This past weekend I headed to Madison, WI for the university’s continuing studies program, Weekend With Your Novel.
If you’ve never attended one of the Madison writing programs, I highly recommend them. Their spring conference is great for writers of all stages and offers tracks on structure, revision, marketing, and publishing. In addition, agent pitches and panels abound.
If you’re up for more of a retreat that’s been called a “spa for writers” check out their Write by the Lake weeklong summer class. It was crucial to me and the plotting of my book this summer.
This was my first attendance at Weekend With Your Novel, a one and a half day workshop weekend devoted to the writing process. It largely consisted of honing in your craft and offering longer classes to dissect examples and ask questions of the instructor. It provided even more clarity to my book structure and characters. I loved it.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.
3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel
1. Aim High
I was most excited for a class on publishing excerpts of your work while writing your book, which was taught by UW-Madison professor and author Christopher Chambers. His first piece of advice was “aim high.”
If you are writing to pursue publication, then make publication goals for yourself. Where do you want to see your work? Of course you should be realistic, but dream big. The worst that can happen is they don’t publish you, but you’ll never know unless you try.
2. Redefine Failure
Simply put, failure is “something that happens, and it’s good for you,” said lunch keynote, Kathy Steffen.
Sharing one of the most frustrating failures I can imagine, Kathy talked about an online app project she’d written over 100,000 words for, only to have the app fizzle out. Imagine spending that much time and energy on something and then find out it wasn’t going to work. Ugh!
But Kathy also said you should give yourself a thousand second chances. Quit and come back the next day if you need to.
3. Get a Solid Structure
Where Write by the Lake helped me figure out my ending and timeline, Christine DeSmet‘s class on structure helped me figure out how I would plan the overall layout and what I needed to fill in gaps.
One of her tips: Keep your logline and central question at the forefront. Each scene should have them included. If it helps, have them typed at the beginning of each chapter. (You can always take them out later when submitting.)
Another tip? If you need help creating tension or figuring out what the next scene is, make a list. What are the details you want in the scene? Making a list of what stories you want in the chapter, details you want to include, or elements of danger or trouble that will occur will help trigger your brainstorming and boost tension.
Those were my favorite tips from the weekend. What are your most helpful tips for staying motivated and improving your writing?
Any NaNo folks out there having fun,
or in need of a pep talk? ;)
I am not a photogenic person. I never have been. I simply don’t have one of those faces that effortlessly looks amazing all the time.
I have one of those faces that requires work. It is great for making really awkward faces. I have a big nose, that scrunches up when I show any kind of emotion, and I have gigantic teeth. No, literally my teeth are so big, I’ve had NINE removed, and I still have a full set of teeth.
You may be thinking, “That’s…a fun fact. Thanks for sharing?”
Those selfies you see on my instagram account probably required like 20 or more shots. My photo collections from trips I take or events I’m involved in are all staged. You will not find candids, because when people try to take candids of me, they look like this…
That is a real, undoctored photo my husband took of me while storytelling.
And I was telling a funny story! Why do I look so…so…annoyed?
Have you ever watched America’s Next Top Model, that show hosted by Tyra Banks? She’s always telling the girls to smile with their eyes, she calls it SMIZE. Well, if the photos from above are any indication, the only contest I’m going to win is for the smier – I can sneer with my eyes, you guys. Or maybe it’s smudge? Cause I’m judging you with my eyes. All I know is, look at that epic scowl, folks?
And that’s why I’ll never be a teen model.
Also I’m pretty sure there’s an age clause in the contract that requires the model to in fact, BE a teenager. But I haven’t looked into it, who knows?
How do you feel about photos of yourself?
Do you know how to smize or better yet, smier?
The one good thing about colder weather is it’s the perfect excuse for curling up with a good book.
I’m an avid coffee shop attendee and I love seeing so many students bent over the tables with their books, and sure homework too. I love seeing people with their newspapers and novels and a big mocha next to them. November is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Thousands of writers from all over attempt to write 50,000 words in a month’s time.
How’s everyone doing on their reading challenges this year? Anyone participating in Roof Beam Reader’s To Be Read Pile Challenge or make one up of their own?
I’m 2 books away from completing my list, but feeling wary whether I’ll finish. I hope to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher yet this year.
I’ve had some interference with my book list, you see.
His name is Jamie Fraser. And he lives in the Outlander series.
Oh hello there. When did you come in?
Please stay awhile. In fact, let’s plan a trip to Scotland together.
Where was I?
Oh yah, my TBR pile.
It’s growing. Look what I just scored from the library’s fall book sale!
Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card!
I have been diligently trying to space out my series reading and catch up my TBR pile. Here are a few recommendations I have for whatever mood you may be in.
TBR Pile Challenge Update
For lovers of family dynamics ~ The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
A little bit paranormal, a lotta heart, The Kitchen Daughter tells the story of Ginny, a twentysomething with Aspberger’s Syndrome, but she doesn’t know that. She was always raised to believe she had “a personality” and nothing more.
The book opens at the funeral of her parents, and now Ginny and her sister are forced to learn how to communicate together in an unknown future. What’s more troubling for Ginny is the fact that she’s seeing ghosts. By cooking handwritten recipes of loved ones who’ve passed, Ginny can talk with them.
Written from Ginny’s perspective, The Kitchen Daughter is a unique glimpse inside someone’s head – a woman who is just as independent and caring as the rest of us, but shows it differently.
I loved the paranormal element the most in this book. I love how Ginny was able to take an experience like a conjuring and see it as a way to learn more about her family. And I liked the relationship between Ginny and her sister, which felt very real as each struggled to navigate what they thought was best for the other. This would be a great book for book clubs to read.
For fans of YA ~ Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
For starters, while published in 2013, it takes place in 1986. I wondered whether today’s teens would understand the magic of the mix tapes exchanged between these two. I loved it.
Eleanor and Park couldn’t be more different, or more the same. This book ended in a place I least expected, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so you’ll just have to read it yourself.
At its core, this is a story of two misfits. Park gets by in school, but feels like the odd duck at home, unable to live up to his father’s strict requirements. Eleanor wears armor in her zany form of dress as a way to look tougher than she is. Behind her wild hair and colorful clothes, is someone hiding a painful secret.
Together, life feels a little bit easier. But it also gets more real.
These characters tugged at my heartstrings.
For fans of sci-fi ~ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
I picked this book out for my book club to read when we decided to each pick a different genre. As I read a lot I didn’t have a preference on what genre I was assigned. But I admittedly know little about science fiction beyond Kurt Vonnegut, who was a favorite in high school.
I struggled with this book, as did my entire book club. I recommend researching the author and the book first as the history and symbolism built into the book made it more interesting to read.
And warning, it doesn’t get really good til about 100 pages in. So you have to stick with it.
This story takes place on the planet, Winter, where the people have no gender. Once a month, they enter a transition period called kemmer where they can take on male or female form and partner with another person. They have no choice in which gender they take, and could fluctuate from each one each time they enter a kemmer period.
The book has a lot of feminism between the lines. In a world where there is no gender, and all the people are on equal ground, there is no war. Two ideas which LeGuin played with in many of her works.
And what’s fascinating is that it’s written from an outsider’s perspective, Ai Genly, who is sent to Winter as an ambassador, in hopes of convincing their people to join the Ekumen – AKA what we know as the United Nations. The story follows Genly’s mishaps in communication and tactics because he doesn’t understand the people he is speaking with. Isn’t that very fitting for where we are in the world today? We all rush to identify and place people in social constructs we know and understand, without really understanding them at all.
If you can stick with it through the unusual names and long backstory, this is an interesting read. Certainly a thought provoking one.
What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
What books do you hope to finish before year’s end?
If you google “will mermaids take over our jobs” you will, in fact, find a slew of mermaid job opportunities.
I thought it was important you know this. Because Professional Mermaid is a thing.
I was recently out to coffee with a friend who had heard about a documentary (later outed as a docufiction) called Mermaids: The Body Found. It aired on both Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. You can see film clips about mermaid sightings, their evolution, and history here.
Or you can look on YouTube and find the whole thing – but I’m not responsible, related to, or acquainted with whoever put it there.
I think the show’s worth a watch, if you can get past the narrator referring to them as “underwater apes”. That’s as bad as calling a tyrannosaurus rex a “big lizard.”
But this story gets better.
During its US premiere, Mermaids: The Body Found received 1.9 million views, the largest the network had seen in six years.
A vast majority of those viewers missed the teeny tiny, somewhat hidden disclaimer behind this mockumentary, and believed that shit WAS REAL.
As a result, thousands of people started writing letters to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demanding action.
What if the mermaids started eating all our shrimp and caused a food shortage?
What if they were after OUR JOBS?
In what bored, cubicle-trapped mind, would you fear that of all the possible things that could possibly happen, MERMAIDS swarming the workforce, overtaking your career, would be something worth writing an angry letter about?
Like a pack of mermaids are gonna scuba their way inside the nearest factories and corporations and start mass applying for jobs with 401k plans?
Or like, you’ll be in a video store with your family, looking for a movie to watch, when suddenly the clerk shouts out from her tank behind the register that ‘Free Willy’ is her pick of the week and she highly recommends it?
Do you know that only 36% of the population even voted in the last federal election?
We can’t remember to vote for the bi-pedal humans that LEAD us, but we’ve got time to get pissed off about mermaids?!
Wait for it, it continues to get better.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got so many letters that they issued a statement. And in that statement, they said that mermaid migration leading to infiltrated job opportunities was not a concern of theirs as 1) mermaids aren’t real and 2) if it ever DID happen, it’d be a problem for immigration, so please stop writing them letters about mermaids.
This is too rich. I mean, this story is like eating a decadent cheesecake. Or a crab cake. Either way, I want another bite.
While researching mermaids (and finding the definitive proof they exist, but I don’t have time to talk about that today), I also found these gems.
- Plan your next vacation at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – Home of the Weeki Wachee Mermaids
- Check out Tears of a Mermaid, the short film starring Hannah Fraser, who works to promote education and conservation of ocean life. She took a unique approach to not just deep dive, but dance, with one of the deadliest ocean predators, the Tiger Shark.
- Another ocean conservationist and entertainer is Mermaid Melissa. You can even hire her for parties!
- Watch the trailer for Funny or Die’s latest Sophia Coppola film, The Little Mermaid
What do you think? Are mermaids real?
And will they take over our jobs?
Last but not least, this week is the final #Keanuthon countdown.
We had a great time watching The Matrix last wednesday. Hop on the hashtag #Keanuthon to see all the fun!
This week we’re watching Constantine, one of my favorite Keanu Reeves movies. He plays John Constantine, a man who has “been to hell and back.” He’s on a mission to prove himself. Co-starring another favorite actor of mine, Rachel Weisz, together they team up to solve the mystery of her twin sister’s untimely death.
I hope you join us for one more round! I’m looking forward to it!
Hubby and I are thinking of hosting a scary movie marathon in October.
Interested in joining us for a #ScreamingScreening?
I met Keanu Reeves last week.
By now, if you read my blog, or follow me on any social media account, you’re well aware that my husband and I have been hosting a Keanu Reeves themed movie marathon all September long called #Keanuthon. I’ve been live tweeting the films with friends and followers every wednesday.
So when we serendipitously ran into and MET Keanu Reeves last week, I guess people wanted to know the story.
To begin, we unknowingly kicked off #Keanuthon on his birthday.
At the end of our hiking trip, we decided to grab a beer and then get dinner because it was still the weekend after all, and beer is delicious.
Do you believe in signs? Cause this is the part where shit gets crazy.
The first bar we went to was near the bluffs we were hiking in, but when we got there we learned it was closed. Like really closed. The place was condemned.
Our second stop was to a new brewery in town, which neither of us had yet tried. Also closed. (Not also condemned.)
At that point, we got out of the car and decided to walk around downtown and just bum til we found a place. So we find a bar we’ve frequented aplenty, buy our drinks and head upstairs for a table by the window.
Now, we’re in the bar approximately a half hour, chatting about our hiking trip, making future plans, blah blah blah, when I look across the street and start watching this guy standing outside a restaurant.
“You know, my contacts are a bit dirty, but that guy looks like Keanu Reeves,” I said.
“Oh yah,” said Joe, turning around.
We stare at the man. We watch him take a drag on his cigarette and run his hand through his hair.
“It’s uncanny,” said Joe. “Even his mannerisms.”
“Huh,” I agree, nodding.
We go back to talking about whatever else we talked about.
Once we finished our drinks, we headed out to get dinner down the block, but the Keanu Reeves lookalike was still outside. We started to wonder…
Joe suggested we cross the street “for a better look.”
Mid-street crossing I was in the mindset that this was just an extreme lookalike situation, and I bet he gets asked this all the time, but I’m going to ask for a picture because I’ll tell him about #Keanuthon and how funny it would be if I posted that I met Keanu Reeves (but it was just a lookalike).
Understand that at this point I’m walking up with full confidence.
And when we’re 3 feet away…
*laughter* “That’s really Keanu Reeves,” Joe said.
Everything after this happened SO FAST. I halted in my tracks. I thought Joe was pushing me forward, he thought I was pushing him forward. The REAL Keanu Reeves heads inside the restaurant and I hear Joe say, “We’re eating here.”
The entrance to the restaurant has a few stairs down to the floor and again, we’re pushing one another.
All Joe can say is “It’s really him.”
And all I can say is “BUT WHY???”
Why is the REAL Keanu Reeves inside a restaurant in my city when we’re in the middle of hosting #Keanuthon???
We walk further into the restaurant, past the bar, looking around for confirmation. Surely others are freaking out like we are. It’s KEANU REEVES, Duuuuuuuuuude!
Nothing. There’s no response.
The bartender directs us to the hostess desk for a table. We ask the hostess if we can sit in the bar.
“Can we sit at THAT table?” my husband asks. She nods.
You guys, we sat at the table NEXT TO Keanu Reeves!
There’s no chair for me, so I walk a few tables over to move one and slide it to our table, right next to Keanu – who turns and looks to ensure I have plenty of room to fit.
HOW SWEET ARE YOU, KEANU?!
We get our menus and we’re both acting like crazy people, giggling and muttering “BUT WHY?”
Joe keeps telling me to “make my move.”
I’m feeling like a creep, but I figure it’s now or never and I gotta just say hi and that I’m a fan and we’re hosting this marathon. (And that I’m NOT an axe murderer.)
I literally turn in my chair and tap Keanu on the shoulder. He’s a foot away or less. He turns around, extending his hand, and says…
“Hi, I’m Keanu.”
I lose it again. I’m laughing. I can’t believe I’m in real life right now. I’m shaking Keanu Reeves’ hand and laughing.
I pull myself together enough to say that I’m a fan and that, it might sound crazy, but my husband and I have been having this movie marathon with all of his films and we’re live tweeting his movies.
I also show him the #Keanuthon poster I made on my phone so he believes me.
“You’re doing what?! That’s crazy” Keanu said. “What films are you watching?”
I read him the lineup.
Keanu: “Constantine! Nice!”
Jess: “That’s my favorite one!”
Keanu: “You should do one of the weird ones. You should watch A Scanner Darkly.”
Jess: “Ok. This is just so crazy. Could we get a photo? No one’s going to believe this.”
Keanu: “Yah, let’s get a photo.”
More Examples of How Lovely Keanu Is
I introduce Keanu to my husband and we ask a friend of his to take our photo. Afterwards, I’m totally ready to slink away. I’m stunned and fangirling and don’t want to take up any more of his time. I don’t even look at the photo, I’m just grateful for what has happened.
KEANU TELLS ME TO LOOK AT THE PICTURE AND SEE IF I LIKE IT!
It ends up looking really hazy for some reason. I show it to Keanu.
“Let’s take another one. Here we’ll move this way. Jess, you get in the middle.” Keanu is allowing us a second photo op and he remembered my name!
Soooooo, long story short, that’s how we got this baby.
There you have it. That’s how I met Keanu Reeves. And he was wonderful.
(Oh yah, I did ask him why he was in town and he was here for S & S Cycles – there was a conference or show going on and he’s into motorcycles. So I wished him a great trip. And a belated happy birthday.)
With that said, #Keanuthon is going strong with a bonus feature this week.
Today at 4pm CST we’re watching A Scanner Darkly (requested by Keanu Reeves).
This is “one of the weird ones.”
It’s an animated movie set in the not too distant future and tells the story of an undercover cop who gets too close to the world of mind-altering drugs. Reeves costars with Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder.
- the filming of this movie took 23 days, while the animation took 18 months
- Robert Downey Jr wrote all his lines on post-it notes and stuck them around the set so he could read off them, then they were edited out during the animation process
- In Arctor’s kitchen there is a drawing of a head in a box next to the phrase “Time to thaw Walt out!”. This is a reference to the urban legend that animator Walt Disney had himself cryogenically frozen.
- This is the highest-grossing digitally rotoscoped animated feature, grossing $7,659,918.
Also this week…
We’re watching The Matrix on wednesday night at 8pm CST.
Co-starring Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving, Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a computer hacker who’s about to learn about multiple realities.
- It took the actors six months of training and four days to shoot the opening action scene
- In the first half of the movie, half of Keanu’s lines are questions, averaging roughly one question per minute
- For my literary nerds, the room that Neo is in at the beginning is room 101, and is a tribute to George Orwell in 1984, where room 101 is where a prisoner gets placed to face their worst phobias
Tune in and live tweet with us using #Keanuthon to follow the fun!
I turn 30 next month.
I’ve moved on from childish behavior like eating Cheetos for dinner. Now, I am a sophisticated adult who eats Cheetos for dinner…with a glass of wine. And with better clothes, because I shop at Stitch Fix.
Thanks for the “fashion advice,” Mom. NOT.
I’ve surpassed the emotional roller coaster that this new decade has been inducing. I’ve let go of “do this by the time I’m 30” deadlines. And now, I’m looking forward to it. I think 30 is going to be a great year.
I still feel the need to document my life thus far though. A lot of change and growth, and loss and love, has happened in my 20’s and I want to acknowledge it. I’d been thinking of doing some kind of 30 facts before 30 post, when lo and behold, blogger pal, Liz from Be. Love. Live shared her own 31 Questions theme. And since she invited others to join in, I’m doing just that.
Here’s 30 Questions Answered Before I Turn 30.
- Where’s your cellphone? If not in my hand, then it’s right next to me. I have a problem.
- Where’s your second half? After making us a scrumptious breakfast this morning, he is out for a run, letting me work in peace.
- Your hair? Is messy. I let it air dry. But the color is my natural red.
- Your mood? Excited. It’s going to be a good day.
- Your plan for today? To catch up on writing assignments and then go hiking with my bae.
- What’s the best you know? Best I know of what? I know I like red ales and Leinenkugel’s Red is a great one. I think David Sedaris’ essay Six to Eight Black Men is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. I think sharing that story about that time I pooped my pants has made more people come forward and share their own shitastrophies, and that makes me like each of them a bit more.
- Your dream last night? I didn’t dream last night, or if I did, I don’t remember it. But last weekend after Joe and I binged watched Season Five of The Walking Dead, I dreamed that I was out scavenging for food and shelter all night long. I was exhausted the next morning.
- Your goal in life? To publish my book, and to make people laugh.
- The room you’re in? The kitchen, at the table by the window. The most common space I write in, and where Joe often catches me.
- Your hobby? Blogging, reading, hanging out in coffee shops, doing improv, talking in weird voices, shocking my mother…
Hobbying like a boss.
- Your fear? Bugs.
- Where would you like to be in six years? Celebrating the six year anniversary of you asking me that question. ;)
- Where were you yesterday evening? At home with the hubs, watching The Grand Budapest Hotel.
- What are you not? I am not coordinated. Please don’t throw balls at me.
- Something you wish? I wish I had some chocolate. Like now.
- Where did you grow up? In a small town in southeast Wisconsin.
- What was the last thing you did? Watch Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen: Toad in a Hole. This girl makes me giggle.
- Your clothes? I’m rocking my Dolly Parton tshirt.
- Your TV? Is a host to many epic marathons such as #Keanuthon.
- Your computer? Is a multi-holiday gift from my husband after my old one died. It’s a MacBook Air, and I still don’t really know how to use it. For the love of God, why can’t I just double click on things??!
- The best thing you own? My journals. Those notebooks hold my soul.
- Do you miss anyone? I miss my family. I miss the members that passed on too early. I miss friends that are kindred spirits despite living across the country.
- Your car? Is a 2004 Nissan Sentra, and her name is Dionne.
- Something you’re not wearing? Socks.
- Favorite store? It is quickly becoming Etsy. And does Stitch Fix count? It is a store, but you don’t go to it, it comes to you.
Where my book nerds at?
- Your summer? The highlight was our annual summer vacation and road trip to Tennessee where we ate copious amounts of barbecue, listened to lots of live music, and visited with friends and family. Additional highs include storytelling at the Old School Variety Show, co-hosting part of the Film Freaks series with the library, and joining an improv troupe.
- Do you love anyone? Yah, there’s this boy I like.
It’s the one on the left.
- Favorite color? Green and turquoise.
- When did you last laugh? I laughed watching that Hannah Hart video. Did you watch it? Go watch it. She’s so silly.
- When did you last cry? I cried watching The Walking Dead because some of my favorite characters were killed off. I won’t say who, but it’s sad.
Feel free to copy these questions and share your own responses.
Thanks for tuning in!
Co-starring Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Daniels, Keanu plays a cop that has to rescue a group of strangers trapped on a bus that can’t go less than 50 mph. If you already feel like one epic joy ride isn’t enough, rest assured, there’s a Speed 2: Cruise Control – which takes place on a boat. Unfortunately, Keanu isn’t in that one.
We’ll be live tweeting the movie once again on Wednesday, September 16th at 8:00pm CST. Join me and friends or follow along using #Keanuthon.
Get ready for rush hour!
Also this happened last night. What. Are. The. Odds?
Now, even KEANU knows about #Keanuthon.
Maybe it was the onset of school starting (him being a teacher and all). Maybe it’s the change of the seasons. Whatever the reason, my hubby has started talking in his sleep again.
If you’re new here, this is my husband.
And then there are times, when he’s fast asleep, and he says shit like this:
Joe: It’s hot.
Me: Are you too hot?
Joe: It’s time to install the hot tub.
Me: Hot tub?
Joe: Where should we put it?
Joe: Don’t you think we need one? To store all this hot water?
I don’t… Yah, we’re not getting a hot tub. We’ve never discussed getting a hot tub, and if we ever DO get a hot tub, I am confident that Joe would not install it himself.
Where do YOU keep your hot water?
P.S. We’re coming up on week 2 of #Keanuthon. Thanks to all who watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure with us! We found out it was his birthday on the 2nd, so what a great day to kick off the party!
Here is one of my favorite tweets from the event, which came from my movie-clueless friend, Heather. This was a legitimate question she asked before coming over. Oh, Lawd.
This week we’re watching Point Break, the one where Keanu plays an FBI agent who goes undercover to catch a bunch of bank robbers that might be surfers. Costars include Patrick Swayze (with what is possibly the most epic of surfer hair imaginable), Gary Busey as his FBI partner, and John C. McGinley (who you may know as Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs).
The preview promises 100% pure adrenaline!!
Watch along with us at 8pm CST this wednesday and live tweet the movie using #Keanuthon. Hope to see you there!
Enjoy your week, everyone!