Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

Archive for June, 2010

ALA Swag

I had a really great time at the American Library Association Conference, which is still taking place in Washington, D.C. thru Tuesday. I met a lot of nice people and got to ogle some amazing authors, e.g. John Green. He waved at me, and I just about died.

Someone dared me to eat a larvae, and that was intriguing. Salty.

I wasn’t able to get an ARC of DELIRIUM – it was the one I wanted most – they were all gone by the time I got there!

I’m most excited about MATCHED and TORMENT.  I hadn’t heard of HALO, but the cover is gorgeous.

My favorite part was getting to talk to Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl about their books Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness. I had been wondering how in the world they’re able to write books together, and they explained that they’ll do an outline together, then Kami will write the first few chapters and will send them to Margaret, who deletes what she wants (without telling Kami) and adds as needed. Crazy, huh?

Here are the books I managed to grab:

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The State of Affairs at the Coffee Station (and writing!)


As you can see from the picture, getting coffee is a dangerous game.  I took this picture at a non-peak hour – usually there are about 20 people crowded around this station.  I’m surprised I come out unscathed (for the most part — I’ve been burned a few times).   

Here’s how it goes down:

1. Get cup from one of three stations (while dodging people who already have cups who are trying to get to the sugar/lid/creamer stations).

2. Squeeze left (NOTE: I have to step AWAY from the coffee urns) to get a cardboard sleeve, lid, and sugar and stirrer.  Put sugar into cup before moving to urn (delaying the people waiting to get to sugar). 

3. Dart right (squeezing past the people who are now lining up to get a cup) to get coffee from the urn.

4. Slink back (through the crowds of people trying to get a cup, or to the right, past the other cup and sugar stations) to get to the creamer/milk station. 

– NOTE: Each milk station contains different types of milk/cream, and there is no consistent pattern to what will be where, e.g. Whole milk, 2% milk, soy milk, half and half, and skim. Some stations have 3 Whole Milks, while others have none.

5. Now I have a cup of hot coffee. I must set it down to secure the lid and avoid a third-degree burn. 

– NOTE: This means I have to set my cup down in front of a station that other people inevitably want to use (e.g. creamer/milk/sugar/lid stations), thus holding up the line. 

6.  At this point, at least two minutes have gone by.  I think it should take less than a minute to procure a cup of coffee. 

HOW I WOULD ARRANGE IT: Sleeve, Cup, Coffee, Sugar, Cream/Milk, stirrer, lid (with place to set the coffee). 

Why is this so HARD?!


A few statistics: 

Coffee sales make up 30% of all cafeteria purchases at my work. (I was unable to find out the total $$ of sales – this is highly secretive information apparently)

A GS-11 employee makes $62,462 per year – this works out to be about $.50 per minute of work. 

5,800 employees work in my building.

Assuming that a more-efficient workflow would bring coffee-grabbing time from two minutes down to one minute per person, and if 1,000 employees a day get a cup of coffee, that’s approximately $1,000 per day that could be saved by improving the coffee process flow!


And since this is supposed to be a writing blog, I’m going to tie this to outlining a novel.  When I write, sometimes I write the last scene first. Or I’ll write a scene in the middle of the book first.  I just don’t know what I’ll write when, but it always comes together in the end (I hope!).  It’s kind of like getting coffee – on any given day, I never know if I’m going to get my sugar last or first, or if I’ll be able to find skim milk. 

My friend (and we share an agent) Tiffany Reisz says she writes everything in chronological order.  If I did that, I’d never finish a book!  I always need to know where I’ll end up. 

In writing, I guess we all end up with a cup of coffee in the end, but how do you get there?  How do you outline and write your novels?

Are there efficiencies to be gained by having a set process for writing a novel, rather than being all over the place like me?

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Take it to the Limit?

Last fall at the James River Writers conference, I went to a session on what’s funny and what’s not, and the general consensus from the panel was that EVERYTHING in the world is funny, DEPENDING on the context.

But is that really true?

Are Bosnian war crimes funny?
Are kidnappings funny?
Is watching all the people on The Biggest Loser funny?

On the other hand – not too long ago, those hikers got imprisoned in Iran. And then two of them got engaged in the Iranian prison! I laughed out loud when I heard that and said to myself, “IN YOUR FACE, IRAN!!” (Okay, I might have tweeted that, too)

While I don’t believe that everything in the world is funny, I do believe that writers have a responsibility to be as clear and honest as possible. No one likes a dishonest writer. 

And I love it when authors take a real-life situation and make it horribly embarrassing for characters — after all, we all want to relate to characters we read about. No one likes a perfect character either.

There’s a scene in THE CORRECTIONS in which the main character tries to steal fish from the supermarket and ends up hiding it in his pants. It’s a truly cringe-worthy scene.

Another scene that made me cringe was in Sarah Dessen’s LOCK AND KEY, when a character who was completely broke tried to make people think he was rich by giving expensive gifts away for Christmas, and then told everyone how expensive they were.

I remember those scenes well because the authors wrote so honestly.

So next time you write, make sure you make those funny/embarrassing scenes truly REAL.  Bring out the best and worst in your characters, bring out their insecurities. Make them worry about stuff we worry about in real life.

Like if you’re wearing nice underwear.
Or if your breath reeks.
Or if other people can’t stand being around you.
Or how you feel after you’ve said the stupidest thing ever.

What’s one way you’ve really taken it to the limit with your characters?

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