Bridesmaid Trilogy, Lost Art of Second Chances, Parenting, Writing

And the living is easy…

Happy Summer! Fox is out of school for the summer. Hard to believe he’s not a kindergartener anymore. I borrowed this meme about summer from my friend Mary’s blog, Passionate Perseverance. She started the blog to document her life with her severely disabled daughter, also named Courtney. Her story is amazing (have Kleenex ready if you read it!) and she’s always an inspiration to me.

Here are my Answer Me This answers for Summertime…

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#1 – Any big plans for the summer?
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Mostly, I’m going to be spending summer with my favorite guy, Fox. He is going to camp on and off all summer. In between, we’re going to do crafts, go to the pool, and participate in the local library’s summer reading challenge. To that end, if anyone has any suggestions for keeping an almost 7 year old amused, let me know in the comments. I need all the help I can get.

I’m also in the final stages of two books, Forever a Bridesmaid, and The Lost Art of Second Chances while starting to draft Once a Bridesmaid. I need a time turner.

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And we’re planning to go to the Outer Banks in July and Myrtle Beach in August. Should be a fun, full summer.

#2 – What is the strangest thing you believed as a child?

I went to 13 years of Catholic school. I totally bought into the Jesus and the saints are watching your every move deal.
#3 – What is you favorite amusement park ride?
Any roller coaster. Anytime, baby! My favorite coaster ever is the Alpengeist in Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

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#4 – What’s on you summer reading list?

My TBR pile is teetering off the nightstand. Here are just a few choices:  I’m really looking forward to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which is due out in September. I want to read Lauren Willig’s That Summer and The Other Daughter. I’ve heard great things about The Rocks by Peter Nichols.

I’ll also be doing summer reading with Fox. I think Henry Huggins by Beverly Clearly will be our first one.

#5 – Have you ever fallen asleep in public?

No, not since I was three and fell asleep in my stroller at Disney World.

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#6 – What is your favorite smell?
All the lavender. LOVE that one. But I’m a lotions and potions kinda girl so I love lots of different ones. My all time favorite lotion is satsuma from the Body Shop. So bright and clean and happy. And I also love their new green tea line.

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That’s it for this week. Tag, you’re it! Your turn to answer the questions….

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Happy Summertime! 🙂

Bridesmaid Trilogy, Crafts, Writing

Coloring Books

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So, have you heard about the new trend of coloring books for adults? For the past several weeks, Johanna Basford’s coloring books, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, have topped the Amazon bestseller charts. Full of fanciful illustrations, with plenty of room to color, these books are touted as everything from play for adults to creativity boosts to relaxation and meditation aides.

 

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And I say, yes to all of the above 🙂 I’ve been coloring with Fox for about three years. I started out with free mandalas and downloads from Don’t Eat the Paste. (Several of the ones in the photos are from that site). I saw Basford’s books a few months ago and ordered them quickly thereafter. They are wonderful, detailed and rich, with lots of hidden things to find.

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As a recovering type A (my RL friends and family need to stop laughing at that!), I have tried to meditate multiple times. My monkey mind just doesn’t want to cooperate. However, with coloring, I can fall into a meditative sort of trance. I think it’s because the repetitive motion keeps my hands busy and the inner critic quiet.

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I keep a notebook beside me and write down any ideas that pop up. That’s how I’m brainstorming my current WIP, Forever a Bridesmaid. Grab yourself a box of crayons or some colored pencils and give it a try yourself.

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Writing, wycwyc

#wycwyc

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Have you heard about the latest wellness movement? It’s #wycwyc (pronounced wick-wick) and stands for “What You Can, When You Can.” The brainchild of Roni Noone and Carla Birnberg, the concept is that the crazy fad diets (cabbage soup, anyone?) and the marathoner mindset don’t help anyone actually become fit and healthy for life. Instead, the small daily actions that we squeeze into our real, overstuffed lives are what actually makes a difference long term.

For example, when going to Target, park as far as possible and get some extra steps in #wycwyc. Or get the side salad instead of the fries at the burger joint #wycwyc. Go to bed early so you’ll be ready for tomorrow #wycwyc.

I’ve been listening to their podcast on my own daily walks (#wycwyc baby!) and I love it. It’s like chatting with my best girlfriends (none of whom, sadly, live close enough to take a daily walk together). Their book recently came out. It’s a series of short essays illuminating and exemplifying the #wycwyc philosophy and integrating it into your daily life. It’s just the daily shot of motivation needed to keep #wycwyc-ing your way to your goals.

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Carla and Roni really want to create a social media community of wycwyc-ers coalescing around the #wycwyc on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They are both super friendly and approachable, real women who really understand the struggles faced by the average woman, in the real world. Roni’s Green Lite Bites has long been a favorite go-to recipe site for me.

As I was reading the book though, I was struck at how I, unknowingly, used the #wycwyc philosophy to change fiction writing from a hobby I dabbled in to my new career. I used to believe that I would write when life settled down and I had time—hours on end to devote to my craft, perhaps with a manservant or two to see to my every need. Guess what? That’s not happening. I will never have hours on end, free of all other responsibilities or interests to pursue my writing.

Instead, I took the Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds, challenge to write 350 words a day, every day, no excuses. (Link does contain some NSFW language but, if you’re a writer, you can’t beat Wendig’s down to earth approach and fantastic approach. Read Terrible Minds!) So, I started writing 350 words a day, whenever I could squeeze it in. Sometimes that meant at lunch, sometimes waking up before Fox, sometimes staying up crazy late. But I did it. And some days it was just 350 words and then sometimes, I’d make 1000+ words a day. I kept up my streak for 254 straight days, until we took a family vacation at Disney World. By then, writing every day was an ingrained habit.

Some other examples of #wycwyc for writing:

1) Load your e-reader up with writing craft books and read those instead of checking Facebook, again. #Wycwyc

2) Set up a newsreader of your favorite writing blogs to stay up on the industry #wycwyc

3) Listen to writing podcasts on your walk (double #wycwyc). Start with anything by StoryWonk. Their podcasts are master classes.

What can you do to #wycwyc your way to your dreams?

Lost Art of Second Chances, Writing

Meet Me Under the Clock

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Filene’s Basement

As I discussed in last week’s post, in The Lost Art of Second Chances, Bella leaves Italy and ends up in Boston, Massachusetts to raise her family. Partly, this was to mesh with Lucy’s story, which I’d already set in upstate Massachusetts.

In the book, Jack references a family tradition of Bella taking Lucy to buy a special dress and to lunch at Filene’s. Though the store doesn’t exist any longer, Filene’s was a department store in Boston’s Downtown Crossing area.

Because Filene’s placed their markdowns on the bottom floor, they helped coin the term “bargain basement.” Perhaps the most famous of their bargains was the semiannual “running of the brides” when wedding gowns went on sale.

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Filenes also had a famous clock that became a common meeting place for shoppers, hence the phrase “Meet me at the clock.” My mother often reminisces about the lunches she’d enjoy after meeting her girlfriends under the clock and working up an appetite hunting for bargains in the basement.

Sadly, the store filed for bankruptcy and shuttered for good several years ago. The Downtown Crossing store was leveled soon after. So, no more meetings under the clock or running of the brides, except in my novel, The Lost Art of Second Chances. 

Lost Art of Second Chances, Quotes, Writing

World War II in Italy

Back again with more background information on The Lost Art of Second Chances. So, this story is a braided or dual narrative. We have Lucy and Jack’s story that takes place more or less in the present day. And we also follow Belladonna’s story starting from her childhood in pre-World War II Italy and coming forward to the present time.

As I’ve mentioned before, Jack and Lucy were my initial plan for this book as a second chance at love story. Instead, Belladonna just up and stole the show. I realized I needed to tell her story too and began researching Italy in the second World War. In school, I’d learned that Italy sided with Germany and Japan in the war but I never realized that Italy actually withdrew from the war in mid-1943. From that point forward, the Allies (mostly the British and the Americans) marched up the Italian mainland, fighting the Germans the entire way.

As the Germans retreated, through the remainder of 1943 and 1944, they occasionally attacked various towns. As I was developing Bella’s story, I heard CNN report on the story of San Pancrazio. On 29 June 1944, German soldiers attacked the tiny mountaintop village, killing 73 men and destroying the village. The horror of San Pancrazio became the basis for Belladonna’s fictional hometown, Angelo Ali, and Paolo’s story. Angelo Ali translates to Angel’s Wings, an appropriate name for a tiny hamlet in the clouds. Here is the CNN story.

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Art and other priceless cultural treasures are often victims of war too. The Monuments Men, made famous by the recent George Clooney movie for their more well-known work in France, were also quite busy in Italy. Bella’s love interest, Paolo LaRosa, works with the Monuments Men. They meet when Paolo and the Monuments Men want to secrete art treasures in her hometown. Paolo himself did not exist, except in my imagination. But the Monuments Men did. The books I relied on to learn about their mission were (note that all links are Amazon Affiliate links):

 

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Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nations Treasures from the Nazis  Robert M. Edsel.

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The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

 

Rape of Europa

The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas

Deane Keller, one of the real Monuments Men in Italy, provides the epigraph for The Lost Art of Second Chances, when he spoke about his WWII mission:

“Life is full of mysteries in which unfathomable forces produce mystical results.”

I thought that was the perfect quote to describe Lucy’s journey to solve the mystery of Belladonna and Paolo.

Uncategorized, Writing

More Lessons Learned from Watching Friends

Last month, I talked about watching the first two seasons of the sitcom, Friends, on Netflix. Now I’ve completed watching through the end of season five and I thought I’d share what more I’ve learned since then.

 

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1) Archetypes

Last time I talked about how Joey, Chandler, and Ross are archetype equivalents to Kirk, Bones and Spock (respectively). Now I wanted to talk about the girls. They are also a power trio called the Three faces of Eve. Phoebe equates to the playful innocent one, Rachel equals the hot and sexy one, and Monica is the calm and capable wife or team mom. Interestingly, Monica is the one who shown to be someone who could build a home life and is therefore a good match for Chandler. Rachel is definitely the hot one, the one we all desire to be. Phoebe veers toward being a manic pixie dream girl when the show highlights her eccentricities to the point of weirdness.

Utilizing archetypes with a twist is makes an effective story by combining a universal element with a unique spin.

 

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2) Comic Exaggeration

Over five seasons, the comic identifying characteristic for each individual becomes increasingly exaggerated. Joey starts out as somewhat dimwitted but by the end of the fifth season his stupidity is often played for laughs. Sometimes, I think he gets dumber every show. Phoebe was always eccentric but now she is just weird. Ross was always high-strung and type A but now he delves toward whiney jackass.

Some of these are due to the sitcom format. But it’s still a cautionary tale. Character quirks can quickly become irritating if exaggerated too far.

 

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3) Couples

At the end of the second season, Ross and Rachel became a couple. In a sitcom format, they couldn’t allow them to be a happy couple for long so by the middle of season three, they go “on a break” and never really reunite as a couple. So therefore the beta couple of the show, Monica and Chandler, become the main couple and the heart of the show within a single season. They get together in the finale of the forth season and are moving in together at the end of season five. Ultimately, their relationship is shown as a healthy example and much more interesting than the endless on off-again, merry-go-round of Ross and Rachel.

I’m still enjoying watching the show. I’ll report back at the end of season seven.

Writing

What Writing Fanfiction Taught Me About Writing

As a professional writer, I often get asked why I would “waste my time” writing fanfiction rather than original work. I never quite know how to respond to that. The short answer is that, for me, it’s play or that it’s just for fun, like a baseball player tossing a ball around with his child in the yard or a ballerina going out dancing at a club with her friends. It is my way of playing with my writing talent.

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I think most writers, if they’re honest, started out writing fan fiction. How many times have you seen a movie, watched a show, or read a book and wondered about some loose plot line or a different ending or even just what happened to them after the story ended? Writing that down is fan fiction. With the advent of the internet and sites such as Archive of Our Own (AO3) or Fanfiction.net, fan fiction can be shared easily.

Also, as a new writer, there’s a lot to learn—point of view, description, action, characters, setting… It’s daunting to have to come up with all that at once. It’s fun to play in another person’s world for a while. For me, I often set out to learn a specific technique, such as deep point of view, by writing fan fiction. I’ve also used it to teach me how to write certain story arcs or plots, such as sex to love romance (the inverse of the typical romance plot).

Posting my writing has led to interaction with readers and fans which I hope will be very helpful when my original work comes out. Writing and sharing my fan fiction has given me confidence in my own writing and the courage to publish my original work. It also taught me where my natural talents lie as a writer (dialogue, humor, angst) and what I will never be good at (Description!). It taught me discipline, to set deadlines and meet them, to finish my work and get it out there.

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Additionally, it’s given me a writer community. I have dear friends and brainstorming buddies all over the country, connected by the wonders of the internet. We have ongoing Skype chats and a weekly “drabble night” where we gather together at the same time and enjoy writing sprints for a specified period of time.

When I decided to write this article, I asked my friends what fanfic taught them. And my dear friend, Heather, answered with this opening line, that I think encapsulates it perfectly:

Writing fanfic has taught me that I have stories and ideas worth telling.

 

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Disney, Writing

What Building Legos Taught Me About Writing

So, we recently enjoyed Fox’s two week holiday break from school (also known as “No, you will not write so much as a sentence, Mommy! No productivity for you!”). Santa as well as wonderful family members and friends brought Fox lots of Legos for Christmas. His gift to me was the Cinderella’s Lego carriage.

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Suffice it to say that Fox and I spent a lot of time on Christmas break building with the tiny little bricks (aka manicure ruiners and impromptu burglar device—you ever stepped on one? Yeouch!)

Anyway, while building my 87 step tow truck, I reflected on what building Legos can teach you about writing.

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1) The picture on the front of the box looks great. Just like the mental picture of your perfect, beautiful story with the clever dialogue and gorgeous metaphors. And then, in reality, you put the sticker on crooked (or backwards) and it never comes out just like the photo on the box. That’s okay. It’s still a beautiful Lego tow truck or a novel. Whichever.

2) Takes longer than you expect. I hoped that I could finish our car carrier in something less than a lunar month. Maybe not. Just like a novel, it takes way longer than you thought it would to put together 300 Lego pieces into something resembling the intended creation. That’s ok. Take however much time you need.

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3) You’ll always have extra pieces. I think Lego puts extras in there just so you’re never entirely sure that you followed the directions properly. No matter what happens, there are going to be pieces of the story—scenes, dialogue, description, the entire third act—that you don’t need for the final version. Keep them in a handy-dandy ziploc. You might need them for that next project—Lego or otherwise.

4) There’s a point in every project where you’d like to toss it across the room. For Lego, this usually happened around step twenty. For writing, it’s usually just past the mid-point where I decide hate the story, every character in it is too stupid to live, I must have been drunk when I came up with the idea and I should never again scribble notes in the middle of the night… At that moment, maybe take a short break, grab a juice box, and just breathe for a bit. Then, keep going. You’ll never build that 700+ piece castle if you quit. Same for your novel.

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Now, time to get back to mine…

Writing

Writing Friends

 

28c79aac89f44f2dcf865ab8c03a4201So, in the mid-1990s (which was twenty years ago—OMG! How did that happen? I feel like Rip Van Winkle!), I attended law school at night while working full-time during the day. As you can imagine, this did not leave much room for fun activities like sleeping or watching TV. I completely missed the first few years of Friends.

Thank goodness, Netflix gave me a little New Year’s gift. All ten seasons of Friends are available to stream, just in time for hibernation season. I mainlined the first two seasons (I’m right at the end of season two as I write this).

I do know, in broad general terms, how it all ends and the major plot points along the way. But, I’d never seen a single episode of the first season. And, as I watched, I considered all the writing lessons I could draw from it. Multi-tasking like a boss 🙂

1) Archetypes with a twist:

I haven’t figured this out yet for the girls but the boys are classic Kirk/Spock/Bones archetypes. Their traits are not as exaggerated as in Star Trek. Joey is a good-hearted womanizer (Kirk), Ross is a socially awkward scientist (Spock), and Chandler is the wise-cracking guy covering his vulnerability with humor (Bones).

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It’s just like how Golden Girls and Sex and the City are the same show. I doubt Joey, Ross, and Chandler are going to boldly go anywhere other than Central Perk but the basic character types are the same. Understanding tropes well helps to create a set of characters. The trick, of course, is giving them your own unique spin.

Lesson learned: Base characters on archetypes but be sure to give them a unique spin.

Here’s the link to TV Tropes about the trio. But, I warn you, it’s a greater time sink than Tumblr and Facebook combined.

2) Backstory:

Even though the show focuses on a group of friends who’ve known each other for a while, it’s not immediately clear how these individuals know each other at all. In the pilot, we learn that Rachel and Monica were friends in grade and high school. Pretty quickly thereafter, we learn that Monica and Ross are siblings. We don’t find out until the second season that Chandler and Ross were college roommates. I still have no idea how Joey and Phoebe became part of the group, though I know that Phoebe was Monica’s prior roommate.
So far, it hasn’t been necessary to know any of that. So the writers haven’t shared. It helps to sustain interest on the part of the viewer.

Lesson learned: Only give backstory out when it’s essential to understanding the current story. Not before.

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3) Character combos:

There are six main characters in the ensemble. It’s not uncommon to see Chandler and Joey together as well as Rachel and Monica. They are roommates so lots of scenes there. We see ensemble scenes frequently too. Now that Ross and Rachel are on (for the moment) we see scenes of them together often.
They also break along gender lines occasionally so we have a few scenes of the boys and some of the girls. One of the best is the one when Rachel tells Monica and Phoebe about her kiss with Ross while Ross bonds with the boys over pizza.

So far, two seasons in, it’s rare to see Ross and Joey have a scene on their own. Or Phoebe alone with Ross. One of the funniest scenes so far was Phoebe and Chandler having dual break-ups together in Central Perk but we don’t often see them either. The writers play with these combinations a great deal.

Lesson Learned: Use unusual character combinations to keep the story fresh and interesting.

4) Couples

Even if I didn’t watch the show on the first run, I’d have to have been living under a rock not to know about Ross/Rachel. I remember watching an episode with my friend (I think it was the season two one after Ross and Rachel’s first kiss) with my best friend and saying to her, “So Monica and Chandler are a couple?” It was not my ever-reliable ESP but rather that, even in the early seasons, Perry and Cox are usually positioned in camera shots together. The show runners claim that the early positioning was due to Cox and Perry’s on screen chemistry and they do have great comedic chemistry. Still, it’s difficult not to see it as foreshadowing. Perhaps the writers of Friends didn’t do it deliberately but, as a writing lesson learned, it’s hard not to see it as foreshadowing.

Lesson Learned: Figure out the end game first and then use foreshadowing to get you there.

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I wondered if the show would feel dated. And it does a tiny bit. The fashion and the hairstyles are very unintentionally funny. (Did we all wear those high waisted stone washed jeans?) They are perpetually dashing into each other’s apartments to use cordless phones the size of bricks. And every time they show background shots of the twin towers I feel like I’m bleeding internally. But the situations and the relationships are timeless and relatable even twenty years later.

I can’t wait to see what happens next—hey, do you think Ross and Rachel will break up again?