Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best night at Hommage

I've mentioned Hommage many times on my blog such as here, here, and here! Rightly so, since it is my favorite restaurant! So I couldn't help but post again about this amazing place, especially because I got to meet the chef, Nico Borzee, and I totally had a fan girl moment!

We went this past Saturday with Michael's parents as a special occasion, and I have to say out of the times we've gone, that night was perhaps the best. The fact that this place can still surprise me speaks volumes.

With the sun shining, a table with the view of the canal, and excellent wine, it made for a good atmosphere. To start we had the carrots, salad, and a buckwheat crepe. Check out the edible art!

The cool concept with the carrots was that the chef wanted to invoke the sense of new carrots sprouting from the ground like spring, so the dish was warm and cool and the texture felt like the best 'dirt' I'd ever eaten.

 The salad was a farm fresh salad with lemon spray and walnut sauce. Yum

The crepe was excellent with the egg yolk and ham. Good balance of savory with nice textures.

For our main dinner we decided do the two specials of the night. A red snapper and pork cut. For all these dishes there were way better names than what I'm coming up with, but you get the idea.

The fish was my favorite part. I love snapper and it was made perfectly, cooked over a piece of wood from a wine barrel with an orange glaze. So succulent and moist, it was delightful.

Equally good and Michael's favorite was the pork served right out of the pot! Savory without being oily or salty with a carmelized sauce, it was definitely a hit.

For dessert we had some chocolate, but the way it was delivered was cool, sweet, with a touch of salt that balanced it out. One of the best desserts I've had.

If you're ever in Seattle, this is my top recommendation. Consistently exceptional, it will certainly surprise you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

WWPR - M4 Read Through (Week 1), My Revision Process and Tips

After completing Draft One of M2 about three weeks ago, I was so fatigued. Mentally, I felt like I couldn't even write another page if I wanted to. Originally I thought I would send draft one as is to a CP after a read through so that she could just tell me everything that was wrong with it. But I realized just how lazy that was and if someone was going to read my story, I'd at least put my best foot forward.

So I took a mental break for two weeks (though at the time, I thought of giving myself a month to make sure I had some distance), but in the two weeks I binge read everything I could. And I found that the more you read and fill up your head, the more your own story recedes in the back of your mind, when you read for full on pleasure (and reviewing).

So after those two weeks of reading I came up with a timeline for the next month of revising for draft two:

Week 1: In-depth read through of manuscript from beginning to end.
Week 2: Revise beginning, based on notes.
Week 3: Revise middle, based on notes
Week 4: Revise ending, based on notes.
Week 5: Send to CP's and begin drafting query and synopsis.
***After receiving notes from CP's, do a third revision and send to betas. Revise query and synopsis accordingly.

At the end of week four, the revised draft, we'll call it 'M4v2,' will probably still contain sentence level issues (line-edits), but I hope by the end of it, the story will be nailed down and developed. If not, then CP's will be of much help!

My 'Read Through' Process:

I do exactly that. Read through the entire first draft. From the moment I typed 'The End,' I didn't allow myself to go back and make any changes, or even look at it.

So first and foremost. Print the damn thing.

Do not load on your kindle or read from the screen. Get back to the paper and pen and correct using the old school tools so you can make notes on the margins, add stuff between the lines, correct grammar, and note big picture stuff in your notebook. Printing it also gives you a visual of what you have accomplished.

As you go through it, organize your thoughts by highlighting and tabbing important details. I give myself a week just to read through because as you go, you are analyzing and thinking about how these words on the page stack up to what you want the story to accomplish. That's a lot of stuff to fill your head space so do it in a place you can concentrate. For me that was my home office in absolute silence. To assist you in your revision plan, take a look at mine in the next section.

My Read Through Tips for Revision:

Create a game plan. List what you are looking for. For me, it was three levels of stuff I was looking for: Big picture (the picture frame also known as the plot line), the structure (the subjects), and the details (the colors). To understand the three levels to look for, I correlate it by looking at a picture:
  • When you see a picture you, immediately see the picture frame, what's holding the picture together. That's your plot line, it needs to hold up otherwise the whole thing will fall apart. When analyzing books for review, I noticed that if the plot line is out of whack, and doesn't make sense, or isn't believable, then nothing else would. The frame or plotline is the skeleton that holds up the story.
  • The next thing you look at are the subjects or objects of a painting. These are your characters, the settings, themes, mood, tone, etc.
  • Then the thing that really makes the picture pop are the colors, or details. In writing, that's the writing style and prose.
Here's my own example:

When going through revisions you want to work from the outside in. Get the frame, then the subjects, and then the little details. So after my read through, my priority was the big picture and structure. The details will be an ongoing process throughout the whole revision/rewrite process.

Now that you have the game plan, implement it during your read through, marking and labeling it up, as you go. When you finish you will get a glimpse of the whole picture with notes to assist you during your round of revision.

For that I tabbed different threads by color, and major to-do's with post-its (big picture stuff). For structural stuff I used highlighters, color coding character descriptions, settings, important quotes, and significant details. Everything else I marked up in red pen (quick changes right in the page) or blue pen (questions for myself to think about for the next draft).

Below are some examples from my own manuscript. Remember that everyone's process is different. I find that I learn a lot about my own process when I read about other people's. So this is me just sharing ideas, too, and I'd love to hear yours in the comment box below!

Here's an example of when I use stickies: when things need to be moved or things that weren't fleshed out enough that I need to address in the next draft.

As you can see I highlight using a color code system and edit right on the page with notes and additional passages.

All the while, I tab my threads throughout using a color code system. By the end this is what I got. Just visually, I like how it's sprinkled through out and not concentrated in any one color or any one area (beginning, middle, or end). It's spread throughout which is a good balance.
Now I'll quickly skim through what I've done and build a to-do list along with my notes directly on the pages. This will act as my guide for the next round.

What I learned from my 'Read Through':

The way I've written M4, while also keeping myself accountable through my blog, has made a vast difference in the quality of my first draft. I always dub my first draft the 'vomit' draft, because it turns out so messy, so unclear, that I nix about 80% of it and keep 20%. By the time I hit the final draft. I have about 5% of my actual first draft still in there. This time, because I had a clear outline and I knew what the story was about and I knew my characters, I was more prepared to write, and therefore this first draft is by far my strongest first draft.

Of course I wasn't always so sure. The beginning actually needs a lot of work because I still hadn't figured out the kinks or knew the character's backstory's in detail, but as the story became clearer the more I wrote, so did the writing. Remember my dreaded middle I talked about in this post and this post? It actually turned out to be the best part of my story and doesn't need as much work as the beginning or ending. Who would have thought?

Another thing I learned was to shut off the negativity in my head. You know, that critical voice that always complains and says 'This sucks!' or 'Really, you think you can be a writer?' I kind of gave it the finger because I saw how much I've improved these past two years where I've dedicated myself to novel writing.

Now, the best part of the read-through? Connecting your 'themes.' Sometimes you sit down with a theme in mind, and sometimes you don't. But in the read through you see your themes fully realized. Their like hidden gems as you read, full of delight and just makes the story come together. It's like the subconscious knows how to weave it in and you just have to find it to see it. I didn't have a theme in mind, so when I saw it naturally through the pages, it kind of made my day.

Hopefully by looking into my process it gives you ideas into your own! Share your tips below in the comment box!

Happy writing/revising! Until next week for another WWPR (Weekly Writing Progress Report)!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dinosaurs and Rosé

This past Saturday Michael and I went to the Cinerama to see 'Jurassic World.' Though not very believable with mostly one-liners as opposed to dialogue, it was still very funny and entertaining. And of course, those shoes. Ha!

What I really like about the Cinerama in Seattle is all the local concessions. Food from local businesses! Score! Michael and I always do half chocolate and half butter popcorn. Not the healthiest, but man, so good! And with a cup of coffee, it was such a great way to spend the afternoon.

Afterwards we went to our favorite wine bar, Bottlehouse. Any time there, is always a good time. It's so great seeing the attentive staff who are all so knowledgeable. We ended up making a day out of it, sitting in the sun, eating charcuterie boards, drinking a whole bottle of Bandol rosé, and demolishing dessert.

I like the fact that Michael and I can talk for hours about anything: the end of the world, dreams, hopes, the future. Really, anything.

It's times like these where I count my blessings. Life isn't perfect and it's always difficult living away from my family, but I know I am fortunate than most. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when you're going through the motions of life, lost in your own routine, but the moments of pause and reflection should not be ignored. And I guess this post is just a reminder of that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review: Tangled Webs by Lee Bross

I rated it 3 out of 5 stars.

Overview: London, 1725. Everybody has a secret. Lady A will keep yours—for a price. This sumptuous, scandalous YA novel is wickedly addictive.

Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer in the city. With just a mask and a gown to disguise her, she sweeps into lavish balls and exclusive events collecting the most valuable currency in 1725 London—secrets.

But leading a double life isn't easy. By day Lady A is just a sixteen-year-old girl named Arista who lives in fear of her abusive master, Bones, and passes herself off as a boy to move safely through the squalor of London's slums. When Bones attempts to dispose of his pawn forever, Arista is rescued by the last person she expects: Jonathan Wild, the infamous Thief Taker General who moves seamlessly between the city's criminal underworld and its most elite upper circles. Arista partners with Wild on her own terms in the hopes of saving enough money to buy passage out of London.

Everything changes when she meets Graeden Sinclair, the son of a wealthy merchant. Grae has traveled the world, has seen the exotic lands Arista has longed to escape to her whole life, and he loves Arista for who she is—not for what she can do for him. Being with Grae gives something Arista something precious that she swore off long ago: hope. He has promised to help Arista escape the life of crime that has claimed her since she was a child. But can you ever truly escape the past?

Review: Big thanks to Disney Book group and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review! Tangled Webs is out today! Happy release day Bross!

This book had my interest at 'London,' from the blurb. I love this time period and historical YA novels. However, the historical element was lost on me. As a setting, it didn't really contribute to the story. Yeah, their were mentions of society and fashion, but what really makes a good historical fiction for me, is taking historical context and weaving it into the story. Unfortunately this book did neither.

All in all, it is well-written. The protagonist is someone you'd root for because she's caring, yet daring, and you get to know her past so that you understand why she's the way she is. The aspect of the double life was also interesting, but throughout the book I wanted a little bit more. I feel like the story line was like coasting. Kind of slow and the big moments not very realized to the reader because it took so long to get there.

Also, don't hold out for the romance, because it's instalove and not very grounded, and I didn't really care for the love interest that much. All in all, I had hoped that this was my kind of book from the blurb, but I think the blurb really set up some disappointment for me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Author Interview: Michelle Athy

For today's post, I'm so excited to welcome Michelle Athy to my blog to celebrate her release of Pearl: An Historical Novella.

To get you guys pumped, I've conducted an interview with Miss Athy below:

1. What was your inspiration for Pearl?

I've read a lot of Regency historical romance, but I was getting tired of reading the same types of heroines over and over again. I knew from movies like Amazing Grace that the late Georgian time period was full of action--the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, movements to free slaves. It was also a time of manners and societal rules, like in Jane Austen.

Being biracial, I had a "What if?" moment. What would it be like to be biracial in those times? So I came up with a mixed race family and plonked them down--white father, half-black daughter, white daughter (same father, different mother)--into Regency England. It was originally going to be a romance, then it turned into a historical fiction novel.

My fictional family, the Keegans, had a background story in Barbados, which was a major producer of sugar and a British colony. I moved the story back to the 1790s instead of Regency. In one scene, Mrs. Keegan, the free black common-law wife of Mr. Keegan, was leaving the house and her maid fixed a shawl over her shoulders. Mrs. Keegan said, "Thank you, Pearl." That's where the character first emerged.

2. What was your writing process like?

I was initially writing about the Keegan family as well as continually researching. I went through four drafts of the Keegans. A friend read the second draft, then a fellow writer read the third draft. Pearl the maid had appeared in the third draft and I really liked her character. She came in with a clear point of view and a clear goal--to find her long-lost brother. My beta reader singled her out and said, "She's really interesting. I'd love to read more about her!"

I queried The Keegans of Banner's Edge, more for the actual experience of querying rather than because I was expecting anything. But the idea of taking Pearl's subplot and making it into its own story came pretty quickly after I was done querying. I cut and pasted her scenes into a new document and filled in some missing spots and gave it an ending. Then I had a beta read it, revised it, found an amazing copyeditor, input her suggestions and corrections, and then it was ready.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn't want to expand Pearl's story by padding it. It felt pretty complete once I finished a draft. There isn't really a market for novellas in trade publishing and although the self-publishing market for historical fiction isn't as large as it is for fantasy or sci-fi or romance, I thought that self-publishing was a viable way to get Pearl out into the world.

4. What are your plans after Pearl?

I'm getting back into writing a novel I was working on, which is about a contemporary woman who finds out that she'd about to inherit a lot of money from a British noble family that she's descended from--the family is dying out. The other half of the story takes place in Victorian times and is about a young woman, Victoria, who is of that British noble family. Beyond that, I have vague ideas of another novella that I'll self-publish, but nothing definite yet.

5. From start to finish, how long did your journey take from conception to publication?

Let's see--from the time I decided to put Pearl into her own novella to the time I pressed "publish"--three months. From the time I started writing anything Keegan family-related to publishing Pearl: three or four years, according to my blog. I was writing other things along the way, though, as well as taking breaks, but it was a long ride. I think it took that long because it was my first time trying to write historical fiction and I was riddled with insecurity about if it was good or not a lot of the time.

6. What advice would you give other writers?

Whew. Well...I'd say stay true to your own road. Just because someone else is writing a trendier genre or getting more praise or has a more popular blog does not mean that you should do what that person is doing. A lot of writing good fiction, I find, is seeing what reads well to you. Also, keep learning about writing: join a group, join a forum, read some craft books. Keep reading, read all kinds of books!
About the Book:

Time to a slave only means endless work, but for Pearl, the last ten years have meant time without her younger brother Julius. He was sold away from Barbados, a little island of sugar cane and slavery, but Pearl is still there, the lady's maid to Mrs. Keegan.

After Mrs. Keegan dies, rumor has it that Mr. Keegan may return to his native England with his two children, which means Pearl will be sold for sure. Surprising herself, Pearl asks Mr. Keegan if he intends to sell her. To her shock, he says that yes, he'll return to England—but he's going to free her first. Pearl asks to be taken to England, too, with vain hopes that she'll uncover what's become of Julius—even if it means she'll remain enslaved.

Freed and employed as the Keegans' nanny, Pearl does not know how to begin looking for Julius or how to conduct herself as a free person in a new country. Her search leads to an unlikely alliance with Mr. Keegan, friendship with freed blacks, learning to read and write, and the choices to change her life, on her own terms.

About the Author:

Michelle Athy once threw herself around the living room, shouting the alphabet at the top of her lungs as a toddler. She began writing stories outside of school assignments at age 9, decided she wanted to be a writer at age 12, and earned a Certificate of Merit in the Barnard College/ CBS Woman I Admire Essay Contest in 2003.

She attended two sessions of the Columbia University Summer Writing Program for High School students and graduated from Emerson College in Boston, MA, in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and graduated with an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Michelle interned at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and W.W. Norton, among other places.

She began blogging in 2009 and hasn't stopped since. The Sunflower's Scribbles is mostly a writing blog, but also a book blog and a blog about outings and adventures and musings and rants...

Michelle is currently working on several writing projects, mostly in the realm of historical fiction. She is active on social media (the main homepage will tell you where) and also on the AbsoluteWrite Watercooler.

This is her Amazon profile. This is her Goodreads page.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.

Overview: Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Review: Dessen is the Queen of YA Contemporary. I remember being introduced to her books by my best friend at the time in high school. I was forever in love after that. The last few of Dessen's books haven't been my favorite. But the way Dessen writes, so readable but poignant with an engaging story filled with meaning, you can never really go wrong. With Saint Anything, Dessen really got her mojo back. A story about falling in love, being your own person, commitment to friendships, and a family healing. All good stuff to be found in a YA.

If you're looking for a good contemporary, this one is it. Though be prepared, you might be craving fries after reading this ;)

My only qualm with this book was the intro. Tons of backstory that I think could have been weaved in later on. But on the plus side, the contemplation of guilt and sense of loneliness really does hit you right off the bat that compels you to read.

Saint Anything definitely falls on the higher spectrum of my favorite Dessen books, but so far The Truth about Forever and Just Listen are still my favorites.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Faking Perfect by Rebecca Phillips

I rated this 2 out of 5 stars.

Overview:When Lexi Shaw seduced Oakfield High's resident bad boy Tyler Flynn at the beginning of senior year, he seemed perfectly okay with her rules:

1. Avoid her at school.
2. Keep his mouth shut about what they do together.
3. Never tease her about her friend (and unrequited crush) Ben.

Because with his integrity and values and golden boy looks, Ben can never find out about what she’s been doing behind closed doors with Tyler. Or that her mom’s too busy drinking and chasing losers to pay the bills. Or that Lexi’s dad hasn’t been a part of her life for the last thirteen years. But with Tyler suddenly breaking the rules, Ben asking her out, and her dad back in the picture, how long will she be able to go on faking perfect?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC in exchange of an honest review. Faking Perfect will be out on June 30th, 2015.

I really wanted to like this book and the blurb and opening chapter made me think I would. The following chapters, however, not so much. There was nothing wrong with the prose, or writing. The romance wasn't too heavy that it overshadowed the whole book and the pacing was fine. Rather the problems stemmed from lack of characterization. Yes, we feel sorry for Lexi but at the same time her character lacked depth. So though I may have felt sorry for her, I didn't really care about her.

Then the love interests. Ben, the perfect guy? Umm no, more like the shallow guy. I still don't know why Lexi has a thing for him. And then Tyler. I really wanted to root for this guy. But how can I when I hardly know him? His character wasn't fleshed out enough. Lack of characterization was what made my rating so low. Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but it makes it difficult to follow characters through a whole story when you don't really know them or like them. Because of that, the book was really hard to get through.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


It's been awhile since I've done a food/restaurant post. I hope you've already eaten, because I'm about to make you very hungry.

This past weekend Michael and I were invited to do a double date with our good friends at a new Ethan Stowell restaurant in Tangletown that recently opened called Mkt.

Mkt. is very small and intimate, serving Americana food. With an open kitchen with delicious smells wafting through the air and open windows for the summer breeze to come right in, giving out a casual vibe. You'd think the food would be just 'casual' too, but it was quite the opposite: classy and tasteful in a very good way.

We started the night with sparkling rose. Summer just equates to sparkling wine in my mind and it was delicious and went along with great conversation. We started off with Macrina Bakery baguette with olive tapenade and herb butter. For out first plate, we had the crispy fried quail with potato salad, and apple cider reduction.

Quail is always so yummy and delicate. It reminds me a lot of my childhood when my mom used to make quail. She doesn't make it too much now, and I for one wouldn't know where to get it, nor cook it! I will definitely put it on my try-to-cook list though. This quail, however, was one to remember, and certainly the best dish of the night.

Next we had the castelfranco salad with Spanish anchovy, smoked pecorini, and brioche breadcrumbs.

This salad had a ceaser-ish side to it, but with a hint of bitterness that lightened up the taste.

At our server's recommendation, we had stone-ground corn grits, with grilled porcini, bacon, crème fraiche, and sea beans.

Very decadent and savory tasting, but with a bright and acidic wine, it really hit the spot.

Then we had a grilled wagyu beef crusted with peppercorn, rosemary, fingerling potatoes, fried onions, and red wine sauce.

The red wine sauce added a depth to the steak and the fried onions were a nice touch texture-wise, making the dish very pleasurable to eat!

And what's a good meal without dessert? Chocolate terrine with salted caramel gelato. Need I say more? This was chocolatey, creamy, with a crunch of texture at the bottom. A version of heaven in dessert form!

If in the mood for Americana in Seattle, I'd happily recommend this place!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review: Spelled by Betsy Schow

I rated it 2 out of 5 stars.

Overview: Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.

Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Talk about unhappily ever after.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Review: Thank you NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

What a beautiful cover. So beautiful it deceived me.

A fairy-tale retelling with wit, it had so much potential. Unfortunately the main character reminded me of a bratty, spoiled, teenager, which really made it difficult for me to want to follow her, to the point where I didn't care if she got a happy ending. Her character just wasn't dynamic enough and the way it started out, I just couldn't be sympathetic to the girl. And though it was well written, it was sometimes difficult to picture exactly what was going on that some passages and scenes were a bit muddled. The descriptions and setting would then fall flat, which is unfortunate because I think it would have added to the story.

The overall tone was also a bit dramatic, outrageous, and over the top. At times it was too much for me that I felt like eye-rolling the page. Though some may have liked the puns and thought it was clever, I just found them kind of annoying and distracting as it didn't add to the story. Instead it acted like a reminder that this was a knockoff book or something.

Perhaps this type of book wasn't my cup of tea. But the fact that it lost steam after one third of the book, really confirmed my rating of 2 stars.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Vegas photos, a dose of nostalgia, and a poem.

I should've blogged about my sister weekend in Vegas, but life got busy, and whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right? So instead of bombarding you with pictures, I picked out my favorites (most from just the first night). If you're curious, we did XS Friday, Rehab pool party Saturday, Omnia that night, and Sunday was spent sinning with food.

Saw Zedd. Highlight of the trip!

My partner in crime.

After a few busy weeks, life is finally starting to slow down just in time for summer. Since I've been taking a break from writing after completing my first draft, I've had the time to finally watch Season Two of 'The Paradise' and if you can believe it, went through my entire e-mail box from college. I had 7,600 e-mails since I last checked it! I cleaned it up and started archiving old creative writing assignments and papers just because I think it'll come in handy for story ideas. Not to mention, just knowing I have that bulk of work really makes me elated at how I've evolved as a writer. It's just really amazing when you think about all the work it took to get that piece of parchment (degree). Lab reports, research papers, science papers, theoretical papers, critical essays, and creative assignments. I just love it. It's made me so nostalgic for school.

Funny how at the time I just wanted it to be over and done with and now I find myself wishing I could go back. Where has the time gone?

Stepping away from the cubicle the other day waiting in the Starbuck's line I jotted down a quick poem about it on my phone:

A strange longing
of hazelnut coffee cups and freshly mowed lawns.
Conversations at picnic tables
with minds that can read my own.
Pressed notebooks with ink stains.
Stacks of books with too many owners.

I feel brave, new, scared, but learning
with every page that I'm turning.

In the moment it feels like forever;
an impasse from reality,
but it is the reality I miss.
Along with the hazelnut coffee,
biking under arches of trees,
as the sunlight beams on me.

I know this place, I know them all,
even when I don't.
But a strange pull, and big dreams,
pull us all together.
That I wonder where we've all ended up.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

400th Blog Post: Reflections & the Growth of a Blogger

400. Wow. I cannot believe that this is my 400th post and that I am still blogging.

Growing up, I've gone through many blogs, but somehow this one stuck. And for a very, very, long time, I didn't know what 'kind' of blogger I was, but I guess it was always obvious that this was a writing/life blog, even when I didn't know it then.

My first post in February 17, 2012 was one of my favorite poems I'd ever written, Victim to Infinite Sleep. It was actually written in the Fall of 2009 when I was going through an awful breakup, losing my first love, and abused OTC sleep aids. When I posted it on my blog in 2012, it was simply a way for me to store my poems in one place.

In the Fall of 2011, I had changed my major to creative writing and I was actually pretty bad at it in the beginning. You can see from my short story "Butterfly" that I had written for an intro to Fiction class that I really sucked at tenses. I blame that on two straight years of lab and math classes that only require you to write in bullet points and equations. The forced dialogue and melodramatics definitely mark me as a rookie. Though I criticize myself, I also look back at it fondly and know that I can rewrite this and make it better. But for now, I like that it was a starting point in fiction and it's something I reread as a reference point. Compare that to my manuscripts now, I know I've come so far.

Then strangely, I had this weird idea of becoming a food blogger? Ha! Though my mint chocolate cookies were amazing, though! I'll have to make them again soon. Click here for the recipe. I'm glad that ship has sailed.

With occasional posts about reflections, and academia after, thus began me posting about anything really. Until I had this crazy idea to write a manuscript which became M1 and will probably stay shelved for a long while! Then in the Summer of 2013, lots of things happened: I graduated, fell in love, moved to Seattle, and began working which all contributed to my lack of blogging during this time. But by November I recommitted to blogging with this post and never stopped since. After completing two first drafts by the end of 2013, I finally started feeling like a writer and a blogger.

Fast forward to 2014 and now I've become confident in posting about my life, the places that I've been, awesome books, and delicious food adventures. I've made blogging friends in addition to real life ones, tried my hand at querying, and continued to always write despite the lulls in between.

This is my life as told in blog form. And despite the ups, downs, and turnarounds, I wouldn't have it any other way. Thank you for reading about my life and essentially becoming a part of it.

Cheers to 400 blog posts and so much more.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

I rated it 5 out of 5 stars.


Overview: If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

Review: A big thank you to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for giving me an ARC of Every Last Word in exchange for an honest review. Every Last Word is scheduled to be released on June 16th, 2015, and trust me, you'll want a copy.

Completely heartfelt, genuine, with a lot of substance, this is one of those YA novels that leaves you reflecting on your own views of life. With flawed yet likeable characters, you'll be immediately invested in them. You'll want to keep reading, because you'll love seeing these characters grow and come into their own. With a great cast, Stone makes this book completely relatable to anyone who's gone/going through a rough time and simply needed/needs safe place, by making this story that safe place for them.

Beautifully written with its tinges of poetry between the pages, Stone has structured this story so that the pace is perfect and the twist so surprising, yet well planted that you wonder how you missed it before. Add a touch of friendship, romance, and vulnerability, and you have a Contemporary YA that needs to be read. This is one of those YA books that I wish I had during my high school years. And as full adult now, I'm still able to get value out of it. So come June 16th, get this book in your hands or add this to your TBR list.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: The Wrong Man by Kate White

I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.

Overview: New York Times bestselling author of Eyes on You and The Sixes delivers a compelling thriller of mistaken identity and psychological suspense about an accomplished career woman who thinks she's met the man of her dreams--but instead he turns out to be her worst nightmare.

Bold and adventurous in her work as one of Manhattan's hottest interior decorators, Kit Finn couldn't be tamer in her personal life. So, while on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. Flirting with Matt Healy--the rugged stranger she literally bumps into at her hotel--is one thing. Going back to his room after their date is another.

Instead, Matt offers to cook her dinner when they're both back in the city. But when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready for the date of a lifetime, who is the man who opens the door?

Kit's usually so good at reading people. How could she have been taken in by the deceptions of a con man? And why has he targeted her? Piece by piece, Kit realizes that this treachery goes a lot deeper, and gets a lot deadlier. Now the only way out is to expose the vicious puppet master who's turned her life upside-down.

Adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn, The Wrong Man will leave readers guessing until the final page.

Review: Big thanks to Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and friend, Karla Gomez for giving me an ARC for The Wrong Man, expected to hit the shelves on June16th, 2015! If you're into romantic suspense, thrillers, and mysteries, then this is one you'll want to tuck into your bag and read any chance you get. Nicely paced and polished, with clever twists and turns, this book will keep you engaged from start to finish.

With a likeable main character, Kit, who isn't the type to take things laying down, you'll be at the edge of your seat as you go along her real-life nightmare situation she finds herself in. Add in the minor characters and the cast is both intriguing and interesting. With a carefully devised plot, you won't be disappointed. This is the perfect escapist read for the summer. And come on, aren't you dying to know who the one night stand is? Because I sure was!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Weekly Writing Progress Report - M4 Week 7

The end of week seven... and I hit all my goals! That's right, I'm done with the first draft of M4! If writing is 10% drafting and 90% Revising/Editing, then I am so ready, because revising is where the story really lifts off the page.

But before revising, I need a break. Like a serious book binge while my story stews some more. Good thing I have some lovely ARC's loaded up on my Kindle!

Now onto the stats!

Week 7
Project - M4 YA Fantasy
First Draft

Word count this week: 11,987
Word count total: 74,134

This week in writing:

So... tired.... That's literally how I felt all week. Remember my sister weekend trip I've mentioned, but haven't blogged about (I know, need to do that soon!)? Returning from it and getting back into daily life was fatiguing. I'm also currently at the end tail of the busy season at work, so that also contributed to my exhaustion. But despite all of that I had to finish this draft. I had to meet my goals. After shelving M3, I refused to let the trend of shelving projects continue. I needed to break the habit, and I know deep down that this story really has something. So I pushed through it and got to work, and lo and behold at 12:17 p.m. on Saturday I tapped out these two words I've been waiting so long to write: The End.

Then I proceeded to jump around my home office shaking my tail feather while my cat and boyfriend gave me funny looks :P

Draft One Summary - Goals:

  • I made the goal of a 70,000 word count draft in seven weeks. 
    • I achieved that and more at 74,134 words in exactly seven weeks! This is now my personal record for drafting, my standard is 8-9 weeks for first drafts.
  • Aim for about 10,000 words weekly.
    • Definitely made that ;)
  • Do not go back and revise chapters--write it completely, tack 'The End' when I get there, then leave it to stew a bit before revising.
    • I didn't go back and revise, which was big for me. I ended up putting one word in front of the other and I eventually got there.
To see more about my goals and the beginning of this draft. Check out week one here.

What drafting M4 taught me:

  • After drafting multiple times with different projects (complete and incomplete), no process has ever been the same. I guess I'm still at that stage where I am trying to find out what works for me. One thing that this draft taught me was to take it one chunk at a time, wether that was one chapter, 1,400 words a day, or simply taking one line at a time.
  • You can't be a writer, unless you're an avid reader. For the duration of this draft, I've been constantly reading as I write. In these seven weeks of writing, I've read six books. More than I normally do when I'm writing/revising, and I must say, it's made me a more productive writer. By reading, I'm keeping my mind engaged with words, feeding off other people's stories, which gives me a sense of energy and encouragement for my own writing. Also, reading other people's work gives me an opportunity to learn more about story structure. Stephen King said in his memoir, On writing“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
  • Write for the right reasons. Don't force yourself to write for the sake of recognition or publication. Write because you love it. Write because you need to. Write because it's your way of life. Write because you want to touch other people's lives with your stories. When you're writing for the right reasons, the words will come. Just show up and work. Don't wait for inspiration, because sometimes we can't rely on a muse to make it happen. 
  • No matter how much you've written, no matter how many manuscripts you've completed, no matter how many novels you've published, there's always room for growth. There's always room for learning.
  • Pursue your dreams. You want to be a writer? Me too. But wanting gets you nowhere. Doing, does. Actively pursue your dreams. Write a little bit. Write a lot. Take a break. Read some more. Enjoy life. Learn all you can, and just keep going. Because trying is better than quitting. And maybe trying will be just enough for our dreams and reality to collide. 
  • Believe in yourself. So cheesy, I know, but doubt is one m***** f***** and will mess with your mind and keep you up at night. My best defense, believing in myself and knowing that I am capable of more. Because if we don't believe in ourselves, how do we expect other people too? Lucky for me I have a wonderful support system who believe in me more than I do. Anytime my 'believe' tank is empty. They're always there to fill me up. 
  • I may not have the authority to give advice on the matter, considering I'm only an aspiring writer, but I learn so much from other bloggers, writers, and dreamers, so this is me giving back with some encouraging words. And perhaps documenting my progress and my journey will inspire you to do so too. And if your 'belief' tank is empty, shoot a message my way, because we've all been through it and sometimes we just need someone to talk it through with.
In the meantime, I'll be taking a little break from M4, and then it's time for revisions. And once I do, you know these Weekly Writing Progress Reports will be back :)

Happy Writing Everyone!
<3, Michelle

My 'Hell yeah I finished' smirk.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I rated it 5 out of 5 stars.

Overview: Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Review: I rated this as 5, because as a teenager, I knew I would have loved the book. And as an adult, the fact that I can still love it warrants the high score.

In a nutshell this book is sweet, charming, light-hearted, and very cute. It's like teddy bears and chocolate chip cookies, truffles and unicorns cute. Not sure if I'm getting the point across correctly, but you know what I mean, right? It's first love cute, which is exactly what it is.

I actually liked this sequel better than the first book. Han was still able to get the plot line going, and familiarity of the characters was welcoming. Her characters are vivid with their own personalities and the scenes remind me of my own time in high school rendering her main character's point of view relatable. The whole cast was realistic and the roller coaster ride of the relationship and insecurities that go along with it was done very convincingly.

The prose is not magnificent, and setting not very memorable, but what is memorable is the nostalgia that comes along with it. Whether it's pigging out on ice cream sandwiches with friends, digging up time capsules, playing tag, and making Valentine's. It takes me down my own memory lane. Jenny Hans knows young adults, and she is specifically writing for them. For that I applaud her.

Also bonus points for adding some culture and adding in some dialogue about feminism and beautiful talk about not needing a man to fulfill you. Good points to have there for young girls!

If you haven't started the duology, check out my review on To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

IWSG: Distance

Hi All--

Last month I wrote about high anxiety and I'm happy to report that I am doing much better. Within the month I've been really focusing on drafting project M4 in seven weeks, with this week being the seventh! Almost done! I have high hopes for this story and I'm really hoping that it's 'the one.' The one with enough hook, the one with enough complexity, the one with enough heart that will capture an agent's eyes (after extensive revisions of course). But at the same time I have so much doubt within in, that I wonder if I'm just pumping myself up for no good. Because maybe this isn't 'the one.' Maybe it won't be enough.

I know I should take it one day at a time. One word at a time. One paragraph at a time. One page at a time. But then my mind wanders though I know I should be patient, but all I'm thinking about is the distance. The distance between now and where I want to be, and it drives me crazy!

Will I ever get there? How long will it take? Am I doing enough? Am I up to par with the competition? Cue nonstop questions that give me heart palpitations.

Am I insane for thinking I can do this?

I go back and forth constantly. I'm determined, but at the same time I'm tired. I treat writing like a second job and sometimes I'd just like that one job that gives me some cash flow and more freedom to write, aka the dream job.

But there's a difference between dreaming and doing, and I find myself doing both. How do you guys keep your sanity at times like this? Comment below.

This post is in participation of an amazing writers support group started by the just amazing Alex J. Cavanaugh, making writing a little less lonely and filled with encouragement. Thanks also goes to this month's co-hosts: M. Pax, Tracy Jo, Patricia Lynne, Rachna Chhabria, Feather Stone, and Randi Lee