November 30, 2011

nanowrimo 2011: end of the road

It's an uphill marathon, not a sprint. You can even see how
hill- or mountain-shaped my progress was.

Happy last day of National Novel Writing Month. If you read my blog yesterday, you know I reached 50,000 words (and some change) during my lunch break. What a ride.

Today, I was going to write an epic post about my NaNoWriMo 2011 experience. I was going to get into the dirty details, but I'm not.

I crossed the finish line before the Nov. 30 midnight deadline, and that is good enough for me. How I did it doesn't matter, I did it and that's all I care about.

The only lesson I want to share is this: persistence pays off. We all have obstacles to overcome. We all have excuses. None of those matter in the long-term if you want to achieve your goal and tell a story.

I would like to say thank you to everyone who supported me throughout this process. From my uncle who asked me how my novel was going during Day After Thanksgiving dinner to my friends who offered me well wishes to my Tweeps who sent me daily words of encouragement to you readers. Last year, I mostly kept to myself throughout this process. I was often frustrated and discouraged and wanted to give up.

Thanks go to my local Municipal Liaison Lisa Kovanda. She's been a great support, and I'm proud to have her leading our team. A big shout out to my writing buddies Jacie Noel and Glenna Parks. You ladies helped keep me on task and our write-ins and write-outs were always fun.

I also want to thank all of the wonderful guest bloggers who participated in Novemberpalooza. Your posts did more than free me up to write — they informed and inspired me.

Readers, you can help me thank them by checking out their posts and leaving them feedback if you haven't already.
Local Bookstore Manager Cannot Wait to Have Local Blogger’s Book Release Party by Aja Building Character by Anna James
The Writing of Israel Grimm or How I Learned to Let Go of My Vision and Make a Movie
by Mike Johnson 
The Power of Words
by Kathy 
Have a Listen
by Whitney Lake 
Lessons from a NaNo Newbie
by Jacie Noel 
Beyond Labels
by Shae Sackman
From Memories to Memoir
by David Torbert 
This year, even in my worst lowest moments (and there were low ones) I knew I would get it done. Thank you for reminding me I was not alone.

Good luck to all of you still finishing up your NaNoWriMo adventures. I'd love to hear about them.

And to you, NaNoWriMo 2011, thanks for the memories. This one is for you:

November 29, 2011

nanowrimo update - 11/29 - part two

Hit 50,057 words during lunch. To celebrate, I'm going to keep my previous writing dates the next two nights and see how many more words I can log before Dec. 1.

Thanks to everyone for your support. I'm blessed and lucky to have the support of people like you.

nanowrimo update - 11/29

I'm going to be brief with this National Novel Writing Month update. Here's why:

Yep. I am about 1,200 words away from reaching the 50K goal, and I am thrilled.

I'm excited by the direction my story has taken. I'm motivated to keep writing after I get to the winners circle. And I'm pleased I overcame the little challenges that always come up.

About a week ago, I was not sure I would do it. Honestly. I got behind after nearly catching up, and I felt defeated. 

This week was another exciting one. Despite getting a flu shot, I caught a cold-like virus (not the flu, I was assured, but something similar). I missed part of a day of work, slept as much as I could and... I still managed to narrow the gap where I had gotten behind the previous week.

After a few light days (day before Thanksgiving when I was baking, Thanksgiving when I was cooking and Day After Thanksgiving where I was cooking, shopping and football watching), I got serious about writing and devoted part of Saturday and most of Sunday to my story. And I caught up.

Even after another mousegate 2011 experience, but I won't get into that, because it resolved quickly enough.

The point of this random and somewhat nonsensical rant? I found away. I ignored all of the excuses I normally use to prevent myself from writing, and I worked around it to meet my goal. That's an important lesson to learn after midnight rolls around tomorrow night and NaNoWriMo ends.

So wish me luck, and I'll report back soon with how my attempt to finish today ends.

November 28, 2011

building character

Bloggers Note: I'd like to welcome author Anna James as today's guest blogger. With several books under her belt and another one scheduled for release in January, I am pleased to have her on the blog to discuss what makes good characters. 

Read my reviews of Guilty as Charged and Shattered Dreams.

Take a break from everyday life and get lost in a world filled with  passion, drama and romance!

By Anna James
Guest Blogger

Hello Everyone,

Since this is the first time I am here at Change the World I wanted to introduce myself. I am Anna James, author of contemporary romance stories that allow women (and sometimes men) to take a break from everyday life and get lost in a world filled with passion, drama and, of course, romance!

I have been writing for more than twelve years but have only recently been published (July 2010). I have a total of five novels / novellas published to date, one story that was included in Christmas anthology, and another novel coming out in January 2012.

Today I’d like to ask you a question: What qualities are important for a romance novel hero and heroine to have?

As a romance writer, my goal is to create stories readers will enjoy. The key is to capture a reader’s attention from the start and keep them engaged throughout the book.

I believe a good story starts with the characters in a book. As a reader as well as a writer, I need to feel a connection to the characters. They have to be real to me; someone who I can relate to and someone who lingers long after I’ve finished reading (or writing) their story.

I believe each heroine should be unique in her own way but I have found they all have certain things in common. I strive to create heroines that:
•  Are strong , smart, confident woman – survivors NOT victims.
•  Are passionate about love and life.
•  Are persistent and won’t give up just because the going gets tough.
•  Believe that love triumphs over all odds.

What about the hero you ask? I have read well over 1,000 romance novels and I have found that heroes have a variety of qualities. They can be:
•  Sophisticated, mysterious, and a bit dangerous
•  A moody rebel, who can be very arrogant
•  Have a complicated personality, hidden conflicts, and secret past

The most important qualities, as far as I’m concerned, are:
•  Strength of character
•  Honesty and dependability
•  Compassion and reliability

He needs to be someone who can be admired and has integrity. He may not be handsome but the heroine must be strongly attracted to him.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my heroes and heroines: 

Guilty As Charged – Bradford Sisters Trilogy #1

Passion ignites between Nicole Bradford and Max Paradis the second they lay eyes on each other. Nicole seems to be everything that Max is looking for in a woman. She’s sweet and loving and incredibly sexy. But looks can be deceiving. Hadn’t he learned that the hard way?

Nicole is crazy for Max. He is sensitive, caring, and his kisses are to die for. But when secrets from her past are revealed will she be found innocent, or is she guilty as charged?

Now available from Sugar and Spice Press (
Read Laura's review of Guilty as Charged here.

Shattered Dreams – Bradford Sisters Trilogy #2

Natalie and Reed seemed so happy when they got married just a few short months ago, but an unexpected pregnancy and a subsequent miscarriage throw their marriage into turmoil.

Natalie deals with the loss by burying herself in work. Reed is supportive but doesn’t understand why she is spending so much after-hours time with her handsome, sexy boss. And what about their dream of having a family? How can that happen when with each passing day Natalie becomes more distant?

Will Reed and Natalie find a way to work things out, or will all their dreams be shattered?

Now available from Sugar and Spice Press (
Read Laura's review here of Shattered Dreams here.

Stay tuned for the last book in the trilogy:
Shattered Illusions – Bradford Sisters Trilogy #3

Four years ago Kate Bradford met Raffaello D’Onofrio while attending a semester abroad. Rafe ran the family vineyard in the Lazio region of Italy but the thing that attracted her to him most, besides his ruggedly handsome good looks, fathomless deep blue eyes and well-
toned body, was his love of art. It was a passion they shared together.

He had been the perfect man as far as she was concerned and in a few short months she fell deeply in love. She had thought that love was returned. Then she found Annalisa De Luca

in his apartment wearing nothing but the shirt Rafe had been wearing the evening before. All her illusions were shattered. Distraught and wanting to escape the pain of Rafe’s betrayal, she returned to her home in Chicago, IL.

Now Rafe is back in her life and much to her chagrin, she is still attracted to him. How can just one look from those sexy blue eyes affect her so deeply and what is she going to do about it?

Rafe D’Onofrio has just agreed to allow the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art to display his unique art collection - a collection he has always kept private until now. This after learning the museum’s new assistant curator was none other than Kate Bradford. Once he had thought himself in love with her but after her abrupt departure from his life with no explanation he convinced himself it was just an illusion. So why, after all this time, can the mere mention of her name still send his pulse rate soaring? And what is he going to do about it?

Will Rafe and Kate shatter the illusions of the past and find love again? Or are they too much to overcome?

If you’d like to learn more about my other heroes and heroines stop by website: or visit me on facebook: and meet Christine Kincaid and James Buchanan from Coming Home; Isabella Sheridan and Jake McAllistar from Isabella’s Dilemma and Pru Bailey and Matt Cavanaugh from Visions.

Thanks Laura for having me here today!

Happy Reading,

Anna James

book review: shattered dreams

Title: Shattered Dreams
Author: Anna James

Anna James continues to deliver a quick, interesting and suspense-filled story with Shattered Dreams, book two in the Bradford Sisters Trilogy.

Middle sister Natalie is newly married and expecting a baby with her hunky husband Reed. Nervous about the prospect of becoming a mother, she balances her worry, new job and house hunting with her marriage.

But after suffering a miscarriage, Natalie builds a wall against Reed while she copes with the loss. Though he tries to help, the distance between the two grows deeper. When each suspects the other of infidelity it is clear their marriage might be in trouble.

Unlike many stories where it begins with new acquaintances meeting for the first time, Shattered Dreams tells the story of a young couple struggling with the obstacles in their lives. Despite the problems, and though the wedge between them grows larger, the reader never doubts their love for each other. However, it does pose and answer the question: Is love enough to save a marriage?

The well-crafted story is a quick read, and carries on the themes established in the first book. I look forward to reading book three when it is released in January to see what is in store for the youngest sister.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Be sure to check back to read my review of Bradford Sisters Book Two: Shattered Dreams and a guest post from author Anna James later today.

book review: guilty as charged

Title: Guilty as Charged
Author: Anna James

In Guilty as Charged, book one of the Bradford Sisters Trilogy, author Anna James sets up an entertaining and interesting series filled with likable characters and suspenseful plot twists.

Nicole Bradford is the oldest of three sisters orphaned several years earlier when their parents were killed in a car accident. She steps into the role of primary provider and supporter for her two sisters, which leaves little room for her own needs, which makes her admirable and easy to relate to and like. She landed a good job more than a year ago, which provides a good income, stability and a love interest for herself and one of her younger sisters.

But she has a dark past that no one in her present knows about, and she will do whatever it takes to keep that hidden.

Enter Max Paradis. He's back from two years abroad and trying to put his broken marriage behind him. The handsome and smooth man has reason to be leery of secrets, but that does not stop him for falling for Nicole.

Their whirlwind romance makes for a short courtship, but a lot happens in that time.

As with book two, missed communication is the villain to blame for most of the angst. In addition to the other problems the protagonists face, this plot twist works for me.

James effectively foreshadows, explains and concludes the story elements, which might otherwise be confused in such a quick read.

Though this book lacks some of the passionate heat found in book number two, it lived up to its purpose: to introduce the characters the reader will get to know in the upcoming stories.

Both books released to date in the series are solid, and I look forward to reading number three.

Rating: 4 of 5

Be sure to check back to read my review of Bradford Sisters Book Two: Shattered Dreams and a guest post from author Anna James later today.


November 25, 2011

read shop cook - recap

In honor of Black Friday, I decided to make a dish inspired by one of the literary world's best shoppers: Becky Bloomwood of Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Because I was off from work, today, I decided to make and Tweet about it live. You can read the original post here to learn more about it.

Here's a recap of the Twitter feed in case you missed it or want to try it for yourself:
@lmchap: OK, it's time to begin my live blog of Becky Bloomwood's curry from Sophie Kinsella's CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Putting a medium-sized saucepan on the stove to heat up frozen veggies. Using 1 c cauliflower and 1 c green beans. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Fresh veggies will work (and I'll use some later), but my local grocery store was sold out thanks to Thanksgiving. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: While those cook, I'm slicing half a large onion. Also putting water on for Quinoa to serve the curry on. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Now to grate 1 tbs peeled Ginger root #ReadingintheKitchen

@wonderingwest: "@lmchap: Now to grate 1 tbs peeled Ginger root #ReadingintheKitchen" @GhostGinger RUN

@lmchap: Just added to 2 tbs olive oil in wok on medium heat. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Added onion. Will let simmer a few minutes while I slice two carrots and half a red pepper. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Just added veggies to wok. Look at all those colors. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Just added a cup of garbanzo beans/ chickpeas. Will let this simmer 5 minutes while I get the spices. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: I also put the quinoa in the boiling water. Quinoa is a great source of iron/ protein/ fiber. And it's delicious. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: I'm adding 1 TBS curry powder and 1 TSP cumin for seasoning. I'm going to reduce heat to low to let the spices sink in. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: If you'd like to make this a Bridget Jones turkey curry with your Thanksgiving leftovers, add shredded turkey now. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: When I remove this from the heat in a few minutes, I'll add 1 cup of PLAIN yogurt. (The plain is important.) #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: The quinoa is almost done. I turned off the heat and squeezed in the juice from one lemon for taste. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: Spooned some quinoa onto a plate and topped it off with curry. Here's how it looks. #ReadingintheKitchen
@lmchap: Just took a bite. Thoughts? Delicious. Not too spicy. Lemon in quinoa really added something nice. #ReadingintheKitchen

@lmchap: And with that, the live blog of #ReadingintheKitchen is done — Just in time for the Husker game. #GBR Thanks for following.
My final thoughts?

This was kind of fun. It was a little more stressful, because my iPhone Twitter app had some issues and I had to live blog it all from the laptop. I also wanted to be done in time to watch the Husker game.

If you thought this was fun please let me know. Maybe I'll try it again another time.

Hope you all have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

read shop cook

In America, today is one of our greatest holidays: Black Friday. It's the day where we stand in line outside stores at dawn and race inside to snap up deals. Or, for those of us who hate crowds and lines, we leisurely check out the sales online, decide it's not worth it, and watch the annual Day After Thanksgiving Nebraska football game.

But in the spirit of all those shoppers out there, who I may join later in the day (I need a new coffee pot and laptop), today's Reading in the Kitchen is for you.

In honor of Black Friday, I decided to make a dish from one of the best shopping-related books out there: Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic. If you'll remember (or if you're learning this for the first time, because you've never read the book), in one of her attempts to cut-back her spending, Becky Bloomwood decides to try her hand at making homemade curry.

It turns out badly. She spends more money on the supplies than it would have cost to order it, and she makes it too spicy to be edible. It goes so poorly, her best friend/ roommate Suze suggests Becky find a way to increase her income instead. This leads down another misadventurous path, but that's not the point. Curry is the point.

I'm making curry in honor of Black Friday. And because today is the first Friday I haven't had to work since starting this series, I thought I'd try something different: live blogging.

Via Twitter, I will prep and cook a vegetarian curry dish. I'll include photos and short comments about each step of the process.
Here's my estimated timeline:
•  Prep work will begin at 10:15 a.m. Central.
•  I'll hope to cook the dish by 10:45 a.m.
•  I'll stop whatever I'm doing at about 11 a.m. to watch kick-off for the Nebraska vs. Iowa football game. (Priorities, folks. I love my books, and I love to cook, but my 'skers take priority.)
•  I'll share my impressions of the dish, along with whoever I have eating it with me during the football game.
•  I'll post my recap at 2 p.m.
If you have Twitter, follow me @lmchap. I'll include #ReadingintheKitchen to each related post for those of you who don't want to read my thoughts about the Nebraska game. (Those posts will be marked #GBR, of course). Please feel free to Tweet me your thoughts and comments along the way using the hashtag. I may Retweet or include some of my favorites in the recap.

If you do not have Twitter, you can check back on this blog. I will temporarily move the Twitter view from the sidebar to the main section for easier viewing. Later, I will post the recap, which will have everything all in one place.

This will be fun. I'm totally pumped and excited for this challenge. I hope you'll join me — and that my cooking experience goes better than Becky's.

November 24, 2011

many thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans! For those of you reading, today, from somewhere else... happy Thursday.

Throughout the month, my thoughts always inevitably turn to the many blessings in my life. Today, I thought I would share some of the things I am thankful for this year.

1. My friends and family. It shows up on everyone's list, as it should. Without their constant support, and the occasional kick in the rear, I would not be on the path I am. Also, if you've been reading the blog this month, you know many of my friends stepped up to help me with guest posts, which allowed me to focus on National Novel Writing Month

2. My puppy and kittens. Though Buddy, my parents dog, and Jane and Bingley, the kittens, can be distracting and naughty, few things in the world bring me greater joy. Plus, they're adorable.

3. Post-it notes and index cards. They keep me organized, they help me brainstorm and they are convenient and mobile. Both made it onto my Christmas list, to my family's amusement.

4. The mixing bowl set my mom gave me for Christmas two years ago. I use them for everything. There is no way I could make any of the Reading in the Kitchen posts without them. The 10 bowls range in size from large to tiny. Everyone who sees them is instantly jealous. 

5.  Accordion folders. Index-card or 11x17, I love these. I have them for all of my novels in progress and every story idea I have. I use them for research and note taking. You better believe I stock up on these every fall when school supplies are on sale. 

6. Nora Roberts' new trilogy. Who doesn't love it when one of their favorite writers comes out with a new series? 

7. To be living in a mouse-free house. If you followed Mousegate2011 on Twitter, then you know I'm sleeping better every night knowing the only creatures roaming my house are the kittens and broomies. 

8. Having the chance to visit two Laura Ingalls Wilder sites this year. As part of my business travels this year, I was able to see both LIW's birthplace in Pepin, Wis., and De Smet, S.D., where a majority of the Little House books were set. LIW's books helped me fall in love with reading and writing. Seeing the sites was educational and inspiring. 

9. The Packers are undefeated, even if my Huskers aren't. Today Green Bay plays Detroit. As much as I love Ndamukong Suh, you'd better believe I'll be cheering Go Pack Go! And I always have love for my 'skers, even if they hit a few rough patches. I'm looking forward to starting a new Day After Thanksgiving tradition with the Iowa Hawkeyes (especially if NU wins). 

10. My Twitter writing posse and you readers. Looking back at 2011, this was definitely the year I discovered how much the Internet can help me with the writing process. In the past, I used social media for fun, but now I see it as a way to network and build my education. I am becoming a better writer thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of you. Enjoy this time with your family and friends. Now, if you'll excuse me, the broomies and I are hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

November 23, 2011

from memories to memoir

Blogger's note: I'm pleased to have my co-worker and friend David Torbert today on the blog. In addition to being a corporate journalist like me, he is also working on a memoir. Enjoy.

By David Torbert
Guest blogger

While writing a novel allows the author to be creative, imaginative and take the characters and plot in virtually any direction, writing a memoir is an entirely different ball game. The author must rely on life experiences and find a unique twist to distinguish themselves from others.

I made the decision to share my life experiences at the suggestion of family and friends after years of hospital visits, major medical procedures and a childhood filled with more drama than a daytime soap opera. It’s been quite the journey as I explore myself, and one that has, quite frankly, been difficult.

I had to ask myself: “What the hell is so special about me, and why does anyone care?”

There are several things I’ve learned along the way to telling my story:

Details, Details, Details

A reader will pick up a book and read a few pages out of sheer curiosity, but providing an in-depth perspective will keep the pages turning. Especially in a memoir, readers want to share the experience with you, so providing details on sights, sounds, smells and emotions help paint a clearer picture and make for a clearer understanding. A friend who works in the publishing industry has become a mentor of sorts to me as I go through this process, and a lesson I learned from him was this: The more blood, the better. Take any opportunity to be graphic, as it only serves to put the reader right there in the moment.

I grew up around family and friends that had tremendous memories, and I’ve found that’s another key in developing a detailed account of your life experiences. Recounting old stories and events in history create a marker in your mind, thus making it easier to draw upon while developing your memoir.

For those not so inclined, I would suggest keeping a pen and paper handy at all times. You never know when you’ll have a sudden memory come roaring back, so jotting it down helps you to remember it, and why it plays an important role in your book. Even for those creating a fictional story, thoughts of a new character or new plot twist can strike like lightning, so be prepared.

Sweet Emotion

Being of the male species, I’m not one to share my emotions, so the thought of expressing my feelings through the written word was something I still struggle with as I develop my memoir. Emotion is a powerful tool, especially to an author, so I had to jump this giant hurdle in an effort to make my story unique and entertaining.

For those that grew up with a diary or journal, I salute you. You are ahead of the game in terms of both capturing memories, and also sharing your emotions. Journals are a great way to vent frustrations, proclaim your love and share your inner most
thoughts on life’s trials and tribulations.

I never was one to have a journal, however, and it wasn’t until college that I realized how important it was to write your feelings. Every day during my English 102 class, we would spend the first 20 minutes free writing — that is, just writing whatever
comes to mind. At first this was a horrific experience because I just wrote about how bored I was, but over time, I realized the merit in writing what you feel. Technology has also advanced this notion of journaling, thanks to the blog-o-sphere. Take advantage… start a blog. Share your story with the masses.

As I recount memories from my childhood to include in my book, I’m now finding several instances where emotions are coming back to me, so I’m heeding my own advice and jotting down both the memory and my feelings about the memory. It gives weight to your experiences when readers get a glimpse of what you thought, creating a bond when they too develop an emotion about what they’re reading.

Where it gets tricky, however, is that I sometimes don’t recognize my hospital experiences at the same level as outsiders. From the time I was born until I was probably 12 or 13 years old, the hospital was my home and the staff was like my second family. How can I paint this picture of a horrific experience when there were a lot of great memories had between those bed rails?

The answer: I don’t plan to.

I feel readers will find my perspective unique because I’m not just another sob story talking about the shitty hospital food, the snotty nurses and the pain of chest tubes and catheters. Yes, I will tackle some of those things, but I want to create a portrait of my life that shows how this lifestyle has helped me become the grounded, caring person I consider myself to be today.

Don't Be Selfish

I know what you’re thinking — What is more selfish than creating a 200-page recollection of your life?

That’s not what I mean when I say don’t be selfish. This writing process has forced me to put myself in the shoes of others, namely those closest to me who were affected by my medical past. My parents endured a hell of a lot more than most anyone can even fathom, from medical advice that told them I’d be mentally retarded and better off dead to sacrificing their lives to meet my constant need.

While the book must still centrally focus on my thoughts, I’ve come to ask my parents about their feelings and about details perhaps they remember from certain instances. This creates perspective and adds unique details that the author might not think to include. I don’t want my thoughts to be the only story, so filling in the gaps will only help make it better.

I can’t take credit for this, however, as probably my three favorite books to this day share that common theme. Most notable is “Lucky Man” by Michael J. Fox. He shared his thoughts about growing up in Canada, getting into the film industry and struggling to find answers to Parkinson’s Disease. In several cases, he clearly drew on the perspective of his family to discuss how his disease affected them. If you haven’t read it, you’re clearly at a disadvantage.

A big thank you goes out to Laura for allowing me to share my writing experience with her many loyal followers. I hope I have, in some small way, helped others struggling to develop their work as we all aim to create publications that are meant to entertain, inspire and make their mark on society.

Visit David's blog On the Road Again.

November 22, 2011

beyond labels

Blogger's note: Shae and I met through a mutual friend when we began our Recovering Writers group last year. We approach writing from different avenues, which I love. I'm pleased to have her on the blog, today, to share her perspective.

By Shae Sackman
Guest blogger

I’m visibly uncomfortable when someone brings up my ‘writing.’ Writing implies some extra process, some mindset, some kind of effort outside of the norm to produce something for consumption. Relying on expertise I don’t have, sensibility never developed, and all the plot points I’ve left scribbled in the margins is no substitute for a real story written by someone who lives out the constructed lives of their characters with such care that sometimes they can’t begin and end as a person in a definitive way.

The truth is, I don’t write. I’m not a ‘writer.’ At best, I’m an ardent bookkeeper of my thoughts. At worst, I’m in the middle of a manic upswing and have access to some kind of writing implement. With no means to tell the difference between the two authoring modes, people are haphazardly confronted with a distillation of my thought process, rather than something I’ve crafted for another’s enjoyment.

Assaulted with letters penned in the middle of the night, bombed with one text after another laced with ridiculous metaphor, harassed by emails so tangential a unifying theme is nowhere to be found — sending the sum of the various things my mind churns out is a litmus test, of sorts.

“But that’s still writing, Shae.”

I’ve struggled with labels, rationalizations, people incensed that I don’t think I have ‘talent,’ ‘voice,’ ‘skill,’ or other writerly qualities. Confused that I don’t identify with what they think I am. I don’t fit in writing workshops (I’ve tried. I’m a nth dimensional object trying to scale to a playing board that I literally can’t comprehend), guides have no methods for me to improve, all the practice in the world will not make my words palatable, accessible, or widely read.

I’m not a writer though, so those things don’t matter. But like anyone who does something often to various ends, I want to get better at ‘writing’ what I’m not writing. I asked myself over a year ago, how do you get better at something you don’t technically do?

I decided you study the component parts of what you’re creating.

So I learned about thoughts. Spent time with how the brain transforms idea into written language. Devoured everything I could find on how words grow up into big, strong concepts with which to take over a mind. Branched out endlessly into the topics I find are directly correlated with what I was trying to say, even if no one else sees the connections.

Physics, astronomy, set theory, evolution, and organic chemistry welcomed me into their structured lands, and I fell into worlds full of the concepts I needed to express the complex chain reactions of ideas wandering around my neural paths. Their soothing lexicons and measured structure providing comfort and essential basic compounds I would need to build the experiences I have into tangible, understandable pieces of work for others.

It deviates, then. It's not 'writing' anymore. These are experiments. I can cloak what I'm doing or not doing in a layer of arm's-length. My thoughts become series of hypotheses for testing on others. Sentences become footnotes in research papers, a thesis is drawn out of the hunt for the words that go together unequivocally.

Now, to find someone to grade it.

Check out Shae's blog and follow her on Twitter @hawksley.

November 21, 2011

nanowrimo update - 11/21/11

Despite my best efforts to prevent it, I am ill.

I had my first ever flu shot in October, drink more water than usual and cut back on fast food, and somehow I managed to get a rogue cold.

But I'll manage.

I'm still a little behind on my National Novel Writing Month word count, but despite the cold I significantly narrowed the gap this weekend. How did I do it? I just forced myself to write for at least three hours each day. I've gone from being 7,000 words behind to having a manageable 3,500 words to go until I catch up.

I'm mostly pleased I managed to get above 30,000 words this weekend. It made me feel like I did something. And it officially puts me in better shape this year than I was at the same time last year.

And I think I can do it by tonight, which would be ideal. I promised myself that if I met my word count goals by 11:59 p.m. tonight, I would take myself to Breaking Dawn - Part 1 during the Thanksgiving weekend. If I don't make it, then I have to wait until Dec. 1.

I've so got this.

I am also pleased to be done with a couple of other projects. I had them hanging over my head, and for the most part they're done. With the holiday weekend coming up, I'm confident I'll really chip away at that 50K goal.

How are the rest of you doing on your NaNoWriMo goals? Any tips you can share?

November 18, 2011

breaking dawn - part one

Happy "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" Day.

I'm not going to see the movie this weekend. I'm holding it hostage as a motivator to meet my National Novel Writing Month goals. If I meet my weekly goal, I'll go see it Tuesday or Wednesday after work. If I don't, I won't see it until after Dec. 1. Shocking and tough, but I have to do something to motivate myself.

Even though I won't see the movie for a few days (or weeks) I still came to work today supporting Team Edward.

This was my least favorite book, and I'm optimistic about the movie making up for it.

Anyone going to see it this weekend? Anyone seen it already? How does it compare to the book?

no words

It happened. I attempted a recipe from a book and it was awful.

From start to finish, this dish was a disaster. In October I read Jane Green's Promises to Keep, which features a recipe in every chapter. I took note a few dishes that I wanted to try. What made it especially appealing is a majority of the recipes are vegan or vegetarian. Still on my pescetarian kick, it seemed like a good idea.

I made Spinach Quiche with Herb and Quinoa crust. I was intrigued, because as a vegan recipe the quiche contained no eggs or dairy.

You can check out the recipe for yourself, because I'm not going to go through all the steps. I didn't like it enough, too. But here are a few photos.

Overcooking the pine nuts.

Blending the tofu.

Adding fresh spinach.

Making the quinoa crust.

Oven ready.

In my cooking adventure, I burned the pine nuts and thought the lemon seemed like a suspicious ingredient. I was correct. While the quiche's texture and other flavors (aside from the burned pine nuts) was decent, the lemon freaked me out.

The only redeeming element of this dish was the awesome green color. You don't get a lot of green baked dishes. Otherwise, I have no other word for this dish than disappointed.

I would not be opposed to trying this recipe again, but I think I'll leave the lemon out. I also will buy pre-roasted pine nuts, because I'm not messing with that, again.

I thought I'd remind you of a few previous recipes that might make an appetizing part of your Thanksgiving meals. (It's one week away. Can you believe it?)
Apple Butter
Apple Cake
Pumpkin and Gingerbread Trifle
Have a great weekend!

November 17, 2011

the power of words

Blogger's note: Kathy is one of my favorite people. She's the type of person you have fun with. Six weeks ago, I challenged her to a road trip scavenger hunt while she was in Missouri and Tennessee and I was in Colorado and Wyoming. We had a blast and built memories together even though we were more than 1,000 miles a part. She is more, though. She thinks and feels deeply. She expresses herself well and is a master storyteller. But you will see for that yourself. 

By Kathy K.
Guest blogger

I have been struggling to write a blog for my dear friend Laura's writing blog. I have put it off for almost a month now and I must admit, I'm ashamed.

Part of it involves feelings of inadequacy. I've not written anything noteworthy except to those who I've written about.

There was the WWII veteran who was a POW in Germany and ate nothing but potato water, cabbage and bread for three years. He would do well on the current low carb trend as he just likes meat now. I remember his wife peeking around the 1970s squared passageway between the dining room and living room. Not much had changed in 20 years, except her interest.

She had never heard her husband speak freely of his service, though she had no doubt heard incoherent, incomprehensible words of the night. As he spoke of being marched along the frozen German death roads, picking up a fallen, emaciated Polish man who could go no further, I realized that I was just an idiot who was given a privilege. Several months after the article appeared in the newspaper, the man's sisters, who lived in another state, came in to buy extra copies. They never knew a damn thing.

Then, there was the man who committed suicide before an article I wrote was set for publication. He really hadn't done anything "bad," especially by today's standards. However, he was in charge of a public institution that was deemed by government standards to have fallen below the mark du jour. I told him that I was not writing a "gotcha" piece and that it would be great if he could explain why things were the way they were. He tried, but could not find the words. I suspect that's why a bullet to the brain trumped my investigative journalism debut.

Truth is, it was a gotcha piece. The non-reporter portion of me said it wasn't, but the societal champion in me patted me on the back for exposing dirtiness in a small town.

But, to him, the man who killed himself, there was nothing truer than "I gotcha!"

I was simply reporting my findings of public record! I was a reporter and the job of a reporter is to report what is available to all. I considered, and still do, that there must be a segment of society who examine what goes on at any level of public and private service.

Every choice we as people, and as writers/ reporters, make has consequences. Mine involved taking down a not-so-big fish in a small town. By all accounts, he was a really nice guy. Clearly there was more or why put a gun in your mouth? My article was just the proverbial straw. That is one of my consequences.

I have many positive outcomes.

There was an article I wrote about several generations of sisters who all celebrated 50 years of marriage. I did a three-part series on autism (before it was fashionable) and got flowers delivered to my office by a grateful mom. I love moms! Maybe it's because I am one. I have a file drawer of really awesome thanks from people who no one will ever likely know about except me and those who love me.

Okay. I'm done preaching. I'm told by those who love me that I preach. Perhaps I do. My defense would be that I am a sucker for people and their stories. In my most intimate of moments, sitting... on the dock of the bay (shame on you for thinking toilet), I am constantly thinking of people because that is what life, and writing, is all about.

It may be the guy with the cardboard sign at the intersection of I-44 and Glenstone Ave.; it may be the clerk who sold me my Diet Coke and cigarettes; it may be the crabby bitch next door who cannot appreciate my pear tree's gifts in her front lawn; it may be the person on the other side of my whack-a-mole office space.

I guess my point is that anyone who wants to create a piece that will of course be written to evoke feelings needs to eschew anything other than his or her own impetus.

The written word has changed since I began my career.

Words are a matter of the mind. A true writer minds the matter.

November 16, 2011

getting musical

 As previously mentioned, music has been a big part of my life since I was born. Dad is a musician, and I played a million instruments and sang growing up. (That's an exaggeration, but I did play oboe, English horn, alto saxophone, clarinet, piano and percussion.)

I also always loved the role music played in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books. Fact: I own the Little House Songbook and occasionally play and sing the music. When I re-read the books, I'll sometimes sing along when it comes to the songs. 

Music is crucial for me when I write. I not only use it to help me get in the zone and focus on the words, but it also can set the tone or inspire me. Sometimes music can make you feel more than words alone.

Right now, with my mind focused on my National Novel Writing Month book, I hear or think of songs that fit well with the story. It creates my own soundtrack.

So, at present, if my book had a soundtrack, here are a few of the songs that would appear based on what I have written up to now:
Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson
The One That Got Away by Katy Perry
Set Fire to the Rain by Adele Not Over You by Gavin DeGraw
Any guesses on what my novel is about based on it? Does it seem a little angsty to anyone else? Don't worry. My characters are just at a low point. They'll pull through. It might explain why I'm struggling to get through this part of the story, though. It's emotional to write, which can be hard (I take it all personally). But once I'm through it, I know the payoff will be huge.

Does anyone else do this? What are some songs that would be on your novel's soundtrack?

November 15, 2011

have a listen

Blogger's note: My college buddy and fellow Laura Ingalls Wilder fan shares the secrets of a good audio book. As a recent audio book fan, I'm excited to check out these recommendations. (Oh, and I love what she says about accents. I gave up Wuthering Heights for the same reason.)

By Whitney Lake
Guest Blogger

I am very excited to have a day on Laura’s blog while she works on NaNoWriMo. One of the main
interests Laura and I share is that we both love to read (well, that, and we’re both Laura Ingalls Wilder wannabes, which are hard to find!). When I was younger, I thought my dream job would be one where I could read all day, every day.

When I graduated from college, I found a job that let me do that—though unlike my high school dreams of reading novels, I was reading articles on technology. I learned a lot, that’s for sure, but started looking for a job that let me interact with people and learn their stories firsthand. I did, and it came with a lot more driving than I was used to. Not traveling driving, but driving from one end of town to the other. I started getting tired of the radio and my CDs about four months in, so I started listening to books on tape. (They are actually on CD, but books on tape comes so naturally still!)

I normally listen to books on tape when I’m driving home to Colorado to see my family, but I didn’t think they’d be appropriate for the shorter car rides because I would hardly hear any of the story. But you actually do get a lot from an audio book even if you’re only listening for 20 minutes at a time. Eventually those 20 minutes add up and before you know it, the book is over.

The secret to a good audio book is really the narrator. I’ve checked out audio books that are pretty well-known awesome novels—Three Cups of Tea, for example—but the narrator’s voice was too distracting and nasally and I really was not a fan, so much so that I didn’t make it past the introduction. Accents can also be a problem. I tried listening to Sense and Sensibility and the British accents and different voice attempts turned me away, so it was another one that went on the list of failed attempts.

But if you have just the right story and just the right narrator, audio books can be very entertaining.
Here are some of my favorites:
Kitchen Privileges, Mary Higgins Clark
Bossy Pants, Tina Fey
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe
Susanne’s Diary For Nicholas, James Patterson
Dear John, Nicholas Sparks

Whitney Lake writes about what she reads, her dog, and whatever else strikes her fancy at

November 14, 2011

nanowrimo update - 11/13/11

I'm officially behind.

Even taking a few minutes to write this post fills me with guilt. I should be devoting my time to National Novel Writing Month, right?

I am about two days behind right now, which isn't terrible, but disappointing and frustrating. At this point last year, I had closer to 10,000 words than the suggested 20,000-plus. I've come back from worse, but still. How can I be behind? I mean, I had plans to succeed going into this month. I should be one of the NaNoWriMo participants boasting 40K words in week two.

Despite my best efforts to stay on task during week one, I allowed myself to be led astray by current events, new TV show episodes and a never-ending desire to take naps. My mom tells me it's doubtful my office or house has a gas leak or that I've suddenly developed a sleep disorder. The time changed a week ago, and she says that can mess with my sleep cycle. I suppose I should be relieved, but it's such an ordinary excuse. I wish I had better.

I'm learning a valuable lesson with all of this — one I would have thought I knew already. Distractions are everywhere, and it is easy to make excuses. What is the solution? I suppose it is to stay more focused and to stop making excuses. (And maybe I should stop checking Twitter every five minutes.)

Despite my frustration and disappointment in myself, I am still determined. I'm not too far behind, and I can rally. I may not earn this week's reward (a mani-pedi). I'll have to squeeze in about 5,000 words of writing, today, if I want it, and I don't know if I can. But I know I'll try. I'll get as many words down as possible, and I won't give up.

How are all of you doing on your goals? Any advice on how I can get myself out of the writing dumps and back on the path toward NaNoWriMo gold?

November 11, 2011

nanowrimo fuel

National Novel Writing Month is definitely on my mind, and so this week instead of Reading in the Kitchen I went for Writing in the Kitchen.

As a writer on a mission to reach 50,000 words who works a full-time job in a deadline-oriented field, it is tempting to turn to fast food and takeout for every meal. Though I will admit to picking up a donut or sandwich and coffee on my way to work twice this week, and eating out once to reward myself for reaching my week one goal, I am pleased to say that for the most part I have done a good job of eating well.

For snacks I have tried to avoid candy even though I have a sweet tooth. At work I stuck to Nutrigrain bars or the trail mix we have in the cupboards. Though the trail mix has a few more calories, it also contains nuts and sunflower seeds that are high in protein. It also has a few M&Ms, which satisfies my sweet tooth.

At home, I snacked on chips and salsa this week. Though chips can be high in sodium, again, this feels like a better substitute than eating candy bars or regular potato chips.

For meals, I used some convenience meals this week, such as frozen pizza or veggie corn dogs. Not the greatest, but it still feels better than living off of french fries all week.

The best thing I did all week in the kitchen, though, was make a delicious meal one night that lasted me throughout the week. It was super easy, delicious and even earned me props from one of the broomies. I enjoyed it so much that I did not grow tired of eating it every day, and I actually look forward to finishing the leftovers, tonight.

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas
1 can drained corn
1 can drained and washed organic black beans
1 red pepper, diced and roasted in the oven (for 10 minutes)
2 cups white Mexican cheese, shredded
1/2 cup crushed organic blue corn tortilla chips
14 small white corn tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce
In a large bowl, mix the corn, beans, pepper, crushed chips and about 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Spoon the filling on the tortillas and fold the edges like a blanket. Place them in a sprayed 9x13 dish. I placed them in the dish so they overlapped each other a little for space issues. I poured the enchilada sauce over them and covered with the remaining cheese.

Put them in the oven on 350 degrees for 15 minutes and they are done.

Since switching to a pescetarian diet more than three months ago, I have done a lot of research to find ways to add protein and iron to my diet. I saw a few recipes suggesting black beans as a meat substitute in enchiladas, and I loved it. I would have enjoyed this even if I still ate meat (but I guess I never liked beef that much, which is why I decided to try pescetarianism). Craving enchiladas, I picked up other items I would want to pair with the black beans as filling. It turned out well.

I would have added onion, much to the broomie's chagrin, if I had it in my fridge. He lucked out this time, but I would suggest it. The broomie and I think we might try adding cooked quinoa in place of the crushed tortilla chips next time we make these. Our hypothesis is that it will taste delicious, add good texture and provide a lot of the natural iron we all need.

I'm in for 2011.
Are you?
This was a delicious and nutritious meal that offered me some convenience, but also gave me the stamina I need to keep writing. It was a big win for me all around.

Thanks for checking out this week's Reading in the Kitchen. I'll be back again next Friday with another recipe. Read previous dishes by clicking on the tab at the top of the page.

If you have a book-related recipe you would like me to try, please let me know. Leave it as a comment here or share it with me on Twitter @lmchap.

November 10, 2011

book review: proof of heaven

Title: Proof of Heaven
Author: Mary Curran Hackett
Release date: Nov. 1

At times heartbreaking and others uplifting, Mary Curran Hackett's debut novel, Proof of Heaven, provokes reader thought and engagement.

Fast paced and intriguing from the first lines, the novel delivers on the high expectations set from the beginning. The well-crafted and captivating story is about mother's dedication to save her inexplicably ill son and his journey to find proof of life after death. The mother's troubled brother and the boy's dedicated doctor join the duo on their quest for answers.

The character-driven story shows that pasts filled with happiness and sadness, love and disappointment can still be turned into hopeful futures. The array of topics and emotions raised throughout the story lends itself to discussion.

Hackett, who earned a master's degree in English Literature from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, leaves the reader thinking and wondering long after the final page.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

November 9, 2011

lessons from a nano newbie

Blogger's Note: My friend and NaNoWriMo writing buddy takes a break from her novel to share her impressions one week into her first attempt at completing National Novel Writing Month a winner.

Jacie hard at work during a coffee-infused write-a-thon.
By Jacie Noel
Guest blogger

Being my first time doing Nanowrimo, I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure, I had read posts and tweets from fellow writers and got advice from Laura but going through it yourself is a whole different thing.

Going from writing poetry and short stories to a novel has been quite a transition. I'm only 8 days in but in this short time, I've already learned more about myself and my writing habits. Here is some of what I've learned so far:

Write more, edit less.
I've always been notorious for critiquing my work. The best thing I have done so far is write and not edit as I go. I feel more at ease when I let my thoughts immediately flow from my head onto paper and not over-thinking it. It may not be my best writing but going back to edit later will clean up the loose ends.

Inspiration comes when I least expect it.
Being a morning person, I figured my best writing time would be in the morning. I've written a couple mornings but I've noticed a lot of my inspiration comes at the end of the day, sometimes when I haven't been thinking of my novel at all. An idea pops into my head, I go to write it down then end up working late into the night. It's made for some rough mornings but that's what coffee's for right?

However, you can't wait for it to strike.
At moments when inspiration does strike, it's great. But meeting a 50,000 word deadline won't happen waiting for the words to magically appear. Sometimes it's all about sitting your butt down and writing. It may not be perfect but I'm still creating and getting words on the page. As with above, I can always edit it later.

Music is my savior.
Music has always been a big part of my life and it's always been a big part of my writing/inspiration. When I have had those moments of I don't know what to do next, I take a break to listen to my playlist and let the music fill in the gaps for me.

Nanowrimo is more than writing a novel, it's accepting a challenge. It not only challenges my writing ability but myself as well. You never really know what you're capable of until you push yourself beyond your limit. And what can be greater than that?

Follow Jacie on Twitter @jacielynnnoel.

November 8, 2011

upcoming apperance

Great news Lincoln-area people — you will have the opportunity to hear me share my dos and don'ts for creating the perfect holiday newsletter for your family.

Writing, formatting and sending holidays letters can be a giant pain. Luckily for you, it's a task I've enjoyed since I was in middle school and begged to take over the task for our family. Plus, with several years of journalism, newsletter writing and blogging under my belt, I hope to bring a unique twist that will make this a fun and simple task for you.

I will be appearing as part of Indigo Bridge Book's IndiLEARN. IndiLEARN provides monthly educational opportunities for adults looking to expand their know-how. Indigo Bridge Books is located in the Creamery Building in Lincoln's Haymarket.

Here's the information you need to know from the Indigo Bridge Books website:
IndiLEARN: Yearly Holiday LetterSunday, November 20th, 2011 from 2-3 p.m.This month's IndiLEARN is just in time for the holidays. Do you write a yearly family newsletter to send out to family and friends? Or, like some of us here at Indigo Bridge, do you intend to write one each year? Laura, local Lincoln writer, will be discussing best practices for your 2011 letter. Learn formatting, tips and techniques for a great letter this year.
For more information visit Indigo Bridge Books online.
Fellow writers are invited to stick around to attend the Recovering Writers' monthly meeting at 4 p.m.

Those of you who aren't local need not fear. I'm sure I'll post my tips, and a recap of the event, here on the blog.

Thanks to Indigo Bridge Books for the opportunity, and I hope to see some of you there.

November 7, 2011

nanowrimo update 11/7/11

National Novel Writing Month promises to be 30 days and nights of literary abandon, and if you stay on target, it doesn't disappoint.

But unless you live in a shell with no contact to the outside world, and your whole life is your novel, you'll find that a lot of life can happen in that time, too.

That's what I've found during my first week of NaNoWriMo 2011. Life can and will happen, and no matter how much you prepare you may find yourself surprised. This week had real highs and lows for me in terms of production and emotions. I mean it. I hit my absolute bottom a couple of times, and I was not sure I would be able to rally, but I'm pleased to say I did.

Nov. 1 began well enough. At 12:01 a.m., I opened up a Word document and typed the working title of my novel and started Chapter One. After 500 words I went to bed with plans to continue the next day. I met two friends and fellow NaNoWriMo participants at a local coffee shop that evening and worked for several hours. I finished the day with about 3,500 words. To finish Nov. 30, the NaNoWriMo creators suggest you write 1,667 words per day, so I was feeling great.

I stayed on pace Wednesday, again meeting a friend at a cafe that evening, and reached 5,500 words. Thursday, I gave myself a break and wrote 500 words, and Friday I wrote another 1,000 bringing my total to 7,000 words. At this point, I was still a few hundred words ahead of schedule, but I was losing momentum.

Saturday, I wrote zero words. I was officially behind. But Sunday, I woke with determination to write, and as of 5 p.m., I was at 10,250 words, putting me back ahead of the target by 250 words.

My main goal this week is to achieve more balance, but I must remember not to be discouraged if I get behind schedule, because sometimes life happens.

Not to make excuses for myself, but last week was a stressful one. I had a few major projects to handle at work, which left me tense from 8 to 5 every day. By Friday, I was not just feeling upset at work, but outside the office, too, which I hate. I'll admit I even fell off the wagon for my No Drink November. I did not overindulge, I drank one margarita and two beers total, and not in one sitting, but still.

Even more upsetting was that we had a mouse in our house all week, and we were unable to catch it. People laughed at me all week, because I was overly dramatic about it. But I hated the idea of having a brazen rodent running all over my kitchen counters and having free reign while I tried to sleep at night. I was unable to sleep comfortably, which increased my irritability and frustration even more. If you're on Twitter, you can read about my ridiculous misadventure at #mousegate2011. Looking back, there were some funny moments.

Then Friday night, unable to take it any more, I did a Google search to find ways to catch mice. We already had traps out, and we'd plugged the entrances and exits, but I needed to end it once and for all.

I found a great blog post about a way to create a live trap for a mouse. I was hesitant to believe it could work, because it sounded far-fetched, but dozens of people commented on it to say it worked for them. I set it up, and when I woke Saturday morning (again, after poorly sleeping) I saw the mouse sitting in the trash can. It worked, and I didn't have to live with the guilt of killing the poor thing. I released into the wild several blocks from my home, and almost all of the stress I had melted away. Plus, now I know what to do next time I see one of those pests in my house. I still won't like it, but I'll be able to take care of it stat.

My parents were there to witness my groggy, crazed excitement at this success. Tears streaming down my face, and no shoes on my feet, I ran out the front door screaming, "It worked. It worked." In hindsight, I overreacted to this whole thing, but oh how wonderful it is to have my life back!

Unfortunately, after days of worrying I was too tired to function. I slept well that night and woke yesterday ready to take on the day.

I have to say, I'm glad I took the time to plot out my book ahead of time. It allowed me to start writing Tuesday without having to worry about what was going to happen next. I could focus on the best way to tell the story rather than figure out what I was even writing about.

I also wouldn't have been able to do it without coffee. There's something about coffee that motivates me to write. That's why I try to reserve it only for those moments when I really need to work... which is every day this month.

My main goal for this week is to work through tough moments and take time to relax every day. Even if it's sitting on the couch, cuddling the kittens and taking deep breaths, I need to not stress out so much.

How are my fellow NaNoWriMo participants fairing? Are you reaching your word goals? Any advice you'd care to share? Comment below if you have it.

November 4, 2011

apple cake for mom

It's National Novel Writing Month, and that means brevity is beautiful when it comes to everything except the book I'm working on (which is going splendidly, thank you). This recipe was easy to make and delicious, which would make it ideal sustenance if you feel like celebrating in between cranking out a couple thousand words on your manuscript.

While looking for a delicious, book-inspired treat, I took a recommendation from Mom. She found a French Apple Cake recipe in Taste of Home and a book called The Apple Cake by Nienke Van Hichtum.

The book is about an elderly woman who wants to bake an apple cake, but does not have any apples. She sets off to market to buy some apples, taking a basket of plums to trade along the way. Her adventures ensue from there.

Mom is always such a good sport helping me out with these recipes, so I decided to make this recipe for her.

The first step was to peel a bunch of apples. When I picked a peck of apples this fall to make other treats, I made sure to grab enough for this recipe. It called for six.

Peeling and slicing the apples was the most time consuming part of this dish.

Every time I peel apples, I always think of the movie "Sleepless in Seattle." In the movie, Tom Hanks' character describes his deceased wife to a radio psychiatrist. During the talk, he says his wife could peel a whole apple with only one long, curly strip. He says it with such admiration — and it's so wonderful when you watch Meg Ryan's character peel an apple the same way — I wanted to do the same.

I always peel the first one with such precision and care to ensure I meet Tom Hanks' standard of a wonderful woman. By the second or third apple I lose my patience and and slice the peel in two or three strips. After weeks of cutting apples, I was lucky to still be cutting without taking off a finger or two.

Once the apples were peeled, I heated 3/4 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons of water and juice from half a lemon over medium heat on he stove. After it was lightly browned I poured it on the bottom and sides of the springform pan. Next I lined row after row of apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the caramelized sugar.

In a larger mixing bowl, I beat three eggs, 1 cup of flour, 3/4 cup sugar and half a package (or 4 ounces) of cream cheese. I poured the batter of the apples and carmel and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

I'll confess, I was absolutely stoked when I saw how this dish turned out. It was so drama-free and beautiful, I could have cried. Instead, I enjoyed it and shared it with my family and friends throughout the week. It tasted great, looked pretty and is a dessert that is much easier to make than it looks.

When serving it, I topped the cake with homemade whipped cream topping, but you could try something else, too.

Hope you enjoy this recipe, and I'll be back Monday to give a more thorough update on NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned, so far so good. I'm on schedule with my goals and ahead of the word counts suggested by their website.

Have a great weekend and happy writing!

November 3, 2011

a local book-seller's perspective

Blogger's Note: I'm pleased to introduce Aja, my long-time friend and fellow book lover, as today's guest. Aja and I have swapped and talked book for more than 15 years, and I'll be glad to keep talking shop with her for the next 50.

Local Bookstore Manager Cannot Wait to Have Local Blogger’s Book Release Party

By Aja
Guest Blogger

I’ve been friends with Laura for years. As you might have noticed, she’s pretty into books. That’s okay, though, because I’ve been in love with reading since fourth grade. That is when my grandmother gave me the first ten books in The Baby-sitter’s Club series. I hesitate to speak for Laura, but I think we both spent some time pretending to be part of the club. And with books like that, you pretty much are a member.

Laura leans a bit more towards the Laura Ingalls Wilder and myself towards L.M. Montgomery. (Though I appreciate LIW and I’m sure Laura appreciates LMM). That is what is so awesome about being friends with a fellow booknerd. You can plant your freak flag in a genre, series or even just that One Book. But your people get it, they understand, they are protectively rereading their own favorites back at home.

I like writing and occasionally take the time to sit down and put together a short story. Not like Laura, though. She’s a Writer with the capital W. My passion has led me down a different path. I manage an
independently owned bookstore with a community outreach arm. This is both supremely awesome and occasionally terrifying. It is a big responsibility and I’m lucky that I have smart, talented friends who step up to help me wherever they can. Cough *Laura* Cough.

Loving books, turns out, does not a manager make. I wouldn’t say that someone who doesn’t like books could do this, but there is a lot more that goes into it. Its kind of like when you learn that people who run art stores don’t just make art all day. There is paper work, tax worksheets, schedules to make and everything needed for an event. A good bookstore make an event look effortless. This is not the case. There is often tons of prep hours, day-of cleaning and rearranging, and more often than not actual physical labor. As a general rule of thumb, the events themselves don’t bring in a ton of revenue. And when we’re talking about community outreach events, they aren’t even intended to do so.

Why do them, then? Well, especially for community outreach topics, we do it for you. We have Harry Potter movie release parties so you can drink butterbeer, answer trivia questions and talk about an awesome book series with like-minded individuals. (This one might also be for me, but the point still stands.) No one comes to this party to buy Harry Potter books, you already have a hardbound set at home with the Comic Relief printed Quidditch Through the Ages and Care of Magical Creatures. We have the supplies available for a letter-writing campaign to promote political activism in our community. We screen documentaries to promote social awareness of important topics. We have local authors in so they can interact with supporters and hopefully feel compelled to keep writing.

Whether Laura’s book sells 1 or 1,000 books, we want her in our store because she is part of our community. She shops local, she gives people like me an opportunity to talk about the other side of the writing process and she’s a good person. She deserves to have her community at her back. We’d do the same for you because we already do the same for you. Support your local, independently owned, community bookstore (and other shops!) because they support you. Thanks.

Aja, General Manager 
Indigo Bridge Books and Cafe
701 P Street, Suite 102
Lincoln, NE 68508

November 2, 2011

changing vision

Blogger's Note: Friend and fellow writer Mike Johnson kicks off a series of guests posts, which will appear throughout November while I slip into the insanity that is National Novel Writing Month. Mike shares his unique perspective as a film-maker for his soon-to-be released film, "The Legend of Israel Grimm."

The Writing of Israel Grimm or How I Learned to Let Go of My Vision and Make a Movie

By Mike Johnson
Guest Blogger

My name is Mike Johnson and I am a writer. I have never been published nor particularly recognized for my writing efforts, I only use that title because I have written for as long as I can remember; so it fits. It was always an artistic endeavor that I admired and I felt comfortable doing it. I have gone through many mediums; prose novels, poetry, online message board Role Playing Games. I have always found a way to exercise my literary muse. In recent years, screenwriting has been my main creative outlet. I have written a good dozen short scripts and I finished my first feature length this past year. I produced one of my short scripts, "The Legend of Israel Grimm," a supernatural western, this past February and it is very nearly finished.

But let me start at the beginning.

"The Legend of Israel Grimm" started out as a Zombie movie. Sort of. I got an idea for a survival horror concept, in which three convicts were left out in the wilderness by a corrupt Sheriff to fend for themselves. It was meant to be a character drama that was as much about the men surviving each other as it was surviving Mother Nature. My brother, Donnie, and I began brainstorming with that basic concept. Not wanting the script to come off like "Cliffhanger" or "The Edge" or the myriad of other Man vs. Nature projects out there, I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if it was a Western?"

Yes. Yes it would.

I love Westerns. I grew up in a small ranch town. My mother grew up on a ranch. The cowboy culture and lifestyle was ingrained into me from a very young age. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were very much a part of my upbringing. And I had only come to love them more as I grew older. But that wasn't enough for me. "What if there was a supernatural element to it?" An interesting idea, one that certainly appealed to me. In addition to Westerns (and, let's face it, most cinema), I have a love of the weird and wonderful. In my writing, I tend to follow a particular maxim: WWGDTD? What would Guillermo Del Toro do? It only took me a moment to realize I had my answer.

Guillermo Del Toro would put a supernatural element into it.

Zombies were the first idea. Cowboys vs. Zombies. I'd seen it done, but not particularly well. And not with the tone I was shooting for. I wanted something serious, with the cheek being firmly without tongue. But yet, there was something decidedly un-mysterious about Zombies. You knew what to expect from them and they were decidedly, still, a fairly silly concept. Besides, who wants to make ANOTHER Zombie movie these days?

I feel that I should mention here that I tend to write with my budget in mind. As an independent film maker, I find it is best to know your limitations and embrace them, when possible. A Western was already pushing my shoe-string budget, with costumes and locations and horses and… it boggled the mind and it wasn't until much later that I figured out exactly how crazy I was to try it. So, with the expenses of a Western looming on the horizon, adding a hoard of Zombies to the picture seemed like an even more foolhardy undertaking. Add to that the aforementioned Zombie fatigue and we were looking at a different project.

Vampire? Nope.

Some sort of monster or beast? Nah.

Ghost? Ghost I could get behind. And it would fit in nicely with my tale of survival. A wandering ghost out on the prairie who just so happens to come across these men left to fend for themselves? Perfect. And a ghostly presence wouldn't be overpowering to the true story I wanted to tell. It would only enhance the feeling of dread that one would get from being left in the middle of nowhere with people you would just as soon kill you and look at you.

So I got to work writing it and finished the script in record time. And I loved it. It was scary in the right places and ended in a badass gunfight that any Western aficionado would love. But what was I going to do with it? I didn't have the money to make a Western? What was I thinking? Cost of the costumes alone, if they were going to be truly appropriate, sent my heart plummeting to my gut. Impossible. But, like a good writer craving positive reinforcement, I sent it out to friends anyhow, just to see what they thought. The response was overwhelmingly good. Everyone was so positive and excited about the idea that I became infected with, "What if I could pull it off?" fever.

This would be my second solo production. I had worked on a few feature films as miscellaneous crew the summer before, and had learned enough and met enough people who knew much more than I that I was able to produce another script that past August. But it's scope was nothing like "Israel Grimm's." The more I sent it around, the more people kept asking me, "When are you going to do it?" I ran out of excuses not to and I suddenly became that kid who was making a Western.

I received notes on my script. My badass gunfight at the end didn't work for other people as well as it did me and, they were right. So I rewrote it and liked the new version better. And I did more rewrites and more reworkings. And then it was time to cast the thing. And once I got my actors, more changed needed to happen, because they gave new meaning and interpretations to the words I had written.

More changed during filming itself. Scenes that worked well on the page fell apart in actuality. Logistics and time constraints caused us to cut whole sections. As a writer, my heart was breaking with each change. I had put my whole self into this script, how could I change anything? But my role as a writer was over. I was now mostly a producer*, making sure that everything got done as best as we could and if that meant ripping the script apart, then so be it. My scope had to extend beyond the page.

And this only increased when we wrapped filming and began post-production. If I thought that filming was a catalyst for change, editing brought about ten times the amount of change. We were able to look back at what we had filmed and realized what really didn't work when we weren't numbed by cold and fatigue and frustration. Again, whole scenes that I had once loved suddenly became extraneous and unnecessary.

But the greater good has prevailed and, on the verge of having a completed film I look back on the early days with wistful sentimentality. I realize I was naive to think that I could pull off everything I had in my head. But that doesn't mean it didn't become something greater than what I had imagined. It may not be what I had originally written, but it is a real, tangible thing. And that means everything.

*I'm finding more and more being solely a director in an independent film is an impossibility, there is just too much that needs to be done

Mike Johnson is an independent writer and film maker, look for his production company, Noseatbelts Productions, on Facebook and check out "The Legend of Israel Grimm" on tumblr at