New Short Story Published: “Strawberries and Champagne”

The Becoming Writer 2016 Anniversary short story contest was a great way to stay connected to my writing over the busy holiday season. I love these contests because they’re unique. Not only does your story get published, but you also get to workshop your drafts with other writers before submitting.

The prompt for the contest was to write about a character who is a creative. Of course, I chose a creative occupation that involves cake. I’ve realized that almost every time I write I find a way to incorporate baking into the story. I guess it’s part of my “writing voice”.

An idea sparked in me this past fall when I went to a bakery for my wedding cake tasting. I wasn’t sure if it was the bakery I’d go with, but I thought I’d better taste every cake flavor in Des Moines, right? The cake decorator at this bakery intrigued me. She was extremely talented with an impressive portfolio, but she seemed almost bored or disinterested when we were going through everything. As a baker and decorator myself, I can hardly contain my excitement for beautifully frosted giant wedding cakes. I didn’t get any hint of that from her, and I thought, how strange? I couldn’t let it go. Thus, a character was born.

I changed her name to Cora, and in my story, “Strawberries and Champagne“, I gave her a back story as to why she acts the way she does. It was quite fun! Click here to check out “Strawberries and Champagne” published on Short Fiction Break.

In the workshop process, I connected with another writer, Renay Zamora, who also wrote about a cake decorator. She and I were able to appreciate the colorful insights and imagery that cake can bring while exploring different themes with our characters. Click here to check out her story, “Cake“.

Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you let me know what you think of the story by leaving a comment.

Happy writing and reading!

 

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2016: Bring on the Year of Weddings

Happy New Year!

It seems like everyone has changed their minds and are saying that making resolutions is not the right thing to do anymore. We all know that resolutions don’t typically stick past the first weekend of the new year. The new message I keep seeing and hearing is to stick to a one-word theme to live by for the year.

My word I’m choosing for 2016 is “presence”. 2016 is jam packed with fun weekends. Between Kyle and me, we’re invited to 10 weddings this year, including our own, (or at least we’re anticipating being invited, maybe our friendships are all in our heads?). Every month has a wedding, bachelorette party, shower, etc. And we’ll be traveling for all of them, which makes me even more glad we decided to have our wedding here in Des Moines. We will be staying put for that one! But, I don’t want to dread traveling. I want to be prepared and enjoy every minute of it!

Siblings, cousins, close friends, childhood friends–these are important weddings to us. I want to be fully present and engaged to enjoy each one. I want to make lasting memories and hopefully drive home from these weddings feeling amazing rather than crying of hangovers and all the money we spent or the junk food we ate, (not that that is how our drives back to Des Moines usually go….)

My goal is to be well prepared for each one of these fun weekends. I want to plan ahead, make sure we have the right gifts well in advance instead of running to the bank and Walgreens for a card on the way to the church, or sheepishly handing the groom cash in the receiving line because we realized we forgot to put it in the card, (that certainly has never happened before!…)

I want to stick to my healthy eating the best I can over these weekends so I can enjoy them without stomach aches and IBS disasters. I’m not saying I’m going to give up booze or wedding cake, I’m just going to limit myself. Maybe one cupcake instead of seven. I’ve noticed over the holidays just straying from my low FODMAP diet (code for foods that don’t make me gassy) even a little bit hurts me enough to ruin my day. Not worth it! If I stray from it every time we travel this year, it will make for a year of annoying stomach pain where Michelle leaves the reception early instead of dancing all freaking night long. I’d much rather drive home with sore calves from dancing than headaches and stomach aches. Planning ahead for this will allow me to be present and enjoy these weekends more than if I’m physically not feeling good.

This also applies to my writing, reading, work, and everything else I love doing. I tend to want to get through things as fast as I can so I can cross it off a list and move to the next. Especially with writing my novel, I’ve learned the importance of slowing down and being mindful of every aspect of the story. It might get done faster if I zip through it, but it likely won’t be any good. Would an underdeveloped novel be worth it? Nope.

I want to slow down and focus on doing one thing at a time, rather than doing everything at once. With everything I do, I’ll keep the theme of being present with me. There are too many exciting things happening this year to let them pass me by.

How about you, what’s your personal theme for 2016?

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New Year’s Eve 2015…Goal: Still be this happy by the end of 2016!

 

2015 Favorites

I love New Year’s. Love, love, love it! Of course, for the nerdiest reasons. Sure, I’m going to go celebrate with my friends on a party bus, but what else does New Year’s mean? Reflection and goal setting time! If you read my blog, you know these are pretty much my favorite pastimes.

2015 was an amazing year for several reasons. I have incredible memories of the year, but here are a few of my stand-out moments.

Favorite Moments

We got engaged!!

Kyle started my year off on a pretty high note by popping the question. How could the year get any better, right? Well, every wedding-related moment has added to the excitement, (except for the occasional nightmares of the wedding day). Our friends and family threw us a beautiful engagement party with lots of cookies and cupcakes, and relatives of course. In September, I found my perfect princess wedding dress. And in October, we found our cake baker. As far as I’m concerned, our wedding is now good to go! The rest will come together magically, right?

Tomorrow I’ll be able to say, “Hey, we’re getting married this year!” While everyone is saying these next eight months will fly by, I want to hold this engaged time in place and enjoy it. I can’t wait to marry Kyle, but being engaged to him is pretty awesome, too. It’s a time of dreaming about our future and yet enjoying how relaxed and fun everything is now. Every day I realize how right he is for me, and I know that I’m an extremely lucky girl. September 3rd, here we come!

 

Girls’ Nights!!!

Bringing back slumber parties was probably one of the best things I did this year. When you don’t see some people for months in between, the only way to hang out is to stay up til 3am rocking out to 90s music videos, am I right? From my All-Girls birthday party to the Shania Twain concert and all the fun in between, I love looking at these pictures and knowing you can never have too many girlfriends.

 

Yoshi’s First Birthday

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Our baby is getting so big! This year with Yoshi has been such an adventure. I love her so much, it’s insane. She is my buddy for everything that I do…writing, yoga, baking. She’s there with her nose in all of it.

Vacations

Our two big trips this year were Nashville in April with Kyle’s mom and Aunt Lea and Colorado in July to see our friends, Kaitlyn and Tom, and my family, Beth, Olaf, and Sylvie. Both trips were short, but we were good at packing in as much fun as we could.

Family/Friends Visits

I don’t have a lot of photos from our visits (note to make a picture-taking resolution for 2016), but Kyle and I were very grateful that friends and family came to visit us here in Des Moines quite a bit this year. It was nice for us to stay home more this year, especially knowing how busy we’ll be with traveling this upcoming year. We always love having company, and we know what an effort it is to make the drive here. Thank you friends and family!

Writer’s Retreat

I recently wrote about my weekend trip to Lake Panorama with the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop. Writing was huge for me this year. In addition to joining the workshop, I had four short stories published, attended a workshop at the University of Iowa, and wrote 42,000 words toward my novel (40,000 of which I will probably rewrite, but hey!). This is the year that I finally felt I could call myself a writer. With this momentum, I can’t wait to see what doors may open in 2016.

Gluten-free Cookies

I really found my baking jam toward the end of the year, thanks to a blog call Sarah Bakes Gluten Free. Sarah, I don’t know you, but you have truly enhanced my happiness. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you must visit her blog and bake everything on it. My Christmas cookies turned out so good. The snickerdoodles especially I thought tasted even better than the regular kind.

2015 was filled with fun, books, cookies, love, dogs, new jobs, happiness, and princessy things. I would say it can’t get much better, but I have a feeling 2016 is going to pretty much kick butt, too.

I hope everyone has an amazing and safe New Year’s Eve. Here’s to the end of an awesome year, and to the beginning of a magical one. See you in 2016!

 

 

A Month of Words

I’d like to consider Thanksgiving as a holiday that lasts through the end of November. Although I’ve already hung our stockings and decorations and even made Christmas cookies (four days off work, how could I not?!),  I’m still reveling in the abundance of Thanksgiving. As the month and holiday wrap up, I realize I have so much to be grateful for.

I’ve written a lot of words this month…32,050 words, in case you wanted me to be specific. All of these words were directed toward my first novel, which is now half-way through its first draft. Throughout this month of writing momentum, I found a few words repeating themselves over and over in my mind as I tallied up my word counts at the end of the day.

Belief

The old me never would admit to anyone that I was working on a novel. It sounded so silly and unbelievable in my own head that I could never force the words out of my mouth. I’d hide my notebooks or laptop if someone was nearby. No one was allowed to see the goofy interpretations of my mind written out into a fictitious world.

Now, when the barista asks me what I’m up to today, I state openly that I’m working on my novel, as easily as I would say I’m reading a book. When did that change happen?

Support

This positive change in my belief for myself undoubtedly has come from all of the supportive people in my life. I have amazing friends who express interest in my novel. My mommy, of course, has always encouraged me to keep writing. And I am so lucky to wake up and go to sleep next to someone who supports me on a daily basis, who asks how he can make it more convenient for me to write, who is so understanding about my missing out on tailgates because Saturday afternoons are a great time to write…I could go on and on about him, but then what would he have left to strive for?

I’m so thankful for the supportive people in my life. You may not realize that when you ask how my novel is coming, I’m nearly crying inside with joy.

Community

I may have mentioned a time or ten about the Des Moines Writers Workshop, but, well, I love them. I never realized how important the factor of community is in the writing life. The members of the workshop are talented, imaginative, and so incredibly helpful that I will likely need a whole chapter of acknowledgements toward them.

Fun

If I had known writing a novel was going to be this fun, I would have started years ago…you know, when I was nine and first said I was going to be an author. Holy crap, writing is fun!  Now I get it when authors say “Oh, that character told me she didn’t want to do that” and “Oh, my characters have lives of their own” blah de blah. I totally get it! Characters are so cool!

Did I just lose you with my nerdiness? I hope not.

Learning

I have wanted to be an author since I was little and have studied writing my whole life, but there is still so, so much to learn. Creative writing involves a creative vocabulary, a sense of imagery, a unique voice and so many more skills I have yet to develop. Writing a novel set in the 1950s involves thorough research of the time period. How did people spend their time? What did their conversations sound like? What were the common occupations? Did they use paper or plastic grocery bags?

Seriously… I will never stop learning about writing, but, again…it is so much fun!

And, so, that was November. A wonderful month of words and writing and so much support I could burst with how thankful I am. I’m hoping December will be much of the same, and that maybe Santa will bring me a finished first draft for Christmas.

Happy December, everyone!

For some light reading, check out my short story “Walking Away” published on Short Fiction Break.

Writing Retreat Weekend: Lake Panorama

Last weekend was a writer’s dream.

11011599_10153770526078593_6667673934295880978_nI arrived at this gorgeous multi-level house in Panora on a Friday afternoon with my friend Rachel. Seven of us from the Des Moines Writers Workshop rented the house, which overlooks Lake Panorama, for the entire weekend for a writing retreat. Of course, the house, the view, the scenery, everything was peaceful and beautiful, but the most blissful thing for me in the trip was the allotted time to write at all hours of the day without distraction.

And write I did.

It was a beautiful, sunny weekend with a slightly chilly wind, perfect for bundling up in blankets outside for as long as you could bear it. In the house, there were cozy little nooks and sun rooms and tons of private writing space, but it was also helpful when all seven of us sat around a table, set a timer for two hours, and wrote until our little fingers off. If you weren’t typing, someone else was. The constant sound of fingers hitting the keyboard was enough to make me want to keep going.

Writing marathon...go!

Writing marathon…go!

We would write, go for walks, and do our own thing during the day. At night we had dinner around the table, then drank wine and ate pie while talking about where we were at with our writing–struggles, accomplishments, realizations, etc. It was helpful for us to work through problems we were having in our stories and bounce ideas off other writers.

This group is full of talented and creative people, all with huge hearts who are eager and willing to help. I keep thinking how fortunate I am to have landed a spot with them. We’re all at different stages with our writing–one girl is even in the process of working with agents, which is so exciting!–but we all know how difficult the task at hand is, which keeps us connected no matter what level we’re at.

Writer fuel: water, coffee, wine, popcorn, chocolate. AKA the keys to success.

Writer fuel: water, coffee, wine, popcorn, chocolate.
AKA the keys to success.

I was surprised and disappointed at first to see that my anxiety had followed me up to Lake Panorama. I was killing my word counts, officially getting farther than I ever have in the several novels I’ve started and quit since the fourth grade, but there was still this perfectionist in my head nagging at me that my writing wasn’t good enough.

unnamed (7)It took a long walk outside by the peaceful lake to realize that duh, of course my writing sucked right then. You can’t write thousands of words in just a few hours without looking over it and expect it to be publishing ready. That’s not the goal for now. The goal is to get the words and all of my thoughts out about what is actually happening in my novel, then spend more time reshaping and perfecting it once all the roughness is out. That’s why they call it a first draft, right?

This was my dream weekend, and I couldn’t let anxiety and perfectionism ruin it for me. I calmed down, ate some chocolate, and was able to relax the rest of the weekend. While writing, of course.

Be calm and write.

Be calm and write.

The first Des Moines Writers’ Workshop Retreat helped me more than I could have hoped in both my writing and my mindset as a writer. We’re a special group that needs the support of other writers as much as we can get it. Yes, we realize how much we sound like we’re a group of addicts, but that’s what writing is for us. It’s an addiction that found us and never let go. Instead of resisting it, we find ways to get more of it and make it work for us.

I can’t wait until the next retreat!!

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“Walking Away”: Short Story Published

My short story titled “Walking Away” is published today on Short Fiction Break.

“Walking Away” is a quick read. Jake, a young father of three little girls, enjoys his peaceful morning walks in the woods with his old friend, Sam, and their dogs. Jake is bitter about how tied down and busy his life is. It is in these walks with the old man that he finds the beauty in the life he’s desperate to escape.

I wrote this story earlier this year. The idea came to me from my fiance, Kyle, and his new friend, Ed. Last winter, Kyle and I took our dog, Yoshi, to a wooded park area near our house. We were immediately welcomed by a playful golden retriever, Roxy, and a few moments later, we me her  79-year-old owner, Ed.

Ed and Roxy showed us the ropes of the place, the good creeks for the dogs to get filthy in, the busy paths where the cyclists yell at you. Yoshi and Roxy rolled around with each other, playing as puppies do. Kyle loved that Yoshi was getting her energy out. You could almost see the smile taking place on our black lab’s face over her love for her new friend.

Kyle kept going back. Whether it was below 0° or 100°,  Kyle took Yoshi there every day after work, and every day they saw Ed and Roxy. It was unlikely to miss Ed, because the retired firefighter and policeman and former marathon runner walks his dog there twice a day, every day, for two hours at a time. No joke.

I stopped joining Kyle when it got to be really cold last year, as a normal person would. He loves his walks, which he refers to as “wisdom walks,” with Ed and the dogs. He comes home with all sorts of stories from the old man. I should maybe be nervous since Ed tells Kyle about his divorces and he is firm in the fact that the only woman a man needs in his life is his dog, but I think the cookies I bake the old man makes me acceptable in his eyes.

Roxy is on the left. Yoshi is in the middle, too busy playing to pose for a picture, and their friend Goldie is on the right. They love their play dates at the park. Photo courtesy of Ed Killin

Roxy is on the left. Yoshi is in the middle, too busy playing to pose for a picture, and their friend Goldie is on the right. They love their play dates at the park.
Photo courtesy of Ed Killin

You can read “Walking Away” by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to leave me a comment if you like it or not. Thanks for reading!

Where I’m Writing

To a writer, a three-hour chunk of time with the sole dedication to the verb, “writing,” is a godsend. Of course, you always have the freedom to create this time chunk, but it actually happens when someone else creates it for you. Thank you, Des Moines Writers Workshop, for that.

Where I’m Writing

unnamed (2)Today I’m at the Mars Cafe in the Drake University neighborhood of Des Moines. I’ve never been here, but I’m in love with it. It’s a little crowded for my liking, but just enough room for me and my laptop…and my seven notebooks and books on writing that I need with me, like a baby needs its security blanket.  There’s a guy doing college interviews to my right, and a couple talking wedding planning with some sort of vendor to my left. I think he’s a florist, which is misleading from all of his tattoos. I find it hard to focus when there’s the potential for juicy eavesdropping. Do any other writers have that issue?

unnamedWhat I’m Drinking

I order a macchiato, and while the itty bitty cup of espresso and foamed milk is adorable, I immediately remember how much I love sipping on endless cups of coffee while I write. What was I thinking? But it is tasty and gives me the jolt I need to jump into Scrivener.

What I’m Listening To

Thank you, Momma Chalkey, for sending me the Disney Fairy Tale Weddings Instrumental playlist. The music is so beautiful I want to cry. It’s also perfectly relaxing and inspiring, my only requirements for writing music.

So…what am I writing?

Oh yes, I’m writing, too! I wrote 1,000 words for Chapter Two of my novel, so I’m ecstatic. I’ve been working a little heavier on the nonfiction writing lately, so it feels great to get back to my fictional world of Sylvie. Click here to read a little bit more about my novel and my main character.

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I’m determined to find more hot writing spots in Des Moines with delicious coffee and pastries with magical powers that inspire my creativity. Writers in the area, what local spots do you love to write at? And if you’re not in Des Moines, tell me about your favorite place to write by leaving a comment!

Happy writing 🙂