Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Letter from a New Jerseyan

A rant:

I was reading a book by one of my recent favorite authors (and a NYT bestseller, at that), when I came across a passage in the book where the main character and her friend--in the span of two lines-- insulted New Jersey.


And I nearly threw the book across the gym. (I didn't, of course, because it's a BOOK and books are precious, precious things... but I did think about it.)

In that moment, the idea for this post was born.

Dear Authors (and Publishers),

I am from New Jersey.  I love being from New Jersey.  I am one of your readers and contribute to your income.

Remember that NJ is the most densely populated and second wealthiest per capita state in the US.  (Source: , )  We. Buy. Books. Too.

Can you please be a little bit more original and quit bashing on a percentage of your readers?

I understand that we've traditionally been an easy target.  I'm not QUITE sure why, but people seem to love to hate us.  Stereotypes about our state seem to abound.  (psst... most of the cast of the Jersey shore-- esp the most obnoxious ones?  Not from NJ-- source: )

BUT, remember:
  • That accent that people love to imitate?  I really don't know many people from NJ who actually sound like that.  I'm REALLY tired of people saying that I don't sound like I'm from New Jersey.  We don't all sound like "The Nanny."
  • Every time people from most other states bash us... they're actually smacking NJ after benefiting from our money. "New Jersey has the highest disparity of any state in the United States between what it gives to the federal government and what it receives. In fiscal year 2005, New Jersey taxpayers gave the federal government $77 billion, while only receiving $55 billion. This difference is higher than any other state and means that for every $1 New Jersey taxpayers send to Washington, the state only receives $0.61 in return. This calculation is applied correctly after making the federal government deficit neutral, as sometimes the federal government spends more than it receives. As of 2005, New Jersey has never been above 48th in rank for per capita federal spending (with a rank of 50th for the majority of that time) since 1982, while being second or third in per capita federal taxes paid to Washington." (source:
  • Most of our state is wooded and farmland.  We're known for our cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and peaches.  We have beautiful forests and beaches, from the rolling hills of Warren and Sussex counties to Appalacian trail to our Pinelands and our very (well known) shore.
  • We don't all have big hair or have a taste for gaudy clothing
  • And, no, we're not all in the mob.
So, the next time that you feel like bashing our state... please don't. Because it's not nice, it's not funny, and frankly, it's getting old.

Issy, a proud South Jersey girl

PS: I'll write another post soon showcasing some of the really beautiful places that I love in my home state

A beautful November day in the NJ Pine Barrens (this picture was taken less than 1/2 mile from my home)

Friday, November 25, 2011

I'm Thankful...

...for the obligatory Thanksgiving post.

I actually started this post on Wednesday, before remembering that the folks at Paper Hangover were planning a Friday Fives on thankfulness.  Since I'm now addicted to their weekly question, I decided to save my thankfulness post for today.

Addict.  Ahem, now back to my post...

What are the FIVE things you're thankful for?
1. My sister.  Not the best beta reader in the world (AHEM, Susie, sweetie, you've had my first draft since September.  Stop obsessing over whether or not teens will know what a merengue is and keep reading), but she's my favorite cheerleader, my idea-bouncer, and "she who shoots down character names."  She's calmed me down when I've had page requests and has heard every version of my query letter.  Without her, I wouldn't have fleshed out half of my plots and Jer would have been named Todd... Thatcher.  Uhm, yeah.

Plus, she makes great homemade pizza that she force-feeds me during out weekly "Once Upon A Time" viewings at her house.  I'd be thinner but lonelier without her.

Throwing the rest of my family and all of our various cats into this one, even if it is cheating.  Because I love all of them.  Tons.

2. Being an Engineer.  I did not want to study Engineering.  I hate math and machines make my head hurt.  In high school, I was in AP everything but math.  I won speech awards, the English medallion, essay contests, and took an optional extra class in the morning just so that I could fit in my art class.  I wrote novel-length fan fiction in my spare time and entertained my girl scout troop (co-leader of a troop) with off-the-cuff girl power fantasy stories.  No one expected me to go into engineering.

Except for my dad.  Who just so happens to be a Mechanical Engineer.  He dragged me to open houses for engineering programs at local universities, ignoring my liberal arts leanings.  And, during one visit, I met a girl who was designing a wheelchair specifically for women.  In that same visit, I met a woman who was working a feeding device for Christopher Reeve (while he was still alive and at the Kessler Institute) and a professor who challenged us with all of these great questions about pacemakers.  All of a sudden, the creative aspect of design engineering-- specifically for the human body-- intrigued me.  Four years later, I still managed to disappoint my dad by choosing to focus my career search on the design aspect of Mechanical Engineering and not power, like him.  I don't regret it-- there is enough creativity and art involved in what I do on a daily basis to keep me happy.

Now, product development engineering is helping me with the writing process.  The two development processes are eerily similar, paralleling everything from Design reviews to beta readers, Drawing revision controls to drafts.  As an engineer, I've worked on projects that took five years and multiple design cycles to hit the market as well as projects that will never see the light of day.  I've had concepts/designs torn apart by fellow reviewers only to implement changes to make them stronger.  I've learned patience, humility, and how to take my product and make it marketable/manufacturable/profitable.  I've actually learned to be energized by "no."  I want to think that these ten years of design have made me ready to pay my writing dues.

3. Skating and Dancing.  I'm a bookish person who loved to just sit and read or write.  When I was a kid, I'd regularly walk into walls, trip over my feet, and break my glasses.  Starting both ballet and figure skating as an adult, I had to admit that standing at a barre or doing a salchow did not come easily to me. 

That's why I love them.  They take (hard, sweaty, painful) work, but the end result is magical.  To have a little kid skate up to me and ask if I'm a "professional" and say that I'm the "best and prettiest skater ever!" (oh, the innocence of youth!) is a wonderful feeling.  To dance a contemporary number that leaves me so physically and emotionally exhausted that I can barely move afterwards is amazing.  They teach me endless patience, give me a creative outlet, and keep me in shape.

4. Books.  Do I even need to say more?  I love books more than chocolate.  I love books more than travel.  I'm afraid that all of these wonderful fictional boys in YA lit have totally ruined me for real guys (and may possibly be the reason why I'm still single?  Nah.)  I'm praying that someday they find a way to make a perfume that smells like books.  Yup, I love books.

I love books more than the internet/twitter.  And that's saying A LOT.

5. Having a chance to call two completely different worlds home.  Being bi-lingual and lucky enough to have a piece of my heart on two continents.  Being able to understand Saudade with every molecule in my being.  Being a first-gen kid is hard, but it's so worth it the moment that I step off of the airplane and into another culture, my other skin.

Those are my five!  What about you?

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Five Writing Necessities

I'm officially addicted to Paper Hangover and especially their "Friday Fives."  Today, the team has put out this question:

What are the FIVE things you need to write with, other than pen, paper, and a computer?
1.  My mini moleskine notebooks.  I've had dozens of writing notebooks over the years.  Fancy leatherbound journals, marble composition books, paper pads-- they all served my writing needs but I've never loved any of them... until now.  The moleskines are the perfect size to fit into my tiny purse or pocket, so they can go everywhere with me.  Shhh, don't tell anyone, but I'm the crazy girl at the gym writing a note or something frantically in a tiny notebook while sweating on the elliptical.  Because they come in so many colors, I get to color code my notebooks to my projects and can grab the right one in one glance (The Desired is medium blue, TRC is violet, D2 is purple, TNM is dark blue.. you get the idea.)

  My precioussssssssss

2.  Headphones  Whenever I can, I try to write during lunch hour at work.  And since I write when I can, I occasionally have people (*cough* family *cough*) who don't understand the concept of "I'm working, leave me alone."  For those two reasons alone, these are invaluable.  My bright blue headphones blasting whatever I'm listening to at the moment have made writing possible in almost any situation.

3.  Water Writing makes me thirsty.

4.  Sticky notes.  From planning to plantsing (I'm a combination plotter/pantser) to making random notes to stick in/on my moleskines, I can't live without sticky notes.  Plus, I can stack them, stick them in my notebooks, and take them with me everywhere.  Insta-changeable-outline.

5.  The ability to make a whistle out of my hands (You know-- the one where you blow past your knuckles into your cupped hands... and... Blargh-- Internet to the rescue! )  I don't know how I picked up this habit, but when I'm stuck and need to think, I do this whistle thing.  I'm wierd.  I know.  But it works.

So, what are your top fives?  Post 'em here or go on over to Paper Hangover and join in the fun!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

European Music that Makes Me Grin

Because of yesterday's post, I ended up spending all morning watching old videos on You Tube from the Eurovision song contest.

Every spring, we gather around the TV (most years on satellite, one year we were actually in Portugal) and revel in what is a mix of both awesome and cheesy music, usually with over-the-top sets and costumes.  It's so much fun and so indicative of what my sisters and I experienced when we would spend our summers overseas.

A few years ago, my sisters learned how to make our satellite dish in Portugal pick up German MTV, where we'd immerse ourselves in club and pop goodness in a whole bunch of languages that we did't understand.  And when you listen to the radio, you DO have a lot of American music-- but you're also treated to songs in Portuguese, Spanish, German, Greek... It's more about the music and less about the lyrics at that point.  That's how my sister became hooked on a Moldovan group (O-Zone, whose song "Dragostea din Tei" was sampled by Rhianna in "Live Your Life":)

Dancing on a plane wing... because they can

And how I ended up buying a copy of Kyo's latest CD.  They're different and fun in their own way.

But... enough tripping down memory lane... you KNOW that you want to see some of my top picks from the recent Eurovision song contests, don't you?

1. (My FAVE) is Satellite by Lena (Germany)... see my post from yesterday.  I LOVE that song.

2. This song is SOOOO much fun (and so cheesy.)  I can't help but dance to this one:  OPA! by Giorgos Alkaios and Friends (Greece-- song starts around 2 minutes)

3. Not cheesy, just awesome clubby-ness from France (Jessy Matador- Allez, Ola, Ole):

4.  This one is pretty-- Ell & Nikki - Running Scared (Azerbaijan, 2011):

5. And some are just plain fun-- Belarus KNEW that it wasn't going to win, so they made the most Awesome "patiotic" song, "I Love Belarus" by Anastasia Vinnikova.  Folk Dancers to a pop beat--Seriously:

6.  And Portugal's entry from 2010, Filipa Azevedo, "Ha Dias Assim"

I loved growing up with this mix of languages and culture, and it's nice to immerse myself yearly in the music and silliness of the contest.  And... it can give me some GREAT writing music sometimes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Racing to Finish

The team over at Paper Hangover posed this question for their Friday Fives:

What are the FIVE ways that get you from the beginning to the end of your WiP without losing all your hair?

So, here are mine (I have baby fine hair-- I can't afford to lose any!):

1.  #1K1hr on Twitter.  It forces me to sit my butt in a chair for one hour straight (or multiple hours) with partners to cheer you on because they're also racing towards that word count

2.  Create needy, annoying characters.  They keep running around in my head and screaming for attention until I get their antics down.  When I don't love a character, it's like pulling teeth to write about them.

3.  Music. For "The Desired", I found that I wrote best to Dutch Symphonic Metal and French pop-rock.  One character only seemed to like Flogging Molly and Death Cab for Cutie.  And one entire scene was fueled by a Eurovision song contest winner.  When the music didn't jive with the character/scene/story, everything would drag.  (For those who are REALLY curious, the Symphonic Metal is "Within Temptation", French pop-rock is "Kyo", Eurovision contest winner song is Lena's "Satellite"  I totally recommend all of them.)

 (Hee! Edited to add "Satellite"!)

4.  I tell people that I'm writing "a book."  Shames me into writing just to avoid explaining why I haven't upped my word count.

5.  "The End" are the two sweetest words in the universe.  What better incentive do I need than that?

(oh, and 6: Don't pull at your hair.  That might help a lot, too)

Do you have any tips?  Comment here or head on over to Paper Hangover to post your own five tips!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why the Female Characters in my Stories Will Always be "Pretty" or "Beautiful"

Post three in this blog and I'm already breaking away from my theme.  This post isn't about a castle or random trip overseas.  Instead of looking for beauty in places today, I'm looking for beauty in people.

I was working on my WIP today and paused after I had written one character describing another character as "pretty" and *gasp* even "stunning."  Oh, boy.  Was I going to be one of those writers, whose books are a parade of one beautiful person after another?  Maybe the kind of writer who adds to the growing list of complexes that teen girls (and adult women) have about not being "pretty" or thin or stylish enough?  Is that what I wanted to convey to my (potential, future) readers (aka friends and family dragged into being betas)?

Not quite.  But I kept the description.  Why?

Because every girl, every woman is beautiful in her own, unique way.

Thing is, I have yet to meet a woman or girl who I would not describe as pretty-- in appearance. I've met emotionally ugly people in the past, but physically ugly? No.

Can they-- we-- be flawed?  Yes.  Flaws are what make us unique.  Imperfections are what make us who we are.  I'll have heavier characters and way-too-slim characters, characters of various races, creeds, cultures, characters that don't fit the modern conventional ideas of beautiful.  But... I don't think I'll ever describe even one of them as not pretty.

Adding to that is the transformative power of love.  It's amazing when you get to see someone through the eyes of someone who loves them-- like the world revolves around that person.  The character that uses the word "stunning" in my WIP is describing the girl that he loves.  That moment in my WIP reminded me of this girl that I know... some people describe her as plain (me, I envy her hair and height!)  She doesn't stand out in a crowd.  BUT, when you see her reflected in her boyfriend's eyes-- she's the most beautiful thing on the planet.  Anything but plain.  It's humbling to see something like that (and, yes, all of us single girls dream of someday having someone look at US that way!  For now, I'll have to live vicariously through others.)

Ugly comes from hate, jealousy, greed... I've seen some pretty ugly people in the past with perfect skin, perfect features, and perfect hair.  And, yes, I will-- and do-- write characters like those.

But, as for my protagonists?  My girls will be pretty, my boys good-looking.

And all of my characters, flawed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Some of My Favorite (non-castle-y) Places

Warning: there may be more images in this post than actual post.  I'm in a travelling mood!

There are places that I've loved from the moment that I set eyes on them:
(click to "biggify")
Agra, India (specifically, the Taj Mahal!):

The Historic Hudson Valley region of New York (Like the legendary Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow!):

Prince Edward Island, Canada (colors like Oz... SERIOUSLY):

Ottawa, Canada (the Rideau Canal might be a big reason why!  Those are skates on my feet):

... and my home skating rink (yes, those ARE the REAL Flyers practicing):

Worlds apart, but all magical in their own ways.  I hope to share some of these with you as I go deeper into this blog!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Post-- Oooh, Exciting!

A first post is REALLY awkward to write.  Really.  And it all starts with this question:

What am I going to write about in this blog?

There are plenty of blogs with "writers in training" chronicling the process, the ups and downs (You'll get those from me, anyway.) And I have my own, personal blog for the occasional whine-fest.  So, what could I possibly write about in here?

After some thinking ("a dangerous pasttime", "I know"), I've decided that this is going to be about the worlds that I want to build in my stories.  Those worlds that inspire and haunt me on a daily basis.

My first "book" has the random castle, kings, and even the occasional Roman ruin.  One WIP is a modern fairy tale set in Georgia, the other bounces around beautiful South Jersey and the historic Hudson Valley of New York.  Setting is very important to me and I've been lucky enough to have seen all of these places.  Now, I want to share them with you.

Also, in "The Desired", my main character is a fashion blogger... so you might occasionally get a fashion-bloggy post from me.  Or a figure skating post, when I get deep into my middle grade manuscript.  This is definitely going to be a crazy quilt of all of my worlds!

(in front of the steps to the Castle wall in Guimaraes, Portugal)

I hope that you enjoy my ramblings!