Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bye, Bye, July

"That beautiful season the Summer!
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light;
And the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood."

 -  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Isn't this true? Summer brings out the freshness of childhood for me. Fresh peaches. Sparklers and fireworks. A lazy day by the pool or on the beach. Long days. Long walks. Thunderstorms and humidity. Drizzles and rainbows. Fireflies and staring at clouds.

I always feel a bit sad on the last day of July. We have one month left of summer, and this year the weather was erratic. We had twenty-one days in a row of rain. Last Sunday the newscasters talked of record lows in our area. When it is hot, it's out-of-control humid, and we get severe storms. But you know what? It's still summer! I'll take it. :)

Is July one of your favorite or least favorite months? Why?

Hope you enjoy the final hours of July!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Gearing Up for VBS!

This week I have the privilege of leading a group of preschoolers at our church's vacation Bible school. When I was young, VBS was always a highlight of summer. I loved singing fun songs, snacking on cookies, and making crafts. My mom usually volunteered, and I would see my friends from Sunday school.

It's been a few years since I've taught VBS, so I had to dust off all the tricks I've learned from various teaching gigs. One thing I'm very grateful for--my classroom helper, my own daughter!

A successful week depends on a number of things.

* Preparing a variety of ten minute activities appropriate for ages four to six.

Our church is using a block-style, rotation schedule, but the youngest kids will be done with the "singing" block well before the allotted twenty-five minutes. It's my job to keep them occupied. :)

    a. 2-3 songs with actions, like "This Little Light of Mine"
    b. Foam sticker projects
    c. Washable markers and paper animals to color
    d. Stickers
    e. Coloring Sheets
    f. A few games geared around the theme, Go Tell It On the Mountain


* Having a relaxed attitude. 

My goal is for the children to learn about God in a fun environment. Aren't we trying to create happy memories? The kids aren't only hearing the lessons, they are watching our actions. Let's let our lights shine!

* Prayer.

Children are precious to me. I pray for them to be saved, to have good home lives, and to let God's love see them through each day.

* Rest.

The exciting week always, always exhausts me! I will be taking naps and taking it easy.

Did you go to VBS as a child? What are your best memories?

Have a terrific day!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Discussing Plot: Complication or Situation?

For the next couple weeks, I'm doing one of my favorite things--studying books on the writing craft! Woo-hoo!

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing was put together by the editors of Writer's Digest. Featuring seventy-seven essays on writing, this book appeals to my need for bite-size lessons. Gail Gaymer Martin wrote chapter forty-three, "What is Christian Romance?" Needless to say, I have an author crush on Gail!

Anyway, I recently read Monica Wood's excellent chapter, "The Plot Thickens," where she discusses complications in a novel. She explains that many newer writers mistake a situation for a complication. For instance, a bomb destroying a building our heroine just exited sounds like a complication, right? If the character runs to her car, drives to her boyfriend's house, and continues living her life with little consequence, the bomb was merely part of a situation.

Ms. Wood explains, "A good complication puts emotional pressure on a character, prompting that character not only to act, but to act with purpose."

Sometimes we come up with a great problem to throw at our characters, like the bomb above, but we fail to fully capitalize on it. We settle for letting the heroine escape with a racing heart rather than giving her a reason to act.

After I write a scene, I immediately take fifteen minutes to review it and ask a few questions.

- Did the viewpoint character learn anything in this scene?
- Did the scene answer a question? If yes, is a new question presented?
- How did the viewpoint character grow? If she didn't grow, did she regress?
- How did this scene move the plot forward?

I almost always find a way to bring the scene to a new level by doing this. It doesn't always take much to take a "good" scene to a "compelling" scene.

The questions go back to the dilemma of situation or complication. Sometimes we think we've written a complication, but when we analyze the writing, we haven't pushed our characters enough. We've either made the situation too tidy or we've ignored a potential complication in order to push our own plot agenda.

How do you turn situations into complications for your characters? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Royal Baby and Downton Abbey

I love babies. I also love Regency period romance novels and British accents.The term "fish and chips" makes me hungry. Do I long to someday tour London? Yep. Am I overly enamored with the royals? Uh-huh. Congratulations, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on your new baby boy!

The royal baby would have gotten major press regardless, but I think the success of Downton Abbey brought the fevered "royal pregnancy watch" to a new level. There's nostalgia for a time when Britain was the world's only superpower. We wonder what it would have been like to be born in one of the wealthy aristocratic families, with maids and servants and parties and wardrobes. Even the emerging middle-class often had a servant or maid to help with daily tasks. Of course, not many of us fantasize about being born poor and having to slave away for eighteen hours a day with a few hours off every couple weeks. I know I don't!

While Downton Abbey gives us a fun peek into fictional lives, the British Monarchy provides a real link to a long gone era. Tradition abounds. William and Kate don't flaunt the rules--they were married in a church, Westminster Abbey to be precise. They follow protocol, and we love them for it! Even the birth announcement for the new baby clung to tradition by being displayed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. Proving the royals aren't stuffy, the announcement also went worldwide through Twitter.

A little old. A little new. Kind of like the time period of Downton Abbey. Everything is changing, and it's fun to watch the characters cling to the old while trying the new.

Did you follow the "royal baby watch"? Why or why not?

Have a lovely Wednesday!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Another Guilty Pleasure: Writers' Workspaces

InStyle magazine originally featured two celebrity homes in each new issue. I subscribed for years just to see these rooms. It's not that I don't like fashion and makeup, but the real draw was the peek into stars' lives. Somewhere along the way, InStyle changed, and now it only sporadically shares celebrity rooms, which explains why I rarely purchase the mag. Bummer.

What hasn't changed? My gravitation to photographs of how other people live. I was so excited to find The UK's online publication, The Guardian, has a terrific segment archived under "Culture," "Books," and  "Writer's Rooms." Skim through dozens of writers who share pictures and essays of their offices. Prepare to get addicted!

Gillian Slovo's office grabbed me. You can see it here, "Writer's Rooms: Gillian Slovo." The sheer volume of desk area made me salivate!

What I love about the office? (Click on the above link to see the photo.)

Compact. Two windows with transoms above. The view appears to be the neighbor's brick wall, but a cute little gate is visible too. An enormous bulletin board is within easy reach of the chair, and it's filled with pictures. Bookshelves line the walls. Cute knickknacks reflect the author's whimsical side.

The room obviously functions well, as evidenced by the filing cabinets, printer, and office supplies in easy reach. It's like a perfect little cave of creativity. I could write in this space!

This summer I'm taking a cue from teachers and putting new art on my bulletin board. I'm rearranging my pictures and knickknacks. It's up to us to create an inviting workspace!

Are you fascinated with other writers' workspaces? Describe your ideal office!

Have a fantastic Monday!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Been Writing a While? Keep the Details Fresh

Last year, I noticed a wart on my latest work-in-progress. The scene seemed fine, but something was off. I stepped away. Analyzed. And it hit me. I'd written a similar situation in one of my previous books.

Oh no! I'm not only repeating words and phrases--I'm repeating actual plots too? Get the smelling salts!!

Once I recognized the issue, it didn't take much to fix it. A few hours of brainstorming led me to a different plot twist, one I hadn't used before.

Apparently repetition comes in many forms.

Recently I shared my latest book with a critique partner. She pointed out a repeat technique that I'd been relying on and, unfortunately, unaware of. Thank goodness for extra eyes! It forced me to find better, more creative ways to deepen the point of view.

Another trap I fall into time and again is using the same old action beats. It's not easy (for me!) to come up with fresh "movement" with dialogue. Sometimes my brain skips these tired phrases when I'm revising, so I've had to add another layer to my revising process--printing the book out single-spaced in a different font. Not much gets by me with that method!

As my writing develops, I find I have to be diligent about coming up with new plot twists, better descriptions, deeper character development, and unique characters. Anyone who has been writing a while strives to keep the details fresh.


Ways to Keep the Details Fresh in Your Manuscript

1. Ask yourself if the plot feels familiar? Why? Why not?

2. Work hard to avoid needless word repetitions. Find/Replace is your friend. Use it.

3. Challenge yourself to introduce new-to-you situations in your work-in-progress.

Chances are, these new situations will create problems for your characters too. For instance, I write contemporary romance. The external conflicts are usually related to the characters' jobs or personal lives. One way to "spice" it up, is to stay on top of current events and add a subplot based on one.

Think about it. Natural disasters continue to increase in frequency. Droughts or heavy rains devastate areas. Recessions dampen dreams throughout the country. Foreign adoption rules change all the time. Some countries are dangerous for missionaries or even travelers. Any of these could trigger a problem and subplot for the characters.

4. Picture the scene in your head to come up with better action beats.

This is a weak area of mine. I have to work hard when it comes to movement within a scene.

5. Keep a mental (or written) log of the sensory details you typically share. Are your scents, tastes, and descriptions tired, overdone? Come up with new ones!

The longer I write, the more I realize writing isn't something to conquer. I will never say: I made it! My first draft is a masterpiece! My manuscripts will always need multiple revisions. It's my process. It's how I take my draft from "cute idea" to solid book.

Writing is something we can always improve. Each new book provides another opportunity to pay careful attention to our craft.

How do you keep the details fresh?

Have a fabulous weekend!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Overdone Pins in My Pinterest Feed

Lately I haven't been as engaged on Pinterest, and I took forty-seven seconds to figure out why. Is it the layout? No. I like that I can scroll down forever. It's the trends in my feed.

My Pinterest feed has become saturated with DIY project pictures leading back to blogs. Some of these are cool, and I click through. But there can be too much of a good thing. :)

I miss simple pictures. Where did the untouched photographs go? And what if I just want to waste some time and not take on a major project? Pinterest has begun to make me feel inadequate--as if I need more of that in my life! Ha!


*The trends on MY Pinterest feed aren't the same as the ones on yours because we don't follow the same people.*

My feed is full of pins that trigger the following:

a. A fleeting desire to create closet organizers out of PVC piping

b. The urge to find out the Six Tricks to a Flat Stomach

c. A scrunched up nose at How to Make Fondant

d. Annoyance at anything having to do with wooden pallets

e. Guilt that I didn't announce my pregnancies with elaborate, staged photo sessions

f. Despair about the super-cute clothes either completely unaffordable or beyond wrong for my body

g. Dismay at even thinking of painting any piece of my furniture. Apparently this is only to be attempted by master furniture gurus. We're talking high-level security, sirens-will-go-off if you dare consider painting an end-table.

h. Squinty-eyes wondering why anyone would take a beautiful photo and manipulate the colors to such unnatural proportions. What was wrong with it to begin with?

i. The snarky thought: How long will the gluten-free phase last? Six more months? Twelve?

j. Why are we thinking about back-to-school organization in mid-July? I don't like to think of that until two days before school is in session. Or two days after.

I love Pinterest. Still waste plenty of time there. But I will not be making furniture out of pallets, nor will I be attempting homemade fondant or jewelry organizers. I might skim the flat-tummy article, but I will in no way, shape, or form actually do the exercises. Painting furniture? Will a secret security sect strike me dead if I don't follow the proper tips? I'll leave it to the professionals.

Are you on Pinterest? What pins grab you? What would you like to see less of?

Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Lessons from Frisbee Golf

My son and I needed something to do over Easter break, and we were so tired of being stuck inside that we didn't care the temperature was 49 degrees. We bought discs, headed to the nearest frisbee golf course, and had a blast!

June brought tons of rain--plus I barely left the house due to my writing schedule--so last Friday, my son and I gladly took advantage of the sunny weather to play another round. Again, we loved it. This time we tried different throwing techniques. My son excels at the overhand throw, while my underhand roll helped get the disc farther. It reminded me of my evolution with writing.

When I first started writing, I simply fired up the computer and wrote. I wasn't worried about word counts or pre-writing or grammar. It was about getting a story down on paper. The same with frisbee golf--I didn't worry about proper technique--I simply threw the disc and hoped it would eventually make it into the chains!

As my writing progressed, I tried various plotting methods, studied grammar, and paid attention to my word count. I wanted to not just write a book--I wanted to write a good book. With frisbee golf, I wanted to make it in the basket with fewer attempts. This meant using different grips, paying attention to the wind direction, and focusing before throwing.

My son is far, far better at this game than I am. But why compare? I can only work on my own game. Writing is the same way. Why worry about other authors? I can only improve my own writing.

At the end of the day, if we want to get better at something, we have to focus, be willing to accept that our first way might not be the best method, try different approaches, and put the blinders on to the other players. And we have to practice, practice, practice!

Have you tried a new activity lately? If yes, did you enjoy it? If no, why not?

Have a wonderful Monday!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Still Haven't Hung the Curtains

Time for a quick update on my bedroom curtain situation. Back on April 29, 2013, I shared the sad saga of my latest decorating failure in "How Long Will it Take Me to Hang These Curtains?"

It is now July 12, 2013, and I DID attempt to get those curtains hung. We purchased super cheap curtain rods--I'm talking five bucks a piece!!--unfurled the curtains and installed one pair. Unfortunately, the rods didn't extend over our current mini-blinds.

The result? Yikes. Picture bunched-up curtains trying to jump over a thick bar. *shivers*

So my hubby took down the rod, and I returned all three of them to the store. Yes, in hindsight it would have made sense for me to purchase new, appropriate rods right then. But...I was lazy. And frugal. Do you know how much the good ones cost? I'm tempted to throw a broomstick on a meat hook and call it good.

That being said, I love the curtains. I look forward to seeing them frame my windows. Someday. :)


Let's hear it. What project still lingers unfinished at your house?

Have an awesome weekend!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing Goals: The Summer Push

January and September are my ideal months for setting writing goals, but July? The only goals I can wrap my head around involve ice-cream and sleep!

I recently put the final polish on another book, and the last thing I want to think about is setting an aggressive writing goal. However, a few mini-goals will rejuvenate my creativity between now and fall.

If you're considering setting a short-term, summer writing goal, try the following steps.

1. Determine your commitment level.

Many of my friends are attending ACFW's annual conference mid-September. This automatically raises the commitment level. Aim for a higher goal if you have a concrete deadline and reason to meet the goal. If you've recently wrapped an intense project and don't have deadlines looming, your commitment level should be lower.

2. Be honest about the time you can reasonably spend.

Sure, we can say we'll spend one hour every night and four hours each Saturday morning working on our book, but summer has a way of subtracting hours we thought were available. Mid-week picnics, baby showers, weddings, impromptu tickets to a ball game--there is nothing wrong with enjoying these! Just check your planner BEFORE you set the goal. And, please, don't eliminate the little things that bring so much joy, like watching the sun go down from your deck.

3. Determine what one goal would rock your world if you accomplished it this summer.

Maybe you've been writing the final ten-thousand words of your manuscript for six months. Or you just can't bring yourself to start revising the book you finished drafting last winter. It could be social media--you've been meaning to set up a blog or a Facebook page, but something holds you back. Now is a great time to move past your roadblocks and get going. Build momentum now and you'll be flying when the weather cools.

4. Creativity is like exercise. You don't have to go full throttle every minute, but you do have to keep moving.

Small kids at home forcing you to set your manuscript aside for the time being? Vacations eating into every free moment? Make goals to read, journal, explore--anything related to writing.

My summer writing goals?
- Catch up on reading (Reading great fiction improves my writing.)
- Study one new writing craft book
- Brainstorm story ideas
- Free-writing (I rarely free-write when I'm working on a book.)

If you're a writer, do you set summer goals? What project can you push for the next two months?

Have a great day!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Karen Barnett's Summer Tradition and a Giveaway!

I'm so excited to have Karen Barnett on the blog today! Karen and I met last year at ACFW's annual conference. I looked forward to meeting her because we'd connected online AND we share the same fabulous agent! She's just as warm, friendly, and fun in person as she is online. A Genesis finalist last year, Karen also sold her first book!

Her debut novel, Mistaken, is also set along the Washington shoreline. In 1926 Port Angeles, Laurie Burke needs help to put an end to her brother’s rumrunning schemes. Is his best friend, pharmacist Daniel Shepherd, also involved? When Laurie becomes interested in the visiting federal agent, Samuel Brown, she must decide which man--if any--is worthy of her trust.

Karen graciously agreed to share her favorite summer tradition with us today. Welcome, Karen!!

When I was growing up, my family didn’t take expensive vacations. But we did look forward to occasional visits to a friend’s beach house on Hartstene Island. About 1 ½ hours from our home in Tacoma, this island in the Puget Sound was the perfect retreat for beachcombing, barbecuing, bicycling, and nature walks. We swam in the little community pool and fished from the dock. We always arrived home exhausted, covered with sunburns and bug-bites, and lugging treasured collections of shells, pretty rocks, and priceless memories.

For my kids, vacations have been a little different. We pinched pennies and managed a couple big trips—cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean, and a few days at Disneyworld. They were fantastic, but I worried my children would grow up believing vacations should include gourmet meals, snorkeling, formal nights, and cruise staff waiting to serve their every need.

I longed to share my childhood retreat with them, but had they been spoiled for this sort of trip? No white-sand tropical beaches? No broadway-style shows? No costumed character breakfasts?

A couple of years ago we decided to try it. We packed the car and drove north to Washington. The island seemed frozen in time—nothing had changed. We collected sand dollars, broken shells, and smelly dead crab claws. We played on the rope swing and skipped rocks over the waves. We roasted marshmallows and feasted on hot dogs. The kids each caught their first fish. We walked the trails under the giant trees and marveled over spotted fawns nestled in the ferns.

A few years have passed now and we’re long overdue for another family outing. The other night, I chatted with my 11-year-old daughter about it. “So what do you think? Where would you like to travel?” She grinned big. “What about that Hartstene place Mom? Could we go there?”

And my heart smiled.

Mistaken ~
Since booze and prohibition have made criminals out of every man in her world, Laurie Burke resolves to find at least one honorable man to fill her life. Convinced that handsome newcomer Daniel Shepherd is connected with her brother’s rum-running gang, Laurie quickly scratches his name off her list. 
 Daniel has mixed feelings about returning to the dirty mill town of his youth, but grudgingly agrees to manage his grandfather’s drug store until a replacement can be found. The moment he meets Laurie on the windswept bluff overlooking the beach, he knows that if he can earn her love, he might have a reason to stay. But when Laurie pushes him away--for none other than Federal Agent Samuel Brown--Daniel wonders if Laurie really is the upstanding woman he thought her to be. 

 The Strait of Juan de Fuca, just off the beaches of Port Angeles, Washington, was treacherous water for reckless rumrunners—and the agents who tried to catch them. So when she realizes her brother is in danger, romance is the last thing on Laurie's mind. Yet the people she believes she can trust, may not be so honorable after all.


Karen Barnett lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband, two kids, three cats, and an attention-starved dachshund (who believes lap-top computers were invented by someone who hated lapdogs).


Thank you SO much, Karen, for being my guest today!

Karen has graciously offered to give away a copy of Mistaken to one lucky blog commenter! Just leave your e-mail addy (ex: jill(at)jillkemerer(dot)com) in a comment below to be entered. **Must be 18 years or older and only open to residents of USA.** I'll toss all the entries in a hat and pull the winner out. Winner will be notified by e-mail. Contest open until midnight, Wednesday, July 10.
What family vacations or summer traditions do you remember most fondly? What childhood experiences do you wish you could share with your kids?
Have a terrific Monday!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Flashback Friday

Normally, I post a new vlog on the first Friday of the month, but it's a holiday weekend. I'm basting ribs, cutting up cantaloupe, walking my energetic wiener-dog. The vlog will have to wait. :)

Here's a flashback from last July where I discussed my late grandmother's phrases.

"Grandma-ism's with Jill Kemerer"

(Could YouTube select a more unflattering snapshot to start the video? I don't think so...)

Have a terrific weekend!!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's Almost Independence Day!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July! Whoop! Whoop!

What are you doing (my American friends) for the Fourth of July?

Have fun!!

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Small, Weed-Free Garden

This April, I ripped up a long strip of grass behind our house. The two-and-a-half feet wide area could have extended another foot in width, but with our clay soil, working up ground is difficult! Although we try to do things organically whenever possible, my hubby and I agreed to one round of weed-killer a full month before planting.

Three weeks later,  I spent hours breaking up the clods and clumps of grass before smoothing the surface with a rake. Then I mixed potting soil, organic fertilizer, and mulch together and worked it in with the existing dirt. We were ready to plant!

Over Memorial Day weekend, I planted zucchini's, cucumbers, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, basil, and tomatoes. A few marigolds help repel garden-eating bugs.

We weren't sure how the vegetables would respond to the soil and the location. So far, they're thriving. The garden took up little room, allowing me to mulch the entire thing. In one month I've picked three stalks of grass and one weed. Obviously the weed killer in early April made the biggest difference, but the mulch helps tremendously. Next year we'll skip the initial weed killer. I'm sure I'll be pulling more weeds.

Here are pictures from the day I planted them. (We also arranged potted flowers.)

Zucchini and cucumber plants in the corner of our garden.

Basil and pepper plants.

Here are pictures I took over the weekend (four weeks later).

Jalapenos will be ready soon!

The "little" zucchini plants in the corner grew quickly!

Love how full the potted arrangement became. :)

We've had a LOT of rain this summer. I saw these cute little mushrooms popping up and had to take  a picture. :)
Gardening can be a lot of work, but I've done very little out there in the last month. It's so fun watching all the plants and blossoms grow. We have three zucchinis almost ready to pick. The tomato plants are huge,  but it will be a while before we get any of those.
Do you garden? What are your secrets? If not, consider a small garden like ours--it's been fun and easy! 
Have a wonderful day!