Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The HIMYM gang smokes?!?

Last Cigarette Ever
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 11

The premise of "Last Cigarette Ever" was lackluster at best. Since when does everyone in the HIMYM smoke? I can see Robin as a smoker. (Just see Season 2, Episode 18, "Moving Day," in which Robin enjoys a cigarette in the bathtub while her new live-in boyfriend Ted hangs out with Barney). I can even understand Lily as a smoker, too. (Season 2, Episode 21, "Something Borrowed," when Lily smokes to calm herself after all the disasters at her wedding). But Ted, Marshall, AND Barney as smokers?!!? No way.

I get that the writers expected viewers to be shocked, just like Future Ted's kids are as he reveals that each. and. every. one. of his friends - and himself - used to be part-time smokers. But it just felt like the writers were grasping at straws, just trying to find something to fill in an episode. We've had filler episodes before - like Season 4, Episode 2, "The Best Burger in New York" - but they were more entertaining (and believable and in line with who the characters were).

This a very, very, very far fall since last week's episode, The Window, which I thought was the best of the season so far. So, what's up Carter and Bays?!? Where's the creativity? Where's the crazy shenanigans that I've loved throughout pretty much every season? (Including this season, even when I haven't always agreed with the way the characters have been portrayed?)

For the most part, the writers have been consistent in the portrayal of the HIMYM gang. But, over the course of five seasons, it's not surprising that they occasionally need to change to characters over time - like Lily keeping Barney's secret love for Robin under wraps for months. But the premise and majority of last night's episode just left me annoyed. It seemed so out of the blue - and not in HIMYM's usual funny way.

To date, this is - by far - my worst review of HIMYM. Usually I show the love, and tons of it. But despite my vast criticisms (and groans while watching) there were a few glimmers of funny throughout the episode:
* Robin's storyline - yes, a storyline belonging to Robin and only Robin! - about an annoying co-anchor, Don, who pays no heed to the teleprompter and loves wearing tighty-whities around the set.
* Lily's manly smoker voice c/o Harvey Fierstein
* Marshall trying to get his old boss - remember Season 3, Episode 15 "Chain of Screaming"? - to remember him so he doesn't get fired, even if it means smoking.
* Marshall having a hard time dealing with the loss of McRib.
* The gang tuning in to Robin's show, finally, and calling in.
* Robin having a new love interest in Don. Yeah, yeah, I've always supported the Barney/Robin thing, but I'm interested to see this new dynamic play out. Here's hoping Don isn't as big of a jerk as he was portrayed last night.
* Marshall going back in time to beat-up on his 13-year-old self for lighting that first cigarette.
* In the last scene before the tag, Ted giving some hints as to what's in the gang's future by saying when they'll finally have their 'last cigarette.' (The only useful thing in the whole 'cigarette' storyline debacle, if you ask me).

Despite the overall lackluster episode, last night's HIMYM garned its highest ratings yet. For those of you who watched for the first time and wondered what all the hype is about after seeing this poor performance, I say STICK WITH IT. This is my first overall negative review of this show, and I'm hoping that the new year will bring plenty more legen-wait for it-dary episodes. There will be some more info about the Mother (I'm almost positive of it), and what's not to love about an upcoming musical number?

What did you think of "Last Cigarette Ever"? Was I too harsh in my assessment of the episode? What was your reaction when you found out they were all long-time smokers? Did you believe it? And what'd you think of Robin's new love interest, Don? Share your thoughts below!

Photo: cbs.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ted and the "perfect" girl

The Window
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 10

Ted finally finds a window of opportunity, and the gang tries to help him catch the "perfect" girl. Meanwhile, Barney takes a bet, and Marshall (again) tries to come to terms with the corporate life he's created for himself.

At the beginning of "The Window," Ted dashes out the door of McLaren's after receiving a phone call from an older woman saying the window is open. According to Ted (and Marshall & Lily), Maggie is the perfect girl - which is a problem because every guy who meets her thinks so, too. When she's finally single for a minute - in the 12 years Ted has known her, our hero races over to her apartment and asks her on a date before she can run into any other guy, postmen included.

The problem? When Ted arrives early for his date, Robins reminds him about the class he's supposed to teach that night. Maggie refuses to sit in, so Ted charges Marshall & Lily with watching over her to make sure that no guy comes in contact with her, even if it's just on the walk from the bathroom to the booth.

But Marshall and Lily don't stay long. Marshall has been sorting through some things his mother sent him. He pulls out a pair of denim overalls, which, naturally, leads to Barney challenging himself to get laid while wearing them. Marshall also pulls out a letter his 15-year-old self wrote his 30-year-old self. Despite some ridiculous goals - including growing out his rat-tail and legally changing his name to 'Vanilla Thunder' - his teenage goals affect him, and he runs away from the table, claiming he needs to take care of something at work.

Lily leaves Maggie in the care of Robin. Her turn babysitting is immediately threatened when Maggie's co-worker, Jim, starts chatting her up. Trying absolutely everything to get Jim's attention, Robin manages to make herself Jim's date to a erotic canine art gallery - which means Robin can leave Maggie with only one person... Barney.

Naturally, this frightens Ted. He had been trying to wrap up his class early, but to his dismay (and to his delight) everyone wanted to hear what he had to say about bridges. When he accidentally writes what's on his mind - MAGGIE - on the board, he tries to play it off as an acronym, but the classroom doesn't buy it. They start asking questions of his love life, focusing on: are you really ready for a serious relationship?

With no time to answer the question, he runs back to the bar. After Maggie calls Barney's overalls cute, Barney informs Ted that he has 10-minutes before the window closes again. Running down the street, Ted yells, "I hate Barney Stinson!" to which an unseen female yells, "Me too!" Classic.

Ted arrives at the bar just in time to run into Jim, who managed to escape Robin's clutches. Barney, too, throws his name into the hat, telling them that after he gets Maggie, the window will open again in 10 minutes. The guys fight about how long they've loved her, until they notice she's disappeared.

Robin sent her off in a cab, so she could escape the greedy guy vultures. Ted gives a lofty speech, so in character for him, and concedes that Maggie deserves to be single for a little while.... and then, as expected with his character, too, he bolts out the door, racing to Maggie's apartment, pushing Jim and Barney away in the process.

But they're too late. She ran into her childhood sweetheart and old next door neighbor, which prompts Ted to say that it was the second best romantic story he's ever heard. Despite the window with Maggie closing forever, Ted finally realizes he really is ready for a serious relationship... which begs the question, when has he not be? Yeah, he's gone through some rough patches in the past year, but he was always, always, always on the lookout for a serious relationship. If he hadn't been, why didn't he just throw in the relationship towel like Robin did, which is one of those things people do "Before They Meet the Love of Their Lives"'?

I understand why the writers let Ted have this realization... we're about to get a lot more of Ted's story... but it's disappointing that his conclusion is something that he's wanted all along.

As for Marshall, his story ended with attempting to prove to himself that he could still accomplish something on his list: slam dunk a basketball. Fail. Even after Lily lowers the hoop a foot. But, luckily for Marshall, Lily is there to remind him that he's successful and he's done things his 15-year-old self never dreamed of.

While I love seeing this side of Marshall and Lily - rather than Lily and her 'you're dead to me' stare, this storyline has somewhat been done before. Marshall's unhappiness with selling-out even led him to quitting his job in a previous episode. At least, he's learned not to do that again, I suppose.

Before wrapping up, let's not forget the tag: Marshall sits in McLaren's and writes a letter to his 60-year-old self. In it, he asks for proof of time travel on December 7th at exactly 8:29pm. Marshall looks around the bar, nothing happens, and then... Lily brings over a plate of free hot wings that someone returned because they were too hot. Miracle!

The camera pans over and we're treated to an older Marshall who is being served by Wendy the waitress, who's apparently returned as part of the supporting cast.

Despite my critiques of the storyline, this was by far my favorite of the season so far. The whole gang had a role to play. Barney's plot was simple and classic Barney - even with the shudder-inducing moment that he goes to sleep with the old lady, Maggie's neighbor who had earlier called Ted, just so he can get out of the overalls.

Overall (hah, you know they cover everything), "The Window" led to plenty of laughs, and here's hoping that HIMYM is back on track for the rest of the season.

What did you think of Ted's pursuit of Maggie? Do you think Marshall will ever 'save the world'? What happened to Robin and her totally horrible - but funny - tactics of getting Jim's attention? And, will Barney ever change? Share your comments below!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why I Love Outlining

I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this, but I abso-friggin-lutley love outlining my novel... but only at a certain time in the novel-writing process.

I didn't outline my novel before I wrote my first draft. Sure, I made a timeline of important events - since I need to get the chronology straight since I based a lot of things I wrote on actual events - but I do NOT outline as a first step, ever. Otherwise, I'd feel too constrained, and I'd feel that the story wouldn't naturally unfold.

That said, on draft 3.5, I got stuck. I knew what I wanted to add, I knew I needed to move some scenes around, and I knew I needed to delete a few scenes (as much as it hurt to do), but I didn't know where to start.

So, I started my outline to get the big picture of my whole novel on just a few pages. In the end, I organized this outline based on what I learned over at Paperback Writer.

But first, I started simple with the barest of the bare Chapter descriptions followed by a few hits of 'enter' to give myself some room to make handwritten notes. I then cut all the chapters into slips of paper and took two hours of sitting on the dining room floor to reorganize the pieces of the novel puzzle. It was so cathartic. I finally started to see how certain scenes worked together - or not - and made sure that the two timelines were both given the word and page space they needed.

I added, moved things around, and, gasp, threw out a couple chapters (the hardest to get rid of being the first two), and then I taped the slips of paper together.

Then it was back to the computer. I rearranged the outline and then filled out the outline with specific scenes, all the while making notes of what I needed to add or to work out when I went back to rewriting the novel. And boy oh boy do I have a ton of stuff I still need to rewrite.

But here's the thing. While I had some ideas of how I wanted the novel to change and grow before I sat down to outline, I never expected most of what I realized when I actually did the work. The novel is going to be so much better now and that much closer to being done, all because I took a break from writing (kind of) and outlined.

Do you outline? Or, how do you go about making drastic changes to your work? If you outline, when do you: before starting the novel or sometime after? How do you use outlines? Or do you absolutely hate them?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Return of the Slap

Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap

How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 9

Lily's estranged father shows up at Thanksgiving, and Marshall gives Robin and Ted a gift: one of them can slap Barney, bringing the total Slap-bet count to 4.

In working on my fanfic script of HIMYM, I had envisioned Lily's dad as a stodgy, old man named Alderman Aldrin. But in "Slapsgiving 2," the writers took a totally different route - although I hit the nail on the head when I considered him estranged. In last night's episode, Mr. Mickey Aldrin was an inattentive father who preferred to create boardgames - like Tijuana Slumlord, Car Battery, and There's a Clown Demon Under The Bed - rather than spend time with his daughter. To top things off, his character is played by Chris Elliott, who is the perfect actor for a quirky father who doesn't understand why his boardgames aren't selling.

Lily had yet another angry role to play this season, but it was the first time we saw the effects of her red-eyed death stare. She went through a whole gamut of emotions in this episode, from considering her dad dead, to storming out after finding out Marshall invited him to Thanksgiving, to realizing that she doesn't want to stay angry at her father forever. While it was nice to see a storyline for Marshall and Lily, it was Marshall's desire to bring the family closer together that won me over, rather than Lily's about-face while sitting in the neighborhood bodega.

While Marshall was out of line in inviting Mickey over, it made sense for his character. As Lily mentions, he has a tight-knit family that still includes him - via Webcam - for Sunday night dinners. His approach to getting Lily and her father reunited may have been a bit too much, but in the end, it worked out (albeit a bit too quickly) and Lily and her father started to make amends.

While the Lily & Marshall storyline had some heart, it was the slap bet everyone looked forward to in this episode. Who's going to hit Barney? Robin, who is still getting over the breakup, or Ted, who really has no reason to hit Barney at all? Not knowing who makes Barney flinch every time one of them moves, prompting him to worry about getting 'crow's feet'.

The two roommates argue over who has more of a right to slap Barney across the face, and Barney encourages it. If they don't make a decision before sundown - aka before dinner - then no slap will be had. "No way" passed my lips when Ted proclaimed that he was still in love with Robin, which is why he deserves to be the slapper, but (thankfully) Robin called him out on his lie.

Two minutes til sundown, Robin and Ted realize the 'slap' isn't fun anymore when they argue about it, and Robin gives the gift of the slap to Ted. He winds up and then...he stops. He gives the slap to Robin, who goes through the same process of getting ready, only to realize that someone else should get to slap Barney, who is nervously waiting in the Slap Throne. Robin gives the slap to Mickey, who gives it to Lily, who can't do it either... which of course prompts Marshall to cheer about how the Slap Bet brought everyone together. He then tells Barney that there will be no slapping today, Barney confidently stands up, and Marshall slaps him across the face. Awesome.

Although, it wasn't as good as the 'original Slapsgiving,' with Barney taunting Marshall and the Slapsgiving song, and Robin and Ted figuring out how to be friends after they broke up. (Major Bummer! Salute.) Barney did nothing really to deserve the slap this time around, unlike when he put on a play, but Marshall played it well, as he did throughout both his storylines in this episode.

What did you think of this season's slap? Do you think they'll show the final slap before the show is eventually over? What did you think about Barney not being the center of attention in this episode (even if he was the receiver of the slap)? Did you gasp when Ted told Robin he loved her? And what did you think of Mickey and his boardgames - especially "Diseases," which explodes all over the turkey?

Share your thoughts below!

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Running is like writing

The hardest part is starting. You talk yourself into changing into your workout clothes. You talk yourself into sitting down at the dining room chair. Once those first steps are accomplished, you remind yourself of your goals: make it a mile then maybe two. Rewrite Chapter 3, then depending on how long that takes, rewrite Chapter 4, which was once Chapter 10. You'll run for 45 minutes. You'll write for an hour. The goals might be different, but the process, how it all works together, is all the same.

But it's still hard. You stretch out your leg muscles. You crack your knuckles and then start typing, just trying to get your mind ready for what's ahead.

Then, you go. Your feet pound the pavement, and your fingers hit against the keyboard. You hit your stride. You feel like you can keep going and going and going, and no one will ever stop you. You can run for miles. You can finish one chapter, then two, then three.

Then there's those other times, when the going gets difficult. Your breathing gets labored, your leg muscles tighten. The words don't flow out and your fingers stop chattering against the keyboard.

But you push yourself, tell yourself that you just need to keep going, that you can do this. That you might not look your best while you're running past all the homes in your neighborhood, that you might not be putting your best words down... but you're making progress and you just need to turn off your internal critic/editor off for just a few more minutes. You're working toward your ultimate goal: losing weight and getting healthy, as well as finishing this novel. It takes patience and it takes practice, but you will get there.

Then, you finish for the day. Your run turns to a jog, which turns into a walk. A few more thoughts trickle out onto the page. You think about tomorrow, about how you'll improve, about what route you'll take next, and you feel wonderful for everything you've just accomplished.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barney bambozzles with the help of the Playbook

The Playbook
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 8

Last night's episode showed exactly why the Robin and Barney thing ended so abruptly: writers Bays and Thomas wanted Barney to bring out his 'playbook.' (Christmas present, anyone?) The entire episode essentially became a list of all the schemes and bamboozles Barney has in his repertoire, including the simple flim-flams: "Don't drink that," claiming that a guy slipped something into her drink, to the complex, such as "The Lorenzo von Matterhorn," which involves creating lots of fake Website pages talking about how famous and rich you, as Lorenzo von Matterhorn, are.

I'm not saying the list of scams wasn't funny, because it was. And I was curious as to how Barney intended to get the girl by wearing a scuba outfit to McLaren's. But the writers have shown that Barney can be a sweet guy, both in his relationship with Robin and well before, as he struggled to express his feelings for Robin ever since his realization way back in Season 3. Barney was anything but caring in last night's episode - funny and womanizing, as he's always been, but not nice.

While Barney is handling the breakup by returning to his player ways, Robin decides to focus on her career. This statement prompts Ted and Marshall to tell her that's exactly one of those 'Things People Say Right Before They Meet the Love of Their Lives.' Robin responds by brushing off their stories of love and marriage six months later.

So why hasn't this 'focus on the career' ploy worked for Ted and meeting the love of his life? He explains that he doesn't want to be single, ergo if he said it, it wouldn't be true. And then the plot moves back to what it always does: Barney and Robin, but especially Barney.

The entire episode is framed by Lily telling a blond-haired girl at the bar why she should not talk to the guy in the scuba suit who is trying, unsuccessfully, to drink with his mask on. But then the truth comes out: there is no "Scuba Diver" in the playbook that Lily stole (after getting Barney to hit on an actress during his "The 'He's Not Coming'" stunt on top of the Empire State Building), and the gang needs to know what "The Scuba Diver" con is.

Along with the blond, they all crowd in at the corner table to confront Barney. Taking off his mask, he admits that he's just trying to get over his break-up with Robin and that he's sorry for hurting Robin's feelings. Lily feels bad for how angry she got, and she tells the blond that she should go out with Barney after all, because, deep-down, Barney is a really great guy. Of course, the pair heads off and it seems like it's over... but wait.

Barney texts Lily, asking her to look under the table. Surprise, surprise, there's the missing page of the playbook, with a full description of the scuba diver con, and it played out exactly like the episode showed it would. Lily meddled, Barney pretended to confess to feeling sad about the break-up, and Lily got the girl to go out with him. That sounds like the old Barney all right - but I still don't completely buy it.

I know, I know. I'm biased because I've always been a supporter of a Barney & Robin pairing, but this episode, like the last, seemed a bit too forced. Barney loves to create elaborate schemes, yes, but him claiming that he's fine after the breakup? Don't buy it. Him claiming that he lied about feeling bad about hurting Robin's feelings? Don't buy it.

He may be a womanizer and a schemer, but he has a sweet side, too. "The Playbook" episode, like last week's "The Rough Patch," seemed to be a cop-out, with the writers forgetting all the character development they've done with Barney over the past season or so. He's more than just a bamboozler.

That said, Robin did end up meeting her new co-host, Don, which will lead to another relationship for Robin according to future Ted. Will Robin's new relationship make Barney jealous? Or will he just ignore it, like he ignored Robin's feelings completely in last night's episode? Will Lily's teacher friend return? Or is Ted doomed to be out-played by Barney every time someone tries to match him up? Share your thoughts below!
Photo: cbs.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Awesome plus awesome cancels all the awesome out

The Rough Patch
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 7

I knew it couldn't last, as much as I wanted it too, but I didn't expect it to end so quickly. After Barney gives away his porn, Ted realizes how unhappy the new couple is, and he tries concocting a plan to break up Barney & Robin in HIMYM's latest episode, "The Rough Patch."

While Ted admits he probably exaggerated how bad they got (remember Slapsgiving and Robin's 'older' boyfriend), Barney gains more than just a relationship gut (thanks to a fat suit) and Robin lets herself go, complete with pasty skin, zits, and not washing her hair. Unhappiness abounds when they're together. They even stop going on adventures, opting to stay in to watch a movie. "Legend - wait for it! - s of the Fall!" Barney proclaims.

Lily refuses to break them up - claiming to now be a matchmaker, even though she refuses to set-up Ted - and claims that the new couple has just hit a rough patch. But Ted and Marshall aren't convinced. Barney won't be Ted's wingman anymore, and he gorges on ribs, wiping BBQ sauce onto his suit shirt.

Ted and Marshall's plan seems fool-proof: make Robin think Barney is proposing. A misplaced engagement ring broke her and Ted up so it has to work again... right? Wrong. With both Robin and Barney playing a game of relationship chicken, with both too proud and "independent" to end it, they say 'why not?' to getting married. Lily's hand is forced. She's broken up plenty of Ted's relationships - most of which are recounted in The Front Porch episode - and she's ready for the challenge of Barney and Robin. One big fight won't cut it, Lily explains. Rather, they need to recreate four of their biggest fights:
  • The Battle of the Dirty Dishes: a highlight of which we saw in the Bagpipes episode
  • The Ex-Girlfriend Conflict: After Barney recognizes his ex-girlfriend Megan by her butt, he tries to get Robin to bend over for some comparison
  • The Star Wars Altercation: Robin teases Barney about the life-size Stormtrooper model in his apartment
  • The Canadian-American War: Barney takes it too far when he calls Neil Young an old woman

Lily explains how it'll all go down: While Robin and Barney are in their favorite diner, Alan Thicke will happen to come by, setting off the Canadian fight. Megan will join them just as a Stormtropper - which ends up just being a random robot because to Lily it's all the same - walks by. Then a busboy, carrying a load of dirty dishes, will also stroll by. If all goes as planned, it will be the fight to end all fights, ending in a breakup as well as Barney and Robin choking each other to the tune of "Murder Train."

Yet, things start to go awry outside in the stake-out station wagon. Alan Thicke doesn't have much time. The Stormtrooper is, well, a robot. The sausage pizza doesn't fit into the car's window - which provides plenty of double entendres. And, worst of all, Barney & Robin look out the window and the gang thinks they've been caught. They go ahead with the plan anyways, and are surprised to see it result in a sweet kiss near the diner's front door.

Little do they know that when Robin and Barney looked out the window, they really just saw their own reflection - and they didn't like what looked back at them. Seeing what they'd become finally woke them up to their unhappiness, and they decided to go back to being two friends.

After Robin finishes recounting their breakup - finished with that one sweet kiss - the gang asks how Barney is doing. Before she can respond, everyone gets a chill, and in walks Barney, looking as svelte as ever, drawing the attention of every woman in the bar, and he says, "Daddy's home."

While the episode was entertaining at moments, it felt like a cop-out to me, like the writers weren't sure how to handle Barney in a relationship so they ended it. It felt too rushed, and it was hard to imagine Barney letting himself go that quickly, even if that was kind of the point the writers were trying to make. I'm betting Robin and Barney will get together again, eventually, but until then, we'll get the womanizing Barney back. Let's just hope we keep some of the sweetness, too.

Before we wrap up, let's not forget what we learned in this episode. Alan Thicke reveals that him and Robin worked on a failed variety show together. Barney's reaction is just like of old. He leaves the girls behind at the bar and rushes off to find Robin's latest embarrassing video.

What did you think of the episode and the break-up? Will Barney return to the same womanizing guy he was before Robin? Will Ted ever have another date again? Will Lily play matchmaker again? What's next? Share your thoughts below!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Making More Time

If only it was possible to "make" time, as simple as throwing flour, sugar, milk into a mixing bowl and then baking in the oven; thirty minutes later - poof! - the clock rewinds a few hours, or, at the very least, time stands still.

If only.

Rather, I'm talking realistically: making sacrifices and making changes to my daily routine. It's a popular topic on a lot of writing blogs, and I wrote about back in March. As I've made a re-commitment to finishing this novel sooner rather than later, I've also re-committed to making more time for the writing.

The biggest change: watching less TV. I have DVR. I watch all my TV shows after they've been recorded, thinking it saved me time by cutting 60 minutes down to 44-ish minutes. But then I can watch two shows that were recorded in the same time slot... hence, more shows than I've ever watched before.

Which for my writing is bad, bad, bad.

I've now cut down my list to shows I will not give up, and ones that I can do without. HIMYM (no surprise there), Big Bang Theory, Grey's Anatomy, and Fringe made the cut. I have a couple others I'll watch too, maybe on the weekends (if I have time), but this is a drastically cut list of TV programming.

I'm already noticing a difference. In the past 48+ hours, I've only watched 20 minutes worth of TV, a vast improvement for me.

Lately, I've also been sacrificing sleep and going to bed an hour later than usual, but I'm not sure how long that can last.

How do you make time? What sacrifices do you make? And do you know a working recipe for making more time? Because I could use it. =)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Best Couple Ever

Photo: Fox Television Photo, Ron P. Jaffe

A few weeks ago, HIMYM treated us to the "best night ever," complete with a video montage and Marshall singing. In Season 5, Episode 6, "Bagpipes," we're witness to another "best" category where there previously hadn't been any competition; Lily and Marshall get overtaken for the spot of "best couple ever" due to some serious romantic cute-ness from Robin and Barney. Meanwhile, Ted deals with new upstairs neighbors who...er... like to 'play bagpipes' a lot.

Putting aside the fact that Ted's storylines have had nothing to do with the 'mother' since the beginning of the season, recent episodes have been about developing and nurturing relationships. In other words, Barney and Robin suck at being in a relationship (yet I still like them together).

Season 5 facts:
- Episode 1: Barney and Robin are unable to define what they are to each other, so they lie about being in a relationship.
- Episode 2: Barney is clueless to Robin's unhappiness in regards to him visiting strip clubs.
- Episode 3: Barney tries skipping the "getting to know you" phase by taking "Robin 101" classes from Ted.
- Episode 4: Barney & Robin don't see the value of 'couples night' until it's almost too late.
- Episode 5: Barney pushes Robin to forgo her Canadian roots and become a U.S. citizen.

Which brings us to last night's episode, "Bagpipes." Barney claims that now that he's awesome at being in a relationship, Marshall feels threatened. Buying into this claim, Marshall takes some advice from Barney about how to win arguments with Lily - complete with Barney imagining himself in Marshall's place and making out with Lily. As to be expected, Barney's advice goes horribly awry when applied, and Marshall is forced to sleep at Ted's apartment.

Meanwhile, Robin and Barney are acting all cute-sy, and still claiming that they avoid fights easily, with Barney either leaving the room or Robin getting naked. But when Ted isn't discovering this his upstairs neighbors are old folks, he's growing suspicious of the new couple's romantic ways. So what does he do? He finds Barney's downstairs neighbor, who attests to the fact that Barney and Robin fight A LOT. The fights all began, they recount, when they got stuck on a ski lift and Barney couldn't run away and Robin couldn't undress without the threat of frostbite.

With their fighting discovered, they seek the help of Lily and Marshall, who automatically forgive each other after hearing the horrible fights that Barney and Robin have. When Lily and Marshall explain that sometimes you just have to put your ego aside, realizing that your love is more important, Barney & Robin laugh, and say, 'seriously?' After Robin & Barney leave, Lilypad and Marshmellow break out the champagne and declare that they are officially the BEST. COUPLE. EVER. Silly kids, everyone already knew that!

Barney and Robin then fall back on their old solution of avoiding fights, and proceed to add another item to their list of places where they've 'done it' (83.5 places as of last count, according to Barney).

Is this a sign of worse things to come for the new couple? Are Robin and Barney ever going to be capable of a normal, healthy relationship with each other? Will Ted ever have a relationship-storyline of his own again? How much do Lily and Marshall rock as a couple? Share your thoughts below!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

November is revision/rewriting month

I have a confession to make: I haven't done much with the novel for about a month and a half now. At first, I thought it was because I wasn't sure where to go next, but I recently realized that I know exactly what I need to do - I even have a firm idea of where the novel will end - but I let myself get overwhelmed by all the things I need to do. So instead of working on Through Charlotte's Eyes the novel, I've been working on Through Charlotte's Eyes the short stories. My characters now are more fully themselves, and I realized: I just need to dive back in.

And that's when I realized, what perfect timing to think this! November, as all of you writerly people know, is NaNoWriMo - the time for people to dive into a new novel and write as much as possible over the 30 days of November (with a minimum word count of 50,000).

I will not be writing a new novel come November 1st. (This one needs to get out of my head first.) But since I want to make some progress on this novel and since I love having deadlines and since I love having a community of writers to help hold myself accountable, I'm doing my own version of NaNoWriMo. I'm rewriting draft 3.5.

What this involves:
1) Finish changing the novel from 3rd to 1st person POV.
2) Finish adding two new characters in. (This, by far, seems the most overwhelming of all, even though I already know who these characters are).
3) Rewrite/revise, well, pretty much the whole novel. Tightening up scenes, fleshing out others (especially the ones taking place during the French Revolution).

So, yeah, a lot. I'm not going to overwhelm myself more by saying that I'll get this all done by the end of November. After all, I do work 40+ hours a week. I'll be out of town at least one weekend in November... but I'm re-committing myself to finishing this novel in faster than 10 years.

I'm not the first person to think of November as a rewriting/revising month. For that credit, I point you to THE INTERN. If you don't already read her blog, become a follower right now. She is both crazy entertaining and insightful.

Plus, in reading her blog, I came across a comment about a great way to track how much you've written (without keeping your own Excel spreadsheet and wasting time making calculations, which I don't know about you, but this is a big time-waster for me). Interested? Check it out here.

Are you participating in either NaNoWriMo, or the new NaNoReVisMo? How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use spreadsheets? Or do you just fly by the seat of your pants?
On my writing agenda for the weekend:
- Revise "Loss" stories
- Come up with a game plan for the novel (i.e. update outline for the novel; yes, I like to outline. I'll post more about this later).

Good luck to everyone, whether you're starting a new project or trying to make headway on an old one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oh, Canada, deep dish pizza... and Tantrum!

In last night's episode, "Duel Citizenship," Robin questioned whether she was American or Canadian, and Ted and Marshall tried to re-live their college days by going on a road trip, even while Lily tagged along.

This wasn't my favorite episode of the season, but it elicited a few laughs, particularly during moments that flashed back or referenced previous (better) seasons... namely, Ted & Marshall belting out "I will walk 500 miles" (now we know that the highly caffeinated soft drink Tantrum! helped them survive road trips, and is, perhaps, the reason they forgot about Marshall's no food/no drink policy in the car). Then there's the Canadian jokes, mostly care of Barney, but this time there were plenty of American jokes, too: "Not only are you wrong, but you are belligerently sticking to your guns and insulting me in the process. Robin Scherbatzky, you are an American!"

HIMYM also has a knack for playing up the differences between singles and couples. In the 2006 "Single Stamina" episode, Ted explained how singles are always on the move while couples always look for a place to sit down. In last night's episode, Ted lamented how Marshall has become a "we" ever since getting married to Lily. The final straw occurred, though, when they made yet another road trip stop at a b&b and both Lily and Marshall wanted to get cornmeal body scrub, effectively merging them into one blob of a person while Ted looked on in disgust. Granted, that was kind of disgusting. And I think it's about high-time Lily and Marshall got their own - and very much separate - storylines. They've got the personality for them - stripper Lily, anyone? - but in the most recent episodes, they seem to be literally attached at the hip.

In general, nothing much particularly happened in this episode. Robin ended up deciding to get dual citizenship and become an American citizen (to Barney's delight), and Ted and Marshall re-affirmed their friendship. There were two things I liked about this episode, other than the references to past episodes.

When Robin dated Ted, her character disappeared into the background, except for a couple one-liners that weren't all that funny. In last night's episode, we saw more of the identity crisis she's been facing as of late. Not only has her TV reporting career taken a wrong turn, she also had to decide which country she belongs to. Luckily for the show (and for her relationship with Barney), she decides to not make a decision and goes with both. Her character, especially during her internal monologue right before she heads into the Hoser Hut, has been a lot more fun to watch recently.

Road trip to CHICAGO
HIMYM gave a big shout-out to Chicago; how could I not bring that up? Not only that, but it talked about food, specifically Chicago DEEP DISH PIZZA (which was the latest contender in the food fight my friends and I recently held). Granted, Gazzola's doesn't really exist, and the address given by Ted (316 Kinzie) is located on a bridge, but I'll take it. Also, for those of you who aren't from the Windy City, rest assured; deep-dish pizza doesn't normally cause people to scream "cut it out!" - but hopefully you knew that already. Then again, the crust really is made of corn meal.

What did you think of this latest episode? I've heard rumors of another slap approaching as well as some 'Mother' information in the upcoming 100th episode (in January)... what else do you want to see? Marshall and Lily separate and distinct? Ted in his classroom? More Barneyisms? Share your thoughts below!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The words I use most

I used wordle.net to find out which words I use the most in my WIP, Through Charlotte's Eyes. (I got this idea from Nathan Bransford's blog.) The bigger the word, the more often I use it.

For the most part, I'm not surprised. Names come up the most often, as does Paris. What surprised me about the names, though, was that "Grand-mere" came up more often than the two main characters, Anne and Charlotte. Then again, the WIP is now in first person, which makes the usage of their names a lot less frequent.

What I like about this word cloud is that important themes, items, symbols, etc. come up quite a bit, too: family, diary, wanted, past, time... I hope this means I'm doing something right, at least in the words I'm choosing.

Speaking of word choice, I'm definitely using "like" too often, according to this wordle. Note for revisions!

Which words do you get when you do 'wordle' your own wip? (I also did a wordle for my blog and nearly every word dealt with HIMYM. Ha!) Does this wordle make you want to know more about my WIP? Or is it just a bunch of random words that mean nothing to you? =)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A proper announcement... finally

I just realized that in the excitement of my new writing project, I never announced what my latest writing project is (and which I first alluded to here.)

Without further ado, I announce the uber-fun and awesome new blog, CHICAGO FOOD FIGHTS. In a nutshell, my friends and I had so much fun with the Chicago Hot Dog war that we decided to make it a regular thing, but under the name "food fights" rather than "war." Both sound violent, yes, but I promise you they're neither... unless you count our heated arguments over which foods are best.

I figure, I love food and I love writing, so why not take it beyond hot dogs and branch out to other food groups? And there, ladies and gentlemen, is how Chicago Food Fights came about. So, go check it out and let me know if you agree with my assessment of the best Chicago dishes!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Best Night Ever; Segel at his best

Marshall (Jason Segel) did what he does best last night, and Ted became the Sexless Innkeeper.

Marshall and Lily have been struggling to find another couple to hang out with (forgetting the fact that Robin & Ted used to date), but with Robin and Barney together at last, they think they've found their match. While the premise and some of the scenes (like when Barney/Robin and Marshall/Lily reunite at the end) were lackluster, the show shone with the latest and greatest song/video produced by HIMYM characters.

Segel hasn't been getting the best of storylines in recent episodes (or even seasons), but he has one of the most creative characters on TV. So, let's forget Barney and Robin for a single post, even though they're still awesome (especially when they walked out of Lily & Marshall's apartment, declared it the worst night ever, Robin pretended to shoot herself, and Barney pretended to wipe the blood and guts off). And, let's focus on the king of song, Marshall.

Segel brings his own personality and creativity to the character of Marshall. Need evidence? He wrote the Muppet play that he performed in his movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Segel's obsession with songs has been highlighted over the years in his HIMYM character, too, especially in Season 3's "Spoiler Alert" when it's revealed that Marshall likes to sing everything he's doing, from paying bills to doing laundry. [Glass shatters]. Then, in last season, Marshall became addicted to creating charts and pie graphs, yet another sign of his creativity.

Last night, Marshall's creativity had another outlet: creating a video montage and song documenting what he and Lily considered "the best night ever," after having a couples night with Robin and Barney. While fake Websites and videos (aka Robin Sparkles) have been the calling card for HIMYM, Marshall's photo montage, played during the show, showcased why Marshall is such an awesome character. Let's also not forget all the other photo montages Marshall created and sent out to unsuspecting friends, namely the ones about babysitting Lily's mom's cat and then the subsequent cat funeral. With all these songs/videos, Marshall finally got the attention he deserves, especially with how well he performed alongside Nuno Bettencourt in his parody of the "More Than Words" video. Segel's video version of his 'best night ever' song is available at this Website.
After you've watched the video a few times and basked in the glory of Marshall/Segel's awesomeness, don't forget the secondary storyline of last night's episode and the reason for the title of the episode: The Sexless Innkeeper. As a professor, Ted wears a tweed jacket and hopes the girls will fall at his feet in hopes of sleeping with a professor. Instead, a girl flirts with him just to have a place to crash, and Barney recites a poem about his own experience with a "sexless innkeeper," which you can see here.

Poems, fake Websites, parodies: it's what HIMYM does best, and it's awesome to see Marshall getting some screen time doing what he does best.

Okay, enough praise of Marshall. What did you think of Barney gasping in horror when Ted lands a girl (so much for being the sexless innkeeper), and Robin tells Barney it's time for brunch? Is Barney's "what have I done?" a sign of conflict to come?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Two new sides to Barney: student and boyfriend

Once upon a time, Barney declared, "Ted, I am gonna teach you how to live." In last night's episode, the tables turned and it was Ted's turn to teach Barney a thing or two about dating Robin.

After being single for so long, Barney doesn't know how to be in a relationship - as shown by him trying to sneak out of Robin's room at night, only to have Robin tell him that it isn't a one-night stand and he could get back into bed. Robin voices her fears that Barney might not be capable of being in a relationship, which leads Ted to tell Barney that he needs to try harder.

To that, Barney refuses any advice from Ted, claiming he doesn't want to change who he is (and audiences around the world cheered; Barney, even in a relationship, will be the same!) "This is just me," Barney explains, "but I like my testicles attached to my body rather than rolling around next to some eyeliner in Robin's purse. Stinson out!"

But Barney does try to be a better boyfriend (apparently forgetting that all of this is supposed to be a lie in the first place). He makes Robin breakfast in bed, sends her flowers... and Robin gets suspicious, thinking that Barney is being so nice because he's getting some on the side. This fits perfectly in line with what we've previously seen with her character; she has a jealous side. Remember the episode "Ted Mosby, architect"? In Season 2, Robin nearly went on a rampage when she thought Ted was cheating on her with Anna, a kick-boxing instructor, only to later discover that Barney has been using Ted's name to score.

Fast-forward to the latest episode. Robin's jealousy quickly turns into anger when she discovers - after breaking into Barney's suitcase with a handy sledgehammer - that Ted is teaching Barney about how to be in a relationship with Robin. Lessons include what it looks like when she's angry (flared nostril ridges, wide unblinking eyes), the three topics to bring up in order to distract her (Vancouver Canucks 2004 division title, proper gun cleaning and maintenance, and emperor penguins), and that when she's saying, "You're an idiot," she's really saying "I love you."

In the classroom, Barney isn't that great of a student. At one point, he tells Ted that taking sexual advice from him is like taking fashion advice from, well, Ted Mosby. And between the dozing off, asking if they can have class outside, and tweeting about Ted, Ted gets frustrated with what appears to be Barney's lack of commitment. After Barney claims that he isn't learning anything, Ted gives him a lightening-speed pop quiz in which Barney gets every. single. answer. right.

Thanks to the handy notebook Robin found in Barney's suitcase, she knows exactly when and where they meet. She storms into the classroom, clearly angry (thanks to all the pictures Ted has been using in his lectures), and says that Barney is cheating, that part of being in a relationship is getting to know each other and he can't just skip ahead.

Later, after Robin has stormed out of the classroom, Ted apologizes, makes fun of English degrees, and tells his ex-girlfriend that he's never seen Barney try so hard to keep a girl before. And then, in the best aw moment of the night, Barney and Robin make nice, with Robin telling him, "you're an idiot."

I don't know about you, but I'm loving this Robin/Barney thing. The writers have managed to keep Barney true to who he is, with his quips and jokes, while showing two new sides to the Barney we know and love. He was more than just a "student" in this episode - a role we've never seen him take before, especially when it comes to women and all his Barneyisms - he was also a boyfriend... even if they're still supposedly "lying" about being in a relationship.

Even though the secondary storyline was ridiculous, it deserves a mention, because Marshall is so good at being quirky. Plus, c'mon, HIMYM is all about the ridiculous (remember the cockamouse episode?) In Marshall's story, he tries to give away his barrel, named Mabel, by putting it on their sidewalk's Bermuda triangle where everything disappears within seconds. But Mabel doesn't go away. As Marshall watches his barrel, waiting to see the joy on someone's face when they discover it, he accidentally asks what the girls are doing with "Barney's Secret Robin notebook." After spilling the secret, he tries to change the topic by making light of the recent actresses' real-life pregnancies by saying, "Did you two ladies lose some weight?"

This episode, though, at it's heart was all about Barney and Robin, and it was by far my favorite of the season thus far.

Do you want an episode where Barney and Robin address whether they're still "lying" about the relationship? Do you want more stories about Ted and the future Mother? Do you want more serious storylines for Marshall and Lily - or were you satisfied with last week's stripper Lily episode?

Share your thoughts below!

Photo: nj.com

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Find Your Strongest Life

When I cracked open the book Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham, I expected to learn about using my strengths to become an all-around more successful woman. In some ways, I was wrong.

Buckingham used the first 40 or so pages to provide all the reasons why women in this day and age are so overwhelmed and stressed; while women receive equal pay, hold more executive roles, and have more opportunities, all of these choices are why women are less happier now than they were 30 or so years ago, according to Buckingham. This section felt as if Buckingham was trying to establish a reason for why this book was important. In doing so, he tried telling women, 'this is why you should feel stressed out.' In other words, I'm not unhappy, but this section of the book tried to tell me that I should be.

Despite not being hooked early on, I continued to read, hoping that the depressing 40 pages would lead to what all women can do to utilize their strengths in both their professional and personal lives.

The book hit its stride with the online Strong Life Test, which determines what your 'lead role' and 'secondary role' is. Not surprising (but at the same time affirming) for me, my results named "creator" as my lead role, and "advisor" as a secondary role. With this knowledge about your roles, Buckingham explains, you can focus on doing things that play into your lead and secondary roles. Focus on why situations feel successful, not on weaknesses or problems. Focus on the moments that feel rewarding, the times that the day flies by and you barely even notice it. These moments, he says, are the best guide in determining where your life should go. It sounds like common sense, but Buckingham applies his advice in a thorough question and answer section at the end of the book.

While I didn't agree with everything Buckingham wrote and while the book is targeted to working mothers and wives (of which, I'm neither), Buckingham gave some good advice on how to build a strong life. I found most of his real-examples to be inspiring - despite always being about working moms. And I also liked how he re-defined what strengths and weaknesses are. Strengths are what makes you feel best, not necessarily the things you're best at. Weaknesses are the things that make you feel weak. So, while this book didn't provide too much of what I didn't already know, it does provide a lot of interesting things to think about when trying to make changes in your life based on the the things that strengthen you.

I am reviewing this book as a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Barney + Robin together at last, kind of

The newest season of How I Met Your Mother started last night, and I, for one, am a happy camper. While I don't promise recaps* of every new episode of HIMYM like I did last year, last night's episode deserves a couple comments because what I've been waiting for has finally happened... Barney and Robin are together! Well... kind of.

*Instead of full-on recaps, I'm planning on using these posts more to talk about how the show is written; after all, this is a writing blog.

Photo: cbs.com
One of the reasons this show is one of my favorites (if not my top favorite) is because of the characters. I even like Ted every once in awhile (him forgetting how to spell 'professor' as he's writing on the chalkboard of what turns out to be an econ class? Awesome).

Even more so, I like how the characters have developed over time. While they haven't always been completely consistent in character portrayal (Lily keeping Barney's love for Robin secret from practically everyone except Marshall), the characters seem to be evolving and growing naturally. After all, when the show was originally conceived, Robin was supposed to be the Mother. But while that fit Ted's character and his hopeless romantic tendencies, it didn't fit Robin's.

And then there's the fan favorite: Barney and his womanizing ways. Viewers - myself included - worried that if Barney started a relationship with Robin, his awesomeness and his Barneyisms and pretty much his entire character would fade away and be forgotten. After all we've seen of Barney, is he even capable of having a monogamous relationship?

A lot of viewers, too, don't like Robin when she's in a relationship, and I've seen on some message boards/blogs that people think that the writers have been changing who Robin is to fit in with Barney. To that I say: remember the Slutty Pumpkin episode of Season 1? When she didn't know how to be a girlfriend to her Hansel-costumed 'boyfriend'? While Robin did manage to have a relationship with Ted for a year, she is not the commitment type. Remember why her and Ted broke up? She doesn't want to get married, she doesn't want kids... just like Barney.

The season premiere of Season 5, Definitions, showcased just how the relationship Barney and Robin could start without forgetting who Barney and Robin is. They don't want to define what they are. They're having fun, Barney says, after the gang discovers that him and Robin have been sleeping together for the past three months. But then Brad takes Robin on a date, and Ted reminds Barney of his theory on how the rules for gremlins are also the rules for not turning her into your girlfriend:

1. Never get them wet (or let them shower in your apartment).
2. Keep them away from sunlight (or don't ever see them during the day).
3. Never feed them after midnight (meaning, never eat breakfast or brunch with them).
(See! You can have relationship-Barney and still have Barneyisms!)

Realizing that he's broken all of those rules with Robin, Barney wonders out loud if she really is his girlfriend... and then he punches Brad. But they. still. don't. have. 'the talk.'

Lily (in her characteristic controlling way) then locks them in Robin's bedroom until they talk and define who they are to each other. After Marshall tortures Barney and Robin with the smell of bacon and pancakes, they finally admit that they're both not good at relationships... and then they just decide to lie and say they're dating just so can get out of the room.

In the best 'aw' moment of the show, Ted asks Lily, "You realize they were lying right?" To which Lily says, "They don't realize they weren't lying," as Barney and Robin hold hands as they walk down the street to go to brunch.

I LOVE Barney and Robin together, if you couldn't already tell (in fact, if I hadn't already used the blog posting title, Barney + Robin = AWFSOME, I would have used it for this one). (And I know I haven't talked about Ted and his Indiana Jones hat, because, frankly, I don't care about his storyline as much.) While both Robin and Barney are independent people who don't want to be tied down, their characters have worked together from day one... but in line with who their characters are, it took them four seasons to realize - and act on - those feelings. As season five gets underway, I'm looking forward to seeing where the writers take this 'relationship,' because, trust me, they know that everyone likes Barney. His awesomeness isn't going to go away just because he's with Robin now.

What are your thoughts on the season premiere? Were you as excited as I was when Robin and Barney got together? Do you wish they'd give more hints about the 'mother'? Did you like the Indiana Jones references as much as I did? Share your thoughts below!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where I've Been

I can't believe how long it's been since I posted on my blog... but here I am. I promise that when life gets less busy (ha!), I'll start posting more. Or, maybe I'll just make more of an effort to post at least more than once a month. =)

But what has been making my life so busy as of late? In no particular order, here goes:
  • Running. Yes, Liz, who didn't think she liked running, always opting for the pool instead, is now working out by attempting to run. It's kind of funny, in an out-of-breath, can't believe I'm doing this kind of way. But I'm loving the chance running gives me to explore my new neighborhood.

  • Still getting the new apartment organized - which I can't believe I'm still saying a month+ after moving. But it's true. The last of the rugs arrived yesterday, so - slowly but surely - the apartment is almost done for my relaxation pleasure. I've also had some issues with repairs and with the building's management company but I don't feel comfortable sharing that on a public blog.
  • Hot dogs! I'm still posting about hot dogs over examiner.com, albeit not as frequently - but hey, a girl can only eat so many hot dogs before she has to run another mile, or two, or three.

  • Short stories. I'm still plugging away on editing, revising, and starting totally new short stories about my work-in-progress's main characters. I'm having some fun with it, and they're giving me tons of insight into my characters that I know I need before I finish up my current WIP draft.

  • Reading lots of YA fiction. I've got lots to say about this, so I'll just save it for another post.

  • A totally brand-spanking new writing project. The fact that I'm taking on yet another writing project in midst of all this craziness makes me question my sanity, but I'm having so much fun with it already. What is it you ask? You'll just have to wait. A proper announcement/blog posting will be coming soon!

With the way I've been using every second of my nights and weekends to write, work-out, do stuff for the apartment, etc., (when I'm not with family and friends of course), I've been contemplating not watching all the TV shows I used to watch when the season premieres start rolling in... but knowing me, who knows. I'll find a way to get it all done. I always do. For example, as of late, I've been using my new El commute time to write and read.

How do you make time to write in the craziness that is life? Comment with your ideas - I'll take whatever you've got!

Monday, August 10, 2009

All Moved In

... well, sort of. I still have plenty of unpacking to do, but we're in our new place and absolutely loving it so far.

I woke up yesterday to sunlight filtering through tree leaves, dancing between my blinds, and I realized that this new apartment already feels like home - even though it hasn't even been a week yet! Not to mention that I'm loving the neighborhood. There's at least three Mexican restaurants (my fav!) within blocks. There's tons of other restaurants that I'm dying to try. The famous Dinkel's bakery is just around the corner (cheese bear claw = awesome). I'm closer to my youngest sister's apartment - well, at least I will be when she comes back from Paris. There's parking spots every hour of every day, meaning I have my car back from my parent's house. Food is less expensive, both in restaurants and at the local grocery store. I'm blocks from Trader Joe's. And I'm blocks from the YMCA, which is not only affordable but has tons of equipment, a pool that won't give me an eye infection (like my last building's did), and free - yes FREE - classes. Want me to keep going? I can.

Even the apartment is amazing. For one, there's the spacious rooms and closet space. I'm soon going to own my first ever dining room table (I'm clearly starting to feel more grown up). The entire apartment is wood floors. The walls are so well insulated, I don't hear my neighbors.

But, there are quirks to the apartment, too. After all, it's old. For one, the bedroom door sticks, and I almost locked myself in there yesterday. The water takes forever to heat up, and there isn't central air. But, you know what? I don't care! The neighborhood and the new place (even the kitchen cabinets, which are being replaced by the end of the month) are absolutely wonderful.

While I've been getting settled in, I've taken what I feel is a long break from writing my novel, even as I've been doing research/reading. Now, I'm starting to feel like I have more time to get back to the actual writing! Progress!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adding more characters to my WIP

I've been blogging about adding new characters to my work-in-progress, Through Charlotte's Eyes, so I thought I'd start a discussion about this very topic. Have you ever written a draft, only to realize that you need to add a character? Combine a couple characters? Or remove a character entirely?

I'm currently working on draft 3.5 (I call it this because I've rewritten/revised the first half of my novel more than I have the second half), and the idea of adding new characters seems a bit overwhelming. But then I think about how the novel will progress with these new characters and how these characters will influence the main characters, and it seems a tad less daunting.

Not only that, but as I revise my current draft, I notice scenes with plot holes that are filled perfectly by these new characters, as if I'd left a space for them at the dinner table and I was just waiting for them to arrive.

As of right now, I'm adding two characters in, each of whom play a pretty hefty role, along with a handful of minor characters.

One of the new characters is Leonoor, a girl from the States who is studying abroad in Paris. She runs into Anne a few times before they become friends. I'm still fleshing out her character's back story, but so far she's looking to be the antithesis of Anne's best friend from home. She's intelligent, driven, and always on the lookout to try something new. Unlike Anne's best friend, she knows how to take care of herself.

The second new character plays a large part in Charlotte's life. He is Aunt Bretteville's protector, who keeps track of the family's finances. But, unlike many people in Caen, he shares Charlotte's moderate views: he wants a revolution, but a peaceful one, and he doesn't believe in the authority of the king. While Charlotte never intends to marry, she finds a companion in Jacques [tentative name that will definitely be changed] that is nothing like the relationships she has with any other men in her life.

Biographies dispute whether or not such a figure actually existed in Charlotte's life, but as I write her story and the reasons for why she decided to murder Marat, it has become clear that Charlotte needed someone to talk to about what she wanted for France and why. Plus, her relationship to him adds an entirely new dimension to why she leaves for Paris in the first place.

As these characters develop and play larger roles in the lives of my main characters, my novel really feels like it's coming together the way I envision it. It's one step closer, and that's a great feeling.

I'm still not sure how I'm going to work on adding these characters in. Do I start from the beginning and work my way towards the end? But that means revising Chapters 1 through 11 again, without having touched Chapters 12 through 30. (I have the nagging feeling that I keep ignoring the last half of my novel, for good reason).

Or, do I add the characters in as I continue revising/rewriting the last half of the novel? But what if they change dramatically based on how they're introduced in the first half? Maybe, for now, I'll mark the spots where they'll play a large role and then go back? Then again, I worry, that will make the story too stilted. Ah, the decisions! I'm thinking I just have to suck it up and start revisions from the beginning... again.

Now, your turn! Have you ever finished a draft, only to realize that some of your characters needed to change in drastic ways? Have you added new characters? How have you gone about putting the characters into your next draft? Comment below!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What I Need to Do

I keep saying that there's "stuff" I need to do to my novel before it's *ready*, but I haven't said what that "stuff" is really. So, here's a rundown, starting with comments I received on my final thesis from my adviser and preceptor at The University of Chicago.

The parallel story lines
Charlotte's storyline in 1792/1793 is much stronger and focused than Anne's in 2005. I'm creating more of a narrative drive for Anne's story by first focusing on what motivates her and why. But these story lines are now merging more than they ever before, because...

Anne and Charlotte: POV
All of my drafts at UofC were in 3rd person. Anne and Charlotte were two distinct characters, even though Anne travelled into the past and saw what Charlotte saw (somewhat like Being John Malkovich) during the French Revolution. The problem that my advisers saw - and which irritated me as I wrote - was that Anne seemed to disappear behind Charlotte as the novel progressed. I've been changing the entire novel from 3rd to 1st, making Anne the central character. In this way, the characters of Anne and Charlotte have merged, and Anne is deciding whether she should follow what she knows of history or forever change what Charlotte is known for, which leads me to...

How does Charlotte become a murderer?
In third person, I wasn't showing enough of why Charlotte decided to kill Marat, especially when she constantly preached moderation and peace. (A couple months ago, I wouldn't have written on my blog what Charlotte was famous for, but since a Google search will tell you, I'm building the plot around things other than Charlotte's murderous act). In first person, and with an Anne becoming Charlotte, Anne has agency. She knows Charlotte's thoughts, has her memories, has to act like she is Charlotte to fool the rest of the world - but does Anne decide to kill Marat? Or does she forever change the course of the French Revolution and of history?

Other than my adviser and preceptor's comments, there's other things I'm working on.

The character's relationships
Especially Anne's relationship to her dad, French grandmother, and Pierre. Anne is one angry teen and she lets her dad and grandmother know it. With Pierre, on the other hand, expect more chemistry than before.

More characters
Anne's going through a lot of personal things, especially in coming to terms with what happened with her mother, and in the first couple drafts of Through Charlotte's Eyes she didn't really have anyone she feels like she could talk to. Charlotte, too, feels isolated and alone because no one in her family agrees with her political beliefs. But isolation doesn't make for plot. I've added a few more characters that act, in ways, like side-kicks to Anne and Charlotte. I wrote a bit about this in my post yesterday.

Anne's rebellion
I originally wrote a few scenes in which Anne decides to not do something because she knows her grandmother wouldn't approve. (Like go to Caen - where Charlotte lived for about ten years - because of the riots ravaging the countryside). But as I'm changing the POV from 3rd to 1st, these scenes don't jibe with who Anne is. So, now, Anne's rebelling. And, oh, the drama that this creates! Gotta love the drama.

I need to visit Paris. That trip will affect so much of this novel that I can't even consider myself close to finished until I make it there. Trip dates: TBD - but know that I will go there (hopefully by the end of the year).

These are just some of the things I'm working on that are the reasons why the novel isn't ready yet. Slowly but surely, I'm getting there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More on my process and 'aha' moments

I used to wait for inspiration, for something to catch my eye or an idea to suddenly burst into a story. I thought that's what I needed in order for the words to work on the page. But then I grew up.

In high school, I realized that the "novel" I was writing wouldn't spring up overnight. All the words wouldn't be "given" to me, as if a gift from God. And, even if they were, if I wasn't ready, sitting at my computer or my pad of paper, writing, the words would disappear. (Eventually I finished that novel, while in high school, but let's just say that first novel is better left collecting dust.)

Writing, I realized, starts with sitting down and simply trying to get words down on the page. Inevitably, even if I didn't feel inspired, I'd become immersed in the world I was creating and then good luck in trying to get me to stop. Even after I put the story or chapter away, the story would simmer as I thought about how the next scene or section of dialogue would pane out.

The most amazing thing about grad school was that I spent a majority of my waking life - especially in Spring term - immersed in the world of Charlotte Corday and Anne-Marie Gessner. Sure, I had to pull away from the novel and attend classes and write unrelated papers, but the rest of the time, I was in Charlotte and Anne's heads, and no matter whether I felt inspired or not, I had to write. I had to, or my thesis wouldn't have been ready in time. I couldn't wait for 'aha' moments; I had to make them come to me.

After grad school ended and I relaxed into summer (and started stressing about finding a full-time job), the revision process waned, even as I continued to think about Through Charlotte's Eyes. I knew the novel was "done" for school, that I had a complete draft, that my thesis advisor and preceptor thought it publishable, but it still didn't feel ready. I thought I could do better.

People began to ask me, "But how do you know when it'll be ready? Will it ever be ready?"

Yes, my answer always is. There's just some things I still need to do. (More on this in tomorrow's blog post).

So, how do I make inspiration come to me? By talking and writing about my novel, by bouncing ideas off of people (especially my boyfriend) and thinking about my novel as I walk to work, ride the el, and do chores around the apartment. Inevitably, this process forces ideas through and I'm ready to get back to the page. This is how 'aha' moments happen - not by magic - but by thinking about my novel.

My latest 'aha' moment sprung the other day. I was telling my boyfriend about the catacombs in Paris, which I've become obsessed with lately, and how I need to work them into my novel because they're so creepy. Plus, that's where Charlotte is supposedly buried.

As I'm telling him about cataphiles (people who explore the catacombs at night, despite and probably because it's illegal), an idea hit me about what brings Anne to explore them. She's with a group of people visiting Paris on foreign term from America, and they decide to go check it out as they tell ghost stories about the underground tunnels that house the resting place of more than six million Parisians. But I was annoyed with how Anne had just met these people and I wasn't convinced that she's the kind of person to just tag along.

This brought up another nagging issue for me: there's too many characters that pop up for a couple scenes and then disappear. So, I thought about the beginning of my novel, about Anne overhearing a conversation between a couple girls her age. Why couldn't she end up meeting one of them (instead of just eavesdropping), and one of these girls is part of this group that goes down to the catacombs at night? AHA. BOOM. TA DA. The light went on, and ideas about this new character and friend to Anne - who doesn't disappear after a few chapters - flooded my head. She's a foil to Anne's best friend who's back in Illinois, at home.

I'm giving too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I recognize that this new idea means that I need to go back and rewrite parts of Chapter 1 through 11 again, but if that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

I have an idea in my head for how I want this novel to be and it will not be ready until I achieve that picture. So, thank you friends, family, and fellow bloggers for your support while I work on this novel, but I've still got a ways to go. If you want to talk about the novel, I'd love to - in fact, I welcome it - but please try to avoid the question of "When's the novel going to be done?" I promise you. It will be complete and finished...eventually. But when this novel gets published, I want it to be everything I want and need it to be, and until then, it won't be ready.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

WIP Wednesday... *ahem* Thursday... #6

The title of this blog post says it all... I'm running behind on everything, the deadlines for my WIP included. I would rather crawl into my bed and hide under my covers then admit this - but I need to keep holding myself accountable - so I'm just going to spit it out and say it, as much as it pains me.

I still haven't even met my writing goals/deadlines for June 30th.

Commence gnashing of teeth and tearing out of hair.

Okay, okay. I'm calmer now. The deadlines are to help, not stress me out. I have excuses, plenty of them. I've been busy. And it's not like I haven't been working on the novel, I have - just not as much as I'd like to (or should) be.

I've been working out tons of snafus with getting the lease for my new place (I'm now halfway there; lease signed, just need a move-out date, and, you know, to start painting and packing). I've been out of town (to see a good friend from high school, and it had been much too long since we'd seen each other last). I've been spending time with my youngest sister before bidding her farewell (she left for Paris on Tuesday for five - yes, FIVE, weeks - and I'm oh so jealous of her). And, of course, I've been writing about hot dogs.


In ways, I feel like my life is being taken over by hot dogs. Don't get me wrong. I'm loving it. I love keeping my eyes open for news stories related to Chicago dogs. I love hearing people's comments about my stories. I love reading about hot dogs, trying new hot dogs... simply put, I love the distraction. And, yes, it's a big distraction that is nothing related to Paris, riots, the French Revolution, time travelling, and all the other things my novel is about.

So it's decided. I'll keep working on Through Charlotte's Eyes, I'll keep pushing toward meeting my deadlines (even if I'm way behind), but I'll also start brainstorming on ideas for a novel that revolves around hot dogs. That, I believe, is the perfect solution.


To join in on WIP Wednesdays, check out Kate's blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm the new Chicago hot dog lady!

Yes, you read that right. I'm the new Chicago Hot Dog Examiner! What's new in the hot dog world? What are the best toppings? What are the best kind of dogs... and where can you find them? I'll be answering all of these questions - and more - over at examiner.com.

My first article went up yesterday about what makes a Chicago-style hot dog.

I'm having SO much fun with this. Questions have been poring in to my email inbox, so feel free to jump in and ask your burning questions about the Chicago dog, too!

Of course, with this new stint, I've been a bit distracted from the novel. I'm still shooting for all the deadlines I gave myself, but I know they're going to be a little bit more hard to beat now that I'm writing about hot dogs.

I like saying that: I write about hot dogs.

Check it out now, and check back often.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

WIP Wednesday #5

My writing comes in waves. I write a ton and then… it trickles. I’ve been like this for years – not counting my year in grad school where I wrote every day because every day I had either a deadline or a goal that I needed to meet if I was to get my thesis done (which I did). But I graduated from The University of Chicago about a year ago, and my writing went back to coming in waves. In last week’s WIP Wednesday posting, I recounted all the progress I made in the previous three weeks – and then that wave of work ended. This past week I’ve been working on only one lonely chapter, and I haven’t made a drop of progress.

I want to get back to being as productive as I was back in grad school. Granted, I don’t have entire days to devote to my work – I have to pay back those grad school loans somehow! – but I know there’s more that I can do, and that’s why I wrote yesterday’s post and created some pretty hefty deadlines for myself. The deadlines make me a bit nervous, but I kind of like it that way. I have distinct goals that I can tick off each week; I can measure my progress. These deadlines – and thereby my nerves – help hold me accountable.

Then again, last night my daily writing consisted of writing the beginning of a story that got stuck in my head on my way to work, and that had nothing to do with my novel… but at least I was writing.

I’ve got a lot to do in the next two weeks – writing and otherwise – so back to it!

As always, happy writing!
If you want to join in on WIP Wednesday, check out Kate's blog here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing Schedule, or Keeping Tabs Tuesday

It's time to hold myself accountable. If I'm going to finish this novel by the end of the year, I have to pick up (and keep up) that pace. That said, below is the consolidated schedule of deadlines for my WIP - lofty goals, I know, but the more I keep you updated, the more motivation I have.

For most (if not all) of you, these deadlines, number of chapters, etc. mean very little - I'm not giving details of the chapters away because you're going to one day read my book - so feel free to skip to the end and leave an encouraging note, or two. =)

By June 30th:
- Finish revising/rewriting chapters 8 through 11
- Do a major rewrite of chapters 12 & 13 (this is where the majority of the rewriting work begins!)
- Research the Champ de Mars massacre & the Catacombs a bit more
- Keep reading Plutarch's Lives
- Update outline and sequence of events timeline - both for 1793 and 2005 - to make sure the novel remains consistent


By July 7th:
- Rewrite/revise chapters 14 & 15
- Read more of Marat's writings... this may alter a few key scenes in chapters 14 & 15
- Keep reading Plutarch's Lives


With each subsequent Tuesday, from July 15th to the 28th, serving as a deadline, I'll revise/rewrite two to three more chapters each week. One week will include adding an entirely new chapter that is desperately needed; let's refer to this, for now, as "Anne's second rebellion."

*AND MAYBE, YA KNOW, ENJOY THE SUMMER WEATHER... well, if it ever comes to Chicago*

I should be moving north to Roscoe Village about this time of the month, which will force me to take a break, for sure. I'll need to get settled into my new place!

But, then back to the keyboard, with deadlines restarting every Tuesday beginning August 11th. Again, rewriting/revising two to three chapters every week (allowing for most weeks to only be two chapters) up until September 8th.


So, that's my goal! By September 8th, I'll have an entirely new 1st POV draft of my novel that will hopefully be a huge step closer to being done...

And then PARIS! Well, maybe. Hopefully. The financial situation is not what it needs to be right now for a trip, so I might be living vicariously through Paris blogs for a few months longer. In that case, I'll re-evaluate the novel, plan what I need to do, and then maybe take a break from the manuscript.

No, not maybe. Definitely. I'm making some huge overhauls in the next couple months, and I need to make sure I have a clear head when I come back to this draft, ready to make some final revisions!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If This Was Me...

... I'd ask for monetary compensation, instead of asking for the billboard to be taken down.

So the story goes, a Missouri family was shocked to learn that a family photo of theirs was posted as an advertisement in Prague. Read the story here.

Crazy! But it's a compliment, right?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WIP Wednesday #4

It's been awhile, I know. My computer still has a virus, and until I get that fixed, I'm using my boyfriend's laptop - which is fine (even if it's disconcerting to look at the keyboard and see Chinese characters) but I know I haven't spent as much time writing as I should be.

It hasn't helped that I'm still having issues with my eyes. The eye doc says (after four appointments in the last two months) that my eyes are getting better and the nasty eye infection from my building's pool is starting to clear up enough that I can wear contacts again - finally! (But only for a couple hours, every couple days. Yeah. Seriously.) I've also been hunting for a new apartment, and am possibly moving further north but still well within Chicago city limits. I've been out of town, gone to weddings, have been volunteer teaching right after work... I know. I'm just making excuses for myself. I still need to write every day and keep plugging along! That said, despite my absence from my blog, I am making progress on the novel, albeit slowly.

In the three weeks since my last WIP Wednesday posting, I've revised/rewritten Chapters 4 through 10... okay. Wow. I didn't realize that until I looked it up. Seven chapters ain't so bad!

What I've been working on:

  • Changing the POV from third to first person. I hit a couple road-blocks when Anne had her first time-travelling experience; the POV shift meant that her entire relationship to Charlotte changed. At first I didn't see how this would work. Would Anne just float around like a ghost watching everything? Nope! She becomes Charlotte, and I feel like I can say that without giving too much away. I'm still working out a few kinks - does Anne automatically know what Charlotte knows? - but so far, so good.
  • Anne's voice. Ohmy. She sounds more like a teenager than ever before. Thank you first person! Not only that, but the dynamics of her relationship with the grand-mother she's never met before are coming out like never before. They clearly both want to get to know one another, but don't know how without coming off snippy and resentful because of their pasts.
  • Incorporating more French Revolution history but not overwhelming the reader with too many dates, facts, etc. This is something I'll be working on until the novel is finished!
  • Giving enough context for what's going on with France's 2005 riots for some of the scenes to make sense. So far, so good - but I still feel like I don't know enough about the riots. This frustrates me, so if anyone has any good resources, knows anyone I can talk to, please let me know!

Looking forward:

  • I'm approaching the midway point of my novel, which makes me nervous. This is the least revised part of my book and I KNOW how much works needs to be done.
  • The ending. I had a total 'light-bulb' moment two days ago about the novel's twist. That's all I'll say, otherwise it won't be a 'twist'! I might even write this twist (and the novel's ending) before I write the middle, because I'm way more excited about it and how it'll impact Anne and Charlotte.

As always, happy writing!

If you want to join in on WIP Wednesday, check out Kate's blog here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Morning

I live in Chicago, and even though my place is just a couple blocks from Millennium Park, I'm in the center of a concrete jungle. So, imagine my surprise on my way to work, when I see a sord of ducks - a mommy mallard leading seven ducklings - just outside the Aon Center.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the ducks I first noticed, but the way people reacted to them. People took out their cameras (unfortunately, I didn't have mine), commuters who typically didn't give the time of day to their fellow sidewalk walkers chatted about how cute the ducklings were, and - what really caught my attention - two taxi cab drivers and a handful of people coaxed a couple ducklings out from under a cab. The same cabbies who mercilessly honk at anything and anyone in hopes of speeding through the yellow light and cut you off, whether you're a pedestrian or fellow driver, were taking the time to get make sure these ducklings got up onto the sidewalk.

The mama duck didn't seem to notice too much, as she quacked and led the way between the Lakeshore Fitness Center and Aon buildings. As she waddled away, as if it were any normal day, people stopped, took notice, and helped the ducklings. And that, I must say, is a great way to start my Monday morning.

(The above picture is clearly one I didn't take - not only because I didn't have my camera, but also because there's no grass near my building. But I had to add a pic; after all, ducklings are adorable!)