Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Characters

I've been thinking about characters lately - specifically the ones that I have created. I have some favorites. I once wrote a long post about a character who has been with me since the 7th grade.

But I've had lots of characters pop into my head since the 7th grade, and I like them all - even the villains! - although some of them stand out more than others. There's Nicolas and Genevieve from my Regency historical...Bess and Erich from my World War II novel...Josef from a short story I wrote...Jillian from another short story...the list goes on!

Do you have some favorite characters from your work?

P.S. - Don't forget! If you want to participate in the "unofficial" Just Write Challenge for January, drop me a note in the comments or email me at melissaamateis at earthlink dot net!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

At Long Last

As promised, here are pictures of the famous (or is it now infamous?) butterball soup. Here are the delectable dumplings right out of the freezer, ready to be plopped into the yummy chicken soup.

I'm not sure exactly how my grandmother makes this soup, but it is incredibly tasty. There's no chicken in it (although you can add some) but just these little noodles, chicken broth, and butterballs, plus whatever magical ingredient she adds to make it mouth-wateringly delicious.

Boil 'em for a bit until they get just a little soft. Then hurry and get a ladel-full before they disappear!

Then enjoy! This soup didn't last long on Christmas Eve. Our family just dives right into it, including my daughter.

And speaking of my daughter, Santa was good to her this year. I think it's because she left him such a nice note and a yummy snack. And here is her present - a stuffed Bolt (from the Disney movie that she has seen twice, once in 3D as she likes to tell everyone) that has laser eyes, a sonic bark, and a wagging tail. This dog literally has not left her side since she got it.
Of course, not to be outdone by ol' Saint Nick, I had to get her a Bolt t-shirt, as well.

Last night, I finally unpacked and got my laundry done (though not folded) and also went to the grocery store to restock my cupboards. And thanks to my handy dandy notebook (forgive me...that's a hangover from watching too much Blue's Clues years ago!), I know exactly where I need to go with the novel and even worked out a bit of a plot hiccup while I was home with my family. I still feel very much atune to the story, so I'd say my method of staying in touch is a success, and I can't wait to get back to it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reminiscing

I got home pretty late last night - around 9 p.m. - and when you have to unload all the Christmas presents and various other stuff, plus get ready for work the next day, that's late. And after 5 hours of driving, well, let's just say I was ready for bed.

But my best friend from college had planned to stay the night with me, so I was looking forward to visiting with her, even though I knew we wouldn't have much time. She arrived about 30 minutes after I got home and even though both of us were tired and the clock kept ticking later and later, we laughed and laughed, caught up on each other's lives (she's getting married next year!) and even looked through some old college photos.

We have a great relationship - sometimes it's a few months before we're in contact with each other, but it doesn't matter at all. We pick up right where we left off. That's what best friends are for!

I had plenty of time to reminisce with my family, too. Whenever we get together, inevitably the old stories come out. I love listening to them, and I swear that next time I'm going to hide a recorder somewhere so I can eventually write them down. We ate lots of food through the few days I was there - butterball soup (pictures forthcoming), homemade raviolis, chicken parmesan, and incredibly yummy cookies and cake. Oh my. I didn't think about my diet when I was home - but you can be sure I'll be hitting the gym hard in the upcoming weeks.

This Christmas was a bit harder since it was my first Christmas without my grandfather. His passing in August was incredibly hard on all of us, but I firmly believe that his spirit was there with us during the celebration. On Christmas Eve, as I looked around at all of my cousins and my own family, I couldn't help but marvel at how our family has grown. And it all started with my beloved grandparents.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Wrap-Up

Greetings from western Nebraska! It took me 5 hours to get here on Christmas Eve, but the long trip was definitely worth it. I had Christmas Eve (and butterball soup!) at my grandmother's house and rest assured, I took plenty of pictures of butterball soup for you. But you'll have to wait until I can download them to see their yummy goodness. :-)

Christmas Day was presents, presents, and family! We had a yummy Christmas dinner, came back to my mother's house and opened presents, and then had a wonderful visit. That's the best part about Christmas - visiting with the family.

Yesterday I went with my family to go see Adam Sandler's new movie, Bedtime Stories. It is such a great movie - warm and funny and incredibly cute. If you have the chance to see it, it's a great movie for families.

Today I'm off to my brother's farm for more visiting and fun. And I may even check out the cows, too. ;-)

How was your Christmas?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

May the love, joy, and peace of the Christmas season fill you to overflowing.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Kindness of Little Strangers

Last night, I had some unexpected Christmas shopping to do. I wasn't too thrilled about heading out to the mall on the day before Christmas Eve, but I was excited to find just the perfect present.

I have a friend, an illustrator and an artist, who wrote a children's book. I helped him with the writing part and now all he has to do is get his tush in gear and illustrate it. But he has lots going on in his life with a wife and three kids and extracurricular activities galore. So since his story involves zoo animals, I decided to buy each animal in the story as a gentle reminder for him to get it done.

When I got to the hobby store, I found they had a huge bin of animals with little tubes that you could fill. There was a young boy, probably a little younger than my daughter, who was eagerly combing through the animals. When I started searching for the animals, he said, "You can fill a whole tube for $5!"

I replied, "Wow, really? That's a great deal."

So I started to dig through the assortment of plastic animals. There were lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), and bugs and dinosaurs and giraffes. But I really needed an alligator or a crocodile. I decided to ask the little guy if this animal assortment had alligators.

"I'd be real surprised if they don't," he said (very wisely, I might add.) I agreed. We kept digging. Then he looked up at the sign above the bins and pointed. "Look! There's a crocodile up there! There's sure to be one in here."

So we kept digging. And digging. I found all the other animals I needed, but I couldn't find a crocodile. The little boy's dad told him it was time to go. I thanked him for all his help and he said, quite wisely again, "You're quite welcome."

I kept digging for the crocodile. No luck. When I'd given up and decided my gift would have to do minus the alligator/crocodile, I started walking toward the front of the store. Suddenly, the little boy ran toward me and said, "I found one! I found a crocodile!"

"You did?" I said.

"Yeah! Up here!"

He showed me right where the crocodile was and again, I thanked him, and also told the little boy's father what a very nice young man he had. He smiled and said thank you. I hope I made his evening. :-)

So I went home with all my plastic animals in tow, incredibly grateful for the kindness of little strangers.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The War

This picture by Norman Rockwell speaks volumes. The soldier holding the Japanese flag. The folded hands of the little boy sitting next to the soldier. The blue star flag on the wall. The expressions of the men listening to him. Solemn. Proud. Wanting to hear the soldier's stories. And oh, what stories he has to tell.

Talking about their experiences was one way World War II veterans could begin to heal from the war. On Ken Burn's The War, the wife and sister of WW2 veterans said that after the war, they all used to sit on their front porch in the evenings and the vets would tell stories about what they'd been through. She said as she got older, she realized it was a healing process for them. For the majority of vets, going to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist about their nightmares or depression wasn't an option. As one veteran put it, the doctor he went to see said to "put it behind him" and just get over it.

But how do you get over seeing your best friend killed, or sitting in a foxhole in the rain with a dead soldier? There are so, so many horrific memories they had to deal with. And most of the time, they dealt with them on their own. Some, like Eugene Sledge, who served in the Pacific, grappled with the memories for the rest of his life, burying his mind in science and biology to try and keep the horrific memories at bay. Others couldn't deal with the nightmares and lost their homes, their jobs, their families.

Thankfully, today's veterans and returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are much more fortunate in finding help for their emotional trauma than those of the Greatest Generation. Directly resulting from the Vietnam experience, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was officially recognized. Now, help is readily available for those who grapple with these issues (although to be fair, a stigma is still attached to seeking help - many men feel it makes them look weak - understandable in a warrior mindset, which is what a soldier is.). While the pain is still the same, the understanding of society and the medical community that PTSD and stress injuries are real makes all the difference in the world. During World War I, many generals who were not in the field (and who would want to be in those incredibly horrific trenches?) actually scoffed at those who suffered from "shell shock" and even disciplined those men who had it. What a barbaric attitude to have. Thank the Lord we do not have that mentality today.

I've been studying PTSD and other combat-related emotional injuries for my novel. It's sobering stuff. Flashbacks, reexperiencing their bad memories, dissociative states, nightmares...all of them torturous reminders of what they went through. Some veterans heal and with the help of others, they get through it. They are the fortunate ones. Others live with the nightmares for the rest of their life. I even found an article for nursing home employees to help them cope with the emotional suffering of World War II vets from their experiences in the war. That is 60 years of dealing with emotional trauma. I simply cannot imagine.

My character in my novel suffers from PTSD. Of course, they didn't call it that back then, but had other words for it - battle fatigue, shell shock. Getting into his head, trying to experience what he's going through, is extremely difficult. I know I'll never completely understand. But hopefully, I can show just how much World War II veterans suffered - and continue to suffer - and how much of society just didn't understand. This is a fiction writer's challenge - and one I am eager, and humbled, to have.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Beauty of Relaxing

(Photo from Flickr)

In this busy season, relaxing (if you can) is absolutely imperative to making through the season with a smile on your face instead of a scowl. And who wants to be a Scrooge this time of year?

So relaxing is just what I did this weekend, and I was perfectly ok with that, especially since the temperatures dipped below zero (with a wind chill of -14) on Sunday. I did manage to go exercise on Saturday, got a bit of writing done, and even made a yummy egg bake. I finished wrapping Christmas presents beside the fireplace, and then watched my favorite Christmas movie, Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck.

Sunday I finished reading Hour of the Cat by Peter Quinn. Even though it's billed as a detective novel set in New York City on the eve of World War II, it is so much more. I plan to review it over at my other blog, The Best of World War II, so if you're interested in it, pop on over there in the upcoming days for a review.

Continuing my World War II theme of the day, I started another book, Jeff Shaara's The Rising Tide, then finished watching the rest of Ken Burns's The War. Wow. It is an incredible series. If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend it. The storytelling is haunting and very powerful.

Also got a bit more writing done on the novel (I love updating my word count bar!). I'm hitting the final 1/4 of the book and I'm trying to figure out how everything is going to fall into place. I think I have it mapped out in my mind, but we'll see how it translates to the page.

I feel ready to enjoy the week ahead! What about you? Are you taking the time to relax during this busy season?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Day to Write


The Christmas shopping is done with only a few packages left to wrap. The cards are sent out. It's snowing outside, the wind is blowing, and it's a perfect time to stay indoors, tucked up on the couch with a good book - or the laptop.

My story is calling my name today. I think I shall answer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Staying In Touch


This time of year is usually when we send Christmas cards or e-cards, make lots of phone calls, and catch up with our friends and family. But that's not the type of "staying in touch" I mean. Rather, I'm talking about staying in touch with your manuscript during this busy season.

I'll be honest. My work on the novel hasn't been going much of anywhere during the weekdays - the weekend is when I get most of my fiction writing done. Reason? I have freelance work with deadlines that need to be met and well, since I get paid for those projects, they come first. I do about one of them a night during the week. This leaves little time for the novel. Now I could forego the time spent with my daughter during the evening and work on the novel, but I absolutely refuse to do that.

So if I don't get a chance to write on my novel during the week (and hopefully, I can start squeezing it in), I need to "stay in touch" with the story line so that I can pick up where I left off.

I'm doing this a few ways:

1) Writing in my "book journal." This is different from my ordinary journal since it focuses solely on my novel. This journal contains notes, research items, plot points, ideas, character motivations, etc. I love using it because all of my important stuff is in one spot. When I haven't had the opportunity to work on the novel, I write something in the journal that keeps my head in the story.

2) Reading through the manuscript. It's amazing what you forget. For example, one of my main characters was wounded in World War II. And in the last few chapters I wrote, I completely forgot about his injury. Whoops.

I decided to start "staying in touch" because when I came back from my trip to England, I hadn't looked at my novel in weeks. And then I moved. That only postponed the writing. So when I finally had the chance to dive back into it, it took me a very long time to get my head wrapped around the story again.

I don't want to deal with that again. It is much too painful - and it's not a very productive use of my time, either.

Do you have ways that you keep in touch with your story?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Show Me the Money!

For the past two evenings, my daughter and I have been battling over the Monopoly board. Since I am a huge Snoopy collector, I bought a Snoopy-themed Monopoly game a few years ago and it's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

What fun is that?

So when my daughter opened said drawer, spotted it, and asked if we could play, I thought, why not?

This game is so darn cute. Instead of real estate, you actually buy Snoopy's property: his typewriter (Literary Ace); his sunglasses (Joe Cool); his golf clubs (Joe Golfer) and numerous others.


The little game pieces are just adorable. Here's the two we picked out - I'm the Dancing Snoopy and my daughter is Snoopy the Red Baron. And boy, does it ever fit her take-no-prisoners style of playing!


I figured since I've played this game numerous times before, I'd go easy on my eight-year-old daughter. Big mistake. She has obviously played it before with her dad and she is quite the financial wizard! She loves it when she buys property and loves it even more when I land on that property. Look at this - she even put houses on them!


For the "railroads" on this particular game, they substituted the seasons - fall, winter, spring, summer. And if you buy all four, well, the poor person who lands on one of them has to pay out the yin yang. I can't begin to count how many times I landed on those seasons...and yes, she bought all four of them.

"Show me the money, Mom!"

"Watch out, Snoopy! You're risking almost certain financial ruin if you land on 'summer'!"
Toward the end of last night's game, my daughter actually had a stack of $100 bills- and no, I didn't let her cheat, didn't let her get away with anything. She earned it all by being, well, just incredibly good at this game.

We are having an absolute blast. And hey, I may be broke by the end of the game, but that's ok. I'm spending time with my daughter, she's learning how to count money (and boy, is she learning to count a lot of it), and we are not missing the t.v. at all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Goal: To Write!

According to the poll in the right-hand column, February is the month in which people most wanted to do some sort of Nano-type challenge. Now if you're late to the party and didn't get to vote, you can still participate!Here's the challenge we're doing. We each set our own goals for the month. Maybe you want to finish your novel or write three short stories and submit them or finish editing your manuscript. Whatever that goal is, you must strive to meet it for that particular month. It's really not the same mentality as NaNo in that you have to write 50k - rather, it's more of an accountability and motivating tool.

I know some of you have expressed interest in doing this for more than one month, so here is what I've come up with.

Our official Just Write Challenge will begin on February 1, 2009. If you meet your goal, you'll be rewarded with a special prize. (Details on that later). I will set up a blog just for our challenge where you will be able to post your progress daily, every other day, weekly, whatever. Remember - our goal here is to support and motivate one another to accomplish our writing goals.

However, if you would like to participate in the "unofficial" Just Write Challenge - i.e. January or March or both - then the process will be the same. The only difference is I will not be awarding prizes - though I do plan to come up with a graphic that you can put on your blog/website if you accomplish your goal.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me or leave a comment on the blog.

Here's what you need to do now:

1) Let me know which month(s) you'd like to participate. FYI: It is preferable that you have a Blogger account so that you can post your progress reports on the Just Write Challenge Blog.

2) Start thinking about what goal(s) you hope to accomplish

And that's it. I'll take care of the rest! As the date gets closer, I'll email each of the participants to let them know the details.

Want to get motivated with your writing? Need some support along the way? Then join us!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SNOW!

YES! We have snow! I woke up this morning, ran over to the window, and just about jumped up and down like a little kid when I saw a bunch of the white stuff on the ground. My daughter was less than enthusiastic, but she's not a morning person, so I'll forgive her. :-)

The commute to school and work wasn't bad at all, thanks to my handy 4x4 Jeep Liberty. It's still snowing as we speak and since I have a window in my office cube, I get to watch it. Hurrah!

And, being the dork that I am, I was actually singing the Winter Wonderland song this morning on the drive to work. Hehe.

It's still very cold outside and I had to put an extra blanket on my bed last night to keep warm. But now, at least, I get to hum the song, "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas." :-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

I woke up this morning to a phone call from our public schools saying that buses would be running late due to the extreme cold. Now that's cold! My own car wasn't too happy about starting, either, but it did and my daughter and I went off to school and work. Thankfully, she could go right into the school building instead of waiting outside like they normally do. It made me remember when I was her age and we had to stay outside on cold days like this - barbaric.

Had a nice weekend - went out with friends Friday night to hear a live band and remembered just why I do not like the party scene anymore. As the night goes on, other people (not my friends) get stupid drunk and I have no tolerance for being around them. Plus, trying to talk to my friends while shouting over the loud music is frustrating. I'd much rather go to a quiet place, have a nice glass of wine, and visit with my friends.

Saturday I got all my Christmas shopping done. Hurrah! Sunday I managed to get in a work-out, buy a few groceries, and then wrote 3K on the novel. When my daughter came home from her dad's, we decided to wrap presents. Well, I did most of the wrapping while she put her imagination to work and built a sleigh! And here's the picture to prove it:

Loaded up with presents...(I know, they're all wrapped with the same wrapping paper, but wrapping paper is expensive and I couldn't justify buying more than one).
Here's the sleigh hooked up not to a reindeer, but to the "Christmas Dog."
Imagination - my daughter has it!

So I'm ready for Christmas - cards have been sent, gifts all bought (though I am still waiting for some to arrive in the mail) and presents wrapped. I don't know that I will do anymore holiday baking, but we'll see.

Now if I could just get a little snow...



Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Social Experiment

What would it be like to write all your stories, your novels, your letters, with a feather quill pen and ink? In this modern era of computers and email, it's rare to receive hand-written letters, rarer still to write a letter with a quill pen and ink. But in the not-so-distant past, writers used these simple tools. Charles Dickens. William Shakespeare. Jane Austen. Thomas Jefferson!

In my quest to celebrate the traditions of the past, I decided to embark on an experiment. I bought a quill feather pen, a jar of black ink, and parchment paper.



Getting the pen to work and figuring everything out proved a bit challenging. As you can see, I had a few fits and starts with it.

Some of the words are darker than others. I was surprised at how long the ink lasted from just one dip into the inkwell. And there is a certain art to how much pressure you put on the pen itself as to how dark your letters will appear.


I have a friend from college who I discussed this whole social experiment with, and I think he's agreed to join me in it. We plan to write letters, using these tools, back and forth to one another. Our letters, however, will not be "hi, how ya doin'?" type letters, but instead will take on a more philosophical slant. I envision something of a return to the great thinkers and writers of the past who used to exchange letters with each other, discussing their ideas and their thoughts on different subjects.

So here is the letter I wrote him. As you can see, there are a few blotches of ink and some words are bolder than others, which gives the reader the effect of having more emphasis on certain words when there shouldn't be.

The first time I traveled to England, I bought a wax sealing set. Since that was more than 12 years ago, you can see that the wax hasn't held up the best. The seal has my initial, M, on it.

To my delight, the wax still worked, though it took a bit of doing (and a slight burned finger in the process) to get the wax on the parchment. When I was finished with my letter, I folded the parchment and then sealed it. This is how it turned out.

I plan to pop it in the mail tomorrow. I'm sure the postman will probably look at it a bit strangely, but as long as it's got a stamp on it, it should go through the mail system just fine. If not, I'll invest in a few envelopes.

After the first initial "test", I think the neatest thing is the scratching sound of the quill on the parchment. It makes the whole process more...real. And I felt a connection to those writers of the past who used these tools, and admired them all the more for it. It took me a bit longer to write this letter with this method vs. a regular pen, and even longer vs. the computer. But it was the experience that was so wonderful.

I plan to try out a few different quill tips (nibs, I believe they're called) and also try some different colored inks and different types of paper. I also plan to pen a short story to give me an even better feel for the writers of the past and the process they used.
Care to join me?

Friday, December 12, 2008

That Darn Metabolism


This is a picture of me from my office Christmas party. I rather like it, except for the fact that it shows that darn extra weight I gained back after losing two years ago. Talk about frustrating! And why is it always harder to lose weight when you get older? Your metabolism just isn't the same, I guess.

When I was in high school and college, I ate whatever I wanted - and since my grandmother and my mother were wonderful cooks and made scrumptious baked goods, I indulged my sweet tooth. Probably not a good thing since I still have that sweet tooth, but do not have the metabolism I did back then! I was also pretty darn lazy. I didn't exercise because I didn't like to exercise and making sure I ate my vegetables wasn't a big priority.

I regret not forming those habits earlier in my life. It's a lot harder now that I have a full-time job, a daughter to raise, and other responsibilities I didn't have then. So now I'm trying to make good, healthy habits - exercising at least three times a week (more if I can squeeze it in), choosing healthy meals to cook, and avoiding indulging my sweet tooth. (Thank goodness for Dove Dark Chocolate! It's actually good for me and it satisfies the craving for sweets.)

Two years ago, my doctor diagnosed me with diabetes. It wasn't a big shock since my dad had been diagnosed a few years ago and the disease runs in my family. But I think I developed it earlier because of my extra weight, a result of botched birth control and things going completely out of whack with my body after I had my daughter. Hypothyroidism and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) are also things I was diagnosed with after her birth.

So yeah, I have a few health challenges to combat. And that's why I dearly wish I had those healthy habits established earlier in life.

Here's the good news - I lost 30 pounds two years ago after my diabetes diagnosis. I got my blood sugars under control and felt great. I was exercising and eating right. I continued to drop the weight and loved going shopping for new clothes!

And then my husband landed in the hospital with a very nasty staph infection (so bad he had to go to the ER) and this whole thing lasted for two months. Hubby was out of work for that time, was in and out of the hospital for surgeries, and I was the only breadwinner in the family. Talk about stress. And when I'm stressed...I eat. And when you're going to the hospital all the time and sitting there and there's not much to do, you get darn tired, have no energy to exercise, don't want to exercise, and eat stuff you're not supposed to eat. The result? Weight gain.

So I know I can do this. I've done it before. I already know what I have to do - exercise and eat right. That's it. No special diet, no following meal plans, no counting calories. It's getting myself in that mode that is the problem. I think I'm almost there. I allow myself a baked good every once in awhile, which is perfectly ok, and I joined my new fitness club which is open 24-7, allowing me to go on the weekends or whenever I feel like it.

Hopefully in a few months, you'll see another picture of me, minus a few pounds!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just A Bit of Snow...Please?

Monday we were supposed to get a big snow storm. The weather service issued a winter storm watch and I was excited as could be at the prospect of the white stuff on the ground. Well, as the evening wore on, they canceled the storm watch, but said we still had a pretty darn good chance (I'd say 80% is pretty darn good, wouldn't you?) of getting snow.

The wind howled all night long, waking both my daughter and I up, and I peered outside to see if it had snowed yet. Nothing. I went back to sleep, confident I'd open my eyes and see that pure, crystal blanket of snow.

No such luck.

Now, I'll be the first to say that I don't like driving in snow and ice. It can be terribly dangerous if you aren't paying attention and don't know what you're doing, much less worrying about the other people around you who aren't paying attention and think that yakking on their cell phones is perfectly appropriate at a time like this (I cannot even begin to count how many times I have seen this!).

But really...just a bit of snow. I'll take an inch. Enough to coat the ground and cover up the grass. Enough to really put me in the Christmas spirit. Please?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Carol of the Bells

Last night my brother and his girlfriend came for a visit. We reminisced about Christmases past, listened to Christmas carols from a set of records that I inherited from my mother, and laughed and joked about all the fun we had as kids during the Christmas season. It was wonderful.

My brother also reminded me of this hilarious Claymation skit that we watched when we were kids.



Oh my. This is just classic!

It was great to take a walk down memory lane again. As you age, I think a lot of those memories grow more and more dear. I know they always bring a smile to my face and a touch of sadness, as well. Those days are inching further and further away. People grow up, get married, have kids of their own, and start traditions of their own. That's the way life is. But I hope I can carry on those traditions with my daughter. :-)

No writing done last night, except for a freelance project, but I thought about my novel on and off all day long. I'm to an interesting point and I look forward to seeing what my characters decide to do!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Setting the Mood

Do you ever like to "set the mood" when you write?

For me, sometimes I like to have everything "just so." If I'm writing at my desktop computer, I want my desk to be cleared of everything, my lamp on, my candle lit, and of course, my beverage of choice, Diet Pepsi, nearby. Music is optional sometimes, but I have found some great classical and baroque music stations that I can stream via Windows Media, therefore eliminating the need to change CD's over and over (I know, I know, I can copy my CD's onto my media player, but that's at the bottom of my "to do list").

When I get the urge to use my laptop to write, I'll usually have a few other things I need to do - music playing on the Crosley radio (last night it was Frank Sinatra's early stuff when he was with Columbia Records), a relatively clean house, maybe a bit of dark chocolate on hand, and of course, the Diet Pepsi.

This "mood" can invariably change. Sometimes I don't light the candle. Sometimes I have copious amounts of dark chocolate. Sometimes I want silence when I write, and would rather just sit in front of the fireplace instead of having music in the background.

And sometimes, I don't need to "set the mood" at all - I'll just sit down, open up my file, and start writing (though I almost always need something to drink, whether it's water or even cranberry juice).

Do you do anything special to "set the mood" when you write?

A Few Words on the NaNo Challenge...

I don't know if you read my comment in yesterday's comments section, but I do want to make it clear that this NaNo challenge we're going to do in January or February or maybe even March is not really a NaNo at all. Instead, it's more of a "set a goal and meet it" challenge. For example, my goal is to finish my novel. Maybe someone else's goal is to write 1000 words a day. Someone else could choose to write five short stories and submit them all. Whatever it is, that is what you will work toward for that month. If you're interested, vote in the poll located in the top right corner or drop me a note in the comments!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Interested in a January or Februrary NaNo?


A few people have expressed interest in doing a NaNo, only for the months of January and February (or possibly March) instead. Let's decide on a month and pencil it in on the calendar, ok? And anyone else is more than welcome to join us. We'll keep it fairly simple - just try to support and encourage each other as much as possible. And maybe I'll even throw in a reward for the winners - nothing too big - but it will be added motivation for you. I've thrown up a poll on the right to decide which month to do this in - so if you're interested, vote! I'll compile the results at the end of the week and let you know.


In Other News...

Got quite a bit of writing done over the weekend - on the novel and my freelance stuff. I also submitted my short story (the Christmas one I talked about here) to two different places with only a few minor changes. We'll see what happens!

Saturday afternoon I made my turkey chili and my diabetic-friendly chocolate chip cookies. The turkey chili didn't turn out so hot (probably because I neglected to buy chili powder!) and the cookies turned out, well...interesting. The recipe called for powdered sugar, brown sugar, and apple sauce. They taste fine, but they're not what I'm used to. And it was darn fun making homemade cookies again. Here's a small confession: I haven't done that in years. How sad is that? But I really enjoyed it and hope to try out more healthy recipes.

Also found a bit of time Saturday night to watch another episode of Ken Burns' The War. I bought the whole set on DVD and am slowly making my way through it. Finished episode six last night and have one more to go. This series is incredibly well-done. It really gets to the heart of the World War II conflict - the human side.

If you'll notice, I added a word count meter to my blog. It's my little way of keeping myself motivated to write. I'm one of those weird people who likes to update things like that. So I'm hopeful it will encourage me to keep at it.

Don't forget - if you're interested in doing a NaNo in January, February, or March, vote and let me know which month you'd like, and drop me a line in the comments section!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

This and That


Last night we had our office Christmas party. It's the type of party where you get all dressed up, go to a lovely venue, and eat wonderful food. I went by myself and had a blast. I have some very good friends among my co-workers and we had so much fun together.

Now that the party is over, it's time for me to get serious about the writing today. That's the thing about November and December - there is so much going on that it's difficult to stay focused. So I am thinking that for those long, winter nights (and days) of January and February, we who didn't participate in NaNo because we didn't have the time, should try a JaNo or a FebNo. I'm thinking the success rate would be pretty good since there isn't any major holiday (i.e. the ones where you must prepare for weeks for) in either of those months. Anyway, it's an idea I've been kicking around. I bet a lot of people could use the motivation and support to write during those two months since they're kind of gloomy and cold.

On tap for today, however, is hopefully a lot of writing. I'm at a good point in my manuscript to just go ahead and dive right in. Let's hope that's exactly what I do!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Butterball Soup


Christmas means tradition for a lot of us. And in my family, it means butterball soup on Christmas Eve at Grandma Lucy's house. No, we don't take a butterball turkey, throw it into a pot, and stew it until done. Butterballs are a traditional Germans-from-Russia dish that I have been eating since, well, birth!

Here's what a butterball is made of (and sorry, I don't have any pictures and there is none to be found on the web, but I will get you a pic when I go home for Christmas):

Butter
Bread crumbs
Sweet cream
Eggs
Salt
Allspice

Fattening? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely.

You mix all this together and then form it into walnut-shaped balls. There's a trick to making them, and it's not hard at all to mess them up. I myself haven't tried my hand at them (yet), having left that task to my wonderful grandmother. Her parents came to this country from Russia - their ancestors were Germans that had immigrated to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great.

So in essence, the butterball is probably a highly-regional dish. Western Nebraska, where I'm from originally, has a dense population of Germans from Russia and you can find butterballs in the store. But not where I live now - which means if I want these delectable little guys, I have to go home to get them.

I've told a lot of people about butterball soup over the years and I don't think I've found one person outside of where I grew up that has heard about them. I even asked one of my grad school professors, who was born and raised in Germany, and she'd never heard of them, either.

But every Christmas Eve, that's what we have - butterball soup, which is basically just chicken soup and noodles with some butterballs thrown in. To me, it's not Christmas without it, or without being at my grandmother's house, surrounded by family, and opening presents. That's just what we do on Christmas Eve.

Does your family have a traditional food you eat every Christmas?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Resdiscovered


I've always loved history. I'm not quite sure when my fascination began, but the stories I read as a young adult were more often than not set in England, France, and early America. I loved reading about the French Revolution, the American Civil War and the American Revolution, and Georgian and Regency England.

It wasn't until the last five years or so that I've really started to focus on World War II and the 1940s. I've written one novel set in that time period and my current WIP is also set in the 1940s. But my trip to England in October reawakened my love of that earlier history - the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras. Maybe it was the gorgeous country homes of Chatsworth and Blenheim, or the quaint old churches, or the cobblestone streets. Whatever it was, that passion is now back with a vengeance.

I've recently re-discovered The Victorian Trading Company. Oh. My. Goodness. Talk about treasures! If I had the money, I'd buy all their reproduction antique furniture and turn my home into a stylish and romantic house. Instead, I bought a few Christmas gifts from them as well as one or two little gifts for myself. :-)

But of course, all this reawakening has had an effect on my writer's brain, and I've got niggling little ideas of novels set in the American Revolution or in Georgian England or even Victorian London. Yet I am still in love with the 1940s time period and have so, so many ideas for books set during World War II.

The problem? Research. I am a stickler for it. I feel like I really need to fully understand the time period I'm writing about in order to accurately portray it - as should all writers. But when the eras are so vastly different, I wonder if I'll be able to downshift from one to the other. And all of that research takes time. Lots and lots of it.

One of my very favorite authors is Rosalind Laker. Reading her historical novels began my love affair with history, and her books were always set in different time periods: Napoleonic France, Norway in World War II, Elizabethan England, and even 18th century Venice. I've just got to wonder, though, how did she do it? How did she keep all those facts straight in her head? How did she decide when she had enough research? How did she have time to do the research and the writing? (And since she's still writing, how does she continue to do it?)

Part of me is incredibly frustrated when I think about it all. There are so many stories and time periods
that I want to dive into. But there is only so much time in the day - and it's not nearly enough to accomplish all that I want! That's a major reason why I booted the t.v. to the curb. I do not miss it at all. (Ok, ok, I missed it a little Tuesday when I was at home sick, but I read and finished Anita Shreve's Resistance instead.)

So! The solution? I'm not sure. And don't even get me started on the whole "branding" issue...if I write a World War II novel first, then an American Revolution novel second, will that completely destroy my fan base? Sigh. Too many things to think about.

Wise bloggers, what advice do ye have for my troubled mind?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tailoring Your Stories


I have a Christmas story I wrote a few years ago that I just love. I would like to see it published somewhere, but this type of story - more of a romantic, feel-good Christmas story - probably won't make it into any literary story magazines. And the facts are, there are not a lot of print magazines that take genre-type short stories.

Through Diane, I have looked at some of the British magazines that focus on short stories. When I was in England, I picked up a copy of The People's Friend at a train station and thoroughly enjoyed reading all the short stories. This magazine has been around since 1869! That's pretty darn impressive. I would like to submit my Christmas story to them because I certainly think it meets the guidelines and might be the type of story they're looking for.

The problem? My story isn't set in Great Britain - it's set in America. For that reason alone, I'm hesitant to send it. All the stories I read in the issue of The People's Friend that I bought were set in the U.K., so I'm not sure if they're even open to stories with a different setting.

Now, here comes the snag. Should you tailor a story, one that has already been polished and one you are very satisfied with, to meet a market? It would take quite a lot of time to "overhaul" this story - it wouldn't be merely a matter of changing the place names and the language a bit. I think the essence of the story would be the same, however.

Part of me thinks I should go ahead and try to rewrite sections of it and see what happens while the other part of me would rather it stay exactly the way it is. The question is, will it ever be published in its current state?

What would you do?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sniffles

Here's how to define sheer misery on a cold, December day: sitting in your cubicle at work, sneezing, sniffling, blowing your nose, and trying to keep your face from slamming into your keyboard.

Here's how to define sheer joy on a cold, December night: sitting in your daughter's bedroom while Dr. Marsh (a.k.a. your daughter) writes down your vital signs and diagnoses you with a "warm cold." The symptoms of a warm cold include: a temperature of 10 degrees; no hard beat (read: no pulse); throat temperature of five degrees; and a wet ear. ("Mom, I'm being serious here. I really am a doctor.")

Cure for the warm cold? Get two hours and 10 minutes of sleep, drink water, and drink cranberry juice. I even have a doctor's note with instructions. And Dr. Marsh told me I would be well in 4 days. I even got a prize for being such a good patient, and I got another prize for "taking my medicine" (a.k.a. drinking the cranberry juice). This prize was the best - a baby plastic tiger taped to a sheet of paper with the words, "Congragulations - from Dr. Marsh" written on it.

Is a cold worth all this? You bet!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Joy!

I think my little $25 Target tree turned out pretty well. It fits nicely in my apartment, not too overwhelming, but cozy and comfortable, just like the rest of the Christmas decorations in our little abode. That's the mood I was going for, so I'd say I succeeded.

The Christmas spirit has definitely entered my heart! I've been listening to Christmas music - the old favorites like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer albums, and new favorites like the 1940s Big Band Christmas music. I just got a new album called The Christmas Anthology: 1930-1950 and it has some stuff I've never heard of before. One song in particular really touched my heart. It's called I'm Sending a Letter to Santa Claus. Here are the lyrics:

I met a little fellow with a letter in his hand
He asked me if I’d post it in the box for Fairyland
I slipped it in the mailbox for that little curly head
It seemed to make him very happy as he smiled, and said
I’m sending a letter to Santa Claus
My letter I hope he’ll receive
Oh, I wonder if he will please remember me
When he calls on Christmas Eve
He’ll get a lot of letters for playthings
From other girls and boys
But I want my soldier daddy
He’s better than all the toys
And so I’m sending my letter to Santa Claus
To bring daddy safely home to me

Isn't it just lovely? This song was written in 1939, but it holds true today, as well.

Actually got some writing done this weekend, and had an epiphany that will really bring everything together in the story. LOVE it when I get those! It completely drew me back into the story, which I desperately needed, and I'm excited to keep writing.

It's Time

I've had this blog for over 10 years. But I'm finding that I go to it less and less. Maybe it's the death of blogging that broug...