Currently Reading: Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To-Do List

"Hello, Mrs. Shale, I--"

Her head cocked up when she heard my voice. "Jessica, did you read A Midsummer Night's Dream?"

"Yes," I stammered.

"Well, you're apparently the only one in the class who did then. The other students think it's a play about Lysol-ander, Queen Hippo, and Puke."

Author: Janette Rallison

Mini-synopsis: Aspiring high-school actress Jessica wants to win her ex-boyfriend back -- until she winds up coaching Jordan, a famous actor's son, on the part of Romeo. Jordan doesn't want much to do with drama as his father spent too much time putting acting before family, and Jessica will have to decide whether she cares more for him or the stage.

Confession: I checked this book out a couple of weeks ago merely because author Janette Rallison's answer to Shannon Hale's question about morals in fiction made me want to cheer. Sometimes it's just nice to read something by someone whose presentation of their belief system isn't going to feel like a personal attack upon me and mine.

Every now and then I pick up a book just wanting fun and nothing else. (Being me, I tend to look in the YA and kids' lit departments--adults always seem to have to put a sting in there somewhere.) This one was successfully that: lighthearted, humorous, and very clean. It wasn't a deep read and it probably won't change my life in any grandiose ways, but it made me relax and feel cheery and sometimes that's good enough.


This Looks Tasty, and Today is Tuesday...

Tasty Tuesday is still on hiatus at City Wife, Country Life and will return next week. But if you really want a recipe, here is one that I have every intention of trying out soon. I love tzatziki.

I meant to try it out today with a beef roast, but at 3:30 I discovered that it takes more than 2 1/2 hours to get a beef roast slow-cooked to perfection. Then I found out that my cucumber was moldy anyway. Tonight we're having chicken instead of beef, and I'll have to wait on my tzatziki until I can hop over to the grocery and get a new cucumber.

Ah well. That's what tomorrows are for. :)


Reading and Writing: The Stories that Mattered Most

[This post is part of a continued blog-conversation (diablogue? I love nonsensical new Internet words) that Mr. Pond and I have going on around the topic of writing and editing. I'm taking it a step further, and talking about reading.]

All publishing industry advice blogs contain one unifying piece of wisdom: Read widely in the genre in which you intend to write.

As arrogant as it feels to say so, it's a piece of advice that has always raised a warning in my mind. I'm not quite crazy enough to oppose the successful publishing world and call the truism false. It makes sense to be well acquainted with the sort of book, similar to my own, that gets published nowadays.

And I do read in my genres. I look for books that have been published in the last ten years, especially authors' debuts. I try to do so regularly--but I'm picky, and when hunting through the bookstore or the library, there are specific things I look for (authors whose names I recognize, strong narrative voice, and/or a story that immediately draws me in. Note: "immediately draws me in" is not the same as "kicks me in the face with a mean first sentence." The advice to write an attention-grabbing first line has helped to make opening novels in bookstores an exhausting experience.)

I'm picky, and therefore do not necessarily read widely. I admit new books into my life like an introvert admits new friends (and I should know): slowly, with careful consideration of the necessary commitment, and usually one at a time.

And there's one thing that seems to me at least as important as keeping current with the newly published. For myself, I consider it more important and feel compelled to give the majority of my reading time to it, even when--especially when--I am absorbed in the writing process. That one crucial need is to re-read, repeatedly and obsessively, the stories that have mattered the most to me.

If I become a published novelist, this will be my secret to success: that I've lost count of the number of times I've read Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Austen's books, Narnia and That Hideous Strength, Little White Horse, and Speaker for the Dead. I've read them until I can almost play back whole sections of the text in my mind, till the worlds are my homes-away-from-home and the characters are my close friends and the authors' voices have irreversibly influenced my own.

My primary reason for prioritizing the Stories That Mattered Most is that those books did for me what I want mine to do for others. I believe that core magic to be more important than trends of subject or style--not out of a need to protest industry standards like 250,000 words is too long or to "believe in myself" or my book in disregard of my own writing weaknesses, but to devote my very limited time and energy to the thing that makes me want to write in the first place, that makes a book re-readable and therefore especially desirable.

I could also put it this way: I'm not just aiming at getting a spot on bookstore shelves. I'm aiming at Harry Potter. I'm aiming at Narnia. Don't get me wrong--no one can guarantee a bestseller, or even a seller. But what I can do, or at least, what I can do my very best to do, is write a book with a life and love that speak to the reader.

Reading from the new releases is wise from a business perspective, and I'm not under any poetic high that could cost me my understanding of writing for publication as a business. Likewise, as someone who hopes for success as a writer, I think it right to support other writers.

But I think it's of limited value. Most of what I need to know about current standards, I've gotten from helpful industry bloggers. Get plot and conflict on every page. Make your protagonist and your genre obvious immediately. Keep your manuscript in conventional word count ranges. All of that is important for giving my story the best possible chance of getting read. For how to tell the story, though, what I need to know most comes from the books I already love.

Previous conversation:
Mr. Pond: Momentary Editing, parts 1 and 2
Me: How Not to Write


Sex, Music, and other stories

This subject just begs for its own post, but for now: If you were offended yesterday by my recommendation of a book that is obviously not clean, please go read the comment thread and feel free to add further thoughts or questions. Mr. Pond made some good points and in response I tried to explain how I got through John Green's book when revulsion stopped me fifteen pages into Lolita, and to clarify what I found worthwhile.

Also, this seems like a good time to link the best no-nonsense talk about sex I have heard in my life. Anywhere. Ever. (I've linked the first; the subsequent videos are in the sidebar.) And since I'm not entirely convinced that it is legally uploaded, here is the official website as well.

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Do you live in or write about northwest Washington State? You might consider submitting to Loose Leaf Journal, the brain child of one of my good writing and editing friends/beta readers. Annie's ideas for the project are quite intriguing and I can't wait to see what it becomes.

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Those of you who commented on the music giveaway gave me a lot of good stuff to listen to! Listed were The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Keane, The Dixie ChicksFranz Ferdinand (awesome video), Eric Pazdziora, Carrie Pazdziora, John Michael Talbot, Robin Huw BowenMichael Coleman, The Kingston TrioPaul Simon, and Samarabalouf.

When possible, the link is to a video of my favorite song from the band/artist. My favorite of the lot is probably Carrie Pazdziora, who reminds me of Norah Jones but with a clearer voice--there's not much I like more in music than a good soprano or mezzo with a high, pure tone.

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New favorite writing/artistic quote, courtesy of Marybeth Whalen: "A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God."--Sidney Sheldon

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As for writing, this has not been a good week--I've hardly looked at my book in days, allowing myself to get distracted by anything and everything. But while that's given me some frustration, in one sense it may be good. After the midnight battle with it last weekend, I think I just needed a break from it.

So I've read three books, and gotten some other work done, and decided at the last minute to go ahead and take CreateSpace up on their offer of a free proof copy for NaNoWriMo winners (while I have no intention of self-publishing this book, I'd at least like to see how CreateSpace does things.) The week hasn't been entirely unprofitable.

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New favorite funny site: SoMuchPun.com. Of all I've seen so far, this one just might be my favorite. Or this one. Or ... aw, I can't choose. I laughed at a lot of them.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Looking for Alaska

Later, I walked toward the dorm circle beside Alaska. The cicadas hummed their one-note song, just as they had at home in Florida. She turned to me as we made our way through the darkness and said, "When you're walking at night, do you ever get creeped out and even though it's silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?"

It seemed too secret and personal to admit to a virtual stranger, but I told her, "Yeah, totally."

For a moment, she was quiet. Then she grabbed my hand, whispered, "Run run run run run," and took off, pulling me behind her.

Author: John Green

Mini-synopsis: Miles Halter, having gone to boarding school looking for a Great Perhaps, wants but can never quite attain the wild and wildly attractive Alaska Young. In searching for the part of her that is more than "her genetic code and her life experiences and her relationships and the size and shape of her body" [quote edited for spoilers], he learns of failure and forgiveness and what it really means to know and to love.

Notes: All right, I'm going to get this out of the way.

I don't like disclaimers, but sometimes, what else can you do? This book is not for children; besides containing a fair amount of profanity, it is told from the perspective of a high school boy confronted with "the hottest girl in all of human history," and neither of them have the least notion of chastity. I skipped several pages, myself, because 1. I have a really clean mind, and 2. I like it that way, and 3. in a couple of places these teenagers were doing things I've never even done, even though I'm happily married, which amounts to 4. sometimes I just don't need to know.

That said, I read the rest of the book. I figured that it's a bit nonsensical of me to want to be a YA writer without having read John Green, and I'd looked into one of his books in a bookstore recently and been absolutely captivated from page 1 by the voice. Besides, having made it all the way through Catcher in the Rye--of which I only liked one paragraph--I thought I could handle Miles Halter's mind.

And I loved the book. I loved the characters--Miles, the Colonel, the Eagle, Takumi, and especially Alaska. I loved the World Religions teacher and his class and the final things Miles writes about and the bittersweet ending that I almost couldn't read because of the tears in my eyes. There is one line in the last few pages that I've never yet managed to read without my throat catching and my eyes welling up.

It is not a Christian book with a Christian solution to the "labyrinth of suffering," but the solutions were of the sort that I as a Christian could identify with, at least in part. As someone for whom agnostic sensibilities are likely to provide a lifetime of struggle, the thoughts were even helpful. And as someone who admittedly has a hard time letting go of either my own mistakes or others', the book also made me think about failure and forgiveness in meaningful ways. Sometimes, you just have to "love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart."

That might be telling you more about me than about the book--but I can't say much more about the book without giving out major spoilers. Or rather, major spoiler. On that topic, I knew going in what the "before" was counting down to, and I'm actually kind of glad I did. But as most people will probably want to remain spoiler-free, I'll go no further here. I won't say 'Read the book'--I know too many people who would be offended--but I will say the book is worth reading.


A Handful of Notes

Today I intended to do up a Currently Reading post. I've read three books this week, and the one I planned to write about first made me laugh and it made me cry and it hurt to read and I really, really don't want to cheat the post by trying to write it between now (6:59) and 7:50, when I have to leave for book club. I will try to write it up for tomorrow.

In the mean time, the comments on my post at The Hog's Head contain some great thought and I responded to all of them with some of my own ideas this afternoon.

Also, Mr. Pond dialogues with Monday's post on his own blog, talking about the shadow of Hemingway and "respecting the language of music in the idiosyncrasy of voice." (Which would probably be my favorite line in the piece, except that he also said "Too much good advice is bad advice." I heartily concur. But please don't stop giving advice, O wise publishing people, because the wealth of information is ultimately far more positive than negative.)

One more thing: If you were looking for a recipe yesterday, I apologize! The hostess of Tasty Tuesdays, Farmer's City Wife, is too busy harvesting cherries to blog this week. And if you prayed for cherry harvest, thank you (and thank God!) It sounds like they're actually getting one.


At the Hog's Head: Literature and Lessons

Today's post went to The Hog's Head. I had originally intended to post it here, but decided it belonged at least as well there. Referencing Shannon Hale's aggregation of thoughts from various YA writers and M.T. Anderson's excellent essay, "On Ideology and Chickens with Blankets," I'm hoping for a good discussion on the relationship between morals/worldview/ideology and storytelling.

You're welcome to check it out and join the conversation at this link.


How Not to Write

It might be time for me to take a break from reading some of the how-to writing blogs I read.

Don't get me wrong: those blogs are immensely helpful most of the time. I've learned a lot about what kinds of things are valued and what kinds of things drive agents and editors crazy, and I'm certainly not giving up reading the blogs entirely.

But the new tips that hit my Google Reader almost daily have me paralyzed over my first chapter. I've been over every line till it hurts to look any more, twisting, rewording, restructuring, trying to kill this or that potential problem. I'll think I've got a paragraph or a page or a scene in order, and a day or two later I'm back, fixing something else--and then if I give it a little space and come back, I'll notice that in my desperate attempts to alternate sentence structure within paragraphs and on the page as a whole, I've started five paragraphs in a row exactly the same way.

Among the positive feedback given me by my beta readers were comments on the strength of the story's voice. I don't want to lose that voice, especially not to over-scrupulous self-editing. How do I know it's over-scrupulous? I don't. But I'm the sort of person who can lose reason to obsession over detail--the sort of person to wind up on the verge of tears at 1 AM on a Saturday night, trying to rotate paragraph beginnings and number of commas, wondering how to cut any more conjunctions without sounding like Ernest Hemingway, no longer confident that the scenes and mood accomplish what they set out to do.

Getting published, as I understand it, requires skill and competitiveness roughly equivalent to Olympic-level sport. I'm a good writer, even--I believe--a good enough writer, but there are a lot of good enough writers and no guarantees for anyone. At some point, I've got to accept the fact that it is impossible to please all readers, even all professional readers (like agents and editors).

Am I still going to work on things like repetition issues? Of course. But there's a huge difference between controlling a character's tendency to half-smile at everything and counting the number of ands in every paragraph. I want that sane sense of balance where the goal of perfection doesn't degenerate into perfectionism.


And the Winner Is...

There were nine comments on the giveaway post, and as multiple entries were allowed, all of them were eligible except for #3, which was me.*

According to the Random Number Generator, then:

Comment #6 belongs to newmaldon! Congratulations!

Send me an email with your address, David, and I'll have the CD sent to you. You'll have to let me know how you like it.

To all of you, thanks so much for participating! This was A Light Inside's first giveaway, but I don't plan on it being the last. I loved hearing from you of your favorite music, and spent a fun half hour rummaging around YouTube and other corners of the internet turning up the artists I didn't already know. I must say, you all rock. :)

If you didn't win and still want to get a copy of Gurrumul's CD, it is available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere!

Happy weekend, everybody.

* In case anyone wonders: to keep from confusing myself in the counting, I went ahead and used 9 for the top number, figuring I could reconfigure it if it landed on 3. Which, in fact, it did the first time. Haha.


Where to Start with Jane Austen

You've got less than 24 hours to enter for your chance to win some free music! Friday afternoon I'm coming with the random number generator and will announce the winner.

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Awhile back, agent Nathan Bransford asked about our "gap books": in his words, "those books that everyone in the world has read and talks about all the time and look we are really meaning to read them but we're all very busy and there are a lot of books to read and no one could possibly be expected to read them all and why do I have to defend myself aha;sldkjf;aj"

(For me: Moby Dick, anything by Kafka, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering HeightsAnna KareninaThe Lord of the Flies... okay, hopefully I've embarrassed myself enough now. I don't like depressing stuff--does that show?)

I reference this owing to a question in yesterday's comments that I couldn't resist making into a blog post; the answer attempted to become a full-fledged essay as I typed in the combox. It's the best question I've been asked all week. Here it is: "For someone who has never read Jane Austen, where do you recommend starting?"

To George (who generally puts me to shame in the reading department): I'm so glad these are your gap books, because now I get to answer this question!

Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Emma are--in my opinion--Austen's strongest works, and I recommend beginning with one of those three. Persuasion is probably the easiest and most relatable read for a modern American, although if said American has read other English classics, this might not matter. It meanders less, clearly values intelligence and integrity over rank, celebrates some degree of informality, and combines vivid portrayals of setting and character with a strong pensive mood.

On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice is the most popular; for several good reasons, I think. It includes lifelike characters who undergo excellent personal and relational growth, loads of the sly social mockery for which Austen is renowned, and brilliant voice and wit. It makes me laugh every time I read it, sometimes at things I'd never noticed before. I started with this one, and I've got no regrets over that.

Emma is a solid, well-plotted tale with exquisite character development and a true hero. It's also one of J. K. Rowling's favorite books; according to Rowling, "The best twist ever in literature is in Jane Austen's Emma. To me she is the target of perfection at which we shoot in vain."

My suggestion, then, for George and anyone else meeting Jane for the first time, is to pick whichever of those three appeals most to you from the outside and start there. Afterward, however, if you decide you like Austen, I highly recommend Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility as well. The former moves slower than the others, but has a very pure-minded heroine, and with its strong themes of faith and virtue, I find it a refreshing read. The latter, with sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood as personifications of the title attributes, is a fascinating character study and moving tale, despite rambling a little (it was Austen's first published novel, after all.)

I liked Northanger Abbey, but its heroine is on the childish side and therefore not quite as relatable.

The short epistolary story Lady Susan portrays a truly awful woman, which is interesting, but I found it less engaging than any of the others and have read it only once.

I hope that helps! If any of you reading this have suggestions of your own, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I can talk Austen like Harry Potter--the fandom just isn't as well organized. (Maybe I should write some Austen-themed songs? A little pianoforte accompaniment would do, if only I would give myself the trouble of practicing...)


Currently Reading: Persuasion (again)

Have you entered for the music giveaway yet? The winner will be chosen Friday!

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I've no idea how many times and partial times I've read this book. A lot. And since I've already once done this book's quote/synopsis/notes thing as per my standard for Currently Reading posts, here I'll just add further notes.

This edition, with the cover shown, contains editorial notes by Linda Bree. Editorial notes can get in the way of the story when reading, but they've proved really handy this time in finding out which poems Austen pulled her random quotes from, who the heck Miss Larolles is (maybe I should go read Cecilia now), etc.

The story itself never gets old--beautiful writing, beautiful emotion, and it just might be the easiest of Austen's books to read. Lyme Regis and Bath come alive as settings, more so than Meryton or Highbury, and there are a number of very lovable characters.
Sometimes I think this book should have scored higher on my Fifty Favorite Books list (it came in at #8, as I have a lot of most-favorite books.) After all, I identify with Anne Elliot more than any other of Austen's heroines. I'm not as good as she is, and Elinor Dashwood makes a close second, but still.


Tasty Tuesday: No-Rise Pizza Crust

Note: Don't forget to enter for your chance to win some free music!

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Tasty TuesdayI've made pizza a lot of times lately. I love homemade pizza like college boys love Domino's--and with olives and mushrooms and artichoke hearts and such things, it's healthy, too.

The best thing about this pizza crust is that it doesn't have to rise, meaning that if I forget to start dinner till 4:30, it's no big deal. I'll start it at 5 and take the pizza out of the oven at 6. That's hard to beat. It works perfectly well as thick or thin crust, and I usually split the difference and make it a medium.

It tastes good, too.

No-Rise Pizza Crust

1 pkg yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
2 1/2 cups flour

Stir the yeast, oil, and sugar into the warm water and let sit for a few minutes (here I usually ready all the toppings, grate the cheese, etc.) Mix the flour and salt well, add the yeast mixture, and stir till well blended. Press into an oiled pan, top as desired, and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.


Music Giveaway!

Remember this guy?

Thanks to his very kind publicist, I have the chance to offer a free copy of his upcoming album to one happy winner!

The album is beautiful, mellow and sweet like the above song (which is one of the tracks); it's the sort of thing you can listen to with your eyes closed, put into your child's lullaby mix, or turn on during a dinner party. He sings mostly in Yolngu Matha, his native language, with a little English thrown in, and backs himself with guitar. And I just love his voice.

Want a copy of the CD? To enter the contest, leave me a comment on this post including:
  • your name or some kind of handle by which I can address you if you win (i.e., anything but "Anonymous"), and
  • the name of a band or musician you like to listen to. Because I'm curious. :)
You can enter multiple times; just make sure you've got the above information in each post, so I don't accidentally think you're spamming and disqualify you.

You have until Friday morning! Sometime that afternoon, I will go find a Random Number Generator and get it to pick a number between 1 and the number of comments. The winner will then have a few days to email me their address, so be prepared to check back in case you win. (Blogger doesn't give me your contact information.)

Ready... set... go!


Debates, Jim vs. Dwight and other stories

As a continuation of last week's saying no, I am forcing myself to walk away from online debates more often. About once every month or two, someone somewhere manages to write up something really awful and I find myself wanting to get in there and defend what I believe to be truth, or at least common sense. It usually derails my day, and sometimes my week.

But I realized the other day that none of us can correct all the wrongheadedness on the internet. I can't even promise to never be wrongheaded myself. But I can write a decent novel, and my time is generally much better spent doing that.

* * *

As for novels, I have started revision again--a brand new draft in a brand new Word document. Right now I'm not setting a deadline, but I'd like to be submitting to agents in the fall. Might need to speed up, though--this first page has had me deadlocked for hours.

Maybe I'm doing something right? At any rate, I loved what Heath Gibson has to say in the linked article. He talks about wanting to write a great story instead of just a good one. I am with him on every word of that.

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So... Lou and I, having run out of comedic movies to watch, have taken to renting and watching seasons of The Office (again, not clean, but funny...) Michael Scott is incredibly painful to watch, but the Jim/Dwight rivalry makes up for it in hilarity. When it comes to Jim and Pam, though, I keep finding myself wanting to yell "ONE OF YOU PLEASE ASK THE OTHER ONE OUT YOU'RE DRIVING ME CRAZY PRETENDING YOU DON'T LIKE EACH OTHER!!!" But I suppose it would have made bad television to start things out all happy for them.

What I really don't get about The Office is Angela. Seriously, I have lived my entire life around Christians. Almost all of my friends and even my coworkers have been Christians, and while I'm used to seeing horrible stereotypes from Hollywood that might bring to mind one or two religious people I've known, I can't think of anyone who she reminds me of.
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To my delight, we've had two nights this week when the clouds backed off and let the stars come out. I found Antares the first night and wanted to go out where I could look for Saturn and Vega but--well, I'm afraid of the dark. (I have a good imagination. There could be anything in those shadows!) Lou came out with me the next night, and if my calculations were correct, we found Vega over the house.
I still haven't found the Pleiades, but they're in Taurus, which appears to be only up during sunlight this time of year. Maybe in the fall.
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I'm in Victoria for a couple of days with my schola, so I'll stop writing now. For those of you who have any experience in graphic design or layout or text development or breaking the chain on email forwards, this made me laugh and laugh. Thanks to Travis for the link.
And if you find humor in Michael and Dwight and the others, there's always Bryan Allain's Exodus According to The Office (possibly blasphemous, but funny...)
Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Discworld 1 and 2

(Actual titles: The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, respectively)

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Bravd and Weasel looked at the figure, now hopping across the road with one foot in a stirrup.

"Fire-raiser, is he?" said Bravd at last.

"No," said Rincewind. "Not precisely. Let's just say that if complete and utter chaos were lightning, then he'd be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armor and shouting 'All gods are bastards.' Got any food?"

Author: Terry Pratchett

Mini-synopsis: These are tales from a flat circular planet carried by four elephants on the back of a giant space turtle, and it only gets weirder from there.
Notes: I hadn't realized before picking up a Discworld book that the series is parody, but it didn't take me long to figure that out. From using 8 instead of 7 as the most magical number to making the protagonist an utter coward, from the gods playing something like chess with human lives to the inclusion of Death as a character (he talks in SMALL CAPS and likes card games--it's hilarious), the books are a twist on just about every known twistable feature of tales told.
Of course, parody isn't generally my thing. It doesn't let me suspend disbelief naturally. It took a little getting used to, then, despite the clever humor; also, it wasn't until part way through the second book that I realized I actually cared whether Rincewind (the main character) stuck around for future installments. He's such a heel in the first book. But once that connection hit me, I started really enjoying the story. After that it made me laugh a lot more... and now I just might go looking for book 3 one of these days.

The above quote had me snickering at random moments for days after I first read it.


Pete and Repeat were Walking Down the Street ...

Lately Anne Mini has been talking about one of my biggest problems as a writer. As I understand it, repetition leaps off the page and shouts in the face of a person trained to read for a living, and it doesn't bother me at all.

Until I see someone reusing whole phrases, or using the same descriptor multiple times in a paragraph, or overusing swear words--one may be an attention-grabbing slap, but curse-littered speech feels like a verbal fistfight--I'm not going to be offended by a few repeats. Consequently, my otherwise strict inner editor has to see a word many times before irritation begins to register.

In order to make myself catch the problems, then, I made a word cloud of my novel yesterday and then transformed the most-used words--excluding names--into capitals. There's nothing that annoys me more than unnecessary use of all caps (I make an exception for the super-fun band ALL CAPS); it's like having someone yell the word in a stream of quiet conversation. But even I can't miss the problem when I read a paragraph in which the word TOOK appears very loudly three times, none of them referring to hobbits or Canadian knit caps. Ack.

Writers, have you tried this?


Tasty Tuesday: Veggie Lasagna

Tasty TuesdayThis is one of my favorite recipes. I promise, however, that when you take it out of the oven, it will not look like me.

Veggie Lasagna

2 cans tomato sauce
2 small zucchini, sliced
6-8 oz sliced mushrooms
Fresh spinach leaves
1 pkg lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 lb mozzarella or Monterey jack cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese for topping
1 lg or 2 sm containers of ricotta cheese
3 eggs
Basil, oregano, garlic powder, chili powder
Olive oil

Put a little olive oil in a large skillet and add zucchini; cook till zucchini is nearly tender, add mushrooms, and cook a little longer. Add the tomato sauce and season to taste with basil, oregano, garlic powder and chili powder. Thin the sauce with about 1 1/2 cans of water (I just use a tomato sauce can).

Mix the ricotta cheese and eggs in a bowl until well blended.

Layer the lasagna in a 9x13 pan: a little sauce on the bottom, pasta, ricotta mixture, spinach leaves, mozzarella, sauce. Usually three complete layers will fill the pan. Pour as much leftover sauce as will fit over the top and finish with grated parmesan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until noodles are tender when pierced. I recommend setting your 9x13 in a cookie sheet or on some foil as the sauce tends to boil over in the oven.

The vegetables can be varied according to your choice, and if you prefer meat, I make my meat lasagna the same way--just leaving out all the vegetables and browning a pound of Italian sausage for the sauce. That's also tasty. Of course, sausage, pasta, lots of cheese--that would be pretty hard to kill. :)


Rest and Re-Focus

Keeping in mind the thoughts several of you gave me on my Sunday troubles a couple of weeks ago, for the last two Sundays I've made an effort to prioritize rest and yet allow creativity as it comes. I like the general concept. If the computer comes up, which happens when creativity strikes, it gets harder not to overdo--but that's just something I'll have to be careful of.

And now... after almost a month off thanks to essay, the time has come to revise my novel again. I'm doing a shorter version of my original novel revision process, focusing in on steps four, five, and six (all of which will be less thorough, since much less needs ripping up and replacing.) My new, short-form scene summary is nearly complete. I'm excited.

P.S. For those of you praying for Washington farmers, thank you! My cousin informs us that the cherry growers are still in business as of this afternoon; the forecasted rain has held off. They need another couple of weeks, so don't stop. :)


Rain, Brain Fritters and other stories

First off, if you're the praying sort, some of our family and other farmers on the east side of the Cascades need it. They're getting too much rain. The weeks of downpour here have attempted to drown my tomato plants and drive me bonkers, but over there the rain is actually threatening the cherry harvest, which is a lot of people's livelihood.

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This year the Great Annual Memorial Day Street Hockey Game got rained into a covered playground again, but Lou and I joined the other players in the eleventh celebration of the event. I started attending the Bible study that became the G.A.M.D.S.H.G. back when I was nineteen (we started playing a couple years later) and now I'm thirty-two. People fly in for this--Joel set the record for distance traveled by coming from Korea this year. We bring the spouses and children acquired over those years.

Some of us are starting to feel our age on the asphalt rink, but almost everyone plays at least for awhile. Some things never get old.

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I loved this post by Mike Duran on crafting a writing routine. Though I have more available time now, I remember what it was like to "carve writing time from the corners of exhaustion." And my routine-of-sorts still needs work.
Like Mr. Duran, I've also had to decide not to write the way Dean Koontz does. Props to Mr. Koontz, but I'd never finish a story his way. I needed NaNoWriMo.

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I've theoretically taken the week off writing work. And by "theoretically" I mean I never pushed myself to work on actual story. I did, however, spend half of Thursday turning my brain into a frittering snarl over my query letter because inspiration hit and then ran away.
Right now I just can't wait to get good and going on the story again. I'll probably pull out my half-finished new scene summary tonight.
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Of all the words that can be said, No is sometimes the hardest. I said it twice yesterday.
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For your end-of-week cheer, I give you whoisthecutest.com. Also, in case you needed to know, there's always isithursday.org. Happy weekend!



... to Mr. Pond, regular commenter on this blog, who has gotten an original fairy tale published! The story is a sweet little piece, a short read, and if any of you readers like fairy tales, you should definitely check out that journal.

Well done, Mr. Pond. :)


Fictional Characters Everywhere

After several weeks of burying myself too deep in essay to get much else done, I'm back at The Hog's Head today posting about seeing fictional characters everywhere. That is something I do--seeing fictional characters around, I mean; sometimes they're even people from my own books. There's a toddling boy at church that looks so much like I'd imagine my main character's brother at that age that if I ever spoke to him it would require conscious thought to not call him the wrong name. And the Lily Evans I spotted recently was married to a guy who from the side looked a lot like another of my characters. I had a very hard time not staring.

Want to know who else I've seen? Click here to find out. And I'd love to hear if you have stories about fictional character sightings.


Tasty Tuesday: Crock-Pot Taco Soup

I hope all of you had an enjoyable day off from work, and for those of you who spent the day remembering someone you loved who died in war, my thoughts and prayers are with you and yours.

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Tasty TuesdayTuesday means recipes, so here are two. The soup calls for taco seasoning, and I don't tend to keep that in stock around the house; besides, the seasoning is so easy to make that it's hardly worth buying the packets.

This might well be the easiest thing I ever make for dinner, not counting phone calls to Little Caesar's. :P

Great Crock-Pot Taco Soup

Homemade Taco Seasoning

My variations on the soup: I use about a half-cup of Ranch dressing instead of the mix. Also, I usually cook it for about three hours on high, rather than six on low, but either way should work.

We usually chop corn chips into our bowls of soup and put grated cheddar cheese on top. That might be a little weird. Oh well. It tastes good.