How a Writing Community Helped Me Understand “The Bachelor”

It occurred to me the other day how similar my life is to a season of The Bachelor. Okay, it isn’t really, but just bear with me. I’m part of this online writing community called Scribophile, where we upload chapters of our works-in-progress, and read and critique each others’ works. It’s amazing and encouraging and so so helpful.

But. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how long it takes me to return a critique. I get wrapped up in some stories and just want to keep reading them, other relationships be damned!, but I try to be fair about returning the attention I receive. If someone takes the time to offer me feedback on a chapter, I want to show my appreciation by offering the same. Also, there are several stories I’m really into–not just one. I’ve established critique relationships with a bunch of people and enjoy the dialogue we maintain about our works on a regular basis, so I feel like I’m missing a friend when we go too long without conversing.

So anyway, I was chatting with one friend about his story and thinking about how I want to just charge ahead and finish his book so we can have a full, big-picture type discussion (and because I’m very excited for the developments I know are coming up because I totally peeked ahead–don’t tell my mom, I hate it when she does this!). Meanwhile, I have the first chapter of a whole new story/crit-relationship pulled up to start on, and I got this irrational thought that it was almost like cheating on his story, because I felt so excited about this new one. And that’s crazy, because loving a new story doesn’t make previously-read stories any less loved (I’ve got several bookshelves of proof).

Maybe it’s because The Bachelorette recently started its newest season, but my mind instantly went to the show, and how one person seems to genuinely enjoy her time with every guy when it’s his turn. It’s always seemed odd to me, like can she really be so *into* this one when she was just laughing so hard with that one?

Obviously this is a very different scenario. I’m just saying that I see now how something can be absorbing and delightful and take up a person’s full attention, only for the same to be true of something similar (and yet, completely different).

Makeup Thoughts

I was thinking this morning as I did my makeup, about how naturally pretty my mom is, and how little makeup she wears. Most of what I know about techniques and color palettes I learned from YouTube. I was thinking about my own someday-daughter, and what I’d want to teach her about makeup–or if I’d want to emphasize her natural beauty. I definitely have days where I don’t feel pretty until I’ve slapped on some eyeshadow and brow powder, and I wouldn’t want to teach that insecurity to my daughter. I’d want her to see makeup as something fun and pretty that she can wear when she feels like it–like a nice pair of earrings or killer heels. Something that adds a little “oomph” but isn’t necessary.

That got me thinking about makeup as a concept. As I drew a careful line in plum eyeshadow along my lower lashes with the tapered eyeliner brush, I thought of how artistic the act of applying makeup really is. And how cool it is that someone was so overflowing with creativity that they looked at their own skin as a canvas for color and art. Makeup is an artform that anyone can participate in, an art project we wear on our face and show to the world, and often receive compliments on. It’s a touch of beauty in the every day, and that’s awesome in its own way.

I Guess it’s Time to Talk About Nanowrimo

It’s been long enough. First off, I completely get why people do it. It makes sense that taking a month to discipline yourself into carving out chunks of time to write, a time when so many people around the world are also writing, encouraging you on, all of that goodness would help a person get 50,000 words onto a page.

I’m very competitive. I do not like to lose. As soon as I start to feel like I’m losing, I hate whatever game I’m playing and just want to quit.

I’m also not a quitter. It makes for a really uncomfortable experience when part of me wants to pout and storm off and the other part is like nah we gotta at least finish this bitch.  Add to that the desire to be more forgiving and loving towards myself and you get a hot freaking mess come mid-November.

I think I got around 20,000 words written, which is no small thing. But unlike last summer, when I was churning out several thousand words a day, my heart wasn’t in it. My head was barely in it–more focused on word count and “sprints” and the desire to edit my current story rather than start working on the sequel. Plus my husband was around, which makes it so hard.

That’s the best problem to have as a writer/human being, though. I have someone in my life whose very presence makes it hard to focus on other things. Even if he’s in the other room working on schoolwork or watching TV, a part of me just wants to be beside him, and feels like any moment I’m not is ultimately squandered. That also makes it difficult to pursue my writing sometimes, which is frustrating and makes me angry with him for making me love him so damn much. There was a lot of moodiness in November that only added to the misery of failing at Nanowrimo wordcounts and falling behind in working on my current novel.

So, for me, it was a very good lesson learned: National Novel Writing Month is not a thing I’ll participate in again, at least not in the near future.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).  These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.

Rambling Review: A Study in Charlotte

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.

This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.

There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.

Rambling Review: Love, Lies and Spies

From the opening page, Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey is such a delight. The prose is fast-paced, the banter witty, the characters immediately enjoyable. I haven’t figured out why, but I’ve already mentioned how much I love chapter titles that tell me what will happen in a clever way that follows “In which…”

This book is chock full of just such chapters.

As for plot, I’d say it’s somewhere along the lines of Pride and Prejudice meets any spy thriller ever. Juliana is a scientist on her way to London for the Season when she is saved from a mishap by a mysterious, handsome gentleman. Neither of them is interested in marriage, but both have their reasons for attending the various outings and events of the Season.

Despite the fact that there are enemy spies and sinister dealings, the book remains lighthearted. I devoured it in about two days. The story is engaging enough to keep the reader turning page after page to see what happens next, yet easy to set aside when life demands it. Still, it’s easy to dive right back in the next chance you get.

This is the perfect vacation read. Whether you’ve got a late-season beach trip, family reunions, or maybe a honeymoon (*eyebrow raise/wink-wink* Erin), I’d highly recommend such a delightful, easy read!

Home Sweet Home

A year ago today, I drove into St. Louis for the first time, full of apprehension and excitement in equal parts. I still remember the feeling I got when I came around the bend and saw the Arch from the highway while still in Illinois. Like my heart had been blown through a bubble wand.

This year has held highs and lows, as time is wont to do, but I am still so in love with this city. It isn’t perfect, but it’s whole-heartedly mine. Whether or not St. Louis is our ‘forever home’ remains to be seen, but I am so thankful we made the leap of faith to leave our family and friends and venture to a place we’d never experienced. I have grown so much in this past year, gaining confidence and settling into who I really am at my core. We’ve made some amazing new friendships, eaten some epic food, and had more adventures this year than I can count.

So here’s to you, St. Louis, and the year(s) to come!

Rambling Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a book about zombies interrupting the Civil War. Don’t let the idea of zombies scare you off, though (Mom), because this story is so much more than the next zombie apocalypse novel.

Our main character, Jane, was born during the Civil War, right around the time the dead came back and put a stop to the battling. Everyone became focused instead on solving the issue of zombies — or “shamblers” as they’re known in the book. Old beliefs linger despite the physical war ending, and the view of post-war America where neither side won is fascinating.

Black and Native American children are sent to boarding schools where they learn combat skills to fight the shamblers. The ultimate goal is to attain a position as bodyguards for the wealthy. Jane is enrolled in one of the best of these schools, and while she is an excellent fighter, she struggles with following the rules. Her antics lead her from a frustrating situation to one that is downright deadly. She has to fight –and not only against shamblers — to keep those she loves safe.

Dread Nation is very well-written with believable and relatable characters. The America Justina Ireland paints is vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching in its authenticity. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the reactions, beliefs, and social norms created in this alternate society. This book is both entertaining and deep, evoking fun conversations about zombies as well as more serious social commentary that could be applicable even today.

Also worth noting, I really love the chapter titles. It’s a small touch, but in my opinion, they are very well done and made me look forward to each new story-within-the-story.

The Best St. Louis Burger – Guest Post

My husband is something of a burger fanatic. He has given me so many unsolicited burger reviews since moving to St. Louis, I convinced him to sit down, order his thoughts, and let me share them with the world (or at least, this blog). So sorry there are no photos of the winning burger (devoured too quickly) or the Chase Club burger…you will just have to Yelp them I suppose!

I’m calling it: gotta give Mac his props, but my favorite St. Louis burger is Brasserie’s. It’s so good, I’m happy just to eat the meat. But the accoutrements are great, too.
~Mr. Burger-Lover

Which burgers are in consideration?
Mac’s Local Eats (Double Pimento Burger)
Brasserie
Dressel’s
Chase Club (Chase Club Burger)
Hi-Pointe (Single with White Cheddar Cheese)

Dressel’s burger

Tell me about Dressel’s; I thought that was the best burger you’d had in at least five years?
Dressel’s burger is very unique. It has an oniony-spice and almost meatloaf consistency — but in a good way. It’s a burger I could have three days a week, because I forget how good it is. It’s light and not greasy, but on the smaller side. The patty itself is pretty thick, so it’s typically very juicy.

(My) Mac’s burger

What about Mac’s; you’ve been going on and on about that one?
That’s my number one quick bite burger. It’s amazing times two. Because it’s a smash burger, it has crisp burnt edges, and you can taste the quality of the meat. You taste the extra time and care that you don’t get at Hi-Pointe (Careful, buddy; I will fight you!). There’s constant turnover there, so they’re already cooking the burgers!. At Mac’s that burger was designed for you from start to finish.

(My) Hi-Pointe’s burger

BUT Hi-Pointe is still the bomb dot com. Go on…
Hi-Pointe has a mean veggie burger. You can see the veggies in it and it comes on that delicious, buttery bun. The regular burger is an extra juicy smash burger, which most people would enjoy but it weirds me out. But most people like that so you don’t need to include that.

TOO LATE! What happened to the Chase Club Burger?
The bacon jam and boursin accoutrement are so good, but I’m over it at this point. I loved the Chase, but now that they’ve raised the price, Brasserie all day erryday

So, Brasserie is the winner?
Brasserie’s key to success is the burger is so thin. It’s almost a French take on Diner food. It’s a super buttery burger, juicy, flavorful, with amazing, melty American cheese. The meat is such good quality, I could enjoy it without everything that comes with it — I don’t even need ketchup.

~

So there you have it: according to my loving husband (his name choice), Brasserie has the best burger in St. Louis. Personally, I freaking love Hi-Pointe (but Mac’s is a really close second place for me).

Do you have a favorite burger? What makes (or breaks) it for you?

Rambling Review: The Selection Series

I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).

The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.

The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.

The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.

The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!