Psssst…Wanna Know a Secret?

I’ve hit a lot of important milestones in my life.

  • I ate solid foods.
  • I learned to walk.
  • I learned to talk and haven’t shut up since.
  • I learned to read and do it obsessively.
  • I learned to print and write in cursive.
  • I learned to tell time.
  • I learned to read music and play the piano…and the french horn…and the trumpet…and now, in a rudimentary way, the guitar (I WILL MASTER THE Bmin CHORD IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO).
  • I learned to drive a stick shift.
  • I graduated from high school. And college. And another college.
  • I earned a certificate from a night school program.
  • I landed several jobs.
  • I got married.
  • I had kids.
  • I got unmarried.
  • I braved okCupid, tinder, coffeemeetsbagel. I didn’t end up hating all men. (Trust me, that’s noteworthy.)
  • I did my own taxes.
  • I bought a car.

All these things are great. I’m proud of what I accomplished. But, there’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since I learned to hold a crayon: write a novel. I’ve written a lot of poetry and short stories. I’m a daft hand at flash fiction. I can write an essay that would convince you to sell all your belongings and join a circus. What I haven’t been able to do (yet) is come up with an idea for a novel that sustains me past the first 5,000 words or so.

But, 40-something years later, I haven’t given up. I keep buying books on how to write novels. I read them. I try some of the exercises. The latest book in my arsenal is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird.

secrets

I was hooked by the first paragraph:

You’ve just boarded a plane. Your iPhone is loaded with all your favorite podcasts, but before you can get your earbuds in, disaster strikes: The guy in the next seat starts telling you all about something crazy that happened to him–in great detail. This guy is an unwelcome storyteller trying to convince an extremely reluctant audience to care about his story. We all hate that guy, right?

~Matt Bird, The Secrets of Story

I hope Mr. Bird is going to explain how to capture a reluctant audience’s attention and hold it. From the table of contents, it looks like he might. He includes “the thirteen essential laws of writing for strangers.” But that’s not all! He also provides “The Ultimate Story Checklist.” This should help me keep a reader’s attention after I’ve first caught it. I’m really excited about this book!

Now, if I could only come up with a really excellent idea…I’ve already scrapped the idea about the Sasquatch hunter who is allergic to pet dander.

sassy

P.S. I’m going to participate in Nanowrimo again this year. While I didn’t get far the last time I tried it, I did end up generating a lot of material that became short stories. Will any of you be participating?

 

 

 

 

Want to Master Instagram?

instastyleInstaStyle by Tessa Barton is going to be a hit with a lot of people. It hands you the keys to creating an aesthetically pleasing, well-branded, focused and influential instagram account, which you can set up for monetization of your online efforts.

If this is what I wanted to do with my instagram, I would have been thrilled myself. It’s a beautifully produced book, containing stunning photography and streamlined how-tos on everything from finding inspiration, developing narratives,  fostering engagement, and editing images.  Additionally, it provides niche-specific advice, including lifestyle, fashion, travel, food, beauty, family, health & fitness, interior design, and flat lays & products.

This book just isn’t written for a person like me, who already has a full-time job and only wants to use social media as a creative outlet and a way to connect with like-minded people. InstaStyle makes it abundantly clear that if you wish to develop an account like Tezza’s, it’s going to require a lot of work.

Gotta work for it: Truth be told, I’m never not working. I’m constantly planning posts, gathering inspiration, scouting locations, styling outfits , and meeting with brands. It’s a 24/7 job. Granted, it’s a pretty dang good 24/7 job, but it really can be exhausting. It’s important to know that before jumping in. It takes pushing yourself every day to come up with something new and finding ways to stand out and be different.

~ Tezza MB

Clearly, it’s not for dilettantes like me! Recognizing that I’m not the target audience doesn’t mean I’m going to dismiss the book as a bad one. It’s not bad at all. In fact, I think it will be an excellent resource for a lot of people. If you’re like me, however, and want something that encourages playfulness and experimentation, then you might want to save your precious book money for something else.

This book also promotes an aspect of Instagram that I find off-putting: it’s just too sleek and polished. The images show glamorous skinny people doing glamorous things using fancy products and basically living a life I’ll never have. It can be downright depressing to look at too much stuff like this online. I’ll look, from time to time, because it’s hard to turn away from something so perfect that’s begging for my attention, but I prefer to follow accounts that are a little rougher around the edges and show people I can relate to doing regular people stuff…like petting a fat cat on the belly (it’s a trap!), or eating a tub of ice cream while binge-watching the 100 on Netflix.

I do appreciate Tezza’s frequent reminders to keep your expectations realistic, practice positive self-talk, and remain authentic:

Don’t lose sight of the goal. Let your experiences shape your life, and don’t get caught up in doing things for the sake of the ‘gram. They’re not authentic when they become a chore.

~ Tezza MB

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my ARC. All opinions are my own.

Release Date: October 23, 2018

 

Cat Lady Embroidery: 380 Ways to Stitch a Cat

cat embroideryAnyone who knows me knows I’m bonkers about cats. My facebook feed is almost entirely devoted to cat pictures, which is so much more entertaining and uplifting than the news cycle. My friends also know that I love handcrafts like knitting sewing, beading and embroidery. Given these factors, it’s easy to understand why I jumped at the chance to review Cat Lady Embroidery: 380 Ways to Stitch a Cat by Applemints. It’s catnip for me.

Let’s start off with the cover. The kitty faces are adorable and are rendered in a nice looking satin stitch. This intrigued me. Most of the needlework books on the market in the past few years have featured cute designs, but limited the stitches to basics like the outline stitch and French knots. Beginner’s books are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but after a certain point, we all want to be challenged. After flipping through the book, I was pleased to see that a good variety of techniques were used and there were projects that would be suitable for both an absolute novice and someone with intermediate skills.

Of the 380 designs, there is an interesting variety of styles. Some of the designs lean toward realism and others lean toward cartoonish. Some have a modern vibe and others evoke a vintage mood. Some cats wear clothes like sailor suits, chefs’ hats, dirndls and leg warmers. Some designs tell stories, while others serve as graphical elements: feline alphabets, kitty corners and borders. Based on the cover, I wasn’t expecting such variety. It was a nice surprise.

cat characters

At the beginning of the book, you can flip through beautiful photos of the fully stitched motifs. Each one is numbered so you can flip to the back of the book where the line art and stitching suggestions are shown. I particularly liked how the number of strands of floss was indicated in the stitching guides and also how suggested colors were provided. If you can’t track down Olympus floss, which was used for the samples, there is a thread conversion chart for DMC, which is widely available in the US.

Toward the end of the book, you will find key information such as tools and materials, basic instructions, and an embroidery stitch guide. The information is well laid-out and clearly explained so even someone who has never picked up a needle and embroidery floss should be able to work their way through the process.

This is a charming book and would make a great gift for the crafty cat person in your life…or you could stitch up something lovely for your favorite ailurophile.

P.S. This shouldn’t be just for the ladies. Men can love cats and needlework too.

P.P.S.  I received a courtesy copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review.