My Anniversary

There will be only one post from me this week because I’m taking a long weekend. My husband and I will be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. We don’t have a ton of things planned since we already took the kids on a cruise in January. That cruise was our gift to each other, and the lion’s share of Christmas gifts for the kids. But still, we’re going to spend some time together and even see the new Avengers movie. I promise not to post spoilers.

My husband and I met when we in our Freshman year of college. We were just nineteen years old at the time. We’d only be dating for six months when he proposed. But we didn’t get married until after graduation. I had made a promise to my father that I would finish school before getting married, and I kept that promise. We graduated together in December of 2008 and got married in April of 2009. He was working in public accounting at the time so we had to wait until April to have a chance at the time off and a honeymoon.

A decade later our life together looks a little different. Not every day is easy, but all of them are worth it. The day I married him, I didn’t think it was possible to love him more than I already did. But now we have two kids together and I love him a little more every time I see him being a great dad to our children.

We dated for six months. We were engaged for four years. We’ve been married for ten years. It’s been almost a decade and a half since this relationship started. It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s all been worth it.

So this week, I’m taking a little time off to celebrate. Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller famously stated that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Life does indeed move fast, so my husband and I are going to stop and look around a little this week. We have a great life together. I’d hate to miss it.

Spring!

Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.

Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.

I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.

Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.

Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.

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Spring is most definitely here.

The 7 Day Book Challenge

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m related to a librarian. I don’t want to brag or anything, but she’s pretty cool. I mean, to a book nerd that’s like being related to an Avenger. Last week she tagged me in the #7DayBookChallenge where I was supposed to post a book, each day for seven days straight, that I loved and offer no commentary, explanation, or review.

It was hard.

First, I had to pick only seven books. Do you know how hard it is for a book lover to pick ONLY seven books? Each day was a debate. I ended up mixing it up, genre-wise, so that I spread the love around. It was still tough.

Second, I want to talk about the books I love. I want to offer up commentary. I want to share even their flaws with other readers who would enjoy them. Each day I tagged a friend to also complete the challenge. One of them didn’t even try to post without commentary. She said it wasn’t in her nature and so every book came with a post about why she loved it and when in her life it meant the most. I enjoyed that too.

So I’m challenging all of you. You can participate in the #7DayBookChallenge, you can talk about your favorite books in great detail, or you can just commit to talking about the books you love a little more often.

Also, if you’re looking for my picks for the week, check my Instagram (kswatts).

Writing Soundtrack

In my last post about the writing process, I mentioned that novel aesthetics aren’t something that really works for me. I really want them to, but alas. Something I’ve found that does sometimes help me if I’m struggling to get in the right mindset for a particular story is to listen to a writing soundtrack.

Some writers build a playlist to write along to as they start each new manuscript. Since a lot of my writing happens in spurts between errands, chores, taking kids to school and/or practices, etc, I generally jump into writing first and then pick some music when I need it.

And I don’t necessarily go to the same playlist all the time. When I need my writing music, it’s usually for a specific type of scene. A romantic scene and a battle scene don’t call for the same type of background music. Luckily, I can head over to Spotify, Amazon, or Pandora and pick a few songs and let the algorithms do the rest. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s quick and it works for me.

However, if I know I’m going to work on a specific type of scene later, I have been known to put together a purposeful playlist to keep me focused. For really intense scenes, I can’t risk picking songs with lyrics that I love. I’ll stop writing and sing along, which is not productive.

The best part is when the music inspires you. For instance, when I sat down to write this post I had no idea what I would write about. I put on my headphones and stared at the screen. Time ticked away and the screen was still blank. Then I found myself singing along to the songs of my childhood and adolescence. Each new song triggered a specific memory and changed my mood. Then one came on that I realized would be perfect to help me through a scene in my current project. Once that train of thought left the station, this post was just a few stops down the track.

Do you make aesthetics for your projects? Do you make soundtracks? Do you work in complete silence and make everyone leave you alone? That last one is perfectly fine too. Whatever works for you. But if you have go to songs for writing, I want to know. I might have to add them to my arsenal.

10 Things About Snack Foods

 

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Photo by Felipe Cardoso on Pexels.com

Snacking, while not unique to American life, is very much tied to American culture. And like so many other things we enjoy, our favorite snack foods have influences from many other cultures. Historically, snacks have also represented divisions in socioeconomic levels. There’s a lot more to that bag of pretzels than salt and dough.

As a writer building a world or setting a scene, don’t forget or ignore the cultural significance of food. We don’t necessarily need to see your character eat every meal, but food has the power to bring people together or divide them further. Does your main character always know what fork to use, or does it cause them embarrassment during a gathering? Do members of your ensemble cast bond over a shared favorite indulgence? Perhaps things in your political thriller hinge on a diplomatic dinner going well, only to discover that the menu includes massive cultural faux pas.

Food can be the source of simple sustenance, great joy, or emotional struggle. However, it can be easy to overlook in the grand plot scheme. Readers don’t usually want to read through a six-course meal. But using food, a seemingly minute detail, to enhance worldbuilding or showcase a class divide is realistic. What foods are common to the culture of your Fantasy world? Do your characters fight for every scrap of food to avoid starvation, or do they live in a world of indulgence and opulence where food is more about showing off than survival?

If characters have enough food in their day-to-day lives to also be concerned about snacks, it says something about their economic standing and food scarcity. In the U.S., snacks are a big industry, and we certainly have our favorites. Let’s look at a few.

Here are 10 Things About Snack Foods:

  1. In Western European history, after silverware or utensils became prevalent, any food eaten without the use of proper utensils was considered lower class. This didn’t change until sometime in the early 1900s. Those cucumber finger sandwiches that your great-aunt likes to serve at parties would have marked her as a poor peasant woman less than a century and a half ago.
  2. Peanuts came to the United States through to avenues. North from South America where evidence of their cultivation predates the arrival of Europeans, and across the Atlantic from West Africa during the slave trade. Knowing their origin, it’s not a surprise that they were first prevalent in cuisines in the Southeastern United States and didn’t become common in the North until after the Civil War. However, once their popularity spread it didn’t take long for them to become the preferred snack at early baseball games and even vaudeville theaters.
  3. Popcorn has been around for thousands of years. Evidence backs up cultural histories that say Native nations in the United States and Mexico began making popcorn over fires for anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. It wasn’t called “popped corn” until the mid-1800s and the modern day microwave popcorn bag was patented by General Mills in the early 1980s.
  4. Pretzels came to the U.S. with German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania who would become known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The origins of the pretzel in Europe are disputed, but that hasn’t affected their popularity in America. Though, until the late 1800s and early 1900s they were closely associated with street vendors and saloons which made them decidedly lower class. However, as ballparks and concert halls began to sell them, they gained popularity across the board. With new strides in packaging and manufacturing processes since the 1950s, pretzels became one of the most popular snacks in America.
  5. The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair debuted Dr. Pepper, waffle cones, and cotton candy. It also popularized “carnival foods” like hot dogs and hamburgers.
  6. The most popular cookie in America, the Oreo, was first sold in 1912. The origin of the cookie’s name and who actually came up with it are both points of dispute, but they got their embossed design in 1952. There are more than five patents associated with the original Oreo cookie.
  7. Candy bars such as Mr. Goodbar, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Mounds, along with other candy treats like Mike & Ike and Reese’s peanut butter cups all gained massive popularity in the 1920s during Prohibition. They were a feel-good treat that could still be enjoyed in public while alcohol had to be consumed behind closed doors. Prohibition also saw a rise in a new drink, 7-up, though since the first incarnation of the recipe included a mood stabilizer that’s probably not surprising.
  8. Girl Scout Cookies started as a simple bake sale fundraiser and only included one flavor, sugar cookies. However, in the late 1930s the orders started to become so large and so common that they had to begin outsourcing the baking to commercial bakeries. Considering the nation was still largely suffering the effects of the Great Depression, that was quite the impressive feat.
  9. M&M candies were introduced in the 1940s. The candy coating was designed to be a little more heat resistant than tradition candy bars because they were specifically meant to be shipped to soldiers serving in World War II. Tootsie Rolls also appeared on the market for the same purpose. Anybody who could spare the money could send a sweet treat to their loved one to remind them that someone back home cared.
  10. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Graham Crackers were invented by different men and at different times, but for the same reasons. Both Kellogg and Graham believed that indulging in decadent foods somehow led to sexual promiscuity. Corn Flakes were meant to be sustenance without flavor so that one could eat without carnal temptation following. Graham Crackers held the same purpose, but modern incarnations include so much added cinnamon and sugar that they wouldn’t be recognized by their inventor and namesake. And he would be beyond appalled at the use of his crackers as part of a beloved sweet snack like S’mores. The scandal!

There you have it. Sex, drugs, and cookies. Never underestimate the power of food.

National Library Week

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It’s the second week of April, which means it’s National Library Week! If you didn’t know that was even a thing, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But I promise I didn’t just make it up off the top of my head. It’s real.

In the early 1950s, a partnership between publishers and the American Library Association formulated the idea of taking a specific week and using it to jointly promote literacy. The brainchild of that particular think tank was National Library Week. It was first celebrated in the late 1950s, although I have seen different years in different historical account publications so there might be some discrepancy on when it “officially” began.

Why April? It’s already School Library Month (which I still didn’t know was a thing until I read a press kit about NLW). And since NLW began, the second week has become about more than just promoting literacy, it’s also about celebrating the people who promote it all year long. National Library Workers Day is Tuesday of this week. National Bookmobile Day is Wednesday of this week. And just for good measure, I’ll also point out that Thursday of this week is Support Teen Literature Day.

It’s a busy week.

I have seen signs around our library in the past about NLW, but never paid that much attention to it. But this year, I joined the volunteer group that helps raise extra funds for our local library and also works some of the events our branch hosts. Our head librarian came to talk to us about NLW and some of the special programming they had lined up for it.

In a day and age where federal library funding is being ripped to shreds, funding at the state level is being threatened (or in my state, demoralized), and ebooks are so accessible to so many–but not all–you might start to wonder why even fight it anymore. I don’t. Because every week, sometimes more than once a week, I visit my local library and I notice people.

  • The same high school kid who is always at the computer bank doing his homework. He doesn’t have internet at home, but he lives close enough to walk to the library after school.
  • The accountant helping people prepare their tax forms free of charge. He helps anyone who shows up on the days he’s there, but he gives anyone over sixty-five first priority.
  • The mom in scrubs who is studying a textbook while watching her children out of the corner of her eye.
  • The young woman who has a new student with her every few weeks for a tutoring session. Her wards always leave looking like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.
  • The busload of kids from a local daycare who get a special storytime each week just for them.
  • The local chess club that boasts members of almost all ages.
  • A monthly meeting of a STEM club that challenges 8-12-year-old kids to learn coding and robotics.
  • Classes being held on gardening, cooking, genealogical research, nutrition, etc.
  • Game nights for adults who would like to meet more people in the community, but don’t enjoy going to bars or clubs.
  • Book launches. I’ve seen local authors being promoted by our library as if they were family. “You should come to see her at the launch party! She’s been coming in for years and now we’re going to display her book right over here! Isn’t it exciting?”

There is so much more. A library is more than just a collection of books, though I think that is still a beautiful thing. A library is an opportunity, a community, and a safe place. So stop by yours sometime this week and celebrate all the reasons why libraries are still important.

The Fallacy of “The Process”

Some writers like to make novel aesthetics to help them visualize their story; others find making such collages a waste of time they could use to write. Some writers like to make extensive outlines so they are never lost in the story once they start writing and can crank out a draft. Some writers just start typing. Some writers scribble in notebooks on public transportation during their commute, others pound away at their laptops after their kids go to bed. Some writers dream up worlds while doing a million and one other tasks while others may stare at the wall but see galaxies instead of shiplap.

The point is there is no one single process. Everyone has their own. It’s important to figure out what works best for you. When you have a routine that fits you, it’s your process, but not the process. It might not work for someone else, even if that someone else is a gifted and ambitious writer.

There are some steps that should apply to everyone. Write. Edit. Revise. Repeat. But how those things happen is very individual in nature. I often do my best work after the rest of my house is asleep, but because I also dislike sleep deprivation sometimes I have to change things up. I know several people who keep a notebook in the bag they carry to and from work and handwrite their notes for each new story. I know still others who get up at the crack of dawn to run miles and miles and then write a whole chapter–presumably all before I ever have my first cup of coffee. It sounds nuts to me, but it works for someone.

I have tried making novel aesthetics. It mostly took up way too much of my time and didn’t accomplish anything. But I have a friend who is awesome with photoshop and the collages she makes help her see the world she’s building a little clearer. Neither of us is wrong. That’s the beauty of writing. It’s not about conforming to someone else’s standard–at least when it comes to a process. It’s about self-expression.

Don’t get bogged down in all the advice like “you have to write at least a few words every day” or “you must finish at least one chapter per week”. It works for some writers, but not for everybody. Even the adage of BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard) discounts the very productive time some people spend spinning worlds into existence while on the treadmill.

There is no one process. That’s a conceptual lie perpetuated by bad and/or blanket advice tossed about on blogs and social media accounts. There is only the process that works for you. Daydream. Plan. Type. Speak into voice typing software while scrubbing floors. It’s okay if what you do doesn’t match up with what other writers do. Write, in whatever way you can. Edit. Revise, no first draft is perfect so take the time to mold and shape it into something beautiful. Outside of those steps, the execution of which could look vastly different person to person, your process can include or exclude almost anything you want.

So when you see someone give blanket advice, keep in mind that what works for them isn’t required of you. If you can’t write every day because your schedule doesn’t allow for it, you won’t automatically be excluded from the club. If you can and do write every day of the week, great.

You’re a writer. You do you.