Friday, January 30, 2009

Baby Bucket List and Writing Update

First, the writing update. I am officially at 29k words. I'm a little short of where I had wanted to be, but I'll explain all about that on my Week Wrap Up post on Sunday. Don't want it to distract from my topic of choice. Next week my goal is 35k words. Once I hit that I am going to start working on revising what I have done to date. I am a skipper so the 35k words should expand to around 55k once I have added proper description and a set-up or twelve.

My husband and I had a little misstep this month when we thought that we were pregnant. We are not (which is a good thing because I went to Mexico earlier this month and had mucho Margaritas--I don't want a flipper baby). While it was very much not part of the plan, but I am a disappointed that there is no Bun in the Oven (just the book).

But, that is okay. Today we sat down and made a Baby Bucket List of all the things that we would like to do before TTC (trying to conceive). The Bucket List concept is taken after the movie of the same name. It's basically just a list of things Pete and I want to do and where we would like to be financially when the little kiddo comes along. If we don't do all of it, I'm totally okay with that, but if we can do most of this list, I will be very happy.

I think that we will start TTC in about two and half years--around my 29th birthday. This was very exciting because while we have always wanted to have kids, we have put an official (albeit distant) date on the baby plans.

The amount that we put into savings each month to allow us to reach our aggressive goals is the amount we expect to spend on childcare and other baby expenses. If there are any other pre-baby couples out there thinking about adding a little plus one, I think it is a smart idea. Once our baby, we won't be on a new budget and we will be more financially ready for him/her.

The trips are used as rewards for obtaining certain savings goals, but will be saved for before taking. There are other places I would like to go someday, but these are the places I want to try before Alexander or Adeline comes along (yes, we picked names too!) What can I say...I'm a planner.

I also started working on a Kid Bucket List of activities I want to do with my kids while they are little, too. But, I'm just going to share with you my Baby Bucket List.

Lauren done with school
Lauren has PMP
Lauren has enjoyable (enough) job
No PMI on condo
Emergency Fund built up and put in "leap-frog" CDs
Baby Stuff fund
Get involved in religious community
Life Insurance
Have a budget
Join a Jr Board
Reasses Insurance
Get involved in volunteer work
Disability Insurance
Lauren exercise regularly
Lauren to dentist
Lauren starts proper pre-natal care
Lauren seeking agents for novel
Go SCUBA together
Go Mountain Climbing
Go to Vegas
Go skiing
Dance Lessons together
Run a marathon
Visit the Amazon and Rio's Carnival
Tour Greek Islands
Alaskan Cruise

Did anyone else have a list of things they wanted to do before trying to have a baby? Does anyone have a written list of experiences they want to share with their kids? I'd love to hear what your goals and dreams are. :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Creating Sympathetic Characters

So I have this problem. My main character is whiny. Actually, male readers find her whiny. Women think that she is perfectly reasonable (because her life is unfair, as any good heroine's life is). While my target demographic is mostly female 18-35, but since this is fantasy there will also be male readers. And she is whiny.

A lovable and sympathetic character is flawed, but not too flawed. If they are perfect, then why care about reading the book. They have nothing to learn, and in that way, nothing to teach us, as people learn through learning from mistakes.

Personally, as a reader I can't stand an unsympathetic main character. If I want to shake or smack the main character, I'm likely to put the book down and just walk away. I'm a character reader. A good premise hooks me, but I want to see what people do in those situations. How they rise to the challenges, stumble and then ultimately succeed. I want to see them do things that I couldn't and say things that I can't. I don't want it to be too easy because the harder something is to obtain the more valuable it is, even in fiction.

Things that make a character sympathetic:
* Has Gumption
* Is Larger Than Life (but with weaknesses too)
* Is an underdog (or at least has an adversary that seems stronger)
* Doesn't wallow in misery, but instead takes action (partially my problem with Hailey)
* We are shown verses told about their motivations and desires
* Is Multi-Dimensional
* Hardworking and has the need to work hard (meaning, life is not perfect)
* Creative solution-finder (but not too creative, and everything used to create solutions can't be too out of the blue)
* Consistent reactions (yes, they change, but in an arc and slowly, often with one step forward and two steps back)
* Strives to be better (either personally, financially, politically...they don't just sit there...they do)
* Tenacity

Above all, don't try to trick the reader into thinking that the character is sympathetic by giving them a cat to love that has nothing to do with the story or a dying grandma that has nothing to do with the story or a heroic dead that has nothing to do with the story or... You get the idea. Don't just slap something on the top to make the person nicer.

We need to get inside their heads. The reader needs to understand the goals and motivations behind the character's actions. A reader doesn't even have to like the character to sympathize with them. I think some of the best novels have sympathetic villains. You understand what is moving them. You don't agree with it, but you get it. Of course, they cannot be more sympathetic than the main character.

Still, Hailey is whiny and I need to fix it. What I am going to do is:
* Have Hailey recognize that she is whiny and consciously try to stop.
* Show Hailey doing what she enjoys (and is getting taken away from) so that the reader feels badly for her (showing that she likes her current life and the juxtaposing it with her not fitting in (but trying) with her new life rather than telling that she doesn't like the changes the plot has forced her along to)
* Make Hailey more observant so that she has other things to focus on

Have any of you ever tried to make your characters more sympathetic? Why were they unsympathetic and how did you fix it?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chicago's Lincoln Park

Lions, Tigers, Penguins, and Gorillas...oh my! (note, all images (c)

One of my favorite places to take out of town guests is the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is nestled just north of the city's main downtown area, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Park and is one of the oldest zoos in our country. One of the best parts about this zoo is that it is free 356 days of the year.

Since it is a free zoo, it has a feeling of a park with animals. The animals are in cages, but the zoo itself is completely open for visitors to pop into whenever they want (during zoo hours, of course). Sometimes when coming home from work during the summer I will ride my bike through the LP Zoo and enjoy the fresh air and fun.

The zoo is best enjoyed during the summer hours when you can rent a paddle boat, view the sea lions and ride the carousel, but even during the winter there are many animals to see. The big cats and small mammals are inside their own building. Actually, last semester I did a project for a biology class that I was taking where I went to the zoo every other Saturday to document the actions of the collection of Dwarf Mongeese. Through out the whole semester, from the late summer heat of September to the pre-Christmas excitement of late November, children of all ages were able to look at the animals.

One of the most humorous exhibits, to me, at least since I grew up in a rural-ish area, is the John Deere tractor. Since most Chicago kids have never gotten stuck behind one of these on a narrow country road, their appeal, and the magical work they do on parcels of land called "farms" is near legendary. Many of these kids have never been outside the concrete jungle that is Chicago so the "Farm at the Zoo" is fascinating. I'm sure even visitors from all over would find this fun because it is in the middle of the petting zoo section. The "Farm at the Zoo" also includes live cow milking daily.

The grounds and the park area around the zoo allow for ample picnicking area where you can gaze at the skyscraper while listening to the roar of the lions in the background.

In 1868, when the Lincoln Park Commissioners were given a gift of a pair of swans and then in 1874, the swans were joined by a bear cub, the first animal purchased for the zoo. Rumor has it that the bear became very adept at escaping from his cage and could be found roaming the Lincoln Park neighborhood at night. The cage solutions have become much more sophisticated in the past century.

Parking is available at the zoo for a fee, but the more adventurous should drive around the neighborhood to try and find some free parking. It might take a few minutes, but the saved parking money is worth it. Also, the CTA offers several transportation options to the zoo. Go to the trip advisor for more information.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Week Wrap Up -- First Week Back from Mexico

It feels like Mexico was years ago. Work this last week was brutal. On the plus side, I got one of my three back paychecks on Friday, along with the one due to me. Don't know if it's really a "plus side" to get the money I work for, but whatever.

I had a pretty good weekend. On Friday I walked over to the Borders on the Magnificent Mile (Chicago's shopping strip) to do some writing. Got on cupcake on my walk over. Saturday went out to brunch and then hung out with my friend Ducky that night. Today we went with some friends to brunch and then a play at the Goodman Theater (more on that on tomorrow's My Town Monday) and then ran some errands, including buying new bubble baths from Lush--and picked up my cell phone that I had forgotten at Ducky's--oops. All in all it was a pretty good weekend.

Well, going to do a bit more writing before I go to bed. I've thought of some new plot points, which I am excited to implement.

Spring classes start tomorrow night. Calculus based Statistics. Fun times.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Something I Want and a Writing Update

Ever since I moved into my condo there has been this cute house up the block that I always said that I wanted. Well, it is on the market now and if it wasn't for the fact that it would be next to impossible to unload our condo and the fact that zero percent down products don't exist anymore I would totally want to buy it.

If we could get out from under our condo, even taking a hit on it (since this is so under valued) AND if we could get the zero down loan, we'd be golden. Actually, it's a fair bit less that what we would be able to qualify for.

I want.

Four bedroom, three and a half baths, a nice sized backyard. No parking, that is a pain, but we could always rent a garage. But, it has a basement (one of the bedroom is in the basement).

I want sooo bad.
Cannot get.

Okay, this was suppose to be a writing update. Let me do that bit. I actually had a really good week, productivity wise. I am now at just a little over 26k, which is 4k for the week. I plan to spend most of the weekend writing tomorrow and wrap up the weeked at around 30k, which any luck. I have enough more outlined out to get to 35k so that is my goal for next week. Once I hit that, I am going to go work on touching up my previous work. The new stuff is *super* rough and I expect the word count of this plot amount to go up to around 50k (once I add in a subplot that I let slip).

26k isn't very exciting, but the 35k next week is a real possibility. If I can keep focused and can hit that goal, I will be ecstatic!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Six Things That Make Me Happy

Jill Wheeler put a post on her site about six things that make her happy. I figured that I'd copy. It's my first meme!

1. Bubble Baths with a glass of red wine and a good book. Sometimes I mix it up and take a bubble bath sans book and think about the plot line for my novel.
2. Accomplishments! (I broke 25k yesterday!)
3. Paychecks (on Friday I will be 4 two months...right now it's just 7 and a half weeks). Getting a paycheck would make me ecstatic.
4. Chocolate. (the weight gain after, not so much)
5. Cuddling up with my hubby.
6. Good conversation with good friends.

With this whole money thing I am having a super hard time being upbeat. I feel like a whiny little blob of complaints. I thought that it would all be fixed by the time I got back from Mexico, but I'm pretty sure that it won't be until next week.

And then I'm being slow at getting my stuff done. Of course I am being slow. I'm stressed because I'm not getting paid. Everyone else is paid up. They got paid up while I was in Mexico (which I guess means no money for me until the bank releases their hold.) Would it be so hard to just tell me?

Sorry, this was suppose to be a happy post verses a whiny one.

Bubble Baths!

All better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The past couple of weeks most of my efforts have been on worldbuilding. As many of you are writers and will already know, worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world. While a fantasy world is very imaginary, even literary fiction and other genres must do some form of worldbuilding.

Since I am a fantasy writer, I will focus on what I have learned about worldbuilding for this genre. While my favorite part about fantasy is hands-down deep and complex characterization I love the complex worlds that writers create. It helps take me to a new time and place. This is done in the details and nuances of the world that the author has created. Since I'm not that great at detail, I have to really work at this, which is why solid worldbuilding exercises are so important for me.

There are two different ways that you can go about worldbuilding: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down begins with a general overview of a world and then drills down into details while bottom up begins with a very small area and as the story progresses the author adds as needed.

Personally I do a bit mixed. Actually the premise for my current novel started with a map of a world because, as described in my description of my WIP, the world itself is disappearing along the edges. After I drew the general world I went to my focus town, the capital city of a country that borders the edge and started bottom-up from there. However, now I am getting to the point where I need to create cultures and traditions for the other peoples and countries in the world. I guess I approach it from a perspective of worldbuild what you need, plus a little bit more. Who knows, maybe it will give you new plot ideas.

One thing that I think is important is trying to add something different to the world. It seems like every book has it's politics based off of medieval Europe. Not that I am dissing that because part of mine is, but even with Kings or Emperors there are so many different types of governments. Think Japan, ancient China, India, the Aztecs. Spend a little time looking into different cultures and how the rule of those in charge affected the lives of the citizens.

When worldbuilding there are several different aspects to consider. Each will add a different flavor to your writing. Here are some questions to get you thinking:
  • What kinds of foods do they eat?
  • What is your character's favorite food? Why?
  • What traditions occur with meals? Does your character like this?
  • What is the religion?
  • Are there any Feast Days or Holidays associated with this religion?
  • What usually happens on these Feast Days?
  • What does your protagonist like to for the Feast Days?
  • Did any especially positive or negative things happen on one of these days to the protagonist as a child?
  • What is considered the normal family or living unit?
  • What sorts of dwellings do they live in?
  • How do people "date" or "court" each other?
  • What is the biggest offense you can give in the culture?
  • What is a "rude" hand gesture?
  • What is the climate like?
  • How far away is the nearest water source?
  • How do they obtain water?
  • How do they obtain food?
  • Is there magic?
  • Is the magic associated with the religion?
Once you get started you can dig up a huge list of questions to ask yourself.

Also, when creating maps, make sure you follow general rules of physics, or make your own up but make sure to explain why you can follow that particular world. Wikipedia has some great thoughts about this.

So how do you go about worldbuilding? Is there anything particular you do? Do you take a top down or bottom up approach?

Monday, January 19, 2009


So, as you can see by my previous posts, I spent last week in Mexico. I returned to Chicago last night. Last week I missed some of the coldest weather Chicago has seen in a very long time, which is saying something because this city can get very cold. There was about a foot of snow on the ground to great me. I must admit that I prefer white sandy beaches to white snowy sidewalks.

I'm sure that many of you in warmer climates, or even just towns more hospitable to driving are wondering why anyone would want to live in such a place as this (especially when you read about our state's wonderful governor). Honestly, during the winter months I often ask myself the same questions. So to start off my Monday "Out and About Chicago" series I will tell you why I love this city. Most of the time.

April through September this is, in my humble opinion, one of the best cities on earth. Rent is much cheaper here than other large cities making it reasonable for small, fairly authentic ethic restaurants to exist. Also, while much higher than other mid-west cities, rent can be fairly reasonable in Chicago, especially if you are willing to live a few miles out from the center of the city. And if you want it to be safe, try a few miles north. Certain neighborhoods don't really apply, of course, but you can find some great deals.

For a large city, Chicago is fairly clean (thanks in part to our alleys where we can keep our trash). Chicago has been called "the biggest small town in the country" because you can often go places and run into people you know. We are still in the Midwest so people tend to be fairly friendly. We have some beautiful architecture which has inspired many films to be shot here. We also have launched the comedy career of many actors through Second City. We have the Cubs (who are fun to watch and build character if you root for them since you will get practiced at having dashed hopes :-P )

Of course, life isn't perfect anywhere and Chicago does live up to that from time to time. We do have crazy high taxes and the public transit is great in places and spotty in others (so I made it a point to live around where it's better).

We aren't called the Second City because we are second to NYC (and we are behind Miami and LA in size now--so if that were the case we'd be called the Fourth City!). We are called the Second City because on October 8th, 1871 the city suffered a horrible file that burnt most of it to the ground. We rebuilt. This Chicago is the second Chicago. Thus Second City. They pushed all the debris into Lake Michigan and turned it into a large public park complete with a bike path that runs along all of the city's lake front. Absolutely beautiful (they didn't understand the environmental consequences back then). Also, while Chicago is very windy, we actually got the name from our windbag politicians who wanted to get the Columbia Expedition in our city. Thus Windy City. Although, personally, I'd rather it be because of the weather than our politicians.

So, I will show you why I love Chicago every Monday with a post about various activities or interesting Chicago facts. I encourage everyone else to post why they love their own city. Because at the end of the day every place is special not because of the land, but because of the people who inhabit it. (This is modeled after Travis Erwin's My Town Mondays).

* added at 3:45pm Jan 19: For other My Town Mondays please visit Junosmom at Lifetime Learning and Chris at e-Cuniform scratchings.

For those of you who came here because of the My Town Monday links, this was just an intro blog for Chicago. It will be more "traditional" with pictures of around Chicago next week.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week Wrap Up -- My week in Mexico

Last week I was in Mexico for a friend's wedding. It was the perfect week to be out of Chicago. The weather here was so unbelievably cold. One day it was -17F and that was without the windchill. With it the weather felt like -30F. Totally crazy.

However, the weather in Mexico was mostly rainy. That's me off to the right enjoying one of the few sunny days with a Strawberry Margarita.

Luckily, the wedding was absolutely beautiful. It was on Thursday, which was rainy all day up until about a half hour before the wedding. Brad and Anastasia are a super cute and very fun/awesome/nice couple. Anastasia looked simply gorgeous in her dress.

We got down on Saturday night. Sunday we lazied around and went into town. Monday we went on a Catamaran dinner cruise. Unfortunately, this was the day that the weather first started to turn. Wednesday we went out to Ek Balam, a Mayan village and also went to a small city and got to swim in a cenote, which is an underground lake, basically. This one had a hole at the top of the cavern that let in light. The hole was created by the roots of a tree and the root stretched down to the water. Simply beautiful.

We also went to Tulum, a Mayan village on the ocean. It gave me a great idea for a new novel, but I have to finish the current one first.

Saturday was the highlight of the trip. We did all these adventure things. We got to snorkel in an underground river, go on a zip line over the rain forest and go rappelling. Poor Anastasia didn't feel comfortable with the zip line and the rappelling, but everyone did have a very good day. We also got to try some real Mexican food, which was a nice change of pace from the resort food.

That little yellow dot is my helmate. This is me on the zip line flying over the rainforest. Pete was standing on the platform that I was going towards when this picture was taken.

I totally wish that I was still there. We have about a foot of snow on the ground here in Chicago and it is crazy cold.

This was my first time traveling with friends, and while I really only knew the bride and groom, by the end of the trip everyone was really friendly with everyone else. It was nice because you could do activities with the other people or you could go do something by yourself and no one cared either way. I'm already getting excited about my next Although it won't be for at least a year.

I didn't do much actual writing, but I did alot of world building and plotting. This week I will be writing ~1k words per day. Next week classes start back up so I want to make sure that I am productive before that happens.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sorry about the lack of posts

So it costs on a daily basis to sign onto the Internet from our resort, which is too bad because I had written all my posts before leaving. So instead of following my new schedule this week, I will start next week. I just didn't feel like paying $13 a day for the internet.

The picture to the side is me inside our resort. We have two waterfalls! It is so awesome. It is like you are inside the rainforest. Unfortnatly empaisis on rain. It has been rainy most of the time that we have been here. I am planning on popping by the tanning salon when I get home so that I am not pale.

And Pete decided to change bags at the last minute and didn't move over my makeup. Uncool.

It has been raining much of the time that we have been here, but it has been snowing at home so I will take this over that. Today is the day of the wedding. They are still going to do it outside so hopefully the rain will let up.

I had a horrible reaction to the bug bites which lost me a day, but I've got some meds that are helping. We are staying at an Iberostar. It is all inclusive, but very reasonably priced. We have already decided that we are going to stay at one of the other ones next summer (2010).

All in all, it has been a good trip and I have gotten some ideas for my novel that I am suppose to be working on and even more for the one that I am not.

I will get over to everyone's blogs once I get back on Sunday and I will post some additional pictures. Sorry for the delay!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Writing Update

This is my first official Friday Writing Update and my first official post following my new schedule!

I didn't get as much done this week as I would have liked because of my trip next week and having to work lots at the day job. That and I've been trying to make an effort on my blog and visiting every one else's. However, I'm about 25% done with the word count (but those words will turn into about 40% when I flesh out the description. I'm a skipper, what can I say.)

As of today I am at approx 23k words. I wrote 700 words this week.

On the plus side, the day job got two large invoices in this past week so they have money now and I can be paid my past-due paychecks. Hopefully no more will bounce. This is why my creative juices have been sucked dry. But now that excuse is gone.


So my blog looks different. Don't worry, it isn't going to stay like this. I'm slowly going to tweak it until it looks pretty. Well, prettier.

Aside from the obvious layout changes there will be some other changes to my blog. First I am going to start having images with most of my posts. But that is still sort of layout. I am going to start following a blog schedule. This will require me to post and will give my creative juices a "go point".

Week Wrap-Up (Personal/about me stuff)
Out and About Chicago (Copied after Travis Erwin's My Town Mondays)
Wednesday: Writing Tips & Lessons Learned (Something in the writing craft I wish to discuss)
Writing Updates (How much writing I have done in the past week)

Random postings, or nothingness, will occupy the other days.

Also, talking about Travis Erwin--his family recently suffered a terrible loss a few days ago when their house burnt down. While I only know him through following each other's blogs, he seems like a really great person. He and his wife have two kids and two dogs. Some other bloggers have started a site where you can help him out in this just-after-the-holidays-season, if you are interested (yes, his kids lost all their presents from Santa). My heart goes out to his family.

A Bit About Goals

Since it is the New Year and goals are on everyone's mind, I decided to talk a bit about them.

Last month I shared some of my writing goals. I am right on track for the chapter part of the goals, but behind on the word count, which I am okay with because I tend to write through my ideas quickly and then circle back to fill in everything I glazed over. Funny thing, I realized on my ticker on the side I had accidentally had one extra zero in my word count goal. I was confused as to why it said I only 2% along on my total word count. Hah. It is now fixed.

I absolutely love goals. I am one of those people who has the whole "Life Mission Statement" from 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. In years past I would have have two to three pages of New Years Resolutions. I think that if you don't know where you are going then you are never going to get very far. Even if you don't get quite there, you will be so much further along than you would have been if you did not define and then follow your goals, but defining them is the first step because you consciously recognize that it is something that you want so you can make an action plan to accomplish it.

Last year was the first year that I didn't have too many goals, primarily because the years prior had all been so busy, especially 2006 (totaled my car, took a job in Omaha requiring 100% travel and weekly flights, moved to Chicago, got married) and 2007 (grandma died, Pete was very sick, got settled into Chicago, bought a condo, got a new job, got another new job). For 2009, I have a a few goals, but not like I used to. I think the older I get the more complacent, but in a good way, I get with my life.

I am not quite where I had wanted to be when I was a kid, but then, who is? I'm happy in middle management, especially at my age. I'm happy with my condo. I really don't like my job for various very good reasons, but who does? It is a stepping stone for my eventual non-writing career goals, a stepping stone that is very important.

Now my goals are more focused and are actually the longest lasting goals that I have had. 1) get into a consulting firm as a senior project manager or process consultant, 2) become a published novelist, and 3) be the best/happiest person I can be. All my other goals really are just steps to reach those. I guess that I would call these Motivating Goals.

Does anyone else out there have any Motivating Goals?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a nice holiday and a happy new year! For me, the holidays were great. We celebrated our second anniversary on the 30th. Also, I am going to Mexico from the 10th-18th so I'm getting all ready for that. I got most of my ideas for my WIP while in Hawaii a little over a year ago so I hope that this trip will help me get even more accomplished.

I went down to Indianapolis for Christmas, but spent Christmas Eve up in Chicago. I got a lot of great stuff. Pete got me an AreoGarden which will allow me to grow herbs inside. I also got a lot of hostess stuff, a special blender, some board games. Seriously was the best Christmas as far as getting stuff since I was a kid. My nieces and nephews all enjoyed their gifts. I love spending Christmas with kids. Makes it all so much more special.

Work isn't going very well and while I don't think any of them would read this, I will just leave it at that.

New Years Resolutions anyone?
* I resolve to finish my book and will write at least 100 words a day.
* I resolve to graduate this year, take my GMAT, apply for an MBA program and get my PMP (project manager cert).
* I resolve to be more socially active (aka not so work centric) and will hang out with people at least twice a week.
* I resolve to start a recycling program at work and increase recycling at home.
* I resolve to get involved in my faith community and start going back to church.

All in all, I think 2009 is going to be a great year.

* Recycling and church goals added on Dec 7th

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