Monthly Archives: July 2013

Writing Day

No real post from me today until this evening. I have 11 hours to write a complete short story that I will send to FedEx for printing. It will then be distributed to everyone in bootcamp. Scary (but exciting) stuff. So…yesterday’s recap will come later this evening probably.

BUT, this week there was a Writing Assistant Monday that’s one of my favorites that pretty much no one saw according to the wordpress stats (probably because it was drowned in all my writing about Utah adventures) , so you should go check that out. Here’s the link (or you could just scroll down the page).

See ya on the other side of a short story!

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Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp: Day 1

Exhaustion. Elation. Yesterday was amazing, though long. I have no idea how Card, who is not a young man, can do these sorts of days. All I had to do was sit, taking notes and my butt and hand were killing me by lunchtime.

We started easily enough, talking about naming characters and working through Conflict vs. Struggle, how the “hook” of a story is a lie and really all you need in a really good story is a Reason to Care.

We also covered Viewpoint (which I was fairly confident in– thanks to Mrs. Mattson’s AP English a million years ago!) and Causality in stories, which has already been helpful with the assignments we’ve tackled so far. Because yes even though it’s the first day, we’ve already had assignments. 

There are 4 questions to Causality:

Why? (the mechanical reason)

Why? (the motive)

What result?


And then, because nothing has just one cause: Else? (Why else? How else? What else?)

Finally we went over the different structures of fiction, what he calls MICE: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event. I’m not going to go into detail on most of this, cuz it’s in his book Characters and Viewpoint, or if you’re really interested and really impatient, you can google it. LOTS of other people on the interwebs have talked about all of this stuff. MICE in particular is popular, as it’s basically just 4 different ways to structure your story. A good jumping off point if you’re unsure where to go and/or where to stop.

For some reason, though I get all of them and could identify a story in a minute, I had a REALLY HARD TIME using it for myself. Which is disappointing because our assignment last evening was to, using only these 5 cards, write down a full and complete story idea– The Promise and The Fulfillment (or the beginning & ending).

Is there anything worse than blank cards staring at you in the face?

Is there anything more terrifying than a blank page…or 5 mini blank pages…?

How we got to those story ideas could be a whole blog post in and of itself, but since I’m trying to quickly summarize the entire 10-hour+ day, here we go:

To come up with the story ideas we were partnered up, those of us without cars together with people who had transportation. Orem is not what you would call a walking-friendly city and we needed to go out and about.

Two of our cards were based on research from the library, two cards from general everyday observations, and one card based on an interview with a complete stranger. Janae, my super sweet partner (and driver!), and I headed to the mall to talk to random strangers for interviews. It was the part of the assignment I dreaded the most, so I was glad she suggested tackling it first.

We met the most adorable young, just newly engaged couple and had a totally unique and unexpected conversation. It was deep and meaningful and we were sitting across from a Macy’s having it. Surreal.

After getting back to the hotel I ate some dinner, chatted with Kyle for a brief moment and got to work expecting it to take me a couple hours. It took 5.5. Four and a half I accomplished Monday night and 1 hour this morning.

But I got it done. And I got some sleep.


And I’m not entirely sure I even did the assignment right, but I have these full little cards and that’s something. (There’s stuff on the back too!)

Most importantly though: I’m happy. In general, I enjoy work. I especially enjoy work that I love and working towards a tangible goal. I’m doing both and I am so happy.

OSC goes on a lot of tangents, which are generally refreshing and entertaining. My favorite was when he said the Daleks (from Dr. Who) were a ridiculous villain and plotline and should be eliminated from the series. I very nearly stood up and cheered for. I’ve hated those rolling salt and pepper shakers ever since the first episode I saw them in.

Also, one last note: Weirdest part of the day was when I sat down across from Jane at breakfast. She’s one of only 3 others that I found before coming out and we had emailed back and forth. Then I went into the room and sat down behind TBK, one of the others. At break I discovered I was sitting next to Martin, the third. I didn’t know any of them before and only had a vague sense of what they looked like from their blogs. And before you think it’s a small group, there are about 50 people in the room, 4 rows of tables. I’m sure someone who likes math could figure out the likelihood of me bumping into any of them on the first day, let alone first thing on the first day.

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Utah Day Three: Final Day of Esplorin’

As I write this, Kyle has just landed in New York, and our days of being footloose and fancy free in Utah are over. Bootcamp starts in 3.5 hrs for me and work in even less time for him.

We took yesterday a little bit easier than the other two days, but we still did a lot. And had a really grand time.

After a quick swim in the hotel pool and breakfast, we headed out around 9a for a scenic Sunday drive. Extra appropriate around here because NOTHING IS OPEN ON SUNDAYS. Seriously. Nothing.

We took the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway/Backway and it was gorgeous. Breathtaking. We took a lot of pictures (as you’re about to see). We made a lot of stops and intended to go on a long hike at the end of which there is a huge cave with tours, but the timing didn’t work out, so we moved along.


More squinting pictures, hoorah!


At the very end of the drive was Sundance (apparently a ski resort and also where the Sundance Film Festival is held). They have their ski lift going in the summer and we decided to take it up the mountain.

The camera died halfway there (of course) so I don’t have many pictures of it all, but it was like an really slow and not very steady half-hour long rollercoaster. You’re really high. Apparently they also do full moon nighttime rides. If you live in/near Utah, I am jealous that you can go on one of these. If you don’t go, you’re very silly. (Unless you have a fear of heights or questionably safe guard rails. Then you’re smarter than I am.)


Our morning full of driving adventures, we went hunting for lunch. And hunting it took. As I mentioned above, there was nothing open. Nothing. We eventually found a SmashBurger (a chain similar to 5 Guys or Bobby Flay’s). It was good. Not terribly earth shattering, but good.

We took quick naps in the afternoon, trying to get me on the later schedule and Kyle ready for his late-night flight. It worked a bit. I slept until 5a (instead of 4a).

After nap-time we headed down to a little local art museum and crashed a massive birthday party. Really, we were only there to see an exhibit of local quilters’ work, but I’m fairly certain we were the only people there that were not guests of Phyllis’. The quilts were pretty, though I was sad there were hardly any hand quilted works. I mean, I get it. It’s a ton of work and they can do such pretty things on the machines, but I don’t think there were any.

Still the piecework was often gorgeous.


This one was a commissioned work by a woman who had saved all of her daughter’s baby clothes. It’ll be given to her daughter on the upcoming birth of her child. An awesome sentiment, and what a great quilt to have!


Also: bonus! There were great found object statues throughout the museum and a garden with “regular” statues. I’m fairly certain if we had more of a disposable income at our, well, disposal, we would totally be the proud owners of a little pieced together metal statue.


After the quilt show we had a few hours to kill and I was getting nervous, so we went to a movie. We saw the Wolverine flick, which was good enough. It did the job of keeping me distracted and it had A  LOT of gratuitous half-naked Hugh Jackman which was pleasant. Mostly I liked the theatre. Our tickets were super cheap, our seats were assigned and they had a crazy computerized candy machine.

Needless to say we had popcorn, RootBeer and chewy SweetTarts for dinner.

And finally, finally we came back to the hotel.

My stomach was in knots and the butterflies were dancing some sort of killing dance on top of them.

Kathleen, OSC’s awesome assistant, was in the lobby and I had to check in. It was completely…uneventful. I said my name, she handed me a packet of info and asked if I had any questions. All of the questions I’d had swirling around in my head all morning disappeared. I blew fish kisses at her, not coming up with anything, squeaked a “no” and walked away. It was awkward, you can ask Kyle. He witnessed it.

We headed up to the room, got him packed up and made a quick trip to WalMart for foodstuffs for me for the week. Unlike Kyle, I cannot live on Wendy’s across the parking lot alone, so instead I have soup and lunchmeat. I plan to supplement with yogurts and other easily steal-able things from the morning’s breakfast buffet.

And then he headed out to the airport and his overnight flight back east. Our adventures are over and now my work begins.



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Writing Assistant Monday

By the time this posts I’ll be in Utah, just beginning (or about to begin depending on the time difference) the very first class of Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp. I’m sure my stomach is full of butterflies. If I have time (and remember), I’m going to come to my own blog. Donna’s little feet…IMG_0331…and little face should make me feel better.  IMG_0330

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Utah day 2: Esplorin’ Some More

So yesterday was another amazing day in Utah.

We started it off with a small, pleasant hike. It had a couple of challenging parts, but it was mostly just a somewhat steep walk up a hill to a waterfall. The temperature hovered around 80*, which around here feels perfect. We had a few little raindrops land on our heads, but nothing much. The landscape was beautiful, all rocky, scrub-brush covered mountains and we had a great view of the valley where Orem sits once we got high enough. It was a lovely start to the day.


Us with the Utah Valley (sometimes called Happy Valley…maybe derisively?) in the background.



Victory is ours. (At this point Kyle was sad that he didn’t have on watershoes, so he couldn’t get on the rocks right up next to the little waterfall.)

From there, we drove immediately West for about 2 hours. When Kyle was in grad school out in CA he made the drive through the Salt Flats many, many times but never in daylight. We figured we were so close and we had the time, we should make the drive. So. Worth. It.

They were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my whole life. Gorgeous and alien at the same time. Also, bright. The sky was totally overcast yesterday and thank goodness. I think we would’ve gone blind had it been clear and sunny. We squinted a lot as it was.

We also took a lot of pictures.


I love how the cloudy sky and the mountain silhouette’s and the salt flats all blend into one another.


These people drove off the road (on purpose) and were stuck. We passed a lot of people like this. We never passed anyone who had driven off onto the flats and weren’t stuck. You’d think that would mean something.




For lunch, I did a quick Yelp search again and, based solely on good reviews, we hesitantly tried a mexican place/ truck stop. I wish I had taken a picture of where this place was located, because it’s in the middle of nowhere. Literally. All you can see around it is mountains and salt desert.

And yet, amazing food. Fresh. Homemade. Huge portions. I ate about half of this:


Full and happy, we headed back to the hotel for showers and a quick nap that I’m regretting this morning. I needed it at the time, but it didn’t help me get used to the time zone and so I was up at 4am. It’s going to make tonight rough.

Anyhow…more about yesterday’s adventures. In the evening we headed over to the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. Kyle wanted to see the dinosaurs and I was game. I’m so glad we went because it was great. Some of their exhibits rivaled the Smithsonian’s in DC or the American Museum of Natural History in NY. Not bad for a little museum in a little suburb town of Salt Lake City.


The hand stamp was an ancient bug. I am less okay with that than you can imagine.


Afterward we had dinner at a little Thai place back in Orem and called it an early night.

All-in-all: another great day. It’s so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful out here.

Today is the last day for adventures because boot camp starts tomorrow. I’m incredibly nervous and excited.

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Utah: Day 1. Esplorin’

Guys. Yesterday. So. Much.Fun.

On the airplane about 6:30a. Do we look tired?!

On the airplane about 6:30a. Do we look tired?!

We started our day at about 3:30a EST in order to catch our flight from JFK at 7a. I’m so glad we were cautious and left a little earlier than we thought we needed to– even without hitting any road delays or any hitches at the airport, we got to our gate as they started boarding. The flight was good. Uneventful. It was a beautiful, not super-cloudy day, and watching most of the country go by beneath us was kind of awesome, especially once we hit the more western states.

I think I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but just in case I haven’t: I haven’t ever spent any time in this part of the country, so it’s all completely new to me. Other than a quick, 3-day trip to northern California when Kyle was in grad school out there, I haven’t been west of Illinois.


The Salt Lake City temple took over 40 years to build, from the 1850s through the 1890s. On the very top is an angel, heralding the second coming of Christ.

After landing at 10a Utah time we decided we should take advantage of being in Salt Lake City for a bit, so we went and found temple square. The temple is gorgeous. I joked that it looked like a fairy princess’s house (I know, I know not very culturally or religiously sensitive). The grounds were also gorgeous, full of flowers that I’ve never seen.

There were also two visitors centers, set up like sort-of museums. They were really neat, though we didn’t spend a lot of time in those buildings because there were A LOT of LDS missionaries mingling and we didn’t want to get caught up in a conversation.

For lunch we found a little place nearby (thanks to Yelp!) that was perfect called Em’s. It was cute, tucked away in adorable neighborhood on top of a big hill, and the food was amazing. All homemade, all perfectly done. I had an herb, cheese filled crepe and Kyle had a turkey, avocado and bacon sandwich on ciabatta that he won’t stop talking about.

For dessert? We had little scoops of artisanal ice cream. Mine was bourbon pecan.

For dessert? We had little scoops of artisanal ice cream. Mine was bourbon pecan.

After lunch we headed down to Orem to see where I would spend the next week of my life. The hotel is nice. Simple, nothing fancy. We explored the area a little bit and hit up Walmart for things we forgot to pack (of course). The thing that has struck me, especially in Orem is the amount of babies and pregnant women. They’re everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. You can really see how the LDS church supports and encourages families.


Our big event yesterday was sailing. I can’t really put into words just how amazing and fun it was. Our guide, Dale, was sweet and informative without being know-it-all-y and the other couple that was with us, Buck and Anna, were funny and down to earth. The day was perfect, slightly more windy than average; warm without being hot. There weren’t any bugs, the sunset was gorgeous. Seriously, we couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Also, surprising, I wasn’t nervous at all. At 27′ it was big enough to not fall in my “small boats are terrifying” world. Instead, my love of the water took over and I was in heaven. Is there anything better than the smell of the lake? It’s always the same– in Michigan or halfway across the country in Utah. It reminds me of home and family and good, happy times.

Here’s a ton of pictures (some of which Anna took with our camera. She’s a photographer, so they’re the ones that look better than all of the rest).

Just sitting there and smiling is pretty much what I did the entire trip out on the water.


Kyle “drove” a lot. For never having done it before, he was really good at it!


Anna caught us taking a selfie on the very front of the boat. It was so peaceful up there. I can see where people spend a lifetime sailing every chance they can get.


And to cap off the day:

My first time at an In-n-Out. I thought they were only in California, but apparently they’ve been expanding east. Kyle was beyond thrilled and I’ve been wanting to try them after seeing all of my CA friends posting delicious looking pictures.

The obligatory delicious looking food picture.

The obligatory delicious looking food picture.

It was good and the perfect greasy end to a pretty much perfect (20.5 hr) day.


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Big Stresses, Small Joys


I have a bit of a confession: I’ve been a little wallow-y the last few days. I had been doing relatively well at focusing on the positive, but life has gotten stressful and I reverted to old habits. I seem to be particularly bad at just letting things happen when they happen. Instead I focus on them, twirl them around in my mind (over and over and over) until I can’t stand it. I get sad, moppy, worried.

This past weekend my family was here. I worried they weren’t having a good time. I worried they were bored, or that we pushed my Grandmother too hard, or that my house wasn’t up to snuff.

And then the fridge broke. Like, it dead. Seriously, this is what it looks like right now:

When I wrote "clean out fridge" on my to-do list last week, this was not what I had in mind.

When I wrote “clean out fridge” on my to-do list last week, this was not what I had in mind.

As you can imagine if you’ve ever rented from, well, anyone– it’s been a job getting it replaced. The new fridge will be here tomorrow. Probably a few hours after we leave for Utah.

I’m trying to finish up my costume designs for Hamlet a full week ahead of schedule. There is a lot of paperwork to get done and I’m super worried about how much will change over the next week when I’ll be away and preoccupied and will have very little attention to pay to those nightly rehearsal reports.

And last, but not least, we leave for Utah tomorrow for a fun-filled romantic weekend. I’m trying to squeeze 100 million different outfits into a carry-on and trying to not think about next week and all of the fears and scary monsters that await THAT endeavor…

So yeah.

This is where I’ve been mentally. This, in fact, is the cleaned up snippet of where I’ve been mentally. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. And it’s stealing all of the pretty and the fun from everything else.

And then, this afternoon, I took a break to read the newsletter from the Literacy Center where my Mutti works. They have a little section where their learners, many of them ESL adults, have written little stories.


A Father’s Joy

by AM

I am proud of my daughter. She was the Student of the Month in the second grade at M— Elementary School.

Our family went to a meeting at the school. The principal gave her the certificate and everyone clapped.

The teacher ran into the school yard to stop us. She said, “I am proud of Dulce. She did her homework and then she wrote a prayer on the back. I never had a student do that before.”

Everyone in the family was happy. The little one did so well!


I don’t know exactly why this story affected me, but it did. I love it. I think it’s beautiful and sweet and his pride and joy at his daughter’s accomplishment is so raw and lovely.

And for whatever reason, it flipped a switch in me. I’m not quite so wallow-y. The darker thoughts have made room for some happier ones. My outlook is better. Because guys, seriously, life is hard but there is some really cool stuff happening.

Least important: I’m getting a new fridge. That’s amazing. And I have awesome neighbors who let me put my stuff in their fridge so at least I didn’t lose everything. Biggest perk of getting a new fridge while I’m gone? I don’t have to move all of it back over from the neighbors (that’ll be Kyle’s job). Smaller perk: I don’t have to figure out how to change the water filter in the fridge now for another 9 months or so. That angry little red light was getting annoying.

Other good things:

My family was just here. And from all accounts, had a great time. We got to see the US Mint in Philly which was really cool, and I got to show my Grandma and brother where we live and what it’s like here. That was fun. My Mutti cooked for us a lot, which was delicious.

Hamlet is shaping up to be amazing. I love, love, love the design. I’ve had extra money in the budget to hire a friend to help me out next week while I’m gone (good for her wallet and my lack of time), and I’ve had a volunteer assistant through the whole project. Bonuses: the rest of the team is really great and the high schoolers/actors have been amazing.

And last but not least: I get to spend a whole weekend away from the stress of home with my husband. We get to explore a whole new part of the world that I’ve never been to. We’re going sailing, and to the salt flats and we’ll see the LDS temple. And sure, it’s all part of the US of A, but it’s a completely different geographical area than I’ve ever been in. I. Cannot. Wait. Also– I fit everything I wanted into my carry on. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to LIFT it, but it’s all in.

I am beyond grateful to AM for sharing his joy with me. It’s such a little, simple story, but it’s been a huge gift.

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Writing Assistant Monday


Donna loves when it’s cool enough to have the windows open. She sits in the sill behind our yellow chair, napping…



…or bopping me in the back of the head while I’m trying to write.


Also, I wanted to introduce you to the yellow chair. It’s awesome. It started its life in my Grandmother’s house in the 1970s. A few years ago she was redecorating a bit and wanted to throw the chair away. I saved it. Now it’s my probably favorite place to sit and write.


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Gendered Covers

Have you guys seen this article? If not, please, please click over and take a look.

Apparently author Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star and a whole host of other novels that I’ve never read) came up with a challenge for her Twitter followers called Coverflip. The results are stunning. Stunning. 

The implications as a female writer just starting out are scary. When I do land that book deal someday, I don’t want a vapid cover with hearts and Jane Everygirl. I want something bold, artistic, interesting. Something like the Throne of Glass cover by Ardawling. It’s gorgeous and so much more than the original.


The Original. Which book would you pick up?


Maybe I’ll be lucky and in a few years things’ll change. I hope so. I don’t want to publish under a pen name, though it’s fairly easy to male-ify mine. JR Cole Jackson. JC Jackson. J. Jackson. Cole Jackson.

Here’s the Tumblr to see all of the flips. They’re quite amazing.

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T- 1 week

One week until we head out to Utah. I can’t wait. Thankfully, I have a lot to keep me busy and distracted.

Right now my family is in town. They got in last night and will leave Sunday evening. It should be a busy, fun weekend. We celebrated their arrival in NJ by getting pizza and Halo Farms ice cream. Then, because none of them know how to sit still we worked on cleaning the basement (because what else do you do but work when your family travels a thousand miles to visit?).

Earlier in the summer when I was home I was sent back to NJ with a car full of my childhood. Boxes of my American girl dolls and their clothes, stuffed animals and Barbies. They all got shoved in the basement here and ignored for a month or so.


Which meant that they stunk like damp basement. Fail.

Everything that was in the stuffed animal box had to be washed. So all of the softgoods got dunked in the sink and all of the plastic bits got a good scrub down. They’re now scattered around the living room drying.

It was fun to go through everything. I was particularly happy to find my Polly Pockets which are as bright and fun as they were when I was little. I’m considering pulling out of storage and putting on a shelf in my new office. But that’s a project for after bootcamp.


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