Friday, October 29, 2010

Cooking vegetarian

I've never been a big meat eater. When I was little, I used to hide pieces of meat under the rim of my plate. It never occurred to me until I was much older that my parents would find my circle of meat when they cleared the table.

My husband jokes that I would be happy living on bread and water. Add in some fruit and cheese, and I really would be quite content.

However, I've never gone totally vegetarian. I like my steak and bacon. Plus, Phil is much more of a meat eater than me. But as an animal lover, I'm very conscious of what type of meat I consume, and how much of it. As the cook in the family, I usually prepare meat twice a week. The other five days of the week I try to keep our diet vegetarian.

Now, as I already said, I'd be content with a plate of bread and a tall glass of water for dinner. But Phil is shockingly a little more picky. This means I'm always on the look out for filling, flavorful vegetarian recipes. I've found several good ones over the years, but never as many as I would like. How many times a week can I toss veggies with pasta? Or rice? Or make soup?

One of my recent favorites, which I discovered when I returned from Uruguay craving vegetables, is a pasta primavera recipe from Food Network (I substitute the chicken stock for veggie stock to make it vegetarian).

Do you cook vegetarian? Do you ever run out of ideas? Do you have any good recipes to share?

Next Friday I'll update on my progress with OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o. I'm still really struggling with it, but thanks to my marvelous critique partner, I may have just figured out what was missing (though I said that last Friday, didn't I?)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting others to read what you write

"Is it normal for writers to have writing partners or would a Crit group serve the same purpose? Which would you recommend?"

This is a question illustrator Wilson Williams, Jr. (aka Mighty Kwan) asked in a comment on my Friday post, where I talked about my progress on my OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o pursuits, as well as my writing partner's encouragement.

I tried to answer Wilson's question in a comment, but realized rather quickly that I had a lot to say. So here's my more drawn-out answer:

It's normal for writers to seek out feedback wherever they can get it.

People may imagine a solitary writer, sitting quietly in her bower, scribbling her heart out. Most of us probably started out that way (minus the bower). However, the mind in solitary confinement is a troubling place. Sometimes writers think they're really good, and can't understand why they receive rejection after rejection. Other writers think they're really bad, and can't find the courage to send their writing out to agents and editors. Most writers are both good and bad, depending on the day. Some writers don't care about publication at all, but want to get better. Most of us get lonely.

What kind of feedback we seek out (and what I recommend) depends on our needs and circumstances. Some writers form writing groups, online or in-person, some take writing classes, some have writing partners, or alpha readers, or beta readers.

An in-person writing group can be a regular, supportive, and social gathering. You can get feedback from multiple readers, people can also commiserate about their jobs, celebrate successes, and share baked goods. Because you'll be reading multiple writers' work, usually only small chunks of your work will be discussed (though some groups operate in different ways).

A partner can be more flexible. You can meet whenever you want, and read as much as you have time for. You can encourage each other. However, you'll only receive feedback from one person. People refer to "alpha readers" as partners who read drafts in progress, "beta readers" provide feedback on finished or revised drafts.

Online groups probably fall somewhere in between. Work can be posted on blogs regularly to be shared, so feedback can be more flexible. However, usually there'll be less socializing and friendship, and you'll have to provide your own baked goods.

Nothing stops a writer from joining all sorts of different types of groups and partnerships. I certainly have.

Writers seek out different types of feedback. For example, Stephen King drafts alone, then uses beta readers to get feedback on his completed drafts. Other writers like to get feedback on each chapter or scene they write before they move on. Many writers probably fall somewhere in between. This past summer, I blogged about my ideal critique partner here. In my Chicago writing group, we share everything from poems, to blog posts, to picture books, to short stories, to novel excerpts. Depending on when our meeting falls, I may not be ready to share something from my novel, but I always share something. Our group is so supportive and enthusiastic, that it helps my spirit just as much as my writing. Plus, it encourages all of us to produce something, even if it's only a single a haiku, every month. I've also used individuals from the group as beta readers.

Of course, who is in a critique group is also important. You want writers who are as dedicated as you, who have similar goals to you (writing for fun vs. publication). You may want to consider finding writers in the same genre. I've heard other bloggers recommend that if you want to be published, you should join a critique group with others who are already published. But how many published writers are desperately seeking feedback from non-published writers?

Rather than knocking on Stephen King's door, I think there are other, better ways to form writing groups.

Classes: Writing classes are a great opportunity to meet others who take their writing seriously. Many libraries, community ed programs, and universities offer them.

Friends and work colleagues: My Chicago writing group formed because a woman I worked with knew a few other writers and suggested we all get together.

Online: Members of Verla Kay's Blueboard often post to ask for critiques or partners. Becoming involved with that amazing forum will also put you in contact with numerous writers, and you might find something evolves more organically, too.

Many other online forums provide similar services. Nathan Bransford has a forum with a board solely devoted to finding critique partners (I believe Maggie Stiefvater set up something similar, but the link I have seems to be broken. Anyone know?). Casey at Literary Rambles often posts want ads for writers looking for critique partners or groups. She also suggests writers use their own blogs to advertise that they're looking for someone. Just yesterday I saw that Adventures in Children's Publishing was helping organize alpha and beta readers for writers.

It's kind of like online dating, no? Honestly, I'd rather have my friend introduce me to just the right person. But for those who are still looking, there are a lot of opportunities out there.

Phew! I hope that answers your question, Wilson!

Are there other questions about critique groups or partners? Anything I forgot? Any other tips on finding the perfect feedback?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bringing characters into our lives

You've heard of method acting? It's a collection of techniques where actors try to become, through their thoughts and actions, the characters they're portraying.

Well, what about method writing? Do you do it? Have you had success with it? What does it even mean?

Children's writer Christina Farley wrote on her blog Chocolate for Inspiration about visiting an archery pavilion in Korea to learn about the Korean Horn Bow. She writes, "I've been doing some research over the past few months... But I really wanted to get a clearer sense of how the bow worked and felt."

I was struck by Christina's dedication to research. It reminded me of Marcus Sedgwick, who researched his book REVOLVER by visiting an armory and learning how to shoot a gun.

Do these examples count as method acting? I wouldn't say the authors are trying to become their characters. But they're definitely trying to get a sense of what it feels like to be their characters.

Project Demo relies heavily on a specific piece of music. I've been listening to the CD for weeks now, and recently discovered my library had sheet music for the piece. So I'm learning to play the piece on my viola, too. Very cool.

Now the song is permanently stuck in my head, and whenever I hum it, or finger its notes, I'm thinking about my novel and my main character.

Perhaps this isn't method acting so much as research. Fun research. But whatever I call it, I do think it's pulling me closer and deeper into my character's head.

What do you do to bring your characters to life?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing update 1: OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o

I promised I'd keep you updated on my OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o pursuits (yes, that's October and November National Novel Writing Month with No Guilt. Don't you love a good acronym?)

Word count as of this morning: uh... 5,062. *sheepish look*

I was aiming for 10K a week. That way, in six or so weeks, I could finish my novel plus have time to think things through as I write. But it's been eleven days since I started this challenge, and I've been averaging under 500 words a day.

It's not for lack of trying or time. I've been working quite hard. It's just that I don't know what I'm doing. The past eleven days have been a struggle.

First, I wrote the beginning two chapters of Project Demo. They were absolute crap and made me doubt everything, my story, my characters, my talent. I was ready to scrap the whole idea. Then, as a last ditch effort, I decided to give up on writing in chronological order and to instead write the one scene I could see vividly, the scene which which had inspired the whole novel. I wrote it in an hour. It was really good. My writing partner thinks so, too. She told me I better not scrap anything.

From there, I was inspired to write another three scenes. Then I outlined my story, tried to figure out where in the novel these disparate scenes would fall, and if there were any other scenes I could write while I was avoiding the beginning. I thought about my character, how she would tell her story, and suddenly her voice was speaking in my head. It was amazing. I knew exactly how she'd start the novel, and generally how she'd structure everything. She's a little uptight like that.

So I went back to the beginning, and rewrote it with the character's voice.

There are still quite a few holes and unknowns. I'm not sure I'm ready to tell the story in chronological order yet. I'm certainly not to a place where I can write 10K a week.

But there's a reason I'm calling this challenge "NoGuilt-o." Hopefully at the end of all this I'll have a novel worth saving. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The joys of being a foreigner: light bulbs

For me, one of the hardest parts of living in a foreign country is the number of times I end up looking like a complete idiot. I'm forced to ask a sales person a dumb question to understand how something works, or say the wrong thing, or do something that is completely acceptable in the US, but extremely weird in the UK. And as I was reminded this past weekend, light bulbs seem to be my number one nemesis.

Sure, I've managed to navigate the National Health Service with ease, got a job, paid my taxes, joined a community orchestra, figured out that in terms of newspapers, I'm a Guardian reader. But figuring out which light bulbs to buy? Beyond my abilities.

But let me try and justify this... light bulbs in the UK are hard! Not only do I need to chose the correct wattage, regular or energy efficient. Light bulbs are sorted into letters, A-G. The chandelier in my living room takes size E candle bulbs with small bayonets.

Bayonets? Yeah. The first time I heard that, this is what I imagined: [picture of bayonet attached to gun; removed]

My landlord looked at me as if I was an absolute idiot while he explained that bayonets are the little sticks coming out of the base of a light bulb (see the above picture).

So after spending several minutes on my knees in my local grocery store looking at all the light bulbs this past weekend, I still picked out the wrong one. Even though it was a type E candle bulb with small bayonets, the base was too thick. I've got a drawer in my kitchen with several light bulbs which I've been too busy or sheepish to return because they don't fit properly. And even though I'm a fanatic about recycling everything, I don't even attempt to get the energy efficient variety. I've only ever been able to find one that fit once, and that's a more expensive mistake. The only way I manage at the moment is to buy light bulbs in bulk whenever I find the right one, and to save a copy of the box.

But some day I'll figure it out. Some day I'll be able to walk into a store, know exactly where my light bulbs are, and pick up a box, even if it's a different brand. Of course, the week that happens will probably be just about the time my visa expires.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Conquering anxiety one day at a time

When I was in college, I spent a summer in Dumaguete City, Philippines, working for a Christian organization supporting impoverished children and families. Every morning everyone in the organization was expected to meet at sunrise. Together we sang:
This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it
This is the day
This is the day that the Lord has made
To a young, cynical American, awkward in a foreign country, it felt hokey. But I grew to love those morning services. Even for those who aren't religious, I think the song's message is pretty powerful. This is a new day which we have been given. Let's not waste it.

I was going to post this morning about how anxious I've been lately. I've been struggling with my new project (which I'm calling Project Demo). Is it good enough? Is the main character strong enough to carry a story? The writing has been painfully slow and labored. Perhaps I should just scrap the whole thing? Meanwhile, my tutor emailed me and all of my fellow classmates to let us know she was in the midst of grading our final manuscripts. Anxiety city!

But last night I decided I was going to try something new with Project Demo. I began Project Sparkle by writing individual scenes, not starting at the beginning. Instead of agonizing over the beginning, why didn't I do the same thing with Project Demo?

So I woke up early this morning. The sky was dark, though streaked with pink from the rising sun. I figured this was a new day, and I would do the best with it that I could. Without checking my email, without reading any of the news, I sat down and wrote the scene strongest in my mind.

It was like magic. It all came together. The character had a voice. Her antagonist was freaky. The setting was dark and spooky. What a great feeling.

After all my revisions this summer, I had forgotten how agonizing it is creating something out of nothing. But now, at least for today, I feel like can keep going. And tomorrow will be a brand new day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Truly the land of stories

I went to Dublin to stay with a friend last weekend to celebrate finishing our MA! And as promised, here's pictures!

Of course, being two graduates of an MA in writing, the first place we went was Trinity College Library (well, this was more about avoiding crowds, but still...). The Book of Kells was incredible to see in person, but for me the highlight had to be the library's Long Room:

So many beautiful, old books, with moving ladders to reach them. And you could smell the old book smell from a room away. It was like being in a real life cemetery of lost books.

I saw a lot more of the city, and crammed in much of Irish history in a weekend. This is the infamous Kilmainham Jail, where the British executed the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Also used as a set for numerous movies, which is why I think it looked rather familiar:

We spent Saturday north of Dublin on a tour of mostly ancient Irish history. We visited Monasterboice, a Christian settlement dating back to the late 5th century. It's home to the largest and most well preserved Celtic crosses in Ireland. My friend recognized one of the crosses from a school textbook, but never knew where it was!

We visited the Hill of Tara, the traditional and mythological home of Ireland's kings. This is the Stone of Destiny. Tradition has it that if you're meant to be king and you touch the stone, it will scream with joy:

The absolute highlight of the weekend was visiting Newgrange. It's a mound, covering an acre of land. Here's an overhead shot so you can get the idea:

Inside is a stone hallway which leads to a large room with a domed roof, all human-made with slabs of stone. It's called a Megalithic Passage Tomb, and the one at Newgrange dates back to 3200 BC. And we got to go inside! But we couldn't take pictures, unfortunately. This is the best one I could find. Notice the circular art on the left stone.

Definitely one of the most incredible places I have ever been in my life. And I never even heard of it until this past weekend! There were carvings everywhere I looked, alcoves where human remains had been found, and a light box traveling parallel to the entryway, so on the winter solstice, the room is flooded with light.

Here's the entryway, with a stone with carvings similar to the ones inside. You can see the light box above the doorway, too.

Here's a stone with carvings at the back of the mound:

My friend lives right near the water, so wherever we went during the day, in the evening we got to go back to the sea. This is from the pier at Dun Laoghaire:

Everywhere we went, it seemed there was a story, whether about history, or myth, or dating so far back that no one is sure which. What an amazing place to be a writer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Checking for character plot holes

On her blog Literary Rambles, Casey has posted a Tuesday Tip I wrote about checking for character plot holes. Check it out!

Also, if you're not already familiar with Casey's blog, just check it out in general! Literary Rambles provides an amazing service to the children's writing community. Besides her Tuesday Tips, she has query and synopsis critiques, writers searching for critique partners, various interviews and tips, and the most well-researched agent spotlights you'll find on the net. Her blog's been invaluable to me as I'm getting ready to query Project Sparkle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why I'm not NaNoWriMo-ing

Every fall, my thoughts turn to NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is 50,000 words, hopefully a novel or close to it, by the end of November. In the writing community it's hard to avoid it. Every fall, almost every writer I know starts talking NaNo. Many of my online writing friends have completed and loved NaNo (I blogged about it last year, with a round-up of other writers' posts about the experience).

However, my schedule has never permitted me to participate in NaNo. I've been away on trips, or in the middle of another writing project. Last year I was just starting my MA.

But this year I don't yet have a job, I've just finished a writing project, and NaNo falls at the perfect time.

People give numerous reasons for participating in NaNo. It demonstrates that anyone can write an entire novel in a short period of time. It forces a writer to put all negativity on the back burner. It enables a writer to trust their subconscious, and sometimes it can be amazing (in a good way) what emerges. It's a really exciting idea.

But after doing a lot of thinking, I've decided NaNo isn't right for me. At least not this fall. I know some people will say I should try it at least once, but I just don't think it would be beneficial to me or my writing.

The kicker for me was a comment author Candy Gourlay made. She said, "Well it's easier to edit words than to write from scratch." The comment really stuck with me because for me, it's not true at all. This is something I learned about myself in the past year. My writing is much fresher and more original in my first draft. Of course, it gets better and better as I revise, but if an original grain of insight isn't there the first time, I will never find it through revision. I need to scrap the whole bit and write it again.

I'm afraid if I did NaNo, I'd end up with a whole lot of crap writing. Everyone says that. And of course I'd then revise it. But I worry that in my rush, it would be so bad I'd end up having to rethink and rewrite most of it.

I keep coming back to a post author Maggie Stiefvater wrote last year entitled, "My Dear John Letter to NaNoWriMo" (the whole post is worth reading and also hysterically funny). She writes: "You're a bad concept for me, NaNo. This is why: you make me write crap, NaNo. You make me make bad novel decisions. You take away my ability to brainstorm between chapters. You make me rush through characterization. You make me pack filler in that will only get ripped out later, having taught me nothing about my novel. You make me into a bad writer... Basically, if we played the game your way, I'd end up rewriting every single word I wrote."

Yes, that's exactly what I'm afraid of. So this year, I won't be NaNoWriMo-ing. However, I am being ambitious. I'm working on a new novel (the Demolition Derby novel, or Demo, I think I'll call it). Will it work? Will a plot emerge? Will any of the characters be worth sticking with for the long haul? I don't know. But my goal is to finish my planning and write a big solid chunk (maybe all of it?) by the end of November. So a sort of NaNoWriMo, except with a bit of help from October and none of the guilt. One of my former classmates has already joined the challenge with me. Maybe we should call it October and November NaNoWriMonth with no guilt (OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-o). Or something. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, for those of you thinking, 'Sure, NaNoWriMo sounds great, but I'd like to try something more insane', a few weeks ago I followed a novelist's journey through a Book in a Week. Really interesting, and on on the plus side, it takes much less time than a month! Link here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Links to share

Ever since my program finished, I've been like a retiree, kvetching about how there's never enough time. I'm hardly doing any writing, yet somehow between brainstorming for my next project, doing regular household chores, and volunteering for the Bath Festival of Children's Literature, I've been crazy busy. How's that work?

Anyway, this weekend is my trip to Dublin. YAY! Hopefully when I come back I'll be able to settle into a routine and and put some serious effort into beginning my new novel. But more about that Monday. For now, a couple of links:

One of my favorite people, Tim Gunn, recorded a heart-breaking and honest video for GLBTQ youth about his own suicide attempt with the message that life gets better.

(Thanks for the link to Lee, of I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?)

Also addressing the topic of bullying and just being human, children's author Jacqui Robbins posted on her blog: "My son loves pink, a rant." I wish everyone in the country could read this post and talk about it.

Please check out and share both.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Now, how do I do this again?

After months of disciplined work on Project Sparkle, I'm feeling rather adrift. I have a new idea. I have some time to play with it. I know I need to be playful to really mine the depth of this story. All good. Except... I'm not sure how to begin.

I looked up beginnings on Verla Kay's Blueboard, but didn't find anything.

I looked up beginnings on my own blog, and found similar worries from when I was first starting Project Sparkle.

No answers.

But this past Saturday I had a weird experience that may answer my question.

I sat down to write, determined to figure out one of my minor characters. I started a character exercise that I usually find helpful, but couldn't get further than "1. Female." Because every time I closed my eyes and imagined my character, she completely wasn't who I expected her to be. Let's say she was a demolition derby lover*, something I know nothing about. So I googled demolition derby. I read up on it a bit, but wasn't sure it worked with my plot. She was supposed to fall madly in love, except now she seems a bit of a tomboy. She reminded me of a classmate I went to high school with. So I googled my former classmate (what did writers do before Google?) and discovered all sorts of interesting, shocking things. Then I started thinking about my classmate's parents, and my parents, and how all this relates to the type of story I want to tell, and my demolition derby character. Good stuff, except I was out of time for the day. I put away my notebook and headed to the Children's Literature Festival where I was volunteering at Zombies vs. Vampires. Charlie Higson said something about an old black and white movie, and suddenly I knew how to make everything work with my character (no, she's not a zombie).

So, what have I learned? I guess the trick to developing a story is to keep playing and hope that my subconscious will work to bring the characters to life. I'm not quite sure how to plan for that. But for now I intend to just enjoy myself and see what happens.

How do you begin a new story?

*By the way, my character is not actually a demolition derby lover, but a lover of something else equally obscure which I know nothing about. Though it is now tempting to refer to this work in progress as the Demolition Derby novel. Or... maybe now I really do need to write a novel about demolition derbies.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More highlights from the Bath Fest of Kids Lit

This past weekend I had the great privilege of helping out at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature again (last week's post is here). A few highlights:

Saturday was Zombies vs. Vampires with Charlie Higson and Nick Lake. As each audience member arrived, they were were given a red card and a green card for voting at the end. It set up a great format for a talk, as Charlie hawked his love for zombies, and Nick his fascination with vampires (though as he pointed out, really they're both undead creatures). It also gave the authors an opportunity to talk about their inspirations, research, favorite characters, and a few personal tidbits. Charlie Higson talked about not knowing how scary was too scary for children's horror. So as he was working on the book, each night he would read another chapter to his then ten-year-old son. The kid remained unmoved; "that was nice," *shrug*, "I guess it's scary..." Finally Charlie was awoken in the middle of the night by his son pounding on his door, tears streaming down his face. Charlie thought to himself, "Yes! I did it!" My other favorite comment from Charlie Higson was that boys (the majority of the audience) tend to favor zombies over vampires because teenage boys basically are zombies. And indeed, zombies did win in the end, though vampires put up a good show.

Sunday I sat in on Maggie Stiefvater and Jennifer Lynn Barnes' event. They each did a reading and a brief talk before they answered questions together at the end. Like Zombies vs. Vampires, I enjoyed the talk most when they were in conversation with each other (while they both have books about werewolves, they seem to be quite different types of authors). Jennifer Lynn Barnes has studied science (her research on a chimp reserve influenced her to write about a girl growing up with wolves) and has a very analytical mind. Maggie was more jokey and her speech was very stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps I enjoy the conversation format because it seems more natural and unscripted. Both authors were fascinating, and very honest about their experiences. Someone from the audience asked about their thoughts on Stephenie Meyer and Maggie said SHIVER has been published in 32 different countries. While she liked to think it was because her writing was brilliant, she knew it was because werewolves are an easy, reliable sell right now thanks to Stephenie Meyer. Maggie has been blogging about her trip here.

One of the best presentations of the weekend goes to Chris Bradford, author of the Young Samurai series. He was dressed in head to toe black, with only a slit for his eyes, and a samurai sword which he clearly knew how to use. I didn't get to see his presentation, but the children (and adults!) seemed mighty impressed (and perhaps a little afraid NOT to buy his book!).

I also helped out with Meet Horrid Henry, which involved a big plush Henry, as well as an amazing storyteller. The children were quite young and wiggly, but the second he started reading, they were riveted. *I* was riveted. He did all the voices and sound effects.

Afterwards I only got to see a small portion of John Fardell's talk. He made rough illustrations for many of the children in the audience. Talk about a great prize to take home!

The other best presentation of the weekend has to go to Cornelia Funke. The audience was over 250 and Cornelia didn't disappoint. She wore the witch's dress, straight out of her novel RECKLESS. I borrowed the image here from Anita Loughrey's blog. Anita was at Cornelia's launch party in London and talks in detail about the dress in her post. Honestly, after seeing numerous authors in jeans and a T-shirt, it was nice to see someone really dress up. Though I did feel I was prepping the stage for a rock star. Cornelia Funke was a fascinating speaker; she talked a lot about her fascination with fairy tales, stories, and magic, as well as her writing process.

It was a great weekend (and a great festival). Earlier this week, Andy Stanton tweeted me to thank me for my blog post about his talk. I bumped into Marcus Sedgwick yesterday and he said hello (I'm afraid I was dumbfounded. I couldn't imagine Marcus would remember me from being Artist in Residence at Bath Spa University. But truly, he is that kind of person). As I was leaving, some of the staff told me to help myself to a couple of the books from the green room bookshelf. It was pretty picked over already, but I managed to take home a copy of Marcus Sedgwick's THE RAVEN MYSTERIES, HORRID HENRY ROCKS, a YOUNG SAMURAI book, and ONCE by Morris Gleitzman. I came home full of stories and with a stack of books, and felt a bit like a rock star myself.

Friday, October 1, 2010

She likes it!

Last night at the Bath Festival of Children's Literature was the Bath Spa University event. Three program alums (CJ Skuse, Jim Carrington, and Alexandra Diaz) read from their books. Julia (my tutor) moderated, and they answered questions about the writing process, writing for teens, and the MA in Writing for Young People. At the end, Julia announced the winner of the prize from Rosemary Canter of United Agents for the most promising writer from our year.

To be completely honest, I had been dreading this evening for weeks (if not months!). Who would win? Would I be happy for them? Jealous? Could it be me?

Unfortunately, Rosemary couldn't attend in person. Instead she wrote a letter, which Julia read aloud, about judging our manuscripts. She mentioned several writers whose work she had enjoyed reading. Then she mentioned me! I was so excited I missed most of what she said. But the part I definitely heard went something like this: "Anne's character is angry and defiant, yet surprisingly likeable; a very difficult thing to pull off."

One of my biggest worries with Project Sparkle has been my character's likability. So to hear a prestigious agent enjoyed her was so exciting. Do you remember that moment in the cartoon Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where the girl reindeer kisses Rudolph? He jumps up and flies through the sky, shouting "She likes me!" That's what it felt like.

I didn't win (full congrats to Sheila!). But honestly, I went home totally happy. Really. I was so nervous about last night, but in the end, I guess all I wanted was some recognition, which I certainly received. It was a great end to a great year.