Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anna Shea Chocolates

Last night I celebrated my birthday in part by going to Anna Shea Chocolates with my husband. I had been there only one time prior with girlfriends. Bringing in a man was a completely different experience. From it's gaudy crystal chandelier, to its feminine china in which they serve beguiling chocolates, it is a woman's domain. It did not take my husband long to comment on this.

No one throw anything at me, but I am not a chocolate lover. However, being a patron to this establishment is an experience worth having. A cup of coffee with a few chocolates, while sitting on a comfy sofa near a welcoming fire is memorably pleasant. Although securing a spot on one of the much coveted sofas is a feat in itself.

Located in the Arboretum of South Barrington, this chocolate lounge is definitely worth the price of it's quality pieces. Some may compare it to Godiva. I would not go that far, but in moderation it is definitely worth the calories!

Monday, February 22, 2010

In the Grasp of the Book

I read a book last week. It was disturbing. Generally, I like to read books with some good humor and suspense in them, great stories, but nothing life-shattering. This book was definitely disturbing on several levels. Since I agree with Renoir, that art should show what is beautiful because there are too many ugly things in the world already, this was hard for me. And this book did have a type of beauty in the form of self-sacrifice of the protagonist. But the terrible parts are hard for me to contemplate, an unsettling view of a dystopian society.

You'd probably like to know the title of this book, so you can be disturbed by it too, but I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to writhe in agony knowing that you could be reading a story that will roll over in your mind for days because it bothers you so much. However, from the point of view of a writer, I realize that this is exactly the type of book we all want to write.

How do you create a book that won't set the reader down? A book which clutches the reader so he cannot escape once he has begun to read. A book that twists in your gut when it's no longer in your hand. I'm not sure yet, because most picture books don't do that to you, and that's most of what I write. It did make me realize that writers have a huge responsibility. For a skilled writer, a book gives them entryway into the reader's soul, a place where the story plays out as though it is real. That's a scary thought.

I guess we should never underestimate the power of the written word.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jump-starting a Rewrite

A month ago, rewriting and editing my NANOWRIMO novel seemed more difficult than the original drafting of it. However I have found that feedback and research are helping me jump-start the process.

Important to the feedback process is determining who my audience is. Is it Christian stay at home moms? Single men between the ages of 25 and 43? People who buy Scott Turow's books? I believe that my novel is intended for men who are married, were married or are contemplating marriage or for men and women who are really interested in how courts and politics are impacting and controlling family life. It is a cautionary tale and contains strong language. Determining this helps me to shape the story more effectively, and to get input from my target audience. I have gotten some very constructive criticism and it is helping challenge me to write more effectively.

One of the areas of weakness in my novel involves writing about subjects in which I have little experience. For example, corruption in the construction industry helps drive my story line. However, I can only write sketchily about this since I have little experience or knowledge. Fortuitously, I met a lawyer whose area of expertise is construction law, and he regaled me with some very interesting anecdotes and experiences which gave me real insight. This "research" has helped me understand more about the workings and motivations and policing of this industry. Now I can write in a more detailed and authoritative way about my main character and his interactions and conflicts dealing with construction.

And now I say, "Once more into the breach!" as I begin the next phase - editing and rewriting 101.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carpe Diem

Okay, so I'm not the first fan Louisa May Alcott ever had, nor the last. I'm probably not even her biggest fan. But if there's anyone I do admire, it's Louisa's grit. She wrote under duress rather than under inspiration, and many of her works which we enjoy were written simply to pay the bills. Necessity drove her to do one of the few things that she could do to help her family: write.

Now, it's not that Louisa didn't like writing. She did. She had done a ton of writing all through her youth and into her adult life, plus she had the advantage of proximity to some great minds. She probably would have written even if she hadn't needed the money. My point is, you don't have to be tucked away in a cozy study with a crackling fire in the fireplace in order to write. You don't have to be reclining at a table with a beach-side view of the ocean as soft and salty breezes waft your hair in order to write. You can write it in a virtual mad-house while kids holler at each other, crumpled paper balls fly, and the baby in the high chair sticks mashed banana in her hair.

No, the writing life is rarely picture perfect. Writers pay a price to write. It can be done under lousy conditions, and often is by those of us who still have other jobs. (I tend to think that this type of writing is better anyway since a busy life is chock full of material to write about.)

So if you're waiting for life to become ideal before you pick up a pen, don't bother. Carpe diem. Seize the day! Better yet, seize the computer! The time to write is now.

(I'll bet you guys thought I forgot to post today. Almost, but not quite.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting into a Man's Head

As a woman, writing from a male perspective is challenging. There are so many differences in the way men and women react or feel. However, men have written female characters or played female roles onstage for a long time. It is only fair that women should be able to write effective male main characters.

The fundamentals of human behavior, thought and emotion know no boundaries. Sometimes women act more like men, and sometimes men more like women. Deep inside, we all feel the same fears, hopes and joys. The interesting part is how we express those feelings and, I believe that well-written characters who are complex will be good whether or not they match the gender of the writer. After all, J.K. Rowling (a woman) wrote the memorable character, Harry Potter (a boy/young man), who endured through a seven book series.

I am really just encouraging myself here, since one of my projects has male protagonists. I can do this, right?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Book Review: The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice

As I was browsing the library shelves with arms already stacked with books, I couldn't resist grabbing just one more book to take home. (They really need shopping carts at the library, although a forklift might be more adequate.) We are truly blessed to live near the award-winning Gail Borden Library, which was one of the five libraries nationwide to win the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Science. Need I say more?

Anyway, there I was amid thousands of reading choices, and this one just jumped out at me as interesting. I could tell by the sticker on the spine that it was a historical story. Historical novels are my pet peeve. When they're well done, I love them. However, when an author plunks a kid with the character and attitudes of the year 2010 down in some other time, I really dislike it.

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker makes the grade in my view when it comes to historical fiction. In this intriguing story, Lucas Whitaker is orphaned when his family members die, one by one, from consumption. His sorrow drives him from the family farm, and he is taken in as apprentice by a kindly doctor in another town. This book explores the superstitions of the people of the 19th century and how doctors of this time period struggled to increase their own learning while fighting general ignorance even among their own ranks, particularly in reference to tuberculosis. (Since my own great-grandmother died of TB in the early 1900s, leaving my grandmother an orphan, I find this of particular interest.)

A note to parents: Please pre-read this book before sharing it with your children. The practice discussed for "curing" tuberculosis is quite macabre and you may prefer to read this together as a family so you can discuss it or wait until your children are older to share this volume with them.

Disclaimer: No one has paid me in any way, shape, or form to give a favorable review of this book or to my local library. I saw the book on a shelf at the library, and it looked interesting. Read at your own risk!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Better Late than Never

I missed my Tuesday posting deadline!

It has been a crazy busy week what with starting a couple of new part-time jobs, the Illinois primary election, Groundhog Day and a little flurry of snow! However, the biggest news in my life is that my husband actually made and baked homemade peanut butter cookies from scratch today! And, he did it all by himself as a surprise for me when I got home! This unusual event has inspired poetry in me - which I will not hesitate to share here.

Ode to a Peanut Butter Cookie

Whether crispy or gooey,
Or maybe crunchy and chewey,
Topped with sugar or with jam,
It's quite pleased I am
To enter into my house
Scented sweetly by my spouse.
Fresh peanut butter cookies
Whose only rhyme is wookies!
But that doesn't matter -
I'll just eat the batter!

A March Release

Disclaimer: I have no financial gain whatsoever with this blog entry regarding Mac's ipad. No one is paying me for this amateurish commentary on the ipad. No ipad's were harmed in this process. I am exercising my constitutional right of freedom of speech. I simple think the ipad is COOL and want to make others aware of it's COOLNESS!

It's almost here. In one more month Mac will release it's new innovative technology onto anxiously awaiting consumers. The ipad is coming!

One of my favorite gadgets at present is my iphone. This new invention is like the iphone on steroids. It's bigger, better, cooler, and WAY more diverse then the iphone!

The ipad is a 9.7 inch LED backlit IPS display with a remarkable precise Multi-Touch screen. And yet, just 1.5 pounds and 0.5 inches thin. 140,000 apps are at your fingertips. It can even run apps you have already downloaded from your iphone or ipod touch.


The BEST web surfing experience.
The BEST email experience.
The BEST photo and movie watching experience.

There is a video on the home page of- and you can witness it's wonders for yourself.

There is no right or wrong way to hold this marvel. The crisp, clear screen rotates as you maneuver it to your liking.

I was holding off my purchase of amazon's Kindle in anticipation of what Mac would offer. This obviously offers so much more then ibooks. It's ibooks and beyond! So is the price. It starts at $499 which offers 16 GB. The Kindle has a 6 inch display to ipads 9.7 inch display. Kindle DX is also 9.7 inches and is priced at $489. So for $10 more you can have an ipad!

What an age we are living in! Whether it's Kindle, Kindle DX, or ipad, they are taking book reading to a whole new level. If a man gets a vision for something who knows where it can take him. The sky's the limit!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: Mr. Mysterious & Company (Oldie But Goodie)

Disclaimer: No one is in any way paying me anything to say I like this book. I just like it.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, on to the main attraction. We have long been owners of The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, but it never occurred to me to look for anything else that he had written. As I was in the library the other day, my eye fell on Mr. Mysterious & Company. As soon as I saw the author's name, in addition to the mysterious title, I knew I wanted to read it.

Although it wasn't what I was expecting, it did not disappoint.

Mr. Mysterious and his family are a traveling magic act on their way to settle in California during the pioneer days. On the way they experience everything from bandits to Indians as they entertain people from one side of America to the other. Their adventures, plus the question of what will happen to their splendid act once they arrive in California, keep you turning pages until the very end. It is an excellent middle grade novel read for kids from the ages of nine or ten and up. (Hey, I couldn't put it down and I'm 42.)

I can't tell you the ending, of course, but I think when you get there, you'll agree that Sid Fleischman's way with story and plot is pure magic!