Monday, August 27, 2012

A French Lingerie Bridal Shower

I love going on Pinterest, but I've never posted anything of my own. I recently threw a French lingerie bridal shower for my sister, and I couldn't wait to post about it on my blog and link all the pictures to Pinterest!

The happy bride
We had a black-and-pink French lingerie party, which was inspired by this article. I served fondue with a chocolate fountain. This worked out great because 1. It was cheaper and easier than planning for multiple dishes (which is what I was going to do before deciding it was too much work), 2. It was an activity as well as a treat, so it took up some of the time I would have used for games, and 3. It was memorable!

When I told my mom about the theme for the shower, she said, "I have the perfect lingerie for you to hang up at the party!" It was a great idea, but brought back confusing memories of my childhood; she's very open about utilizing her lingerie for Halloween costumes. I'll never forget the black corset she made me wear when I was a pirate.

I refused to hang up anything that had already been used, but she insisted it wouldn't be awkward if I didn't tell anyone the lingerie was hers. Of course my sister knew as soon as she saw it. If I do something like this again, I'll just buy lingerie that the bride can keep afterwards.

I made an "Ooh la la" sign with a pink-and-black lace border and taped Victoria Secret bags to the entry way.

Badges for the bride, me, and my mom.

We played two games: First, we made lingerie out of toilet paper. Then we played Plant the Kiss on the Groom, which is like pin the tail on the donkey, except we put bright red lipstick on each of the guests when we blindfolded them and they had to kiss a photo of the groom.

The printer must have run out of ink because each page that came out looked worse and worse.

Here's a copy of an invitation I found online and used for the event:

The shower was a blast, and the wedding was beautiful. I wish the two of them the best of happiness!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reactions to My Career Choice

Three months ago when I started working as a non-paid unpublished stay-at-home writer, I was worried about what people would think of me.

The responses have been surprisingly positive. For the most part, people I meet are encouraging and supportive. They think what I'm doing is cool.

Most people I speak to (and I've noticed this throughout my life) are interested in writing books of their own someday. I believe the urge to record thoughts - thereby immortalizing ourselves - is a primal instinct ingrained in all of us. It could be journaling, fiction, poetry, or it could even be arts and crafts. It doesn't matter. We all want to leave a piece of ourselves behind, and we admire others who do.

Apparently, writing books isn't an unusual career choice for stay-at-home moms. It's unusual for a stay-at-home person like me, but I still feel like I'm in good company.

Not all the responses have been positive, though I can't complain. I've only had one upsetting reaction, one weird one, and two people who said "Oh," and changed the subject.

The weird reaction was this: when someone asked what I did, I said, "I'm an aspiring author." He said, "That's cool. So, do you actually aspire, or do you just..." He shrugged. 

I'm pretty sure he meant to end that sentence with, "Or do you just dream about being a writer and not actually do anything about it?" When I told him I try to write at least two hours a day (I wouldn't be able to justify staying at home if I did any less), he nodded and asked what my book was about.

Like I said, there was only one reaction I didn't appreciate. Normally I wouldn't have minded, but this particular person should have known better. He asked me, "If you and Andrew can't have kids right away, are you going to get a job?"

(I've already mentioned that I don't want people to think I spend my days just waiting to reproduce, so that was a little irritating.)

"I already have a job," I told him. "I'm working on my book."

"Oh." He looked confused. "When you're don't with your book, then what will you do?"

"I'll write another one."

He looked even more confused, so I explained, "I have a lot of ideas. This is what I plan to do for the rest of my life."

Perhaps my irritation was evident because he found a reason to end the conversation and go somewhere else. I need to learn how to hide my emotions better.

Oh well, who cares? I'm getting all the support I need, and that makes me happy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Introduction to "Voodoo Queen"

I just finished the introduction to my work-in-progress, Voodoo Queen. Like most authors with a shiny new idea, I'm eager to show off. So, even though I shouldn't impulsively post material I wrote only fifteen minutes ago, I present to you the beginning of my new book.

Voodoo Queen

I’ll always remember the day I realized the effect I had on men. My mother warned me, but like most young women, I didn’t believe a word she said unless I found out myself.
I was on my way to Congo Square. Already I could hear the drums booming from within the trees. As usual, the music quickened my blood and quickened my pace. That night, I planned to dance for hours. Maybe even until dawn.
I wore my new guinea-blue calico dress with the full skirt, as much gold-beaded jewelry as I could fit on my neck and ears, and a multi-colored tingon wrapped around my head. I felt like a million dollars and walked like I owned the whole city.
Pretty soon I noticed people making way for me in the street. They whispered to themselves as I passed. The police who guarded the gates to Congo Square (in case the “drunken negro orgies” got out of control) stared at me with their jaws blatantly open. They jumped out of my way and let me in without any trouble.
I didn’t know at the time how far that power could take me, but I was eager to find out.
My great-grandma understood the effect she had on men when she should have been too young to know such things. Catherine was the prettiest slave in Louisiana. She was also the most expensive. When Henry Roche first laid eyes on her – she was shackled but standing proud as if she could never be owned by anyone – he decided she had to be his no matter the cost. If he had known how she would someday break his heart, he never would have gone to the slave house that day.
My grandma Marguerite didn’t find out the effect she had on men until she was eighteen. Henry, who would never admit to having a mulatto child, was nevertheless protective of her. That didn’t change even in death. He willed his slave daughter to a legitimate heir, but she ended up in the hands of Francois all the same. Poor man. Francois was so besotted that he freed my grandma, only to lose her to the love of her life.
This was long before my grandfather became so obsessed with Marguerite that he could hardly sleep at night thinking about her.
As for my mother – the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, the one hailed in the newspapers as a saint, cursed as a devil in church, and whispered in stories to give you nightmares – she didn’t understand any of her powers until much later.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why I Don't Qualify to Write About Racism

When I took an African American literature class in college, my professor told us that most of what we know of Voodoo is actually European witchcraft. In the 18th and 19th century, the Americans spread false rumors about the Voodoos in order to expel African culture from the country.

I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Shouldn't we be outraged about that?" How is it that in an age of unprecedented tolerance, we're still spreading these rumors?

Voodoo has next to nothing in common with my religion (Latter-Day Saint, aka Mormonism), but I've been wrongly accused of belonging to a satanic cult enough times to sympathize. 

So right away, my book about Marie Laveau - the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans - would be about religious tolerance.

I'll never understand why people hated Latter-Day Saints so much. Did you know it used to be legal to kill a Mormon in the state of Missouri? It was called the Mormon Extermination Order, and it lasted from 1838 to 1976. 

Don't mistake the date for a typo; seriously, the law wasn't revoked until 1976. If my dad went on vacation to Missouri as a teenager, you could have legally murdered him.

But I understand why people hated Voodoo. It all boils down to racism. Sure, Voodoo is a strange religion from a Western point of view, but the cold truth is that Voodoo is African, and all things African had to go.

This means that by default, my book is going to be about racial tolerance as well.

I'm the whitest person I know. I don't have any inkling of what it's like to be discriminated against racially. When I tell people I'm a Latter-Day Saint, the worst reaction I get is an awkward silence and a cleared throat. 

If I close my eyes tight and concentrate really hard, I might be able to picture being a black person just enough to make my characters believable. But then my book won't have any passion. When it comes to racism, the only things I have to say have already been said.

Also, I get the impression that African Americans are exclusive about their culture and history. I understand and respect that completely; after all, I don't really like it when non-members write about Mormonism. They never get it right.

I guess if I want to tell this story - and I really, really do - I'll just have to do my best.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Come to a Conference from the Comfort of Your Chair

I was fortunate enough to discover a free, incredible-sounding online writer's conference happening August 14-15. It's called "Write On Con."

I am psyched! They have "panels," videos, contests, forum discussions, query and pitch critiques from agents, and more! It's focused on YA and children's literature, but there'll be a lot of good stuff for all writers.

Click here to see their schedule of activities. If you're going to join in, let me know and I'll keep my eye out for you in the forums.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dancing in Another Man's Pants

I used to tell funny stories on my blog all the time, until I eventually didn't have any more to tell. Just now I remembered this little gem from high school.

I took dance classes in high school, which I loved, though I showed up about as rarely as I did for any of my other classes. Skipping was a terrible habit for me. 

One day when I was dressing for class in the locker room, I realized I forgot my dance clothes. How typical! I finally showed up for class and I would have to sit and watch people dance without getting any credit. This was especially frustrating since I was only there in the first place because I couldn't get away with missing again.

I sat next to a mirror in the studio, still wearing a sweater and jeans, and sulked.

Class was just about to start when I realized I was sitting next to the Lost and Found box. It was overflowing with shoes, bras, shirts, and pants.

I had an idea.

Quickly, I grabbed the first shirt of pair of sweats I thought would fit and ran to get dressed. I had to hurry, or I would be late and only get half credit. I stuffed my street clothes into a locker, ran to the door, and on my way glanced in a mirror. I noticed just in time that my t-shirt said "Hooters" in big, sparkly letters.

This would be embarrassing for anyone, but it was especially problematic for me. I had vocally boycotted Hooters and condemned anyone who went there. In fact, I had just published a very opinionated article about it in the school newspaper. (I don't care if all the waitresses are dressed as nuns; I'm not going into a restaurant with a vulgar name.)  On Senior Skip Day, all my friends went to Hooters and I refused to go with them, saying I would rather stay in school.

I still can't believe one of the few times I went to school was Senior Skip Day.

I wasn't going to be caught dead wearing that shirt, but I didn't have time to get another. At last I decided to wear it wrong side out so no one could see the words in the front. 

By the time I made it to the dance floor, the teacher was still taking role and I got credit for showing up on time.

The pants I was wearing were very comfortable and I had just about decided to keep them if they weren't claimed in the next few days. 

Halfway through class, the students were lined up in a corner to take turns leaping across the room. I noticed one of the boys was looking me up and down. It started to make me uncomfortable.

To get him to stop, I smiled and say, "Hey, how're you doing?"

He continued to stare. Then, flabbergasted, he said, "Are you wearing my pants?"

"Um... yes. Sorry." 

It was my turn to go, so I leaped across the room and waited on the other side for my very confused classmate to join me so I could explain to him what happened.

I thought he would laugh about it, but even though I promised to give them back, he was clearly perturbed that I had danced in his pants. I don't know why he was so upset. After all, finders keepers.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Reluctantly Like Wikipedia Again

Recently I posted an article saying I have written of Wikipedia completely because of the false information it posted on the Vestal Virgins - priestesses in ancient Rome.

It said there were eighteen vestals instead of six,  that initiates were prepubescent girls when they were actually children, that every five years three vestals retired when in fact the vestals had the option of leaving when they were thirty but few of them ever did....

Etc., etc.

I was always open to the possibility of false information leaking into Wikipedia, but I never thought the falsities would be so blatant. Ergo, I wrote off Wikipedia completely.

Today, something changed my mind.

I've started doing research for my new novel about Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. I do many things to prepare for a novel before I start writing it (in fact, I wrote a series of posts about it). The first step is to write down the purpose of this book - what inspired me to write it, what I want it to accomplish, etc.

I came up with this idea in 2006, so it was hard for me to remember what inspired me to write it. It wasn't my trip to New Orleans, my African American literature class, or Martha Ward's nonfiction, Voodoo Queen. Those things helped, but at what point did I have that ah-ha moment, that burst of inspiration that told me, "I have to make this into a book"?

I remember now. After a trip to New Orleans, I wanted to learn more about this "voodoo queen" I had heard so much about. I looked it up on Wikipedia. That's when I knew.

I know now how disgusting the article on Marie Laveau is. It says she was born in 1794 instead of 1801. It says her daughter became the second Marie Laveau when we don't even know if a second Marie Laveau existed, much less that it was her daughter. It says she was a hairdresser, which was only a rumor that got started in 1995 (a century after her death) by the book New Orleans As It Was. At least it admits that most of the information in the article is rumor and speculation.

Yet despite all this, the article did exactly what Wikipedia is supposed to do: give me just enough information to help me know if I want to learn more. If it weren't for Wikipedia, I probably would have read the same false information from some other website, and it wouldn't have included links to other topics and lists of books I can go to if I want to continue my research.

I've decided to continue using Wikipedia, but I will forever be suspicious of it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Are You Reaching Far Enough?

Have you ever heard the quote "Shoot for the moon; if you miss, you'll land among the stars"? 

I hate that quote. It grates my nerves every time I hear it. You wanna know why?

Flying to the moon takes three days. The nearest star to our planet - Alpha Centauri - is four light years away. If you shoot for the moon, there's zero chance of you making it to a star.

I've met writers who I feel shoot for the moon and expect to land among stars. People like that write one draft of a book, finish their query in an afternoon, send the query to a hundred agents, and are shocked when no one is interested.

I've even met writers who hardly read books. That's like an anorexic trying to be a chef. A flight instructor who's afraid of heights. A computer technician who's Amish. It's ridiculous.

I've said this before in what was a pretty brutal post (I wonder if I was angry that day?), but I'll say it again; a hobby will not make you rich and famous. You can't churn out a first draft and expect to make it on a bestseller list. If you want to make writing a career, you have to put forth a career's worth of effort.

So what can you do to reach the stars? Here's a list of how a successful writing career seems to work, from what I've seen (obviously, I'm still trying to figure it out):

  1. Your first draft will never be good enough for an agent to see. End of discussion. I'm sure it's fabulous and you have ever right to beam with pride - after all, you finished a book! - but no one, not even the pros, publishes their first draft.
  2. Your second draft won't be good enough, and your third probably won't be either. I've always believed you can make as many mistakes in a book as there are words (around 85,000 - 100,000). If I had one piece of advice for writers, it's revise, revise, revise.
  3. You cannot revise your book enough without help. Once you've made your book as good as it can be, the next step is critique groups and beta readers. They see your book objectively, and they're a wealth of knowledge. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes about that many to create and publish a book.
  4. Read your genre. This will teach you methods of writing, what works and what doesn't, and what people like. The more successful books you read, the more you will be able to apply to your own writing. Reading bad books in your genre is helpful too because it powerfully demonstrates what not to do.
  5. Study the industry. You wouldn't expect someone to become a CEO straight out of college, would you? They have to be interns, get entry level jobs, build connections, and they have to learn, learn, learn. Aspiring authors are basically interns (unpaid and unappreciated labor for the sake of experience). Writing is more than an art; it's a business, and you have to learn how the business works.
  6. Spend weeks on your query letter. A year and a half ago, I would have said this advice is stupid. Why on earth would it take more than an hour to write one page about a book? I did it in high school all the time. I didn't realize how complicated a query can be until mine was unanimously rejected by agents and ripped apart in writing forums. It's important to study the craft of writing a query.
  7. Don't send your query to every agent in Writer's Market. This might sound like a good idea because if every agent in the world has seen your query, you can't miss out on the right one. I've learned that I'm supposed to know who the right agents are before submitting my query to a handful of them, and then if they reject me, I need to revise and send to a handful more. This sounds dumber than step 6. Can't you just do it right the first time? While I've always been skeptical of this step, I've heard this from enough agents and authors to take their advice.
  8. Repeat. If you're anything like me, you'll have to do these steps more than once. 
Feeling overwhelmed yet? I read an article on Distraction 99 (can't remember which) where an author said if she knew how much work getting published would take before she started, she never would have done it. So if this list makes you want to quit, forget I said anything. Take things one step at a time.

In closing, I want to share some advice from Jane Friedman that stuck with me:
  • Be bold once it's clear what you want
  • Be patient
  • Be persistent
  • Don't be afraid to fail. It's what you do after that counts

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Bane of My Existence

We all have challenges that get in the way of our goals. Some might be huge, like a health problem or a sucky job or a bad relationship. Some might seem small, but over time make a huge difference in your life.

I have one that's bothered me for about a decade. Now that I work from home, this bane of my existence has risen to torment me anew. It is...


My sleeping habits have always been chaotic, to put it lightly. Sure, I've had nights where I lay awake for hours, same as everyone else. I've also had nights where I sleep twelve hours at a time, and nights when I don't sleep at all. Once in college, I got so little sleep for so long that when I tried to introduce myself to someone, I burst into tears because I couldn't form a coherent sentence. Boy, was that embarrassing.

Once I had to explain to my boss that I slept through work. She said I should have come in when I woke up even if I was late, and I had to explain that I literally slept through work. As in work was over by the time I woke up.

I'll never forget the time I stayed awake for 36 hours without feeling tired. I spent the whole night watching "Friends" reruns and eating chicken pot pie, then went to school feeling perfectly alert and rested.

Am I a crazy person?

It was easier to keep my sleeping habits in check when I had to wake up for work at 6:30 am, but now, I have complete freedom. I can rationalize that it's okay to sleep in until eleven if I stayed awake until three in the morning the night before. Then when Andrew gets home, I scratch my head wondering why I didn't get much done that day, only to realize I lost four hours of my morning to sleep!

*head-desk, head-desk, head-desk.*

If any of you have advice on how to deal with my little issue, I'm all ears.

What about you? What's the bane of your existence?
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