In Process

Shrunken manuscript

Hello folks. I didn’t mean to stay away so long. There hasn’t been a lot to blog about lately. I’m still working hard on my writing but don’t have anything new to report.

The picture above is of a shrunken version of my novel manuscript. You can read more about this editing technique, created by Darcy Pattison, here.

In my free time, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, but again, there’s not much to show but some nice-looking beds of dirt which will hopefully sprout some lovely things soon.

I’ve also been painting and making a dog costume for the church play. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Finally reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the memoir about her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m always wary of things with a lot of hype, but I have to say, I’m really enjoying it.

What about you? Read, watched, or listened to anything great lately? Hope to be back here again soon with more to share.

Flourless Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Bars

Gluten Free Oatmeal Bar

So these came from Budget Bytes. They are the “Apricot-Walnut Bars,” but I used pecans and dried cherries since that was what I had on hand. They’re super easy, there’s very little added sugar, and I was able to use gluten-free oats—-triple win! My seven-year-old (who has gluten troubles) loves them, which is no small compliment. Recipe here.

You use mashed banana for sweetness and stick-together-ness, which means the bars taste a little like banana bread–yum! We eat them for snacks and sometimes for breakfast.

American friends, how was Thanksgiving? We enjoyed time with extended family down at the beach. Beforehand, the hubs and I got to spend a few days in Mexico (thanks, mom and dad for kid-watching!). The trip was great, but we got stuck an extra day, which was not the most fun. Fortunately we had lots of folks covering for us back home with the kiddos—-I’m eternally grateful.

Christmas is now descending upon me, and I feel only half-ready and half-remembering what it was I meant to do to prepare. I’m going to try to post some round-ups of favorite gifts to give. recipes, and simple crafts, so stay tuned. As usual, I’m spending most of my kids-in-school time working on my novel. Is it getting anywhere? I sincerely hope so!

For more posts on cooking and eating, click here.

Charting Works in Progress

Chart

I’ve been busy making revisions to my works in progress (nonfiction middle grade and  YA novel). There are lots of ways to use spreadsheets to “see the forest for the trees” when you’re writing, and good thing, because I’m often getting lost in the trees. Or the weeds, maybe.

I used the chart above to help me look at the timeline as it relates to theme in my nonfiction manuscript. (Yes, the picture is blurry on purpose. Call me crazy, but I’m not comfortable sharing THAT much info on a work-in-progress)

Related: a couple of weeks ago I went to a fantastic plotting workshop by Rebecca Petruck. She shared another charting method that I found very helpful. If you ever have the chance to take a workshop from Rebecca, jump at it. More info here about Rebecca and her approach.

Darcy Pattison also has some great ideas on how to use spreadsheets to chart your fiction.

What about you, writers? Do you use spreadsheets to analyze your work, and if so, how?

Currently reading: Michelle Icard‘s Middle School Makeover. No, I don’t have a middle-schooler yet, but I will soon. I am loving Icard’s sensible, practical approach and especially all the science about the adolescent brain.

What about you? Reading anything good?

 

 

What’s On the Nightstand: Fall 2014 Edition

Recent Reads: Books

What have you been reading? I’ve always got several books going at once, and let’s be honest, they don’t stay on the nightstand, so every night I’m frantically looking for the three I want at the moment.

First up, we have The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but so far, it’s very funny, and I’m impressed by the intricate world Udall has created and all the many characters and their complexity.

Next, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I can’t remember if this was a random book I picked out or if it was recommended by a friend, but it’s a goodie I turn to again and again. It has some excellent writing exercises, which I need, because lately I’m feeling a bit depleted creatively.

On to Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel, which you may remember me mentioning before. It’s a good, solid, weeknight cookbook with lots of fresh ideas. Simple but never boring. Currently loving the chipotle black beans, which are quick enough to make myself for lunch. The author also has an excellent blog.

Next: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which I borrowed from my friend Susan.

This may be my favorite book of the year. By Roz Chast, of New Yorker cartoon fame, it’s the story of the slow descent of her elderly parents. It’s told in handwritten journal-like entries plus cartoons, drawings, and photographs. The story is laugh-out-loud hysterical (yes, I know, sounds strange, but it works) but also sad, poignant, and above all, deeply human. It makes me want to write a cartoon journal book. Think I may have to read it again.

photo 3-001

Under that, The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. I’m just getting into this book, but I really like the way it’s set up and the extensive research that goes into each recipe. The folks behind it test everything to death and make sure it works.

GF cookbook-001

It includes a DIY gluten-free flour mix (my other go-to GF cookbook does this as well). The hubs made me a gorgeous and delicious apple pie using said flour mix and cookbook. See?

Gluten-Free Apple Pie

Next: Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

This book kept popping up on quilting and crafting blogs, and I just had to have it (thanks, mom and dad!). It is so completely gorgeous I can’t even tell you. The collection features my favorite kinds of quilts—-improvised, imperfect, and made with the materials at hand.

book

Unconventional3-001

Unconventional4-001

And finally, we have Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking Together. Sometimes kids’ cookbooks seem to be more about making cute things out of candy and junk food than about real food. This one has a really nice range of recipes and lovely photographs to help kids envision what they might like to cook. My kids like to sit and plan—-but, confession, we haven’t actually made anything out of the book yet. I’m expecting good things, though, because our other Williams-Sonoma books are solid.

Btw, for kids interested in cooking, Chop Chop is another excellent resource for kid-friendly yet healthy, not-intimidating recipes.

Also, just finished Gone,Girl——totally worth a read if you haven’t yet. Can’t waaaaait to see the movie!

Super Quick Italian Bean Salad

Italian Bean Salad

This is my weeknightified version of a Foster’s Market recipe. It’s super simple and really hits the spot when I want a tasty deli-style salad with next to no work. You could dress it up as much as you like with fresh veggie add-ins. The original recipe is lovely, though not super fast (you cook the beans yourself and make their delicious dressing from scratch, among other things). Again, this is more a list of ideas than a real recipe, but it’s not hard to eye the proportions.

Ingredients:

Rinsed and drained canned white beans (I like navy beans)

Italian dressing—-I like the Penzey’s mix

Capers

Sundried tomatoes

Chopped fresh parsley

Mix beans with enough dressing to coat and enough capers and tomatoes to give it a little color. Let marinate a few hours if you have time. Add parsley. Enjoy!

Got some more feedback on my nonfiction manuscript this week. Things are finally moving forward. So excited.

And in other news this week, I’ve been talking to 4th and 5th graders about writing an early reader (i.e. Slowpoke). Fun times! Love getting their questions.

For more food-related posts, click here. Have a great rest of your week.

 

Supper Smorgasbord

Muffin Tin Smorgasbord

I got this idea from the Instagram feed of Meg of Elsie Marley (one of my blog faves).  I’ve done it twice now, each time it’s been a big hit with the kids. It’s just a way of dressing up a simple meal made out of odds and ends. I realize it’s not a true smorgasbord, but that’s what we call it.

Full disclosure: I served GF boxed mac and cheese as a side with this supper. It’s all my kids would eat if I let them, but I serve it very rarely. I’m trying to establish mac and cheese as “just a side dish that we eat on a very occasional basis.” Good luck to me, eh?

My cooking mojo has been kind of depleted lately, maybe because I’m sick of soup season but it’s been too cold and wet for grilling and salads. That and the fact that my little one grumbles about complex flavors (curries, etc.) and I haven’t felt like fighting that battle in the last few weeks.

My writing mojo has been a bit down as well though I’m still plugging away. This week I’ve been making spreadsheets of my works-in-progress to chart how certain elements are working out. It’s a way of seeing the forest rather than the trees, which were all I was seeing.

For the novel I’ve made a column for each chapter, and for the nonfiction piece I’ve made a timeline-spreadsheet. Soooo revealing on both counts, though I have to admit sometimes it feels like it’s not “real” writing and like I should be doing that instead. Still, I think it’s essential to take a step back now and then so you can see what needs adjusting.

What about you? Discovered any good recipes lately? Read anything good lately?

I can’t wait to see Wes Anderson’s new flick, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Currently reading One Summer by Bill Bryson (about the summer of 1927) and on deck: Kids These Days by Drew Perry and Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart.

For more food posts, click here. For more on books, here, and for writing stuff, here.

What’s On the Nightstand: Summer Edition

Stack of Books

What have you been reading lately? I’ve stocked up for the summer and am making my way through these.

First up is David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Purchased through Park Road Books at his reading in Charlotte. As usual, so funny! I especially liked the chapter about language learning—-awesome bits about German.

The Expats is pretty pulpy, but intriguing. I’m reading it right now. A former CIA operative, now an expat housewife (whose husband doesn’t know the truth about her career) is unraveling a mystery in Luxembourg. The spy stuff is mixed with domestic/ marriage stuff, which is an interesting combo. This one was recommended by Sally Brewster at Park Road Books.

Inside Out and Back Again is a recent Newbery winner, about a young girl in the 1970s who flees war-town Vietnam and ends up in Alabama. Sadly, I only got a little ways into it before I had to return it to the library because someone had it on hold. Rats! I’ll have to try again. It’s very lyrical, written in poems. (P, if you’re reading, I picked this up because of you).

Next up is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which is probably my favorite read in the last six months. My daughter asked me please to not read it while driving (no, I don’t really do that, but she thought I might). Laugh-out-loud funny, razor sharp, and so smart. The reclusive genius (former) architect Bernadette has gone missing, and her teenage daughter is determined to find her by gathering all the clues she can. It takes place in Seattle, which Bernadette hates with a hysterically fiery passion. (Sorry, Seattle, I’ve always imagined you to be really cool). Two weekends ago I drove my road trip friends crazy because I would NOT. SHUT. UP. about Bernadette. I’m going all fangirl on the author, Maria Semple. Must read her other title.

And lastly, I’ve got A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This one, along with Bernadette, was also recommended by Sally Brewster of Park Road Books (and I purchased them there). I haven’t started it yet, but Sally said it was beautiful, a book to savor, and also about someone who’s moved to a new place (Japan) and is struggling to adjust.

And that seems to be the theme here: fish-out-of-water stories. In fact the novel I’m working on is also a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a theme on the brain this year, my first one back in the U.S. after two and a half years in Germany. Sometimes I’m still just flipping around, missing my water, wondering how to breathe this air.

What about you? What are you reading this summer? Your kids? I’d love some family audiobook recommendations.

Dream a Little Dream: Writing About Dreams

Who is that strange woman sleeping on the job? And what is she doing in this blog? No, Emily hasn’t been blog-jacked; that’s me, Louise Hawes,  and Emily has invited me to guest write today’s entry! You see, years ago, at Vermont College, where I teach in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I facilitated a workshop on dreams and writing. Emily, who was part of that workshop, wrote something that eventually sparked part of her novel, Isabel and the Miracle Baby. Which got us both to thinking – why not share the wealth of inspiration and lyricism that dreams can open to all of us ?

Jung and other dream work pioneers suggested that what our conscious mind knows is only half the story.  Dreams visit us to tell us the other half. That half, of course, isn’t actually “spoken,” but reaches us through vehicles with which we writers are intensely familiar:  myth and metaphor. Do we always know what these images are conveying or how they relate to our waking life? Not right away. Like our writing, our dreams often require the objective responses of others before we can “see” them clearly. Which is why, in my weekly dream group, we find we get as much out of looking at others’ dreams as we do to having our own analyzed. Whenever we respond to someone else’s dream, we begin our analysis with, “If this were my dream…” to remind ourselves that it isn’t, but that it speaks to us, too. Isn’t that the same way a good writing workshop critique begins? “If this were my story…”

As wordsmiths, writers may be particularly open to the vibrant but mysterious language of dreams. In addition, I know that, for me at least, dreams have been a fertile source of characters. Recently, on the informal faculty blog of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, I described a new and persistent dream visitor of mine: John the Baptist! For no reason that this Episcopalian turned Agnostic-Buddhist can ascertain, a small, powerfully built man with a voice much gentler than his shape, began visiting my dreams nearly a year ago. He’s become such a frequent visitor that he’s prompted a new project, a novel centered on the young woman whose dance led to his execution, the  Galilean princess, Salomé.

Little did I dream (hideous pun, unabashedly intended) that this admission of mine would lead to a flood of responses from blog readers who’d had similar dream visits:

Tim Wynne-Jones, a brilliant writer and my long-time colleague at Vermont, wrote that he once awoke with the entire plot of a middle-grade novel in his head.  “A prisoner in jail for a political crime who eventually mails himself out of jail, one piece at a time.” What later became one of my granddaughter’s favorite books, Ned Mouse Breaks Away, was, he claims, “all there,” even though he’d woken “without having any idea where it had come from.”

Kathi Appelt , friend, colleague, and National Book Award Honor winner, wrote that she prefers to do her dreaming in the daytime. When she hits a roadblock, she’ll often “just zone out, close my eyes for a few moments (or longer), and let my thoughts drift. Then, when I come out of that meditative state, there’s the clear path. “ I wonder if that’s what makes her writing so dreamy?!

A graduate of VCFA, author Terry Pierce, wrote to tell me she, too, frequently dreams of characters. In one memorable instance, a woman from her work-in-progress invaded her sleep to scold her for not finishing a scene begun that day—a scene in which the character had fallen off a cliff!

Yet another colleague, author Tom Birdseye, told me he knows that he dreams, but that he struggles to remember the messages his unconscious sends him each night. My advice to him is the same as it is to any of you who “lose” dreams before you wake: I can almost guarantee that, if you keep a dream journal by your bed and tell yourself (out loud and fearless) each night before you sleep that you want to remember your dreams, you’ll be dreaming up a storm within a week.

So once you’re up and dreaming, how can you apply your dream life to your waking work in progress? Everyone has their own ways of doing this, but one interesting exercise is to ask your characters for their recurring dreams or nightmares. Whether or not their responses finds their way directly into your work, or whether they simply help you hear your protagonist’s voice and language, free writes on dreams are a terrific way to get a glimpse of even the most recalcitrant character’s inner life!

If you’re interested in reading more about dreams and their connection to creativity, I highly recommend looking at Naomi Epel’s book, Writers Dreaming: Twenty-six Writers Talk about Their Dreams and the Creative Process. Also helpful is, The Natural Artistry of Dreams by Jill Mellick and Marion Woodman.

So what about you? Ever had a dream turn into a story? Do certain themes or characters run through your dream life? Do you have a favorite novel or story that includes a dream? Ever tried asking your characters what they think of your dreams?  Thanks for sharing, and….sweet dreams!

Thanks so much for sharing, Louise! In addition to teaching on the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Louise is the author many books, including The Vanishing Point, Waiting for Christopher, and Black Pearls, a Faerie Strand. Find out more about her at www.louisehawes.com

Jersey Scarf

This was a super quick project made like this one. It’s just a rectangle folded and sewn right sides together, flipped, then zigzagged around the edges to finish them. I gave it my daughter for Christmas, and she wears it nearly every day. Funny that the easiest projects are sometimes also the most popular.

If you want a cute ruffle edge on your jersey scarf, Holly Ramer of stitch/ craft has some easy tips here (at the end of the post).

I’m working hard writing and revising, doing some storyboarding in fact. I just discovered Carolyn Coman’s book Writing Stories. It’s especially for writing teachers but really for anyone who writes, and it’s wonderful to read during this process. Carolyn was my mentor while I studied at Vermont College, and reading the book is like getting a letter from her. So personable and practical and encouraging. Just what I need right now.

An Interview with App Author Sarah Towle

I had the honor of meeting Sarah Towle when I went to Amsterdam in November for the SCBWI Netherlands conference.

Besides being a mother and inveterate traveler, Sarah is also an historian, linguist, language teacher, and writer of creative non-fiction. With Time Traveler Tours mobile StoryApp iTineraries, she has found a way to combine all these passions. The goal of these interactive story-based tours is to put the past in the palm of your hand and allow you to discovery history with those who made it!

The bilingual version of Sarah’s Beware Madame la Guillotine hit the App Store last week and is on sale for the rest of January.

I was really intrigued by Sarah’s work and asked her to share a bit about her process with us.  In between I’ve included screen shots of Beware Madame la Guillotine so you can get a feel for what it looks like and how it works.

What inspired your app project?

 

 Two things happened to plant the seed. Then a chance meeting at the Bologna Book Fair caused the idea to sprout and grow.

 The first incident took place in April 2009 when 48 eager and very honest teens informed me that my project did not work as a book. (More on this below.)

A few months later, I was traveling through in the wilds of northern Canada with dear friends, bird and Apple enthusiasts both. I knew nothing about ornithology and marveled at their ability to identify birds in flight from long distances. One of them pulled out an iPhone and launched a birder app. The app included detailed illustrations of each bird species alongside descriptions of physical characteristics and habitat, just as a bird book would. But it also offered two things its cousin the book could not: the sound of each bird song, and all in a pocket-sized, mobile package. As I held that iPhone in my hand, looking at high-resolution images of birds and listening to their calls, I knew I had found the right format for my interactive story tours.

It turns out my pilot group had been right: Not only had they told me that the project would never work as a book, they had also suggested it would make a pretty good app. There was only one problem. I knew nothing about apps. In fact, at that time I was still using a pretty dumb phone.

So I went to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March 2010 to seek out a publisher to produce my Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTineraries. Unfortunately, children’s book publishers were not producing book apps at that time. I approached Stephen Roxburgh, the only editor at the Fair then talking “digital.” He read the MS for my French Revolution story, Beware Madame la Guillotine, and said it was the most exciting thing at the Fair. He offered me the editorial services of his company, namelos, but he was not in a position to produce the app. I had to make a decision: I could wait for the publishing industry to catch up or ride the momentum and publish a first app, at least, myself.

 

Why an app instead of a book?

Each Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTinerary is a journey back in time to a particular historical era narrated by a colorful character who lived at that time. As the storytellers/tour guides spin their personal yarns, they reveal the history of the ages and give meaning to sites of relevance visited along the way. Peppered throughout each tour are hunts for historical artifacts, trivia and map challenges, and other game-like activities. It is precisely these interactive elements that were cumbersome to play with, and to produce, in print form. But in digital app format, educational activities can be easily added to enhance the story and deepen historical understanding. Furthermore, because of the sound capability of mobile devices, the stories can be told aloud. Therefore, as an app you can chose to simply listen to the story or read along with the storyteller, or you can turn the narration off and read the story to yourself.

With the latest French-English bilingual update, released 21 January 2012, you can now read the story in one language while listening in the other. Likewise, you can do the app in English, say, and then return to it later to study the story in French. So while the story remains linear, the reader/user can consume it in numerous ways. This would not have been possible as a book.

How did you go about creating it? Did you work with a developer?

To produce a book you need the partnership of a writer, an editor, an art designer and, in some cases, an illustrator. Producing an app requires a similar collaboration. You need someone to create the content, someone to create the graphical user interface, and someone to create the program.

Once I’d determined to take the do-it-yourself (DIY) route, I had to create a production team.

First, I needed to be certain that my story content was as good as it could possibly be. There is still a negative stigma attached to self-publishing and with reason. Much of it isn’t that good. That’s precisely why we have agents and editors. But I would be bypassing these traditional gatekeepers by creating StoryApps myself. Yet, my primary goal was to provide great content for mobile device. So I was delighted to obtain the aid, and the blessing, of the namelos editorial team, specifically Karen Klockner, to help me craft the story content.

Next was realizing that good programmers do not make good designers. Design and coding are two discreet skills. I had to secure the commitment of a talented graphic artist if I wanted any hope of achieving a clean, uniform and attractive “look” – or user interface – that would be the visible manifestation of the user experience programmed underneath. After looking at lots of on-line portfolios, I decided to work with Beth Lower, who was then seeking a way to step from print into the digital herself.

That left the biggest challenge of all, finding the right coding partner, because I didn’t know anyone in the world of IT. Through the search and selection process I learned, the hard way, that there are many programmers out there, but not a lot of good ones. It took three attempts, and as many contracts, before I found the talented folks at SmartyShortz LLC.

But you can’t build an app from a manuscript alone. Before we could proceed, I had to provide both the design and programming partners a wireframe and specifications document, detailing how the content and interactive elements would flow in and out of one another. Together these documents comprise the architectural blueprints for the app’s construction.

The process of building the team and creating the spec doc took about a year; this was on top of the time I’d already spent writing the story and defining the itinerary, curating the archival images and obtaining rights to use them. Altogether, our first app, Beware Madame la Guillotine, was several years in the making. But once the team was in place, the content edited and approved, the images and graphic look decided upon, it only took about six weeks to write the first, English-only version of the app.

 

What have you learned about marketing yourself?

 

Mainly that I have to do it, that I still have a lot to learn about how it’s done, and that my apps will never be discovered without it. This is my greatest challenge at present.

The App Store is a noisy place. It isn’t terribly well organized and there’s a lot being added every day, much of which isn’t worth buying. This makes “discoverability” a big issue for publishers of all sizes, but particularly for a low-budget start-up like me. If you want people to find your product, you have to direct them to it by making yourself visible on multiple platforms, through blogging and other means of digital as well as face-to-face networking.

So, I’ve created a website and blog, a facebook page and twitter feed and I keep chipping away at it. Slowly but surely I’m getting the hang of it. I found it daunting at first, but eventually I had no choice but to dive in. I started where I felt most comfortable, with a blog, and I have been growing my platform ever since.

Unfortunately, marketing can take an inordinate amount of time – time that could be spent writing my next story. And it must be done regularly: I have found a direct correlation between frequency of new content vs. numbers of hits; i.e., the more I post the more readers I attract. So it’s important to be disciplined and use your time wisely. Limit your marketing efforts to so much time per day and week, and try not to get sucked in when your mind is fresh for more creative endeavors.

What do you have planned next? –Other countries, locales?

My plan for 2012 is to produce two more apps: another of my Paris stories, Day of the Dead, and at least one London story. In fact, I’m currently running a contest for London story tours. The winner will be published by Time Traveler Tours. Check out my website for more information. I’ll be accepting submissions through 1 April 2012: http://www.timetravelertours.com/announcement/

 

What’s been the most exciting thing that’s happened since you published/ created your app?

The most exciting thing is how well the first app, Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, has been received by teachers and librarians. I originally conceived the Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTineraries for the travel market. In fact, I refer to them as a new generation of travel guides for a new generation of traveler. But teachers and librarians in the US and UK are buying Beware Madame la Guillotine to complement secondary school history curricula. As a former classroom teacher, I am of course delighted.

Since its initial launch in July 2011, Beware Madame la Guillotine has received honors as a School Library Journal Top 10 2011 App and as a Top Ten Tried and True Classroom App from Teachers With Apps. I’m thrilled to have received these accolades!

and lastly, John, Paul, George, or Ringo?  

I gotta say George. I love his music and his excellent vibes. And I always admired that he was able to bring together in a creative way his many diverse interests and passions. He’s one of my heroes.

 Thank you, Sarah, for sharing about your process. I’m excited to see watch your work grow!

To find out more about Sarah and her StoryApps, check out her website and blog.