August 31, 2011

still a winner

Fellow writer and blogger Gabriela Lessa posted the winner for the contest I entered on her blog, today. Unfortunately, it wasn't me, but I'd like to offer my congratulations to the winner, Kristin Contino. You can read more about it here.

There were great entries in this category, and I'm sure judging had to be tough.

Even though my submission wasn't selected, the process was beneficial. I learned a lot about the importance of making an excellent first impression. I am even more determined than ever to make my story stronger.

I've made a few changes to the book already:
1. The book has a new title. Hard Hats and Flip Flops is now Hard Hats and Doormats (This really isn't a big deal in the end, because a publisher could change it, but I think every story needs to be called something.)
2. I cut out a chapter. I might work it in somewhere else, but I wanted to get to the action faster.
3. I have a new pitch. "A reformed pushover takes charge of her life and finds love and the courage to start over while working in the cut-throat Gulf Coast chemical industry.

Thoughts? I value any feedback.

Again, congratulations to the winner and thank you, Gabriela, for the chance to participate.

August 30, 2011

the one hundred club

I'm getting my champagne on, are you?
OK, this photo is more than a year old,
but it's the only one I have of me with
a glass of bubbly, so work with me.

Pop the cork and pour yourself a glass of imaginary champagne. Welcome to my 100th post on Change the Word.

I started this blog in November 2009 to challenge myself to become a better writer and to motivate myself to become a novelist. Through it, I hoped to better connect with the writing community and share the advice I learn with others.

So much has happened since then. I moved back to Nebraska after living in Houston for more than one year. I've gone from traveling two weeks of every month to sparingly. I've finished writing my first novel. I've queried it. A lot happened.

To celebrate Change the Word's 100th post, I invite you to join me in toasting it by counting down 10 of my favorite posts. Raise your glass, take a look and enjoy this trip down memory lane.

10. get your foot in the door contest — I am participating in contest sponsored by Gabriela Lessa's blog, which will allow me to pitch my completed manuscript to editors at Sourcebooks. The winner of the pitch for my category (Women's Fiction) will receive a free critique of the first three chapters of his or her book. It'd be a great opportunity for anyone, like me… read more

9. 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… read more

8. 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… read more

7. novel writing goes mobile — There may not be an app for it — at least not one I know about — but my iPhone has helped me stay productive on the novel I am currently writing. I know what  you're thinking… read more

6. soundtracks — Continuing with my last post about the importance of music in my storytelling process, I thought I'd talk about another role it played in my first novel. Without divulging many details about the story itself, I can say that several songs play a fun part. In one of my favorite scenes... read more

5. more couples to love — I wrapped up the countdown of my favorite couples in literature through Project Boy Meets Girl, but that doesn't mean it's over. In the spirit of Project Boy Meets Girl, I asked some of my friends to name a few of their favorites. Most of them chose to pick new ones, which is great, because it really builds on our list… read more

4. 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… read more

3. 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… read more

2. project boy meets girl - it's a wrap — Well, it's over. After more than a year of planning and weeks of reading through old favorites and writing up these posts, I'm done counting down my favorite literary couples. Here's the final list… read more

1. fiction gets real —  Some people dream of visiting the Great Pyramids or Eiffel Tower. I dreamed of visiting DeSmet, S.D. I devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series as a young girl, and still consider These Happy Golden Years my all-time favorite book. I wanted to see all of the places where my beloved stories took place… read more

I hope you enjoyed this TV-clip-show-like montage to the blog. I've enjoyed writing these posts, and I hope they have some meaning to you, too. Thank you for your readership. It means a lot to me.

Here's to 100 more posts and the new adventures ahead.

August 29, 2011

pace yourself

The end of my book is rushed. I know it, and a friend recently validated that claim.

I can speculate the reasons why I wrote it that way: I was excited to reach the final scene where everything is resolved, the final conflict was particularly emotional for me to write or maybe I just wanted to finish the darn book.

Whatever the reason, I need to fix it.

I went to the Blogosphere with this question, because I didn't have a clue with what to do.

In 5 Ways to Pace Your Story, the blogger makes an excellent analogy: "Pacing is like a dam. It allows the writer to control just how fast or how slow his plot flows through the riverbed of his story. Understanding how to operate that dam is one of the most important tasks an author has to learn."

That's a good way to put it, and one I'd never considered before. Right now, my story reads like a dam with a slow leak. The operator fell asleep somewhere in the middle and wakes up suddenly to realize he or she is late on unleashing the water and turns it up to full blast in hopes of making up for the missed time frame.

This blogger gives five steps to follow to pace your story:
•  Use length to control momentum (i.e.  Short scenes and chapters build intensity. Keep these scenes to 500-800 words.
•  Vary pacing. Sometimes, you need a slower scenes to give readers a chance to catch their breaths.
•  Pay attention to details. A good way to slow things down is to go over every detail of description (For example try: He took a short breath and stared at the barrel of the handgun. Sweat dripped down the gunman's forehead and glistened in the dim light cast from the lantern. The man said a quick prayer to his maker and prepared himself for the telltale sound of a blast.)
•  In contrast, control what you show or tell. Perhaps, like in the previous example, it would be more beneficial for pacing to have the character's death be sudden. (Example: A shot fired, and the man dropped limply to the floor.)
•  Use sentence structure. Again, longer sentences will slow down action. Shorter sentences speed it up.

I hope these tips help you as much as I know they'll help me. Happy writing and have a great week!

August 26, 2011

facing the ticking clock

I constantly stress out about time. I hate feeling pressure close to an unmeant deadline, and I don't like being late.

But you know what? Sometimes, it happens. Whether it's showing up five minutes late for a major corporate event you're covering, because you can't find parking (oops), or not reaching another target word count (again, another Camp NaNoWriMo fail), it happens.

What matters is how you handle it. Sure, at the time it might be disappointing, or nerve-wracking, but you have to put it into context.

Like these two scenarios I provided. Both were situations I didn't like and wished I would have avoided, but neither one of them has been a deal breaker. I still managed to take a bunch of mediocre photos (I know my abilities) and copied down the most important notes I'd need to write stories. And as for being so far behind my Camp NaNoWriMo goal, that's OK, too. I still manage to write about half of a book in less than a month.

Neither of these are complete successes, but neither are they failures. I'm still getting the job done (both at work and on my books), and I've learned lessons (like calling the concierge to find out the parking before I've been driving around 10 minutes).

I attended an online workshop with author Sarena Straus earlier this week. She offered great advice on how to manage time in the face of difficulty. Here are a few of the key points I took away:
•  Set reasonable and obtainable goals. For example, I might say, "I will write 5,000 words this week." Instead of it being a daily goal, which I am bound to miss one day or another, I'm spreading out the time, making it more manageable for me to tackle.
•  Be flexible with yourself. If I only write 4,000 words one week, that's OK. I'll write 6,000 words the next.
•  Be consistent. The more time you are away from your book, the harder it will be to start again.
•  Put time in your schedule and dedicate yourself to it. Jobs, families and friends are important, but so is your craft. Give it fair consideration.

So, as we go into the weekend, challenge yourself to make some time for writing. Even if it's working on a blog, or reworking a scene you've already written, any bit helps.

August 25, 2011

say what?

Here's an important lesson on the importance of taking a step back and looking at the big picture.

Someecards shared this picture and description under the heading, "15 products made unintentionally offensive by careless sticker placements."

 These stickers not only tell you the prices of products, but also how little attention is being paid by the people who put prices on products. As these examples show, all it takes is a few inadvertently obscured consonants or vowels to transform a wholesome tale of family life in the 19th century into a riveting drama about an underage prostitute being pimped out to pioneers by a ruthless Michael Landon. Let us know if you find any more of these out there, even if you're a store clerk who "accidentally" makes one yourself.

Thought it's a little funny (and a little sad to see one of my favorite childhood books labeled this way), it does serve as a good reminder on the importance of self editing. A typo removing (or adding) a few letters can make a big difference in how a statement appears to the world.

It's easy to make mistakes like typos or grammatical errors, but the important part is taking a moment to reread what you've written and to correct them (before it gets posted on a humorous website).

agent advice

I was participating in a chat event at Savvy Authors last night and wanted to share some of the lessons I learned from it. The topic was "Discuss Publishing with a Literary Agent," and the guest of honor was Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency.

As I've previously mentioned, I have queried many literary agents in an attempt to sell my first novel. Though I've come to the realization that I may need to do another draft of this novel — and even change the title — querying weighs heavily on my mind.

Here are the two questions I asked during the chat, and Ms. Dowdle's answers:

LC: If a writer re-works his or her manuscript, what is the etiquette for re-querying an agent who previously rejected the work?

It depends on the agent.  I'm open to requeries and often will suggest they requery if they make changes.  Some are not as open to it.  I would suggest writing a letter asking if they would be willing to reconsider once you've done your edits.  Put your hook in the letter and a few paragraphs about the book.

Maybe some info about the changes you made

LC: What is the best thing a new author can do to stand out (in a good way) to a prospective agent?

Have your manuscript edited and critiqued.  Make sure it shines.  Write a professional query letter.  I got one the other day where partway through the letter the man told me how pretty I was or something.  I get all types.

Know the publishing market.  Write in genres that publishers want.

And here is a question from another attendee and the response:

Even though the manuscript is the important part, are you concerned solely with the manuscript or are you also looking for an author who is already making themselves marketable when you choose your clients? (ie. authors with blogs/twitter/facebook pages/etc.)

DD: Both are VERY important.  But you have to have a marketable manuscript to sign with an agent.

I'm especially intrigued by her thoughts on requerying, as that is something I may have to do myself in the future, and it's good to know where an agent stands on the issue.

What are your thoughts? How would you suggest an aspiring author gets better acquainted with the industry? What are some ways to stand out from the rest?

For those of you interested, Ms. Dowdle will be on Savvy Authors again tonight to hear (read) book pitches. I'm participating and will let you know how it goes.

August 24, 2011

wakey wakey eggs and...

I am still trying to find the best practice for me to generate word count on my novels in progress. I write a good chunk of the day at my job, and forcing myself to write when I am away from the office can be tough.

In previous posts, I've addressed ways I boosted my word count. I've written on airplanes and during layovers. I carry a small notebook and pen with me everywhere I go in case I feel a burst of inspiration. I even use my iPhone to type up cook notes.

Each of these ideas have worked to a degree. They enable me to write, and that's good, but these should all be ways for me to supplement my regular writing, not the answer.

What I need is more consistency. In my research, I've found many writers, especially those with full-time jobs or children, wake up early in the morning to write. This sounds like a reasonable idea to me.

In my experience, I am freshest in the morning and have the best ideas. At work, I try to get as much writing done first thing, because I know I'll dwindle as the day goes on. Even in college, when I had a paper to write it was more common for me to wake up early (like 3 a.m. early) the next morning to finish writing rather than staying up all night.

I am by no means a morning person, but then again I'm not-not a morning person. So this week, I decided to give this a shot. My results have been... not great.

Every night, I set my alarm for 5:45. Then I set a back-up for 6 and another for 7:30 — the time I absolutely have to put down my writing to pack, throw on my make-up, dress and leave for work.

Monday, I was up and at 'em by the time my second alarm went off. I hopped in the shower, mentally thinking I should start doing this at night to give me more time in the morning, and was sitting in front of my computer by 6:20. But the words wouldn't come. I kept thinking about the book I'd been reading the night before. I finally gave in and read a little more, then I began writing around 6:45. I managed to crank out about 750-1,000 words before work, which for the first day wasn't bad.

Then came yesterday. I admittedly had a stressful day at work Monday and tossed and turned all night. So when 5:45 came, I ignored the alarm. Then at 6, I reset it for 6:15. Then 6:30. Then 6:45. Soon, it was 7:30, and I had to rush to get to work.

Today, I had more discipline and got up with the 6 a.m. alarm. I took my shower — again, thinking I should have done it last night — but was at my computer in good time. I wrote a little, but my thoughts were too foggy. At 7:15, I gave up writing on my story and decided to write this post.

Not much success so far, but I don't think I'm ready to give up yet. It is only day three, and it takes a while to build habits. If I can keep waking myself up early and shift my internal clock, hopefully by next week I can see the benefits of it.

It might not help me hit the 50,000-word mark by Aug. 31, which I'm trying to do in conjunction with Camp NaNoWriMo, but it will certainly help me in the long-run.

August 22, 2011

twenty questions

Did you ever play twenty questions?

I used to all the time (and still do when my nephew is around), and I thought it might be fun to let you get to know me a little bit better by playing it now.

Theses are questions people either ask me or that I found in common ice breaker questions lists.

Hope you enjoy getting to know me a little better.

Fun fact: I have a major sweet tooth.
What is your favorite book?
I can never pick just one. Favorites include These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.

What’s the No. 1 most played song on your iPod?
"You're Still You" by Josh Groban

What is one of your favorite quotes?
"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
— George Eliot

What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
Reading! You can do it indoors and outdoors.

What chore do you absolutely hate doing?
Everything. Seriously, I'll know I've made it when I can hire someone to do all of my chores. If I have to pick one, though, I'll say cleaning the bathroom.

What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year?
Sunset. Sunday. October.

What’s your least favorite mode of transportation?
Airplanes. I'm actually a little afraid of flying, even after logging more than 100 flights in the past three years.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I'd like to speak many languages: Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Italian would be my top picks. I took some German in high school, but I didn't have much of an ear for it. 

What do you want to be when you grow up?
An author of course. And a book store owner. And a philanthropist. And a mom. And a bar owner.

What would you name the autobiography of your life?
"Make Lemonade: I Made the Best of It and You Can, Too." I don't know why, but for some reason this strikes me as funny, and I crack up when I think about it.

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
I want to go everywhere. Domestically, I've never been to Washington State or Maine, and I'd like to see both. Brazil and Argentina in the Americas. Overseas, I'd say a backpacking trip of Europe.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?
Laura Ingalls Wilder. She's been one of my favorite authors since I was 8, and I have a lot of questions for her about her life and writing career.

What was the last movie, TV show or book that made you cry or tear up?
Movie: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two"
TV Show: Season finale of "Bones" — watching it for the third time
Book: "The First Four Years" by Laura Ingalls Wilder — re-read it after visiting De Smet, S.D.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Summer vacations. I think they should be mandatory as a grown-up, too.

What is your first memory of being really excited?
Anticipating the arrival of my baby sister. She lived up to the hype.

What was the first thing you bought with your own money?
Samantha, the American Girl Doll. I saved up allowance, birthday money and lemonade stand proceeds to buy her.

What story does your family always tell about you?
I couldn't recall, so I called my mom and asked her. She told me three, and I wrote them down in her delightful words.

"When you were 18 months old, we put you down for a nap and while you were sleeping we put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. When you woke up, we brought you out and your eyes were as big as a saucer. You kept turning around in circles looking at it. You were very amazed and very cute."

"When you were 3, we were at church Christmas Eve and you were up on the stage singing. You were on TV and the camera stayed on you. You were just beautiful, your eyes were so shiny. And all of the sudden this little hand went up and went for the nose, and they sped away from you real fast."

"The other was that same Christmas. You loved the songs you were singing at church, so you would sing them all the time. Dad was tucking you into bed and he said something about Christmas being over and you said, 'Christmas is not over. Christmas is in our hearts.'"

What is your favorite ice cream?
Anything with chocolate, caramel and brownies.

What are your favorite sports to watch?
Football. I'm a lifelong Nebraska Cornhusker and a long-standing Green Bay Packers fan.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?
Laura Ingalls Wilder would be my first thought, but then after considering how difficult her life probably was, I'll go with Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. She is witty, pretty and lands the man.

This was fun. It also was a good exercise for me. Self reflection can be a great thing, and it was kind of like creating a character sketch of myself.

I'm going to go ahead and archive these on their very own page — it saves me the trouble of doing a second Q&A for the site.

August 19, 2011

more couples to love

I wrapped up the countdown of my favorite couples in literature through Project Boy Meets Girl, but that doesn't mean it's over.

In the spirit of Project Boy Meets Girl, I asked some of my friends to name a few of their favorites. Most of them chose to pick new ones, which is great, because it really builds on our list.

Aja's picks:
1. Georgina Kincaid and Seth Mortensen in the Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead
2. Sookie Stackhouse and Eric Northman in The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris
3. Karrin Murphy and Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
4. Julia MacGregor and Callum Murdock in the MacGregor Bride by Nora Roberts

Katie's picks:
1. Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights
2. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
3. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre
4. Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew in One Day
5. Romeo and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

Sarah's picks:
1. Buttercup and Wesley in The Princess Bride by William Goldman
2. Allison Nelson and Noah Calhoun in The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
3. Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones series by Helen Fielding
4. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley in Emma by Jane Austen
5. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Whitney's picks:
1. Betsy and Joe in Betsy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, but particularly Betsy's Wedding
2. Trixie and Jacob in God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie deBartolo
3. Darcy, Rachel, Dex and Ethan in Something Borrowed and Something Blue by Emily Giffin (can't spoil anything by listing actual couples)
4. Michael and Mia in Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
5. Remy and Dexter in This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen.

Did any of your favorites make an appearance this time around?

Here are a few of my honorable mentions who didn't make my Top 10:
•  Emma Corrigan and Jack Harper in Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
•  Lexi Smart and Jon in Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
•  Tory Bodeen and Cade Lavelle in Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts
•  Serena MacGregor and Justin Blade in the MacGregor series by Nora Roberts
•  Julie Summers and Paul Winthrop in Genuine Lies by Nora Roberts
•  Cilla McGowan and Ford Sawyer in Tribute by Nora Roberts
•  Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Thanks to everyone for sharing their favorites. It helped remind me of some good reads or clued me in on books I should check out.

OK, that's it, folks. This time, I'm really done with the series. Hope you enjoyed it.

August 18, 2011

beating writer's block - part two

A friend shared a quote with me after reading the previous post about writer's blog. It was too fun not to pass on to all of you, too.

Yes, I get dry spells. Sometimes I can't turn out a thing for three months. When one of those spells comes on I quit trying to work and go out and see something of life. You can't write a story that's got any life in it by sitting at a writing table and thinking. You've got to get out into the streets, into the crowds, talk with people, and feel the rush and throb of real life—that's the stimulant for a story writer.

O. Henry makes a good point. Sometimes, you have to break from the norm and explore life to become motivated and inspired enough to create.

However, for those of us who can't afford to wait three months between production, here are some more tips for beating writer's block:

•  Play some music. I have playlists set-up on iTunes and YouTube dedicated to jams that help my creative juices flow. I've also become a fan of for my music-listening needs. (Word of caution: That website can be addicting, and unless you turn the chat 'ding' off and don't plan on DJ-ing, you might end up being more distracted than you were before.) 

•  Re-focus your project. If you're really good and truly stuck, it might not just be you. There might be something wrong with your story. It might be necessary for you to go back to the drawing board and reconsider the direction you plan to take your book. I've had this happen with three of my projects. I'd get about 6,000-10,000 words in, and I just wasn't feeling it. Days away from my work turned into weeks, months and now years. However, by reconsidering the story and thinking up new plot elements, it's possible to once again become excited about your book. I've changed my outlines for all three of these projects and have them filed away in my future projects folder. 

•  Get an energy boost. Whether that comes from caffeine or exercise, use it. I notice I'm almost always a million times more productive after I have a cup of coffee. I've now come to associate coffee with books, and I only drink it when I need to buckle down and focus on my story. Maybe it's Pavlovian training, but now every time I get a cup of coffee I can't help but write, write, write. 

•  Write anything. Even if it's complete crap, just put your pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and start writing. You might write something you completely scrap later, but you will be working through the block, which is invaluable.  

•  Make writing a habit. An author once told me that the longer you go between sessions of working on your book, the more likely you will be to face writer's block. She suggested setting aside some time every day to write. If you do that, it becomes a habit like brushing your teeth or eating.

If you haven't already, please check out WriteOnCon. The free online conference wraps up, today, but you can still access the great articles and videos on the website. They cover every step of the process, and I've enjoyed checking it out the past few days.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share any tips you have for overcoming writer's block, and happy writing.

August 17, 2011

are you ready?

In my effort to get better acquainted with the literary community, I signed-up (last minute) yesterday for WriteOnCon. Aug. 16-18, this free, online conference brings together writers, agents and other industry experts to share tips on different steps of the process.

Today, Literary Agent Kate Testerman, founder of kt literary, offered excellent insight on steps a writer should take to ensure he or she is ready to query before ever sending one out. I thought it was worth sharing with all of you.

Her main points are:
1. Make sure your manuscript is finished first.
2. Get feedback from people and be willing to make some changes.
3. While waiting, spend time researching literary agents and narrow it down to people who would like your novel. Check their guidelines.
4. Look at a prospective agents list of clients. Figure out how your manuscript could fit into their line-up.
5. Gather information about the current state of the market to help with pitches to publishers.
6. Be able to describe your novel in one sentence, one paragraph and one page.
7. Polish your query. Read blogs on hook sentences, on what not to do and how to attract an agent's attention.
8. Prepare a detailed spreadsheets to track all of your submissions.
9. Do a final check of your query before you hit send. Is it personalized, spelled correctly and meets their guidelines.
10. Pray and press send.

You can watch her full commentary here.

Just some food for thought, and valuable advice for people, like me, who are at the query stage.

August 16, 2011

beating writer's block - part one

Writer's block can kill... your story. The more time you let pass between moments of writing, the longer those periods will stretch out.

Trust me, I know. (Just ask the two books that I quit writing 10,000 words in.)

During this month's "Recovering Writer's" meeting, my colleagues and I will discuss ways to overcome writer's block. In preparation, I thought I'd brainstorm some of the tips I've used to overcome it in a two-part series, beginning today.

Here are my first five tips to beat writer's block:

•  Change your scenery. I have a few favorite writing spots (namely one corner of my comfy brown couch), but sometimes it feels stifling. I'll shake things up by going to a coffee shop, sitting outside on the patio or even sitting in my car at a park. Removing yourself from the norm and taking yourself somewhere where you will be forced to write can do the trick.

•  Ditch technology. I know yesterday I said I sometimes use my iPhone to write my book, and I do, but other times, I have to turn off the Internet, my phones and even my computer to get productive. There is nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper, and the sooner you overcome that discomfort and put something on the page, it's amazing how quickly the words add up.

•  Relax. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you might cut off your creativity. Sometimes, when I'm really struggling, I'll take a break to do some laundry or get a cup of coffee. After completing some small task like that, I can usually come back to work and get myself to generate some more content. Also, if I'm so tired I can't think, I stop and take a nap. I'll wake-up refreshed and ready to put my imagination back to work.

•  Set goals and deadlines. One of the beauties of National Novel Writing Month, or it's summer counterpart Camp NaNoWriMo, is the fact that you have a goal — 50,000 words in one month. It may be a big goal, but it's still there. Every day I track my word count, I am motivated to see myself do better and better. Even if I'm behind my goal (like now and like always), I see it as a challenge against myself, and I want to prove that I can do it.

I'll never forget how it was last November when I was close to the deadline but still several thousand words short. In those final days, I shut out all distractions and forced myself to write as much as I could as often as I could. And on the final day, at 9 p.m., I hit the 50,000-word mark.

Unless you're in a big challenge like that, I'd suggest setting smaller goals. Making it your goal to write 500 to 1,000 words every day will add up over time. Consider that most books are between 65,000 and 100,000. You could write a complete novel in two months to 100 days.

5. Work on something else. If I'm having trouble working on my current project, I might go back to edit a previous story or do some of the prep work and planning for a future book. It stirs those creative juices, but also keeps you productive.

Toward the end of July, when I was struggling to generate more words on another book in progress, I focused my attention on sending out query letters to literary agents and researched the novel I'm writing now. Or, for example, right now I'm taking a short break from my book (honing in on the 20,000-word mark) to write this post.

Check back for part two of my "Beating Writer's Block" Thursday. Feel free to share any of your tips by commenting below.

August 15, 2011

novel writing goes mobile

There may not be an app for it — at least not one I know about — but my iPhone has helped me stay productive on the novel I am currently writing.

I know what  you're thinking, "But, Laura, just last month you said going back to an old-fashioned pen and paper was one of the ways you work through writer's block or take your book on the go with you."

I did, and I still do, so relax. But, in the past two weeks, I've found myself using my smart phone to help me work toward my daily word count goals.

Here's how I've put my phone to work on this book:

•  Monitor and track my progress. I'm regularly using the Internet connection on my phone to regularly visit and update my Camp NaNoWriMo profile. Seeing my word count grow every day is a great motivator for me, so it's awesome for me to see it even if I'm away from my laptop or if I don't have WiFi access.

•  Conduct research on the fly. Sometimes, I might have my laptop — or my trusty pen and notebook — but no connection do look up a little fact. With my iPhone, I have access to the Internet and my Wikipedia app. This means I can research whatever I need to develop my story and can't make excuses for being stalled, because of lost facts.

•  Take pictures. As I've previously said, sometimes I find inspiration for my current or future projects from something I see. Thanks to the camera on my phone, I'm never without a means for capturing that moment.

•  Use the "notes" section to jot down ideas or write my book. I always have my phone with me — when I'm in line at the grocery store, waiting at a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch or at a concert in the park (like I was, tonight). These little moments can add up to a lot of content. It's discrete and doesn't draw attention to yourself, because you look like you're just texting or Facebooking. For example, in 30 minutes at the park tonight, I wrote 500 words that I would not have otherwise written. Plus, when you're done writing for the day, you can e-mail it to yourself and easily add it to the story document on my computer.

Though I'm finding a lot of benefits from using my smart phone to help me with my book, I have a few words of caution:

•  Watch your spelling and autocorrect. Your fingers might slip or your phone might decide you mean one word when you meant another. Be aware of what is actually being written to ensure it matches what you meant. You can go back and fix it later, but not if what is written makes absolutely no sense.

•  Don't be distracted. With all the bells and whistles on these phones, it's easy to start out working on your book with the best of intentions and end up playing "Words With Friends." Just like when you are on your computer, block out distractions. That might mean ignoring an unimportant call or text to keep your focus.

Smart phones help us stay connected with our friends, families and business associates thanks to e-mail, social networking applications, etc. Why not use it to help you stay on top of your writing?

Have any of you used smart phones to help you with your writing process? If so, please share with the rest of us.

August 12, 2011

project boy meets girl - it's a wrap

Well, it's over. After more than a year of planning and weeks of reading through old favorites and writing up these posts, I'm done counting down my favorite literary couples.

Here's the final list:
10. Jo March and Professor Baher of Little Women
9. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of the "Twilight" series
8. Annie Laurence and Max Darling of the "Death on Demand" series
7. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley of Emma
6. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre
5. Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth of Persuasion
4. Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon of the "Shopaholic" series
3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of the "Anne of Green Gables" series
2. Elizabeth Bennett/ Bridget Jones and Mr. Darcy/ Mark Darcy of Pride and Prejudice and the Bridget Jones series
1. Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder of the "Little House" series

For me, I found the biggest similarities are that I like an independent lead woman who knows her own mind, often makes mistakes, but learns from them. In contrast, I like a man who instead of trying to control a woman matches her toe for toe.

Jane Austen characters also made it on the list three different times. The reason? her characters and stories are timeless. The stories took place 200 years ago, but are still as enjoyable as ever to read.

Some of these characters have been favorites of mine for years, and I consider them old friends. Others are ones I've only met recently, but I love them all and use them as a frame of reference for the characters I develop.

I noticed that I do not have any same-sex couples on my list. That's not an oversight or blatant disregard for same-sex relationships either. The reason I don't have any on the list is the fact that I have not read any books that truly fit this mold. Through this process I realized I should probably expand my horizons. I'll take any suggestions.

I also don't have any characters from books that were not originally written in English. I should branch out on that front, too.
In making this list and analyzing each of these couples, I learned a lot about what I like and what I don't like. It will be beneficial for me as I continue on my own writing adventure.

There were of course many couples I like that did not make it on the list. Here's a big shout out to my Honorable Mentions. Click here for a special song dedication just for you, performed by another runner-up.

Now I'm curious to know, who are your favorite literary couples? Please post a comment here on the blog or contact me on Twitter @lmchap to tell me your answers. If I get enough, I'll include them in a future post.

Thanks for reading. I had a fun time with this project of mine, and it was great to take you all along on my adventure.

Click on the "pbmg" label to see all posts in this series.

August 11, 2011

the pioneer girl and the farmer

My well-loved and worn copies of The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Gold Years and The First Four Years accompany me on my visit to the Ingalls Homestead, located south of De Smet, S.D., July 29. The rock in the background is the official historical marker commemorating the land.

PBMG No. 1: Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder of the "Little House" series

Relevant titles: The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder

I picked up Little House in the Big Woods for the first time when I was six years old. My mom read a section to my sister and I every night before bed, and I was hooked. When I was eight, I decided to finish reading the series on my own.

The first time I read These Happy Golden Years, I fell in love. For an 8-year-old, the story was more romantic than anything I had read before. My heart pounded and I re-read select passages over and over, feeling a flutter in my stomach every time. You don't forget those feelings, and when you get them from a book, it becomes a favorite.

The scoop on Laura and Almanzo

Throughout the series Laura grows up from a child in the Wisconsin woods to a young woman on the South Dakota prairies. Almanzo's childhood on a prosperous farm in Upstate New York is told in Farmer Boy, and he plays an important part in the final books of the series.

Both are hard-working. Laura is intelligent and quietly sassy. She works as a school teacher when she is not furthering her own education. In her spare time, she sews to provide extra money for her family. Almanzo is a farmer who has a homestead near the Ingalls family, and is a master at training horses.

The meet cute

In the series, the two officially meet in the Long Winter, when Laura and Almanzo meet in the middle of a wheat field. They keep tabs on each other, and even exchange pleasantries and a few walks home together from church in Little Town on the Prairie.

The courtship really begins in These Happy Golden Years when Laura Ingalls teaches at a one-room school house away from home. Every week, Almanzo Wilder makes the long drive in the cold snow to take her home to her family for the weekend.

Through regular sleigh and buggy rides the next two years, a relationship blossoms. They built it on a foundation of friendship and respect.

Best lines

"I was wondering..." Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura's hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun-browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before. "Your hand is so small," he said. Another pause. Then quickly, "I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring."
(These Happy Golden Years, page 214)

"If only you are sure, Laura," Ma said gently. "Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master."

"I couldn't have one without the other," Laura answered shakily.

Then Ma smiled at her, Pa cleared his throat grfully and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say.
(These Happy Golden Years, page 216)

It was a silent drive until almost the end, when for the first time that day Laura saw the horses. She exclaimed, "Why, you are driving Prince and Lady!"

"Prince and Lady started this," Almanzo said. "So I thought they'd like to bring us home. And here we are."
(These Happy Golden Years, page 284)

Scene stealers

After courting for two years, one night under the stars, Almanzo asks Laura to marry him during a moonlit carriage ride. The proposal is simple, private and sweet.

The peak in this romance for me comes soon after. Although Almanzo planned to spend several months back home with his family through the winter, he cuts his trip short and returns in time to spend Christmas Eve with Laura and her family. “I decided I didn’t want to stay away so long,” Almanzo explains.

It's hard to get a guy to return your calls, how many would actually ride on horseback through a winter storm to be with a girl?

Why I love them

As a young girl I readily identified with my name twin and still do. Growing up in Nebraska, I  felt like she was a neighbor, with the stories taking place not too far from home. LIW was an independent young woman who loved her family and lived for adventure, like me. She also desperately wanted to be good, kind and well-behaved, but often let her temper or inner wild child override those other goals.

I still relate.

And after more than 15 years, I still harbor a major crush on the Almanzo portrayed in these books. He worked hard, spoke thoughtfully, showed courage and had a good heart. Plus, he heartily agreed with Laura’s decision not to promise to obey him in the wedding vows — more progressive than many of his contemporaries.

There are no flowery prose or empty promises. There are no dramatic circumstances, other than those that came naturally to any people living on the prairie in the 1880s. The simple, honest love story that unfolded was the most beautiful one I had ever heard as a young girl, and it got my heart pumping.

I picked up These Happy Golden Years again recently for the first time in a long while. I was pleased to feel the familiar fluttering in my stomach and smile on my face as a 25-year-old.

The events described in the novel are a dramatization of actual events. The romance that plays out was the basis for a 64-year marriage of two struggling, hard-working Americans. They faced financial loss, illness and death, but were together till Almanzo's death
Practical. Honest. Real. For me, it is a wonderful love story.

Thank you for joining me on this countdown. It's certainly been a great learning experience for me. Check back tomorrow for the complete rundown of Project Boy Meets Girl and my closing thoughts.

August 10, 2011

project boy meets girl: the final countdown

Are you totally pumped and excited for the grand finale of Project Boy Meets Girl? I know I am.

More than a year after deciding to do the project, and two failed attempts at beginning it, the end is near. Tomorrow, I will reveal my No. 1 favorite literary couple.

In preparation for the big reveal, let's review the couples who made it so far:

10. Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" — It's always nice when two smart, but awkward, people can find love and happiness with each other.

9. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from the "Twilight" series — Vampires are so hot right now.

8. Annie Laurence and Max Darling from the "Death on Demand" series — Making crime solving look easy, and fun, for decades.

7. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley from "Emma" — Sometimes love is waiting for you next door.

6. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from "Jane Eyre" — Who doesn't love it when the bad boy goes good?

5. Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth in "Persuasion" — Family, war and more than eight years couldn't keep these crazy kids from finding each other.

4. Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon from the "Shopaholic" series — Opposites attract and bring balance to each other, and they make it look fun.

3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the "Anne of Green Gables" series — From best friends to hubby and wife.

2. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice" and Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy from the Bridget Jones series — Get rid of the pride and the prejudice and you're left with two delicious couples.

No. 1... Who will it be? Any guesses? Check back tomorrow to find out!

follow the rules

As previously posted, I recently participated in a contest sponsored by blogger Gabriela Lessa. The winner of my category will have a REAL LIVE editor critique the first few chapters of his or her completed novel.

Contest results were due by 11:59 p.m. yesterday, and today Gabriela gave us contestants an update. In addition to telling us how many entries there were, and in what categories, she also mentioned that many of the contestants did not follow the rules. Their pitches were too long, or they sent more of their story than requested. She made an excellent point in her post. In the publishing world, not abiding by the rules will get your query thrown out.

It was the same deal in journalism. In college, my J-School professors stressed the importance of accuracy, clean writing and following the rules when applying for internships and jobs. Trying to find a literary agent or publisher is as important as applying for job — that's what you are doing, essentially — and it should require the same attention to detail you would give to the resume or cover letter you might send a prospective boss.

Some of the tips to consider when sending a query (or, heck, applying for a job):

•  Be sure of who you are contacting and why. When submitting a query, make sure you are seeking representation from agents who are interested in your genre and style. Sending a query for a romance novel to an agent who specializes in sport biographies would be like a person with a geology degree and no relevant experience applying for senior partner at a law firm.

•  Follow the requirements. Like Gabriela touched upon in her post, agents have specific requests for submissions and they are all different. Some agents prefer e-mail queries without attachments, others want snail mail submissions only with a self-addressed stamped envelope included. Probably the most common denominator is brevity and a well-written letter. Not following the rules is a sure way to get your work ignored.

•  Check spelling and grammar. A newspaper recruiter once told me he threw out every cover letter or resume that had a typo or misspelled word. I imagine a prospective agent might be the same. It's not that they're mean or think they're better than others. It's that they receive so many queries (or applications) every day they have to draw the line somewhere and have standards. If you think about it, it's fair. Would you want your book to be published with spelling and grammatical errors? Probably not. So write your query like you expect it to be published and sold around the world for anyone to see.

•  Get a second opinion. Have someone else look over your query letter before sending it. There are some errors or issues that even the best word processors can't detect with a spell check. Your reviewer might also give you a tip that makes your letter or submission even better than it was before.

•  If you make a mistake on one query, don't beat yourself up. Try again with someone new. We're all human and make mistakes. What makes one person different from the other, though, is how each deals with the errors.

With that, good luck on whatever you're working on!

August 9, 2011

letter from camp - 8/9/11

Greetings from Camp NaNoWriMo!

The weather is great and I'm having a great time at the August session of Camp NaNoWriMo. As of last night, I had 12,000 words written on my latest book — which is farther than I made it last month. I'm still a few hundred words short of my goal, but I'm much more motivated than I was at this point last month.

I'm getting some help from friends along the way. Not only do I have a cabin filled with fellow writers — where we can swap war stories and share tips for success — online, but my cats have been supportive, too. Check out a picture of my bunk mate, Mr. Bingley, who likes to sit with me while I work. (He's not super pleased in this picture, because I had to push him off the keyboard.)

Basically, what I'm saying is so far so good. I only battled a little homesickness over the weekend, when I didn't get much done, but I've made up for it the past few days.

Good luck fellow campers!

two women for two single men of good fortune

PBMG No. 2: Elizabeth Bennett/ Bridget Jones and Mr. Darcy/ Mark Darcy

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Author: Jane Austen and Helen Fielding

Darcy, Darcy, Darcy. When my friends and I talk about Pride and Prejudice or I (both in literature and film) that's pretty much what it comes down to: Darcy, Darcy, Darcy. Helen Fielding used the characters in the P&P as the model for her own book. That's why I combined these two couples together — they're the same. So, for No. 2, I'm giving a two-for-one deal.

Disclaimer: I have not read the Bridget Jones column as it appeared in British newspapers. As far as I'm concerned, her story ends with the books.

The scoop on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Bridget and Mark Darcy

Elizabeth Bennett: The second of five daughters born to Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Her father is a gentleman, but due to irresponsible spending and lack of planning, their family estate will go to a cousin, leaving the daughters virtually penniless unless they marry well. She's considered pretty and witty by her friends and family.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The finest catch a single gal could hope to find in a husband. He's rich, he's handsome and he's a gentleman. At the beginning, he's a bit of a proud jerk. (What can I say? Flaws are hot.)

Bridget Jones: A thirty-something single woman, Bridget has a lackluster career and an even more pitiful love life. Her parents are separated, and she's having a tough time at life. Though she worries incessantly about her weight — and the number of cigarettes she's smoked and units of booze she's drank — she's considered pretty and witty by her friends.

Mark Darcy: The finest catch a single gal could hope to find in a husband. He's rich, he's handsome and he's a lawyer. At the beginning, he's a bit of a proud jerk.

Wow. Look at the similarities.

The meet cute

In P&P, Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy meet at a country dance where Darcy's pride prevents him from acquainting himself with those below his station. When Lizzy overhears him hating on her — ("She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men" (page 7) — her prejudice to dislike him is created.

Likewise, in BJD Bridget is reintroduced Mark Darcy at her mother's New Year's Day turkey curry buffet. Unfortunately, I lent my copy of the book to a friend back in college and she never returned it (which is why, dear reader, I am now stand-offish when asked to lend a book), so I can't give you the juicy quote, except to paraphrase: Mark doesn't think too highly of Bridget based on her first impression.

So all hope of a relationship seems doomed, before it can begin.

Scene stealer

P&P: Elizabeth stands up to Darcy's aunt Lady Catherine and refuses to never develop a relationship with him. This sets off the chain of events, which brings Darcy back to Elizabeth's neighborhood for a visit. There, Elizabeth thanks for saving her family from a recent scandal, and the guy ultimately gets the girl.

BJD: This Darcy also saves Bridget's family from a potential scandal, and whisks her away from an awkward Christmas Day with her family for a little romance.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: Though not dating at the moment, Bridget stays with Darcy (for reasons you'll have to read) and after running into each other in the hall and startling the other, the two collapse on the stairs to catch their breath. In that moment, they confess that they miss and love each other and decide to give their relationship another go.

(Though BJ:EOR was actually based on Persuasion, I'm counting it in this section, because it's the same characters — and because I still have this copy in my possession.)

Why I love them

While first impressions are important, and many people use them to define their whole opinion of a person, they don't always give us a full picture of what we're working with.

How often does a person fall madly in love with a person upon first meeting them? I've heard of people feeling instant chemistry, or maybe interest, but in my experience, romance usually develops over time. So why not have a couple (or rather couples) who learn to change and open their minds to the possibility of love with a person who they thought they new but never did.

Aside from that, Darcy and Elizabeth are arguably one of the most famous couples in all of literature and Austen's work had a profound impact on English literature. BJD is considered to be the novel that defined Chick-Lit.

Both books are pioneers in their respective fields. Who am I to argue with that logic?

Best lines

"If you will thank me... let it bet for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe, I thought only of you... You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."
(P&P page 266)

"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."
 (P&P: Darcy accounts for when he fell in love with Elizabeth, page 276)

Then he said the house was big, cold and lonely without me. And he really liked it best in my flat where it was cozy. And he said that he loved me, he wasn't exactly sure why, but nothing was any fun without me.
(BJ:EOR, page 304)

"It's been such a great week. This must be what people do all the time! They go to work, and then they come home and the other person's there, and then they just chat and watch the television and the cook food. It's amazing."
(BJ:EOR, page 306)

"Rebecca," said Mark quietly, "I need Bridget."
(BJ:EOR, page 323 - Mark's response to another woman's attempt to come on to him)

Read the original post to learn more about this series.

Check back Thursday for the final couple — No. 1. Tomorrow, I'll do a quick recap of the others — in case you missed them. Then on Friday, I'll give my final impressions on this whole project.

August 8, 2011

let's talk

Dialogue plays a crucial part in any story. Talk to an industry insider (for films or literature) and he or she will tell you that dialogue can make or break a story.

During a Nebraska Romance Writers workshop, guest author Stephanie Bond stressed the importance of making sure to have enough, solid dialogue in a story. One reason? It breaks up big blocks of text and moves the story along. Readers may find big block upon big block of text intimidating and unappealing to read.

Another good reason to keep your characters talking? It's the ultimate character builder. How your character speaks and what he or she says reveals a lot about the person. If she speaks in short, clipped statements or he chatters without taking a breath, the reader can formulate opinions about the character.

Writing dialogue can be challenging. It is too easy to fall into the trap of writing complete nonsense that no one would say. For example, if I were writing a present day story about a 25-year-old woman, would she say:

a.) "I shall do my best to attend."
b.) "I would be so glad to join you."
c.) "I'm there."

In my experience as a 25-year-old woman, she'd say c. We're no longer in the times of Austen or the Brontes, and flowery prose might be fun to read and write, but it is not believable. Make sure the words you use and the way you phrase them are believable.

A friend encouraged me to sit and observe conversations in coffee shops or stores to improve the dialogue in my stories. It works well. I've even gone so far as to write down sentences or phrases I've overheard people say (or have had someone say to me in passing) if I thought it might boost my dialogue later.

Remember, publishers want books that are appealing to readers, and having witty but realistic dialogue will help you reach out to your audience.

August 5, 2011

get your foot in the door contest

I am participating in contest sponsored by Gabriela Lessa's blog, which will allow me to pitch my completed manuscript to editors at Sourcebooks. The winner of the pitch for my category (Women's Fiction) will receive a free critique of the first three chapters of his or her book. It'd be a great opportunity for anyone, like me, hoping to find an agent and publisher.

Here is the entry I will submit next week. Please let me know what you think — I value your critique!

Name: Laura Chapman

Title: Hard Hats and Flip Flops

Genre: Women's Literature

Manuscript word count: 96,000

Judge: Deb Werksman

One-sentence pitch: A quirky HR manager finds love and the courage to pursue her dreams while working in the Gulf Coast's cut-throat chemical industry.

First paragraph: Ten minutes into the investigation and one fact is quite clear: metal forks and knives are going to be a thing of the past.

I can't believe this is happening. I am sitting in a stuffy office mediating a disagreement between two grown men. Who fought in their break room. With forks and knives. The Safety Department was going to have fun with this one. It's not every day a major chemical company, like Gulf America, writes policy about cutlery. (UPDATED)

the teacher and the doctor

PBMG No. 3: Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the "Anne of Green Gables" series

Title: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne's House of Dreams
Author: L.M. Montgomery

The scoop on Anne and Gilbert

Anne Shirley is an orphaned girl who goes to live with the Cuthberts — a brother and sister who initially wanted a boy to come live with them to help with the farm work. Anne instead joins the family and brings excitement to their lives with her romantic and imaginative lives.

Gilbert is one of her who classmates. He's intelligent, humorous, funny and initially a bane on Anne's existence.

We see them at different moments in their lives thanks to the multi-book series.

The meet cute

Anne and Gilbert's acquaintance begins when they are students at the school in Avonlea. Gilbert calls her "Carrots," because of her red hair, which infuriates Anne, and she breaks her slate over his head. Despite his attempts at seeking forgiveness, she rebuffs him for years. The two are highly competitive with one another academically, which proves beneficial as both do well enough in their studies that they are able to achieve their goals.

Eventually, Gilbert gives up a teaching position so Anne may take it to support her foster mother. He has loved her for years, and Anne feels strong friendship toward him.

They go through rough patches, and quit speaking again when Gilbert proposes to Anne and she rejects him. She asks if they can still be friends, in a passionate moment, he tells her he can't be only friends with her, because it's not enough.

Scene stealer

After two years of distance, Gilbert sends Anne a bouquet of flowers for their graduation. She carries them with her through commencement instead of the ones sent to her by her gentleman caller, Roy, and wear a necklace he had once given her.

Though they end up having another misunderstanding and don't yet reconcile, it's a beautiful moment. It marks her realization that what she and Gilbert had was special and goes beyond the connection she could find with anyone else.

 Soon after, Gilbert contracts Typhoid Fever and is close to dying. At this moment, Anne realizes that she truly does love him and worries she'll never get to tell him. He recovers and the two resume their friendship. Gilbert learns that Anne refused a marriage proposal from Roy and decides to give a relationship with her another try. He once again asks her to marry him, and this time she accepts with a look of love.

Why I love them

Through the series, we see the struggles Anne and Gilbert face. A prolonged engagement while he finishes medical school, the death of their first child right after birth and so on. They face real conflicts, but still have each other.

So often, romantic figures in books are hardly very realistic, but in this case they are — which I love.

Best lines

The rose of love made the blossom of friendship pale and scentless by contrast.(Anne of the Island, page 240)

"I have a dream" he said slowly. "I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a heart-fire in it, a cat and dog, and the footsteps of friends — and you!"
(Anne of the Island, page 241)

"I've loved you ever since that day you broke your slate over my head in school."
(Anne of the Island, page 242)

"I don't want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want you."
(Anne of the Island, page 243)

Gilbert was accustomed to refer to himself as 'an old married man.' But he still looked upon Anne with the incredulous eyes of a lover. He couldn't wholly believe yet that she was really his.
(Anne's House of Dreams, page 166)

Apologies for the lateness on posting this one. I hope you liked it. Read the original Project Boy Meets Girl post to learn more about this series or click on "pbmg" under labels to read the previous couples featured in this series.

Check back Tuesday for No. 2.

August 4, 2011

pbmg update

My post about Project Boy Meets Girl couple No. 3, the eighth in the series, will not appear, today, as scheduled.

I was too caught up in writing my current novel-in-progress (which is going well at about 5,000 words in length since Monday), and researching a potential future blog series, I didn't have the time to do this post justice.

So, look for PBMG No. 3 Friday or Saturday this week. It'll be worth the wait, I assure you.

Happy writing!

August 3, 2011

going all in

Good news, my friends. Something exciting happened since I posted Monday morning. No, I did not land a literary agent — the rejected queries are mounting, but I'm seeing it all in a positive light I'll address another time, but it's even better.

I got my groove back.

Hot on the heels of my disappointment at failing to cross the Camp NaNoWriMo finish line with 50,000 words written in July, I was resigned to sitting August out, too. But then it happened. It appears I was bitten by the inspiration bug.

While microwaving a frozen dinner for lunch at home Monday, I was patiently waiting when it hit me: I knew the first line I wanted to use to open one of the book ideas I have sitting on file. This is not unusual (Fact: I often come up with good one-liners for my various stories while doing mundane tasks, such as driving or cooking). I try to be prepared for these sudden jolts of inspiration, so I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote the line down.

It didn't stop there. By the time the microwave dinged, I had written several solid paragraphs. And the ideas were still coming. I returned to work with about 500 words hand-written in my notebook, and the motivation and excitement to keep this story alive.

It's a departure from the project I started in July, but I think that's a good thing. Experimenting with different genres keeps me on my toes and fulfills the different creative outlets I want to take.

I'm taking this as a sign to ride this story out. Yes, it means I now have one completed novel and two others stalled about 10,000 words along, but a deal like this is too good to miss.

So, I've changed my aforementioned intention: I'm in for August. Will I hit 50,000 words? I hope so. Will I be crushed if I don't? No. I'm already off to a good start, and I'm excited to see where this story takes me.

Stay tuned for updates.

fiction gets real

 Some people dream of visiting the Great Pyramids or Eiffel Tower. I dreamed of visiting DeSmet, S.D.

I devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series as a young girl, and still consider These Happy Golden Years my all-time favorite book. I wanted to see all of the places where my beloved stories took place.

Two weeks ago, I stopped in Pepin, Wis., to view the plot of land where the author was born in a log cabin in 1867. I enjoyed the spot, but it only made me want to see the place where five of the books were set, and most of LIW's family spent the rest of their lives.

Last week, I did it. I had to cover a work event Saturday in Dilworth, Minn., and in hopes of avoiding the Missouri River flooding to the east, I took the back roads (US-81) through Yankton, S.D.

De Smet was so close to my path, it seemed rude not to stop and say hello.

Throughout the drive I was brimming with excitement. I would see where the Ingalls family staked their homestead. I would walk through the school the girls attended. I would be where Laura met and married the hunky Almanzo, who as depicted in the books is my standard for a perfect man.

I was like an Elvis fan on her first trip to Graceland.

I rolled into DeSmet, greeted by signs that proclaimed this was in fact the Little Town on the Prairie, and directions to the LIW Memorial Society. I pulled up to the grounds and purchased my ticket for a tour, once again delighted to see about a dozen people wandering the grounds.

Growing up, I was the only one of my friends who read and adored the series, and I was glad to see that other people cared. As a writer, I was also glad to see people stop, because I assume that means they have read the books, and I constantly worry people no longer read.

I read an interview with Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie — which I have not yet read, but am eager to do — put it well.

"As a kid, my relationship to Laura and the books was so solitary—I didn’t really know anyone else who loved the books. So when I started to meet and talk to others about the book, it took a little getting used to at first, because everyone’s fandom is different (some people really love the TV show, others consider it sacrilege); but I’ve since found that one of the best things about writing this book is being able to take part in this shared passion."

(Follow her fictional LIW profile on Twitter @HalfPintIngalls.)

My relationship was always personal, and it's only now in my 20s that I was seeing other people who loved these stories like I did. It's hard to explain to a person who doesn't feel the way I do about LIW. In one regard it's refreshing, but if I'm being honest, it makes me jealous. I always figured I was the biggest LIW fan in the world, and the more I get out there, the more I see that just isn't so.

We took the tour, and I took as many mental pictures as I could of the Surveyor's House where the Ingalls family once did and the school house Laura and Carrie attended. I walked through the rooms in the house Pa Ingalls built for his family some time during The First Four Years, and a sense of melancholy hit me. I thought it might be disappointment, because I had built this up in my mind for so many years, but shook it off and decided to see some other sites in hopes it would cheer me up.

I saw the Ingalls and Wilder homesteads. The Ingalls land has been turned into a tourist attraction, which a friend described as LIW Disney World, complete with wagon rides and replicas of structures mentioned in the books.

It was a neat enough spot, but the Wilder land located north of town was the one that had a more profound affect on me. The land is empty. If not for the historical marker or the slight dip on a hill where a building once stood, you might miss it.

I stared across the prairie that was not much different from the scenery in my native Nebraska, and I mentally put myself in my favorite characters' shoes as well as I could. For miles you could see nothing but fields. The only difference now from then was that every so often a vehicle would pass by on the highway. It's hard, if not impossible, for a person like me, who has always lived in a city, to know what it must have been like to spend most of your life so far removed from others.

This had stopped being just a sightseeing trip. I've walked the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter, prayed in Westminster Abbey and sat in on a congressional hearing. But none of those had the emotional impact I felt here.

I broke down at the DeSmet cemetery. Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie and Laura and Almanzo's infant son are all laid to rest there. I only spent a few minutes there, but I cried. I felt ridiculous — I mean, I've always known these people had lived and died years before I was born. Why did seeing their graves, former homes and land make me feel this way?

"It made them seem real," a friend told me as we met for coffee yesterday to swap stories about our separate experiences in DeSmet.

She was right. I always knew the characters were real people. I often felt they were my friends and that I knew them. But on that day, as I saw the physical proof of their existence, they were real. I walked where they walked and everything changed.

When faced with the facts, everything I've imagined for years looks a little different. It's difficult to romanticize reality.

Despite my bleak description of my trip, I had a nice time and am glad I went. I'm just dealing with the aftermath and what it really all meant to me.

I'm still thinking — and feeling — about my trip to DeSmet. I don't feel as sad as I did throughout the weekend, and I'm sure that given time I will be able to better reconcile the fiction with the facts.

August 2, 2011

the shopper and the entrepreneur

PBMG No. 4: Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon from the "Shopaholic" series

Title: Confessions of a Shopaholic, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic and Sister, Shopaholic and Baby, Mini-Shopaholic
Author: Sophie Kinsella

The Shopaholic series tells the misadventures of fun, spirited Becky Bloomwood Brandon as she attempts to overcome — or at least live with — a shopping addiction. She's joined by a cast of fabulous characters, including her boyfriend-turned-fiance-turned-husband.

The scoop on Becky and Luke

Rebecca Bloomwood is a financial reporter in the first book, who later becomes a TV personality, personal shopper and mother. Luke Brandon is the smooth, sophisticated founder of Brandon Communications who Becky knows initially on a professional basis.

The meet cute

Becky and Luke met before the book begins. Luke noticed Becky at her first press conference.

"He confessed that he'd started sending me invitations to PR events even when they weren't relevant to my magazine, just because I always livened up proceedings" (Shopaholic Ties the Knot, page 401).

The first time we see them together in the series is when Becky covers another press conference for her magazine and Luke lends her money to "buy a gift for her sick aunt," when in reality, she wants to buy a designer scarf she found on sale.

Their paths cross more times before they begin a relationship.

Scene stealer

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan is probably the hardest in the series for me to read. Things go spectacularly wrong for Becky, and she reaches an all-time low. But then the final scene happens, making up for all of it.

The couple breaks up after a bad run in New York City, and Luke returns to London — seemingly permanently — while Becky starts a new life in Manhattan as a personal shopper at Barney's. After two months apart, Luke arrives at the store one day to "buy a suit."

Their banter is fantastic. While seemingly talking about whether or not she'll take him on as a client, the two actually hash out the mistakes made in their relationship and whether or not they're up for working it. Thankfully, they do, and they return for four more books to date.

Other favorite scenes include:
• Debating each other on the nationally-aired TV show "Morning Coffee" and following it up with dinner at the Ritz Confessions of a Shopaholic.
• Sitting by the tree talking after their wedding in Shopaholic Ties the Knot.
• Becky and Luke going up against each other during a protest she mistakenly helped orchestrate against one of his new clients in Shopaholic and Sister.
• The first months after their daughter, Minnie, is born in Shopaholic and Baby.
• Becky's attempts to distract Luke from discovering the super secret surprise birthday party she planned for him Mini Shopaholic.

Why I love them

Becky is fun, kind and witty. Luke is smart, serious and dedicated. Both are also flawed.

They compliment each other. She helps him lighten up and enjoy life. He helps keep her in line without breaking her free-spiritedness. They are different enough to keep it interesting, but share the same most important values: love for family and loyalty.

It's refreshing to read a modern series that has a romantic subplot so based in the reality and trials we all face. It's why they are the highest placed modern couple in my countdown (spoiler alert for what is to come in couples No. 1-3).

I can't wait to see what happens next with the Brandon family — hopefully another addition with their temporary move to Los Angeles.

Best lines

"You've had me on the hop for quite a while, Rebecca."
(Confessions of a Shopaholic, page 339)

"I don't just need someone like you. I need you."
(Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, page 373)

"Becky Bloomwood, I love you."
"I'm Becky Brandon now, remember… Mrs. Rebecca Brandon."
"There's only one Becky Bloomwood. Never stop being her… Whatever you do, never stop being Becky Bloomwood."
(Shopaholic Ties the Knot, page 406)

"You should be proud of yourself. Hurricane Becky, they're calling you."
"What, I leave a trail of destruction everywhere?"
"You blow people away. Everyone you meet."
(Shopaholic and Sister, page 383)

"Becky's instincts mach no one else's. Becky has ideas no one else has. Her mind goes to places no one else's does. And sometimes I'm lucky enough to go along with her her… She makes me laugh. She makes me enjoy life. And I love her more than anything else in the world."
(Shopaholic and Baby, page 338)

Read the original post to learn more about this series. You can also see couples 5-10 by clicking "pbmg" in labels.

Check back Thursday for No. 3.