Monthly Archives: December 2013

Baked Goods Exchange: and the Winner is . . .

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So, the annual ‘exchange of baked goods’ marathon has finally reached an end. Or, in the case of my small cul-de-sac, a temporary reprieve until pie-like fruits and berries are widely available. The final results: I am ahead in the production quality of chocolate chip cookies, although lagged sadly behind in sheer quantity. I blew away the competition in spritz and lemon cookies, in part because I’m the only one of German descent and makes the blasted little spritz, and the only one who made lemon cookies as well. Although it was widely agreed mine are the best. It’s true. On that note, The Girl managed to break the indestructible cookie press I have to use for spritz. She swears it was an accident and I believe her because they’re her favorite. Also, she’s accident prone.

I lost the race in pies and cakes, having not made any. But I am moderately ahead in meringues, not because I was the only one who made them, but because I was the only one who shared. Oddly, there was a suspicious lack of sugar cookies this year. I didn’t make any, and I didn’t receive any, and The Girl’s friends in the neighborhood reported they also had not seen any. Bizarre.

As compensation for the cosmic lack of sugar cookies, we did receive more than the usual amount of boxes of chocolates. I take this as a sign people were not withholding sugar cookies in a subtle effort to tell me I’ve put on a couple pounds during the seasonal bake-a-thon. (I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t gain weight by eating meringues because they’re mostly air.)

Oh, and toffee. I missed the toffee and vanilla caramels. Not that I can’t make them myself, but that I usually don’t. Unfortunately, I had other confections slated for production that I didn’t get to. This creates a problem. I have all this unrefined sugar and accessories on hand, so I sort of have to make them. Pecan-brittle, for example. (I prefer not to put peanuts in my brittle and instead use pecans or almond slivers. I’m a brittle snob.) But if I make it, I have to eat it or find a suitable occasion to pass it off on others.  Everyone’s still recovering from feast and sugar-induced indigestion, they don’t need more.  And in a couple days, everyone will swear off calories and call it a resolution.  

Of course I do have two teenagers in the house. Last year I wasn’t successful at bribing them into doing extra chores with sugar at a time that’s overflowing with sweets, but I can give it another shot. What do you think? Toffee for vacuuming, caramels for dusting, brittle for putting away their laundry which they should be doing already . . .

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Gifts Giving for the Forgotten (AKA: OMG! I Forgot Aunt Susie!)

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The big day is almost upon us. As previously predicted, I have a lot of wrapping left for the last minute. That’s my thing, I shop just fine, but leave wrapping until the day before – or worse, the day of. Sigh.

Some people are scrambling for last minute gifts. This is not a theory, I know this to be true because I was at the Post Office yesterday and heard people talking in line. Why I was at the Post Office with three boxes in my arms will not be discussed at this time. Or any other time. That’s not the point. Anyone left out at this point in time gets something drop-shipped from Amazon, except . . .

We’re running out of time on the two-day shipping option and not everything can be overnighted. So you’re hoping that anyone you forgot on your Christmas list is local and the weather is decent so you can pick up something and drop it off in person.

But what if the weather is so bad even Rudolph wouldn’t go out in it? Or that person you forgot until you received their gift/card in the mail isn’t local? Never fear, there is a solution.

Remember when I told everyone about the Amazon Matchbook program? Buy a physical book to give as a gift (if you like) and get a discount on the eBook as well (in the case of my books, the eBook is free if you buy the paperback). Well, it’s a little late for that now. However, you can still give the eBook as a gift. The gift option is under the “Buy Now” button on the right. It allows you to purchase the eBook version for someone. Amazon send them a notification and they accept the gift, download onto their Kindle(app) and voila! You remembered. Because eBooks are great. Save the trees, convenience, In the case of romance you don’t have to find another way to hide the cover. . . See? Ebooks are the way to go and you’re sharing that with someone.

Shopping problem solved. And no wrapping issues either.

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Christmas Addict

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‘Tis the season! I’m not a fan of Halloween, although I humor the kids to excess and, in return, I demand they humor me for Christmas. I have no idea why I like this holiday. I am never on top of things. My cards are almost always sent later than I planned, usually the cookies are too. Frequently I am done with the bulk of my shopping before Halloween, let alone Black Friday, Still-Going Saturday, Catch-a-Breath Sunday, and Cyber Monday; but I’m usually still wrapping Christmas Eve morning.

I prefer to get all the decorations up the day after Thanksgiving, but that hasn’t happened as planned in years and I have no idea why. Actually, I do have one clue. Things started going awry when the kids became old enough to genuinely help as opposed to “help” in that almost cute underfoot small child way. It seems teenagers make more work than toddlers. Who knew? All right, put your hands down.

The good thing about having teenagers (there are a few perks here and there) is that when I make spritz every year, I can make them work the cookie press. For those not of German descent, spritz are a mild flavored cookie that come from stiff dough that’s firm enough to break most of the cute modern cookie presses. If you make it right. You can cheat, and I’ve considered it. I have older relatives who can tell the difference, damn them. But it’s okay, I keep an old, metal, turn-screw style cookie press that I think was my grandmother’s and may have come from the fatherland itself just for making the cookies with. And since using said torture device gives me carpal tunnel, I have two youngsters who still have all their cartilage and tendons to task with pressing the cookies into neat little tree, wreath, and star shapes. Sprinkle colored sugar on them, bake, then carefully pack them so they can be tossed to hell and back and broken in the mail. Voila! Christmas tradition.

Speaking of tradition, I have my grandmother’s old fake Christmas tree. When I was little we used to go out in the forest and cut down a tree. Grandma had no patience for that though. She’d had enough of pine needles on her carpet. Then having to take it down based on fire hazard instead of your time scale. And let’s not forget the pitch.

For the record, I agree. When my kids were little, we did the real tree thing a couple of times so they’d have the experience, although we don’t live close enough to any place where you can cut your own. I just had to tell them about bundling up until I could barely move and traipsing through snow banks up to my waist. They thought that sounded great. As a kid, I thought it was too. Looking back at it, I can’t imagine why I thought so.

Anyway, the kids got real trees a couple of times, then they were happy to help me put together my grandmother’s antique tree because we could leave that thing up for over a month! And the real trees you buy in the city lots don’t really smell like the pine trees you got in the woods. They’re old and dry by the time you get them. I put little scent packets under the tree so it’ll smell like a tree, then go burn candles elsewhere in the house that smell like other things so you only smell the tree where you’re supposed to smell the tree. It drives Hubby nuts to have every room have a designated scent for the holiday season.

Antique trees are kind of a pain in case anyone’s wondering. Pretty, but a hassle. So one year Hubby got me a new tree. Pre-lit, multi-colored lights. It was nice. Except the next year I didn’t want multi-colored lights. So we got another one, pre-lit with white lights. Then the next year my son wanted a flocked tree. Then I had to have a small one for the kitchen. (I’m really not sure of the rational, just go with it, this is my holiday.And ‘small’ means four feet high, in case you’re wondering.) And I have two more tabletop trees. The one with multi-colored lights got donated somewhere along the line, but I still have the rest. Oh, and now I have two more medium size ones to go outside, and a potted Norfolk pine in the master bathroom. Plus I have a different box of ornaments for every tree. I should tell you about my hangup with wreaths sometime.

Hi, I’m Tori and I’m a Christmas Addict.

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NaNo – Did I Write Garbage?

There’s an argument that during NaNoWriMo (and you thought we were done with this) you write a lot of ‘garbage’ because you’re frantically trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days and therefore not paying attention to quality. I disagreed with this oft-heard discouragement partially because I simply didn’t feel I edited any more ‘garbage’ from NaNo books than non-NaNo books, and partially because I think those critics are missing the point of NaNoWriMo. Some writers get so bogged down in making ever sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter “perfect” that they never finish the book. NaNo is all about solving that problem. Making it “perfect” (and let’s be real, true perfection is subjective) is largely in editing and you have to have something to edit.

But I didn’t have any real data to back it up. So, let’s embark on a long-term project and explore the process, shall we?

I ended NaNo at 58,719 words. Yay. Then I came to a writing crisis and had to make some decisions about where I was going with this. So I took what I had and formatted it for Kindle to put it on Hubby’s tablet to see what he thought. Of course I had some disjointed scenes where I knew this was scene H (for example) but it was placed where B should be and scene G was only a three line idea. And some “(Look into this@@)” notes next to things that I looked into and removed. Mostly. And I changed the setting twice between when I started and this point. I also changed my male protagonist’s career, so I went and fixed those little tidbits and generally cleaned things up a bit. I even put in some general ideas on where chapters were going to be based on plot break, as opposed to word/page count, but the word count/chapter is oddly even in this one so far. Only chapter seven (in version 0.25) is radically ‘off’ in the word count range.

Anyway, back to my original statement, which was that some think you write a lot of garbage doing NaNo because you’re rushing. (Fidgets nervously.) I didn’t do a real edit here, this was making it readable and getting it ready to format for Kindle for a test reader.

I’m at 43,721 words now. Yes, I lost 14,998 words. Yes, I’m a little surprised, or I was at first. No, I’m not upset about it. No, I’m not changing my position that I wrote a lot of garbage because I was trying to write too fast. Here’s why:

I had a very vague idea of where I was going with this book when I started, not a detailed outline. I wasn’t even confident in the ending. That’s what sparked this writing crisis. It wasn’t that I didn’t like where the book was going, or I wasn’t comfortable with it, but I know my limits. I read and write certain genres. I’ve ventured into writing a genre I didn’t read before, it didn’t go well. I was starting to do it again. I was turning a romance book into a suspense novel. Now romantic suspense is fine, but not mystery suspense. It’s not in my arsenal.

So, do I take a break and see what it takes to add writing thriller and suspense to my arsenal and then go back and trim some romance scenes, or do I stick with familiar ground and say ‘this is primarily a romance’ and trim the scenes that were leading it off track? I chose option two. And I hadn’t connected those chapters (one is 5330 words, the other is 9991 words) to the main body of the book yet. We’ll call them chapters P and R, they’re that far down the line. No damage done, except to my word count.

Were they garbage? No. I’m saving them. I may use them somewhere else. Together with what I already have, the book is too suspense/thriller and not enough romance. Alone, each could be the major complication in a single book.

I believe I’ve said something like this before: Don’t fuss over making a single chapter or scene perfect until you finish the whole book, you might end up cutting it. I’ve done it before, and I just did it again. It’s part of the process sometimes. If you’re an uber-detailed plotter, you might escape this, but it’s really not as heartbreaking as it sounds.

Be Careful What You Wish For was a NaNo book and I cut the first chapter off of that. That first chapter was a prologue, now it’s the short story Meet Olive (free on Goodreads or ToriBrooks.com). And these two chapters may yet see the light of publication. See? It’s not so bad.

Now we’ll see what happens to those 43,721 words after I finish the rest of the book, revise it, and subject it to readers and an editor. How many will survive that? I did say it was a long-term project.

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I Know What The Fox Says

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What does the fox say? “It’s cold out!” And it probably follows up that statement with “Where are my cat-dinners?” (See my blog post “Seven Cats Later . . .” from April of this year for why it would say that.)

Yes, it’s cold. Yesterday it didn’t get above freezing. And it’s time to get serious about this Christmas thing because I was thinking about other things and helping the in-laws over the long weekend. So now I’m planning the cookie baking marathon, because I have to get those suckers baked and mailed soon. And the tree(s) have to go up and the outside decorations really should have gone up before it snowed (damn!) and there’s going to be some words over that one I’m sure. (Crossing fingers this snow melts even though I know kids are praying it doesn’t because they want to make snow marbles – you know, leave water balloons with food coloring in them out to freeze solid then remove the balloon? Yeah, neat mess.) At least The Boy is cool with earning Xbox time by shoveling the driveway and sidewalk. He likes doing it. Whatever, I’m so happy to reward that behavior.

The good thing about the snow, which the fox is discovering, is that The Cat doesn’t like it. That little black furball starts whining to go out when The Girl gets ready to leave for school at 0630. No. It’s still dark and she doesn’t get to go outside before sunrise. So we hold her back and The Girl slips out the door. She mopes around while The Boy gets ready for school and whines and generally makes our morning miserable as she shows her displeasure. Finally, 0730 comes around and The Boy is ready to go. The sun is up, Hubby is ready to drive The Boy and his cello to school.

They open the door.

The Cat leaps out into freedom. Crisp, cool freedom. White fluffy freedom. Frigid freedom.

By the time Hubby returns from dropping The Boy off ten minutes later, The Cat is tired of her damned freedom and is ready to come in to the warm confines of the house. I’m serious. She’s huddled by the front door on the mat, alternately picking up one front paw then the other to try to keep them warm. She’s such a spoiled baby.

So, apparently there will be no ‘Black Cat Lunch’ on the menu for the local fox this winter.

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