Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing and Keeping your Joie de Vivre

Let's face it. Writing is a very, very emotional adventure. It's a journey of self-discovery, and for some, that journey seems to be inundated with foes. You know, foes named Self-Doubt, Fear, Incompetence, Denial--all wearing gauntlets instead of boxing gloves.  And sometimes we curse the day we discovered our love of writing. Life would be so much easier if we weren't addicted to creating stories. We wouldn't forsake so much time with the living to spend time with the imaginary. We wouldn't constantly be distracted, dreaming of far-off lands, while the dishes from last week have piled in the sink. And we wouldn't have to keep explaining all of that to our friends and family who think we've crawled into a hole somewhere and died. But we can't stop. We keep creating. We keep writing. We keep the hope that someone, somewhere will love our worlds as much as we do. So that we can share it. And one of the hardest aspects of that process is being okay with the fact that someone, somewhere might not.

I've been thinking on this a lot lately, having started the querying process. I've barely begun the dreaded fight (with some luck, mind you!), but it has opened my eyes. Wide. When you get those partial requests you squeal like a 5 year old while tears of joy well in your eyes. You stand on a cloud for a few days. You finally feel validated. Despite those exciting moments, rejection is still tough to bear. You already know that you're going to get it. Come on, not everyone is going to like your story. You don't like everything that's out there either. But still. It's hard.

And then there's the waiting aspect. You can go insane thinking about sending your precious baby into the world for the first time. And then when it goes out, you don't hear a word from it. For weeks--months! So, you try to keep your mind preoccupied. You tell yourself that the reason you check your email every five seconds is because you like to change Gmail themes. You tell yourself that the reason you're unusually fidgety and anxious is because they're making coffee stronger these days. And when someone asks you why you're staring absently at your computer, you blink and say "Oh...I was just gonna change my Gmail themes."

And now what? Should you work on the next one in your series? Should you start a whole new story? But you don't want to part with those characters yet! Or maybe you should you re-write the one you're submitting. You're sure you missed a plural possessive apostrophe somewhere. Why aren't you having any luck with blogging contests? You must be a failure!

This is where I'm learning the vitality of going back to the beginning. Why you started in the first place. For me, it's because I have to. Because I have an insatiable need to create. Because I love the characters in my head. Because I love watching the beginnings of a story unfold into an intricate plot, seemingly of their own accord. And just because it may take years to find representation, or none at all, that does not mean I can't write. It doesn't mean I'm not a writer. It doesn't mean my story has no value. It doesn't mean I should quit now and try something else. That's one of the beautiful things about this artistic endeavor. I don't need thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I don't need a stage and ampitheather. I don't need a team to create. It's just me, and whatever is floating around in that head of mine. And learning to accept that, I feel, is one of the hardest and most important aspects of being a writer. In order to keep that joie de vivre, you absolutely must. Remember why you're doing it. And you'll be able to handle the rest.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Kitchen. An Incredible Dining Experience

If you're from the Sacramento area, you may have heard of The Kitchen. If you're not, you probably haven't. So let me tell you what it is not. It is not a restaurant. It is not a hurry-up-and-eat-so-I-can-seat-the-next-growling-stomach. It is not like anything you've ever done before. No, what The Kitchen is is an experience. And two of our favorite people in the entire world (Troy and April Franklin) took us there for a mystery date.

We stepped foot into a beautiful dining room, tables littered about with white linens, a U-shaped bench  around the cooking area (also where we sat), candles, a wall of wines, a full service kitchen in back (they encourage you to walk through it too!). Once all ~50 people arrived, they locked us inside, pulled the draperies closed, and the entertainment began.

Me and Ben

Me and April with Troy in the background
Ben and Troy

The menu is fixed, organized into Acts like this:

ACT I was an overview of our evening, with introductions, and information about food. The food began with ACT II. Thai Style Bisque and Quail Confit with Black Rice, Coconut Milk, Fresh Turmeric, Fuji Apple and Chives. Sound good?

It was heaven.

ACT III came along. A Warm Salad of Sanger Lamb Sausage, Good Egg, Artichoke, Blood Orange, Frisee, and Brioche.

They prepared every dish before us.


That, also, was heaven. Did I mention you can order more servings? Of anything? Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Then came INTERMISSION. A beautiful spread of Sushi and Sashimi awaited us. There was even real wasabi. 
By the way, this real wasabi was over $100/lb!

ACT IV. Maine Lobster Carbonara with Lardo, Tarragon and Duck Broth. Okay, just so you know, Carbonara is one of my favorite things. If you've ever had it, you know it's usually paired with a pork product. Needless to say, I was overwhelmingly curious to know what it would taste like with lobster. The answer? AMAZING! Also, in case you're wondering, Lardo is pork fat. Croutons of fried pork fat.
I didn't think anything could trump bacon.

Live lobster!

Masters at work...

Remembering the flavor makes me salivate.

ACT V (no, we're not done!). Brown Butter Poached Beef Tenderloin with Potato-Gruyere 'Puffs', Porcini Mushrooms and Cabernet Reduction. You could opt to add Fois Gras, which April and Troy did. It tasted like butter.

ACT VI was a nice 'pause' for our stomachs: a white-gloved tea service and fresh brewed coffee.

Until ACT VII came along with Bittersweet Chocolate Tart, Sweet Lime Custard, Candied Pecan 'Dos Leches' Ice Cream and Strawberry Cream.

Then midnight chimed, and we turned into pumpkins. Well, not really. But we certainly felt round!

What an incredible dinner. After such an experience with so many incredible flavors, Ben and I decided we are forever ruined. Thanks April and Troy for an amazing night!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Figments: First Chapters

Figments: First Chapters: "First chapters are hard, right? RIGHT? Good. Glad we’re all in agreement. Because let’s be honest, a first chapter can make or break a book...."

(Thanks, Christine, for this fabulous post!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I can safely say that from page one, my kindle didn't leave my hands. Except when I went to sleep. And when I went to sleep, I dreamt I was in a spaceship somewhere, suspended in the universe. Now, I'm not really one for 'thrillers'. And I'm pretty picky with sci-fi. The reason being that most sci-fi revolves strictly around ideas. While ideas are interesting, if I don't connect emotionally to the characters, I stop caring about the story. So here's Across the Universe: a thriller meets murder mystery meets sci-fi adventure, with strong character development and hints of romance. I'm there!

Amy has been cryogenically frozen. The process is quite painful, and Revis goes into some fascinating if not gruesome details. (No, it's not like Austin Powers. Not even close. You won't even consider being frozen after this.) She's supposed to be thawed once Godspeed (a spaceship the size of a small country) lands at its intended destination--a new Earth. The journey is estimated to take 300 years. But Amy's accidently thawed 50 years before arrival. And the ship that awaits her is occupied by a few thousand brainwashed citizens--all with brown hair, brown eyes, and tan skin--that are ruled by a tyrant. This tyrant doesn't tolerate differences. It doesn't matter if Amy tries to hide her Earthen origins. Her bright red hair and pale skin already give her away.

The story switches back and forth between two different POVs: Amy's, and a boy her age named Elder, who's training to be next in command of the Godspeed. The pair work together in order to find out who's been unplugging the other cryogenically frozen passengers and leaving them to die. What they find instead are decades of lies--lies that threaten the voyage of Godspeed itself.

Of course, we're left with a semi-cliffhanger ending. I believe the second installment of this intended trilogy will be released later this year.

You can find the book here:

Happy Reading!...and if you shirk all your other household duties, don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Movies in Reverse

Some humor for the day. Ben is to thank for this topic. And these are just a few. Read them...they're hilarious!
Jaws backwards is the story of a giant shark that throws up so many people they have to open up a new beach.
King Kong backwards is the story of a giant gorilla that jumps to the top of the Empire State Building to rescue a woman from an evil gang of planes. He climbs down with her and goes to a theater, where he meets Carl Denham, who takes him back to his tropical home on a hidden island. There, the gorilla resumes his job as Dinosaur Doctor, fixing such ailments as broken necks and lacerated tongues.
The Birds backwards is the story of a quiet seaside village inhabited almost entirely by birds. Humans begin to violently attack the birds for no apparent reason. Determined to drive away the birds, the humans cover themselves in blood and pretend to be injured (we see later that they weren’t really hurt). The birds are so scared they quickly fly away after each encounter. In the end, the birds are forced to abandon their homes. The humans appear to have no regrets about what they’ve done.
Psycho backwards is the story of a young man who magically brings his dead mother back to life. Realizing he could use this power to help others, he resuscitates several people who had tragically died at his hotel and nearby house. One woman is so happy to be brought back to life, she secretly gives thousands of dollars to her worried boss. Her boyfriend is equally happy to see her once again, so they head off to the nearest hotel.
Titanic backwards is the story of an enormous iron ship that surges up from the vast depths of the ocean in order to save a large number of people who are inexplicably, and somewhat foolishly, floundering in the water near an iceberg. It then takes them back to Southampton.
The Lord of the Rings backwards is the story of a mentally challenged Hobbit who overcomes his disability by retrieving his finger — and a golden ring — from the depths of a sinister volcano. As an act of gratitude, he travels the known lands in order to save people’s lives by pulling swords out of their bodies. The Hobbits then spend the rest of their days in the peaceful idylls of the countryside.

Cinderella backwards is about a woman who learns her place.

Shrek backwards is about an insane ogre who kidnaps a man's wife, puts her in a tower, alienates his friends, and winds up living alone in a swamp.
The Matrix backwards is the story of a young man who, after a long day of beating people up in videogames, takes a sleeping pill from a black guy in sunglasses so he can wake up in time for his boring office job in the morning.
Around the World in 80 Days backwards is the story of a man who is given a large sum of money and proceeds to go around the world. When he returns to London, he proudly states it can be done and would like to wager money on the expedition.
Night of the Living Dead backwards is the story of a bunch of drunks who blunder around an old house in the countryside. They gradually sober up as morning approaches, kindly replace people’s misplaced internal organs, and carefully sew up the wounds with their mouths.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest backwards is the story of a silent Indian Chief who breaks into an asylum and revives his friend with a magic pillow. After a successful lobotomy reversal, they have a huge party to celebrate. The Indian feels his work is done and doesn’t say anything else. All the patients love the Indian’s friend, even though he slowly destroys their sense of freedom and imagination with increasingly dull stunts. Eventually, he pretends to be cured so he can serve his time in a regular jail.
Sleeping Beauty backwards is the story of a beautiful Princess, who is bored with her opulent lifestyle and husband. She asks her fairy godmothers to send her to sleep for a hundred years in the hope that something better will turn up. To her consternation, she is woken early with an upset stomach by a wicked queen who quickly heals the Princess by throwing a spinning wheel at her. The Princess sings a song about losing Princes and gets close to nature by working on a farm.
The Third Man backwards is the story of American writer Holly Martins who rescues his friend Harry Lime from poverty in the sewers of Vienna. Harry, his faith in life restored, begins to heal children who suffered brain-damage from diluted morphine, and goes around giving money to people. Harry and Holly begin to drift apart, and eventually, Harry is killed in a car accident. Holly returns to America surprisingly optimistic.
The Shawshank Redemption backwards is the story of Andy Dufrayne, who arranges for his old friend Red to be sent to prison, after tiring of his company. Wracked with guilt, he crawls through a sewer in order to get into the prison to see his friend again. Concealing his entrance behind a picture of Rita Hayworth, Andy begins a long campaign of disposing of all of the warden’s money by giving it to various people. He then destroys the library in a mad rage and causes a lot of guards to fail to complete their tax returns. Once again wracked with guilt, Andy forces a gang of men to beat him as he gradually loses all his friends. Eventually, the warden has had enough and throws Andy out of the prison, where he acquires a wife when she is resurrected by a friendly burglar. He then takes up banking and lives happily ever after.
Hamlet backwards is the story of a man who restores his own faith in humanity by administering an antidote to his poisoned friends and family, jumping out of a grave, curing his girlfriend of severe mental illness, and furthering his own grasp on sanity in time for his long-lost father to return in triumph as King.
Leaving Las Vegas backwards is the story of a terminally-ill man who is healed, thanks to the curative powers of alcohol.
Pride and Prejudice backwards is the story of Elizabeth Bennett who becomes increasingly disillusioned with her husband Fitzwilliam Darcy. The two divorce. The shame of such an action in 18th century England motivates her younger sister Lydia to divorce her husband but continue to live in sin with him in a bedsit in Brighton. Darcy encourages their actions but Lydia tires of the arrangement and soon returns home. Elizabeth and Darcy attempt to remain friends, but their relationship is strained when she suffers an unexpected bout of amnesia. The villagers of Meryton begin to weary of the family’s antics and their acquaintanceship dissolves. The film ends as local recently-divorced bachelor Mr. Bingley moves away from Netherfield while a moving voiceover proclaims the ineffectiveness of love and the selfless attitudes of women in the game of marriage.
Frankenstein backwards is the story of kindly villagers who use magic sticks to save a burning windmill and its two occupants. The villagers then escort the two men back to their sprawling castle. The larger of the two saves a drowning child, while the smaller of the two turns out to be a maniac who secretly kills the other man through electrocution.
The Fast and the Furious backwards is the story of a man who is given a huge going-away party just before he begins a quest to drive as fast as possible while shifted into Reverse. His quest is complicated by others who believe they would better at driving backwards. Incredibly, all the contestants tie for first place in every race they enter. Even more remarkable, they simultaneously run out of gas just as they reach the finish line. Seeing the futility of this, they return to their former lives.
What does your story look like backwards?? ;D

***If you like YA Fantasy, check out my book, GAIA'S SECRET. The sequel is coming soon!

*This list was compiled from various internet sites and*

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Thanks to Lauren (my amazing cousin) for this recommendation! This was a fabulous story. Once I was about 39% into it (according to my Kindle), I could NOT put it down. Did I mention this was a fabulous story?

The setting is some time in the future within a dystopia that feels more like a first. Citizens' lives are completely controlled and monitored, but that's not really a bad thing. How could it be? They've got nice homes, perfect families, and they don't have to worry about disease, famine, jobs, marriage--because Society has already chosen it for them through years and years of study and probability. But that's the problem for Cassia. She's stumbled across the beauty of choice and free will. Unfortunately, now she wants to make her own choices about everything. She can't 'go gently' any more.

At age 17 Cassia has been Matched. Society has chosen the best spouse for her--which happens to be her best friend, Xander. That's where her problems start. Not because she doesn't care for her friend. It's because she's accidentally fallen in love with someone else, someone that helps her discover what it is to feel and what it means to be free. And Society would destroy their lives before ever allowing that.

This story was like a 1984 meets Gattaca. Exciting to the very end as the world around Cassia changes with rumors of a rebellion. We're left hanging with the promise of its sequel Crossed, which will be released this November. Thanks Ms. Condie for an intriguing read!

Go check it out here:

Monday, March 7, 2011

This Week in Food: Quiche

I know. Not that exciting, but one of our absolute favorite food groups. And making one has been looong overdue. We like ours with bacon, onion, spinach, swiss, and mozzarella. We also aren't opposed to trying new versions, so if any of you have any recipes to share, SEND, SEND!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Anatomy of Story by John Truby

This book is amazing. It was recommended to me by one of my writer-friends at some point during my revision process (thanks Gina!). If there's ever a time in my life where I remember saying, "Gee, I'm glad I listened to that person," this would be one.

Anatomy of Story was like applying the scientific method to literature. Which is also exactly why it's gotten some flack (Amazon reviewers...). Come on Truby, how dare you stifle creativity with something so formulaic? But that's the beauty of it. Truby has set up a sort of "gold standard" for stories. You can dream and plot to your hearts content. And, like the scientific method, as long as you stay within those parameters (22 steps of parameters), you'll end up with a solid product that has been tried and tested against every foe you ever imagined. Plot holes? Try and find them!

Truby uses many familiar stories--Star Wars, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, Shrek, Aliens, Harry Potter, etc--to compare commonalities. Why people love them and why they last. They have an "organic" quality to them. And, he helps you figure out how to do it yourself.

Here's how his book is broken down:

1: CREATE YOUR PREMISE. State your story idea in a single sentence.

2: USE the SEVEN KEY STEPS of STORY STRUCTURE. Weakness and need; Desire; Opponent; Plan; Battle; Self-Revelation; New Equilibrium.

3: CREATE YOUR CHARACTERS. Create characters from your premise.

4: OUTLINE THE MORAL ARGUMENT. Outline the moral argument or theme inherent in your premise.

5: CREATE THE STORY WORLD. Create the story world "as an outgrowth of your hero."


7: CREATE YOUR PLOT. (He's got 22 steps for this!)



At the end of each chapter, there's an exercise for you to work through using your story. He really makes you disect your story--get to the heart of the issues and themes. Really get to know your characters (Ever talk to yours? Go ask them how they're feeling today.) And what you find--at least what I found--is that your story will be richer, you'll have characters that are much more nuanced and believable, a plot that seems like there was no other possible way for it to unfold, and a consistency that I think every writer should read this book. It's an invaluabe tool for creating.

What resources have some of you used while developing your story?
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