Looking Back and Looking Forward

My surgery-induced work vacation ends on 1/5/15. It feels a little bit like the end of an era. I look forward to getting back into the day job, but a little part of my writer heart is going to weep that day when it begins to miss sitting down to write whenever it wants.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps like things unresolved. But since it’s that time o’ year, I’ll do another obligatory New Year’s tradition: the wrap up.

My surgery was October 2. Since that day I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Written roughly 60,000 words for 2 different manuscripts.
  • Read 12 books.
  • Binge-watched three tv shows on Netflix. One of which landed high on my list of all-time faves.*
  • Completely freaked out on my Crit Partner about my WIP and doubted that I could actually write a book.
  • Finished current seasons of five shows I’d DVR’d.
  • Organized my cabinets and pantry.
  • Visited the physical therapist around twenty times.
  • Went back to my WIP and decided maybe I can make a go of this.
  • Watched two movies in the theatre. Loved them both.
  • Got really good at driving the motorized carts at the grocery store.
  • Graduated one kid from college. (Okay, she did that herself, but I helped!)
  • Fell “fictional head-over-heels” for a hot alien.**

Not bad considering a lot of that was done while I was flat on my back. (Or rather slanted at the physican-approved 30 degree angle.)

In preparation for my return to work, I’m heading into the writing cave today. I plan to double the word count in my WIP by the time I go back, so it’s head down, fingers flying, don’t look up until I get there. I will not be deterred. You can tempt me with Walking Dead marathons, Twinkies or hot aliens**, I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.

My best wishes for a safe and happy 2015! See you on the flip side.

*The 100 is the best show you’re not watching. Seriously, it’s ground-breaking, daring, and emotional. I can’t recommend it enough. The writing is great, the actors are perfectly-cast and talented. And whatever you think’s going to happen…yeah, you’re wrong. So many, “Did not see that comings,” I can’t count them.

** My friend and aforementioned crit partner Mandy recommended that I finally make a point to read Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux series. She knows me so well.  I’ve devoured 2 ½ books in less than a week. (And that’s reading only at night after hubs goes to sleep.) I absolutely love it. The MC is great. The love interest is smokin’. It’s got everything I want in a story—emotional romance, gripping drama, plot twists, action, did I mention the romance? If you like those things, get on it.

Before the Twelve Days of Christmas

I recently attended my office Christmas party. It was a festive occasion with delicious food, friends and a fabulous entertainer! She sang a song called “The Twelve Days After Christmas” which had us all rolling in laughter.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I’ll paraphrase: Sister-friend is straight fed. UP. with the flock of odd creatures her “true love” sent to her for Christmas. She proceeds to shoot the partridge, chop down the pear tree, make soup out of the hens, drown the geese and ship all those maids, dancing ladies, pipers, lords and drummers back to where they came from.

Well, she kept one drummer. 😉

It was fun to consider what happened to the poor person stuck with all the clean-up after that many animals and uninvited guests. I never really had thought about it until that party. Which led me to question: What in the world was that guy thinking? (And let’s just face it, it was a guy sending all these things to his true love. A woman would have sent more practical gifts.)

Who would sit around and think, “She’s my true love. I’ll show her by sending her a menagerie of squawking, molting, pooping birds and fifty extra mouths to feed! She’ll love it!”

12 Days

Yeah. Shoulda put a ring on it instead.

When I started thinking about the motivation for this guy, it led me to think about the motivations of our characters as we write. Sometimes I get caught up in the plot of the story, and forget to think about what is driving the events. To write a cohesive story, the characters need to behave and react in consistent ways. That’s not to say you don’t write characters that grow and change. That’s important too.

Looking at motivations and backstory of the characters we write, even if these things don’t make it to the page, helps to write consistent characters. Why does the character feel a certain way? What caused them to be callous, or ambitious, or romantic? What are they thinking when they say and do the things they say and do?

Recently I have been having an issue with the love interest in my current WIP. I like him. He’s fun to write, but he was feeling a little flat to me. I went back and really thought about where he came from, what he had done to get himself in the place he is, and why he’s drawn to the MC. I didn’t really have good answers for all of those questions, so I set out to discover them. When I had those things lined out, he became more “real” to me and I was able to write him as more than just one dimensional.

I know one thing for sure. He would never send his true love a partridge or a pear tree.

The Unsung Heroes of Christmas

It’s Christmas time around my house…and in the stores, and on the television, and the radio, and downtown… You get the idea.

I personally love celebrating Christmas and the real Reason for the Season. I enjoy wrapping up gifts for my family, watching Christmas movies, and decorating with our unique blend of Collins flare mixed with consideration of clean-up after the big day. (In other words, we don’t have a huge tree up this year because decorating it and taking it down are the least favorite of my kids’ Christmas activities. We DO have a tree though.)

With that laziness  conservation of resources in mind, I have been reflecting on the unsung heroes of Christmastime. We all know the big guy gets a lot of love, as well he should, but what about those people who give as much as Santa? What about those who have done something to make everyone else’s Christmas a little more merry? Where are their Christmas cookies and milk?

I give you this list of the unsung heroes of Christmas. These are the folks I am thankful for.

  • The person who first put grid lines on the back of wrapping paper.
  • The parents of all the Pentatonix members. Thank you for reproducing insanely talented children.
  • The turkey executive who decided to insert the thermometer inside the turkey before it came to my house.
  • Mr. Kuerig
  • Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass because please, who still doesn’t “Put one foot in front of the other?” (If you just sang that in your head, you are cool.)
  • The inventor of ear plugs – for Salvation Army workers who ring that bell through sleet and snow and for parents of kids who get drum sets.
  • The designer who first thought to PRE-LIGHT Christmas trees.
  • The workers who willingly work on Christmas Eve, and those that don’t work so willingly but do it to get that paycheck. You should get Christmas bonuses.
  • The music industry guy who said, “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s get David Bowie and Bing Crosby together and ask them to sing a Christmas song.”
  • Snowbird Bob who predicts “Well Below Average Temps” for my area of the South, increasing the chances of a White Christmas this year!

God Bless and Best Wishes for a wonderful Christmas season. May all be Merry and Bright in your house.

Potato Chip Cookies

This year on Thanksgiving, I asked my daughter what she wanted for dessert. I gave her a few choices and she chose Potato Chip Cookies. She chose wisely.

If you’re not familiar with Potato Chip Cookies, the sound of them may seem pretty disgusting to you. (Or maybe not.) I know before I tried one I couldn’t imagine how combining potato chips and cookies, both delicious on their own, would result in anything edible. But because I grew up with a father who ate peanut butter/mayonnaise sandwiches, I decided to give them a try.

Potato Chip Cookies are one of my favorite things to eat and make now.
(Side note to my Diabetic Doctor: These are special occasion cookies for me only! Promise!)

The cookies are made with powdered sugar so you get the almost-too-sweet sweetness and Lay’s potato chips which provide the crunchy-salty counterbalance. Really, they’re the best of two worlds wrapped up in one buttery package.

We were discussing exactly what makes these cookies so good and it occurred to me how easily the answer could be translated into writing characters. For my tastes, cookies that are too sweet are easy to refuse—too much sweetness and you’re left with a stomachache and bland taste in your mouth. And if you eat nothing but chips, you’re going to end up with a dry mouth begging for water.

But put them together in one thing? Tasty goodness.

Characters that are too sweet and perfect are boring. It’s hard for readers to care about someone when they always get what they want or everything comes easily for them. Character development comes from conflict and tension when things go wrong.

“Nobody’s perfect” is a cliché for a reason. It’s true. Even the most likable and charismatic people have secrets or fears or issues of some kind, even if they try to hide them. Writing characters who are too perfect is bland, boring, and just not satisfying.  Like too sweet cookies, you need a little salty crunchy tastiness to shake things up.

Some of the best written characters are deeply flawed. Take Katniss Everdeen for example. When I read the HUNGER GAMES series, I sometimes just plain disliked Katniss. She was grumpy at times, whiny at times, and she really didn’t want to be the hero they were trying to make her into. Yet, I still rooted for her because it was those very flaws in her character that made her relatable. We’re all grumpy and whiny at times just like Katniss. (Even moi.) As I read, though, I wanted things to turn out for her. Not because she deserved it but because she felt like a real person not a character I was reading about in a book.

Another example from one of my favorite recent series, Four from DIVERGENT. I could write twenty blogs on the complexity of Four and the beautiful nuances of his character. On the surface, he’s got it all together. He’s mysterious, tough, cool, almost unreachable. The perfect example of the Dauntless faction. But bite into him (COOKIE METAPHOR!) and you’ll find a scarred guy who is just trying to cope with his situation and deal with his past demons. He’s still likable because he is ultimately kind to Tris to gives her exactly what she needs to survive and he cares deeply about things in spite of what has happened to him. He’s cookies and potato chips.

I have made it a point to put each of my characters through the Potato Chip Cookie test to make sure they have the right balance of sweet and salty to make them relatable to my readers. And honestly it makes them more fun to write when there’s some of both in them.

And for fun, here is my Potato Chip Cookie recipe for you to enjoy! It’s super easy to do and very delish. I was going to take a photo of our cookies to share here, but we ate them before I could snap the pic.

1 cup Salted Butter

1 cup Powdered Sugar

1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 ½ cups crushed Lay’s Potato Chips

Powdered Sugar for Sprinkling

—Preheat oven to 350 degrees

—In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar

—Add flour, and beat with mixer while adding vanilla

—With spoon fold in Potato Chips

—Drop dough by spoonfuls 1 ½ inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet

—Bake 15-18 minutes, until lightly colored

—Remove from baking sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool.