Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Water in a Hot Pan

FYI, this is what happens when you add cold liquid to a hot pan.

Don't worry, only my pride was wounded.

It was the middle of a busy weekend and we'd spent an entire day running errands around town. Dinner was supposed to be done in twenty minutes. The chicken looked and smelled delicious, but the Asian sauce was starting to overcook and turn into a bubbling, black glaze in the bottom of the baking dish. No biggie. I'd just pour some chicken broth in the pan to deglaze it and keep it from burning any further while it finished cooking. Without thinking, I did what I've done a dozen times in my metal roasting pan - I grabbed an open box of broth from the fridge and started to pour.

The second the pan exploded with an adrenaline inducing BANG! I realized my mistake. Epic housewife fail. My dear husband (once he recovered from his near heart attack) was sweet enough not to tease me, and immediately took charge of ordering and picking up take-out from the only restaurant within ten miles of our house while I swept the glass off the floor.

The next morning, equal parts embarrassed and annoyed, I set to work cleaning out the inside of the stove-turned-blast-zone. Like any good writer trying to build a platform, I thought to myself, "How can I use this in a blog post?"

As I carefully dropped chunks of Anchor Hocking into the trash, I landed on an idea. The perfect analogy. (Okay, maybe it's not perfect, but bear with me).

Have you ever been in the middle-lands of your story and found it wanting? Nothing is happening. The highlight of your last chapter was your main character's grocery list. Or maybe the story is progressing and things are going smoothly - but that's the problem. Smooth is boring. Smooth has no pizazz. Smooth is the opposite of that story-sustaining thing called conflict.

You need to throw cold water in a hot pan. Create an explosion.

There's a commonly hailed rule of thumb among those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo: Story lagging? Kill someone off! But it doesn't have to be that drastic. Chances are, somewhere within your story is something you can use to catapult your tale to the next level. What can you make go wrong? Do it. Which character is supposed to be your MC's ally? Make 'em go dark side.

My very first NaNoWriMo, my story was chugging along, but I was seriously beginning to doubt my ability to sustain it to 50,000 words--not to mention whether it was interesting enough for someone to want to read it to that length. I needed something unexpected to happen. And then one day, as I sat at my desk typing away, my main character's contact in the realm he'd just entered--the person who was supposed to be his only ally in a foreign land--poured him a cup of tea. Spiked with a drug that would render my MC unconscious. I would love to tell you this was a brilliant and intentional strategy, but the honest truth is, it wasn't planned at all. I literally looked at my computer and said--out loud--"You weren't supposed to do that."

But...BOOM! It worked. The heat was already there, it just needed the cold water. And the resulting conflict gave me exactly the twist my plot needed and carried my story through to its conclusion.

Sometimes we get lucky and the story writes itself. Other times you have to search out the solution. Either way, don't be afraid to do something unexpected, even if it wasn't what you originally planned.

Because a burger and fries can taste really good even though you planned on having chicken for dinner.

What about you? Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Share in the comments! Maybe there's an analogy in there somewhere. Or the beginnings of a "What Not to Do in the Kitchen" handbook...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Learning}

In honor of back-to-school week in our house, a reminder to never stop learning.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Long, Dark Night of the Squirrel

Today your Saturday morning funny is brought to you by the amazing Becca Rose of @bookwormbeaut Twitter fame. And squirrels. Seriously, read ALL THE PAGES. This is why Twitter is my absolute favorite form of social media.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Small Things {August Edition}

My end-of-summer happies...

Family Vacation

This August marked our 2nd annual trip to church family camp. We had a blast heading to the beautiful Flathead Valley for a relaxing week filled with sunshine, great teachings from a hilarious couple visiting from across the pond (the Irish accents were glorious), and plenty of sightseeing and shopping. We made stops at all our favorite places, like Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee, and Whitefish Beach. We also discovered some new favorites in Sweet Peaks Ice Cream and the best used bookstore I've ever been to: The Bookshelf (seriously folks, I could spend all the time and buy all the books). We also got to hang out with some awesome people, including our friends Jeremiah and Rachel, who besides being a really cool couple, are also amazing photographers (you should click on their names right there and check out their stuff). We wrapped up the week with an evening at Fresh Life Church and a stay at the charming and wonderful Kalispell Grand Hotel. All in all it was a wonderful way to spend one of our last summer weeks.

The Mason Bar Company

In our house we unashamedly use mason jars as our drinking glasses, so when I found out about these mason jar tumblers, naturally I had to have one. I picked up this beauty at the Red Caboose while we were on vacation, but no matter where you happen to be, you can snag one from their etsy shop. Today I tried infusing my water with fruit for the first time, with a combo of strawberry and lemon slices, and I must say, the result was delightful. It's also great for iced coffee. Who am I's great for everything.

School Supplies

School is back in session next week, and for us that means the Martin family schoolbooks have arrived. As a homeschool graduate myself, I can still remember the excitement of thumbing through the year's worth of textbooks as soon as the mailman delivered them. I'm glad my kids continue the tradition and are always eager to find out what they'll be learning. I give it about a month before the newness wears off and they're no longer quite so thrilled at the prospect of school, so I'll enjoy their excitement while it lasts. I'll also bask in the joys of cheap notebooks, index cards, and post-it notes. And don't forget the bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

A young job seeker, an eccentric old man, and a bookstore with middle-of-the-night customers who don't pay for their books...this only scratches the surface of the genius work of fiction that is Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

When Clay Jannon takes takes a job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, he soon realizes there's more to be curious about than the store's odd hours. For example: the repeat customers who "check out" obscure volumes from the dark corners of the high shelves - volumes which Clay is not supposed to read. But curiosity is a strong force and soon Clay finds himself analyzing the customers - and even the store itself - dragging a handful of close friends along in an effort to discover if he has, in fact, stumbled upon some sort of cult, or at the very least an elaborate front for...something. But when Clay and his friends bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, he reveals a decades-old story with a mystery that will take them on an enthralling quest far outside the walls of the tiny bookstore.

It's always a happy day when I discover a book that genuinely thrills me with a fresh, can't-put-it-down story that makes me want to go right back to chapter one when I've finished. The perfect mix of brains and beauty in book form, Penumbra quickly skyrocketed into my top-ten list of favorites with its unique take on the conflict between tradition and technology in the world of books. Each chapter brought a new bit of awesomeness and my inner nerd gave many a fist pump at Sloan's inclusion of things like Industrial Light and Magic, Google, and the art of typography. The mystery of a secret literary society is wonderfully crafted and intricately woven alongside technical details of super cool things like code writing, super computers, and cardboard book scanners (which are all described in a perfectly fascinating, non-boring way, in case you were wondering). The story, characters and environment are so well written, that it's easy to imagine every word is real and true and possible (and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that much of it is). I gushed about this book to my husband, who read it as soon as I finished. His words when he closed the book on the final page: "That was amazing." I couldn't agree more. I loved everything about this book. And whether you're a proud e-book reader, or an avid defender of the paperback, I think you'll find a lot to love, too.

P.S. Once you've read the book, be sure to visit to read the short story (and tweet) that started it all!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Say}

I've come across the same bit of advice several times from different sources over the last couple of weeks. In my own words, the advice is this: Don't write the book you think will sell. Write the book you want to write; the book that's longing to be written. Because my book isn't in the vein of current trends, I've struggled with the fear that it's too hard of a sell and that I'll never find an agent/publisher who will catch my vision and want to take it on. But at the end of the day, I have to remind myself that I wrote a book that came from my heart. I wrote the book I was supposed to write. It wasn't a waste of time and it wasn't a foolish decision. And I hope - and believe - that somewhere out there is an agent (and a publisher) who is going to fall in love with it.

So for those of you struggling with the idea of writing outside the box, or wondering where you fit in this writing world, be encouraged. Say what you have to say.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sparkles and Butterflies and Unicorns, Oh My!

There's a joke in my writers group surrounding unhappy endings in books or films. Several of our members can't stand it if a story ends without resolution, or in a sad and/or depressing way. As we like to say, their stories have to have "Rainbows and Unicorns". I am one of the few who actually enjoys melancholy storylines (as long as they're done well) and thereby, I often have to give a "no rainbows and unicorns" disclaimer when recommending books or films.

You can understand why this made me giggle.

Friday, August 16, 2013

State Your Favorite - Boys' Quest

You can find my latest bit of published work in the August 2013 edition of Boys' Quest! This article about America's many unique state foods--from New York's apple muffin, to Oklahoma's ten-course meal--was the result of one of my assignments while I was enrolled with the Institute of Children's Literature. Even though I've had other stories published over the last couple of years, this one is near and dear to my heart because it was my very first piece accepted for publication. (Nothing like surviving ten rejections, finally getting your first "yes!" and then having to wait three years to see it in print!) After two rejections from agents regarding my book, it was nice to have this show up in the mail this week. A good reminder of what I've already accomplished, and how patience can pay off!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Own It

Last week someone said to me, "So you're an author?" It threw me for a second because most people who ask about this ask if I'm a writer. I'd never had someone ask me if I was an author. I mustered up all the courage I owned and forced a hesitant-yet-hopefully-confident "yeah" through my lips. Then I promptly chickened out and backtracked. "Well, I haven't published a book yet. Right now I'm in the process of trying to get an agent for my children's book." My gaze darted to the door where I was sure the writing police were about to burst through, ticket for false identification in hand. I squeaked out a quick defense of my earlier affirmation: "But I have had some short stories published in a few magazines!" So much for confidence.

After having conversations with other writers and reading blog posts and Twitter feed comments, I've come to realize I'm not the only one who has a hard time labeling who I am as a writer. In fact, there seems to be a trend--a pattern to the words we use to describe ourselves, depending on our level of confidence and/or perceived accomplishments.

When we first venture into the writing world we tend to define ourselves as "aspiring writers". This is the newbie level. We walk by the exclusive Writer's Club and we can see the bright lights and smell the freshly published books and hear whispers of 5-star reviews. We cast longing glances toward the line of people waiting to get through the door and say to ourselves, "Someday..."

Fast forward a few short stories and a couple of NaNoWriMos later, and we get brave, drop the "aspiring" and move up to just "writer". Writing is something we love doing, and we do it often enough to be (somewhat) comfortable allowing ourselves the title. At last we feel like we've reached a high enough word count and taken enough classes or read enough craft books to sneak to the back of the line. But then panic sets in because suddenly there's a rumor cascading down the queue that only authors are allowed through the door and you don't know if you're an author yet and you can only shuffle closer and closer to the door with anxious pulse and sweating hands and hope your name's on the bouncer's ultra secret clip board because who really knows where the point is that you cross the threshold from "writer" to "author" and who makes that decision anyway? And the closer you get to the door, the more you convince yourself that you should just step out of the line and wait until your name graces the cover of a book inside a real Barnes and Noble and you can bring it along as proof that you really are what you consider yourself to be deep down inside.

*deep breath and...exhale*

Here's the reality: There's no difference between being a writer and being an author. Merriam-Webster's definition of author is this:
1 :one that originates or creates
2 : the writer of a literary work 
By definition, you are the author of anything you have written. Therefore, I am an author. And I'm hoping the more I repeat that to myself, the easier it will be to simply answer, "yes" the next time someone asks. (So if you see me mumbling to myself, don't worry, it's just a confidence building exercise.)

Now some of you may hesitate to even go so far as to call yourself a writer, much less an author. As if you have to be published (aka getting paid) in order to lay claim to that title. But I say, NAY! I became a mother the moment my first child entered the world. I don't have to put in 10 quality years of child rearing, or wait until my daughter successfully graduates from college in order to earn the title of Mom. (And last time I checked, I'm not getting a paycheck.) The moment you wrote down that first idea, that first line--the moment you birthed your story--you became a writer.

Own it.

Because the bouncer isn't there to check if someone else put you on the list. He's there to see if you'll put yourself on the list. He's there to ask one question.

Are you a writer? Are you an author?

Whether or not you get in is entirely up to you.

Check out these great posts for more encouragement on owning your writer/author label:

Don’t Eat the Butt–Lies that Can Poison Our Writing Career #1 - Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite bloggers)

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

- See more at:

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

- See more at:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Courage}

And we're back! After a refreshing family vacation, I'm (almost) ready for the craziness of the fast approaching school year to begin. I can sense adventure on the horizon, and I'm ready to move ahead with courage and excitement. Hope this gives you some inspiration for your week!