Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Maybe you have or haven’t noticed, but this blog has been beyond silent for over four months.  In this time, many things have stayed the same with some concerts, a few too many crazy nights, and unlimited party fails.  However, in that same time so many things have changed.  I’ve changed.  To the core.  Regarding things I’m not ready to talk about. All leading me to one ultimate result — I’m speechless.  Literally.


What the hell am I doing with myself?

There’s a fear when you write.  You expose yourself in a way others can’t imagine.  You know that dream where you walk around naked?  The one where you run around just trying to find any kind of towel, drape, or even napkin to cover yourself up enough so everyone won’t laugh at you?  Uh yeah…that’s fucking writing.  Sure, I don’t have to share my words with everyone, but you feel just as exposed.  Your heart is in every word, for better or worse, and people will read them.  Your lovers will wonder if you aren’t happy with them.  Your friends will assume you’ve captured your recent disagreement.  And your parents will assume you thought they did a terrible job.  All while you explain it’s fiction and not about them, you secretly curse yourself for writing such amateur shit.

The problem is when you’re supposed to be a writer, you feel lost when you aren’t writing.  It’s not fun fielding the question “Are you still writing?”  Also, there’s pure joy when you think about the little details which create a unique experience.  The words ignite a passion so deep it heats your cheeks every time you even imagine your characters in heartfelt conversation.  When there’s a silence from your day to day grind, you think about what could be for the two people you left abandoned so many months ago.  And this is even before you get to the fact you have a goal.  A goal you’ve been chasing for years.  One you know you will reach before you die and the clock is ticking.

So where do you start?  How do you take a first step when you are fucking scared to death?  Well, I’ve chosen to write a blog.  With a concert trip right around the corner and encouragement from peeps who mean a whole lot to me, I needed to start somewhere. Something to help me move forward.  Like a muscle with atrophy, I gotta work this shit out.  Thinking about word choice, enjoying the bliss in a well told story, and finding the passion behind describing a soft moment where two characters lips meet to express their affection are things from which I’ve been long absent.

Image result for doubt awkward yeti

Who doesn’t love The Awkward Yeti.  He totally gets me.  Every day I read his comics like it’s my horoscope.

Really, it comes down to the moment where you have to give up your fear, that heavy self doubt, and start taking one step at a time.  Things may not be perfect in the beginning, but no one asked for it to be.  All I really need to do is put one word in front of the other and get some thoughts typed on a screen.  And here it is.  My resolve to start putting my perspective back on page and keep the experiences going.  I hope you’re glad I’m trying.  Because little by little I’m going to find the way back to myself and figure out how the Hell my story is supposed to go.




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Code Name VerityCover Me:  The cover is beautifully cryptic.   You don’t realize how perfect it is until the end of the book.  This is pretty much the theme of the book overall.  The cover wasn’t the thing to drive me to pick it up.  It was the incredible reviews.  The sobbing, wrecked, soul-crushing reviews which made me almost afraid to read it.  Coming off of The Fault In Our Stars, I wondered if I could take another book leaving me a mess.  But I went for it.

Concept:  Two best friends, one a pilot and the other a spy, crash their plane in Nazi occupied France.  Queenie is captured and battles for her life by writing the confession of her mission.  She is told her best friend Maddie is dead and she must either tell the interrogators everything they want to know or she will be killed as well.  After weeks of torture, she reveals her mission on small scraps of paper as she recounts her story of Maddie and her friendship.

The Peeps:  The main characters are Maddie and Queenie.  The first half of the book is written by Queenie, but it mostly talks about her love of Maddie.  In the beginning of Queenie’s recounting of the mission, I got bored.  I waited for the action.  There were fantastic details about how they were torturing her which drew me in and wanted Queenie to escape more than anything.  My stomach turned with the poignant moments when I realized there was no escape for Queenie.  The second half of the book is told from Maddie’s POV.  You find out she didn’t die in the plane crash and has been searching for her other half, her best friend.  The girls are well written and the supporting characters, especially in Queenie’s interrogation room, compel you to find out what happens to them.

The Ending (spoiler alert!):  The beauty of this book is the ending.  It’s when all the pieces of Queenie’s story comes together through the telling of Maddie.  In her narration you see the true fearlessness in Queenie which makes her death more haunting.  It’s only fitting Maddie’s bullet is the one to end Queenie’s pain.  When the shot was fired, I was stunned.  Seriously.  I re-read it to make sure it wasn’t some trick where Queenie pretended to be dead and they picked her up later where they all had a laugh over beers.  Uh, nope.  She was dead.  Her last line of “Kiss me Hardy” is something I still think about.

Did it tear me up as much as I thought it would?  Nope.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it made an impact until days later when I thought about that Hardy line.  Maybe that’s the beauty of this book.  It sneaks up on you.  You don’t know until the last minute and then WHACK!  You’ve been hit.  Maybe it’s the mirror of the story about a well trained spy who knew how to lower the guard of her captor and came away a hero in the end.

What I Cooked Up:  Sometimes the baked good takes on such an importance it stumps me.  I cycled through desserts and thought about finding something to describe the sweetness of Maggie and Queenie’s friendship.  But that didn’t feel right.  I was most impressed with how well Ms. Wein created a narrative that didn’t really tell the story until the end.  The whole thing seemed like one thing, but when you looked at it a different way, it was something completely different.  This is why I have created a savory cheesecake.  While most will expect something sweet to be accompanied by coffee, this treat has a salty taste and best served with crackers.

The bottom is a panko crust with a spinach lower level separated by olives before the feta and parmessan top.  The garnish is a leaf of Oregano which hints at the spices mixed into the cream cheese mixture.  Although it’s a Mediterranian Cheesecake, it’s small appearance screams something French to me.  (And I love mini things.)

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The Fault in Our StarsCover Me:  The cover is pretty boring.  The only thing of interest is the way the blurbs are written.  They are mashed around the title which gives it something interesting in a land of blah.  Not that I have a better idea for a book about teenagers with cancer.  Really, the only important thing is the author’s name.  John Green is a popular stand out in the Young Adult field.  That’s pretty much all this cover needed for people to pick it up.

Concept:  Hazel is terminal.  Because of a new drug, she’s lasted longer than anyone thought she would.  Life is only living until the final day arrives.  That is until Augustus comes into her life at a cancer support group.  Hazel then has a chance to experience how to really live.

This concept couldn’t sound more like a downer if it tried.  I have to admit, I waited to read this book because it sounded sad.  The reasons I finally gave in is because of the great reviews and John Green is a master at creating fantastic characters.  This is proven, without a doubt, in this book.

The Peeps:  The characters are what make this book.  I was madly in love with all of them.  The wit in their conversation, relationships with each other, and how they handle their disease is beyond anything I could’ve imagined this book to be.  In a world that could be incredibly sad, these characters are funny and give an interesting look into having cancer.  As I tried to rattle on and on and on about this book to Hubs, I realized you really have to read it to get it.  You have to get into their heads to understand how they cope in a battle with themselves.

The Ending (spoiler alert!):  The spoiler alert here is the fact I ended up a weeping mess at the end.  I’ve never had a book wreck me like this one.  (Well, maybe there was #41 of Sweet Valley High when I was in 6th grade where Regina died from a drug overdose.  I was pretty upset about that one.)  While I prepared to lose our main character Hazel, it is actually Augustus who dies.  That’s not the sad part because you expect to lose people, but it’s the way he goes.  The sadness of watching someone you love die.  Hazel doesn’t fall apart anything like I do.  I think that’s what made me sad.  She makes it to the end, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to survive.  She’s terminal.  She will die sometime soon no matter how hard I wish her a life where she feels that kind of love again.  Does this tirade show you anything about how much I loved them?

John Green is a master of character development.  I thought this when I read Paper Towns.  If I remember correctly, I wasn’t crazy about the ending of that one.  The Fault In Our Stars well exceeds any expectations I might have had from the first page to the very last one.

What I Cooked Up:  I finished this book a month ago and it took me this long to get the baked good together.  There’s a responsibility when you have a book this good to make sure you don’t flub it up on a food representation.  Instead of focusing on the sad in this book, I picked the theme of champagne.  It’s one of the new and exciting experiences Gus and Hazel enjoy together.  The fun of the bubbles tickling their mouths utterly charmed me.  I made a champagne cake with a whipped cream frosting.  I attempted a new frosting technique of watercolor in a color scheme of a sunrise and a new day dawning.  Not so sure I did the book justice with this cake, but hopefully I did with the review.

Discuss:  What did you think of the book?  Were you afraid to read it like I was?  What did you find the most inspiring?  Please tell me your thoughts.

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I Was Fearless

When I drove home in the glow of what a great time I had at the Willamette Writers Conference, I realized it all came from being fearless the first night.  I thought about how when I was younger fear wasn’t something considered when making decisions.  One of the lectures taught nostalgia as a plot device being the biggest draw for people in their thirties.  (I’ll let you believe now that I barely made it into the thirty tier since I’m obviously 29.)  I guess it’s true because I spent the next hour cycling through stories of my younger self storming headstrong into ridiculous situations.  I loved them.  And then I wondered when it had changed.

My freshman year of college represented my most fearless year.  My parents insisted I travel out of my small hometown to go to college.  This also meant leaving all my comforts, friends, and securities, too.  The first few weeks I holed up in my room and played on Prodigy because the internet wasn’t “a thing” yet.  (You’re probably recalculating my age assessment from before.)  One day I took a stand and reached out to my suite-mate.  I cast fear aside and put myself out there in hopes of better things.  She welcomed me into the group and I finally did more than listen to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine for the millionth time.

Some of my best accomplishments came because of that first step to ditch fear.  I took a job as a concert security guard who had to travel to locations around southern California.  It never even occurred to me how unrealistic that was since I was a freshman without a car.  My resourceful self recruited dorm-mates to take on the same job and the carpool began.  Not seeing the boundaries allowed me to work one of my favorite jobs.  The lack of worry brought other adventures, such as an interview to intern with Capital Records (didn’t get it, but did get a tour of the building), inviting one of my favorite bands at the time to come stay in the dorms (no go, but did get a handwritten note back), endless photos of wild nights (they don’t see the light of day), and even the most gutsy move to fall in love (with my now husband).  That was one of my best years.

It doesn’t mean everything was gravy.  My grades weren’t the best, I watched a convenience store robbery go down, I enjoyed under-age extra curricular activities more than I should and I lost dear friendships.  But that was from being eighteen and thinking I knew everything.  Not the shallow defeat of fear telling me it wasn’t possible.

This weekend reinforced great things happen when your fear is in check.  The first night a choice presented itself.  A stranger made some innocent conversation.  My fear tried to seduce me to blow her off and go back to looking busy on my phone.  It took actual strength to stuff the phone back in my pocket and engage in normal interaction.  Once we started, my nerves calmed.  The real me entered the party.  Then another writer searched for a chair and I invited him over.  Three hours later, the three of us enjoyed several drinks and a helluva good time.  It set us up for having a wonderful time for the entire weekend, meeting many more people, and not melting down into a non-verbal mess when an agent sat down for a gin and tonic.

The whole thing reminded me how crippling fear can be; doubting if the novel is good enough to submit, despair in knowing thousands of hours of work doesn’t guarantee anything more than what I have, and self-loathing for not being better.  It will paralyze me on this road I’ve loved for the past four years; the time in my life where I feel like I’ve finally started doing what I was meant all along.

Life shouldn’t be calling up memories from twenty years ago to remember what it feels like to be fearless.  It should be living the fullest today like there is no tomorrow.

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A frosted cake is a lot like a completed manuscript.  If it looks anything like what it’s supposed to look like, people are impressed you did it.  Their untrained eye (and yours too if you’re new to the process) skims over the little details that show your immaturity (or maturity) in the craft.  For a newbie, piping the last detail on a two tiered cake feels just as satisfying as when you type “The End” for the first time.

If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for the ooohs and ahhhs to start flooding in to confirm your time wasn’t wasted.  Your effort appreciated.  And while that helps with ego, you look to an experienced person to validate your confidence since they understand the true art.  You want someone who knows what they’re talking about to look at what you’ve done and start showering you with accolades.  But wait a second…this shower isn’t made of kudos.  It’s made of feedback.  Sharp quips cutting through your sensitive skin to show you’ve got some serious problems.

This week I finished a two tiered cake for a farewell party.  The guest of honor wanted a flavor I’d never tried before, Black Forest.  I looked up some recipes, came to a consensus of what I thought would make a good flavor combination, and started to bake.  Then I built.  I’m a novice to the tiered cake arena.  While I followed the instructions of others who have done it before me, I added in my own touches too.  And as everybody knows, when you improvise you run a risk of making mistakes and um, ahem, find learning opportunities.  So while the picture above looks like the cake was a success, I will now break down why it wasn’t.

To the trained eye, the structure wasn’t stable.  During construction I let doubt into my thought process and tweaked at all the wrong places. Even though my heart said to stay the course, I pulled off a layer to add more filling for a taller appearance.  The moment I did it, I knew it was wrong.  The cake started to tear and I knew filling wouldn’t give enough stability.  But I was committed.  Not enough time to start from scratch.  The cake must go on.

The morning after, the top tier tilted and I had serious concerns if it would make it to the destination.  I added some additional support and re-piped over the construction.  I crossed my fingers it was saved.  When I pulled it out to serve, my mistakes glared and my concerns had been warranted.  Another baker would be able to see the layers weren’t even, too much filling at the bottom which negated the support for the top, and even the choice of infrastructure was too weak for the weight of the upper cake.  It was aptly named “The Titanic” because it was sinking slowly.  The only solution was to cut quickly before any other bakers entered the room.

The sinking feeling has been there with my past manuscripts.  Times where others were impressed at a completed product, but didn’t look hard enough to see the problems.  The flawed areas where I needed someone with tough love capabilities to point it out so I could cut or correct.  Times when insecurity jaded my view and decisions were made without sound judgement.    The plot structure weak, too much telling, not enough emotional connection with the characters.  Some manuscripts were too flawed to be saved, resigned to be cut up and chalked up to learning.  In their destruction, knowledge replaced experiment and a new project born.

While in cake it’s easier to identify than in a novel, the result is the same.  If the weak areas aren’t fixed before presenting to the world, you can have a mess on your hands.  A crumbling tower of cake and frosting slowly sliding into itself.  The same for a first novel that may get a full request, but will be quickly rejected because of a  weak plot or one dimensional characters.

Both creative outlets have shown me it takes time to craft and build a solid product.  Patience, heart, and experience are the qualities needed to press on and make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.  And even when the cake sucks it isn’t too bad because heck, it’s still cake.

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I took up royal icing cookie decorating last year after a weekend of watching a few videos.  I thought it was going to be easy enough, it was frosting a cookie for goodness sakes.  I quickly learned there was a lot of hidden skill and practice in those delectable creations.  Not so different from my frame of mind when I said “I’m going to write a novel” three and a half years ago.

A few months into my new skill of cookie decorating, my son had a specific request for his birthday.  Not the usual (and easier) daisy flower or simple star shape.  He wanted characters.  Book characters to be specific, Zachary Ruthless, Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Big Nate.  Since I adore the fact my son loves to read, I started brainstorming right away.  Since I have little talent when it comes to sketching, I didn’t want to set my sights too high.  I used flat black icing and began to pipe.  When I finished my first attempt (a practice one for before the real birthday set was needed) I was kinda happy.  It wasn’t anything like my favorite cookie websites where you start to wonder if it’s even a cookie because it’s so beautiful.  Mine was amateur.  Crude.  From a beginner.

When the birthday actually came, I tried a different technique for the final set.  I decided to only focus on one set of book characters.  Cut the cookie in the head shape.  Add color.  Layer the levels.  It was little tweaks to add more life (and skill) to what I originally started.  It took more time and definitely more patience, but I was understanding the icing more.  I learned how consistency plays a major part in keeping the shape and look you want after you’ve piped it on the cookie.  When the second set was done, I was stoked!  They were beautiful.  I was so excited I sent a set to the author and the agent to show them how cool the cookie could become.  It was the best I could do…at the time.

A few months later, and more cookies under my belt, I made another set of Zachary cookies.  You may wonder why I make so many of this character.  What can I say?  I loved the book.  (Here’s the plug where you should go out and buy it if you haven’t.  At least check out the author’s blog, it’s pretty funny.)  This time even before I started, I made a game plan.  I prepped a few days before and made a list of all the colors I would need.  It also involved a stencil to make several cookies look exactly the same and like the original drawing of the character.  When I finished this round, I knew this is the best I can do.

It’s not hard to draw the similarity to my writing experience.  With each book, each revision, each lesson learned, I create a better product.  The only difference is I’m not as confident as defining the “this is the best I can do” phase.  Maybe this is because I’m not as obsessed with cookies as I am writing.  (Shocking, I know.)  Or maybe it’s because the end result for a cookie is to be eaten, a quick pleasure having nothing to do with what it looks like.  Or the fact I haven’t quieted down the whispers of insecurity around writing like I have with icing cookies.

What I do take away from my evolution of this Zachary Ruthless cookie is anything is possible.  It may take a lot of work and even more persistence, but there will be a day where I am satisfied with what I have written.  A day I release my writing into the world and hope it is gobbled up as quickly as a good tasting sugar cookie.

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Doubt is a funny thing.  It shows up when you least want it or expect it; like a terrible acquaintance who pops in at the most inconvenient time and brings nothing but a sick ass casserole you have no intention of eating.  It doesn’t matter how many times you ask it not to return or shout it has no place in your life, it barges past your locked elbow, plants its butt on your couch, and barks out an order to grab it a beer.

You can tell I don’t have much love for doubt.  I know it adds nothing to my life.  Logically, that is.  But there is something about the way it sweet talks its way back into my life that I can’t resist.  Doubt tells me I may be special in my own little way, but nothing like the huge dreams I’ve set for myself.  Doubt reminds me it’s doing me a favor by breaking my heart now with the suggestion to never try before any real pain happens from failure.

There must be something comforting about doubt to let it return to my life on such a regular basis.  When I feel strong, powerful, there’s no second thoughts about casting it away.  But the smallest hint of failure brings it barreling back.  And even though I hate myself for it, my arms open wide and welcome it back like an old friend.

It’s ridiculous.  I know it’s no good.  I know there’s no value.  But here we are.  Doubt and I wrapped in each other’s arms and with its sweet nothings being whispered in my ear.  There’s only one thing to do to combat it.  Think about cake.

What does cake have to do withy any of this besides the fact it’s pretty much the remedy for anything?  A few months ago, I declared I would make my father-in-law’s favorite cake for his birthday.  German chocolate.  I’d never made it before but couldn’t wait to try a new recipe.  The days crept up fast and for some unknown reason, it was the night before his birthday before I knew it.  German chocolate was nixed and I went to good ole fashioned classic chocolate.  Since I’d waited until after work to bake, I couldn’t frost until the next morning before another grinding day at the office.

In the morning, I woke up early to make the ganache to fill the layers.  Against my better judgement, I poured on the liquid chocolate in a haste and stacked the layers.  I knew it wasn’t a good idea before I did it, but I was rushed, frantic, and needed to get the damn thing done.  What should’ve been an easy frosting turned into chaos when chocolate flowed over every edge.  With each fix, another hole sprang.  Before I knew it, the whole thing was a chocolate mess.  Frazzled, I threw it in the fridge, cursing it was ruined.  I’d have to deal with it when I got home in the forty minutes I’d have before he arrived.

All day I berated myself for waiting until the last minute, for thinking I could pour ganache without a dam, and for being a terrible baker.  (How quickly we jump to the worst conclusion.)  After work I sped home so I could get back to salvaging, knowing the real answer was to scrap the whole thing.  The ganache between the layers had set up pretty well and the remaining I’d left from the morning was a good consistency for frosting.  I whipped it up and had just enough to cover the cake.  The edges were rough, but it was at least covered, right?  In the fridge was a little vanilla buttercream left over from a cake a few days before that I was saving for cake pops.  I used it to pipe the edge and threw a strawberry on top for a little color.  Ta da!

My father-in-law thanked me for making him a perfect cake.  A cake filled with mistakes.  Nothing was how it was supposed to be.  Every decision was a conflict to what I wanted.  Doubt was there the whole time telling me to throw the whole thing away.  If I’d listened, there would have been nothing to celebrate him reaching another year.  If I had, doubt would’ve won and more than a cake would’ve been lost.

So right now I’m thinking about my Mistake Cake.  The imperfection of the layers.  The uneven piping of the vanilla roses.  The fact it wasn’t anything close to German Chocolate.  Because as I humor doubt by letting it stick around and drink all my alcohol, I flutter from my oven to my computer to pour my heart into my passions.  Slowly, I’ll build my strength with small victories to bring the power back to my side.  It’s only a matter of time before I tell doubt it was never invited, the casserole is shit, and most of all get the fuck out.

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