Writing Advice #8

What happens when you're done writing the novel and you've edited it for the hundredth time and you've sent out queries? You start the next novel. John Grisham didn't become famous for his first novel, A Time to Kill. He got famous for his second book, The Firm. The thing is, John Grisham didn't stop writing. Even if A Time to Kill flopped, he kept on writing. He kept going, and if he didn't, then The Firm wouldn’t have happened. Another example of this is Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code isn't his debut novel. It's actually his what, fourth? Angels and Demons came before it and a couple more books before that.

If writing is really want you want to do for a living, you can't bank on just one novel. I'm sure you have more in you than just one novel, right? Right? Okay, Harper Lee only has two novels (that we know of), but we can’t all write the great American novel, now can we? Even Nobel Prize winners have more than just the novel they won for.

Writing is a process that keeps evolving. Lisa Kleypas, Nora Roberts, and many of the romance novelists like them, come out with at least one novel a year. Or you can be as prolific as Tom Clancy and come out with two or even James Patterson who can come out with three. Okay, the latter is unsubstantiated, but with all the new James Patterson books I see on shelves, it does look like he can dish them out by the dozen, right?

What do they all have in common? They keep writing. The moment they finish a novel, they start another. Sometimes, they work on multiple novels at the same time. It's all about getting as much done as possible. We all have more than just one novel. In fact, we have multiple. I'm sure you have characters in your head that you weren't able to add to your first novel, so why not give them their own story? Basically, it's write, write, and write some more.

But, what about a break from writing, you might ask? Well, breaks are always good, except you don't want to lose your momentum. Like anything that needs practice, if you don't get cracking for a while, you'll get rusty. What about what you’ve learned from writing your first novel? That can all slip by the wayside if you stop writing. You don't need to get into the grind. Take it a page at a time if you have to. Of course, if inspiration hits, why take it slow? If you feel like writing a hundred pages in one go then more power to you.

What we really want to take away from this post is the fact that we must keep going. If writing is what we really want to do, then why stop with just one novel? What’s stopping us?

Keep on writing!

Sandy Hall and Santa Claus

Here is my Christmas confession: I believed in Santa Claus for a VERY, almost embarrassingly, LONG TIME.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

When I was in fourth grade, there was a boy in my class named Scott. We were in the same reading group, we always tied on math tests, and we were the same level of brownnoser when it came to teachers. So of course we were sworn enemies.

(Sidenote: I’m happy to tell you that after years of endless competition, Scott and I became good friends in high school and beyond. Ten year old Sandy would feel absolutely betrayed if she knew that as we got older Scott and I were such good friends that I even attended his wedding. But I digress.)

The problem with Scott is that I could just never beat him. And then one day, he brought up Santa Claus and insisted that he didn’t exist. I knew for a fact Santa was real. And I could prove it to him. He was not going to win this debate.

“Okay, so if Santa isn’t real, how come my older sister still believes in him?” I asked. “She’s twenty and she told me she saw Rudolph on the roof of our house once.” I said this with the kind of confidence only a ten year old debating the reality of Santa Claus can say things.

He scoffed. “She just told you that to make you believe. Your parents probably told her to say that!”

“They would never!” I said, completely indignant. “Also my parents don’t have enough money to buy all those toys and presents. They have four kids.”

“They save up all year or something,” he said. “And how are we supposed to believe that Santa does it all that in one night?”

“Magic!” I said. “And time zones!”

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I know I felt triumphant about the argument. I was certain that I’d won and completely sure that Santa was real, as if I had talked myself back into believing at a time when that belief had been wavering.

And no joke, that debate fueled my belief in Santa for at least another two years. I was filled with righteous indignation.  To the point where a couple Christmases later, the same older sister who told me she’d seen Rudolph finally sat me down to tell me the truth. Luckily I was older and wiser and didn’t feel as indignant.

But it was nice to hold onto my childhood a little longer.


Kate's Note:

Santa continues to be near and dear to my heart. He is real as the spirit of Christmas is real. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Sandy. It was a pleasure hosting you on the blog. Looking forward to your next book.

Katy Upperman Shares Nordy Bars

I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday traditions lately, as we’ve just decorated our Christmas tree and strung twinkling lights from the eaves of our house – it’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all!

My little family is all about holiday cheer. We’ve adopted tons of traditions as our own, though we’ve had to modify Christmas a time or two, thanks to my husband’s job with the military. We always do our best to make Christmas a special and memorable time for our daughter, but sometimes it looks a little less than traditional. Opening presents with Daddy via Skype while he sits in a desert half a world away? Done it. Presents mailed to faraway family weeks in advance? Yep. Santa’s Christmas Eve cookies hurriedly purchased at a bakery because we’re mid-cross-country move and bunking in a hotel room? Been there.

One tradition that holds constant, though—through deployments and moves and family visits and everything in-between—is dessert. No matter what our holiday circumstances, I always, always, always bake a feast of Christmas treats starting on December 1st. Spritz cookies, Magic Squares, chocolate crinkle cookies, shortbread, eggnog cookies, gingerbread people, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Danish Puff, thumbprint cookies…

Seriously. I know no bounds.

My all time favorite Christmastime treat, though, are Nordy Bars. My mom made them during the holidays when my brothers and I were young, and I continue to make them each year for my family. According to legend, Nordy Bars were served at the Nordstrom Cafe back in the 80s and were supposedly a huge hit. While I can’t confirm their origin, I can tell you that they’re sweet and chewy and decadent and amazingly delicious.

I hope you’ll use the recipe below to bake up a batch for your family, and I hope you have a very happy holiday season! <3 nbsp="" p="">
Nordy Bars

½ cup butter
12 ounces butterscotch chips
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup chopped pecans

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add butterscotch chips and brown sugar. Stir until melted -- do not boil. Let cool for ½ an hour. Add eggs and vanilla, then stir well. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients until just incorporated. Spread in a greased 9X13 glass dish, then bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, checking for doneness in the center. When cool, cut into squares and refrigerate.


Kate's Note:

I'm definitely trying this recipe too. Wow! You know when something combines butterscotch chips and mini marshmallows it's going to be good. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe with all of us, Katy. I can't wait to get my hands on Kissing Max Holden.

Writing During the Holidays with Jennifer Honeybourn

When December hits, there’s so much to do to prepare for the holiday season that writing, much like working out, is the first thing I take off the list. If I can’t have more hours in a day, then something has to go, at least temporarily, and in the past few years that something has been my writing time. The Ghost of Christmas Past has shown me, however, that when I step away from a project for more than a few days I lose momentum. And once that momentum is gone, it is so incredibly hard to get it back.

This year, I’ve decided that my gift to myself will be writing time. Will it still be difficult to fit it in when I have presents to buy, parties to attend, a house to decorate? Yes. Yes it will. But I am determined to do whatever it takes to make sure that I get those words down — even if all I have is ten minutes to tap something into my phone while I’m waiting in line at the post office. It may only be ten minutes, but at the very least, those ten minutes will keep me in the story.

Part of my strategy is to put my intention out there — via this blog — to keep myself honest. Because I have been known to let myself off the hook, and I’m less likely to do that if I’ve announced my goal, which is: I plan to write every day in December. Every. Single. Day. What I end up with might not even amount to a full chapter, but it will be something. And getting something done — even if it’s only a small amount — obviously will always feel better than getting nothing done.

So if you are like me and need added pressure to keep you accountable, consider December 31st your deadline. Put your goal — whatever it may be — out there, either by telling a friend or posting on a blog. And then get to it!

The Ghost of Christmas Future will thank you.


Kate's Note:

I'm also one of those writers taking advantage of the holidays to get some writing done. I like your plan, Jennifer! It's the same thing I'm doing. We can do this!

Nikki Katz's Christmas Traditions

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, if not my absolute favorite. There's something special about decorating the house and the tree, putting out my Christmas Village and getting an advent calendar for the kids to open.

Ever since my kids were small, I've tried to instill Christmas traditions. For over a decade we would travel to Tucson the week of the holiday and stay with my mom. The past couple of years we've been unable to attend, but we still carry on the same Christmas Eve tradition that we used to do then.

The evening starts out with "make your own pizza". Each person gets an individual sized pizza crust. A plethora of toppings are laid out - sauce and cheeses, mushrooms, olives, green peppers, and pepperoni - and you build your own pizza to your specific tastes.

After the pizzas are baked and eaten, the kids each get to open a gift. I tend to switch it up but lately it's been books or holiday/winter themed pajamas. I started this tradition when they were younger, mostly because they were itching to open the presents under the tree and were too anxious to fall asleep!

Then we head off to look at the Christmas lights. In Tucson, there is an area of town blocked off called Winterhaven. We would typically walk through with the stroller or a wagon, and on occasion we would all pile on to one of the hayrides that travel through the neighborhood. The kids cuddled up in blankets and we would sip on coffee or hot chocolate as we gazed at the lights and displays. Since we've been in San Diego the past couple of years, I found a local neighborhood where most of the houses put up displays, and we do a similar walk through on Christmas Eve. It's nice to get outdoors as a family before heading to bed and waiting for Santa to arrive!

Then it's home to put out cookies and milk for Santa and prep for bedtime, perhaps even a holiday story before lights out.

Wishing you and yours a very merry holiday season!

Kate's Note:

I love the "make your own pizza" tradition. I'm so down for that. My family and I would also go to our favorite restaurant. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your family's traditions. It was great getting to know you better! I look forward to reading your book.

Holiday Songs with Claire Kann

Everyone in my family is a creative of some kind. My mom was a dancer, and my dad was a musician--music and performing have always been a large part of my family’s traditions. There is actual video footage of me dancing to “Santa Packs are Coming.” Yep. The jingle from the Coca-Cola commercial… what can I say? I love Christmas music!

It’s generally frowned upon to have a Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving (#theworldisjudgingyou), but there isn’t an actual rule of thumb of when it’s appropriate to start playing Christmas music (and if there is, don’t tell me). In high school, many, many a year ago, a friend told me that in her country, they started playing Christmas music in August. A former co-worker of mine refused to play Christmas music in her office before December 1st. Personally, I will play it whenever the mood strikes me.

I am 100% here for Christmas music all year long. Here are my top Christmas songs (excluding holiday canon classics):

“This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway
This song has been covered many times, many ways, but this one is my favorite. If you are ready for a Christmas get down, nothing will get your family and loved ones more hyped than this song.

“Carol of The Bells” and “Wizards in Winter” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
How could I not mention these?

“Merry Christmas (Happy Holidays)” by ‘Nsync
I grew up during the era of Nsync vs. Backstreet Boys. While I was (and am) firmly team BSB, there is no denying this song is everything. Ah, the nostalgia is strong with this one...

“Sleigh Ride” by TLC
I have strong memories of seeing this music video on a local public access channel that played music videos. Hearing this one always make me smile.

“Greensleeves” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
This is the first song I learned to play on piano by myself. I love that it’s a Christmas song, too!

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jackson 5
Jackson 5 (and Michael Jackson’s) music ruled my house. That is all.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Park Bogum and & Irene
It’s no secret I have a massive crush on Park Bogum. Needless to say, this is my new favorite version of this song. Click here to view it on YouTube.

“Christmas Time” by Christina Aguilera
I have no shame. I am trash for this song.

“All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey
What other song could have possibly been Number One? This has to be the single greatest Christmas song from the modern age. The single was released in 1994, it’s sold over 14 million copies worldwide, the music video has over 183 million views on YouTube, and it’s been covered by other musicians countless times. The whole world cherishes this song.


Kate's Note:

What a great list, Claire! Thank you so much for sharing your favorite Christmas songs with us. My personal favorite is The Christmas Song or if you know the Nat King Cole version called Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire. The moment I hear that song I know it's Christmas. What about you? What's your favorite Christmas song?

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