Tuesday, June 26, 2012

COSCBWI June 2012: Urban Scrawl and Draw Crawl

This month's COSCBWI meeting was a special event called the "Urban Scrawl and Draw Crawl."  Instead of meeting at our usual Wednesday evening time, members met up in Westerville this past Saturday for a morning of writing and drawing.
First Responders Park

We started out in "First Responders Park," a 9/11 memorial.  The site includes a firefighter statue and a real piece of the World Trade Center.  Members were given prompts and then some free time to view the memorial and sketch or write as they pleased.  The memorial is quite lovely, with plenty of benches to sit on and lush landscaping.  Since I've been a writing maniac 24/7 drafting my new novel over the past few weeks, I decided to put on my illustrator hat for the day.  It was very nice sitting out in the sun with fellow members and letting our creative juices flow in such a serene setting.

Hanby House

After we finished up our prompts and sketches, the group headed over to the Hanby House, just a short walk away from the park.  William Hanby was one of the founders of Otterbein University, and the house dates back to 1846.  It was even part of Ohio's Underground Railroad!  We received a tour of the historical landmark, which was filled with all sorts of old furniture and artifacts.  Benjamin Hanby was the most famous son in the family and composed many songs including the Christmas hit, "Up On The Housetop."  Every writer and illustrator knows how important research is, and how much inspiration you can find in history.  We learned lots of interesting things about the time period and heard some funny family stories (like when one of the boys rolled off the roof while sleeping outside one summer night!)  You just never know when an antique item or family story will spark the idea for a new project, or give you that perfect detail you've been searching for!

My garden sketch.

The tour finished with a stop in the backyard garden where members spread out on the lawn and tackled another set of prompts.  This was really one of those "stop and smell the flowers" moments.  Everyone was quiet as pencils scratched across paper, and I think each one of us enjoyed just being outside for once instead of cooped up at home in front of our computers!

I haven't sketched anything from real life in a looooooooong time, so I had a really great time tapping into that forgotten part of my creative side.  It certainly is nice to do something out of the ordinary and get some fresh perspective from time to time! 

If you missed the event, don't worry.  Everyone had so much fun that COSCBWI plans to do another "Scrawl and Draw Crawl" sometime!   :) 

You can find out more about COSCBWI and upcoming events here: www.coscbwi.org

Hope to see you at our meeting in July! 

Note: All pictures above were taken by me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review #10: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

This month's book review is a novel I'm very excited to share with you.  Sometimes when I walk through the library, a title catches my eye that I can't resist.  Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell practically shouted, "Read me!  Read me!" when I walked by the shelf, and I'm so glad I took it home with me.  Here's the summary blurb from her website:

Emmy tried hard to be good, but no one seemed to notice— except for the Rat. And he was rather sarcastic ... What had happened to make her parents stop caring about her? And why do the kids at school seem to hardly know she exists? Could it have anything to do with Miss Barmy, the nanny who kept forcing Emmy to drink and eat the strangest things?

I am pleased to report that this novel has now officially joined my list of favorite books.  I simply loved it.  The premise is unique, the story kept me guessing, and the cast of characters--both fuzzy and human--are so sweet and compelling.  This is everything an animal fantasy book should be, and what aspiring writers of the genre should strive to achieve.  Although I could say I loved everything about the book, what I found particularly impressive are Jonell's storytelling abilities and skill in animal character-building.

The two subjects actually tie together, but I'll take a look at the story first.  Jonell sets up an interesting premise that there are some rodents in the world with special abilities.  The abilities themselves are both surprising and enchanting, and even once you find out how a rodent "works," the end result Jonell gives us is still often unexpected.  The titular "Rat" just happens to have the ability to make people understand rodents when he bites them, setting the whole story in motion.  (Other things happen upon his subsequent bites, but I certainly won't ruin the surprise for you.)  Thus, Emmy's story unfolds with the use of various rodents to help solve the mystery surrounding her parents and ultimately thwart her evil nanny, Miss Barmy.  It's a fairly sizable book, but clips along at a brisk pace, full of twists and turns and avenues I didn't see coming.  It was such a fun ride, too, with everything from rodents playing soccer to a jovial professor who can't remember what his magical critters do.  It's funny, it's emotional, and satisfying all at once--exactly the type of story that holds the reader from page one and doesn't let them go.

The book would be nothing, though, without those talking animals, and Rat is the best of them all.  Jonell walks a careful line with her animals, creating them as characters that do both fantastic and unusual things, while also acting like ordinary rodents.  And then she goes a step further to make these dynamic creatures true characters, too.  Rat, for example, is sassy and mischievous, full of bravado and biting remarks.  But he has a tender soul underneath it all, with worries and weaknesses just like any human character.  In addition, he's also distinctly rat, biting on instinct, careful about his grooming, and even having an accident in Emmy's backpack when he's scared half to death.  (Which only makes you love him more.)  This melding of fantasy, reality, and genuine character gives this book that extra-special touch that makes it such a fascinating read.  Jonell definitely has a thing or two to teach anyone who wants to write an unforgettable book.

If you enjoy reading animal fantasy books, Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat is a good pick for you.  (Even if you don't like rodents, I promise that these will neither gross you out nor make you scream like a ninny.  They are truly loveable little rodents.)  And if you write animal fantasy, then I highly urge you to read this book.  There are so many elements Jonell skillfully uses to craft this winning tale, and my little blog can only discuss so many of them!  :)

You can find out more about Jonell and her other books on her website: www.lynnejonell.com

And if you read this book, do let me know.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Happy Reading!   (I'm raring to pick up the sequel already!)

Note: The summary blurb is from Jonell's website and the cover art is from barnesandnoble.com.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Magical Feast

If you've ever met me, then you'll know that I LOVE the Harry Potter series.  And even though the books have been finished for a while now, there are still lots of ways to keep the magic alive with movies, games, "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park, and even cookbooks! 
Yes, that's right, cookbooks!  
 I nearly swooned when I found The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and immediately purchased it for my good writing buddy (and later for myself!)  Those feasts in the Hogwarts Great Hall always left me craving Butterbeer and English trifle, so my friend and I got together this weekend to try out some recipes.  After salivating through pages upon pages of magical recipes, we settled on Apple Blossom Glazed Pork, 1-2-3 Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bonbons, and Pumpkin Pasties. 
The recipes were fairly easy for a couple of Muggles to follow.  (Although, we did decide a few of them needed some extra-steps added to the margins all Half-Blood Prince-style.)  We started with the Apple Blossom Glazed Pork.  Everything went smoothly here, except for the fact that we couldn't find the "Pickled Watermelon Rind" that the recipe called for.  (Seriously, what the heck is that?  The people at my grocery store looked at us like we were wearing Luna Lovegood's roaring lion hat when we asked for it!)  Instead, we substituted mango chutney--because they're totally the same thing, you know.  ;)  Despite our bizarre ingredient substitution, the recipe was delicious and really easy to make--a definite winner!  And it makes a TON of meat!  (We had already sliced up tenderloin #2 by the time we snapped the picture below).
That sauce is 60% honey and 100% scrumptious!
The Pumpkin Pasties were NOT so easy to make.  The recipe only made enough dough for six pasties, and quite frankly that was all we could handle anyway.  The dough is made separately and has to chill for a while, and we never got it to quite the right consistency.  (I'm sure it also didn't help that I don't own a rolling pin, so my friend had to make do with a piece of PVC pipe my hubby scrounged up.  Classy, eh?)
Can you guess how often I make baked goods?
Once the dough was finally rolled and cut for the pasties, we could hardly fit any pumpkin filling inside or they wouldn't close.  The writer also left out the oh-so-important step that the rolled-out dough needed a dusting of flour or it would stick to everything.  As you can see, the entire recipe was a trial-and-error experience.  (At least being ugly didn't make them any less tasty!)
They DID get prettier with practice...
On the other hand, the 1-2-3 Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bonbons were easy-peasy to make.  We just combined the ingredients, dipped them in chocolate, let 'em cool, and voila!  They tasted like puppy-chow and buckeyes mixed together, although their serving suggestion was WAY too big.  (At 1 1/2 inches each, these rich, dense desserts even had my hubby struggling to finish just one!)  Next time, we'll make them bite-size.  (And they were sooooo good, there will definitely be a next time!)
Beautiful AND delicious!
Apart from some missing steps and ingredients we couldn't find, we decided this is a really fun book.  There are scores of yummy recipes we still want to try, from Roast Pheasant to Treacle Pudding.  And if all that tasty food isn't enticing enough, there are snippets of fun facts from the series sprinkled throughout the recipes, too!  If the end of the book series left you with a Harry Potter-sized hole in your heart, this is definitely a good way to fill it.  (Not to mention your tummy!)

Note: Coverart of The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook is from barnesandnoble.com.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mid-Year Evaluation

Goodness, it's already June!  I've said it before and I'll say it again: Where does the time go?!

At this half-way point in the year, it's a good time to take out that list of resolutions we made at the start of 2012 and see how we're coming along.  If you're like me, you've probably fallen a little behind...

 Original 2012 Resolutions (as seen here)

~complete another round of revisions on Beast of Bannock manuscript Nope
~finish first draft of "Project Pirate Ferret"  Negative
~send out more query letters (blegh)  Nada
~catch up (and keep up) with SCBWI bulletins Yes!
~continue this delightful blog  :)  Another success!  Woohoo!
~uncover the One Big Secret to publishing success  ;)  Not so much

~illustrate one full digital picture a month Half success?
~practice drawing humans (NOT my forte) Zippo
~learn how to digitally paint fur and grass (again, NOT my forte)  Sort of...
~complete another month or two of the exercise "30 ____ in 30 Days" Ha!
~join an online art network  YES!
~feel confident enough to throw my hat into the illustrator ring Erm, getting there...

Pertaining to Health and/or Sanity Well-Being:
~play video games once a week Um, at least a handful of times this year...
~take dog for walk twice a week (*does not apply in snow) Sorry puppy...
~watch all movies that are still in plastic wrap Unwrap them, yes; watch them, no.
~try one new recipe per month Affirmative!
~strive to be in bed before midnight Ongoing struggle
~spend more quality time with my hubby and furry family Much better
~figure out how to clone self  Alas...

In retrospect, this list looks pretty grim.  But really, I've taken steps towards ultimately achieving many of these things--I'm just not quite there yet.  That's okay, though, because there are still 6 months left in 2012!

That being said, I do believe it's time to reevaluate some of these goals, and thus I propose...

Revised 2012 Resolutions! 

~complete another round of revisions on Beast of Bannock manuscript
      -Just keep swimming...
~finish first draft of Pirate Ferret
      -Just keep swimming...
~send out more query letters (blegh)
      -See above.  (I can't put the cart before the horse, now can I?)
~keep up with SCBWI bulletins 
      -So far so good!
~continue this delightful blog  :) 
      -Well duh!
~uncover the One Big Secret to publishing success
      -Hey, I can dream, can't I?  ;) 

~just have SOMETHING artistic to show for each month
      -Baby steps  :)
~draw one human--just ONE
      -I can do ONE by December 31st! I swear!
~experiment with digital painting tools and techniques
      -I'll learn how to paint fur and grass AFTER I figure out what all those brushes do
~complete another month or two of the exercise "30 ____ in 30 Days"
      -I think the above 3 goals are plenty
~keep up with online art network
      -That deviantArt inbox is already getting full!
~feel confident enough to throw my hat into the illustrator ring
      -Maybe by the end of the year...

Pertaining to Health and/or Sanity Well-Being:
~play video games once a week
      -This may sound stupid to you, but it's important to me
~take dog for walk twice a week
      -It's summer.  No excuses.
~watch just 6 movies that are still in plastic wrap
      -That's only one per month!
~try one new recipe per month
      -Piece of cake! (And cake recipes count!)
~strive to be in bed before midnight 
      -Ain't gonna happen. Why stress about it?
~spend more quality time with my hubby and furry family
      -Always room for improvement!
~pay someone else to figure out how to clone me 
      -Like I have time to discover that!

Although it's a little discouraging to revise some things and strike others completely from my list, it's important to reevaluate priorities.  Then, you can refocus your energy where it really matters (like completing novel drafts and revisions!)  Plus, there's no point keeping something unattainable on the list that's going to massively stress you out.  You can always try again next year!  :)

All right second half of 2012: prepare to be conquered!

Note: Image is from Microsoft Clipart