Friday Fast Five: Strawberries, my Chicago(North) Pride, and Happy Belated Mother’s Day to Me

Another Friday has rolled in on waves of heat and dooms-day looking clouds.  Like many, I’m hoping those clouds stop teasing and make good with a storm!

1. We could use a good storm – it’s been a dry summer, and while I’m happy the near-drought conditions will help keep the mosquito population low, it isn’t good for just about anything else…including strawberries. The heat and lack of rain yielded a harvest of tiny berries this summer, and the girls almost missed their annual trip to go berry picking. We snuck (I know, it’s supposed to be sneaked – but I just like snuck better, so pbbt) in a trip during the last week the local U-Pick fields were open, and enjoyed a gorgeous breezy Monday morning before the temps went triple digits later in the week.

My girls love berry picking, I suppose it’s the novelty of it – as the past time is poked fun at on the often funny and always un-PC blog, Stuff White People Like.

2. When I take the girls berry picking, I don’t go overboard and get the 10-lb box or anything. I know lots of people like to make jam, but the idea of canning my own preserves sounds like torture. Nope. I usually find one or two new recipes to try, and hope the rest of the berries get eaten before they turn into a science experiment at the back of the produce bin of my fridge. My current favorite strawberry recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens – it’s basically a peanut butter brownie with the fresh strawberries layered on top, so you really get to appreciate how fresh those just picked out of the field berries are. If you have fond memories of pb&J sandwiches, you’ll want to give this recipe a try: BH&G Fresh Strawberry Bars. (I would have included a pic, but the first batch disappeared too fast…I plan to bake up another batch today – so I may add a pic in later.)

3. This past Monday was also my turn to bring dessert to my Chicago-North RWA meeting, so I brought some of the strawberry bars along – if you asked me for the recipe that night…well, here it is! 😉  Joining Chicago-North was one of the best things I have done for my writing.  CN is a critique chapter, and I’ve discovered so much can be learned by listening and participating in a good critique process. At the moment, the chapter is bursting at the seams with good news: book releases, new book deals, and awesome book reviews…the positive vibe is infectious and so helpful at a time when the writing world seems full of “the end is nigh” publishing prophecies. My TBR pile is stacked high with CN writers – and at the top of the pile are: Erica O’ Rourke’s BOUND (the final installment in the Torn trilogy), Hannah Martine’s LIQUID LIES (the first in a new series called The Elementals), Holly McDowell’s much anticipated HUNTED (first episode of KING SOLOMON’S WIVES)  from the fascinating, innovative publisher Coliloquy. I also hope to read Carrie Lofty’s highly praised new release STARLIGHT (the second book in her Christie Family series) – but first, I still need to read FLAWLESS.  Yep, that list will keep me pretty busy for the rest of the summer!

4. Mixed in with all this reading is my own writing, of course, and I continue to strive for more BICHOK time to meet my word count goals. I am also striving to continue meeting my other goal: to read a writing craft book a week – this week’s book is Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. So far much of what Lukeman covers is stuff I already know (less is more, watch your use of adverbs, make sure to research an agency before querying them) but it is still useful information – and I can still learn from it! For example, I know it is best to be concise, I know more is less…and yet I like to swim in details, and have a tendency to go overboard. The following observation from Lukeman helped me remember why it’s best not to color everything in for the reader:

It can be demeaning to the reader when the writer fills in every last detail for him. It assumes he as no imagination of his own. As readers, we bring so many of our own associations to the table anyway, so we’re going to substitute our own picture of a car, say, no matter how much effort the writer puts into describing it.

Each chapter ends with writing exercises meant to be employed on your current WIP. So writers immediately have a chance to put the book’s lessons into practice.

5. To be a productive writer it helps to have a work space that is conducive to, well, work. On the good writing days – the days when the thoughts are pouring in and the words are pouring out fast and furious it doesn’t matter where I’m writing: at my desk or in the car pool line…but on the not so good writing days – when my thoughts are muddy and every word is a struggle, then each small discomfort is a distraction, each distraction an excuse to not write. One such distraction was the lamp on my writing desk. I hated it. I like my light to be a soft glow, but this thing provided a garish glare.  Often, if I had planned for a nighttime writing session, the light from the lamp would give me a headache, and I would cut my session short. This year, the husband’s Mother’s Day gift to me was running late.  I didn’t mind, and it was totally worth the wait – for yesterday it arrived…and I am a very happy writer. My “office” is tucked into the room we call our Star Wars Bar (what was intended to be a dining room, but is now a museum of sorts displaying my collection of Star Wars memorabilia). Knowing the above, you’ll know why this made for an absolutely perfect gift:

The "Rebel Alliance" lamp - complete with Anakin Skywalker lightsaber base.

Like it? You can get your own over at Entertainment Earth. They also have a Galactic Empire version with Darth Vader lightsaber. You know, if you want to have both and bring balance to the Force.

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