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Melt-In-Your-Mouth Fat

Posted on July 8, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

It’s the epitome of duckdom, the most succulent, sinful bit of roast duck I’ve ever encountered in my life. It’s exquisite, delightful, and certainly something I never would have expected to find so close to the Happy Dragon Hostel in Beijing. 

This is Beijing duck. It’s the way duck is supposed to be, and I give serious props to the chef, who trained with the best of them to roast a duck to such a degree that every bite is pure pleasure. 

Before I came to Beijing, I checked out my guidebook for information about where to go for great food, and I came up with a few suggestions for Beijing duck. According to the guidebook, the places to go were Da Dong’s Duck Restaurant and Made In China, both of which receive high reviews on The Beijinger, an English-language magazine that reviews restaurants and other things around town. 

I managed to find Da Dong’s the other night when I was out with Jana, a Missouri native who teaches in South Korea, and Rob. Da Dong’s is super classy and definitely not the place we should have walked in with capris and t-shirts. But it’s also ridiculously expensive. We were able to get hold of the wine list, and its extensive menu of thousand-kuai wines was enough to make you feel ill. I read that the restaurant itself had a 180-page food menu, which is just insane. Full ducks start at 199 kuai, and then you have to buy drinks (and let’s just assume buying water here is no 1-kuai expense) and side items since you won’t be just purchasing the duck. 

Needless to say, it’s a swanky place and one I was afraid I couldn’t afford. 

This is not to say that I wouldn’t pay premium dollar for good duck, but I didn’t want it that badly. And the place almost requires reservations unless you don’t mind a thirty-minute to one hour wait. So my vote was no to Da Dong’s. 

Made In China, the other restaurant listed in my guidebook gets even higher ratings on The Beijinger for slightly cheaper fare. Even so, I don’t think I need the reservations that much. I can probably find a good duck somewhere in this city, right? 

Last night, we went out for duck. I was with Rob and an Iranian who lives in Sweden and who has a name that’s rather impossible for me to pronounce. He was very nice, though, and it was cool to meet someone new again. We were originally going to follow the suggestions of David, one of the Happy Dragon employees, who told us about a nearby duck place we should try. 

We found the right street and were walking along. I have no idea if we actually found the correct restaurant or not because I’m hopeless when it comes to reading Chinese characters. We did, however, find a very pretty, tasteful restaurant that seemed a bit higher-end than the rest of the places we’d seen on the street. Feeling adventurous, we walked in and sat down. 

The menu was pretty par for the course. They had everything from roast duck (clearly a must!) to duck giblets to mustard duck feet to chicken with walnuts to mutton. It was a meat-lover’s paradise. And to be fair, they also offered a decent selection of vegetables as well, including one of my favorites from Wuhan: hand-shredded cabbage. The menu was a ridiculous number of pages long, and it took at least five minutes to go through the whole thing. 

The place had decent prices for duck, and I think it was around 158 kuai for a duck. So we ordered one duck, one set of pancakes, two sets of duck condiments, one order of chicken with walnuts, and one sauce plus drinks. Not a bad order and plenty of food to fill up three people very easily. 

We received the chicken with walnuts first, and as is par for the course here, we waited for about 30 minutes before seeing hide nor hair of the duck. The chicken with walnuts is definitely one of my new favorite dishes here in China, and we demolished that by the time the duck was almost finished roasting. 

Eventually the chef came out with the full duck on a platter. It was a crispy golden color with the head turned modestly down as if the duck were ashamed to be seen naked. The chef showed the duck to us, almost as if asking if it looked okay, and we all heartily agreed. Then he went off to one side and began slicing the duck into little bite-sized pieces. 

By the time all the food was laid out before us, we had two plates of succulent duck meat, one bowl of steaming pancakes, two condiment platters, a basket of greens, and a basket of crispy, thin rolls. Our eyes were a bit larger than our stomachs in hindsight, but we valiantly sallied forth and began eating our duck. 

Our waitress was kind enough to show us how to roll our Beijing duck pancakes and what to include with each pancake. The condiment platters had minced garlic, thick plum sauce, sugar, two kinds of minced pickled vegetables (one of which was pickled radishes), cucumber slices, onion slivers, and jelly-like vegetables that reminded me a bit of cranberry sauce. 

Another waitress pointed out that we were supposed to eat the duck meat pieces with the garlic and plum sauce while we were supposed to dip the skin and fat pieces in the sugar. I tried a piece of the fat in the sugar immediately after she pointed it out, and suddenly I found myself in duck heaven. 

I have no idea how this chef learned to make such delectable, tender, delightful duck, but the fat literally melted in your mouth. I don’t know how else to describe it. There was no need to chew because the fat and skin pieces just became a delicious goo that melted into your mouth, and when you put them in sugar, it was even more delicious. Even after they cooled off, the fat still seemed to just disappear, almost the way cotton candy dissolves into sweet nothingness. 

But duck this incredible has to be terrible for you. 

I don’t care. 

The meat pieces that he cut for us were also incredibly tender and excellent when paired with almost any of the condiments. Making the pancakes is a fun experiment, but honestly, I would just eat the duck with the condiments alone.

Either way, I have to say that if that’s the last truly Chinese meal I have in China, I am perfectly happy with it. I would go back in a heartbeat to this place and pay bookus of bucks to get them to make me duck again, but I am happy enough just living with having had this experience.

And now, sooner than ever, I get on a plane to fly home. Tomorrow morning at 6:55 a.m. my flight leaves Beijing for Detroit, and then it will only be a matter of time before I’m back on home soil. I think I’ve had a full trip, and I’m really happy that I came, but I’m also happy to go home.

There will be a few more posts before I end this blog to wrap up loose ends. And then I’ll be home and a new adventure will be starting.

Here’s to China and the best Beijing duck I’ve ever had!

– Rae 

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An Untimely Update…

Posted on June 18, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I realize it’s been rather a long time since I posted anything, and you have my sincere apologies on that.

Reason? Well, I’m in China. And if that isn’t reason enough, then I could regale you with tales of how much things change when you’re living abroad for a few months, or I could express my deep discontent with the way in which the administration at my particular school has been handling end-of-term procedures.

Suffice it to say that with an intermittent proxy that does not always work (thus keeping me off blogs and other social networking sites) and my own busy-ness, I’ve been a wee bit preoccupied.

I am coming back to the States in July. So things are quickly winding down for me. That said, I probably will not be posting again until I’m home due to some serious financial, packing, shipping, planning, and traveling issues.

In the meantime, I would be happy to suggest that those of you who have been commenting on my more recent posts start checking out one another’s websites and blogs. I’m sure there’s lots of fun things that you can read about there, and you won’t be missing my posts too much that way!

Well, that’s all for now, but I’ll be back. I’m not going to let this blog die off, and I have some plans for it upon my return Stateside!

– Rae

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The Sights of Nanjing

Posted on May 21, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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What’s In A Name?

Posted on March 3, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’ll know I now teach a Devil, who is a rather sweet girl to be honest. But, as in all things, teaching in a place where students can choose their names is always an adventure. I can’t remember if I mentioned it in my last post, but Devil is one of my junior English majors, which means she’s kept her name for three years now. 

Also in her class is YoYo. 

I rest my case. 

I have had students choose names in my Concentration Camp Classes since I started teaching them. Some of them were very simple, ordinary names, like Bob and Sara. I noticed the increase of names like Bella and tend to attribute that to the insane love of the Twilight movies here in China. Many of my girls will ask me, “Do you like twee-lit? Twee-lit?” I have to wrap my head around their pronunciation sometimes, but I now know on cue that “twee-lit” is their pronunciation of “twilight” and can quickly answer their questions. 

However, in other CC classes, I’ve had students choose the most fascinating names imaginable. Their minds definitely intrigue me. Last semester, especially, I had some fun names. 

One girl chose the name Fridge. At first I wondered if she was trying to say French instead, until she told me “I choose the name Fridge because I think all good food goes in the fridge and all good food should go in me.” Well spoken. And at least she’s honest. I had a hard time not laughing about that. 

A boy in the same class told me his name was Bad Boy. His reasoning was that by calling himself Bad Boy (anyone else hearing the song in their heads?) he would prevent himself from really being a bad boy in class. “Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” Unfortunately his bad tendencies weren’t banished by his name, and he failed my final exam. 

This semester I’ve got a few new names that are tamer but definitely not what I expected in my CC classes. Three of my male students are named Blue, Green, and Brown, respectively. Blue explained that his favorite color was blue and that was why he chose that name. Simple enough. I also have a Sail in this group of classes who is also male. 

Another trend I’ve seen in this class has been the gods that have joined class. I have two so far; though I can’t remember if one was a god or just a son of the gods. One of my guys is named Jupiter. Another is named Cupid. Granted, we’re mixing Roman and Greek mythology, but I suppose that’s okay. I like Cupid; he’s a good kid, sits up front, and smiles a lot. He’s got a bit too much of a baby face for me to take him seriously when he says his name is Cupid, but it’s also kind of cute. 

One of my all-time favorite names so far has been Lary Jane. I spell it the way he spelled it; though I think it should have been Larry Jane. I did a double-take when I read the name initially and wondered if it was a guy or a girl and then if it wasn’t supposed to be Mary Jane. Nope, Lary Jane it is. 

Seriously, this has been a very interesting way of getting to know my students. They’re all wonderful kids, for the most part, and I really enjoy them. I just thought I’d share some of the better names they like to use. The best part is that the students who pick the most interesting names are some of the ones I remember the most. 

That said, I have a new friend I’m referring to as CCG, which stands for Crazy Conditioner Girl. It’s a really funny story, to be honest. So I’ll share, and you can enjoy my amusement as well. 

CCG caught me completely off-guard earlier in the week. I was in the store looking for conditioner, which isn’t as simple as it sounds because a lot of Chinese products are 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner deals. I may try one of those at some point, but that day I just wanted a bottle of conditioner and couldn’t decide where to look. A girl in the store noticed my puzzlement and asked in pain-staking English “What do you want?” 

I told her, and she directed me to the correct aisle. I started browsing, but few labels are in English, and even fewer are in good English. A salesgirl came up to me and asked me something in Chinese. Giving her my patented “stupid American” shrug, she giggled and then asked the girl who walked up to my side instead. It was the same girl as before, and she asked again what I wanted. When we finally ascertained that, yes, I wanted the “after shampoo” stuff, the salesgirl gave me more specific instruction by pointing to two shelves. Finally I could get my conditioner! 

I gravitated towards one brand when the salesgirl sidled back up to me and told me if I bought another one she had a free gift for me. Okay, whatever, promotional deals are always fun, and it was only a few kuai (RMB) extra. I went to the cash register to pay for it, and then I turned around and saw a table set up just behind the register where the salesgirl was already waiting for me. I picked my gift, signed my name and number on their little list for the odd-number of Chinese text messages I’ll most likely delete automatically since I can’t read them. Then I left the store. No big deal, right? 

Two hours later, I got a text from an unknown number saying it was the girl I’d seen in the “suppermarket” and she wanted to be friends with me. Oh, and could I help teach her English? She was a university student. I had no idea who it was until I got the second text saying she was the conditioner salesgirl. That’s when I realized she’d stolen my number off the list, and I have to admit, I wasn’t angry, just amused. 

We sent a few texts back and forth for a while and agreed to meet up on Tuesday after my first Chinese lesson. I’ll write more about Chinese lessons later, but when I met up with CCG, I had the hardest time pronouncing her name. It looks suspiciously easy, but you try saying Chun Xiao Bo and say it to a Chinese person. Just wait for all the laughs you’ll get! 

Xiao Bo, as she asked me to call her, is genuinely sweet and not overbearing in the least. She also mentioned she could show me places where I might find clothes my size and, even better, shoes in my size! So I’m going to spend some time with her, and she’s agreed that we can help each other learn our respective languages. 

I’ll probably write more about Xiao Bo later, but for now, I wanted to leave you with that wonderful Shakespearean quote “What’s in a name?” Seriously, though, what IS in a name when you can pick anything from Fridge to Bad Boy? Tell me that! 

Leave a comment, let me know what’s new with you, tell me if this made you laugh, and I hope you’re all doing well! Much love is sent your way from wonderful Wuhan, and I look forward to hearing from you! 

Rae

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Quick Update

Posted on February 18, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

This is just a quick update to tell you all that I made it back to China safely! I arrived in my neat little apartment yesterday and passed out last night to the sounds of firecrackers.

I’ve got my internet up and running as you can see and will be back to posting regularly soon! In the meantime, feel free to leave encouraging comments and browse other amazing blogs, like the ones listed in my links.

I have to go eat dinner now with my co-worker and then we’re going out for the night, but I wanted to update everyone who’s been reading the blog and tell you I’m back and will be posting again soon! I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying yourselves! Have a lovely day!

Rae

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On a Blustery Day in China…

Posted on September 22, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Hello all! 

I feel a little like Winnie the Pooh today celebrating a blustery Wednesday. It’s been incredibly windy all night and most of the day today. It’s also been a little rainy as well. There’s a cold front that’s pushing through with a vengeance, and it’s making it rather uncomfortable to be out and about in the intense winds. Just to let you know, my windows keep knocking against the sills due to the wind whipping and whistling through the apartment complex. 

I haven’t done much today because it’s been a bit too much for me. I don’t really want to get wet, and I don’t have any plans for the day. I’m hoping tomorrow will be a bit less windy and rainy; though I wouldn’t mind if it’s cool. The temperatures for the last two weeks have been incredibly high and humid, making it rather unpleasant to walk around. 

Perhaps that’s why I got sick on Monday.

Yep, that’s right. I managed to get sick in China again. It’s ridiculous how that happens. But if anyone’s going to do it, it’s going to be me. So I went out on Monday morning with Hugo and the other teachers to go to Hankou, one of the three districts of Wuhan. We live in Wuchang, and traveling by double-decker bus to Hankou takes about an hour and a half, so it was quite a long time to be crammed in a bus with probably 50 or so of your favorite Chinese. 

We made it to Hankou, crossing over the Yangtze River in passing, and then we hopped off the bus only to have to divide and conquer two taxis to take us to the police station. When we arrived, we went up to the third floor to fill out our paperwork for the residence permits that we needed to make our stays in China legal. It was pretty simple; though China tends to ask you some seriously personal questions, including things like weight and religion. 

We took our completed paperwork, passports, and other documentation down to the first floor to wait our turn with the odd assortment of other Americans and Africans waiting to get their documents in. It was pretty simple until Madson realized that they were planning to keep his passport for a few days. He’s run low on money and was waiting for a transfer from his parents via Western Union, so he asked Hugo how he would get his money without his passport. This conversation resulted in Hugo and Madson leaving for the bank while the rest of us finished up our paperwork at the station. Hugo told us to wait there until they were finished, and then we could go back to the campus. 

So far I’d done fine. I didn’t eat much for breakfast, but I thought I could manage as long as we could go back to the campus and I could fall into bed. I wasn’t expecting to get sick, but Michael started talking about how hungry he was and how he wanted food. For whatever the reason, I started feeling odd and knew something was wrong while he asked me what kinds of foods I wanted. And then I knew I was going to throw up again. 

I asked Stephanie to help me find a bathroom, but Sebastian was the one who went to ask the female officer sitting at the door where the restroom was. She was pointing the direction and talking to him as I started to walk that way, already afraid I wouldn’t make it there before getting sick. I was right. I threw up about a minute later, which shocked Sebastian, and the police officer escorted me to the back where there was a bathroom. I guess she thought I’d probably throw up again. 

Luckily I didn’t throw up again, but I wasn’t feeling well, and now I was nasty. I wanted to wash off but couldn’t see a sink anywhere. So I simply stood there, feeling miserable until she came back with a mop. She said something to me that I obviously didn’t understand and then gestured for me to move out of the way. That’s when I realized there was a hose above the toilet that served as the “sink” and she was turning it on for me. She patiently waited until I’d rinsed myself off and was feeling a little better and then gestured for me to leave the bathroom. 

I didn’t feel sick anymore, so I thought I’d try my luck waiting out in the air-conditioned front room again. We ended up waiting about 20 or 30 more minutes before Hugo and Madson finally returned. Hugo wanted me to go to the hospital, but I really just wanted to come back to the apartments and sleep. So we found taxis, got back to the bus stop, and settled in for the long ride back to the campus. 

That was Monday. 

Yesterday was my teaching day, and I was terrified of getting sick again. But instead of harping on that, I worked on coming up with a lesson plan for my 2 o’clock class. And before I knew it I was getting ready to hop on the bus and take the 30 minute bumpy ride to the other campus. 

I got to class with about ten minutes to spare and started writing on the board and putting things out on my podium for class. My students were all talking to one another, and I simply tried to ignore it as I worked on calming myself down for class. For some reason, I get scared about teaching when I have to stand up in front of my students and talk to them about something as simple (and yet as complex) as American culture. 

I started off with a discussion about culture. And this is how I did both classes. So it was fun to hear their responses when I started asking them what components they thought went into culture. When we talked about behavior, I mentioned how culture can influence even the littlest things, like staring, and proceeded to make a fool out of myself by acting out the scenarios where I’ve had Chinese people stare at me as I’m walking. The classes really enjoyed that and laughed at my gestures. 

When we finally established that culture is not just defined by your country but by many facets (and I did teach my second class to say “y’all” since I’m Southern), I started them in on what I call the Four Corners Activity. It was pretty simple but a way to get them moving and talking, too. 

I labeled pieces of paper with the words: Agree, Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree. Then I put one page in each corner. My students had to move around as I read off each statement in a list I’d come up with. They went to whichever corner best represented their opinions on the statements. And I didn’t do just simple statements, either. 

One of my first statements was “It is easy for foreigners to fit in in America.” I had to explain that statement a little, but before I knew it, my classes were moving around and picking sides. It was really a fascinating exercise, especially since I required each group to give me two reasons why they were in that particular corner. It was surprising some of the answers I got, including questions about discrimination and culture shock, but it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I should be teaching my students. 

I think they had fun with the exercise, even though some of the statements were a little more difficult for them to understand. But I’ll probably keep that exercise around for future classes because it got them talking and thinking. 

At the end of class, I had all the students fill out a questionnaire of 15 questions for me. It was fun because I got to pick random questions that I was interested in seeing how they answered. And now I’m looking forward to going over those answers and seeing what I can learn from them. It was also an easy way of taking attendance. 

So overall, I think yesterday’s classes were successful, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I manage next week when I add two new classes to my repertoire on Monday. Though I’ll only be teaching these freshman classes for two weeks, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how well they respond to me and my teaching style. 

I think that’s all I have to report. I need to go out sometime and get a few things from the store, but it’s such a dreary day I really would rather stay in and relax all afternoon. Perhaps I’ll work on boiling some eggs later so that I can have a little more protein in my diet. 

I hope you’re all doing well, and I look forward to hearing from you! 

Until next time – 

– Rae

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Enter Manhattan 1899

Posted on May 8, 2010. Filed under: Books, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Romance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Let’s talk books, let’s talk stories, let’s talk what works and what doesn’t! Because I’m lazy and not in the mood to write the official review I’ll put on my PC, I’m going to write a second review of two books I’ve read for my research.

Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series has four novels in it total. They are: The Luxe, Rumors, Envy, and Splendor. I’ve read the first two books of the series and finished reading the second one today. Because I’m enjoying it, I picked up the third at Borders after I got off work at Book Gallery (don’t tell my boss!) and started reading it over dinner.

The Luxe

The Luxe introduces readers to Manhattan’s top society members in rollicking good style. Swathed in multiple, juicy tidbits straight from the columns of only the best newspapers that harken the beginning of each new chapter, the book tells the story of the Holland sisters.

Elizabeth Holland is the oldest daughter of the Holland family and has just returned from an extended trip abroad. The trip was one of the means she used to forget the horrible details of her father’s recent death. Now that she’s back, though, things are beginning to fall apart. Her family is in financial trouble, and all her mother’s hopes are resting on Elizabeth… and a wedding that could change everything.

In the meantime, the youngest of the Holland’s, Diana, is enjoying finding her kicks where she will, in the dark coatrooms where clandestine meetings for kisses are not so easily noticed and in servant hallways that are infrequently traveled. The more risque of the sisters, Diana sees no need to appear with decorum when her older and more accomplished sister can do so for her, but in a strange twist of fate, the younger sister finds that love can come from unexpected places and at horribly wrong times. Now she has only one problem: telling her family.

With an intriguing cast of characters, I have to give Godbersen credit. I fell in love with the Holland sisters and felt nothing but disgust for some of the more important side characters, such as the indomitable Penelope Hayes, the sneaky Lina Broud, and the irritating Isabella Schoonmaker. Godbersen’s characterization is fabulous, and I am enjoying getting to know her characters and hoping I’ll find something good and worthwhile in some of the more cruel of the women.

Her plots are elaborate and twisted. I’ve been impressed by the intrigue behind the movements of the Holland sisters and the plots of Penelope Hayes. And even little Lina Broud strikes me as much more intense and devious than I would have expected given her characterization in the first book. And with the winding, often snakelike paths the story takes, I expect I’ll be just as surprised in the third and fourth novels as I was in the first two, a definite plus in my book.

So what makes this series so intriguing, especially to the teen readers? Well, let’s start by examining the cover. Most women I know have a fascination for the fashions from the past, especially those ball gowns that are featured so heavily on Godbersen’s covers. Second the titles are ripe with intrigue. They offer visions of brightly lit ballrooms, women wearing precious gems and delicate outfits, men in smoking rooms, and any number of rich debaucheries. It’s the stuff of legend and the stuff we simply can’t get enough of.

Now I’ll admit, I was angry at the end of the first book. I was also furious at the end of the second book because, quite frankly, I didn’t want it to end the way it did. I hate it when authors don’t offer me a happy ending. However I have two more books to read, and unfortunately the fourth book hasn’t been released in paperback yet. Once I finish the third one, I’m afraid I’m a bit up a creek until the paperback fourth book gets released.

The big problem for me is that I’m a sucker for fairy tale, happily ever after endings. And as such, I’m determined to read to the end of the series and hopefully find that Godbersen has offered both happy endings to the characters I like and trials to the ones I don’t like. If she doesn’t do that, I might be a little miffed.

So far, the series has been solidly developed, excellently written, and hard to put down. I think that makes it a good series to use in my YA research, don’t you?

If you’re looking for a new read and don’t mind something that’s technically written for a younger audience, check it out. Godbersen’s style is subtle and well-played in the scenes she writes. The characters are deliciously entertaining. The settings are the perfect foils for the antics of her main characters. It’s simply a fascinating series of (somewhat) unfortunate events.

Let me know if you pick it up. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And while we’re at it, feel free to let me know what books you’re reading now. I love hearing about new books, you know. 😉

-Rae-

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Novel Planning

Posted on May 5, 2010. Filed under: My Writing, Style, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Today is a good day to talk about novel planning, don’t you think? I think so.

Because I love writing and am addicted to NaNoWriMo’s forums, I’ve been reading a lot of people talking about saving ideas for the next National Novel Writing Month and working on planning them with vigor for months at a time. So I figured I’d take a poll.

Feel free to answer the following questions in a comment:

1. Have you written a novel? (If no, thanks for taking the poll, and get on that novel writing!)

2. When did you begin planning your novel?

3. How did you plan your novel?

4. Just for fun, how long did it take you to finish writing your novel?

And now I’ll tell you how I planned the novel that is begging to be edited for content and grammar.

I started planning Fire and Ice Bound in October 2009. Now I have to admit I got the idea for it about a year before that and had a few illustrations made by Desteni, who was kind enough to give me one that I tucked away for future use. When I began thinking about NaNo2009, I remembered my random fantasy story idea and dug out those illustrations from among the pile of bank statements, university papers, and other odds and ends.

The illustrations are really what reminded me how interested I was in the story. So I waited until October when I was beginning to gear up for NaNo to work on my planning. And then it came, and I had four glorious weeks of planning.

So what did I do? I spent hours thinking about who my characters were, where they lived, how they acted, and what they did. I devised big plots concerning entire countries and small subplots that would last only half a page but have important consequences. And throughout the planning process, I daily added notes to my master outline.

It’s kind of a lame term, but I call it that because it wasn’t so much an outline as the basis for everything I wrote in my story. Within this one 12-page document, I wrote down every name of every character, mentioned or not, that was important to my story. I grouped them according to where they fell (student, teacher, parent, electorate representative, townsperson, etc.) in my story. Then I wrote a number of pages of what I termed plot points: those things that needed to happen in order to move from Point A to Point B in the story.

What else did I put in my master outline? I put the obvious: the progression from beginning to end. Though I didn’t really have much of an ending when I first began planning. I also put some random things in. I wrote facts and figures about the three main countries. I detailed where the countries were located and what the governments were like. I wrote a page on the three different creation theories plugged by different groups as well as the different religions that had risen out of these theories. And none of the religions come into play in the actual story.

By the end of October, I’d started a character profiles document as well. I put in the names of every character, even the ones that weren’t referenced in the book, as well as their vital statistics. I recorded eye color, hair color, height, weight, age, and some other random information. Most of that wasn’t important in the actual book, but it makes all the difference to me in making my characters come alive. The character profile document was at least 5 pages long, so it was still a pretty hefty document.

I think the best thing I learned about planning my novel, though, came as I was writing it. Like most people participating in NaNo, I began writing at midnight on November 1. I wrote like a madwoman throughout the month, but as I referenced my notes I noticed two important things. First: my planning brought the story together in a way I never expected and allowed me to write freely without worrying too much about what would happen next. Second: planning doesn’t end when the writing begins.

Planning is an integral part of writing a novel for me. Knowing the steps to getting to the end of the novel was a huge part of my writing, but when I finally got around to writing the end of the novel, I realized I hadn’t planned for a few of the things that had managed to worm their way into the novel. So a few chapters out, I was planning once again, trying to figure out how best to end the story.

Personally I can definitely see the advantages of planning a story. What about you? Let me know and feel free to answer my questions as well. I’m kind of curious.

Next up should be a book review. Then I’m not sure what will come after that, but hopefully I’ll find something interesting. 😉 Hope you’re all doing well, and I promise I’ll be getting my rhythm back soon!

-Rae-

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I Was Walking Through The Park One Day…

Posted on May 2, 2010. Filed under: About Me, About This Blog, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

…in the merry, merry month of May. You know the rest of the song, don’t you? I’m not even sure what the title is to be honest, but I was struck by the song and felt it appropriate to throw that out there.

Now, randomness aside, I have some goals and plans that I’d like to share with you lovely readers of mine. I’m very grateful that you’ve chosen to read this humble blog, and since April was a bust, I have a specific plan for May.

I’ve decided that I’m going to have to get back in the habit of posting a blog regularly because I do terribly if I’m just let go. So I’m proposing that I write a blog post three times a week. I haven’t decided if I’ll post on specific days, but I think I can manage three times a week well enough. It might be a Monday, Wednesday, Friday week or it might be a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday week, but either way I’ll be posting more regularly. And I won’t be limiting myself to just three times a week. If I have more to post that week, I’ll do it.

All of this is to keep my blog more current than I did in April. I have several topics I can post on as well as an archive of book reviews I’ve been writing as I finish reading books over the year 2010. Speaking of, that was one of my goals for this year. I have a never ending list of to-be-read books on my computer that I keep updated based on what books I buy and what books I read and review. As of today, the list of total books to be read in 2010 has reached 55, meaning I have 55 books in my room to be read. Of those, I’ve managed to read and review somewhere in the neighborhood of 16.

I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

But I was thinking that one way to motivate myself to finish reading the five books I wanted to read and review this month would be to begin posting my book reviews on my blog. They’re rather lengthy, but they’re thorough enough for me. And quite frankly I only wrote them for me, but you might find them amusing.

So feel free to weigh in on that. Would you like to read my book reviews of some of the books I’ve read, or would you like me to write fresh things to post? Or some combination of the two? Let me know.

What I’ll do is post a book review this week and let you see what my style is for writing these reviews. If you’re interested in seeing more, I’ll post them. Sound like a plan? I thought so.

And since we’re talking plans, May is going to be a rather big month for me. I’m supposed to be receiving the contract from the university in China soon, and that’ll mean lots of time spent perusing all the nitty-gritty details of this job offer. On top of that, I have a second interview with Amazon May 20 that I have to arrange with their logistics people. They mentioned flying me in, but I’d prefer to drive up as long as they’re still willing to put me up in a hotel for a night. And I’ll be going to visit with a Chinese English teacher from the university in China who’s studying at my university and is in town right now. He’s offered to answer any questions I might have.

Here’s hoping May will bring some concrete decisions to make and allow June to begin my planning months!

What else did I want to say? I’m writing again even though it’s not on anything original. I made a goal to write something, anything fiction this month. I don’t even have to finish a piece of fiction. I just need to work on it steadily to fulfill that goal. So I’m working on a piece of fanfiction I began last year. It’s rather cathartic to have something productive to work on that isn’t bookstore work.

Finally I am going to get my butt in gear and start editing my novel again. It fell by the wayside at the end of March, but we’re fast approaching the deadline for getting my order in for the proof copy, and darn it, I still want that shiny proof. So I’ve made a goal to at least correct all the glaring grammatical errors by the end of this month. Feel free to cheer me on and check in on how I’m doing.

Well, I think that’s everything I needed to share. I’ll be back later this week with my first book review post. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Let me know what’s new with you, and hopefully I’ll go above and beyond and actually get back to reading and commenting on other blogs!

-Rae-

P.S. Is the line to that song “merry, merry month of May” or “very merry month of May”? I’m not actually sure.

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Why Haven’t I Seen These Before?

Posted on April 26, 2010. Filed under: Books, Children's, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

The title might be a bit misleading, so I’ll explain. I’m referring to books on tape or CD. It’s not to say I haven’t seen them before, but in all my years of being a book aficionado, I’ve never enjoyed a book on tape or CD before today.

Why did I listen to a book on CD? Well, I was coming home from a weekend away. I went to my best friend’s apartment for the weekend to get away from all the craziness of home. It’s going to be the last splurge I can really make till August when I go to Indiana, but that’s another topic altogether, and I’m certain to bore you with all those details closer to time.

That said, my best friend lives about three hours away from me, so I had plenty of time on the drive to get about halfway through a book. Normally I would have said it would be better to read the book before I listen to it on tape. Why? Because I’m weird that way. But this was not a book I’d read before. It was, however, a book I’d seen in the movie form, and I’m pleased to report that screenwriters still deviate from book’s plots.

I listened to the book How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. This book is billed for children ages 9 to 12, but I figure it’s okay to listen to a book like this since I watched the movie. Besides, I got copies of the CDs from a coworker after we discussed the differences between the books and movie one night.

To begin, I’ll admit that this is definitely the right kind of audiobook for me. First of all, it’s a children’s book, so the reading is very expressive. In fact, the person they got to read the book is David Tennant, who I’ve heard is on the popular TV show Dr. Who. I’ve never seen Dr. Who, so I had no idea who David Tennant was until I looked him up; apparently I know him as Barty Crouch Jr. from the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s good to know who he is because I absolutely love this man’s voice!

What’s great about this audiobook is that Tennant does a fabulous job making the characters come alive. I’m not sure if Tennant himself is British, but he does have a lovely, pleasant accent that makes me smile. And he switches things up when going from Hiccup’s quiet voice to Gober’s booming one.

I honestly didn’t think I’d like something that was all spoken. I’m more of a reader than a listener, but this made me feel like I was a part of the story as I drove down the interstate. It was nice to grab some breakfast from McDonald’s, pop the first CD into the player, and adjust the volume accordingly. I drove for a good 2.5 hours listening to the first two CDs.

The only downside to audiobooks? Not being in the car long enough to finish the story. I realized I was back in town when the second CD ended, and I still had two left! So I haven’t finished listening to the story.

That said, I think I’m a newly converted fan of audiobooks. It’s heresy, I know, but I’m allowed an indulgence every once in a while. What about you? Are you a fan of audiobooks or not? Let me know!

-Rae-

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