02 December 2013

A Snowy Vacation, or That Time Ben Fell into a Hot Spring

My parents seem to inexplicably have leftover timeshare points every year. Not inexplicably (because they are very generous people) they always let us use some to take our boys on little trips that we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. Last year we went to Estes Park, and this year we got to go to Steamboat Springs!
We got into Steamboat just before dinnertime, dropping off our suitcases and whisking the boys off to have dinner. We chose a place called Fiesta Jalisco, which I had been to on a visit to Steamboat years ago, and still remembered was good. Not at all surprisingly, my memory of anything having to do with food is impeccable, and Fiesta Jalisco did not disappoint. Great way to kick off our vacation.
We got up the next morning planning on getting in one of Steamboat's few natural hot springs that isn't stinky, but were foiled by the fact that it would cost forty dollars for all four of us to go. Forty dollars may not sound like much, but Ben and Sam have the attention spans of gnats, so it would have been forty dollars for less than thirty minutes of hot spring time. No thanks. We went to the resort's outdoor spa instead.
We still wanted to see some hot springs, however, so we pulled out our trusty GPS unit and went to do some geocaching/sight seeing. 

Ryan at the Black Sulphur Spring

The cache was near the Lithia Spring, not far from downtown Steamboat. We all piled out of the car, and Ryan and Ben headed over to the spring while Sam and I consulted the GPS. The minerals in the Lithia Spring make the water a foamy white, completely the opposite of the Black Sulphur Spring. It's also surrounded by concrete, with an opening for the spring that is flush with the water level. I don't have a picture of it, and here's why:
Ryan and Ben headed over to the spring as soon as they got out of the car. Ben, not being two yet, doesn't have the er, depth perception or experience needed to walk around a white hot spring that's even with the level of the white concrete, if you get my drift. He walked right into the water. Ryan, standing less than two inches away from him, was able to pull him out quickly enough that he was completely okay, albeit stinky from falling in a natural hot spring. 
We changed his clothes and gave him a snack and let him sit on Ryan's lap in the front seat of the car, so within minutes he was happy as a clam (smelled like one, too), so Sam and I were able to find the geocache. Success!
Triumphant selfie!

We went to a fun Italian restaurant that night called Mazzola's. They had the best strategy for keeping kids occupied at dinner that we've ever encountered! Each boy got a pizza pan and a small ball of pizza dough. The waiter told us that they could make whatever they wanted, and the cooks would bake it and bring it back to us. The boys, who take after me, weren't interested in sculpting--they just started eating the dough. But I saved some and managed to get this photo:

I made their names out of dough. Can't you tell?

It started snowing that night, and didn't really stop until we left, so we kept the boys entertained with movies. The resort had this neat child playroom, which we took Sam to while Ben was napping. Check him out!

He put together a puzzle! (with help, obvs.)

We took the long way back to Laramie so we could visit Ryan's grandmother and uncle in Denver. They live in Arkansas, but made the drive out to Colorado to visit family. It's been so long since Ryan's seen his grandmother that I've never even met her, so this was a real blessing.

Grandma Marjorie was so sweet to our boys, even though Sam decided to play zombies and spent a significant amount of time pretending to eat her brain. What a nice lady. I'm so thankful that the boys and I got to meet her. She's living with Ryan's mom, now, so we'll have many more opportunities to see her again!

24 November 2013

Excerpt #4

You may recall that last month I wrote about outlining a novel before writing the first draft, and how I was convinced it was going to change everything about my NaNoWriMo experience this year. I happily followed along with my outline until about a week ago, when I realized it might not even get me to 50,000 words, much less the 75-80,000 I was aiming for. I knew I would need to go back in and write more scenes, so I started adding the main character's time at the vet clinic she volunteers at, instead of glossing over those parts. I ended up with six new characters out of it, including a tired vet, a grumpy receptionist, and a brand new love interest for the main character (which completely undos the rest of the outline I had planned.) So this excerpt is from the next 10,000 words I wrote since the last excerpt, only this scene is actually from the second chapter of the novel. As always, please excuse the roughness of this draft.

After my classes on Tuesday I bike over to Paws n Claws, the vet clinic I’ve been volunteering at for the past year. The vet, Dr. Ransom, loves to have students help out, mostly because then he doesn’t have to pay anyone to clean up the kennels for the boarding animals. But he’s also a great mentor. I love working at the clinic, and can feel myself getting excited as I get closer.
I let myself in through the back door, and find myself face to face with Jeff, the young-William-Shatner look-alike. He’s tossing a ball for the two black Labs that are staying at the clinic while their owners are on vacation. He smiles at me as I walk in.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows. “Did you forget my name? Let me remind you. It’s Lis.” My no-nonsense tone does nothing to erase his cocky grin. He tosses the ball again, the Labs thundering after it, drool flying in the air.
“Where’s Dr. Ransom?”
Jeff inclines his head toward the break room. “In there. He’s taking a nap. Had a surgery this morning, it wiped him out.”
“Want to play?” He offers the ball to me. It’s covered in drool and teeth marks.
“Nope. You’re on your own.” He shrugs, and resumes throwing for the dogs. It looks like all three of them are having fun. I smile. It’s nice to work with fellow animal lovers.
Dr. Ransom has his head on the break room table. He’s awake, and tapping on his phone. Looking over his shoulder, I can see that he’s playing a game. Nice. He turns his head at the sound of my footsteps.
“Lis! Have I got a job for you.”
I perk up at this. “Great! What is it?” I get excited any time I have a chance to do something more than menial labor.
“Bob Samhain is in the lobby. Go see what he’s brought in today, and get him to go home.”
I groan, not even bothering to hide my displeasure. “Can’t Jeff do it?”
“Jeff is new. Bob would walk all over him. He’ll listen to you, though. Think about it! You can incorporate your interactions with him into your applications!”
“I finished them yesterday.”
“Oh. Well, you still need to go talk to him. These angry birds aren’t going to kill any pigs by themselves.”
I shamble out into the lobby. Bob is the only person there, except for Annette, Dr. Ransom’s receptionist. Her lips are pursed tightly, and she is glaring at Bob, who is leaning over a cage and whispering to it.
“How long this time?” I ask Annette.
“Thirty minutes.” I don’t know how she talks without moving her lips out of their disapproving expression. It’s impressive. I don’t think I could have made it through thirty minutes of that stare. But, Bob is persistent. Or obsessive. Take your pick.
“Hi, Bob.”
“Lis is short for Lisette, actually.” It’s not the first time he’s heard this.
“Take a look at this little guy.” He holds the carrier up to my face. “I think he might have eaten a cigarette butt on campus.”
It takes a lot of self-restraint to hold in a sigh. Bob comes in every couple of weeks with some wild animal who needs “saving.” It is frequently not legal to be in possession of these animals. Today, it’s a squirrel, one of the hundreds that roam the CSU campus. It may be legal to have a squirrel, but it is certainly not smart.
Bob hitches up his pants. He’s wearing his usual ensemble of a pair of overalls over a wifebeater tank top. His hair is thin, awkwardly combed over the top of his head. He looks down on his luck, and my heart hurts a little. It’s sweet how much Bob loves these animals, even if his love is a little… misguided. So today I decide to humor him.
“Hmm. He’s not being as active as I would expect for a squirrel of his… size,” I say, making it up as I go along. “Let me take him to Dr. Ransom.”
“Oh, thank you, Elizabeth, thank you!” Bob is practically glowing. I take the cage from him gingerly and head to the back room. Annette’s look of disgust is now aimed at me. I’m okay with that.
Dr. Ransom sits up abruptly in his chair when I walk in with the cage. “Darn it, Lis. Really?”
“Sorry. He was so upset.”
“Now I’m upset,” Dr. Ransom mumbles. “Do you have a plan?”
“Sort of.”
I take the cage out back, where Jeff is now brushing the black Labs. He looks up at me from where he’s sitting. 
“What is that?”
“A squirrel.”
“Okay.” He resumes brushing. “Why?”
“Bob Samhain brought him in.”
Jeff nods. “Oh yeah. Annette told me about him. What are you going to do with the squirrel?”
I look out into the alley behind the clinic. Not exactly prime squirrel territory. “I was thinking of letting him out and pretending he had so much vim and vigor that he escaped.”
Jeff brightens. “I have an even better idea.” He takes the cage from me. “Allow me, mademoiselle.” He leads me back into the clinic, and starts poking through his backpack. “Voila!” He holds up a pack of SweetTarts.
“I don’t get it.”
“Wait for it, ma cherie.”
I roll my eyes. I never should have told him that my mother is French.
He also digs out a prescription pill bottle and dumps the pills into a pocket of his bag. “Those are souped up ibuprofen. I don’t have any weird diseases, if you were wondering.”
“I wasn’t.” 
Jeff begins to peel the label with his name on it off, using his fingernail to unstick it from the bottle. When it finally comes off, he dumps the SweetTarts in the bottle.
“What are you doing?”
Jeff grabs a Sharpie off of Dr. Ransom’s desk and writes NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION on the bottle. He picks up the squirrel and heads out toward the lobby. I follow him, not sure what’s going to happen or if I should stop it.
“Mr. Samhain?” he asks when he sees Bob. Bob springs to his feet more easily than I would have expected for a man of his size. Jeff holds his free hand out to shake with Bob, who looks dazed at Jeff’s enthusiasm. “My name is Scott Simpson, and I have just the thing for your squirrel.”
“Yes?” Bob leans forward eagerly. “Scott” hands him the pill bottle filled with candy.
“Now, I can’t write you an official prescription, as this is a wild animal, but I can give you these. Feed one to the squirrel every thirty minutes, and when the bottle is empty, let the squirrel go. Sound good?”
Bob nods. “Oh yes, Dr. Simpson, I can handle that. I’ll take good care of the little guy.”
“I’m sure you will. Bye bye now.”
We stand in the lobby and watch as Bob practically runs out the door with the squirrel and his “medicine.” Once he’s safely gone, I turn to Jeff and hit him in the shoulder.
“What is wrong with you?”
Jeff rubs his arm. “What is wrong with you? I just made Bob’s day.”
“By telling him to feed a squirrel SweetTarts! That is so wrong!”
Jeff shrugs. “So we’ll fire Dr. Simpson. The guy’s a dick, anyway.”
I roll my eyes at him and head back to the break room. Jeff hurries after me. Thankfully, Dr. Ransom is back in his office.
“Wait! Lis!”
I whirl around to face him, arms folded over my chest. “What?”
“What are you doing Saturday night?”
My jaw drops open. “Are you asking me out?”
“No, I’m taking a survey.” It’s Jeff’s turn to roll his eyes now. “Yes, I’m asking you out. What, do you have a boyfriend?”
    My cheeks are burning. “Actually, I have plans with my friends that night. Sorry.” A work meeting to see if I want to investigate cheating boyfriends is kind of the same thing.

18 November 2013

Another excerpt!

I passed the 30,000 mark while on mini-vacation in Steamboat Springs this past weekend. I'll post about that next, but in the meantime, here's a snippet from the most recent batch of 10,000 words!
Lis and Will, our main characters, have discovered each other's deceptions. Lis is willing to overlook Will's mistake; he doesn't feel the same way. This is how Lis decides to cope.

I take Tiffani’s advice and spend the weekend getting over Will in the cheesiest way possible. I watch every romantic movie I can find on Netflix’s Watch Instantly list. I buy four different kinds of Ben&Jerry’s and eat about half of it. I can’t bring myself to eat all that ice cream, though, because come on. I’m not crossing the line into completely pathetic. I just want to have some fun with my sadness. At one point I try watching Star Trek because it’s my usual go-to whenever I feel sad, but when Captain Kirk shows up on my screen I burst into tears. I can’t watch Next Generation, either, because every time Riker sits down I think about how funny it is that Will copies him and I start doing this weird laugh-cry thing that always ends in choking on my own snot. So no Trek.
Adele calls me Sunday evening. She hasn’t called me since the whole Wyatt thing happened two months ago. I can barely believe my eyes when I see her name on the screen when my phone rings.
“Hi, Lis.”
“Hi, Adele.”
“How are your vet school applications going?”
“I finished them a while ago. I’m just waiting to hear back.”
Normally I would make more of an effort to talk to my sister, but right now I feel pretty self-absorbed.
“Can you do me a favor?”
“When you come up for Thanksgiving, can you bring some yarn for me? I can’t find the kind I want here in Laramie.”
That’s a common problem for the residents of “Laradise”, but the usual solution is to go to a craft store in Cheyenne.
“Do you really want to wait that long? Why don’t you just go to Cheyenne?”
“I, um, I can’t.”
“Why not?”
Long pause this time. “I got banned from the craft store.”
“What?” Adele finally has my full attention. “What did you do?”
Adele’s voice wavers. “Mom drove me there last weekend, and I found everything I needed but, um, Wyatt was there.”
“In a craft store?”
“He was there with his new girlfriend,” Adele whispers. “And I just got so mad, I started yelling at him and telling his girlfriend she should dump his ass, and then I may or may not have started throwing skeins of yarn at him. Spoiler alert: I did. I hit him in the head.” She pauses. “And the balls.”
“He deserves it.”
“Well, the manager didn’t agree, and now I’m not allowed back in. Neither is Mom, because she didn’t try to stop me.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t throw a few balls of yarn herself.”
“She was busy holding my purse so I could use both hands.”
“Wow, Adele.”
“Yeah. So I need you to bring me some yarn.”
“Well, yeah, sure, but what do you need it for?”
“Oh. Um, I learned how to crochet. You know, while I was spending so much time in my room. So now I make blankets for the kids in the fostering program. I can teach you how when you come home.”
“That sounds great, Delly. I’d love to help you with that.”
She gives me the list of all the yarn she needs before hanging up. I stare at the list in shock for a few minutes. So this is how my sister is getting over Wyatt. Making blankets for kids. Wow.
I’m proud of Adele. It may have taken her weeks of hiding out in her room, but the way she’s chosen to come back to normal life is admirable.
As much as I’ve enjoyed my weekend shotgunning ice cream and sappy movies, I can’t wallow forever. It’s not in my nature to sit around and do nothing. So… what should I do? Move on, find a new guy to fool around with? Resign myself to spinsterhood until I graduate from vet school?
What I really want, though, is Will. And maybe this isn’t the best plan, because my brain has been warped by too many romantic comedies, but I am going to get him back.

16 November 2013

Guest Post- Don't Fall into a Plot Hole, by Connie B. Dowell

Welcome to the back half of NaNoWriMo! I hope everyone is on pace to finish, and if you are anything like me by now you've discovered at least one major flaw in your work! Today, Connie B. Dowell of bookechoes.com is here to talk to us about plot holes and what to do with them. If you like her post, check out her website and follow her on Twitter @ConnieBDowell

Don’t Fall in a Plot Hole! Cover It with a Rug.

It’s the middle of NaNoWriMo, and, as those participating probably know by now, the middle of the month is often the most challenging. It’s when the shine of an idea wears off and the realities of its potentials and limitations set in. It’s when the pretty, smooth road on your story map turns into a reality rife with potential pot holes… I mean, plot holes.
Don’t let those plot holes stop you, though. The best thing to do for a plot hole is to fill it… eventually. You’re sprinting to 50,000 words and may not have time immediately to go back and explain or foreshadow. For now, however, as you delve deep into your story world, there are some strategies to distract from these gaping holes, strategies used by successful stories that actually left those holes in.

Warning! Spoilers below for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Futurama.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In this book, Harry is chosen for the Triwizard Tournament, a deadly competition for the honor of his school, only to discover at the end that it was all a plot by Voldemort and his followers to get him off school grounds so they could use his blood to give Voldemort a new body… and kill him, of course. When he reaches the cup at the end of the final competition, it turns out to be a portkey that transports him away.

The Hole

Okay. I’m going to give a lot of leeway here. Sure, they could have used anything as a portkey at any time, but the Triwizard Cup is an especially good one for the following reasons:

• The tournament is known for deadly accidents, thus, providing a handy explanation for Harry’s death.

• The final competition takes place at the end of the year, and it took a long time to get Voldemort ready for a new body.

But those reasons still don’t quite cut it. Here’s a much safer route the Death Eaters could have taken:

• Leave Harry out of the tournament. No big spotlight means people don’t notice his whereabouts.

• Do wait for the final competition. It gives the Death Eaters the time they need, and the excitement and crowds of the competition provide much needed distraction and cover.

• Kids get injured—often seriously—at Hogwarts all the time. Come up with a plausible accident (and there are tons) and make it look convincing.

Why you might not notice it

There. Were. Dragons! And mermaids! And a sketchy reporter-beetle. And a creepy maze. Oh yeah, and the dual Bartemius Crouches and oh-my-gosh so much exciting and distracting stuff. Spectacle, pure and simple. Rowling needed Harry in the spotlight for this, even though it was a huge risk for the Death Eaters to take, so she made the competition so interesting that on the first read I didn’t notice the hole. And when I did, I didn’t care.

Futurama, “Spanish Fry”

Fry’s nose is stolen by aliens to sell as an aphrodisiac. Fry, Leela, and Bender visit Lrrr, of Omicron Persei 8, who bought Fry’s nose, hoping to convince him to return it. Lrrr decides he wants a rather different body part from Fry.

The Hole

The Professor has a cloning machine. Fry could have a new nose by afternoon. The crew even brings this up, but Fry dismisses it, with the flimsy excuse that he’d have to teach a new one how to snort milk.

Why you might not notice it

Again, spectacle. There’s a sketchy bazaar where somebody’s roasting an automobile in the background. Then the crew goes to visit Lrrr to watch scary alien Lrrr and his wife bicker over their relationship problems in a hilariously mundane fashion. By the time Lrrr decides to chop off Fry’s you-know, I’d forgotten all about the cloning option.

So, what does this tell us?

If you have to have a plot hole, cover it with flash. Make the world of your story so darn interesting that everybody forgets all about that logical flaw. Now, the middle of a draft, is the best time for that. You should be deep into heart of your story, exploring new facets of the world, really pushing your concept to its potential. It’s no excuse not to try and fill your holes in December (even if you only fill them with an explanation about teaching a nose tricks), but know that popular stories like these prove that spectacle can trump logic.

Connie B. Dowell writes, edits, and tutors in Virginia. For fun, she counts plot holes in books and T.V. shows. One day, she will know how many plot holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. You can find her at http://bookechoes.com/

11 November 2013

Excerpt the Second

I hit 20,000 words last night, so it's time for an excerpt from this set of 10,000 words! Here's the backstory you need: Lis, the main character, has been hired by Will's girlfriend to investigate whether or not he'll cheat on her while she spends a semester in Italy. Lis starts to fall for Will, which is a big no-no. So, she's torn--she wants him to be faithful to his girlfriend, like a good guy; on the other hand, she wants him to like her. As always, this is an unpolished first draft. Enjoy!

The morning of the Biochem exam is the first time I don’t sit next to Will in two weeks. There’s just no way I can focus on the exam when there’s a constant electric tingle between the two of us. Even if I’m the only one feeling it. I walk into class at eight fifty-seven, and by then there are only a few seats left. I squeeze in between a girl with pink hair and a sweaty guy with glasses that keep falling to the end of his nose. Perfect. These two won’t distract me at all. Although pink hair girl does kind of look like she wants to punch someone.
Studying with Will really has helped me. I can tell that he’s really good at figuring out what material will show up on the exam, because we’ve studied everything that shows up on the test. I feel confident after completing the first page, and manage to find a zone that works for me. I don’t lift my pencil off the paper until nine forty-five—actually finishing early! I hand in my paper, giving the professor a big smile. 
“It’s nice to see that someone looks happy,” he comments. “Have a good weekend. Enjoy the game!”
“Thanks.” I beam at him. Tiffani gave me a Rams Volleyball shirt, and I decided to wear it all day to support her. The game tonight is against Utah, one of the other teams in our conference. It’ll be a good game. Mallory, Serena, and I are all going together to cheer for Tiff.
I walk out of the classroom and suck in a huge gulp of air when I see Will leaning against the wall opposite the door. He pushes off the wall and comes over to me.
“How’d you do?” 
“Pretty well. You?”
“I finished ten minutes ago,” he brags, reaching back to pat himself on the back. “We should study together for the rest of the semester.” My heart skips a beat, and all I can do is nod. The rest of our class has begun to file out the door of the classroom. Most people don’t look happy. I start to walk towards the student center, and for once Will falls into step next to me.
“You didn’t sit next to me today,” he says. It’s not a question, but I answer it anyway.
“Well, since we study together, I thought we should split up for the test so people didn’t think we were cheating.” It’s a small lie, but I still feel like dirt for saying it. 
Will looks satisfied, though. “Okay, but on Monday, you should come back to your spot.” I feel warm all over when he says “your spot,” and I tighten my grip on my bag. Will reaches out and rubs the sleeve of my volleyball shirt between his thumb and forefinger. I have to concentrate hard on walking in a straight line.
“Are you going to the game tonight?” he asks.
I nod. Then I realize that this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. “Do you want to come with me?” I hold my breath, waiting for his answer.
He gives me a sideways glance, and stuffs his hands into his pockets. “Okay. I haven’t been to a game since freshman year, though. You might have to remind me of the rules.”
My heart is simultaneously leaping and sinking, which feels horrible. “I can do that,” I manage to choke out.
He smiles at me. “Great. I’ll meet you on the north side of the arena right before the game.” I nod, and stretch my lips into something that might be considered a smile.
“Where are you headed?” he asks me.
“The student center. I haven’t had breakfast yet. I was going to get a muffin before my next class.” My stomach rumbles when I say “muffin,” and I hope Will can’t hear it.
He nods his head. “I’m done for the day, so I’m going to head home. See you tonight.” 
When he smiles at me, I think I might actually fall down because my knees have turned to Jell-O. Does he have any idea he looks just like Captain Kirk?  
I wonder if Emma like Star Trek, and if watching it is something that the two of them like to do together. A pang of jealousy stabs me in the chest, making it hard to breathe. I send Mallory a text to tell her about my plan for tonight. I hope I can get this case over with soon. 
My phone buzzes. Mallory says that after the game she’ll report to Emma, and I can be done. I let out a huge sigh of relief. The knot in my stomach untangles a little, enough for me to feel hungry again.
The line at the cafe is pretty long, so I have plenty of time to stand around and think while I wait for my turn to order. I’m really excited for the game tonight, to spend time with Will doing something more fun than studying. But… if he goes to the game with me, does that make him a cheater? Can I still like him, then?
Now I’ve lost my appetite. 

05 November 2013

Excerpt the first!

This year's NaNoWriMo work is a geeky New Adult contemporary romance, tentatively titled Boldly Go. I just passed the 10,000 word mark, so it's time for an excerpt! This is the first time the two main characters meet, and they get to show their nerd sides a little.
A note: This is a first draft that has not been polished AT ALL, in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo. So don't judge me too harshly.

I still haven’t made a final decision on my outfit by eight AM on Monday, which is driving me crazy. I’m driving today so I won’t look all windblown like I usually do when I ride my bike. I pick out a short denim skirt and a bright red button-up blouse with cap sleeves. Cringing a little, I don’t wear a tank top under it like I usually do. The buttons spread apart a little bit because it’s a tiny bit too small, and if I sit on Will’s left, he’ll probably get a glimpse of the black bra I’m wearing underneath. Man. I haven’t dressed this calculatingly in a long time. Looking sexy does give me confidence, which I desperately need today.
It takes me forever to find a parking spot on campus, and I have to hurry to get to class, which hurts because I’m wearing little black ballet flats that don’t support my feet at all. I really need to make sure I get there early, though, so I can get a seat next to Will. I usually sit in the back, and if I remember correctly I usually see him sitting in the front. It’s a big lecture hall, though, with at least a hundred and fifty seats. I cross my fingers for luck.
There he is! I recognize those broad shoulders, probably because I stare at them a lot when lecture gets boring. I smooth down my hair and walk confidently down the aisle to the front row, shaking my hips unashamedly. Bingo! Will is the first one to sit down in the front row, and no one else is claiming the seats next to him. I slide into the seat on his left, just as I planned, and flash him a smile.
“Hi. I’m Lis,” I say. His eyebrows are raised, and I catch his eyes drifting down towards my chest before they snap back to my face.
“I’m Will. Nice to meet you.” He speaks slowly, and gives me a tentative grin. I guess he’s not used to random girls introducing themselves in big lecture classes. I’d be surprised, too. Usually I don’t bother making friends with people in a class this big. 
I drop my messenger bag on the floor after pulling out my notebook, bending down to push it safely under my seat. His bag is on the floor already, and… is that seriously a Starfleet Academy logo pin on the front flap? 
Time for the Fairchild Star Trek True Fan Test, as developed by my father in 2009 when the JJ Abrams movie came out.
“I like your pin,” I tell him, flashing another smile. “Did you like the new Star Trek movie?”
He nods, giving me a look of approval. “I did, yeah. It was great, but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the original Khan.”
My heart flutters. He just skipped the first part of the test and moved into the second phase. “You like the original movies? Which is your favorite?”
He leans back in his chair, crossing his arms and ankles and staring at me with a crooked grin. “I can never decide. I go back and forth between the original cast and the Next Generation all the time. This week, my favorite is First Contact.”
My jaw drops open. He just passed the test, flying colors, true fan award. It’s all I can do not to crawl in his lap and start making out with him right here in class. 
“I like Wrath of Khan myself, but  First Contact is a close second.”
He nods tightly. “Not too many girls have seen the old movies. Most of them just want to talk about how hot Zachary Quinto is as Spock.”
“And then they get all disappointed when you tell them he’s gay,” I add. 
He laughs. “Exactly!”
The professor turns on the projector and dims the lights so we can see his lecture on the screen. I wipe my palms on my skirt, trying not to let Will see. Oh my gosh, he’s hot and he likes Star Trek. This is unbelievable. It’s all I can do to follow along with the lecture notes. I keep peeking out of the corner of my eye at Will. He seems to take really good notes. One time, though, I see his head whip back to his paper when I look at him. My cheeks burn. I feel sick to my stomach in the best way possible.

25 October 2013

Family Photos 2013

Our family photos from our first year in Laramie could not have been better. My amazing friend Julia, one half of the couple who are Studio Despain, was so patient with our kids--especially Benjy, who was not at all into getting his picture taken. In fact, he spent most of the photo shoot looking like this:

Which made us feel like this:

And somehow, Julia was able to capture him like this:

Sam is a ham (rim shot!), so it was easy to get great pictures of him cheesing it up.

Even Ryan and I managed to get a nice photo together.

Here are some of the other ones I loved.

Ryan said croquet sticks were "preppy", I said they were cute. I think we were both right.

I really love this picture of Ryan


Benjy especially hated having to sit with Sammy, so we were really lucky to get this picture!

As a final note, here are my tips for getting kids to cooperate for family photos. Let them get used to the photographer for a few minutes before you start expecting them to pose. I didn't think Ben would have a problem with Julia because he sees her every week at church, but he was still leery of her once she had a camera in front of her face. And finally, bring a bribe. Once I pulled out the gummy bears, Ben was much more willing to smile! 

22 October 2013

Finding a "voice" for your characters

It's been busy around the Reynolds home, and on top of that the kids and I were sick last week. I'm finding that juggling a bunch of different writing projects is... well, difficult. I'm still incorporating feedback into the MS I have out for querying, working on preparing for NaNoWriMo '13, and also trying to help others with critiques.
After finishing the outline of my new novel, I decided that one last thing that I wanted to do before November was work on my characters' voices. I'm trying to figure out their unique worldviews NOW, before I start writing them, because voice can be a very difficult thing to put into a manuscript after it is already written.
I came up with several "prompts" for each of my characters, such as "Why did you decide to take this career path?" "How do you feel about your siblings?" "What's you favorite TV show?". Then I started responding to the questions as if my character was answering. It's been helping me a lot with character development, and getting everyone's unique voice straightened out. I highly recommend trying it out before November!

15 October 2013

Don't miss the Writers Helping Writers AMAZING RACE!

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers (formerly The Bookshelf Muse) have added two more books to their Descriptive Thesaurus Collection: The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws. To celebrate, they are hosting a race, and not just any old race, either. It's the...

Photo Credit: Tharrin

Writing is hard, isn't it? Create the perfect hook. Make your first page compelling. Craft an amazing 25 word pitch. Knock out a query that will blow an agent's mind. On and on it goes. And sometimes, well, you just wish someone would help.

From October 21st until October 27th, Writers Helping Writers is posting an OPEN CALL for writers. You can fill out a form, requesting help with critiques, book visibility, social media sharing, blog diagnostics, advice and more.
An army of Amazing Racers are standing by (ME INCLUDED!) waiting to help with your submissions. How many people can we help in a week? Let's find out!
Each day the week of Oct. 21-27, there's an AMAZING giveaway, too. So stop in at Angela & Becca's new Writers Helping Writers website and find out how to take advantage of this unique, pay-it-forward event for writers. I'll see you there!

03 October 2013

Writing 50,000 Words is Not Easy

The thing that challenges me the most about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write every day- because if you don't, you'll fall behind. Most days I do not feel like writing. I much prefer to edit my work than to write the rough draft. This is why I am not a good "pantser," i.e., someone who doesn't make an entire plan for their novel before starting out. A pantser writes by the seat of their pants, get it?
I wrote my first NaNoWriMo work by the seat of my pants. It was hard. That novel ended up being a hot mess, but I loved it. That's why I spent the better part of three years editing it. I had written in all kinds of things as means to various ends, without considering how they affected my characters as a whole. (e.g., I wanted Anna's dad to be a widower so Anna would have a clear reason to live at home after high school. But nowhere in the novel did I address how growing up without a mom would affect Anna.)
Same story with NaNoWriMo 2011.
I started learning a lesson with NaNoWriMo 2012. Every day, after I finished writing, I would spend 15 minutes writing down where I wanted the story to go next. That way I would have something to work with the next day. It made it a lot easier to make my word count each day, but again: I have a hot mess on my hands. That story made me laugh out loud several times as I was reading over it last month, but it's still crap. No character development whatsoever. Maybe some day I'll polish it up.

This year, I have a plan. This will be the easiest NaNoWriMo ever. Here's what I've been doing:
I bought a beautiful piece of software called Scrivener. Scrivener allows me to break my novel into scenes, because it will compile it for me when I'm done. I can't even begin to do justice to a description of all the things it does, but here's a sample:
Allows you to mark whether a scene is a first draft, has been edited, or specifically needs work.
Comes with character building sheets as well as location sheets, that you can save with pictures in a separate folder from your novel.
Saves automatically, so you never lose your work.
Provides a quick reference box next to the frame your story is in so you can see at a glance who is in a scene, what day it is, etc.

I started putting Untitled NaNoWriMo 2013 Novel into Scrivener in September. By the end of this month I will have a short description of every scene in the novel, so that on November 1st I know how it will end. Each character has a bio page, and I'm filling those out before November, too. The final piece is a list of writing prompts to deepen my understanding of who each character is and how they would talk. It's a long list, but I hope to be done with that by November, too.

Why all this extra work, when I've already proven to myself that it is possible to write 50,000 words by the seat of my pants? Because the goal is not just to finish NaNoWriMo, but to end up with a decent first draft of a complete manuscript in a way that will allow for the least painful editing process when I'm finished. Because I don't just want to be a writer, I want to be an author some day, and authors take this stuff seriously.

01 October 2013

Why I Do NaNoWriMo

I have (secretly) always wanted to be a writer. I dabbled in writing stories from elementary school through college, but never finished anything. I think for a lot of us aspiring authors, we get a neat little idea, start to run with it, and then fizzle out when we can't think of anything else. It is certainly how I (used) to work.
In 2010, I finished my master's degree and settled in to being a full-time mom to my one-year-old son. I went from constantly being busy to having a lot of free time on my hands. Some full time moms use the down time when their children are napping to pursue their own interests. I had a hard time realizing that I didn't have any interests now that school was over. I had a lot of time to read, but no money at all for new books. So I was bored a lot.
And then I got pregnant again, which for me means being very sick. If Sam didn't need me, I was asleep so that I didn't throw up. Ryan had decided to try going to school again, so he was very busy, but Sam and I were coping.
In October, I had a miscarriage. So I wasn't sick, I had my free time back... and nothing to do with that time except think about how sad I was. And then a friend reminded me about NaNoWriMo, on the day before it was supposed to begin. In desperation for something to write about, I found some old notes for a story I had been kicking around, and ran with it. All the way to 50,000 words.
I found that where other people liked to be crafty and creative with their hands, I could do the same with a keyboard. The power that I got from that creative outlet was surprising, and intoxicating. And now I can't stop! Sometimes, I have to think really hard to come up with an idea for a story. Even if it's just a tiny shadow of an idea, I write it down, and I rely on NaNoWriMo to help me flesh it out and turn it into something real.

30 September 2013

It's Coming...

What's coming? Why, National Novel Writing Month, of course! The best month of the year!
Every November, the Office of Letters and Light puts on a spectacular event, known in the writing community as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words of original fiction in a month, which means you write 1,667 words a day. If that sounds easy to you, I dare you to try it.
This will be my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo. Does that make me a seasoned veteran yet? I have a completely different method of approach this year, so I am confident that I will make my word goal yet again. I also plan on doing several blog posts throughout the month of October to help prepare and motivate people to participate, and then in November I will do my usual excerpt every 10,000 words or so.
I'm very excited.
Are you?
This is my excited face. In the photo, I am excited about my new hoodie that looks like (nerd alert) Princess Leia's ambassadorial robes from A New Hope. But it is the same face I make when I get excited about NaNoWriMo.

24 September 2013

An Impromptu Day

I thought I was going to donate plasma this morning, but there was a scheduling glitch and apparently I shouldn't have been able to make the appointment. And yet I was able to, so boo technology. They didn't inform me of the mistake until after I'd drunk 60 oz of water, dropped my kids off at the "supervised play area" and begun to answer the questionnaire. My kids were grumpy about leaving the playroom after only being there for five minutes, so I decided to give them a fun morning to make up for it.
We went to the library, which we haven't done in a couple months. Everyone found a book they liked (I got two), and Sammy asked for The Stinky Cheese Man by name, which made me proud. As I was buckling Sam back in his car seat, I had this thought that I should do something special for him. So I asked him if he wanted to go to the airport and look at planes.
Man, did he get excited! It was worth it just to see his eyes get wide at the mention of going to the airport. Both boys opened their books on their laps and looked at the pictures the whole way out there. They must not have inherited my reading-induced carsickness genes. At the airport, we got lucky: There were 6 planes out on the tarmac, and the guy at Cowboy Aviation said we could walk out and look at them as long as the boys didn't climb on them. Both boys had a blast getting up close and personal with the airplanes.
On the way home, we stopped by McDonalds for lunch (they do a special deal the day after the Broncos play). I might not have been able to donate plasma, but my canceled appointment sure made for a fun morning! I had a good time with my boys.
Future pilot?

14 September 2013

Just when you think you've got it...

I have read over the manuscript of my novel dozens of times, some parts a hundred times. I thought I had it as good as I could- free of grammatical and spelling errors, no issues with continuity, polished.
And then I was re-reading it yesterday and realized that I did something hugely dumb. Here's some insight into my writing process:
I had written a scene where Coy cuts his hand and has to go to the doctor to get it stitched up. I wanted some anxiety for Anna, so she went out to do laundry, and when she came back there would be no Coy, no Uncle Jack, and no van. So Coy had to get hurt, and then drive himself to the doctor. Simple, right?
I read it out loud to Ryan, and we both realized that if Coy had hurt his hand badly enough that he had to go to the doctor, he would hardly take the time to load Uncle Jack's wheelchair into the van. He would just drive off, leaving Uncle Jack there to explain things to Anna. Ryan also added that no self-respecting 21-year-old male would go to the doctor over a cut, no matter how much it was bleeding.
So I changed it up. Instead of going to the doctor, Coy and Uncle Jack would just go to the front desk of the hotel to use a first aid kit. Simple, right?
But I really wanted Anna to get worked up, and she wouldn't if she could look outside and see that the van was still in the parking lot. So I had the manager of the hotel ask Coy to move the van out of a handicapped parking spot while Anna was doing laundry. Simple, right?
Do you see the problem there? I rewrote this scene a couple months ago, and just noticed it yesterday. None of my beta readers noticed it either, so don't feel bad if you missed it. I, on the other hand, feel like an idiot (rightly so).
So I had to rewrite it. Again. I couldn't just cut it out, because Coy's injury was actually important to Anna's growth over the road trip.
Bah. I shudder to think that there might be more of these in there.

13 September 2013


I joined Twitter.
I swore I would never, ever, get into Twitter, but guess what? When you're trying to get a book published, you will do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door. While researching agents I noticed that a LOT of them are on Twitter, and I decided I might glean valuable knowledge from following them.
It has been amazing what Twitter has done for me so far. So many writers and agents put up links for interviews with agents, or information on query letters, or how to define genres. Thursday the 12th was my introduction to a fun event called #PitMad (short for pitch madness).
For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter... You get to write these short little notes (140 characters) called tweets. If you include something with a # (which is no longer a pound sign, it is a hash tag), then your tweet is compiled with all the other tweets that include that hash tag. So the goal for #PitMad was to describe your book in the space of a tweet. Agents and editors would check in periodically, and if they liked your pitch, they favorited your tweet. That was a signal that you were invited to send them your query, but you got to include that they favorited your tweet- which would hopefully mean they paid a little more attention to you.
This is what I mean by doing whatever it takes to get your foot in the door.
I spent the whole day on Twitter on my phone, scrolling through other peoples' pitches, posting mine a couple of times an hour, hoping that someone would take notice of me in the THOUSANDS (not an exaggeration- go scroll through #PitMad for the 12th of September if you don't believe me) of pitches that day.
I got lucky. Two people favorited my pitch- an agent who was already on my list of people that I wanted to query (so that was awesome) and an editor at a new imprint of Bloomsbury that is launching this fall, but only publishing e-books (not as awesome, but still cool).
Here was my pitch:
Anna's ready to grow up. It'll take a death, a proposal, and The Sound of Music to help her make her own choices. #PitMad NA contemp rom
The letters at the end mean New Adult contemporary romance, which is what I like to write.
So that was it. I'm still waiting to hear from that agent. It's agonizing, having requests out to agents. I check my e-mail more frequently than any sane person should, and I hold my breath while my inbox updates on my phone. It's nerve wracking. And exhilarating.
Next Twitter event is on September 24th- #MSWL. It either stands for My Secret Wish List, or Manuscript Wish List, depending on who you ask. I'll be there, heart pounding and hands shaking.

Oh, and if you'd like to follow me on Twitter, I'm @reynoldstribe

10 September 2013

Because I Said So

Sammy is a typical four-year-old: He likes to ask the same questions over and over again. Like:
S: What are we going to do after lunch?
K: Ben's going to take a nap and we're going to paint.
S: What are we going to do after that?
K: Quiet time.
S: What are we going to do after that?
K: Eat dinner.
S: What are we going to do after that?
K: Go to bed.
S: What are we going to do after that?
K: Wake up tomorrow morning.
S: What are we going to do after that?
K: ...

Another one of his favorites is "Where does ______ come from?" Everything, from cereal to buildings, he wants to know where it comes from. Good thing he hasn't asked yet where babies come from.
Finally, Sam likes to challenge everything I ask him to do with "Why?" I used to give him real reasons, but he didn't listen to me anyway, and that got really old. I've decided to embrace "Because I said so," because I am the rule maker and he doesn't need to listen because I have a good reason behind my rules. He just needs to listen because if he doesn't I may strangle him BECAUSE I SAID SO.
It's been working well so far; every time I pull out B.I.S.S. he doesn't ask me a million questions before complying. However, it has also led to some funny conversations, like the one we had this afternoon:
K: Hey bud, let's watch Rescue Bots together before I make dinner. (which was very bloody generous of me, as Sam only ever wants to watch the same episode over and over again)
S: Get off the couch, Mommy.
K: Uh, no.
S: No, you're supposed to ask why.
K: Okay. Why?
S: Because I said so.

I love this kid.

09 September 2013

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry

I feel guilty when I think of the fact that I haven't updated my blog since January. And then I think to myself, why would I bother feeling guilty? So there.
Our life has been pretty good the past eight months. Ryan got accepted to grad school, and started the American Studies program this semester. He is very busy now, which is an understatement.
The boys are becoming better friends as Benjy has gotten more mobile. The funny thing is, during the day they frequently bicker and mess with each other, but when they go to bed they don't do anything but laugh and play together. I'll take what I can get, I suppose.
My big excuse for not blogging is that I finally decided to take my novel writing up a notch. All of my free time has been going into editing my novel and getting it ready to do more than just be a file on my computer. I got it to a place where I felt comfortable with it, and then sent it out to "beta readers." I was the alpha reader, obviously. The beta readers were asked to give honest feedback so I could see where the novel was weak. Ryan, Cassi, and Mia gave me some great ideas of what needed to improve, so I worked on that for a while. Now, I've started querying literary agents trying to get one to take interest in my work.
Querying is hard work. It is also soul crushing to get rejected many times, which brings me to today. No one has rejected me yet (and it's 7pm in New York, so I figure most agents have stopped working), so instead of writing a new letter to send out I'm spending some time on the ole blog. I missed it.
Things coming up:
Family photos: It was hard to find a photographer in Laramie. Just kidding, one of my best friends here is a photographer. I'm excited that the weather is cooperating and that it will be cool outside for our photos.
Halloween: Sam and Ben want to be Daleks. Well, Sam does, and Ben will just have to go along with it unless I can find the perfect stripey shirt for him to be the Doctor.
Steamboat Springs: My parents are letting us use their timeshare points for a mini-vacation. Hurray!

That's all, folks. See you again in June. (Just kidding.)

31 January 2013

Paperback Writer?

Can I just tell you that I've always wanted to be a writer?
In elementary school, when we were assigned to write out sentences using our spelling words, mine told a story. One time one of my teachers told me to stop being so silly (because the story that week was about a bunch of farm animals, and I named one of them LL Cow J [yes, I did grow up in the 90s, why do you ask?]).
Talk about a creativity stifler.
In fifth grade, my teacher introduced me to one of my favorite books of all time. It's called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and was written by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote the better-known Jumanji and The Polar Express.
The book consists of fourteen pictures, each with a title and short caption. Van Allsburg explains in the introduction that the pictures were given to an editor he knew, by a man named Harris Burdick. Mr. Burdick asked the editor if he would be interested in publishing the stories that went along with each picture. When the editor said he'd be very interested, Mr. Burdick promised to return the next day with the rest of the stories.
But he never came back.

Okay, well, that was sixteen years ago, and I'm still not sure if that part is true or not.
During creative writing time, my fifth grade teacher would sometimes hand out copies of the pictures from the book, and ask us to write stories based on the pictures and captions. Those were my favorite creative writing days. Here's one of the pictures I chose:

And here's the one that inspired what became my NaNoWriMo novel in 2011 (It's also the cover of the book):

Last week, I was trying (with no success) to remember the title of Lemony Snicket's new book so I could reserve it at the library. I tried an author search instead, knowing I'd have to scroll through all those darn Series of Unfortunate Events books before I found the new one I wanted. But look what I found instead:

Lemony Snicket wrote the introduction to a book of stories based on the pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Real authors wrote stories to go along with the pictures and captions, just like I had done! I had to have that book. Surprisingly (not), no one had it checked out, so I was able to pick it up right away.
I just finished reading it this afternoon, and it was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. My lifelong obsession with Harris Burdick and his mysteries has been satisfied. Some of my favorite authors, like Lois Lowry and Louis Sachar, wrote stories! Even Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha, each wrote a story!
I feel like a little part of my life is complete.
And Lemony Snicket's introduction made me laugh out loud.

09 January 2013

So this is the New Year

Before I say anything else, let me just tell you that I found the pickle ornament again this year.
Now that we live in Wyoming, we get to see Ryan's family a lot more often than when we lived in Utah. For the first time since we were married, we got to spend time with them near Christmas, which was so nice. It's very important to Ryan and I that our boys know and love their cousins, and I really treasure those moments that they get to play together. It was wonderful to sit around Rusty and Chrissy's Christmas tree and spend time with the "other Reynolds". The boys were completely spoiled, as were Ryan and I. We spent Christmas Day at my parents' home, with my sister on her practically non-existent break from vet school. Cassi and my mom spent a significant amount of time being sick, which was good because Cassi got to lay around and have a Doctor Who marathon without feeling guilty, but bad because we didn't get to do all the exciting things we wanted to do with her, like sledding at White Sands, watching The Hobbit, and making the pilgrimage to Sparky's for green chile cheeseburgers (I guess Cass could have had a veggie burger). We still had a lovely time, and like always my parents spoiled us with presents, good food, and free babysitting. By the way, The Hobbit was better than the book (surprise). Tolkien-lovers are free to hate on me, but the fact is that his prose sometimes drives me to distraction. Anyways...
Like everyone else does in the month of January, we made New Year's resolutions. We're typically pretty terrible at these, so little hope there. At least our health insurance company provides incentives for us to keep 6 goals a year. Ryan is weighing himself every morning for this bimonthly goal, and I am going to bed by 11pm. So I better skedaddle. More to come!