Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the Books Giveaway Blog Hop


I am participating in the Back to the Books Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and BookhoundsThis hop is scheduled to run September 1st through 7th . To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post, letting me know you are a follower and sharing your favorite thing about back to school. It might be the hint of fall in the air, shopping for clothes and shoes, the scent of a freshly sharpened pencil, or baking chocolate chip cookies for after-school snacks. I am looking forward to a great list! For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE) or friend me on Goodreads (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At the end of the week, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Be sure to leave your email address with your comments so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Click HERE for the links to 200 or so other blogs that are also doing book-related giveaways. All contests begin at 12:01AM Eastern time tonight (Saturday morning); any entries received prior to that time will not be included in the drawing.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Polynesian Chicken & Basmati Rice


Missing the savory fare I enjoyed during my cruise to French Polynesia, I decided to experiment with some recipes. This one is a keeper; I am especially fond of it because I can prepare the chicken ingredients early in the day and store it in the fridge. Then, at the end of a long afternoon of piano teaching, all I have to do is pour it into a pan, pop the pan in the oven, cook up some basmati rice and, voila! Dinner is on the table in 30 minutes!

POLYNESIAN CHICKEN

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon hoison sauce
2 star anise
2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
10 green onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.


BASMATI RICE WITH STAR ANISE AND CARDAMOM

Thoroughly rinse 2 cups basmati rice to remove excess starch. Combine rice with 3 cups water, 2 whole star anise, 3 cardamom pads, gently torn open, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot. Cover and quickly bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer gently for about 12 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat; allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.


The star anise and cardamom really make this rice special. I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Writing can be a lonely business. And while there is no substitute for face time, there are online communities to provide both a social outlet and accountability. One such group is ROW80. I am jumping in with both feet.

All you have to do to be a part of ROW80 is establish a specific and measurable goal, blog about it, and post the link on the ROW80 website. Then you are to check in twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, reporting on your progress and updating the same way. Although there are four rounds each year, with specific beginning and ending dates, participants are encouraged to jump in at any time. (Each round lasts 80 days, hence the name.)

So here I am, committing to adding a minimum of 1000 words per day to my current manuscript. I am trying to spend a couple of hours every day working on it, but I am revising as well as writing, so it is slow going at times. My goal is to complete this revision before the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference in October; 1000 words a day will get me there.

I am excited about being a part of the ROW 80 community, as well as FINALLY finishing this novel. I think I can!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making Things

Bird By Bird Bracelet
(click to enlarge)
My all-time favorite book on writing is Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. The title refers to an event that took place while she was growing up; her brother was assigned a school project on birds and became overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird," Anne tells us. She has similar advice for those of us who wish to write books; every paragraph, every scene, every page, every chapter finished takes us one step closer to The End. Inspired by these words, I created a bracelet to wear as a reminder. I plan to sell them in my Etsy store, too.

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Brazilian Braid Bracelet
(click to enlarge)
I took a class at my favorite local bead shop on Sunday afternoon. Using silver curb chain and black leather lacing, I wove a bracelet called Brazilian Braid. I finally got a clasp on it this evening. I love the look! I am looking forward to experimenting with different colors of chain and braid; if there is enough interest, I might sell these in my online store, as well.

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Shiny!
After reading my post Grandmother's Button Box, a writer friend commissioned me to make six sets of something - bracelets? earrings? necklaces? - from her button collection. I can hardly wait to start playing! 

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Have you done any crafting or sewing lately? Leave a comment and let me know what you are working on!

Monday, August 27, 2012

AMP It Up 5K


Saturday evening Rock Star and I ran in the AMP It Up 5K at West Bend Park in Cumming, GA. All proceeds from this event went to benefit Adventure Amputee Camp to expand annual summer camps for children with amputations and limb differences. I finished in 42 minutes and 1 second; my goal is to shave one minute off each mile and finish the 5K portion of the Young Survival Coalition's Tour de Pink Atlanta in 39 minutes or less. As of this writing, I have received $120 towards my fundraising goal of $500. Click HERE to view my fundraising page and make a donation. Remember, contributions are tax-deductible, and for every $50 donation, you are eligible to be entered into a drawing to win a Mini-Cooper! Thank you in advance for your support of this great cause.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

GONE by Cathi Hanauer


Oh, how I loved this book! Eve Adams is a forty two-year old woman struggling to maintain the balance between home and work; her husband Eric, a once-brilliant sculptor, has lost his muse and, consequently, the ability to support his family. To help make ends meet, Eve has embarked on a career as a freelance nutritionist following the success of her recently published book on health and weight loss.  Feeling more and more superfluous with each day that passes, Eric leaves to take the babysitter home one night and just doesn’t come home. Blindsided, Eve must figure out where he has gone and why without damaging him in the eyes of their two children, especially their capricious fourteen-year old daughter.

Told from the points of view of both Eve and Eric, Gone deals with a range of contemporary issues, including health and fitness, the meaning of art, survival in a faltering economy, the challenge of raising teenagers, and marriage and fidelity. It is a realistic portrait of two complex human beings; as a single woman who often feels like I am simply playing the best hand I can with the cards life deals me, I could relate very well to Eve and her thoughts, feelings and decisions. This book kept me up late at night turning the pages all the way until the highly satisfying conclusion. Very highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE from the publisher, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Write FIRST


We're just two weeks into the new school year and I'm already exhausted. I've been fighting my first "bug" of the season - congestion, cough, aches, and fatigue - and I had to check Rock Star out of school this morning because he was feeling unwell, too. And judging by the way the dog keeps scratching himself, I'm pretty sure he has an ear infection. Guess I need to call the vet.

Meanwhile, Middle Child is getting ready to leave for a several-week trip to Europe tomorrow. Europe! Has it really been thirty years since I visited myself? Anyway, tomorrow, after my doctor's appointment - just a routine physical, no big deal - I will drive him and his travel companion to the airport. It will be all I can do not to cry when I say goodbye. How will I survive his being so far away for such a long time?

Also, since Middle Child offered to let his younger brother drive his car while he is away, this afternoon I made the phone call to add newly-licensed Rock Star to my insurance company - gulp! At least I don't have to worry about where to invest all my surplus funds, ha!

Most disconcerting of all, Mr. Nice Guy, the fellow I have been seeing the past few weeks had major surgery today, very serious business. I was on pins and needles for hours awaiting word. I won't go into all the details for the sake of his privacy. but according to the text I received from his daughter this afternoon, he is in recovery and doing well. Big sigh of relief there.

I celebrated my 53rd birthday last Wednesday. My three children joined me for dinner at a local Italian restaurant; it was the first time we have all shared a meal together in ages. It was a wonderful gift. I am also enjoying the cool clock my mom sent me. It is featured in the photo at the top of this blog post; click HERE if you want to order one of your very own. The Thoreau quote below it was already on my wall; it has been my motto, of sorts. But after a day like today, I feel discouraged. I didn't make so much as a millimeter's progress in the direction of my dreams. The sad thing is I cannot even tell you where the hours went. When I woke up this morning, I thought I would be able to squeeze at least a couple of hours of writing; the truth is I haven't added a word to my novel since Thursday. Thursday! This is simply not acceptable.

So I am adopting a new motto. Write FIRST. Before I scribble my morning pages. Before I check email or send a tweet or log into Facebook. Before running or beading or playing the piano. I'm going to get up at 6, take the dog out, pour myself a cup of coffee (programmed to brew the night before) and spend the first two hours of the day working on my novel. Not a blog post or a book review or a letter to the editor. The rest of the day will be mine to spend as duty allows and my heart desires.

Yes, I have a busy life and many responsibilities. But the essential things will get done. They always do. Meanwhile, I will be going confidently in the direction of my dreams. As long as I write FIRST.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


I started playing the piano when I was seven years old. I loved my teacher, although she was strict and required me to practice an hour every day. I can remember trudging home after school, thinking how unfair it was that all my friends got to go outside and play while I had to march straight to the piano and put in my sixty minutes of scales, drills, and repertoire. But all that hard work paid off. It took many years, but eventually I became a competent sight reader and pianist, earning a master's degree in piano performance and pedagogy. Since then, I have enjoyed a long career as a teacher and performer; I love my work and cannot imagine what life would be like without the piano.

Now I have accepted a new challenge, that of becoming a published novelist, and I find myself thinking like a seven-year old child. Isn't it unfair that all my friends get to go out for afternoons of lunch and shopping and spa pedicures while I sit hunched over my laptop struggling to increase my word count? Poor, pitiful me; the work is so hard and the odds of realizing my dream of being traditionally published seem to grow smaller with every passing day. The difference is that when I was a little girl, my parents monitored my practice, and I had to deal with their consequences if I failed to put in my time. Now, since I answer to no one but myself, and there is no one to stop me from baking chocolate chip cookies, watching reruns of Hoarders, or taking a nap with my dog during the limited time I have set aside for writing.

Recently, though, I got some much-needed encouragement in the form of the critiques from my two entries into the Unpublished Maggie Awards of ExcellenceLast year, my judges were downright harsh. One of them flat-out said "rewrite and try again." This was hard to hear, but deep down inside I knew she was right. So I did what I could to follow the advice I was given while remaining true to my voice as a writer. And it seems that my efforts are beginning to pay off. Because even though I didn't final this year, the comments I received from the published authors who read my work were overall much more positive.

In addition to providing line-by-line critiques, each judge wrote a paragraph or two at the end of my submission sharing her overall impressions. These were very encouraging. This was my favorite, for my work-in-progress titled The Wishing Box.

This seems to be a really sweet story with a great premise. The heroine’s life experiences will be easy for many readers to relate to. The writing is very good, with very few grammatical issues and a great mix of dialogue and narration. 

I also appreciated these remarks on my story An Unexpected Friendship.

Prose is sleek and smooth: moves quite well.
Plot narrative packs good plot tension.
Fine characterizations.
Dialogue is convincing.

The biggest criticism I received for both manuscripts was that they moved too slowly.

One difficulty I had with this story is that the pace is quite slow. I got the feeling many of the scenes in this entry were there to build characters and establish back story. You did a good job of it, but too much back story and not enough action tends to make for a slow read. You might reconsider starting the story later and weaving the back story into the action.

I know I struggle with this. As a reader of women's fiction, I truly enjoy spending time inside the characters' heads, knowing their thoughts and learning about their pasts. For me, it's all about their growth and development; I don't need a lot of action to keep me interested. But since this type of writing doesn't tend to sell as well as faster-paced stories, it is less likely to capture the imagination of an agent or editor. Still, this comment was a little more hopeful.

Pacing is an issue but it would be more serious if the writing weren’t as good. 

So while I like to think I have made improvement in this area, I realize I need to continue working to punch my stories up, to make sure my characters don't turn into "talking heads," and to be sure there is a great "hook" at the end of each chapter to make my books real page-turners.

It was also suggested that I use fewer complex sentences, going with "forceful, simple prose until the reader gets used to my style." More periods; fewer semicolons. That I can do. 

Finally, I got this great suggestion.

Read your manuscript into a tape recorder. Any time you have to stop the tape, you know that is something that needs correcting. You can catch all your dialogue problems, sentence structure issues, etc. You don’t have to play the tape back. 

I can see how this exercise might be very valuable, and look forward to trying it.

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In a strange twist of irony, this morning I got a rejection for The Wishing Box from an agent I submitted a partial manuscript to several weeks ago.

Unfortunately, while you're a good writer, I didn't love this enough to feel that I would be the best advocate for your work. Best wishes for finding a good agent and publisher.

Yes, this was a rejection. But instead of focusing on the negative, what I choose to take away from this is that I AM A GOOD WRITER, that my story really does have potential. I just need to keep polishing it and searching for the right advocate for it. 

That seven-year old girl who practiced the piano for an hour every day? She knew she wanted to be a piano teacher when she grew up, and even though the cost was high, she didn't stop until she accomplished her goal. Like her, I'm going to set the kitchen timer, do my daily practice, and trust that my grown-up dream will come true, too. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grandmother's Button Box

Did your mother have a button box? Mine did; maybe she still does. It was a shiny green and gold Christmas tin, filled to the top with beautiful buttons of every description. When I was a child, I spent hours sifting through it, sorting the baubles by color and size, appreciating the cheerful clatter as I scooped up handfuls and watched them fall through my open fingers.

My grandmother enjoyed crafting and sewing too. Growing up, I spent a week of every summer vacation at her house, and the two of us whiled away many happy hours embroidering felt animals and piecing quilt blocks. In her later years, though, Grandmother was diagnosed with macular degeneration; eventually, she became completely blind and unable to do the hand work she loved and gave away most of her supplies. But after she died, I put together a small basket of some of her beautiful old things.

Old lace, wooden thread spools, darning eggs, a thimble, and shell buttons.
My grandmother has been gone sixteen years now; today, inspired by this blog post and a subsequent email conversation with its author, I made some simple earrings from six matching mother-of-pearl buttons, a handful of jump rings, and a pair of sterling silver ear wires. 

Thanks to Santa! Carolina for the idea.
I plan to use the rest of Grandmother's buttons to make a necklace, a charm-style bracelet, and at least one more pair of dangly earrings.

Next, I will move to my own button box. It contains the leftovers from the long-ago days of sewing for myself and my young boys. And somewhere I have a bag of extra buttons from garments I have purchased over the years. I need to track that down and add them to the collection too.


But I have other unique items I intend to incorporate into some special jewelry pieces.

A map, sand and a seashell, and a black pearl from Tahiti.
The key to my brother Greg's house in southern Illinois.
These mementos will probably be transformed into pendants. When they are finished, I will post pictures here.

Have you ever incorporated memorabilia or family heirlooms into jewelry, crafts or home decor?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Wrap-Up


It's been a busy week here, keeping the home fires burning while back to the business of piano teaching, beading and adding new items to my Etsy store, working on my novel, training for my next 5K, and reading when I'm too tired to do anything else. People sometimes ask me how I manage to do everything; the answer is I don't. At least, I don't do everything every day. But I try not to skip any one thing more than a day at a time. That way, I make steady progress in all areas. From day to day, it doesn't seem like I accomplish very much. But it all adds up over time.

However, I've been in a bit of a funk where my fiction writing is concerned. The Unpublished Maggie Award of Excellence finalists were announced last week, and while I am happy for the winners, I am disappointed that my name was not among them. I still haven't received my critiques; last year, they were so upsetting that I stopped writing altogether for a couple of months, and I really don't want to lose the momentum I have going right now. So I am steeling myself with these words Denise gave me last night, from Steven Pressfield's The War of Art.

The Professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy. Critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it's true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.

The Professional self validates. She is tough minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if I ever final in the Maggies, or even if I ever achieve my dream of being traditionally published. Ultimately, the only opinion that matters is mine. I just need to keep showing up and doing the work. And I'm not going to give up until I've written the best damned book I am capable of writing.

And then I'll move on to the next one. Because I'm a writer. And that's what writers do.

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Thanks to everyone who participated in the Summer Giveaway Blog Hop, and congratulations to Terri Matlock for winning my $10 Amazon gift card. Welcome to all my new followers; I hope you will visit often!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Atlanta Tour de Pink


The YSC Tour de Pink is Atlanta's bike ride for breast cancer. YSC Atlanta is the oldest and largest affiliate of the Young Survival Coalition, ensuring that no young woman faces breast cancer alone. This year's event takes place on September 29th at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park.

In addition to the bike ride, there is a 5K run/walk; since I don't bicycle, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the running event. All participants are required to raise a minimum of $125, but my goal is $500. Click HERE to go to my fundraising page; any donation, however, small, is greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ABDICATION by Juliet Nicolson



I tend to gravitate towards modern-day women's fiction, so I wasn't prepared for this book to resonate with me like it did. A fictional account of the events surrounding the abdication of King Edward VIII from the throne at the beginning of the second World War, Abdication weaves the stories of the actual participants and imaginary onlookers in a seamless and engrossing way.

First, we meet May Thomas, newly arrived in England from the island of Barbados, who along with her brother is struggling to create a new life for themselves in the home of their cousin. Her situation improves when she is hired as a secretary and driver for Sir Philip Blunt, a member of the king's cabinet. She meets important and influential people such as spinster Evangeline Nettlefield, who has come all the way from Baltimore to visit her godmother, Lady Blunt, and her childhood friend, Wallis Simpson. May is instructed to close her eyes to the controversy that surrounds her, but as time goes by, Evangeline realizes that Wallis has become more than just a friend to the king. At first, she supports this, but over time she grows to resent her friend's neglect and begins to seek opportunities for revenge.

We also meet Oxford graduate Julian Richardson, close friend of Sir Blunt's son Rupert, who has a heart for the underprivileged and a deep concern for the trouble he sees brewing in his country and around the world. He finds May to be an intelligent and sympathetic confidant, and over time their affection for each other grows to the point that neither of them can deny it, although it is unsuitable for them to declare it. Evangeline's crush on the much younger Julian adds some comic relief from time to time.

A fascinating take on the love affair that rocked a nation on the brink of war, Abdication is authentically satisfying. With its great cast of characters, attention to detail, and historical accuracy, I highly recommend this book, especially to anyone who would like to learn more about the history of the time.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE from the publisher, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Christmas in August


Inspired by the cooler temperatures here in metro Atlanta this morning - it's not even 80 degrees yet, and it's almost noon! - I pulled out some beads and findings and put together some holiday earrings.

I made shiny, iridescent Christmas trees

These really sparkle.
and cheerful snowman expressing their individual personalities through the colors of the scarves.

Fuschia.
Sapphire.
Amethyst.
(Out of focus. Sorry.)
Then I made another pair of earrings from some black crystal moon beads I bought ages ago.

I am looking forward to wearing these.
I really need to stop beading until I get some better photographs and add all these new pieces, along with everything I made over the summer, to my Etsy store. But making the jewelry is the fun part.

Am I the only one thinking about Christmas today?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy New (School) Year


Ever since the day I started kindergarten, I have been either a student or a teacher. As such, my life revolves around academic years as opposed to calendar years. Back when I was a child, school started the day after Labor Day and wrapped up before Memorial Day; summer break was long and lazy. But here in Gwinnett County, Georgia, school starts today--TODAY!!--and runs through the end of May, although my piano teaching year goes well into June, leaving only five or six weeks of unscheduled time. And I seem to spend most of it time tying up loose ends from the year just left behind and preparing for the one that is to follow.

I made myself a very ambitious list of goals for this year's summer break. The truth is that I didn't even come close to accomplishing them all. But I ate healthy and exercised; I made some real headway in my home, de-cluttering and deep cleaning; I feel that I am finally back on track with my writing; and I made lots of jewelry that I will be adding to my Etsy store over the next couple of weeks (more on that tomorrow.) And I had a lot of fun. I sang karaoke and went dancing; I spent time with my family; I went on a handful of first dates; I even managed to get my heart broken

It's true that I didn't check every item off my to-do list. But I did a lot of living in five short weeks. As a result, I feel rested and rejuvenated, ready to start the "new year." My piano is tuned, my studio is tidy, and I am really excited about seeing my students again, hearing about their summers and getting them back on track with their music making. 

Now I'm ready to go back to living without goals. I will take care of my body, my family, my home, my business, and treat my writing like a job, too. After all, I am an adult with grown-up responsibilities. But as much as possible, I am going to follow the whisperings of my heart--trusting that every day will find me exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Writing Mission Statement

A personalized coffee mug does not a writer make.
But having one doesn't hurt.
Here, as promised in Monday's blog post, is my writing mission statement.

To encourage, inspire and empower others by writing stories about strong individuals who do not allow life’s obstacles stand in the way of their dreams.
  • To be an active participant in the writing community through membership in professional associations, blogging, writing book reviews, critiquing, and social networking.
  • To improve my craft as a fiction writer through reading how-to books, attending workshops, meeting regularly with a critique partner and/or group, and daily practice.
  • To create a body of work including novels, short stories, and nonfiction essays and explore various means of publication for each so as to reach the largest audience.
In addition, I think it might be useful to create a separate mission statement for each of my individual writing projects, including the two novels in progress, a short story I am finishing for my group blog, a collection of nonfiction essays, and the blog you are reading right now. But this is the panoramic view of my writing career as a whole.

I think I can.