Friday, October 31, 2014

What I've Learned about Writing from Project Runway

Project Runway's 13th season wrapped last week - and I was glued. Even more glued that usual. And I started to think about all the reasons why I love the show.

I mean, the fashion can be great- and hilariously awful - but what I think I love is watching the creative process happen on screen. And if you're looking, there are all kinds of parallels for writers. Here are some of the ones I notice most often -

1. Not everybody will get you.

I'm always amazed how much disparity there can be between the looks the judges love and the looks the other designers love. Different people will see different things in any piece of creativity, and will be looking for different things as well. So while there's value in receiving critique and input, don't expect everyone to share your vision.

2. You have the power to Make It Work.

Tim's "Make It Work" is, of course, legendary.  But what I love about it is that your power to make it work is implied. It's your vision. Not only are you capable of making it work, but it's your responsibility to see it through.

3. Sometimes you have to start over.

Sometimes your vision just doesn't pan out, for one big reason for a dozen tiny ones. So having the wisdom to know when to scrap it is a good place to be.

4. Edgy is not a word to aim for.

So many people throw the word "edgy" around that it's lost any relevance. Is it supposed to mean that it's dark? Progressive? Subversive? I suppose it's accurate if your story is set on a cliff, but otherwise choose a description with more heft. Better yet, commit to your story and vision without worrying about being perceived as cool.

5. Execution is important.

Seems, sentences, hems and chapter endings - these are things worth getting right. A lot of small details make a huge difference in the final product.

6. Voice is even more important.

Voice is hard. I don't think you can teach it so much as find it and learn to trust it. Voice requires a strong sense of self, and a fearlessness to do things differently.

7. Editing matters.

Voice without editing will come out as noise, at worst, and merely cluttered at best. What I really loved about watching Season 13 was the importance of editing among the designers. Sandhya Garg had a very specific voice and point of view - there was no denying that she had plenty to say. But as the show filmed, it became clear that she hadn't yet learned to take criticism or self-edit.

In contrast, Amanda Valentine listened to her critiques - and then parsed through what ideas and feedback would be utilized.

I hope we see more of Sandhya, I really do. But I was devastated when Amanda didn't win, because I have so much respect for her process and creativity.

8. Focus on your own work.

The designers who spend more time on their own garments and less time creating drama with their peers? Yeah, they do better. Don't let jealousy or insecurity distract you from your work. Neither emotion will make you better at finishing a zipper or completing a chapter.

That's all I've got for now, though I may think of more during the upcoming season of All Stars. I'm super excited for the All Stars, partly because I'm very interested in a number of the returning designers. But ALSO excited because author Allison Pittman and I will be recapping the season together! So check back Saturday - the first installment will be right here! Come for the fashion commentary, stay for the snark.

And...just because it was one of the major moments of the season, here's the Rainway Show, for your enjoyment -

What did you think about the last season of Project Runway? Are you planning to tune into All Stars? Did you forget to DVR the first episode like I did? Sound off in the comments below!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Q&A Friday with Betsy St. Amant + Giveaway!

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes Betsy St. Amant Zondervan

So excited to have Betsy St. Amant on the blog today! I knew I wanted to have her stop by when I first heard about her latest release, All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes  but was even more delighted to get to meet her at the ACFW conference this last week. Note: she wore really terrific, sparkly shoes to the gala!

Hillary Lodge: Thanks for joining in on the blog! Share with us about your inspiration for the book. 

Betsy St. Amant: The inspiration was simply…cupcakes! I personally love cupcakes  prefer them on my birthday to a real cake! There was a time recently when my sister and I would frequent a local cupcake gallery here in town, and treat ourselves after a bad day (or bad days!). It turned into a background theme for my next story. And besides, who doesn’t love cupcakes? Seemed like a recipe for fun!

Hillary Lodge: I love that it grew out of your sister time! Tell us about Kat - how did she start baking? 

     Betsy St. Amant: Kat grew up baking. She just always felt at home in the kitchen, and found her niche there. She even contributed baked goods to fundraiser for local charities or missions. That was how she served her church and others, through baking. Cupcakes became her favorite because that was the opportunity she was given through her great aunt’s shop. She began experimenting with different fun, outrageous flavors, and got addicted. Unfortunately, she was limited in opportunities to show the world  or even her hometown  what she could do, because of her aunt’s shop rules.

Hillary Lodge: You’ve set the story in Bayou Bend, Lousiana. What does Kat like about it? What are the challenges? 

Saint Cupcake CupcakesBetsy St. Amant: Kat doesn’t like a whole lot about Bayou Bend at the beginning of the story. She needs a perspective change, as most of us do at times. She saw Bayou Bend as the place where she was a misfit, where everyone had their place but her. She wanted to break out and show the world what she could do through her baking, but at the same time, feared having to prove herself. While Bayou Bend was stifling, it was also safe. Too safe, perhaps.

     Hillary Lodge: Tell us about Lucas. How did he and Kat meet? How have they managed to stay in friend territory for so long? 

     Betsy St. Amant: Kat and Lucas have been friends since before high school. They managed to stay in friend territory for so long because of both valuing the friendship so deeply and because of being afraid to risk it for the attempt at more. Also, Kat was involved in a serious relationship for years that kept Lucas at bay in that regard. Yet her heart was always drawn to him, whether she was willing to admit it or not! 

Champagne CupcakesHillary Lodge: That's so sweet! What element of the story do you love the most? 

Betsy St. Amant: I think my favorite part is the best friends to lovers theme. I think the best love stories start on the foundation of friendship. Most happy marriages today seem to start with the same opening line “We were best friends first!” I wanted to explore that for Lucas and Kat.

Hillary Lodge: I love that! Now - let’s talk cupcakes! What cake/frosting flavor combination is your favorite? 

Betsy St. Amant: Oh, that’s such a hard question! No fair! When it comes down to the basics, I prefer vanilla over chocolate. When it comes to more gourmet flavors, I love anything cheesecake or pumpkin or strawberry or citrus. My mom makes a pink lemonade cupcake that is fabulous! Growing up for my birthdays, I always enjoyed the box mix of “Funfetti” cake, where there were sprinkles of color baked into the actual batter. The more colors and sprinkles, the better!

Hillary Lodge: If you could visit one cupcake bakery anywhere in the country, which one would you choose? 

Betsy St. Amant: Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, from the show, DC Cupcakes with the two sister chefs. Such a fun show, and their cakes look delicious!

Hillary Lodge: Tell us about your writing process. What do you do when you get stuck? 

red velvet cupcake
Betsy St. Amant: Ummm, I eat cupcakes, of course!  No, seriously, I try to do something to obtain some endorphins, like exercise or take a walk. Or I might read a fiction book for fun to jumpstart my creativity and back off that pressure that I put on myself to create. And there is usually a Starbucks white chocolate mocha involved somewhere in that process!

Hillary Lodge: What do you enjoy most about publishing? What do you find most challenging?  

Betsy St. Amant: I think the best part about publishing is the relationship I get to build with my editorial and marketing team. They are just SO fun and I love them all to death. Getting to celebrate each new release or new contract is such a joy. Perhaps the most challenging part about being a published author is finding the time to write and write well. I’m the single mom to a six-year-old girl, work full time outside of my writing, and also freelance for my local newspaper and list hostess for the ACFW writer’s group. I am never, ever, EVER bored!  But writing is my passion and I can’t imagine NOT making it work somehow. God always provides what I need when I need it, be it financially or creatively or emotionally or mentally or spiritually.

Hillary Lodge: Tell us about your next project! What’s next for you? 

candied banana cupcakes

Betsy St. Amant: Next is the sequel to All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, titled Love Arrives in Pieces, and is set for an early summer 2015 release. It’s Kat’s sister’s story, Stella, and will be a doozy!  And of course, Kat and Lucas will make many appearances in the next book, with a few surprises of their own.

Hillary Lodge: That sounds great, Betsy! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Betsy St. Amant has a heart for three things – chocolate, new shoes and sharing the amazing news of God’s grace through her novels. She lives in Louisiana with her adorable story-telling young daughter, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. A freelance journalist and fiction author, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is multi-published in Contemporary Romance. Her ninth Love Inspired novel released in January 2014, while her first romance with Zondervan Publishers comes out September 2014. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to the Tangled soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing, and can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha.

Enter to win a copy of All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes for your very own below! Rafflecopter giveaway 


Friday, September 12, 2014

Kitchen Questions: Getting Comfortable Cooking with Meats

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Sarah Varland, author of Treasure Point Secrets. The conversation ranged over all the things (Sarah's super easy to talk to) before it turned to the kitchen. Sarah mentioned that she struggled with preparing meats. Either she worried that they were underdone, or cooked them until they'd turned to leather. 

I totally understood because as much as I enjoy eating meat, I reeeeeaaaaaally don't like preparing it.

How much? Let's see. I've never cooked chicken that I've not worried about it
having gone bad. Pork is probably the easiest for me, but I'm often at sea with most cuts of beef because I cook it so infrequently.

But over the years as I've continued to cook, I've picked up a few tricks to help prepare meats that are both safe and tasty.

1. A meat thermometer! I can't live without one. Danny gave me a digital one for Christmas (because he knows me), and I've used it often. You'll want to get a read from the center of the thickest portion, and most thermometers come with a sheath that will tell you the safe temperatures for a wide variety of meats, poultry, and seafood.

2. Use a slow-cooker. The long-cooking method will ensure that your meat will be both done and tender. One of my favorite recipes right now is this one from TheKitchn - pork shoulder is a fairly inexpensive cut, you wind up with a lot of meat, and it's very hands-off.

Also, it's extremely versatile. You can make tacos, or eat it over black beans topped with shredded cabbage, chopped radishes, salsa, and avocados. You could add barbeque sauce and make a really delicious sandwich with it. Did I mention you can freeze it in portions? So many options.

3.) Even out the width. Chicken breasts, in particular, can be a pain because of their uneven width - half of it can wind up dry, the other half underdone, and none of it appetizing. To make it easier, you could place the cut between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it flat with a meat mallet or a household hammer. This is also a great way to get the most servings out of your chicken! Another, faster method is to simply cut the chicken in half laterally, with the thin side on one and the thick on the other. The thick cuts will take longer, of course, but at least they'll be even.

4. Make it small. With small portions of meat - like kabobs or meatballs - it takes very little time to cook through. With kabobs, by the time the meat browns, they're usually done just fine. And, if you use a metal skewer, the heat from the metal will help it cook from the inside too.

Meatballs are fun to make by hand too, even though the rolling part is a time investment. Whether you brown them on the stove first or simply bake them, they cook up quickly and evenly, and the binding ingredients help prevent them from drying out. I'd still take a quick read with the meat thermometer at the end, just to be sure. Meatballs are another great item to prepare and freeze for later.

5.) Have fun with it. True story: to get through the process of dressing a chicken, I narrate the whole process in my best Julia Child voice. It takes the edge off, and we get a roast chicken in the end!

6.) Freeze it. If you're not sure when you're going to cook up the meat, throw it straight in the freezer until you're ready for it. Thaw it in warm water or in a microwave before cooking unless you're planning to cook it in liquid - if that's the case, just add more cooking time and go for it. That way, you'll spend less time worrying if your meat's too far gone.

Those are my tips - what are yours? Do you have any Kitchen Questions you'd like answered? Be sure to leave a comment!