(Note: This review was unsolicited and totally independent. The authors don’t know me. The links, however, are amazon affiliate links.)
I picked this book up on Amazon a few weeks ago when I was trying to fit a few more hours into my day. And if I were leaving this review on amazon, I’d probably give 4 out of 5 stars, because it’s practical AF. But, the reason I picked it up was because it boasted about strategies to get more writing done and not ignore your kids. Unfortunately, the book didn’t offer me anything new in that area.
Write after the kids go to bed. Check.
Write in the morning before they get up. Check.
Write during naptime. Check.
Write during screen time. Check.
Write next to their playroom. Check.
Apparently I am rocking the writing when your kids are distracted thing.
Hell, Rufus’s favorite game is to climb mommy and play with her hair, so here’s a realtime photo of me trying to compose this post.
So while the book didn’t give me any insights in to how to find more writing time in my day, unless I actually want to give up sleep, it was comforting to read writing advice from someone who knows the chaos of having young kids around.
For serious, I fantasize about the days when all of the kids are in school all day long, and I can bike to the coffee shop while wearing a fabulous sundress and a pair of sandals that were on sale and spend six straight hours composing prose so heartrendingly beautiful I am automatically nominated for a Pulitzer, even before it’s published.
But alas, that doesn’t help me get words on the page today.
When I mentioned a couple posts ago that I don’t dig writing books because they are often too subjective, that doesn’t include this book. Every single piece of advice is super helpful. It’s not going to give you daily writing prompts, but it’s going to help you get clear on your goals, figure out when to write, what to write. And holy crap, the writing/self-editing tips are worth the $2.99 alone.
If you’re just starting out, this book is golden, and the advice about finding time to write would probably be more useful to you if you’re not already cramming writing into every available opportunity throughout your day.
It’s no secret that I wrote The Other Lane for Nanowrimo in 2014, but what I haven’t mentioned was that I first wrote Lane as a character in a short story for one of my fiction writing classes all the way back in 2010.
I was in my final fiction writing workshop of my college career, and everyone in the class agreed I needed to work on my settings. My dialog was great. Emotions were well-described. I didn’t bog down the narrative telling the reader how to feel about the characters, but nobody could picture where my story took place.
At the time I was super annoyed. I mean, my classmates were totally right in their critique, I was concentrating so much on perfecting characters and their story, I very rarely described their surroundings. I mean, it was clear in my head, obviously that’s enough right?
So, in the spirit of being a little contrary, but still taking my critiques in stride, I set my next story in the place I spent most of my time–the coffee shop where I worked. I changed the name, but for the most part, Cristo’s Coffee was my coffee shop. “Cristo’s Cofee” was even the original name of the story. The shop and the story have gone through numerous revisions and iterations since then, so they don’t really resemble the original anymore, but believe me. That’s a good thing.
In the short story, Lane is working behind the counter eavesdropping on two women gossiping about her. She’s outraged and offended because despite serving these women coffee everyday, they don’t know her. They don’t know what she’s been through or how she got to be where she is. In short, they don’t know Lane’s story, because how could they? She doesn’t talk about it. She doesn’t let anyone in.
By the end of the story, it turns out that the women were actually talking about someone else named Lane, and not the surly barista at all. So in the short story, “The Other Lane” is actually another physical person.
In the novel, that other Lane doesn’t make an appearance, but the title still holds. As much The Other Lane is a love story, it’s also the story of Lane learning how to trust and rely on herself.
That’s where the idea of the modern fairy tale comes in. I wrote the first draft of the novel completely by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have any characters other than Lane (Yes, including the hero. He just sat down at the counter in chapter three and was his charming self out of nowhere.) I knew two things going in, that I wanted to write a love story centered around this devastated character I’d never been finished with, and I wanted to write a story that while, yes, she got the guy in the end, that wasn’t all there was to it.
It took awhile to make that happen. I mean, I revised the thing for two years straight after I finished the first draft. Finding balance between story book romance and a character who isn’t passive in her own happily every after took more delicate work than I was prepared for when I decided upon the idea.
I truly love the way this book turned out though. I still pat myself on the back every time I finish it because of how much I love the ending. I can’t wait to share it with you.
July 10th is only two more months away, but if you need something to read now, you can check out the first six chapters or meet the hero for free! (Links also sign you up for my newsletter.)
As a writer, I consider it part of my job to do a lot of reading. <—- Holy shit, how pretentious was that sentence? Let’s be real, I devour books at lightning speed without excuse, and I don’t apologize for it either. Sometimes the books I read are amazing, sometimes . . . not so much. Luckily for you, I’ve come across a crop of really good ones lately.
First, I stumbled upon Jessica Hawkins on instagram and had to check out her Something in the Way Series. I tore through the first two in about as many days, and started Move the Stars, but I had to take a quick break. These books are so amazingly emotional that I had to take a step back from the intensity for a couple weeks. But I’ll go back and finish the last two once I finish with these next books I’m telling you about.
I don’t usually read a lot of craft books. For one, I have a degree in Creative Writing that I like to think counts for something. And two, I find craft books to be super subjective. What speaks to one creative mind might dud all to hell for another. I still don’t think I’ll ever find more helpful writing advice than Anne Lamott’s “Butt in chair. Shitty first draft,” philosophy, but I also know I don’t know everything, so every now and then, I pick up something that resonates with me. This one did for obvious reasons. I plan on reviewing it more in depth later, but so far, I think it’s helpful for anyone wanting to get into writing.
And oh, dear readers, I saved the best for last. Juliet Blackwell’s newest book came out recently, and I have been savoring it. I save this one for special occasions, even though it kills me to read a mystery slowly. Juliet Blackwell’s books are the kind that you miss when they’re over, but luckily, even the mystery series have great reread value! I think I have read Letters from Paris (not a mystery) three times.
I found Juliet Blackwell while I was on maternity leave with Rufus. Audible had suggested The Paris Key to me a couple months before, but I hadn’t listened to it until I was off work for whatever reason. I fell in love with the narrator, Xe Sands, and luckily, she reads all of Juliet Blackwell’s books, so I also listened to Xe Sands read all of the Witchcraft Mystery series while I was stuck on the sofa nursing a baby for a month. If I ever meet Juliet Blackwell and she doesn’t sound like Xe Sands, it might take me a minute to adjust–which is a horrible expectation to hold, but there it is.
In my fantasy life, the one where I am already super successful and can do whatever I want with my author biz, Xe Sands is who I’d hire to narrate The Other Lane, and it would be fantastic to listen to. And, fun fact, Juliet Blackwell is how Juliet from my second novel, Ethan & Juliet, (coming this fall) got her name.
Right, so there’s some insight into my inner ridiculousness. What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
My middle kiddo, Felix, turns four today. So, it’s a day to celebrate.
I don’t talk much about the kiddos on the blog, except to say how much work they are. But Felix is so amazing. He loves the alphabet and numbers and drawing people with faces. He likes animals and playing outside and water. He likes to work beside me when I’m writing at the dining room table. He sits at one of Brock’s old computers and types words like “sunny” and “pizza” and some amalgamation of letters that I think is supposed to be purple. He’ll get it soon.
One thing Felix loves, even though it does not love him back is chocolate. So we avoid it now, which has been throwing me for a loop because all of my go to deserts have chocolate in them. I mean, if there’s not chocolate, why bother, amiright?
That’s where these vanilla cupcakes come in. The are light and moist and just the right amount of sweet. Paired with a rich vanilla buttercream, I don’t even miss the chocolate.
I adapted these from a regular old gluten and dairy filled recipe. So you can totally make that version too. But, if you’re like me and half my family, wheat and dairy only make you sick, which totally takes away from the sugar high, you know. So I made mine with gluten free flour, buttery sticks, and lactose free kefir, but if you want to completely avoid the dairy, just substitute your favorite dairy-free milk. I used kefir because the recipe called for buttermilk, and I was trying to approximate the taste and effect buttermilk has in cake. Like buttermilk, kefir adds depth of flavor and makes the cake fluffy.
For best results, these are the products I used in these cupcakes (some of these are affiliate links):
2 3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill One-to-One Gluten Free Flour
1 TBSP Baking Powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 sticks Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (1 cup), room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups lactose free kefir (or sub your favorite non-dairy milk)
1 TBSP Vanilla
Preheat over to 350
Line and grease two muffin tins
In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk until blended. Set aside
In large bowl, beat buttery sticks on medium with hand mixer (or stand mixer, or, if you’re using a whisk, do like Bob Ross says and “Beat the devil out of it.”) Seriously, beat the butter for like, three minutes, scrappin’ down those sides. Buttery stuff should be light and whipped looking
Add sugar and beat for another two more minutes until mixture is on the fluffier side of doughy. (About two minutes)
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Mix Vanilla in with Kefir
Add 1/3 of flour mixture, beat until combined
Add 1/2 of kefir mixture, beat until combined
Add second 1/3 of flour mixture, beat until combined
Add rest of kefir mixture, beat until combined
Add rest of flour mixture, beat until combined
Using 1/4 size measuring cup, portion out batter into muffin tins. Will make about 24-30 cupcakes.
Bake for 14 minutes or until edges start to brown and middles are set
Let cool for five minutes in tin, then move to cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
2 buttery sticks (1 cup), room temperature
4-6 cups powdered sugar
1 TBSP vanilla
1-2 TBSP almond milk as needed
Beat the devil out of the buttery sticks again
Sift in powdered sugar 1-2 cups at a time, beating until combined
Add vanilla after 4 cups, adding almond milk as needed to thin.
And making those dreams into a reality takes work. And it’s work I’m excited to get done, even if it’s big and scary, like announcing my debut novel, which comes out in 77 days, btw.
My days and weeks are busy. I get up early. I work until midnight, and most of it has nothing to do with being an author. It’s cooking, it’s cleaning. It’s taking care of kiddos, and during weeks like last week, it’s a whole hell of a lot of taking care of myself.
If a week was ever gonna derail me from accomplishing my goals, it was last week.
I’ve been battling a virus that is mostly an annoying cold, but has really done a number on my appetite. (Read, for a few days I had none.) I slept in everyday. I came home from work early one night and laid on the sofa. I missed emails. There were days that I didn’t write. My to-do lists sat untouched.
I was frustrated. Guilt weighed me down as more and more stuff piled up.
As I’m emerging from the worst of the virus, I’m completely overwhelmed with the volume of things I need to get done over the next few days–stuff I probably won’t get done this week either, because it’s Felix’s birthday on Tuesday, and mom stuff always comes first.
But here’s the thing.
I’m OK with it.
Do I guilt myself? Of course I do.
Do I let it stop me from doing what I can?
Sure, I only got a fraction of what I wanted to accomplish done last week, but what I did do was important. Taking care of yourself is important, even if that means sleeping all days and drinking all of the kombucha and reading The Allure of Julian Lefray
Inventorying what I did helps put the overwhelm of what I didn’t into prespective: I finished writing a prequel to The Other Lane (more on that later). I bought ISBNs, because that’s the responsible author thing to do. I posted to Instagram TWICE. All despite feeling like shit.
Giving myself credit for what I did already makes the backlog feel more manageable.
And tomorrow, I’m baking cupcakes to celebrate Felix and not apologizing for only writing 16 words.
PS, you should totally follow me on Instagram. I’ve been posting a lot of pretty desk photos, but also some teasers from The Other Lane. And , as always, there is knitting.
Can’t wait for July and need a sneak peek now? You’re in luck, I have one.
On November 1st, 2014, I opened my laptop with a steely determination to actually win Nanowrimo and finish a novel by November 30th. I had been out of school for three years by this point, and the writing burnout from earning my creative writing degree was finally fading. My income had evened out. I was married. Living in a great house. Felix was about six months old and growing more independent every day.
The writing bug had been nibbling at me months. I felt that pull toward the keyboard. Write. Write. Write, it said, but I didn’t have a story in my head yet. I had zero clue where to start.
I also had zero excuses left not to do it.
And all I wanted to do that November was finish something.
So I sat down November 1st and wrote.
And then I did it every day for the next 27 days until I was done.
It was mess of a first draft. And it should have been. Despite the degree, I had never written a novel before. Two years of revision, a few months starting a second project and having another baby, and many late night pep talks later, I had a finished draft of The Other Lane.
And the most exciting news of all is that three months from now, I am going to hold a published book in my own two hands.
That’s right. I said it. I’m doing it.
I’m publishing my own books now.
And the first one is coming out July 10th!
I am doing what is known in the publishing industry as publishing “wide”, which means The Other Lane will be available on nook, Kobo, iBooks, Amazon, and also available on library services like Overdrive.
There is still a ton of work to get done in the next few weeks, and I will be updating the blog as the big day gets closer. But, if you want to hear all the new before anyone else, join my newsletter. If you do, you’ll also get the first 50 pages of The Other Lane to peruse at your leisure on your favorite ereader.
I know what you’re thinking, what happened to getting up at 5:30 to get your word count in? I thought that was a thing you were doing.
It is, and I am. A week and a half in, getting up that early every day still isn’t easy, but I love the quiet and the freedom it gives me for the rest of my day when I’m not stressing when and how I’m going to cram in the rest of my words.
Today Rufus happened.
Rufus has started sleeping through the night–mostly. Sometimes he gets up at 3:30 am and won’t go back to sleep. Then I get up and get all of my early morning things accomplished extra early, but by the time we get through the school day and I spend a few hours on my feet at work, I go from a badass writer mom who does it all to a spitting mad badass you don’t want to mess with.
And then Rufus wants to get up at the same the next morning, and I have to tell you, I do not do so well on four hours of sleep or less. So this morning, when Rufus woke up and I was able to get him to go back to sleep, I fell asleep right along with him.
When my alarm went off, I shut that sucker down and kept right on snoozin.
Then of course, I panicked when I realized exactly how long I’d slept and the whole day was thrown outta whack.
But you know what? I’m not sorry.
My sore, overworked body needed those couple hours of extra sleep, and so did my husband. So did Rufus. Sure, Felix was five minutes late for school, but we got there right as they were serving breakfast, so it was a win all the way around.
Have I fit my word count in yet? No.
Maybe I won’t today.
And I’m OK with that.
I gave myself a break today, because obviously my body needed rest. Instead of writing, I knit at my desk while I watched some author business related videos I’ve been saving up. Those were way scarier than not hitting my word count.
And even of you are badass, it’s OK to give yourself a break when you do big and scary things.
I’ll be back at it tomorrow, plugging away at the keyboard as well as making my terrible and great plans for world book domination.
Stay tuned, and don’t push yourself too hard. Even badasses need a nap now and then.
Back when I was working at the coffee shop, we opened at 6am, so I had to be at work at 5:30 in the morning. I used to stumble in the door with wet hair, still mostly asleep to start brewing pot after pot of coffee. Which worked out, because I always got the first, freshest cup, and usually by the fifth or sixth customer I could communicate with more than grunts and gestures. (I’m not even joking, some of my early morning customers and I had an understanding that no words were needed to complete their daily transaction.)
I would much rather stay up until 2 in the morning writing and wake sometime around 8am with the sun peaking through the windows and the birds singing pleasant little ditties just outside. Then I’d enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while I journaled before getting in some yoga. Then around 10 am, I’d shower and get down to business for the day. I’d knock out my word count by noon, break for lunch, and then tackle the business part of being an author in the afternoon. Blog posts. Marketing. Revisions. Relentless checking sales reports hoping for that ka-ching sound Book Report is supposed to make.
That is so not my life.
I have kids that need to get to school in the morning, and we have to be out the door before 8 o’clock. Rufus, who is 19 months old, only just started sleeping through the night 4 or 5 nights a week, so there’s that. I work until 10 or 11 pm three or four nights a week, which makes going to bed early impossible. And I have a ton of food issues which means I have to cook most of my food, because simple options like a turkey sandwich for lunch just aren’t going to cut it.
Most of my days are spent loading Rufus in and out of the car while we drop off/pick-up his brothers from school. Then I sit on the bathroom floor a lot because we’re potty training two boys right now. Then there’s the cooking and the cleaning, and requisite post-nap cuddle. When all that’s done, it’s time to go to work and hope I’m not smeared all to hell with peanut butter.
There isn’t a lot of time for writing.
I’ve been cramming my word count by doing 5-minute word sprints a few times a day. Which is great. I know I can get writing done. But I want time for all that other stuff too. The blog posts, the marketing, the time to actually consider publishing my books.
So this morning I got up, and bleary eyed, stumbled down the stairs to get the coffee going. Then I got in a quick work out, a short journaling session, then I grabbed my coffee and my laptop and sat down in my office to write before the rest of the house woke up.
And I am going to do this, every day this week. The goal is to not only spend a little time in my nifty studio that I never use, but get a little me time in before the business of everyday life intrudes. Hopefully this little experiment ends with me being a more patient mother, a more focused writer, and maybe even more blog posts for you.
Today, I hit my word count early, and as this post is going live, I should be out finishing up the Easter basket shopping. So I’m calling that a win. We’ll see how I feel when that alarm goes off tomorrow morning.
It’s that time of year again when I get all navel-gazey and write that self-indulgent post everybody else was writing a week ago about how their year went and what they want to do differently this year. You know the one–about all the ways they’re gonna be thinner and taller and shinier in 2018–except I’m gonna be thinner and taller and shinier for my 33rd year.
I started off this year by quitting my day job. Not a new story, but a scary one.
It was a difficult adjustment. I spent most of the first couple months crippled by anxiety that we were going to go broke. It didn’t help that I was exhausted from working a full-time job with two babies around and taking care of a house and just in general being a human in modern times.
I spent months doing nothing but reading and playing with the kids.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing only that if that’s what makes you happy.
But it was not what I wanted to do.
I came back slowly by adding in a mostly-daily yoga practice, which I kept up most of the year. If I wasn’t doing yoga, I was out walking and playing with the kids. Sometimes I did some light weightlifting.
The decision to do something–anything–active everyday helped shake me out of my anxious funk. (This is 64,000,000,000 times easier to write than it is to do.)
That and a continued positive balance in our bank account.
In March, I started the final revisions on my first finished novel, The Other Lane.
Old news, I know. I’ve talked about that to death. But the other night, my husband and I were playing around with a book cover maker, and he made me a cover for it.
It looked like it was a book written by Graham Greene or John Updike about something that only gives rich white dudes anxiety, and he called it The Other Lane, or Prepare to Be Devastated.
This is not an inaccurate alternative title since it’s meant to be a reimagining of Jane Eyre. (Does me saying that make you want to read it, or just make you roll your eyes?)
I listened to the latter, and it’s set in Scotland (both of them are, actually). Every time I went back to reading whatever silly romance I was on at the moment, the cowboys all had Scottish accents.
Not sure what it says about the caliber of the book that I remembered they were cowboys, but not where they were cowboys.
Sometimes, I also enjoy reading horrible books.
When I do, I tweet a lot, because they get my inner editor all riled up.
Oh that’s right. I was supposed to be telling you how I’m gonna get taller and thinner this year. Oops. Forgot.
Funny story, tho. When I went to the doctor in April, I measured in at 5’6″. I’ve been 5’5″ since high school.
So, I actually did get taller last year.
*Checks “getting taller” off the list.*
Sometime during the summer, I got up the guts to start querying The Other Lane to literary agents.
Get this. I was also finishing up the first big revision of Ethan & Juliet, my second (finished) novel. At the same time. (No, this one is not based on Romeo and Juliet, but it is about a doctor and a midwife.)
The combination of those two things made me feel like I was worth a million bucks.
I don’t talk about food much on the blog anymore. I don’t like to interrupt other people’s journeys with talk of where I am and what I’m doing, because it is 100% tailored to the things that don’t make me feel like shit. And it bugs me when people get evangelical about their diets, like veganism can save the world and all cavemen go to heaven. Whatever and ever. Amen. Plus, along with the spiel, there is usually some sort of implied (or overt, let’s be real) fat shaming, and that’s just not cool. But, one of the things I do enjoy is experimental baking, and let’s be honest, when you can’t eat much fun stuff, everything is experimental.
But, in case you are like me, and you don’t feel like experimenting, here is a cake recipe that works.
If you aren’t like me, and can eat all the wheat and dairy you want–you should be able to substitute regular flour, butter and milk for all the gluten free, non-dairy ingredients in this cake. If you do, let me know how it goes!
I had big plans before the holidays to make myself a French Opera Cake, which is super complicated, and basically takes the whole day. Sometime around Christmas–probably about the time I was making my third batch of frosting in as many days–I decided that I didn’t want fancy and complicated. I wanted simple and classic.
Enter my favorite standby: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It doesn’t get any better than that. And this is my favorite recipe. I love this recipe because it makes a nice, light, moist, spongy cake, and that’s not too sweet. It’s a texture that can be hard to achieve with gluten free flour. If a cake recipe has too many liquids in it, the texture can turn gummy, which is just gross. Ew.
2 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend. Use your favorite, and don’t forget the xantham gum if you need it. If you’re new to gluten free baking, try Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 flour that already has the xantham gum mixed in. It’s very close to the blend I mix myself.
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (I used 1 cup full fat canned coconut milk–shaken–and added 1/4 cup filtered water to dilute.)
1 cup buttery sticks, softened
4-5 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1-3 tablespoons coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk–I didn’t want to open another can of coconut milk for two tablespoons, so I just used water.)
Now here’s a pet peeve of mine. When I read baking blogs, no one ever whips their butter. Sure they’ll tell you to cream your butter and sugar, but no one ever says to whip your butter (or in this case butter-like-stuff and coconut oil) before you add the sugar. In this recipe that step is crucial. Don’t skip it. In fact, don’t skip it again, ever. If a recipe starts “Cream butter and sugar” whip your butter first, then add the sugar a little at a time to keep your butter fluffy. Trust me. It works.
Note, this recipe includes a lot of whipping and mixing. While ideally, a Kitchen Aide mixer would be used, not everyone has one of those. If you’re like me, you think, “Oh, having one of those would be so nice. Maybe for Christmas.” Then you look at your kitchen, snort, and say, “When I have someplace to effing put it.” So, if you have a fancy Kitchen Aide, whip out that paddle attachment and get going on that butter. If not, a hand mixer will work. And if you don’t have one of those either, no worries. I have made this recipe with a wooden spoon and a whisk. Make sure your butter is very soft before you begin, and it’s a totally cool way to get rockin arms, I promise.
Spray and flour 2 8- or 9-inch round pans. (You could use a 9×13 cake pan, but let’s be honest, we all know sheet cakes are lame–unless it’s Texas Sheet Cake, and really, that’s almost brownies anyway)
Preheat over to 375F
Sift flour, salt and baking powder together in medium bowl and set aside
In large bowl, whip butter, scarping the sides until silky and light. (If you’re beating something, you better be scarping those sides, I’m just sayin.)
Add sugar to butter 1/4 cup at a time, whipping until smooth in between, beat for one minute after last cup of sugar
Add eggs one at a time, whipping for about 30 second in between eggs
Add vanilla (and yellow food coloring if you want a really yellow cake) and whip until combined
Alternate adding flour mixture and coconut milk until everything is well combined. You should have a fluffy, silky smooth batter that’s almost too thick to pour.
Divide evenly into two pans and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
Once cool, frost and build cake. Decorate as desired.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Whip buttery stuff until smooth and creamy, scarping sides
Sift in two cups of powdered sugar and beat until smooth
Sift in 3/4 cup cocoa powder and beat until smooth
Sift in remaining 2-3 cups of powdered sugar to taste, adding no more than a tablespoon of liquid at a time thin the frosting as needed.
I like a thick, rustic looking frosting job. Cake decorator I ain’t. If you like to get out pastry bags and rummage through drawers for icing tips, good on you. Have fun with it, but you’ll likely want to make a slightly thinner frosting. Be careful about adding too much liquid at once. Always add it little by little until you get the consistency you want. It doesn’t take much to go from frosting to glaze.
So yes, tomorrow is my 33rd birthday. I’ll have my typical birthday post up then. And if you follow me on instagram you can watch for updates as I go on my birthday adventure.