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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Friday Favorites – Setting Goals, Not Resolutions

This week’s Friday Favorites post is going to be short. I think most people are getting into the spirit of the next holiday. All over the web you can find Best of 2011 lists for just about everything. You can also find a ton of posts on New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve already spoken about how I don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions mostly because I’m a natural goal setter.

Keeping goal setting in mind, I’d like to mention Row80. ROW80 is a writing challenge that I’ve seen a lot lately on Twitter. I’d never heard of it before, but after checking it out, it seems much more my speed than Nano. I like the idea of setting my own goals (instead of setting myself up for failure), but there is still accountability.

Over on Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman talks about making time to do it all. We know that as writers we’re expected to write a darn good book. But we also need to have a presence on-line, whether it be through blogging, Twitter, or Facebook (or some combination of the 3). Of course, this doesn’t even touch on the fact that most writers also have another paying job and families and maybe even a life away from writing. I like this post because Jane doesn’t expect us to give up what we enjoy (like TV) but she talks about doing what makes sense and will work for our lives.

Lani Diane Rich (AKA Lucy March) posted this fabulous idea over on the Bettyverse. I love the concept of a Memory Jar. I’m going out today to find the perfect jar to host our memories. I think this is much better than coming up with resolutions that won’t mean much in the coming months.

Finally, as we close this year out, Ellie Ann Soderstrom has a great post up on unconditional love. This post reminds me of a book I’ve read to my kids, I Love You Stinky Face, by Lisa McCourt:

What’s your favorite story of unconditional love? Please share it. I’m always on the lookout for books to give my kids. I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year celebration.

Good Bad Guys

Leverage is a show that is successful in what it does, but I’m not sure it has the following it should. Sure, it’s been on for 4 seasons now and new episodes are airing on Sunday nights, but there never seems to be a lot of buzz about this show. For anyone who has ever enjoyed Robin Hood or the A-Team, Leverage is a winner. In fact, when someone asks what the show is about, I describe it as a modern-day A-Team. Outlaws band together to help the underdog. The main difference is that instead of a physical threat, it’s usually a monetary loss that the team is trying to recover.

Here’s a trailer:

The high-tech gadgets and complex cons that the team pulls are fascinating, but the real draw for me is the characters. This is not a show that follows the characters into their personals lives. You really only get to see them as they interact with each other and the marks. We see where Nate (the leader/Mastermind) lives because his home is the base of operations for the team. Other than that, we don’t know what goes on for each of the characters outside of the jobs they complete.

Instead of making the characters boring or uncomplicated, this tactic makes them that much more intriguing. We get glimpses of them and their beliefs and fears and hang-ups based on how they react to certain jobs. The way each character interacts with a mark shows you a little more about that person. It’s fascinating to watch the characters reveal themselves in small ways.

For instance, Parker is the thief. She’s small and pretty, but she’s a tomboy. She has no fear of jumping off a building or flipping over lasers to get around an alarm. But her social skills suck. She doesn’t know how to make friends. We’ve learned that she grew up an orphan and bounced from home to home, which made her who she is. It explains a lot, but when the team takes on a job that involves an orphanage, we see the impact it has on Parker. She refuses to leave without saving the kids.

Another example is Eliot. I love Eliot; he’s my favorite character. And it’s not just because he’s nice to look at. Eliot is considered the hitter, or the muscle of the team. He beats up anyone who gets in the way. He almost never uses weapons. He prefers to use his hands. He’s a soft-spoken guy with a really nasty temper.

image from Google images

But he has a strong protective streak that pops up when a kid is involved. Also, in one episode, he asked for the team’s help for an ex-girlfriend. We got a glimpse of Eliot from another lifetime. A softer Eliot.

I could go on with a lot more examples, but I think I’ve made my point. What makes this show so enjoyable for me is that the writers are masters of showing instead of telling. Each of these characters are damaged and carry some unique baggage. We are only given a moniker for them that they use to define themselves: thief, grifter, hitter, hacker. But through the small things, we begin to see them as real 3-dimensional people.

As writers of fiction it’s what we strive for in our writing every day. We want to reveal the living, breathing characters that live inside our heads, but if we just offer a laundry list of descriptors, no one will be interested for long. Learning how to parcel out the information is one of the more difficult tasks we face.

Choosing how and when to reveal character traits and backstory is hard. We want readers to know what we know so that they can understand and love our characters the way we do. The problem a lot of writers have is that they dump a character’s entire life story on the page and expect it to be necessary.

I tend to go to the other extreme and in order to avoid info-dumping, I leave too much out. Things I know and think make it onto the page aren’t really there. I try to trust my readers to figure things out and follow along without me spelling everything out or repeating myself. The problem with that, however, is that sometimes, I end up confusing the reader.

How do you prefer your characters to be written? Do you like the slow reveal, or do you prefer the writer to lay it all out at once?

Non-Traditional Holiday Stuff

Sorry for the late post. Another migraine hit and made things move slower than usual around here.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve written about the few Christmas traditions we have as a family. While on Twitter, I noticed some people mentioning their non-traditional holiday meal — cheeseburgers and tater tots. While I do a turkey dinner, it did get me thinking about what we do that is different. I put up a tree every year and the ornaments are mostly homemade ones from my kids’ years in school. There’s no uniformity of color or style (kind of like my wardrobe), but it suits us.

Here’s our tree:

Yes, that is a Santa Yoda on top. My husband loves Yoda. Every year, I get him something Yoda for under the tree. A couple of years ago, I found this tree topper at Target, so I had to get it, not for the tree, just to add to my husband’s Yoda collection. My brother had the same idea, so we ended up with 2 at our house. (Yes, I could’ve returned one, but I hate those after-Christmas return lines). This year, my kids wanted to use the extra one for the tree instead of an angel, so I let them. I added the Santa hat at their request.

For all of the baking I do, especially around the holidays, gingerbread is one I won’t do from scratch. I buy gingerbread house kits. I build and the kids each decorate a house. Even the gingerbread men came from a mix. A really tasty mix, so I can’t complain. We did make some traditional gingerbread men, but the others we made are Buzz Lightyear, rocket ships, and Little Green Men.

Last, but not least, I refuse to make a New Year’s resolution. I can’t remember if I ever have, but for me, it’s like setting myself up for failure (which is something I despise more than the after-Christmas return lines). I figure if it’s something I really want to work toward, I would’ve set the goal a long time ago, without the aid of a holiday to get me to do it. Why should I all of a sudden be motivated simply because I made a New Year’s resolution? The whole concept doesn’t make much sense to me.

This is not to knock it if it works for you. By all means if you use this day to set a goal and work toward it, good for you. I guess the idea of a new year means a fresh start, and maybe I never feel that way about the new year. My days are so steeped in routine that one day easily bleeds into another and I don’t have that feeling of newness.

If I want to achieve something, I set it as a goal and do what I can in smaller steps to reach it. The day of the year doesn’t matter.

What non-traditional things do you do around the holidays? Do you make a New Year’s resolution? How well does it work for you?

Friday Favorites – Writing and the Holidays

You know, given that the holidays are this weekend, you’d think that the blogosphere would’ve slowed down some. Not the case. I still found gobs of great posts to share.

TV

Surprisingly, I only have a few TV post to mention. Of course the first up is Tiffany White again. I swear, we’re not related, but we might as well be with as much TV time as we share. This week, she talks about female cops we love.

Then Tiffany has a post about Leverage and White Collar. I’ve never watched White Collar, but I like the premise. Leverage, on the other hand, is a show I really like. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen way behind on watching episodes. I have most of the last season waiting on the DVR and the new stuff has started again. I guess it’s good that it’s rerun season. 🙂

Amber West talks about watching reruns and she covers one of my favoritesCastle.

Fun

Elena Aitken has a post that works as a companion to mine from earlier in the week about holiday music. She chose some great ones to listen to. Like me, she reached back to childhood to find favorites.

Writing Advice

Writing around the holidays is really hard for a number of reasons. For me, the in-laws usually come to visit, so I’m expected to not disappear into my room to huddle over a computer. Also, the kids are home. Two. Whole. Weeks. I love my kids and I love spending time with them, but it usually means giving up writing time. And then there’s the questions from friends and family about your writing. Unless you have a book in hand, these conversations suck.  Lucky for you, I have some great advice from people who put it much more brilliantly than I:

Jeff Goins has a post about becoming a writer. He talks about the dreaded word “aspiring,” and why it’s important to call yourself a writer.

Kristen Lamb takes it one step further and points out that “Aspiring is for Pansies.” Writers write. If that’s what you do, claim it. This post reminds me a lot of what Lani Diane Rich says in the classes and workshops she teaches. If you’re already writing, you are a writer. She ends each class by having every student proclaim, “I AM A GREAT WRITER!” She goes by the philosophy that if you say it, you will believe it, and you will live it.

Marcy Kennedy’s post addresses how loved ones can crush our dreams and what you can do to stop them from getting you down.

A last bit of writing advice comes from Kelly Lyman who compares writing to baking cookies with two small children. As someone who loves to bake and is a mother of 3, I think the analogy is fabulous.

Before signing off to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, enjoy a couple of clips of Christmas lights set to music. I love the way these look, but I personally never have any outdoor lights. I refuse to do anything outside on the house, plus I hate the cold. And did I mention I live in Chicago? Nothing is getting me outside to hang lights, no matter how pretty they are. I’ll enjoy from the comfort of my couch and Youtube.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Family Dinner – Blue Bloods Style

One of my favorite semi-new shows is Blue Bloods. Yes, it’s another cop show, but this one focuses more on the Reagan family than the crimes themselves. The Reagans are an Irish Catholic family in New York. The whole family is cops, except for Erin, the only daughter, who is a DA. There’s so much I love about the show. The family is dominated by men, but they are good, loving men who put family first. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Tom Selleck and Donny Wahlberg star in the show.

One thing that stands out for me is that this family eats Sunday dinner together every week. Even if there’s a big case, everyone at least makes an appearance at the dinner table. It’s also about a whole lot more than just eating. When you have the whole family together, the conversation can be argumentative, hurtful, funny, or heartfelt.

Here’s a clip from a dinner scene:

An even better dinner scene is from the last episode (season 2, episode 9, “Moonlighting”). I couldn’t find a clip, but you can watch it for free on-line. The dinner scene there is wonderful because Jamie is beaten to a pulp earlier in the episode and everyone is talking about it. Then they make jokes about how he hid evidence (he swallowed it), which evolved into family stories of all of the things Jamie swallowed over the years. You learn so much about the characters from the way they interact at the family dinner.

Part of me also loves this show because I’m writing about an Irish Catholic family (set in Chicago, not cops) in my books. Although they don’t do family dinner weekly, they do commit to everyone getting together at least once a month. Often, it’s more than that. Like the Reagans, my O’Learys use the dinner table to air grievances and celebrate victories.

In real life, I’m bad at the whole family dinner thing. We do eat together, but the TV is usually on. We tend to spend our quality time in other ways. The kids like to watch TV while they eat because it gives them some downtime in between all of their activities (and there are lots). We get the same laughter and banter as the Reagans, but ours tends to happen in the car instead of at the dinner table.

How about you? Do you do big family meals on a regular basis?

Holiday Traditions – Music

Last week I said that I didn’t grow up with too many holiday traditions, but music was always a part of Christmas. A local radio station starts playing only Christmas music right after Thanksgiving. Usually by the first week of December, I’ve tuned in and listen a lot.

Half of our cookie baking day is spent with Christmas music playing. It usually only lasts about half a day. There’s only so many times you can listen to Frosty the Snowman, regardless of who is singing. My favorite Christmas song of all time is Bruce Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town:

The first time I remember that version standing out for me, I was a freshman in high school. We were all brought into the auditorium for what we were told was a multi-cultural assembly. We were prepared to be bored out of our minds. When the lights went on, though, my English teacher, Mrs. Bellert, was on stage, dressed like Bruce Springsteen. She lip-synced that song. It was hilarious. Her act was followed by many other teachers doing equally silly things. To this day, it was the best assembly I ever attended.

Now that I’ve gotten sidetracked…this is supposed to be about tradition. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas unless Johnny Mathis is singing.  My mom loved Johnny Mathis. She owned all of his albums and tapes (and I’m referring to the 8-track kind). Every Christmas morning, we listened to Johnny Mathis as we opened our presents and helped mom make breakfast for the whole family that would come to our house.

After growing up and moving out, I bought my own Johnny Mathis Christmas tapes (cassettes this time) because his music makes it feel like home. I’m not necessarily a Johnny Mathis fan, since the only time I listen to him is at the holidays, but I’d know his voice anywhere. You’ve probably heard him, even if you weren’t aware. Here he is singing Little Drummer Boy, which is another favorite of mine:

Are you a fan of holiday music? What’s your favorite singer or song?

Friday Favorites – Crushes, Buffy, and Book Fandom

It has been a busy week in blogs. I came across so many great things, it was hard to choose.

First up, let’s talk TV:

(banner by studio D)

Personally, I am not a Dr. Who fan, but I know quite a few people who are. They routinely try to convince everyone around them to join the ranks. Since it’s now on Netflix, I might give it a try. As some of you might have noticed over on Twitter, I’ve been RTing tweets about a Dr. Who bloghop my writerly friends have created. There are great prizes each day that you can win just for commenting. Hop over to Erica O’Rourke’s blog to get the main details.

Debra Kristi talks about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who was better — Angel or Spike? This was a show that I didn’t watch when it was on. At the time, the concept seemed silly. Then, as I embarked on my writing career, I kept hearing from so many writers (including Jennifer Crusie) that it was a fabulous show. I haven’t watched every episode, but I have seen quite a few. I’m definitely in the Angel camp. I love David Boreanaz, as I mentioned my love for Seely Booth last month.

Finally, Tiffany White talks about criminals we love. I don’t watch all of the shows she mentions, but Dexter and Justified I watch religiously.

Here are some fun, non-TV posts to check out:

Merry Farmer had me cracking up with her post on inappropriate crushes. I think we’ve all been there before. I currently don’t have a real-life crush, but I totally have a girl-crush on Angie Harmon. It’s

Image Credit: SBWALLS.BLOGSPOT.COM

inappropriate because I’m not gay and I don’t think she is either.

Jillian Dodd has a great post on whether men and women can be just friends. Watch the video; it’s really worth it. I think this is fascinating both as a woman and as a writer. I love to read friends-turned-lover stories, so maybe the guys are right here.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (one of my favorite go-to sites for romance) had a great post about book fans and how paranormal romance readers seem to be “more active, involved, and at times rabid” than fans of contemporary romance. I read both paranormal and contemporary, but I lean more toward contemporary, but maybe that’s because it’s what I write.

Speaking of contemporary romance, Angela James (executive editor for Carina Press) has put out a call for submissions for contemporary romance series. Angela James is a smart, savvy person and I have no doubt that working with her would be a truly rewarding experience (no, she is not paying me to say that. She doesn’t even know me)

Finally, in my post yesterday, I talked about canceled shows. Sometimes, a good show gets canceled because it can’t stand out or it’s not great. I mentioned that as writers, we often face the same kind of rejection. Chuck Wendig has a great post listing the 25 things writers should know about rejection. Rejection sucks, but learn from it and move on. He says it all much better than I did.

That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoy the links. And the really burning question: Who do you love — Angel or Spike? 🙂

from wikia Added by Huntingdonisajerk