Excuses (And Links to Things I HAVE Been Writing)

I realize I have been slacking around here. It's not you, it's me. Really.

And probably the fact that I started watching Veronica Mars and can't seem to go a lunch break without watching an episode.

So in order to provide proper justification for my whereabouts lately, as I'm sure you were demanding, here are some things I have been writing.

If you haven't noticed, my friend Elizabeth and I have been writing about coffee shops over at (aptly named) Coffee Shoppers. Nashville is chock full of 'em, and we like to barge in, take pictures like weirdos who have never been to a coffee shop, and record our findings. Lots of times we find pretension and slouchy kit beanies. Here are some of our recent posts:

You can follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to keep up with Coffee Shoppers posts.

I've also started writing some lists for Taste of Country, a country music entertainment news site. Being a Canadian-Alabamian-Nashvillian who owns approximately five country albums , you can imagine this makes me the perfect fit for this job. Fortunately they said I could still write for them, and through the magic of osmosis and YouTube, I'm learning quickly. Here are the list posts I've written so far that are online:

I've gotten the opportunity to do some other freelance projects as well, which I am so thankful for.

Anyway, all that to say I may not be posting quite as often, but rest assured, I will always come back for you. Say you'll wait for me, okay? And if you ever start to miss me--if you're ever wondering what possessed Billy Ray decided to release a terrible rap song or need an expert opinion on how many covers of "Let It Go" is too many--just look up at the stars and and know, I'm thinking the same thing.

What have you been up to? What's your record for longest amount of time without "Let It Go" stuck in your head? Mine's probably about sixty-four minutes.

Killer Tribes (No Attendees Were Harmed In the Making of this Event)

Last weekend I went on a trip to Atlanta with a girl I met on the internet. That came out wrong.

Actually, no, that's exactly what happened.

Because last weekend my Twitter-pal-turned-real-life-pal (who you met here), Elizabeth Hyndman, and I trekked down to the ATL to hang out with some other bloggers, writers and tribe-leaders at a conference called Killer Tribes.

Despite what it may sound like, it's not like running with the bulls where you are chased by a mob of angry natives from a foreign land. I'm almost certain no one was impaled by a spear during the course of the weekend (but don't quote me on that).

No, no. This conference is for people who want to lead. Some were there to learn how to better lead businesses, some to lead fans or followers, but all of us to lead...someone. A group. Dare I say...a tribe. (I KNOW I KNOW I deserve an award for that one. Just let me know where to pick it up.)

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 9.58.36 PM

Pictured: Jamie, Elizabeth, Sarah, me

On Friday night, I got to meet some of my Twitter friends (IT'S TOTALLY A THING YOU GUYS) and eat cake pops with mustaches on them and talk about Justin Timberlake and how Google Reader ruined all our lives...and I'm not gonna lie, it was good to be around "my" people.

We stayed in Athens with one of my best friends, Sarah, then woke up too early for my liking on a Saturday and trudged back to the ATL(ish) to mingle with people we didn't know.

Let me tell you, a room full of semi-to-severely-introverted writer-types trying to mingle is kind of a hot mess, but we did it, you guys. We really did it. And I talked to people I didn't even know from Twitter. Everyone give me a virtual high five.

Here are a few things I learned (some might be applicable to you, some almost certainly will not):

1) Sometimes when you avoid wearing your cat shirt so that you won't match your friend who also owns said cat shirt, you neglect to ask your Twitter friend what she is wearing and end up matching her instead.

2) Regret is not bringing your Evernote Moleskine to a blogger/writer conference.

3) People will pay you to ghost-tweet. Jason Boyett was part of the "How to Make a Living as a Writer" panel, which I loved. I learned a ton. He does communications-type work and part of that is ghost tweeting. I want in. Guys, you wouldn't have to hear as many tweets from me because I'd be busy tweeting for other people. It's a win/win. So if you know anyone, it's really for the betterment of society that you recommend me.

4) People will also pay you to write their stories for them. Shawn Smucker did a great job in the same panel talking about how he got started writing books for other people (and himself). I loved it. I've done some journalism in college and love interviewing people and writing their stories for them, so this is definitely something I'm going to try to pursue.

5) On an unrelated note, services I now offer include ghost-tweeting and ghost-/co-authoring. I'm only 10 percent joking.

6) Capitalize on your experiences and what is unique about you. I loved John Saddington's talk about utilizing on things you take for granted: your interests, your background, your culture. It was a whole new way to look at my situation and draw material from.

"Maximize your God-given uniqueness…do not take even the shoes you wear for granted."

For example, he used his long-time World of Warcraft fandom to create a dating website for World of Warcraft…type…people. He's an entrepreneur so he thinks differently than I do, and it was really cool to hear his perspective.

7) Ask questions to everyone you meet. Learn from them. (Crystal Paine)

8) I still love spoken word poetry. Check out Amena Brown. She was fantastic.

9) Maintain real life friends, and be careful not to let your tribe become an idol. I learned this from Kristen Howerton, who was just great. I've only read her blog for a few months now, but I like her style. She had a lot of great insight on valuing and growing a tribe but still balancing online/real life.

10) Great lists are in increments of 3, 5 or 10. I had to get to 10. So…I also learned…how to separate an egg yolk from the white using an empty water bottle (thanks, Tripp & Tyler!).

If you're a leader of a tribe in any capacity, or would like to be, you should go to this conference next year. And we can be real life friends if we're not already.

What I Have In Common With a Fictional Neurotic Teenager


Holden Caulfield is crazy. Let's be honest. He's as crazy as his name is awesome.

But many things about his character resonated with me, and I really enjoyed reading Catcher in the Rye.

I've been on a mini-quest to read some books considered "classics" by most but that I've never read. I really enjoy reading fiction, as evidenced by last Thursday's post, and I figured there had to be something to these books to make them so popular and revered so widely as great stories.

So I just finished The Catcher in the Rye. (I almost always leave off the "The" when I talk about it. I feel like I should at least once call it by its official name. Do ol' J.D. Salinger justice.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed it. On its face it doesn't really have a point, I suppose. It doesn't really have your typical beginning, middle and end. I mean, it does in a sense, but it's much more subtle and you can't really figure out why Holden is telling you all this.

You're also stuck inside Holden's head, which doesn't really allow for much of a level-headed, unbiased perspective. It's a bit of a rambling recap of the escapade that was his last 48 hours, but I very much enjoyed it.

Primarily because I loved Holden as a character and could identify with a lot of his characteristics.

So here are the things I loved and identified with most about this kid:

1) His rejection of all things "phony." Holden takes this idea to the extreme--to the point where he has little tolerance for anyone he comes into contact with. He lacks any sort of grace for people he sees as "phony" (which is most people). But I do appreciate that he wants people to be genuine and is fed up with all the pretense. I also like that he admits that some of it is necessary to life and, he hates the fact that he subscribes to the same thing himself.

For example, when observing the fact that he says "Glad to have met ya" to someone he was not, in fact, glad to have met at all, he succumbs, "if you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though."

I totally identify with him on this anti-phony sentiment. Of course, I don't take it to the level that he does, but I am drawn to what I see as genuine and put off by what I feel is fake. And I, too, see the necessity for the little phony-isms here and there, even though I see the ridiculousness of it just like he does.

2) His understanding that not everything is black and white. This was one of my absolute favorite quotes in the book, and it's in the first 10 pages:

And yet I still act sometimes like I was only about twelve. Everybody says that, especially my father. It's partly true, too, but it isn't all true. People always think something's all true.

I love that. I, too, hate feeling like I am misrepresented--that one of my characteristics overshadowed the rest and someone I don't know very well might assume that's how I am all the time. I know that's also something to concern myself less with, but it still happens.

I get the feeling that's what Holden was saying in that sentence. Nothing is 100 percent one way or the other. It's almost always a blend, and we have to be careful to make generalizations.

3) His desire to protect the innocent. Holden knows that life isn't pretty. He knows things aren't what they should be and that bad things happen. But he still strives to protect those that don't know it yet. Deep down, I think even he doesn't really want to grow up too fast.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when he writes a letter to his little sister Phoebe to meet him during her lunch break from school, and he goes to her school to deliver it. He sits down on the staircase, then says:

But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody'd written 'F*** you' on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them - all cockeyed, naturally - what it meant, and how they'd all think about it maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever wrote it.

He rubs the phrase off the wall. Then after delivering the letter, he continues:

I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another 'F*** you' on the wall.I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn't come off. It's hopeless, anyway. Even if you had a million years to do it, uou couldn't rub out even half the "F*** you" signs in the world. It's impossible.

Finally, when he is seeking solace later in a quiet spot in the museum, he sees another one written in red crayon on the wall and laments:

That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody will sneak up and write "F*** you" right under your nose.Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetary, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, then right under that it'll say "F*** you." I'm positive, in fact.

[Censoring my own. :)]

I love that he wants to protect the world from its own badness, but he can't. He realizes it's impossible, but he still tries. I love that nobility. Especially in a 17-year-old.

If you want an enjoyable, quick read that you can still learn from, I highly recommend Catcher in the Rye.

What's your favorite character in a classic novel? (Or, if you've read "Catcher," what's your favorite or least favorite thing about Holden?)

Why Fiction Captures Me

Photobucket Last year I started reading. Like, really reading.

I made it my goal to finish two books that year. Yep, two. But I had gotten really good at starting books and never finishing them, so the very important distinction of this goal was to finish two books, not just read two books.

In retrospect I think a lot of my inability to finish books was at least partially due to the fact that they were almost always nonfiction books. Typically Christian nonfiction, to be specific.

I'm not in any way opposed to nonfiction, nor do I think it is less important to read than fiction, but for me it's a lot easier to quit a book 2/3 of the way through if I've already gotten the gist of the subject or it's wrapped up into chapters that can more or less stand alone. They often lack the suspense or intrigue carrying me into the next chapter that I get from fiction.

I also feel like I already get an earful of people talking their opinions and/or expertise at me in real life all day long, especially online. Twitter, blogs, CNN, Facebook, you name it.* So it's nice to take a break from it and use my imagination instead, particularly in the middle of my daily 8-hour staring contest with my iMac.

In light of all this, I've decided a big part of balancing the signal-to-noise ratio in my life is reading fiction.

I like to read stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. I like to get to know characters. I like to have fun when I read. I like to be entertained but also maybe learn something at the same time.

I also think there's something special about someone who can write compelling fiction.

It takes a special kind of knack. To write fiction, you have to create something out of nothing and make people believe in it. You have to suck people into a world that only exists in your head using just words on a page, one by one. That takes skill.

Right now I'm reading The Catcher in the Rye. I've never read it before. In fact, I've never read most "classic" novels. I read Pride and Predjudice as my first book in my reading revival, but other than that I haven't really read any since high school, and those I was forced to read.

Anyway, I'm loving Catcher in the Rye already. It sucked me in from the first sentence. I've sped through almost half the book already in just a couple days. Not all fiction is this great of course, but this is what I love about it. It's skillful yet entertaining, and I still feel like I'm learning about what it was like in that time period as well as how to reveal profound truth through storytelling.

I'm not saying that nonfiction writers are less talented than fiction writers. Not at all. Nonfiction has its place, of course. There are a lot of people out there who are much smarter than me who I'm thankful are gracious enough to share their knowledge and experience with others.

But give me Harry Potter or give me death.

*I admit this is largely my own fault for reading this stuff. I'm actually trying to cut back thanks to this article I read telling me all about how the internet is altering our sense of being and leading to anxiety issues, which is totally plausible to me. Michael Hyatt has a great podcast on how to protect yourself from the negatives of the internet without becoming Amish, if you're interested.

Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?

IT'S HERE: My New eBook Manifesto

Today is a special day. Why, you ask? Because today is the day I am publishing my very first e-book! (Ooo...ahhh...) Photobucket Note: By “publishing” I mean crafting it entirely by myself and giving it away to anyone who will read it.

I’m really excited (and admittedly slightly nervous) to finally show you what I’ve been working on since January. This here is five months in the making, guys. Even though it's only 27 pages. And some of those pages have less than ten words on them. But I worked hard on it and I can’t wait to hear what you think.

One of my goals for 2012 was to publish an e-book, and this is my way of accomplishing that. A lot of bloggers and writers I respect have written manifestos--statements of belief and calls to action. Essentially, anything they think is missing in the world. [Check out these by Jeff Goins and Michael Perkins to see what I mean.]

In keeping with that vein, I came up with this idea. It’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot throughout my later years of college and on, and I hope something in it resonates with you.

Anyway, on to the downloading...

The book is absolutely free! All you have to do is subscribe to my e-mail list (either click the previous link or subscribe on the sidebar). It takes about five seconds. Once you do, you’ll receive an e-mail to confirm your subscription (please do :) ) which will also include the link to download the PDF.

Hope you enjoy!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to know your reaction. Y’know, unless it made you want to throw rocks at me or you think it’s the worst thing ever written. Then you can keep that to yourself.

This Just In: They're Letting Me Write Other Places

Sometimes I feel bad that I watch so many T.V. shows. I've really cut down on the amount of mindless channel surfing [thank you, thank you], but I still have about 6-7 shows I watch regularly at any given time. Not to mention the fact that I have a queue of about 3 more that I want to catch up on and get into. I'm secretly afraid one day someone is going to respond to my abundant T.V. references with "oh yeah, T.V. I don't even own one of those. I find I don't even miss it," and make me feel like a lesser human being.

And yes, I probably should be doing something more intellectual like reading The Odyssey or contemplating what lies beyond the universe. But I'd really just rather watch Barney Stinson try to pick up a girl by pretending he's come back from the future and the fate of the world depends on it.

Unfortunately, filling my head with useless knowledge about Liz Lemon's eating habits and why Shawn and Angela just couldn't seem to work it out has never paid off in real life…until now.

Thanks to the minds of Knox McCoy and Tyler Stanton, there's finally a place for people like us: TV Asylum.

I was excited about this immediately. Finally, a place for us to share our varied and passionate opinions about fictional scenarios. A place for us to analyze and discuss the intricacies of characters. A place for us to make fun of people who go on a TV show and compete for the love of a caveman.

I found out they were looking for contributing writers and I knew I had to apply. In case you haven't noticed or you're new to my blog, I like T.V. And writing about it.

A couple days later and…[drumroll please] I am officially a contributing writer to TV Asylum!

You may remember one of my Finish Year goals is to do some guest posting. I'm totally counting this.

Check out TV Asylum here and stay tuned for some posts by me!

What's your favorite T.V. show? 

If I Seem Out of Breath, Here's Why.

I've been running for the last month. Well, metaphorically, that is.

Why? Because 2012 is Finish Year, and the beginning of February marks...[commence fanfare]

the end of Lap 1* of Finish Year!

I'll pause a moment for the warm applause and shouts of "you go girl" you're surely giving me as I cross the checkpoint, smiling and waving to you, still going strong. (Note: if this were an actual race, I would definitely not still be going strong and would surely have collapsed by now. Who said metaphors had to be plausible?)

Anyway, if you're just tuning in, Finish Year is a campaign Jon Acuff has initiated this year as a challenge for his readers to finish a handful of things this year. Not start them; finish them (the hard part).

So at the beginning of the year I posted my Finish List.

Since Lap 1 of 12 has now come and gone, and many of my goals are writing and/or blog-related, I thought I would do a quick progress report for you. But not the kind that's the report card's less-important cousin you received in middle school, which in actuality had no effect on your grade (and therefore you could not in good conscience be punished for.).

*this moniker refers to the first month of Finish Year and is 100% made up by yours truly.

Finish List Progress Report

Finish List Item 1: Finish "The Empress" by the end of February. I'm on my way to completing this. I posted a new installment here a few weeks ago, and plan on wrapping that up this month. My plan is to finish the rest without posting it online, go back and edit the whole thing for continuity's sake (there are already a few things I want to change), then post it in a PDF format after it's finished for anyone who would like to read it.

Finish List Item 2: Write an ebook. This goal is actually going pretty well. I've already got a first draft of something exciting I'm working on in conjunction with my blog, so stay tuned. I don't want to give away what the topic or setup will be just yet, but I'm looking forward to sharing it! Since this ebook is not initially what I had in mind when making it a goal, I'm sure I'll attempt another one after this is complete.

Finish List Item 3: Finish the Harry Potter Series. Since the last time I wrote about this, I've finished the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, and I am about three-fourths of the way through the fourth book, Goblet of Fire (which is significantly longer, if anyone is doubting my already-pretty-slow-paced reading skills). Yes, I am a grown up and still openly carry this to work every day (so as to minimize shoulder injury from stashing it my purse).

Finish List Item 4: Read two other books besides Harry Potter. I'm trying to finish Harry Potter first before I start on any other books, so this one is in the queue. Though I have an increasingly long list of books calling my name.

New Finish List Item: Write guest posts for other blogs (or online publications). I'm not sure what a reasonable goal for the entire year would be on this one, since I have never written one before, but I'd love to do at least three by the time the year is over. Right now I am researching other blogs and learning about what it takes to write a killer guest post. (If you have a blog you'd like me to do a guest post for, or know someone whose blog you think I could contribute well to, feel free to let me know in the comments!)

Overall I feel like I'm doing pretty well, but I definitely have to start moving on the first one.

How's your finish list (or resolution list, or goals list) going so far?


The Empress, Part 4 [Fiction Friday]

Today I bring you the fourth installment of The Empress, which I started writing as part of a contest (which I won!). The prompt was to put a modern-day twist on a fairy tale, and I chose The Emperor's New Clothes. You can read the first three here: One   Two   Three

I hope to finish this up in February, edit it (a lot) more, then perhaps make it into an e-book. Hope you enjoy!

I'd love to know what you think in the comments! [Click "continue reading" below to read Part 4.]


I didn’t hear from Jessica again for three weeks.

The Spring Showcase was less than a month away, and I’d heard from several reliable sources that Jessica had somehow wriggled her way into the lineup. This is likely due to the fact that her parents are the acting Kennedys of the greater Moorestown area. Given the amount of music stands and cornerstones emblazoned with the Bingham name around campus, I think it’s safe to say they run this whole establishment.

I shuffled down the familiar, dingy hallway on a seemingly ordinary Monday in March. (My locker is literally the farthest one from the entrance.) I watched the white cords of my earbuds dangle below my neck in time with my steps. I’d grown weary of being welcomed to school with an earful of prom dress catastrophes and spring break destinations while walking to first period, so the iPod was a necessity.

After passing several groups of three or four girls presumably talking about those very topics, I finally reached my locker. I banged on the door twice with my fist, and it creaked open. I’d seen the guy next to me do that during the 2nd week of school and got him to fix the lock on mine so it’d do the same. Who doesn’t want to feel like The Fonz every morning?

The notebooks in my locker cascaded onto the floor as I yanked out Theatrical History: 1800 - Present from underneath them.

“Ughhhh,” I groaned, surely louder than was necessary, as the Foo Fighters were still blaring in my ears.

I kneeled down, hastily snatched the notebooks by their covers and shoved them into my backpack.

As I stood up and started to slam my locker shut, suddenly there was silence, my ears burned and I watched the white cords drop to my ankle.

“Hey! What the--” I interjected as I spun around.

There she stood--tapping her leather riding boot, with one hand on her hip and the other on her iPhone.

“I need some more of that stuff,” Jessica said without looking up from her phone, as if I were taking her order at a coffee house.

I glanced to my left and right, looking for confirmation that this was real life.

“Did you just yank my earbuds out?” I asked, incredulously.

“Um, yeah, you didn’t hear me the first time,” she replied casually. “I need some more of that stuff.”

I rubbed my ears and collected my thoughts.

“Oh, uh, sure. When do you need it by?”

“Bring it by my house after school,” she said matter-of-factly, then spun on her heels and walked away.


My right leg bounced involuntarily the entire ride home in Kristi’s car. She’d offered to take me home so I wouldn’t have to ride the bus. She knows how I hate sitting by Leonard--the obnoxious 14-year-old who has an insufferable crush on me--or a full 45 minutes until we reach my stop, and lucky for me, that day she didn’t have much homework to tackle after school (she’d gotten a head start yesterday).

“So anyway, I just don’t know how I’m going to fit it all in,” Kristi apparently continued.

I’d been staring out the window, racking my brain trying to remember what I put in the “elixir” the first time.

“What do you think?”

“Oh--uh, I’m sure you’ll be fine,” I said half-heartedly as I fumbled around in my purse for my keys. We were about a block from my house.

“Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.

“Yeah!” I overcompensated. “Yeah, I’m fine. Don’t worry about it. See you tomorrow!”

Kristi slowed to a stop, and I flung open the door.

“Um...okay,” she replied uncertainly as I climbed out of her Taurus and slung my bag over my shoulder.

“Oh, hey!”

“Yeah?” I asked, catching the door I’d already begun to slam shut.

“Did you want me to go ahead and help you on that dialogue we have to memorize? I have some time and we’re already at your house,” she said.

My heart raced.

“Oh yeah! Um, no that’s okay, I think I’m actually getting a handle on it,” I rushed, “Thanks though! See you tomorrow!”

I shut the door, waved enthusiastically, then speed-walked to my front door.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard the sound of her car on the gravel, pulling away. That must be what hiding something from your best friend feels like. A miniature heart attack.

That’s it. I’ll just give Jessica the “elixir” and be done with this whole escapade. I can’t risk getting caught. Kristi would never talk to me again. First, for deceiving Jessica. Second, for lying to her about it. It’s got to stop...after today.


Finish Year

I don't know about you, but for me, 2011 was a bit of a doozy. It definitely had its fair share of highs and lows.

But one of the best things that came out of 2011 for me was really starting to examine who I am and what I'm passionate about. I always kind of knew I liked writing and have chipped away at that over the years, but over the past 6 months or so I decided to go all in. Something I've learned by reading blogs like Jeff Goins' is that you don't have to wait for someone else to call you a writer to be one. I'm a writer because I can't not write. It's really given me something to pour into and given me a stronger sense of identity.

What really lit a fire under me was reading a book called Quitter by Jon Acuff back in August.

It helped me see how important priorities are and that if I want to write, or read, or even redo a bookshelf, I have to make time. And that it's possible to make time. For me that means saying no to 2 hours of House Hunters and brainstorming blog ideas or reading Harry Potter instead. Trade out things you like to do for things you love to do--even if they take more effort.

I've already learned so much about writing (and goals) from Jon and the community of people (particularly other writers) I've found through following his blog.

Which leads me to the point of this post.

Over the last few days, Jon has begun a campaign of sorts called Finish Year, challenging his readers to make a (short) list of things you want to finish this year. Not start; finish. Because starting is the easy part. Finishing is the unglamorous grind that we all sort of dread. But it's always worth it.

The goals can be anything, but they have to be tangible, even if it's something that seems unmeasurable, like Jon's---to have a more grateful heart. He's making it tangible by committing to hand-write 100 thank-you notes this year.

Everyone who is participating will also be tweeting (hashtag #finishyear) once a day about something they are working on to finish their goals. I may not tweet exactly once a day, but I love the idea of tracking your progress and keeping yourself accountable by publicly sharing your goals and the journey to accomplishing them.

So I wanted to share my Finish List with you this year.


1. Finish The Empress. This one will be hard for me because I already don't really want to figure out how to wrap that one up. But it will be good practice and discipline for me and I've already written three sections of it. I'd like to finish this by the end of February.

2. Write an ebook. Also a difficult goal, as I've never written a book before, but I think it's doable. Plus, ebooks can be short. First step: figuring out what the heck I want to write about.

3. Finish the Harry Potter series. I'm almost done the 3rd book. I'm determined to finish them all, even if some of them more resemble cinderblocks than novels. I'm hoping by the time I get to the last few they will be available on ebook so that I don't sustain shoulder injuries from carrying them around in my purse all the time.

4. Read two other books besides Harry Potter. You may recall my goal last year was to complete 2 books. Yep, 2.  I was terrible about starting books and not finishing them, so I made a bite-size goal. But because I started making time to read, I finished not 2, not 3, but almost 6 books this year! So I think it was a success. Anyway, because I nearly finished 6 in 2011 (I am so close to finishing HP3), my goal is to read at least 7 in 2012. For you avid readers out there, this may still seem like a travesty, but hey, I may even read eight.

That's all I have so far, but most of them are goals that will take close to the whole year to accomplish. I may add to it over the next couple days, but probably won't go over 6.

What's on your Finish List this year? Challenge yourself and make it happen.

Each day in January, Jon will be posting about Finish Year and practical ways to make your goals a reality. You can follow his blog here.

The Empress, Part 3 [Fiction Friday]

Yes, it's true. The agonizing anticipation I'm sure you've been experiencing is over. I've finally completed the third installment of The Empress [insert fanfare here]. To recap, I won a writing contest back in August for which the prompt was to write a modern twist on a fairy tale.

I chose to rewrite The Emperor's New Clothes. You can read the first two installments here: One  Two

Today's post is the next in the series. I'd love to hear your feedback, even (constructive) criticism from a writing perspective. I'm writing this for fun and experience, so I'm always trying to improve.

Without further ado, here is the third installment of The Empress. Hope you enjoy!

The Empress, Part 3

I frantically darted around my room, grabbing textbooks by the covers with one hand and crumpled sheets of notebook paper with the other, stuffing it all into my worn, navy backpack. I tore through the pile of laundry on my floor, searching for anything remotely resembling gym clothes. Aha! Shorts! I smelled them to make sure they were acceptable level of clean before resolving they would have to do and forcing them into the bulging front pocket of my bag.

I raced down the stairs, slipping on the next to last one. I caught myself on the banister, somehow managing to clutch my overflowing backpack under my arm. I did not have time for a backpack explosion—let alone an injury.

As I turned the corner to the kitchen I glanced at the clock. Really? 7:56? This is a new low, even for me. They might as well just go ahead and reserve my seat in detention. Better yet, they should just let me set up shop and bring my own La-Z-Boy as a permanent fixture in Mr. Borden’s classroom. That actually doesn’t sound half bad.

I heard mom rustling around in her bedroom.

“I'm leaving!” I called as I threw on my dingy gray hoodie.

A muffled “Bye sweetheart!” drifted out from the hallway as I shoved a granola bar in my pocket and ran out the door, rattling the house as I slammed it shut.

I finally arrived to school at 8:27. Incredible. 27 minutes late. If I had Improv first period, this would never be a problem. From what I hear about that teacher, I could just sneak into the background of a scene, unnoticed, and claim it was all part of the act. But no. I’m stuck in History of the Dramatic Arts 2. I barely made it through History of the Dramatic Arts 1. And that was only because Kristi found out I was failing and made me memorize flash cards every day after school before she would go do anything fun.

I creaked open the door to Room 104, hoping no one would turn to look. Of course, everyone turned to look, and I was promptly met at the door with a pink slip of paper from Mr. Dillingham. I shuffled back to my desk and slunk into my seat. Kristi leaned over and shout-whispered at me as Mr. Dillingham found his place in his lecture and seamlessly transitioned back into boring everyone to death.

“What took you so long today?”

“Oh―uh, nothing. Just...missed the bus,” I replied half-heartedly as I shuffled through the papers in my backpack

It’s true. I did miss the bus and have to take my mom’s station wagon. Again. I just left out the fact that it was because I was attempting to concoct a non-toxic, drinkable solution for an hour that could pass as a vocal elixir. At least in the eyes of someone who once thought Saddam Hussein was the president of England.

The next three periods dragged on. Lunch couldn't come soon enough.

I stared blankly at the same dialogue for what felt like days, save for the occasional glance at the clouded plastic clock on the wall. When at last the minute hand ticked to 12:05, the harsh sound of the bell tore through the silence. My stomach flipped. I looked intently at my copy of Hamlet for a few extra seconds to keep from looking startled.

Intentionally moving slower to avoid any hurried movements that would surely alert Kristi something was up, I leaned over and slid my book and binder into my backpack. I carefully slung my backpack over my right shoulder as I slipped out of my desk. My hands were shaking slightly. I put them in my pockets to minimize any suspicious activity.

I peered over to my left where I thought Kristi was sitting, which until now I had been avoiding. But she had already made a beeline for Mrs. Bridges to pester her about our test next Wednesday. I let out a sigh of relief.

The feeling didn’t last long. If I left without her, she’d know something was up. I speed-walked to the doorway and stopped to wait on her, looking at my watch every three seconds, but being careful to put my hand back in my pocket.

“Alright—well—you’ll let me know when the study guide is ready then?” I heard Kristi say as she started to turn towards the door.

“Of course, Kristi. See you tomorrow,” replied Mrs. Bridges with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

“Can you believe that?” Kristi said incredulously as she approached my side and we stepped into the hallway. “No study guide, and only a week before the test. Guess I’ll just have to make one over the weekend.”

Usually I would have groaned melodramatically and reminded her that she worries too much, but my eyes were fixed on the cafeteria door at the end of the hallway. I tried to walk slower—usually I am in a hurry to get nowhere—but my legs marched forward almost involuntarily.

Luckily Kristi was too distracted planning out her weekend out loud, scribbling in her planner and sighing loudly as she walked.

The familiar aroma of Taco Thursday flooded my nose as I reached out to pull the cold handle of the dense, metal door to the lunchroom. My stomach had now graduated from cartwheels to triple-axel backflips. Was this really worth the risk? What if she finds out I tricked her? She will make my life a living hell. But then again, she does the same thing to about 500 other people every day. And she made my best friend cry. Yep, she deserves it.

Kristi veered left towards our usual table as we stepped over the threshold. I hesitated, took a deep breath and called, “Meet you there! Gotta get something.”

Without looking up from her planner, Kristi gave a distracted wave over her shoulder and shuffled away.

Now or never. I spun around to my right and surveyed the crowd, searching for the telltale straw-colored curly hair, perfectly volumized.

My eye caught sight of the target. I slung my backpack around to my stomach and rummaged through it for the red glass bottle. My ring knocked against it with a clink, and I yanked it out of the front pocket.

I walked tentatively to Jessica’s table. Approaching the short side where no one sat, I put on my fakest smile and exclaimed, “Hi Jessica!”

“Do I know you?” she said without looking up from her US Weekly. The red lunch tray had been pushed to the side and held only a half-eaten apple and a Diet Coke.

“Um—yeah—Sam? We went to elementary school together—we talked yesterday about—er—the vocal…stuff?”

“Oh, right, you,” she said as though she had never been more bored, and slowly looked up to meet my eyes. “So?”

“Oh, um, well, I have it right here!” I proclaimed, then leaned down towards what I assumed was her ear, as a thick row of ringlets cascaded over it. I lowered my voice. “With this stuff, you’ll be the star of the showcase, for sure.”

She snatched the bottle out of my hand and turned it over in hers, examining it for a moment.

“Cool,” she said curtly, throwing it in her green patent leather tote bag and turning her eyes back to Ryan Gosling’s abs.

I straightened up and gave a sideways glance to the chestnut-haired girl sitting across from Jessica, wondering if the interaction was over. She just glared and rolled her eyes before turning away to do a lipstick-check in her reflection in the window.

I took that as a “yes,” and turned to walk back towards our table. I noticed the back of Kristi’s head from a far. She hadn’t seen a thing. This was totally going to work.

New URL and Blog Makeover

Welcome to my new website! You may or may not know that I'd had it up to here (imagine me with my hand in front of my face) with Tumblr's sass.

Things Tumblr did that made me want to kick it in the shins:

1. It lied to me. Tumblr would frequently say "saving..." when I click "save draft," only to sit there for 5 minutes knowing darn well it is in fact NOT saving my post. I was then forced to copy/paste my post into a new draft and save it again. Apparently if you edit a post for longer than 37 seconds, Tumblr gives up on you and thinks you're not worth its time.

2. It wouldn't let me write in rich text format. This is not entirely true, but when I did switch to rich text format, it wouldn't keep the line breaks in. Therefore, my post came out in one long paragraph. The only way around this was to use the HTML format and manually type "<br>" wherever I wanted to enter down a line. Unnecessary.

3. It didn't post to Twitter in a timely manner. I realize this is in no way an issue of eternal consequence, but, come on. Do what you're supposed to do. Don't make me look like a fool by making me realize you have not posted it, having me post it manually, and then actually posting it 24 hours later. Yes, Tumblr made a fool out of me, and I won't stand for it.

So I have switched to Wordpress, once and for all. I've recently begun making writing a priority, and I want to continue to be consistent in developing my blog and writing regularly. Having my own URL and a more professional setup will be a huge help.

Soon I will have a shiny new header at the top, but for now you will just have to look at my name. I figured it was time to retire the blog title I came up with in high school that featured Taking Back Sunday lyrics. Not that I don't still have a special place in my heart for TBS and own all of their albums...including their most recent release. But I digress.

Stay tuned for new posts at this url (www.lauramcclellan.com)! Easy to remember, right?


The Empress, Part 2 [Fiction Friday]

This week, I was so excited to have won a writing contest in conjunction with Jackson Pearce’s release of her newest book, Sweetly. My submission was called “The Empress,” and played off The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I realize you may have read the above information approximately three times already in the rare event that you are an avid reader of my blog, but I wanted to update anyone else who may be reading this and does not read all of my posts (which, let’s face it, is probably most of you).

Anyway, I’ve finally finished editing part 2 of The Empress. The delay is partially due to the fact that I spent many of my waking hours before Sept. 28-29 frantically preparing for a conference at work, partially due to the limitations I put on myself by dubbing this series “Fiction Friday,” and partially due to the fact that I edit my writing about 1800 times before I let anyone see it.

Let me know what you think—I may keep writing until it actually morphs into something similar to a book, depending on if I can keep a plot going that long. We’ll see! Click “Continue Reading” to read it. Hope you enjoy!

The Empress, Part 2

The smell of cafeteria fish sticks and generic cleaning solution wafted through the air as Kristi and I shuffled through the doorway into the Senior lunch room. I made way to our usual seats near the radiator and plunked down on the hard, plastic bench, dropping my lunch bag onto the bright orange table. Kristi brushed the seat off and smoothed her skirt before gracefully sliding into her seat and crossing her legs. We couldn’t be more different.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked her, trying to get a good look at her eyes to see if she was going to tell me the truth.

“What?” she looked up from her sandwich. “Oh—uh, yeah, I’m fine, ” she said quietly with a half-hearted smile, her eyes sinking back towards her lunch.

“I can’t believe she did that to you. One of these days Jessica Bingham is going to get what’s coming to her. She can’t just strut around, spewing out whatever nonsense happens to pop into her brain about people she doesn’t even know, just because people are too afraid to—-”

“Really, Sam,” she interjected. “It’s okay.”

I know when Kristi is done talking about something, so I concentrated very hard on keeping my mouth shut. And I succeeded. For about 30 seconds.

“But seriously, Kris. It’s not okay. Don’t you care that people think you couldn’t get into this school on your own? That your uncle had to buy your way in? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. When I—”

“Exactly. It’s ridiculous. Can we please drop it?”

I sighed and resolved to focus my attention elsewhere. I opened my wrinkled brown paper bag and dumped out the contents onto the table. An orange, a Diet Coke and a power bar tumbled out. I have got to learn how to get up earlier in the morning and make this lunch thing happen.

Suddenly I caught a whiff of vanilla-scented air, followed by the sounds of a hideous giggle about 30 yards to my right. It was her. I had half a mind to walk up to her, throw a left hook at her face, then walk away without any explanation. Kristi would be appalled.

Maybe if I was more subtle. What if I just casually walked by to get a napkin, then on my way back “accidentally” bumped into her, spilling her peach Fanta all over her sequined white blouse? Yeah, solid. That should work.

“Um, I’m just going to go get a napkin,” my voice quivers slightly as I slide out from the bench. I clear my throat to make up for the voice crack and wait for an answer.

Kristi doesn’t acknowledge me.

I wheel around to my right and start walking—casually—towards Jessica and her followers—I mean, friends. Their conversation gradually becomes more audible.

“It’s so unfair. He said that my dancing was impeccable but my singing needs major work. Ridiculous. I was born to be in that showcase,” Jessica whined to the other two girls.

Suddenly I had an idea. It was kind of in a grey area morally, I suppose, but she had hurt my best (and only) friend, and I will not stand for that.

“Um, Jessica?” I poked my head around the shoulder of the taller follower.

“Yes?” she said shortly, as if her world had just screeched to an unwelcome halt, clearly peering over my head at the clock on the wall.

“I’m Sam. We went to elementary school together?”

Her eyes dropped to meet mine. She just stood there staring at me with one hand on her hip, and the other twirling a piece of golden hair. The silence dragged on for what felt like minutes.

“Um, well, anyway, I couldn’t help but hear as I was walking by—to get a napkin—that you might be in need of a little help, um…vocally?”

She may be obnoxious and unintelligent, but she’s still scary.

“And?” she shot back.

“Oh, well—um, my parents are vocal coaches, and they have this special vocal elixir stuff that can make even the worst singers sound like professionals.”

I was babbling like an idiot. “Even the worst singers?” Pull it together, O’Shea!

“Not that you’re a bad singer, that is—I’m sure since you only need a little help, it’d definitely work for you,” I tried to recover the situation. Nice save.

“Bring me some tomorrow,” she said tersely, then spun around and sashayed into the distance.

And that was it. I was in. Kristi, you can thank me later.

Sweetly Writing Contest Results

You may remember I entered a writing contest back in August in conjunction with the release of Jackson Pearce’s book, Sweetly. The prompt was to write a modern-day twist on a fairy tale, as Jackson does in her books Sisters Red (Red Riding Hood) and Sweetly (Hansel and Gretel).

I’ve been checking back periodically to see if they’ve posted winners yet. Today somehow I was reminded of it and went to the website to search the term “Sweetly” and see if they’d posted results. I was surprised first of all to see a post containing the results (I had no idea when they were going to be posted).

And…drumroll please…I am a winner! (Proof below.)

It’s really encouraging to have someone else who doesn’t know you say that you are a pretty good writer! (Which, okay, they didn’t really tell me in those words, or any words, but I’m going to take the liberty of inferring it anyway.)

Here’s a link to the site if you didn’t catch my submission when I posted it on my blog.

I am in the midst of editing part 2, if anyone is interested. I hope to post it Friday. (I really dug myself into a hole by starting that whole “Fiction Friday” bit. Everytime I think it’s ready to post, it’s not Friday, and I inevitably end up deciding it needs more editing anyway.)

I felt the need to post this update in a timely manner, which conveniently gives me time to continue editing the blog I meant to post today, as I cannot seem to get it to say what I want it to.

Anyway—all that to say I am very excited and encouraged by this! Also excited to get my lollipop that I won (and the book but the McClellans already own it, as evidenced by this photo of our excitement in the aforementioned post).

"The Empress" [Fiction Friday]

Lately I have been trying to learn more about the field of writing and pursue it more diligently in my free time. Turns out there is a fountain of information on writing and publishing on the internet. Shocking, I know. Thanks, modern technology! It just so happens that my husband is friends with an author and she just released her third book this week called “Sweetly.”

Look how excited we are to own it!

Her name is Jackson Pearce, and she writes young adult fiction. I read her first book “As You Wish” last year and couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read her second book “Sisters Red” yet, but I will definitely be doing that soon. I hear really great things about it!

Anyway. She’s been turning a lot of heads with her modern twists on fairy tales. [“Sisters Red” plays off of Little Red Riding Hood, and “Sweetly” plays off of Hansel and Gretel.]

A website called Novel Novice is currently holding a writing contest in conjunction with the release of “Sweetly” that asks participants to write and submit the beginning of a story—a modern twist on a fairy tale.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to practice writing, give me a deadline and goal to work with and also give me some direction by laying out a topic to start with (since I usually just sit there wracking my brain for hours trying to come up with a good potential storyline and don’t come up with anything I haven’t already written about). Win, win, win.

I chose to do a twist on The Emperor’s New Clothes and title it The Empress (I realize Jackson’s titles are infinitely more creative than this but hey, it’s a work in progress.)

Anyway, in honor of Fiction Friday (which I just made up), I wanted to post what I wrote in case anyone was interested in reading it. It’s geared towards a younger audience, but I hope you’ll still find it entertaining and want to hear the rest of the story! (Submission guidelines restricted it to the first 500 words or so.)

If you would be interested in reading more of the story, let me know and that will give me an excuse to finish it. :) Click “read more” below to read my story.

You can order “Sweetly” by clicking here or buy it in a real live book store! (It’s still release week which I now know is a big deal so buy it this week if you’re going to buy it!) Follow her on twitter: @jacksonpearce.



The Empress

My palms start to sweat as I stand backstage, running through the last three months’ events in my head. How did it get this out of hand? As soon as she goes out there, it’s all going to be over. I’m going to have effectively ruined the rest of her high school career. Which, to her—let’s face it—is the end-all, be-all of her existence.

It all started as a simple ploy for my own amusement, but it’s going to end up destroying life as she knows it. And when she finds out I tricked her—that the so-called “vocal cord elixir” I gave her was nothing more than Japanese fruit tea—my life will be similarly in shambles. (That is, at least until college.)

I mean I know I haven’t always been the friendliest person, but this may have crossed a line. Let’s think about this. I have exactly one friend—well, had exactly one friend—and even she’s bailed. Although to be fair, she’s the most sickeningly sweet, positive person I’ve ever met, so she would probably just self-destruct if she were to ever engage in this level of deceitfulness.

“Jessica Bingham!” the stage manager called. “You’re up!”

Oh God. She’s up. In just a few short minutes, the whole school is going to know that Jessica Bingham, Moorestown Academy of Performing Arts’ newest celebrity, sings like a bag full of stray cats being slammed against a brick wall.

This never would have happened if her asinine friends didn’t go along with every lie that rolled out of my mouth just to be shielded from her wrath. You sound great, Jessica! You have to make a cd, Jessica! Where can I buy those pants, Jessica? Okay, that last one was beside the point. But if those psychotic clones didn’t worship the ground she walks on and encourage her to sing tonight even though they know darn well she still sounds like a cow being run over by a speeding train, this whole operation would’ve been shut down right from the start, allowing me to go right back to the life of invisibility I always wanted. So really, this is their fault.

Great. She’s at the mic. Maybe I should just sprint onto the stage and slow-motion tackle her, screaming “Noooooo!” for a full 6 seconds. That’s what they would do if this was one of those Disney Channel shows. (Not that I’ve ever watched those to escape my otherwise boring high school experience. I’m just saying—no one at my school ever sees the future or tries out for the school mascot while hilarious hijinks ensue along the way.)

Too late now. The track has started. I can’t look. No—I can’t listen. I need to leave.

As I turn to my left to try to make a quick escape, my face suddenly collides with a cinderblock wall of a man apparently named Phil, according to the name tag that was now endangering my cornea.

“Hey, uh, isn’t that the girl you came with on stage?” he pointed to Jessica, who was busy motioning at the sound guy to turn the music up in the monitors.

“Oh, um, well…” was all I managed to get out, because he spun me around and pushed me towards the side of the stage.

“Good thing I caught ya or you would’ve missed the whole thing!” he chuckled politely then shuffled off, mumbling into his headset.

Awesome. Now I am forced to watch this train wreck first hand. I cover my eyes, leaving only a small crack between my fingers to peer through. Jessica and I simultaneously take a deep breath. Here we go.