Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Blue Bistro: A Worthwhile Beach Read

I love a good beach read, even if it's not summertime. Several years ago I swapped books with a friend while on summer vacation and got my first taste of Elin Hilderbrand. The book was Barefoot, and I got sucked into it immediately. Since then, I've made it my mission to read all her books, and I'm excited that she has a new one coming out this summer, called Beautiful Day. For this post, I want to focus on my favorite Elin Hilderbrand book, The Blue Bistro (a story I never tire of!)

The Blue Bistro is set on the island of Nantucket, as all of Hilderbrand's books are. I've put Nantucket on my bucket list of places to visit in this lifetime just so I can enjoy the world the author describes so well in her books.

In The Blue Bistro, a young woman named Adrienne Dealey arrives on Nantucket after a disastrous stint working at a swanky hotel in Aspen, Colorado. She's broke, desperate, and determined not to get involved in yet another disastrous relationship. She's told The Blue Bistro is the place to go for quick cash and good food, and she's immediately drawn to the owner, Thatcher Smith. He hires her as a manager of the bistro, and soon all her financial problems are solved, but she can't deny the chemistry between them. She also can't figure out what his relationship is with the beautiful yet moody chef, Fiona, who is Thatcher's best friend from childhood and business partner. Nor will anyone tell her why the wildly successful restaurant is closing its doors for good after the summer season.

I related to the tale of The Blue Bistro because I spent much of my early 20s also broke and working in restaurants. The people in those restaurants became my surrogate family, much like The Blue Bistro became to Adrienne in the book. I could relate to all the behind the scenes drama, the complicated interactions between the customers and the servers, and the ways delicious food can bring people together and fill the void in the employees' lives.

I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Thatcher and Fiona, and his determination to be there for her as she battles a life-threatening illness, as well as his conflicting emotions as he falls in love with Adrienne.

If you're looking for a good summer read, The Blue Bistro has it all -- romance, intrigue, food and drink, and a colorful cast of supporting characters. For more about why Hilderbrand writes solely about Nantucket, and a little about her creative process, check out this article.

Do you have a favorite book by Elin Hilderbrand? What is it and why?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Power of a Playlist

A few years ago, while listening to the song "Digital Ghost" by Tori Amos, the plot of a book came into my head. I pictured a boy and girl who had been childhood friends but never let a romantic relationship fully develop. Eventually they grew up and apart, and the female character became ill, and the only way the two could connect was through a virtual universe, like the lyrics suggest:

It started as a joke

Just one of my larks to see
if somehow I could reach you so

I swam into your shores
Through an open window
Only to find you all alone

Curled up with machines
Now it seems you're slipping
Out of the land of the living

The plot of this particular book has gone through many changes and revisions, but I developed a playlist on iTunes that I listen to specifically when I'm working on it. In fact, I have quite a few playlists created for books I have either written part of or am saving for a later date. Here are just a few of the songs on that playlist:

Sky Blue and Black - Jackson Browne
Joey - Concrete Blonde
Fake Plastic Trees - Radiohead
Lay Me Down - The Connells
Comes and Goes (In Waves) - Greg Laswell
The Letter - Natalie Merchant
Fix You - Coldplay
Life is Beautiful - Vega
Breathe Again - Sara Bareilles
Digital Ghost and Bouncing off Clouds - Tori Amos

Every time that playlist starts up on iTunes, it makes me smile. It also reminds me to get back to work, and transports me to the world I've created in that book. I'm so grateful that music is such a powerful inspiration to me.

Do you have specific music/playlists you listen to while you're writing?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Organizing Clips and Writing Samples

I noticed a link to this post on Facebook yesterday for The Renegade Writer blog and made myself go back read it after I had finished a proofing assignment. Guest blogger Bree Brouwer outlines three different ways writers can organize samples on their writing websites or blogs -- organization by writing type, organization by topic-category and organization by service.

My own online portfolio is in dire need of some reorganization. Currently, I have a section where I describe my publishing history, which is similar to a resume but focuses only on editorial positions, long-term freelancing gigs and awards. Below that I have a few links to published articles. I try to keep this small list updated, but that doesn't always happen. Right now I have only highlighted articles that have links, but I'm in the process of trying to get some PDFs of articles embedded right on the page. I know it will look better visually, but website maintenance is unfortunately one of those things that falls by the wayside as I try to get my paying assignments finished first. I really like the idea of rearranging the clips by writing type, because I have a variety of service articles, essays, interviews, blog posts and short fiction, so that will probably be the direction I head in next.
Here are a few online writer's portfolios I really like:

C. Hope Clark

Gina Roberts-Grey

Lisa Collier Cool 

Donald S. Vaughan

Linda Formichelli 

How do you have your clips organized, and do you have them on your website, blog, or both?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Paperwhite is Perfect!

For the longest time, I held out on purchasing an e-reader. I'll admit I fell into that category of people who said, "I don't need an e-reader. I prefer to read a regular book instead." And then I thought instead of purchasing a Kindle, I would just wait until I got an iPad and read books on that. Well, I still haven't purchased an iPad and my husband warned me that the built-in light of the Kindle would probably be better for someone with my poor vision anyway. But still, I wavered.

Then, a few weeks ago, I picked up a new gig helping authors promote their books via blogs. This requires me to do a lot more reading from PDF files. After trying to read an entire book on my MacBook, I threw in the towel. Especially after I figured out that you can convert PDF files onto a Kindle and read them just like any other e-book. Sold! I was at Staples just a few days later.

I paid $119 for the Paperwhite, which is the latest and greatest version of the Kindle. It is lightweight, has a long-lasting battery and has a touch screen, which makes navigation very easy. I also paid extra to get a case for it. The size of the Paperwhite is perfect and fits easily in my shoulder bag. I was able to send a few PDF files to my Kindle and get to work immediately, as well as buy a few e-books to read for pleasure too! One of the features I really love is the "highlight" feature. You can highlight specific passages of a book with the swipe of a finger for later use. This helps tremendously when I'm trying to outline sections I want to remember for book reviews. It was very easy to set up and start using. All the answers to your questions come right on the Kindle. So far I haven't found anything I really don't like about the Paperwhite. It's making my job a whole lot easier, that's for sure! Friends and family, if you need future gift ideas for me, just make it a Kindle Giftcard, 'kay?

Do you have an e-reader? What do you love about it?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Scrappy Writer

In order to be a writer, you have to possess a thick skin. Why? Because you will have your work rejected, over and over. Or worse, you'll have your work ignored. I can't tell you how many queries I've sent out to magazines that I've never received formal rejections for. I realize why, of course. Magazine editors are busy people, and I can't imagine how much their inboxes are inundated with the "next great article idea!" I get it.

It all boils down to this -- submitting is a numbers game. In order to find markets for your work, new job opportunities, publishing houses, or agents, you have to put yourself out there, regardless of how difficult it is. I promise I have a point here, but first I want to tell you a little story.

I really have always dreamed of writing fiction, but family members and a little voice inside my head told me that I would never be able to earn a living doing so, so I took the "safe" route in college. I longingly stared at the English and Literature courses while officially signing up for a major in communications. After I graduated, I took jobs in advertising and even found myself immersed in the world of media planning for awhile (what? work with numbers all day? I couldn't do that, I'm a writer!)
Somehow, fate steered me back on the right course with a layoff from the media planning job. That hurt, but while waiting tables at night and writing fiction during the day, I started to find myself again.

Soon I found a good paying job at a public relations firm and enjoyed the work and getting back to my journalism roots. Writing fiction would have to be put on back burner again because I had a mortgage to help pay for and bills. When my daughter was born in 2003, I began brainstorming ways I could make money from home and began teaching myself the ins and outs of the freelance writing business. Within a few short years I was making a decent part-time income by working as a stringer at a local newspaper and selling regional magazine articles. By age 34, I felt I had achieved a level of success in my writing career and decided to go ahead and get back to writing fiction on the side. I finished a novel, although I have to admit that I'm still revising it at age 36. I decided that because I had never had formal training in fiction writing, I would apply to two low-residency MFA programs. I knew it would be expensive, but for me, it seemed like the only way I could still work while taking classes. Plus, I could get feedback from peers on my book. This past fall, I spent a lot of time working on my applications, making sure my portfolio was polished, and realizing that my credentials looked great in the field of non-fiction writing, but weak on the fiction writing side. I have never had any fiction published,  earned any awards in that arena or received any grants. Still, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

By November I had two rejection letters in my hand. It was a difficult blow for  me, but I tried not to let it get me down. I thought maybe it was for the best, I wouldn't have a mountain of student loans to pay for after finishing an MFA program and I could keep working and submitting. In fact, by the end of November, I had finished my first draft of a middle-grade book, and I had never even considered writing for children before!

It is hard for me to admit that I was denied admission into two MFA programs. My confidence as a writer waned. But writers have been published before without fancy degrees, and I guess I'll just have to be one of them. By the way, I recently the thrill of recognition for writing fiction. My short story, "In the Depths" is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall 2012 Flash Fiction Contest. I've tried to turn rejection into something positive. I keep telling myself that one day, I'm going to be known as that scrappy little writer who refused to give up. 

Yes, one day I will.