Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. With that aim in mind, if you want to join, visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know other writers, and spread some writerly love.

What I've Been Reading

Me with Author Erin Knightley, July 2013
I finished a sweet regency romance A Taste of Scandal by Erin Knightley. I met Erin at RWA Nationals last July, partly due to having watched her YouTube video on how to pack for a conference (it's amazing what she can fit into a carry-on!). She was so personable and sweet, which can make such a difference in the experience of reading a book.

I tried and gave up on a political suspense novel that I was really looking forward to because again, I'd met the author at a writing conference and found her inspiring. It wasn't a bad book, just not my thing, and I had trouble staying engaged.

Now that I've paid my library fine (leaky travel mug + book = no good) I picked up new audiobooks. I'm listening to Longbourn by Jo Baker, about the Bennett family's housestaff from Pride and Prejudice. I started the New Adult book Easy by Tammara Webber, which has an odd timeline at the start, but the writing has pulled me in. It's unintrusive (not melodramatic like some NA books I've tried). I read 50 pages in a flash.

What I've Been Writing

Waiting to hear back from my agent on a revision. While avoiding thinking about that, I'm officially onto the second draft of SUNSET SUMMER, a YA contemporary I wrote for last year's NaNoWriMo.

Run To You Part One: First Sight
image: Goodreads
I'm experimenting more with my writing software Scrivener thanks to my RWA chapter's lastest meeting hosted by YA author Clara Kensie. Not only did I learn some new features, Clara showed us one of her working Scrivener files which was fascinating! Color coded tabs, a profile for EVERY character, and all of her research and notes linked within the file. She even saved multiple, labeled drafts within the file, which I'm still not entirely sure how to do. At home, I immediately updated mine to auto-update to Dropbox (cloud storage). I had been manually exporting and saving both to my hard drive and dropbox. I'm all about work faster, not harder.

Sidenote: Clara Kensie's debut Run To You is February 1. This is Harlequin Teen's first serial series, so the story releases in three parts all during February. The first part is $1.99 on Kindle and at B&N. Find her at or follow her on twitter @ClaraKensie.

What Inspires Me

I set some goals at the start of the year and have actually been making plans! I signed up to host a few upcoming blog tours--I'm going to be choosy about them because I am not a book blog, and I can't dedicate that much time to tours. The first one I have linked in my sidebar, for Chantel Cleeton's I See London. She's a member of YA-RWA, an online extension chapter of Romance Writers. I met her briefly at YA Day at last year's RWA Nationals. I love to help out authors I've met.

What Else I've Been Up To

Our grill, giving up.
More deep freeze weather means more hoveling out at home. I've been writing, reading, working from home a few extra days. It was so windy the other night, our grill on the porch blew over. The cat was on HIGH ALERT. He kept running to the sliding glass door, slinking around, his ears pricked up. It was cute, but there really isn't much to do for pets freaking out about storms and wind, especially if they evade petting. Poor little guy.

Hope everyone is staying warm! Go check out some of the other blogs in the link at the top. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Recipe: Crockpot Cherry Applesauce

You guys. It's COLD. If you're in the upper half of the US, or in Canada, you are probably in the midst of a deep freeze. If you live further south, it's probably still freakishly cold. My friend in Georgia said it's been crazy cold, then average temps, then heading for cold again.

So today, I'm sharing a warm-you-up recipe I adapted myself. 

Crockpot Cherry Applesauce

Photo: Stephanie Scott
8 apples, peeled cored, sliced
1 cup black cherries, stemmed and pitted 
1/3 cup brown sugar (does not need to be packed)
2 TB water or apple juice
1/2 or 1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice or nutmeg

When I make crockpot applesauce, I don't always peel the apples. This time I did. I've never tried this with cherries before, and it adds a nice additional layer of flavor. Set your cooker to low and cook for 6-10 hours. My crockpot runs hot, so I set mine on high for 2 hours, then low for 2 more and the consistency was great. I used an immersion blender to smooth out the applesauce. If you like yours more chunky, mash down the fruit until it's pulpy. 

This is delicious when it's warm! You can also serve cold, mix in with plain greek yogurt, or top on ice cream.

Do you have any cold weather favorite recipes?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park
Rainbow Rowell
YA Contemporary
Published: 2013

image: Goodreads
Today is the perfect day to post this review because Eleanor and Park was designated as a Printz Honor for 2014! Last year, the book was featured in fantastic critical reviews, it made the NYT and Amazon bestseller lists, gathered an amazing amount of word-of-mouth recommendations, and then there was John Green's New York Times endorsement.

Eleanor, highly introverted and bullied for being overweight, begins an unusual friendship with Park, a fellow student she rides the bus with. The story is told in dual POV, and we see both characters' initial aversion to each other, and their subsequent fascination. Park defends Eleanor one day, and his friends immediately give him a hard time. This causes Park to both loathe and become curious about Eleanor. On the bus, Eleanor peeks over Park's shoulder to read his comics. Over time, she realizes he's turning the pages slower, so she can catch up.

Park is one of the only Asian kids in their area and school, and he identifies with feeling different, as a sort of misfit. The story isn't chiefly about Park being Asian, but his heritage lends a strong subtext to what it's like to be "other" in a predominately white culture (additionally, this story is set in the 1980s). His friendship with Eleanor is tentative, crafted by the comics and Park sharing a mixtape. He even provides extra batteries for Eleanor so she doesn't run out of juice on her stereo.

Their slowly evolving friendship feels so genuine given how some chapters are only a handful of lines, just snippets of dialogue or narrative to reflect intense emotional shifts, both funny and not. Eleanor is painfully shy, to the point she often sabotages her interactions with Park. She is a difficult character, and at least for me, not easily relatable, which is exactly what drew me into the book. She is compelling, and not at all like any character I've read in YA.

This book also explores poverty and abuse. Eleanor and her siblings live with their mom and an abusive stepfather. The emotional abuse and manipulation is heartbreaking, as is Eleanor's mother's enabling of their situation, and her attempt to pretend life is normal. Eleanor's mother sneaks money to buy her kids thrift store clothes, and must lie about buying regular ingredients for cooking while the stepfather eats his own take-out while he's at work. Their poverty is hidden beneath a mask of a middle class neighborhood. Her family situation is revealed with as much reserve as other elements of the story, in turn drawing a great amount of sympathy for a character as difficult as Eleanor. We see why she isolates herself from hurt, and why she doesn't value herself. Park's consistent respectful treatment of Eleanor sends her on the defensive because she isn't used to be being shown kindness without condition.

The resolution of Eleanor and Park is bittersweet--mostly sweet, though the usual Happily Ever After. Which was perfect. This reads more as a snapshot in time for Eleanor and Park. Not their beginning or their end.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bookish TBR Pile Challenge 2014

This year I'm taking part in the Bookish To Be Read Pile Reading Challenge! This is to get through books we already have on our shelves/lists, not debuts for 2014. 

On the 20th of each month we will post a wrap-up post, here, on BOOKISH. Every wrap-up will have it's unique theme, a mini-challenge, a giveaway and place for you to link up your reviews from this monthFor each review you link up, you will get one entry in a drawing of one book of choice from Book Depository. It's open to INTERNATIONALS. The giveaway will be open until the next wrap up post goes up! (i.e. the entire month)

My TBR-pile read for the month is:

Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
Published: 2012
Memoir, humor

Review linked here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
Published: 2012
Memoir, humor

Have you read The Bloggess blog? I was sent a link to one of her posts several years ago by my sister-in-law, about how Lawson found a five-foot metal chicken statue she just had to buy from a random store and the subsquent shenanigans with her husband over the purchase. I think the statue ended up living on the porch. The best way I can describe her blog is a lifestyle and humor, with frequent musings on taxidermy and rural Texas. The blog makes more sense after reading the book.

The Bloggess' book is part memoir, part quasi-blog smooshed together. The author is very self-referential, admitting several times throughout that the book lacks much structure and tends to ramble because that's how she is, and she owns that this is reflective of her generalized anxiety disorder. She is open about her struggles with mental illness, though she mostly conveys it through humor. A few times the book steps into more heartfelt moments, which take the book beyond surface-level humor.

The writing is at its best when the author stops waving attention to how weird and crazy and out-of-the-norm she is. When she lets her experiences speak for themselves, they are funniest and most powerful. Early on in the chapters about her childhood in rural west Texas, she recalls when her father tells she and her sister to look up movie times, to write them all out with a description of each and a case for which movie they should see. When the girls return to Dad, he says, "Now who has money?" Clearly, neither girl has any since they are poor and never have spending money of their own. Dad explains they won't be going to a movie, but "Wasn't it fun when you thought you might?" It's both heartbreaking and a little infuriating, but the way Lawson recalls it is not to shame her father. She is somewhat wistful over the encounter, realizing he was doing what he could given their limitations, and his own as a parent. While he is frequently misguided about many things (raising wild turkeys who bite at the girls, bringing home live snakes and hurt animals), his intentions are never cruel. All the taxidermy stuff goes back to her childhood as her dad had a fondness for turning roadkill into art.

The chapter on her Human Resources work experience is pretty great, and there are some touching and hilarious stories about her family, including her very patient but not always temperate husband Victor (who is frequently noted on the blog). This book is a bit hit-or-miss, which I think is mostly due to a shaky transition from blog writing to book. It's *almost* there, but Lawson just needs to get out of her own way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

I'm back to What's Up Wednesday for 2014!

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. With that aim in mind, if you want to join, visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know other writers, and spread some writerly love.

Please note: I now have links to tumblr and Pinterest in my sidebar!

What I'm Reading

image: Goodreads
I've been slow reading given my time has been taken with edits. I finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which I still need to review. Rowell is so great at writing introverted characters. They are often infuriating to me (Cath in particular, as well as Eleanor in Eleanor and Park), but infuriating in a way that the author has done her job well. Her characters are nuanced and rich. Both of her books rely far less on plot which I suppose can be a drawback depending on your reading preference.

I actually tagged lines with post-it flags. I never do this but I tagged a bunch of pages and flipped through them later. Her writing inspired me to go back through my manuscript and add more character detail. Her character observations are so thorough and unique!

I'm wrapping up with this (below). Stay tuned for a review tomorrow!
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)

What I'm Writing

I finished another round of edits for AMELIA, my summer writing project. My patient and thoughtful agent had suggestions we discussed a month or so ago. Now I'm in that fun little place to wait to hear how well I did on the test :)

One great thing about having a regular, in-person critique group is that we meet once a month. This means I need to produce material to submit. I pulled up my NaNoWriMo novel I haven't looked at since November 28 and read through the first chapter. After a few minor tweaks, I sent it off to the group for review this week. I ended up reading through half of the novel after that and I'm pretty happy with it. (Though to be honest, the second half is where the plot sort of falls apart). So I guess I'm right on to the next while I wait on the other.

ABW, kids. Always. Be. Writing!

What Inspires Me

Good books.
Fangirl was a big inspiration. Tagging those well-written lines, I went back through to see why they caught my attention. What writing devices is the author using that is working? I have a rather sorted TBR list right now, all kinds of books demanding to be read next. I think I'm going with a favorite author, a book I know I'm going to love, to keep that inspiration going.

What Else I've Been Up To

Thanks to the arctic deep freeze last week, I shut myself in for days at a time and worked on edits. I was in the house from Friday night 1/3 until Tuesday afternoon (left the house to resolve a car issue and for a haircut). Then, in the house all day again Wednesday and Thursday. I did actually have to work the day job most of that time, and I'm fortunate I can work from home during severe weather. Cutting out my commute means more writing time. Plus: PJs ALL DAY.

The tag #ChiBeria trended on twitter (that's Chi for Chicago + Siberia) and some really cool (uh, frozen) pictures were posted of frozen Lake Michigan and glimpses of the city in sub-zero temperatures. More polar vortex pics from around the country here on the Instagram Blog.

I was not one of the many who rushed the grocery store for bread and milk before the freeze hit. We had sufficient food, and I can't handle the panic-mode people work up to for two days of potential bad weather. By the time I visited the store Tuesday night, the shelves were ransacked apocalypse-style. Seriously, why bread and milk? Are people just eating cereal and sandwiches when it snows?

OK everybody, what's up for your Wednesday?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TV: Reasons Why The Mindy Project Matters

I used to write TV posts for a now-defunct blog and I miss it. I thought I'd feature some TV-related articles here. And possibly soon, to an outside blog/site near you! 

The Mindy Project is one of my favorite shows. It debuted last year and I binged through all the episodes in a day or two. The show returned to FOX Tuesday with new episodes through January 28. Then? It goes on haitus until April. Come on now FOX. Do not mess with my shows. 


The Mindy Project is needed on TV. Here's why:

  • Female Led Comedies  From I Love Lucy, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Roseanne, comedic women changed television. Women bring a different voice to comedy, and we need to see more female voices alongside men. It's not an either/or. This is a show set in a gynecological office that manages to eschew most typical female anatomy jokes. While the tides are shifting, there are still so few shows with female leads, and even fewer comedies. (For further reading, see this excellent NYTimes article where Roseanne and Mindy are interviewed together.) 
  • Hooray For Diversity! How many Indian women have their own TV show? How many Indians are on American TV period? Mindy is US-born, and I like that the show doesn't have to center around her ethnicity, though it naturally factors in. New York City is a diverse place, and it's nice to see that reflected on TV (unlike, you know Friends). Also, Mindy is refreshingly not rail thin like so many TV actresses. Again, how often do you see women on TV with a more average weight who are 1.) not the funny friend 2.) not the butt of constant fat jokes. Mindy's character playfully jokes about dresses that make her look skinny, but it's clear she's a full, confident character who isn't cramming herself into Spanx for a laugh (Sorry Rebel Wilson, I had to give up on Super Fun Night).
  • Ensemble Cast Similar to New Girl and the Andy Samberg starring Brooklyn 9-9, Mindy smartly spreads the funny throughout an excellent cast. Mindy Kahling's character drives the show, but the story, the good lines, the humor, all balance among characters. Ike Barinholtz (Mad TV) is my new favorite former prison inmate turned nurse. Though bro-doc Peter is consistently funny in a cringe-inducing way. 
  • It's Funny, Yo I rewind clips at least three times per show. I re-tweet funny lines. I've rewatched several episodes before deleting from my DVR. If this was a comedy of self-importance--look, we're diverse! Our voice should be heard too!--the comedy wouldn't ring true. The humor is a mix of slapstick, commentary, and characters playing off each other. It's the right balance of funny to make those other elements stand out. 
  • Nuance Like Parks and Rec, another female-led comedy, Mindy has a sweeter side. It's self-aware but not so much so that it can't delve into earnestness. Mindy is the quintessential career-driven single woman trying to find love in the big city. The show takes some expected routes, but some unexpected ones too. Mindy struggles with giving up her identity to please someone she is in love with, spurring some larger character development. To prove to her coworkers she is not superficial she dates a total bonehead (the amazing Timothy Olyphant as a 40+ year-old skater dude). But we most love her friendship with Danny, blue-collar (though a doctor) coworker who looks out for her. Who choreographed a dance for her. This is hilarious on many levels because: 1. Danny is a tough guy who can't exactly dance 2. He's dancing to early 2000s R&B 3. This is just the thing Mindy would completely appreciate while anyone else would think is weird. Thus, sweetness.
I kind of want that cake...

Do you watch The Mindy Project? Who is your favorite character?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

TV: Reasons Why You Should Watch Justified

Part of my TV series!

Justified, on cable channel FX, returns January 7 (preview here on It's one of the best shows on TV, and here's why:

image: Goodreads
Elmore Leonard
The author famous for the books behind Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and 3:10 to Yuma wrote the basis for Justified in a short story. He worked as a consultant on the show until his passing in 2013. Watching this show as a writer is a treat. The dialogue is flavorful, efficient, eloquent in its sparseness. There is no wasted dialogue or cheap lines here. Leonard has famously quipped on his ten rules for writing. Considering he says to use regional dialect sparingly, he crafts his character's speech in such a unique way that it does the job without going overboard. It's what the writing community calls voice, and he has loads of it. He wrote a follow up to his short story, Raylan published in 2011, which Justified then used as source material for additional seasons. Every TV show has writers, but what other shows have this guy?

image: promo shot FX
Boyd Crowder
Walton Goggins plays Boyd, a backwoods thug with an expanded vocabulary; the kind of man who will take you down and give a thoughtful speech while doing so. He's a racist and a criminal who becomes a preacher. Who then becomes a criminal again--or was he the whole time? He crafts villainy into anti-hero, but there's never much chance that he's actually a hero. He and Timothy Olyphant's Raylan both come from similar dirt-poor, crime-ridden families, having grown up together. The dynamic between them is intense and occasionally funny, as Boyd tests Raylan's commitment to his marshal duties, and Raylan questions Boyd's oddly particular loyalties.

Ava Crowder
Lest you think the show is limited to modern cowboys, the women of Justified have complexity and fire that aren't shown enough on TV. Ava, a Crowder by marriage to Boyd's brother (who she is separated from at the start of the show), fends for herself, and makes poor decisions often born out of loyalty, though it's loyalty to criminals. She's tough with a softness, ruthless in way that's heartbreaking to watch. She finds herself the wrong way of the law by habit, but it's her choices that make her compelling. She doesn't choose easy; she is a survivor, and will go to great lengths to preserve herself. Raylan's ex-wife Winona shows maybe a little less spitfire, but she also navigates her own story in unexpected ways. They've hinted a bit US Marshal Rachel's backstory, and every time she's on screen, I want to see more. More Rachel!

The Entire Cast
Okay, let's be honest here. Everybody is awesome on this show. Every actor gets good lines. Even the thugs with one line get a good line. Down to guest stars and extras, I've never once caught on that someone on the show felt disingenuous, like Hollywood had invaded rural Kentucky with too much gloss. Jeremy Davies who plays Dickie Bennett (who also played Dr. Faraday on Lost) is mesmerizing as a petty criminal whose enterprising ways further derail him from any sense of normalcy. There's a reason he was nominated (and won) an Emmy. Margo Martindale also won an Emmy for her guest arc as a terrifying matriarch of a Kentucky-hollar crime ring. Bobby from Supernatural shows up from time to time and is given a satisfying twist to his role in Season 4. Comedian Patton Oswalt doesn't disappoint as a third-rate cop down on his luck.

Take your run-of-the-mill procedural and dip it in rural Kentucky, throw in talented actors and a legendary American author. This is the best show you could be watching.

Do you watch Justified? Are you excited for the new season?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 Goals (and 2013 wrap-up)

Last year I posted a few goals for 2013 as part of YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday (original post here).

My goals were quite general:

  • I've read so much YA fiction in the past two years, I'd like to mix it up more often. I'd like to read more non-fiction and adult market novels. My most recent library haul included a memoir, popular non-fiction history book, a writing craft book, and a fiction book that was popular with the book clubs a few years back.
  • I am finalizing revisions to send my current writing projects to agents who requested material from a contest late in 2012. I'd like to start revising the draft I wrote during Nanowrimo in November and see where that leads.
  • Other than that, I plan to keep blogging, and connecting with other writers and readers online, on twitter, and through RWA and SCBWI. I am tentatively planning on attending RWA Nationals in Atlanta in July!

So where did that lead?
  • In 2013, I read 67 books, 40% of which were adult market (non-YA) books that included historical, non-fiction and romance. Success! 
  • The other part of that goal was to revise my Nano 2012 project. I did start to revise, though I realized the story had a number of plot issues. I set it aside for the remainder of the year and worked on two different new projects instead. 

  • I let my SCBWI membership lapse because locally, they didn't offer much for me. I spent my efforts on RWA and attended the national conference in Atlanta. I met writers I only knew from online, published authors, and I got to know my chapter a little better, with 20 of us attending. Plus the Chicago North chapter. I've made a dent in the pile of free books (and gave some away). I took great workshop notes which I've revisited several times.Success! 
  • I also attended Midwest Writers Workshop (the very next week--insanity) where I met my agent Sarah, along with another client of hers, the fantastic Summer Heacock (@fizzygirl).
    Summer, Sarah, Stephanie. 
  • I started a YA and New Adult critique group within my RWA chapter. Four of us meet once a month and discuss critiques in more depth. Face to face. I also did a google chat with writer Valerie Cole (she held my hand for my first video chat) which was so much fun. So even if you don't have an in-person group to work with, use technology to your advantage! 

For 2014, here's to getting a little more specific:

  1. Finish revisions on Contemporary YA #1. Submit to agent > sub to publishers
  2. Complete subsequent drafts of 2013 NaNoWriMo Contemporary YA #2
  3. Possibly revise a Historical YA novel
  4. Develop a new novel idea and/or participate in NaNoWriMo 2014
  5. Expand freelance writing to pop culture websites (something I did previously but the site folded)
  1. Develop/maintain new blog content: TV reviews, blog challenges. Potentially focus some posts on writing advice or the query process
  2. Write a guest post 
  3. Feature guest post
  4. Host a book launch or cover reveal
  5. Contribute to a group blog (if anyone has leads, please let me know!)
  6. Read through slush/coach/assist with a pitch contest on a writing blog
Professional (writing):
  1. Attend a workshop (planning for: Chicago North Spring Fling, April 2014)
  2. Develop a workshop/skills/experience for a future presentation
  3. Take on a leadership role within RWA (currently Historian, assisting w/ auction gift basket, judge for annual contest)
  4. Read 2-4 new writing craft books
  5. Sign up for 2-4 RWA monthly courses through YARWA/Pro/main site of RWA
  6. Golden Heart finalist?? (Hey, it could happen!)
  1. Goodreads challenge set at 50 books
  2. Read at least 2 classics
What are you most proud of from 2013? What's in store for you in 2014?