manager Lisa arrives early to work and sits down at her desk. She reaches to turn on her computer and notices a folded piece of paper sitting on the center of the desk. She opens it and screams.

Bike messenger Tyler enters the same building and leaves a package on the secretary's desk. He turns to leave, but hears a woman's scream. He contemplates whether to investigate or leave, and decides to see if she needs help.

Tyler walks into Lisa's desk and she shows him the note. It is a ransom letter stating that her brother and boss has been kidnapped.

When I do this, I have about 1 double-spaced page for every 10,000 words of the book. That means a 100,000-word novel will have a 10-page working synopsis. For me this is not an exact figure. I find some chapters require more explanation than others.

What is most beneficial about doing this is that you have the action all figured out before you write. During the times you set aside for working, you can focus on crafting the words precisely without having to wonder where you will take the story.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to contact me and let me know what you think by leaving a comment to this post, or on Twitter @lmchap.

July 12, 2011

project boy meets girl series update

Just wanted to give you all a heads up on a change to the series.

Instead of announcing and analyzing one couple every week, I will post two weekly beginning the week of July 16. The latest additions will be posted Tuesdays and Thursdays.

No. 9 will be released Thursday, July 14.

For those of you who are not familiar with this, Project Boy Meets Girl is a series I am doing to look at my top 10 favorite literary couples. By examining their meet cute, favorite scenes and best lines, I determine what it is about them that I love so much and how I can use that knowledge to enhance the characters I develop.

I have all 10 couples planned out, and I've skimmed books/ series for No. 7-10. So far it's been a lot of fun — like meeting with old friends. (It's also a bit of a bummer when I realize I'm crushing on men that only exist in print and in my imagination.)

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to your feedback.

build interest

The first thing I do when I purchase a book is to look at the front cover. My second step is to turn it over and read the back cover or the inside flap to see what it is about.

From that I know whether or not I have any interest in reading the book.

During a fall 2007 writing conference in Lincoln, Neb., author Stephanie Bond encouraged aspiring authors to start planning their books by writing the synopsis that would appear on the published books back cover or inside flap.

This is a fun way to get your creative juices going and to think about the direction you want the story to take.

Here is an example I came up with for a book I have no plans to write about:

Layla Crawford was trouble and she knew it. Whether she is in the board room at her New York City ad agency or in a crowded night club, men and women alike have grown to fear, admire and envy Layla for her ability to command a situation.

It all disappears when the president of her company flees the country to evade tax fraud and sets Layla up to take the fall. Facing possible jail time and wrongfully accused, she must turn to the smooth-talking Donovan Ayers. The top white-collar criminal defense attorney has butted heads with Layla in the past, but she knows he is her only hope to return her life to solid ground.

Layla and Donovan must fight the clock - and their change in feelings toward one another - to find the answers to all the puzzles that keep appearing. In their quest for justice they find more sinister deals then they imagined possible, and they also learn that love might have a place in their lives after all.

By writing this blurb, I could now surmise many things about the potential plot for the book. I know it will have a romantic and adventurous feel to it. I also know that I will be taking my character from a high to a low.

While this alone would not work to plan a full book, it does get your mind going and help you build your own excitement for your book.

July 11, 2011

overcoming the hurdle

While killing time between projects at work, today (translation: procrastinating) CampNaNoWriMo, who I am following on Twitter @CampNaNoWriMo posted this:

I thought about it for a moment and responded:

I don't know yet if it was good enough to re-tweet, but this is a point I have touched upon before: distractions.

Right now, we have more distractions than ever preventing us from reaching our goals. I'm a multi-tasker by nature, but when I'm checking my Facebook, instant messaging with friends and Tweeting every five minutes, I am hardly allowing myself the time to focus.

A co-worker recently shared this video with me. John Cleese of Monty Python fame speaks about the creative process. In it he mentions how volatile distractions can be to creativity.

It makes sense. When you force yourself to become immersed with your project, your creative juices will really get flowing. That's why I make a point to cut myself off for a couple of hours at a time every day when I am heavily involved in a project.

For more ideas about staying motivated while you work, read this great advice posted on the Camp NaNoWriMo blog, this weekend.

Now, excuse me while I cut myself off from the world for a few hours to write.

plot it out

Though some authors are able to sit down and write their book from beginning to end without much planning or consideration, this approach does not work for me. The prep work is critical for me to even write the first word of a story.

For me, the reasons to plan a book before writing are simple:
• Prep gives you a road map and directions for how to write your story.
• Planning ensures your book will have a beginning, middle and end.
• It serves as a motivator to get you interested in your story.
• Once you have a plan, you can focus on writing without being bogged down by worries about what to do next — you'll already know.

This week, I will run a series looking at a few ways authors plan the plots to their stories. I have found all of these devices useful and hope you will, too.

As an immediate disclaimer I want to note I did not come up with any of these tools on my own. I discovered them while researching the topic, and I want to share my findings with you.

Please let me know if you have any feedback of your own to provide on how to plan a book's plot. Contact me by leaving a comment on this post or by following me on Twitter @lmchap.

July 10, 2011

letter from camp - 7/10/11

Dear Readers,

It's Day 10 here at Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm still plugging away, but finding it tough.

I confess I haven't written a word on my novel since Thursday, which means I have two days away from it. I'm also sitting at about 7,000 words, which is about halfway to where I need to be.

It is not a lack of motivation that has me falling short of the goal. Like I've mentioned previously, I seem to have my mind in a millions places, and I am dabbling at various projects. Going forward, I need to resolve to make more time every day to work on this book.

I am still confident I can reach my goal of 50,000 words by July 31. I was in a similar standing at the same time of the month in November, and I completed NaNoWriMo.

Right now it's about the numbers. If I can write 2,000 words every day for the rest of the month, I will finish. Knowing me, though, that's more likely to be a daily average, because some days I am more prolific than others.

I look forward to giving a better report next week and appreciate any advice or tips!

Your friend,


P.S. Follow me on Twitter @lmchap or leave me a comment if you would like to reach me!

July 9, 2011

the writer and the professor (encore)

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 judgment 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 servent girl 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. (434-435)

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." (627-628)

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)

Check back next week for No. 9.

July 8, 2011

have a vision

I was having trouble concentrating week before the Fourth of July weekend (in addition to being a holiday, I was also burning a few PTO days to make it a 5-day extravaganza), I decided to make a vision board. Yes, I was looking for a way to procrastinate, and I probably could have used the time to do something like write my book or do my job, but I took a few minutes to do it any way.

A vision board is a visual resource that helps you focus on your goals. Using images, you can brainstorm the direction you want to take your life.

The process of developing a vision board allows you to exercise creativity while also taking a close look at where you are now and where you want to be. Think of it as a treasure map for your life.

I made my vision board using Adobe InDesign. I took a couple of design classes in college, which by no means makes me an expert, but instead makes me comfortable getting my way around the program. I wanted mine to look collage-like, so I made 12 object boxes of varying dimensions and pieced them together like a puzzle.

Next, I made a list of goals and dreams I have more my life and looked for photos that would correlate. For example, I would like to write a best-selling novel, develop a screenplay and spend a year living abroad in a city like London. You can see these goals depicted in this selection from my vision board.

With that, I made a PDF of the completed project and printed off a few copies, which I have sitting in select places around my home. I also made a JPEG of it, which I made my background on my computer at work and home. These serve as constant reminders for me. Also, the process of creating it has me feeling more motivated than ever to pursue my goals.

I encourage everyone to make a vision board of their own — it's a great exercise. Check out these links for more information:
What The Heck's A Vision Board—and How Can It Change Your Life?
How to Make a Vision Board
How to Make a Vision Board (step by step)

out of time

Finding time to write can be one of the greatest challenges an aspiring writer faces. Unless you are fortunate enough to have inherited a large sum of money from a wealthy relative, have a trust fund or won the lottery, chances are you will have to work another job to support you financially.

So how do you do it? How do you find the time write when you have a full-time job and other pressing engagements?

The answer is simple: Make the most of the time you have.

I have heard some authors are able to pick up their story and begin writing at any moment. That's good and well for them, but for the rest of us that isn't always the case. Writing is a creative process that deserves your full attention.

Try taking 30 minutes (or better still an hour) of your day to turn off your cell phone, Internet, TV or any other distraction. Interruptions can be detrimental to the creative process. Find a place where you can work comfortably. If possible, designate a place where you can write every day so you can make it a habit. Once your distractions are eliminated, devote yourself completely to your writing for the set time period.

For me, I've found that I can write just about anywhere as long as I cut out as many distractions as possible. I traveled extensively while writing my first novel. I would estimate I wrote about one-third the 100,000-plus words in the first draft on an airplane or in an airport. I would put my headphones in — even if they were not playing music — to help me get in the right frame of mind.

One universal reminder is to give your story at least a few minutes every day. If you can only spare 15 minutes one day that is great. It will at least keep your story, the details and your creativity fresh on your mind so you can delve deeper into the writing when you have more time.

I know I manage to produce more words between Friday night and Sunday night (evenings are a big creative time for me). Even though it might interfere with my social calendar, I endeavor to carve out as much time those evenings as possible.

When I'm well into the plot of the story, making time becomes even easier. When I hit about 65,000 words on my first book, I had a tough time tearing myself away from the writing. I was so involved in the plot that I had to keep going.

No matter how you do it — in 15-minute or 5-hour intervals — make the time to write if it is something you want to do. The satisfaction of having a completed project will be worth the added effort.

July 7, 2011


I've been missing in action lately, but I hope it's for a good cause.

The main reason — I have been in serious idea mode. My mind is generating ideas for current and future projects faster than I can do anything with them. In one regard this is great. Ideas are a wonderful thing to have, and they are what will keep me in business as a creative person. All of these ideas can also be frustrating, because I am finding it hard to stay focused on one project, and I am struggling with time management.

Despite my challenges, I am determined to give all of my ideas careful consideration and an opportunity for a future. In the meantime, I am jotting down every idea as I get it in my journal. Lately, my journal has been more of an idea log and less of a documentation of the events in my life, but it works for now.

Like many people, I find myself having some of my best moments at inopportune times, such as during dinner, while I am in a meeting or as I am falling asleep. For that reason, I make sure to have a pen and paper with me at all times so I can at least jot down a few words to help me remember.

For example, last night I was about to fall asleep when I had a great idea for a plot turn in a book I hope to write (note, not a current project, but a future project). Though I knew I needed to go to bed, and I hated to delay it more by turning on a light, I wanted to save this idea. I felt around in the dark to grab the notebook and pen I keep next to my bed, and in big, sloppy letters I wrote down my idea. I'm glad I did, too, because I didn't remember the idea when I woke up until I looked at my note. Then it all came back to me. In the light of day, I added additional notes to help me better develop this plot element when I return to this project.

I also find it helpful to have that pen and paper near me when I sleep, because I often have dreams I want to log. A few of my dreams have developed into greater, more complete story ideas.

Ideas are important, and I encourage you to keep track of them. You never know when you might find a moment when you want to develop it more. I'm actually 6,000 words into a book idea I had more than five years ago. I tried to start the book many times, and have researched it off and on since then, but it wasn't until last week that I committed to the project.

This overwhelming stream of ideas made me think about where ideas come from in the first place. Best-selling author and idea guru Seth Godin has a great blog entry about this, "Where do ideas come from?" Take a look at it and let me know what you think.

July 2, 2011

project boy meets girl - take two

One year ago I came up with a project that I never saw thorough to completion. Project Boy Meets Girl was going to be an exercise for me to review some of my favorite literary couples based on books I've read.

I first proposed the project on my blog April 28, 2010. I only revealed No. 10: Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women."

I never made it any farther than that, and it has always bothered me.

During the next couple of months I plan to fix that, so here and now I'm reintroducing Project Boy Meets Girl.

As a reminder, here is what I will look at while I'm counting down the Top 10 couples:
• 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've read more books since I first developed this project, and I have to say my list has changed some. I'm going to go ahead and leave Jo and her professor in the No. 10 spot, but there will be some other shake-ups along the way.

Look back in the coming weeks for more on Project Boy Meets Girl.

July 1, 2011

go to camp

It's here... Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off at 12:01 a.m.

Like National Novel Writing Month, held every November, Camp NaNoWriMo helps aspiring novelists, like me, get motivated enough to write a book. During the challenge, participants aim to complete 50,000 words during the month. Though this is not typically enough words to complete a full novel, it is certainly a good start.

Though the only prize is the self-satisfaction of being able to say you did it, it's a prize well worth having. Even if it isn't enough to fill a whole book, 50,000 words is certainly a good start. In most cases, it is half if not more than half the length of a full novel.

I am a big believer in this organization. I participated for the first time in November 2010, and I completed the first 50,000 words of my 96,000-word novel during the month.

If you are interested in participating, sign-up at www.campnanowrimo.org. If you are worried you won't have time in July, Camp NaNoWriMo will be held again in August.

Here's more information about it from the Camp NaNoWriMo website:

What is Camp NaNoWriMo?

Based on November's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Camp NaNoWriMo provides the online support, tracking tools, and hard deadline to help you write the rough draft of your novel in a month... other than November!

Camp NaNoWriMo was established in 2011 as a project of the Office of Letters and Light, the parent 501(c)(3) nonprofit to National Novel Writing Month, and Script Frenzy, and the Young Writers Program. 2011 Camp NaNoWriMo sessions will take place in July and August.

* What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.
* Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
* Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
* When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster. Writing begins 12:00:01 AM on July 1, and again on August 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by 11:59:59 PM on the last day of the month. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Happy writing!