Monday, March 29, 2010

Method to the Madness

So I've been blogging for almost three years now. THREE YEARS. Wow. The time has flown. Anyway, it struck me lately that in all the blog posts I've written (353 if the Blogger count is correct), I've practically covered the entire human experience. Yes, this blog is about my writing and publishing career. But it's also about my life, my kids, my husband, my fears, my favorite recipes, books I love, the weather... you name it. I've shared with you the pain of my fourth miscarriage, my triumphs (and shortcomings) as a mother, my literary successes (and failures), and even funny things my boys have said.

Well. What else is there to say? Haven't I covered it all? Is it time to say sayonara to my bloggity-blog career?

I don't think so... At least, not yet. It doesn't interfere with my writing, and I actually enjoy the outlet I've found (and, more importantly, the friends I've found) online. So, after thinking and praying about it for the last couple of weeks, I've decided that I am going to commit myself to at least one more year of blogging. However, I am going to prescribe a little method to my madness. It's time I had a bit more direction, I think.

Nothing really is going to change, but I am planning on sticking to a regular schedule. Hopefully this will keep me organized, and help you find and read the posts that interest you. Without further ado, my new weekly timetable:

Tuesdays - Writing/Publishing
Since Mondays are a crazy day for me, I'll begin my blogging week on Tuesday with a post about writing. This may include snippets of books I'm working on, answers to questions from my readers, writing tips and advice, or anything else related to the wonderful world of penning novels.

Thursdays - Personal
A few months ago I asked what you (my lovely readers) wanted to see more of in my blog. I was surprised by the number of people who wrote that they liked the personal stories. Well, you asked for it. On Thursdays I'll keep it intimate by blogging about my world. My kids, my life, my struggles... whatever is hitting me that week.

Saturdays - Just for Fun
To edify your weekend, I'll post something fun on Saturday. A recipe, a great link, an interview with a fellow author or friend, or anything that strikes my fancy. If I have a giveaway (and I have more of those on the docket!), it'll be posted on Saturday.

There you have it. A little order from chaos. Doesn't that feel good?

Any-hoo, stay tuned for the inaugural week of my new, orderly blogging schedule. I'm actually going to take the rest of this week off as it is Holy Week, one of my favorite weeks of the year. I want to soak in the whole experience... From our inspiring church service yesterday, to a candlelight Maundy Thursday service, all the way through Easter morning. Wow. I get chills just thinking about it. Aaron challenged our church to fast on Thursday in preparation for the Lord's Supper, but as the little baby inside happens to like food I don't think I'll be participating in that... But I will make the day special all the same.

As I leave you this week, I can't help wondering... Do you do anything special for Holy Week? Any family traditions or personal dedications that you revisit every year? Did you give something up for Lent? I'd love to hear...

Have a Blessed Easter.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Last summer, Aaron and I took our boys on a mini-vacation. We went to Omaha, Nebraska for a weekend of fun, and scheduled our days to the max with visits to the zoo, the children's museum, and afternoons at the hotel waterpark. Have you ever taken small children on vacation? Our weekend of fun wasn't quite as fun as we'd hoped...

There were tears at the zoo. We only made it through a few exhibits before complete meltdown. And the hotel waterpark was sadly subpar. Blessedly, we missed the kid-puking-in-the-pool incident by minutes. Guess what? We never even made it to the children's museum. The parking lot was overflowing with cars and the line to get in was enough to deter us completely.

Our vacation was a total bust. Until we took a random detour through a state park on the way home.

After days of trying to manufacture fun, we slowed down enough to enjoy each moment as it came. In the car on the way to the park welcome center, we spotted twin fawns in a field of flowers. When we stopped the van, they came right up to our windows before bounding away over the windswept grass. Then we stumbled upon a century-old mystery when we realized that the state park was the burial ground of a sunken steamboat that went undiscovered for almost a hundred years. Finally, the lovely ranger at the welcome center outfitted the boys with backpacks for their own adventure in exploration. We spent the rest of the day reveling in unexpected discoveries. The little gray frog we found turned out to be infinitely more interesting than the Siberian tiger at the zoo.

I've been thinking a lot about that vacation lately. Partly because it contains so many sweet memories (yes, even the zoo meltdown had it's own special charm). But mostly I think I'm still learning from our summer experience. And applying it to my writing (and the rest of my life) these days...

I believe I spend way too much time trying to manufacture my books. I micro-manage my stories, telling my characters what is supposed to happen instead of allowing them to reveal themselves and their experiences to me. I set unrealistic goals and deadlines, then get frustrated and disappointed when I find myself unable to live up to my own expectations. I force things to happen instead of letting them unfold. In short, I hinder the entire process of discovery.

Granted, I have deadlines to meet and contracts to fulfill. I can't take five years to write a book. Nor do I want to. But I wonder what would happen if I'd let go a little... You know, live in the moment, take a wrong turn, slow down to enjoy the scenery instead of speeding past at mach 3. I think I'd write better books. And I think I'd spend a lot more days reveling in unexpected discoveries.

How about you? Are you a planner, a plotter, the sort of person who speeds on by? Or are you open to discovery? To unanticipated (and unplanned) moments? 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Imaginary Castles

From my third Julia book:

Alone in the golf course parking lot, I raised my palms to the sky and watched snowflakes collect on my mittens. The crystals fell in arabesque patterns, gathering in concert to rise like fairytale castles from the dark contours of my palms. They were all the same, I decided. Castles made of sand and snow. They were pretty, but they didn’t last. They never did.

I knew it was a matter of the heart. That this careful construction of imaginary landscapes was a wild, secret thing. Days like today were a sanctuary, a magical world where anything seemed possible but nothing truly was. As I watched the turrets slowly take shape in my hands, I realized that we did this to ourselves. Our searching souls pursued happy endings. And the heart was capable of great and deceiving beauty.

*Copyright: Nicole Baart, 2010

Your turn: Are you working on something right now? A novel, a poem, a simple reflection? Care to share? I'd love to hear a paragraph or even a line... I find the work of my friends inspiring!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's in a name?

I'm six weeks away from the deadline for my third Julia book. This is my fourth novel for Tyndale House Publishing, my fifth completed manuscript, and my last CBA offering for a while... Yikes. Somehow this little tome feels important to me.

Can I just say I'm loving this book? It's so much fun to write, and I'm soaking up my final Julia moments. After this, her story is officially over. That makes me sad. And happy. It's bittersweet, I suppose.

Believe it or not, the hardest part of writing this book has been teasing a title out of the pages. Names are so important to me. I can't stand titles that are cheesy, obvious, self-important, or copycats. And I won't even pick up a book if the title is boring, predictable, or cliche. But give me a good title and I'll buy the book just to have it sit on my shelf. It's got to be gripping, evocative, or beautiful in some way. It has to surprise me, to make me stand up and pay attention.

Some titles I love are:

The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
My Hands Came Away Red (Lisa McKay)
All Unquiet Things (Anna Jarzab)
The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
Away (Amy Bloom)

You can use your imaginations to come up with titles I hate. My mom used to tell me that if I can't say anything nice, I shouldn't say anything at all. So this time I'll keep my opinions to myself. Shocking, I know.

Anyway, all of this title agony has got me thinking about names. Naming a child and naming a book are similar endeavors, you know. And just like my boys' names are rich with meaning, history, and family significance, I want my titles to be thick with layers--a riddle to be solved in their own right. So far, all of my titles have had several different meanings. Some of which were revealed to me by readers after the fact! How cool is that?

But I digress. I can't really ask y'all for help since you haven't read the book. Nor am I quite at the point where I can run sample titles by you. And yet, I do have some questions... Humor me--I'm going nuts here! ;)

What are some titles you love?
If you write, how do you come up with your titles?
Are titles even important to you? Or do I have an unusual name fixation???

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Things that made me smile this week...

Chocolate Cheerios. My new addiction.

Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess perfume. Honestly, it smells so yummy I think I could eat it.

Sunshine, new shoots, bumblebees (yes, I saw one with my own eyes), and puddles for jumping.
I love spring!

Parenthood, the new TV show. So funny and real and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Painting my toenails shell pink so that I can wear sandals for the first time in months.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Haven't read it yet? Get thee to a bookstore!

Buying my first baby thing: a onesie that says, "I love my mommy."

Your comments on my "news" posts. THANK YOU. :)

*     *     *

Your turn: What made you smile this week?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More News...

I had my 21 week ultrasound last week. What an awesome, awe-inspiring experience. Though I had ultrasounds with the babies I lost, I haven't seen a baby this big, this perfect and whole since I saw my oldest son on the ultrasound machine seven years ago. Yup, the last time I carried a babe this far was seven years ago. No wonder I feel like an old woman this time around--I am one!

While I'm beyond ecstatic to tell you that the baby is healthy and well, I did have some bummer news at the appointment. I've been having contractions, and my peri is making me limit my activity. Boo. No more working out for me, and I especially have to avoid pilates or any core work. I'm a little blue because I loved staying active in my first pregnancy. I felt like it helped me prepare for labor, and made my recovery quicker after the baby was born. But, of course, I'm being a good girl... This baby means more to me than a few months of exercise! Besides, I can still walk.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a real, live picture of the wee one. Yikes. Wish I was that flexible. ;)

And here is one of pregnant me taken yesterday. Twenty-two weeks! Over halfway there... Too bad I'm standing in front of a dark chair. The baby bump is kind of hidden. Oh well, I'll post more when I'm huge and beached whale-ish. ;)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Big News!

I had such a great week off. It's amazing how a little break from blogging can be so refreshing! I suppose it's like anything--life in moderation.

Anyway, I get to start off my week back with some news! Finally. I've had things in the works for ages it seems, but I'm just now able to share. Thank you for your patience as I was so secretive about my upcoming books...

As many of you know, last year I was working on a book called Sleeping in Eden. I shared some brief sections of the book with you, kept you updated throughout the writing process, and told you all about my two protagonists Lucas and Meg. I'm really excited about this book, but I'm sorry to say that it will not be releasing this spring as planned. The publishing world is complicated, surprising, and sometimes unpredictable--something I'm beginning to learn more and more! At any rate, after the book was complete, my publisher and I realized we had some creative differences. Since the disparity seemed insurmountable, I was given back the rights to Sleeping in Eden, and contracted to write my third and final Julia book. It was a difficult experience at the time, but, as always, God knows what he's doing!

Through the past four years, I have been very blessed to work with such a wonderful publishing house. Tyndale has been so patient and understanding with this rookie author, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for everyone I've worked with. They made my dreams come true! I will always hold Tyndale in the highest regard, and I hope that my final Julia book is not my final book with this top-notch publisher.

As for Sleeping in Eden, I'm happy to say that this special book has found a home! Though it will not be releasing as planned, I'm thrilled to announce that Simon & Schuster has acquired the rights to Sleeping in Eden, a new book I'm working on called Far from Here, and a third, untitled book. Remember how I said that the publishing world is unpredictable? Well, as it turns out, Sleeping in Eden (even though it's a finished manuscript) will be my second S&S book. The first book is the one I'm working on now, a manuscript that will require a trip to Alaska (yup, I'm so excited!), flying lessons (but not until after the baby is born--apparently you aren't allowed in un-pressurized cabins during pregnancy), and lots of blood, sweat, and tears (but don't they all?). Wow. I'm still getting my head around it all. And I'm eager to see where this new path will take me.

Whew. What a wild ride. Thanks so much for your comments, emails, thoughts, and even prayers over the last few years (or even just weeks!). This entire experience has been the stuff of dreams, and I'm so grateful that even though there have already been bumps in the road, God has seen fit to let me continue to write. I'm sorry that I won't have a book releasing in 2010... But I hope that you'll stick with me for more of this journey! My third Julia book will come out in less than a year (tentative pub date of February 2011) from Tyndale House, and then Far From Here and Sleeping in Eden will follow soon from Simon & Schuster. Yikes. I'd better get writing... ;)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I spent the weekend plotting the last few chapters of my third and final Julia book. I'm so thrilled about where her story is going, and I can't wait to share it with you! Lots of exciting (and unexpected) stuff. :)

Anyway, as I near the end, I need to spend some time focusing on the book. I'm going to take a little break from blogging for the next week or so... My creative energies need to flow toward Julia, not my blog. In fact, I may very well lock myself away in a room and not come out until it's done! Wait... that would leave my little ones to fend for themselves. M&Ms do not an appropriate meal make. Better rethink the padlocked door, I guess.

Locked door or not, here's hoping I get a lot done! And in the interim, here are a couple of fun things for you to do with the time you would normally spend reading my posts.

-Give yourself a mini-manicure. Sprinkle a little teaspoon of sugar into a dollop of your regular handsoap. Scrub gently for a couple minutes. Rinse completely. File your nails, push back your cuticles, and finish with a yummy handcream. I love pretty hands!

-Read one section (up to the nearest break, not necessarily the end of the chapter) in the book you're currently reading. I treat myself to mini reading sessions all day long. It raises my spirits and reminds me that I'm more than just a short order cook, carpool driver, and owie kisser.

-Pray for someone. Sit still for a minute and ask God to bring someone to mind. Believe me, he will! Spend a few moments praying for that person and his or her family.

-Call your grandmother. Come on, when is the last time you talked to that amazing woman? It'll make her day--and yours too.

-Run up and down your stairs. If you have a staircase, put it to good use. Run up and down until you're panting and your legs feel like they're going to fall off. It's a great way to blast some calories in the middle of the day and wake up your groggy mind!

-Write an encouraging email. Since you're on the computer anyway, take a few minutes to send someone (anyone!) a quick email letting them know that you appreciate them. Sweet notes for no reason are like finding dark chocolate in your cupboard.

-Leave your spouse a message on his voicemail. It can be "I'm thinking of you," "I love you," or something else entirely. You know what I mean. ;) It'll make his day.

-Close your eyes. Sit back for five minutes and try to still yourself. Sometimes we run, run, run all day long and never take a second to just breathe. Don't spend more time on Facebook. Turn off the computer and allow yourself to be alone for a couple minutes with your thoughts. It's so refreshing.

Hope those ideas give you something to do! I'll be back in a while... In the meantime, blessings to you wherever you are and whatever you do.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Kid Chaos Theory

My oldest son has his last hockey tournament of the season this weekend. Since it's in a town that's over an hour away, my husband (who is also the Mini-Mite team coach) graciously offered to take the boys (both of them!) and spend the night in a hotel. What am I supposed to do in the house all by myself? Write. Boo. Don't get me wrong, I love writing. But I LOVE spending time with my boys.

All the same, tonight I buckled down and got lots done. My dangling carrot? The opportunity to join them tomorow for the last two games and an extra night in a hotel with a swim park. Yippee! Life with kids is so much fun...

That is, until you realize that all children abide by the chaos theory. You won't find this definition in a book, but I'm convinced it's real. And it goes something like this: any child (of any age, race, background, or persuasion), when confronted with a situation that is new, unexpected, bewildering, exciting, or unprecedented, will inevitably lose control of their sweet little minds/bodies/senses/emotions and (either intentionally or unintentionally) make their parents crazy by thinking/saying/doing things that they would not normally think/say/do. Any parents out there agree with me?

I think Aaron (my poor, poor hubby) is a firm believer in our kid chaos theory tonight...

After swimming (i.e. half-drowning) in the pool for a couple of hours this afternoon, Aaron got the boys ready for the hockey game and took them out for supper. Their conversation (as relayed to me):

Eldest: I don't feel so good.

Aaron: It's probably because you're hungry.

Eldest: No, my tummy really hurts.

Aaron: I bet it's because you drank too much pool water.

Eldest: Gagging...

Aaron: Realizing that this is serious... Come on! We gotta get to the bathroom!

Eldest: I can't make it to the bathroom!

Aaron grabs our son and ushers him out the door where he throws up in the snow as diners stream into the restaurant. Shockingly, no one goes back to their cars and leaves. I would have.

Aaron: Oh, buddy, I'm so sorry. Let's go get you cleaned up. Wait a sec--where's your brother???

Aaron rushes our eldest to the bathroom and leaves him there while he hurries back to the table to find our youngest son (who just so happens to be three). The little one is gone. Running around the restaurant like a crazy person, Aaron hunts for said little one until someone points out that there is an adorable boy wandering around the parking lot. Turns out, he's ours. He was just looking for his daddy and brother.

Safely back at the hotel...

Aaron: Guess we'd better go home, huh? Mommy will take good care of you...

Eldest: Are you kidding? I have a hockey game to play!

Aaron: But you're sick!

Eldest: I have to play. I'm Canadian.

Since Aaron was the coach, he agreed to at least give the game a try. Our son got suited up and hit the ice full-tilt. He scored two goals, assisted in three more, and all around played his little heart out.

All while I lounged on the couch under a blanket trying to spin a pretty phrase...

Remind me never to take my kids anywhere by myself.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

10 things I bet you don't know about me...

1. I hate pop. Always have, always will. When I was a kid the carbonation hurt my nose, and now that I'm grown and can handle a little fizz, I hate the syrupy, sugary taste. Gross!

2. I was a late bloomer (to put it nicely). My pre-teen and teen years were a nightmare of chicken legs, coke-bottle glasses, buck teeth, and painful timidity. I'm no ugly duckling turned beautiful swan, but it is nice to have settled into myself. Though I do still feel like that awkward little girl sometimes.

3. I love rollercoasters.

4. I'm addicted to brushing my teeth. I have a professional grade SonicCare toothbrush and the Clean setting is not enough for me. I have to use it twice.

5. I skipped second grade.

6. My lifelong dream was to be published by the age of 30. I realized my dream with a little over a month to spare.

7. I can't cut my hair. When I was that gangly thirteen-year-old, I believed my only beauty was my hair. I have a strange attachment to it...

8. When I was little I longed to be a nun. I think The Sound of Music may have fueled that ridiculous dream. :)

9. My grandfather was in the cavalry in WWII. He trained horses, and so did my dad. I grew up around Arabians, and harbor the not-so-secret desire to own land and a few horses someday. Ironically, my husband is terrified of horses.

10. I almost flunked Chemistry 103 in college. Well, I failed every test but got A's on every lab. It worked out to a pretty solid C, but I realized that my hope of becoming a large animal veterinarian was probably a pipe dream.

Your turn! Tell me something I don't know about you... :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End

No, not the end of my blog, or even the end of the book that I'm working on. Instead, I'm writing about how it happens, that all-important, make-it-or-break-it novel ending. Yesterday Lauren asked: Whenever you write, at what point in the writing process do you know the way your story will end? Before you begin writing? After your first draft?

It's a great question, and yet it's one of those inquiries that is very hard to answer...

When I started writing After the Leaves Fall, I had no idea where the book was going, much less how it was going to end. The story literally unfolded chapter by chapter, until Julia's final step seemed inevitable. It was a really fun way to write because I felt like I was uncovering the tale much like a reader would--through a slow process of discovery.

Summer Snow was different because I knew that there were two possible endings. The only problem was, I didn't know which one it should be. I was incredibly conflicted, and struggled with the outcome until I wrote the final chapters. I'm happy with the choice I made--and I think that it's true to Julia's character--but some readers were disappointed that Julia decided to do what she did. She's been called "selfish" and "immature," but I believe, heart and soul, that she made the choice that was right for her.

And just wait until you read the third installment of Julia's story! It's another surprise ending (and another two-pronged dilemma), and I'm sure some readers will love it and others will think Julia has made another mistake. But I think that's half the fun. Oh, and FYI, I'm nearly done with this book and I'm still wondering how it will all turn out!

Okay, so it seems like I fly by the seat of my pants when I write. But I said this is a hard question to answer... and it is because when it came to The Moment Between, I knew the ending before I wrote the first sentence. How backwards is that? I'm not sure why I wrote that book differently, but I can say that the whole thing unfolded in my mind in a single night. And it was by far my most complicated plot, involving a three-tiered narrative and an interwoven timeline. Go figure.

Sorry I can't leave you with a pat, easy answer, but I think that stories reveal themselves in a myriad of different ways. Some people will try to tell you that you need to know where you're going if you want to write a book, and though I see the wisdom in that (for query reasons, and submissions to publishers, agents, etc.), I don't believe that you have to have everything figured out. It's an adventure, and it should be.

Your turn: Do stories come gift-wrapped (and complete!) to you? Or do you have to seek out answers like clues on a scavenger hunt?