Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Remember the Contest I Didn't Win?

Remember that contest I entered back in September? I didn't expect to win, but I wanted feedback from people who aren't my friends or family, but who do read and like chick lit. It finally arrived!

I received feedback from two judges, each including detailed comments within the text of what I sent, plus a scoresheet plus overall comments. My scores were 126 and 103 out of a possible 135. None of the individual scores were below average.

Here the best and worst (in the requires the most work sense) comments:
"...You really seem to know Alison. I think characterization is your forte....I think you have loads of talent. In general, the ms seems somewhat unpolished to me (needs better hooks, needs less telling, needs more dialogue). But when it’s fleshed out and polished, I think this ms will be a knock-out!"
There seem to be too many secondary characters who serve no purpose. Why do we need to know about everyone who works at the restaurant? What is Toni’s purpose? Do you need all 4 sisters?"

That last comment is unfortunatly still somewhat of a problem. For whatever reason, I overcomplicate the story by adding in too many extra people. I'm going to need to ruthlessly cut some of them out.

For those of you who read the Valentine excerpt and are wondering who Alison is, this feedback is for an earlier story. The main character has morphed into Louise.

Disclaimer: yes, I realize that contests want to encourage wanna-be novelists because they pay to enter contests and it is a self-serving cycle. However, the editing comments were valid and the criticism hits areas I know are weak, so I do think this was worthwhile.

I am on track to finish draft #1 this week and start revising next week.

Did I mention I'm happy?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Back but Busy

I made it back to Plainfield and am back in the Speeway coffee/library groove. I have photos to upload, but I'm focused on book first, blog next. Linda and I are signed up for a conference at the end of April and I have to be ready and I'm not ready and I'm freaking out because this garbled jibberish is what my book looks like right now.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Aunt Karen Mania

I finally reached Linda despite their cordless phone breaking down, leaving one functional corded phone in the house with a low-volume ringer. I begged her to be my book-writing buddy in the afternoons and she agreed if I would help with house maintenance in the morning. In the background Emma said, "NO- she's going to play Barbies with me!" I miss that kid : )

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sleeping With the Astronauts

I tried out the memory foam bed last night - you've seen the infomercials - these are the beds created with Nasa technology. They're supposed to repsond to body heat and provide better, more even support.

I liked the feeling of sinking into it, and I did sleep for 10 hours, but I'm still not sold, particularly considering the astronomical price tag. My favourite bed ever was the heavenly bed in a Peach Tree hotel in Atlanta. Now that was a comfortable bed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Driving Myself Over the Edge

The trip from Ile-Perrot to Ashtabula was not that fun. It started ok - hit the road at about 8 am, stopped for a cup of Tim's and a cran-bran muffin on the 401, crossed the border no problem, but then things got ugly.

Maybe I built up bad karma by not feeling bad for New Yorkers after their snowstorm, or maybe the national weather isn't planned around me, but either way I drove right into the middle of a huge freaking snowstorm on I81. It was awful - I couldn't see anything - the road wasn't plowed at all and everything was white. The scariest part about that is driving a white car and wondering if any trucks driving faster behind me could see me. I got off the Interstate as soon as I could, but was in the middle of nowheresville. I finally found a Deli/Bait Shop where I picked up the lunch special (mistake) and called e. to get a weather update.

E. assured me that according to the weather network, I was NOT in the middle of a snowstorm, only flurries and fog. I felt like a character in a war tv show who calls in to report taking heavy fire only to be told that there is no enemy activity in the area. I'm not saying that driving in a snowstorm is like being shot at, but I am saying that standing at an outside payphone while snow is piling up and and whipping around you and being told that there are only light flurries in your area is extremely frustrating.

I finally got back on the road and hit sunshine, then more snow. Had to pull off again, but this time at least I found a service area - much better than the store in Creepy Corners. The entire drive was a bit nerve-wracking. It's not that fun to never know how long the decent weather will last and to pass signs saying "Correctional Facility Nearby Do Not Pick Up Hitch Hikers" Not that I normally would pick up hitch hikers, but I'd prefer to think that they are Jack Keroacs, not Ted Bundys.

By the time I got to Ashtabula last night after 11.5 hours of driving, I was drained. Thinking I bought two slices of Hawaiian pizza only to discover that the yellow stuff was cheese, not pineapple was just the icing on the cake. Luckily I had plenty of Healthy Choice Rocky Road ice cream to ease my pain. I am trying to wean myself off the Ile-Perrot truffle diet.

I know this whole 'woo-hooo look at me - I can go wherever I want since I no longer work for the man' thing was my idea, but sometimes it really feels awkward adjusting to a different place and establishing a different routine. I am getting writing done, I just feel a little out of alignment today. On the bright side, it is sunny and warm and since 'woo-hoo I can make my own schedule', I went for a nice run during peak sun hours. nice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Freelancer is on the move

I'm heading back over the border today. I'll be on OH for a few days and then back in Pville.

I can't wait to see the LSQNE gang, go to Speedway for 50 cent coffee, return the library books I checked out before I left ($$), have Dominicks pizza and sushi, go to SuperKicks and watch netflix.

I will miss e. very much. Maybe fits can keep up with my handywoman training.
"Here's some CLR - you can go unclog all the drains in the house"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Quick, Sacrifice Something to the Weather Gods!

I am eternally thankful that they smiled on me last weekend when I was curled up in a tent outside, but today the portal to Hoth re-opened. Freezing rain on top of snow, then sun, but not a kind sun, just enough sun to illuminate the havoc wreaked by the fearsome wind.

Since I had no paying work today, I was available to chisel the ice off of the sidewalk and driveway. (Not requested by e-he can walk on it no problem as though it were gravel. I see an icy sidewalk and cower inside, throwing salt at it, praying it will melt.)

After de-icing I went back inside, sat back down at my desk and heard a horrible noise - bad noise, chunks of house being torn off noise. I went to investigate and saw big pieces of fence down. See photo exhibit.

If I thought de-icing was bad, it was nothing compared to fence piece gathering. Keep in mind the wind was still whipping these giant fence pieces around as I picked them up and untangled them from the wire baskets protecting the neighbours' prize-winning rosebushes. Then I got to drag them and try to stash them under the back porch so they can somehow be salvaged. I have no idea what snappy tool in that toolchest will repair ripped plastic fence pieces, but I'm sure I'll find out. THIS drawer is for miracle fence repair tape...

It took 3 truffles, a 45 minute conversation with Linda and my camping booties to help me recover. Enough with the wind already. My plan for the weekend is to barricade myself in the basement and watch the all chick flick channel on the satellite.

Someone come get me in April.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


e: "want to do a little electrical work for me?"
me: "no"

e: (thinks I'm kidding.) gets out strange tools, walks over to where wires are sticking out of the wall in the basement, looks back and is surprised I'm not following him. "come on, I'll show you how."

I walk over and take my time getting comfortable sitting on an exercise ball while he starts explaining things. blah blah strip it like this blah blah hot wire is black blah blah turn it here

me: "what if I do it wrong, electrocute myself and set the whole house on fire?"
e: points to another, bigger wire in the ceiling "it's disconnected so you can't"

me: pretty comfortable on my seat and afraid of what other worse odd jobs might be waiting in the workshop. "ok." strip this, twist that, tighten that. wait - black is hot or white is hot? shouldn't red be hot? I shout to confirm 'hot' color - black. right. done and done.

e: "this looks pretty good, but ..." ok I messed up one small thing about the wire going in the direction of the screw that in my defense he hadn't even explained.

me: finish screwing the socket to the wall and the face plate to the socket and the result was, well, Picasso-esque.

e: undoes and redoes what I just did, but it still looks Picasso-esque. he shrugs and says "come on, I'll show you where this stuff goes. THESE go in the tool belt. THESE go in this drawer with pliers, THIS drawer is full of..."

At that point my head starts buzzing and I start to panic wondering what in the hell I would ever be using these tools for. I've made it 39 years without them, couldn't I hold out a little longer? I hate to be a girly-girl, but... but...
Actually I'm not even a girly-girl - I don't really cook or sew or hot-glue fringe onto lampshades.

Now that I can install a socket (well, as long as the power is off), maybe the sky is the limit. I managed to master the snowblower - I'm tempted to take a picture of today's effort - beautiful, symmetrical - I think I will put orange cones at the base of the driveway so no one parks on it and messes it up.

Maybe I'll soon be complaining about all the tools missing from that massive multi-drawer tool chest. or maybe not. can't tell yet.

The problem

The problem with sending out excerpts is that now I'm psychotically checking my e-mail looking for responses. MUST CALM DOWN.

No more excerpts. Once the first draft is done and revised, it goes to my proofreader and reader and technical advisors.

I like how easily I say "Once the first draft is done..." as if it's just another item on my to do list like taking out the garbage.

Some stats: 154 pg done out of 360 pg needed. that's almost halfway through draft one version 5 (or 6?), but I SWEAR I will finish this one. I have it outlined to the end. I've skipped a couple of chapters in the outline and added a few in, but otherwise, I'm sticking to the plan. 6 pg done so far today. If I wasn't wasting so much freaking time obsessively checking my e-mail maybe I'd get something done. Damn.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Come on, write a little

That's how Emma encouraged me when I got back on my rollerblades after a 10-year break - "Come on, skate a little"

I cranked out 14 pages yesterday and am back to it today. I'm somewhat cocerned that I am creating a bunch of pieces that may or may not fit together nicely in the end, but I can't worry about that too much right now.

I'm still struggling with understanding characterization. I don't want to create stereotypes. I'm hoping to be able to layer more personality and quirks onto individual characters as I go.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day special offer

Love to read excerpts of yet-to-be-finished and published books by unknown, possibly insane authors whose blogs you read? I have a piece of my first draft that has a Valentine's Day theme that I'd love to share. If you'd like to read it, e-mail me at ykarenes@yahoo.ca and I will e-mail it to you.

Monday, February 13, 2006


We're back from winter camping. The temperature dropped to -28 at night, but the days were -5 to -teens. Every day was sunny and beautiful and the moon was reaching peak fullness - we had bright moonlight every night. We saw tracks from a big wolf, but he had been at our campsite before us and didn't seem to return.

I got a lot of use out of my new showshoes including a 5 1/2 hour slog trying to reach -- Falls, but we stopped so often to admire and take pictures of the beautiful scenery on the way it was taking us too long and we had to turn back - plus I was exhausted. When you're tired and start dragging your snowshoes you tend to fall over face-first. The first time it happened I heard one of the guys behind me yell "break time" and we sat right there and had water and snacks :)

The next day the rest of the gang strapped on their snowshoes again, but I opted to stay behind and work on my igloo. I wasn't quite tapering the walls in fast enough, so my igloo would have been huge if I had finished it. As soon as the pictures are downloaded I'll put them on flickr.

I had an amazing time. The park is so beautiful in the winter it's incredible to be there and see it. Yes, it was cold, but mainly during transitions, like getting up in the morning. Once you're up and moving and the sun is out it's warm and even hot. Plus, I was on wood sawing and hauling detail so I didn't have too much chance to sit around shivering.

At night, with a good sleeping bag meant for cold weather conditions and two Nalgene bottles filled with boiling water and closed tight, you stay warm. It takes some adjusting to get used to the bag, but you can get some sleep. Getting up in the morning is another story... brrrr! And you DEFINITELY DO NOT want to have to go to the bathroom during the night. You'll never warm up the bag again. Still, a few minutes of bone-chilling cold are a small price to pay for the overall experience. I would and hopefully will go again.

If our ancestors had to survive harsh winters gathering food, chopping wood and surviving cold nights, why are there so many slacker descendants? I don't understand...

Think I'll go turn up the heat and make a cup of tea. :)

moose sighted: 0
ml of boiling water mistakenly poured on e's hands holding my Nalgene bottle: about 500. sorry about that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Don't Jinx It

Where does that come from? When things are going well and I start to think about how happy I am and how lucky I am and how amazing everything is, an evil troll starts swinging his spiked club saying "Don't jinx it!"

What does that mean? Don't enjoy it? Don't appreciate it? Don't asssume it will last? Well, jinx be damned, I will enjoy it, I do apppreciate it and I hope to hell it lasts. If I just jinxed it, then you are my witnesses and you can all say I told you so and you and the troll can sit by gleefully watching as I choose to never enjoy anything ever again or as I put a band-aid on the spot where the jinx hit and go shopping for a bigger, spikier club.

In other news, I managed to crank out 26 pages Monday and 10 pages Tuesday. I am trying to hit my week quota today because then I'm off winter camping - no heated cabin, just me in a tent, wrestling with black bears over the last Snickers bar. Or it could be me snuggled up in a sleeping bag thinking about how happy I am and trying frantically to remember all the hilarious scene ideas for my book that seem to pop into my head whenever I am without pen and paper.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tel Quel

After deiciding to stop agonizing and just bulldoze my way to the finish with whatever quality level I manage to crank out, I've managed to crank out 12 pages already this morning and it's only 10 am.

I might dump my critique group. I was paralyzed last week with way too much invested emotionally in what 'they' thought of what I posted. I'll leave critiquing for now and just finish. Then polish and show my two selected readers. Then pitch it at the conference. Oh no, I can feel panic creeping back in. Focus on today - crank out more pages...

Friday, February 03, 2006

I'm it

Scott tagged me. I love making these crazy lists. : )

Four Jobs I've had in my life

ride operator (Santa's Village - Dundee Illinois)

lab assistant (why did I decide to get a chemistry degree, exactly?)

creative copy director (writing Avon brochures - I loved that job)

public relations specialist (did not turn my life into that of Samantha from Sex and the City, much to my dismay)

Four Movies I could watch over and over

Gone With the Wind




Four Places Where I've Lived

Concord MA (historical town - no fast food places or movie theatres allowed)

Crystal Lake IL (the portal to Hoth)

Bash Ct. Champaign IL (six girls, one apartment, you do the math)

Montreal, QC (go Canada!)

Four Tv Shows I Love To Watch

I don't watch tv but I do rent DVDs from netflix and buy series that I like so I am a little behind. These are shows I have recently enjoyed on DVD.

Gilmore Girls


Freaks and Geeks


Four Places I've Been on Vacation

Sydney Aus

Mayan Riviera Mex

Napa Valley Ca

Ft Myers Beach Fl

Four Blogs I visit Daily

see my list of links at right - I check them all daily

Four of my favorite foods



any nice fish steak - swordfish, tuna, salmon


Five Albums I can't live without

Tidal - Fiona Apple

Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix

The three tenors in concert (I know, I know, but I do listen to it a lot)

Live Bullet - Bob Seger

Gold & Platinum - Lynyrd Skynyrd

note: I do listen to more current music, but I usually just copy selected songs - it's rare lately that there will be an entire CD I like.

Five vehicles I've owned

1984 Mazda 626 LX (loved that car, but v. costly to have repaired!!)

1994 Honda Civic

1992 Toyota Corolla (going backwards in newness...)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Back in freakout mode

Little progress so far today, and as a punishment, my fun girls-night out plans appear to be falling through. great.


My boss is extremely pleased with my performance yesterday: mastered the snowblower, wrote 11 pages, did a 55 minute circuit-training workout, got a little more freelance work, and didn't mess up my desk or office. There was a slight incident involving a large Hershey chocolate/almond bar, but you know what they say about all work and no chocolate...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Seizing, spam, and snowblowers

That's what's on my mind. Ok - seizing is a stretch. It's supposed to mean 'seize the day' as in today is mine, all mine - no outside work. I have a clean office, a tidy desk and nothing between me and my book except the usual panic attacks.

Spam - I found out yesterday that I had to PURCHASE advanced anti-spam flitering for my karen@karensmock.com e-mail or else it blocks non-spam, like e-mail from authors I write to. grrrr. Take a peek at my link to Valerie Frankel's site to see what I mean. Now I've made a what a moron impression.

Snowblowers - It keeps snowing here. What is this, Canada? I've been living in apartments for the last 15 years, so I forgot about shoveling the driveway. I figured, how hard can it be? answer: hard. Snow is heavy, and pitching it over high banks involves a lot of back twisting. I had to break down and admit that I'm going to have to use the freaking snowblower, but I don't like it. It's noisy and a little uncontrollable. I always feel like it's going to pitch me into the street, and for some reason, images of the wood chipper scene from Fargo are never far from my mind. I need to get over it though because the shoveling is going to kill me.

So far, so good. On to the book. Where was I?