You “Knead” to Try Anyway

Recently, my nephew got me hooked on The Great British Baking Show, which I watch through Netflix. Have you seen it? This show has been on for years, and I just learned about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it involves amateur British bakers competing in three baking challenges each week.

Their efforts, at least in season 1, were judged by Mary Berry, who writes cookbooks, and Paul Hollywood, a well-known chef. I wasn’t familiar with either person. They both frighten me. Paul has a piercing stare. Mary Berry makes me think of the “prunes and prisms” comment of Mrs. General in Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.

The judges and hosts (Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc) of The Great British Baking Show

Each week, one person is voted off. Standard reality TV stuff. Twelve started the show. I’ve watched several episodes of season 1, so I’ve seen several people voted off.   

If you decide to watch the show, I would advise you to have some baked goods on hand. Otherwise you’ll be extremely hungry.

What I love about the show is the fact that the bakers are told to bake something within a time limit, but aren’t given any other instructions. Like one week, they were told to make a Swiss roll. Another week, they had to make a “self-saucing pudding.” I would have stood there, staring stupidly at the hosts. But the bakers rose to each challenge using their creativity.

One week, one of the bakers threw a slight temper tantrum after a mishap with his dessert. Instead of showing the judges what he had, he tossed his dessert in the garbage, rather than present something flawed. The others watched, horrified, as he stalked away.

Actually, I can see why he did that. The judges never hesitate to tell the bakers what’s wrong with their creations. “This is a mess.” “This tastes burnt.” “You should have left it in five more minutes.” But because the bakers love to bake (and love to be on the show), they willingly put themselves out there.

I can’t help thinking of the process of writing. A writer sits down to write without being given any instructions. Oh, there are tips here and there on world building and creating memorable characters. But a tip can’t really guarantee that a book, a screenplay, or a poem will turn out well. After completing the work, he or she then might show the work to a beta reader or an agent or an editor and run the risk of scathing criticism. But a writer puts himself/herself out there, hoping someone will love his/her creation.

Have you ever thought about writing something totally outside of your comfort zone—like many of the challenges the bakers faced on The Great British Baking Show? You might fail or you might succeed. But does failure mean you shouldn’t try, even if you’re not sure about what you’re doing?

Like the baker who threw away his presentation, I’ve thrown away whole novels, because I thought their flaws were too great to fix. But with one novel at least, I’d like to start over with new characters. I still like the basic idea of the novel.

Watching The Great British Baking Show reminds me of the value of taking risks and trying something new, instead of always playing it safe. Even if I don’t exactly know how to do something, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try it.

How about you? Facing a challenge? What will you do?

Kitty thinks she could have been a contender on The Great British Baking Show. For obvious reasons.


Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Judges and hosts photo from pbs.org. Cake images from badartbistro.com. Pie image from clipartbest.com. Swiss roll from youtube.com. Composition book from dreamstime.com.

Differently Creative

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. My room used to horrify my mom, who is a very neat person.

“Clean your room!” she’d tell me every once in a while, especially when guests were due to arrive. Or she’d say, “Clean that closet.” The closet was where I stowed a number of projects birthed through my imagination.

This is my desk at home.

    

Those of you who are neat might be ready to crawl up a wall at the sight of it. Heh heh. Sorry about that. Whenever I’ve worked full-time in an office—usually at a publisher or book packager—my desk was usually the messiest. Piles of books, files, and knickknacks lived on my desk. Many of my neater coworkers had that crawling-up-the wall reaction whenever they looked at my desk. But whenever a supervisor or coworker asked me for anything—a book for a quote; the address of a writer we hired for a project; whatever—I could produce it just like that.

On the day before important clients were due to visit, one of my supervisors would declare a cleanup day. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Yep? Just like Mom.) I would have to return books to the office library and dump my knickknacks in a convenient drawer—only to pull them back out when the clients left.

There’s a method to my messiness. You see, I’ve often had to work under extremely tight deadlines. Like having to produce a book in a month. All of the resources required for the project needed to be at hand. That way, I could do the job quickly, without having to get up and constantly search for whatever was needed.

As a freelancer, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects also. Which usually means stopping one project and starting another, before returning to the first project. Which also means more and more things get piled up on my desk (like the sharks I’m crocheting [see below], which are on top of my writing journal).

Another aspect to my cluttered desk is my love of color. Cheerful, colorful objects always make me feel better. Which is why I love daisies, especially Gerbera daisies.

   

A number of people have asked me over the years, “Why can’t you keep your desk neat?” My answer to them is, “Does it really have to be?”

A piled-up desk is not the image I usually see in magazine articles featuring a writer’s workspace. I usually see beautiful wooden desks with everything in its place. But what you see in this post is my space. I don’t want to pretend that it’s different from what I’ve shown here.

The bin of DVDs and blu-rays (and the occasional skein of yarn) that sits next to my desk

I don’t think of myself as more or less creative than someone with a pristine desk. I think of myself as “differently creative.”

How about you? What does your creative space look like? Is it messy? Neat? In between?

Photos by L. Marie with the exception of the gerbera daisy image, which came from freeimages.com, and the Tyra Banks finger snap gif, which came from pic2fly.com.

Auditions

Ever audition for anything? If you’re a musical artist, perhaps you’ve auditioned for an orchestra, a band, a choir, or some other venue. Perhaps as a visual artist, you’ve auditioned for illustration, animation, or Web design work. Or maybe you’re an actor who regularly makes the rounds of auditions for plays, commercials, or movie gigs.

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Writers, especially freelance writers, also have to audition. Like for work-for-hire gigs. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot lately. (Querying an agent or publisher about a manuscript is another form of auditioning. Been there, done that recently, too.)

If you’re unclear about the notion of work-for-hire projects in the book publishing world (and I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows all about it), in general, this is a contract you sign for a project that nets you a one-time fee, rather than an advance on a royalty. For example, fiction, nonfiction, ghostwriting—you name it. Some work-for-hire projects (but not all, mind you) have led to others that paid an advance. This happened to me awhile ago when I co-wrote a book with a friend. (Another post on someone who auditioned for a writing project can be found here.)

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Um, this is not exactly what I mean.
But I couldn’t resist posting this picture.

Even though someone recommended me as a possible book writer or regular article contributor, and I have experience in, say, writing books for kids ages 4–8, I still had to audition by submitting a writing sample to the editor or project manager working for a publishing house or book packager. This is a very humbling process. I have much more respect now for actors, illustrators, and musicians who go through many, many auditions. Which means they might hear “no” a lot. But you have to wade through a lot of “no’s” before you get to the yeses.

After two of my latest auditions, I was told, “Submit a rewrite.” Sounds promising, right? I have a second chance to make good. Perhaps the rewrite phase can be compared to an acting “callback.” I burned the midnight oil to finish two rewrites. Which is why I didn’t post on Monday.

Preparing for other auditions (writing, querying) is the best way I know to pass the time as I wait for the results of other “callbacks.” Well, it beats my usual coping mechanism: consuming mass quantities of chocolate.

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Does taking on a work-for-hire project mean I’ve given up on the projects I’ve initiated? Nope. But it is a way to gain an income and continue doing what I enjoy doing: writing.

For what, if anything, have you auditioned?

For what, if anything, are you waiting these days?

Audition sign from smkclaven.wordpress.com. Work-for-hire sign from Pinterest. Callback sign from projectcasting.com.

Cute Collectibles: Making a Heart Connection

Are you the kind of person who goes wild over collectible figures? About four years ago, I used to buy Squinkies for my second and third grade students as rewards. They loved Squinkies! What are Squinkies? Tiny collectible figures by Blip Toys based on themes (like the ocean; aliens and space; animals). But one day the stores stopped selling them. My students used to ask about Squinkies, but I had no idea why they disappeared. Was that the end of their story? Read on.

In the last couple of years Shopkins have racked up mega sales in the toy section. What are Shopkins? Tiny collectible figures by Moose Toys. I’ve shown a photo of some of them on this blog before. There are hundreds to collect, in categories like common, rare, ultra rare, and limited edition (quite difficult to find).

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Shopkins

So is it any wonder that this year, Squinkies are back with a reboot and categories very similar to the Shopkins categories? Success breeds competition in the battle for the attention of children (and the shrinking wallets of their parents)! I don’t own any of the new Squinkies, but you can click here to find out more information if you’re curious.

If you’re a parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle, maybe you’re cringing right now, as you imagine your child/grandchild/niece/nephew demanding toys like this. Or perhaps you remember a painful moment when you accidentally stepped on something like this—tiny but made of hard plastic—in the middle of the night. If so, you might wish to skip to the end, where I talk about writing. (There. There. It will be okay.)

Squinkies and Shopkins aren’t the only small collectible figures in town. There are also Num Noms by MGA.

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Each of these (with the exception of the pink motorized one under the brown choco swirl on the right) is a little over an inch tall.

I’m not exactly sure what they are, besides small collectible figures. They’re scented though. One smells like chocolate cherry, while others smells like caramel and strawberry.

And then there are the erasers by Iwako. A friend sent a bunch to me from Amazon.com. These are just a few:

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These also are a little over an inch tall.

And there is the queen of small collectible figures: Hello Kitty by Sanrio.

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She’s about a quarter of an inch taller than the Iwako erasers.

And then there are these: My Mini MixieQ’s by Mattel, which debuted this year at the Toy Fair in New York. So far, the only comment I’ve heard about them is a consistent one: “Awwwww. They’re so cuuuuuuute.”

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These figures are about three-quarters of an inch tall.

And there are dozens more. But I know what you’re thinking: These seem awfully girl-centric (though I know some boys who like Shopkins and some girls who hate this sort of thing). What about stuff for boys? Well, there are Star Wars Micro Machines and tons of other Star Wars figures (Hasbro), Five Nights at Freddy’s figures (Funko), Hot Wheels (Mattel), DC and Marvel action figures (Mattel and Hasbro respectively), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys), Minecraft (Mattel), and dozens of other collectible figures. (Girls like these too.)

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So what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ll tell you my reason for paying attention to toy trends (besides liking them). Toy manufacturers know what appeals to the soul of a kid; for example, the desire to nurture or to be on an adventure. I once held up one of the Shopkins while talking to someone and soon had several people (kids and adults) crowded around me with sparkling eyes. This is the kind of rapt attention you want if you’re writing for kids, teens, or adults—the kind of attention that means you’ve made a heart connection.

Granted, translating this connection to the printed page is a challenge. Yet authors like J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan have met the challenge. (So it is possible.) But they connected to what was in their own hearts first, instead of attempting to guess what might appeal to a kid. For example, Riordan loved his son and wanted to write about a kid with dyslexia and ADHD like his son. He was also a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, having taught these stories to middle schoolers for years. Thus, Percy Jackson and other series were born. Rowling’s mom died. Writing Harry Potter was her way of dealing with her own grief. She also loved The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which combines fantasy and reality as does the Harry Potter series.

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What do you love? How does that translate to what you’re writing now?

Book covers from Goodreads. Minecraft toy from minecrafttoy.com. Star Wars Micro Machine blind bags from action figuren24.de.

Getting Back to Your Roots

IMG_3329¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Or at least it is on the day I’m writing this post. So, I hope by the time you read this, that you had a good one.

If you follow this blog, you know I don’t usually post more than once a week, except on special occasions. So the fact that you’re here means you want to know who won the time travel series by Zetta Elliott. (Go here, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Though I mentioned other giveaways at the end of the interview, due to unforeseen circumstances, those will take place at another time. But I didn’t want to delay this giveaway until then.)

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Before I get to the giveaway, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately: roots. Though I chose the photo at the beginning of this post, it is not a hint that I plan to dye my hair, though I consider doing so from time to time. And getting back to your roots is not an allusion to the Elder Scrolls videogame series or to this:

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I’m actually talking about artistic, spiritual, or cultural roots—whatever it is that takes you back what’s important, especially if it reminds you of who you are or what you love.

I mentioned in a previous blog that writing had become frustrating. It involved lots of spinning wheels and long sessions of staring at the computer screen, followed by a sigh and a retreat to YouTube to watch a video (or seven). So I decided to return to my roots by reading the book that inspired me when I was eight years old. Here it is.

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I’ve mentioned this book a number of times on this blog. Rereading this book reminds me of the kind of story I loved as a kid and still gravitate toward. But if I were to parse this further, I would add that I love the hero’s journey model, which Joseph Campbell discussed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

I’ve noticed that some writers (some, not all) nowadays have steered away from that model, deeming it old-fashioned in an age where antiheroes rule. But Meg Murry’s quest to find her dad never gets old to me. She reminds me that girls can be heroes. (Not that I doubted that truth. 🙂 ) I love her family dynamics, and find her belief that she’s nothing special very relatable. I felt that way as a kid. Honestly, I feel that way as an adult sometimes. The fact that her opponent is very powerful—the ultimate evil, actually—while Meg has no discernible power (that she knows of)—makes her an unlikely hero. It also adds high stakes to her journey. Her story inspires me to up my game with my heroine’s story.

The old saying, “You can’t go home again” isn’t always true. Sometimes you need to. Remember what Mufasa in The Lion King told his son Simba? Need a reminder?

What are your roots? Maybe for you those roots are your cultural heritage—a reminder of your family history and how it has shaped your life. Or maybe it is a return to a writing style you’ve loved, but let it go for some reason. Do you think maybe it’s time you returned?

While you think about that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Sibson!

Congrats, Laura! 🙂 Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Hair photo from beautyskincarenatural.blogspot.com. A Wrinkle in Time covers from Goodreads.

Check This Out: The Mercenary Prince

Now on Amazon for $2.99!
LEGENDS OF WINDEMERE:
THE MERCENARY PRINCE

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Delvin Cunningham has left the champions.

Lost to his tribe in the Yagervan Plains, fear and shame have kept the former Mercenary Prince away from his homeland. With his confidence crumbling, he has decided to return and bring closure to his past. Reuniting with his old friends, Delvin’s timing could not be worse as a deadly campaign is brewing within Yagervan’s borders. Dawn Fangs are on the march and these powerful vampires are determined to turn the entire region into a graveyard.

To protect his family, friends, and two homelands, Delvin will have to push his doubt away and become the cunning Mercenary Prince once again.

Art by Jason Pedersen

Art by Jason Pedersen

Please feel free to put this on your ‘To Read’ list on Goodreads by clicking below:

The Mercenary Prince on Goodreads!

Excerpt from The Mercenary Prince

With the hint of a smirk, Selenia quickens her pace and unleashes a barrage of blows on her former student. Each strike and stab is deflected by the sweat-covered champion, his speed increasing to match her every time. At one point, the half-elf leaps forward and is struck in her stomach by his shield, which forces her to flip over his head. The headmistress lands in a crouch and whirls around to block the counterattack, the point of Delvin’s sword gently running along the leather patch over her stomach. Realizing that he is still holding back, Selenia bats his next attack away and delivers a painful kick to his exposed side. The blow knocks him against the fountain and he comes dangerously close to falling into the water.

While rubbing his bruised side, Delvin circles the headmistress who turns to continue facing him. He makes a few feints that she refuses to acknowledge because they are clumsy and pathetically amateurish. The gathered students and teachers shout for more action, all of them believing the brown-haired warrior to be afraid of the legendary woman. None of them realize that his circles have been getting tighter and his fake attacks have caused Selenia to misjudge his distance. It is something she realizes when Delvin makes a quick swing for her hip and their weapons strike closer to their hilts than she expects. The moment the half-elf steps back to gain some space, her former student pushes forward with precise strikes that mirror the onslaught she previously unleashed. Without a shield, the headmistress finds it more difficult to block every attack and has to twist her body away from several attacks. The movements prevent her from throwing a kick or punch, which would probably hit the shield that he has yet to include in his advance.

Selenia eventually catches Delvin’s blade and slides her weapon along its edge to step within his swinging range. The pair push against each other, their muscles straining to gain the upper hand. Every time one of them is about to gain ground, their opponent shifts enough to continue the frustrating stalemate. With a grunt of exertion, Delvin moves his shield in front of the headmistress’s face and blocks her view. Knowing she is expecting him to push forward, the warrior falls onto his back and lets the surprised half-elf’s momentum slam her face into the wooden disc. The back of his head bounces off the ground as he flicks his wrist to deliver an extra shot to Selenia’s chin. She rolls away from him to recover her senses, but Delvin scrambles to keep her in reach and continue his attack as they stand.

“You actually hit me,” Selenia states when she notices that her nose is bleeding. She ducks under her opponent’s swing and aims her hilt for his stomach, the blow only grazing his shirt. “I think you’ve achieved two firsts for this academy, Delvin. Nobody has ever drawn my blood or made me dizzy during a match.”

Want to Dive into the Adventure from the Beginning?

Find all of these exciting adventures by visiting the Amazon Author Page of Charles E. Yallowitz.

So charge up your Kindle and end 2015 with an adventure full of action, humor, old friends, new enemies, grudge matches, tears, ale, and vampires.

I’m giving away a copy of The Mercenary Prince to a commenter! Winner to be announced on January 4, 2016.

author-photoAbout the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: Legends of Windemere
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

Yes, today is a book giveaway. But first . . .

Have you noticed more and more self-checkout lanes recently? I have. I used to think self-checkout lanes were the next best thing since the invention of Reese’s peanut butter cups. After all, I could check my groceries quickly and go home to eat my Reese’s peanut butter cups. (Who am I kidding? I usually start on those as soon as I reach the car.)

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But Self-checkout Lanes, I’m no longer feeling you, know what I mean? Because now I wonder if your population has increased to allow a company to get away with hiring fewer employees or laying off some. 😦

I recently walked into the branch of my bank and saw three employees. This branch had five times that amount a couple of years ago. Of the three, one quickly steered me toward using the ATM to make a deposit, instead of expecting him to do it. I’m not sure what else he planned to do, since I was the only customer in the bank. Perhaps give his full attention to the businesses making deposits in the drive-thru? Only people with business accounts are allowed to use the drive-thru. Makes me feel like a valued customer.

ATM Machine

Afterward, I shopped at a store with a ton of self-checkout lanes. The express lanes were closed to push people toward the self-checkout lanes. Meanwhile, a dozen employees raced about. Some stocked shelves. Some simply stood there, speaking into walkie-talkies. But none asked me if I needed help. So if the self-checkout lanes were set up to allow employees more time to help shoppers looking for items in the store, well, let’s just say I found Siri to be more helpful. I’ve had retail jobs. I know how difficult working with the public can be. But when a store seems to go out of its way to avoid dealing with me, I’m tempted to shop elsewhere.

The library installed more self-checkout machines. A librarian quickly pointed one out when I approached the circulation desk. I wanted to ask her, “Are you trying to point your way out of a job?” But I decided not to. I’m fairly certain I would be told how much more important other tasks are than checking out books. But if checking books out for a patron means one more librarian keeps his or her job, I would be all for that.

(By the way, I am aware of how hard librarians work. I have friends who are librarians. Believe it or not, I have applied for jobs at libraries and would have been more than happy to be the book checker.)

I’m reminded of a scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In that scene, Mr. Bucket lost his job to a machine at the toothpaste factory.

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If you’re thinking, Don’t guilt trip me. I love using self-checkout lanes, rest assured that no one is interfering with your right to use those lanes. Labor-saving devices may save time and money. But I have to wonder if in the long run they’ll cost us more than we save.

Now let’s move on to the winner of Kate Sparkes’s fantasy novel, Torn. Click here for the interview with Kate.

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That winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to let me know if you’d like a print copy or an ebook!

Thank you to all who commented.

Peanut butter cups image from thehersheystore.com. Wal-Mart self-checkout lanes from merchandisingmatters.com. Noah Taylor as Mr. Bucket from Rotten Tomatoes.com. ATM machine from classroom clipart.com.