Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing a Novel: As Easy As Pie?

I am often asked if I create an outline for each book I write or if I just sit down and start typing whatever comes to me. The answer is yes! Just kidding.

While I do believe there is no single path to writing a great novel (how boring would that be?) I also believe that each writer falls into one of three categories when it comes to mapping out a story. To my non-writer friends, I use the analogy that writing a book is a lot like baking a pie.

Well -- sort of.

The first group approaches writing with a tried and true recipe in front of them, following it religiously and never deviating from it. Measuring out each of the ingredients called for in the cookbook with exact precision, they trust the pie will be perfect in the end as long as they stick to the formula. They meticulously create a well-thought, near-perfect outline before ever typing a single sentence.

The second group has clear direction in their mind and knows exactly what they need to do to make a pie. They grab all the necessary ingredients and go at it, approximating how much of each to use. With confidence they employ the method I like to call "Using The Force" which relies more on feelings, senses, or even experience. Some have done it so often they just trust and do it, confident all will turn out in the end.

Sometimes just to shake things up, these writers add a little more nutmeg or use brown sugar instead of the usual white sugar. Speaking from experience, this makes a VERY tasty pie, BTW.

The third group uses a little bit of both. Although there is a general recipe to follow, most of the dialogue, prose, and imagery is improvised during the writing process. I must admit that I belong to this third group of writers who needs something down on paper to base my story on but still likes to mostly shoot from the hip.

For my last novel, I discovered that creating a "fake" family tree at with all my characters' names, birthdates, marriages and death dates was a necessity just so I could keep them all straight. While not the same as having a story outline, it made it much easier to steer the plot and keep the storyline believeable -- no small thing when one is writing a three-book family saga.

Does having an outline for your story make it easier to write or make you feel constrained? That is something you need to discover for yourself. The bottom line is to find the method that works best to help you produce the story you want to convey. Continuing with the pie analogy, creating and baking a dessert of quality is very time-consuming and takes a lot of effort. Others may consume it quickly without fully appreciating it, but the end result is usually delicious and you can take pride in the fact that you created it yourself.

Bon App├ętit!

Which kind of writer are you? Do you follow an outline or write whatever comes to you? I'd love to get your feedback!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amsterdam: The Venice of the North

One experience you absolutely must not miss while in The Netherlands is a canal boat tour in Amsterdam. What the red double-decker buses are to London, are the long, flat canal boats to Amsterdam. Once only accessible as entertainment for royalty and visiting VIPs, today the canal boat tour is the number one tourist attraction in the country, welcoming more than three million visitors per year.

If you've never done any kind of tour even similar, you will be amazed by how the boats' able captains skillfully navigate around sharp corners, narrow tunnels, and even manage to miss the many small canoes, boats, and houseboats along the way. It really is the only way to see the tall, skinny canal houses of Holland's most famous city.

Most of the tours last anywhere from 2 - 3 hours and you'll see most of the famous Amsterdam canal houses from the water side including the Anne Frank house. Or, opt for the hop-on-hop-off Canal Bus which stops near some of Amsterdam's most popular museums and attractions.

If you are looking for a romantic dinner with that special someone, forget Paris. You heard me. Nothing beats a romantic dinner on an antique riverboat and is the perfect way to end any vacation in The Netherlands. More information and bookings are available through Amsterdam Jewel Cruises:

Several canal boat tour operators are available for the ultimate Dutch experience:

Amsterdam Boats
Private canal cruises through the Amsterdam canals. Search and find the perfect boat matching your specific needs. Boat company with 6 vessels and agent for another 30 boats in Amsterdam.

Canal Bike
Discover the city and the idyllic canals at your own pace, completely undisturbed by the traffic.

Canal Bus
The Hop on, Hop off cruise is an ideal way of getting around the canals.

Dinner Cruise
Take a cruise along the illuminated canals while indulging in a delicious four-course dinner.

100 highlights cruise
A one-hour cruise takes you through the UNESCO World Heritage canals with all their highlights.

Canal Cruise Amsterdam
With several very beautiful classic canal boats. Offering a large variety of appetizer, lunch, dinner and other entertainment packages.

Cruise with us
Their brand new electrically powered saloon boat 'Soeverein' is the only one in the fleet with a piano on board.

Rederij Lieve (
Amsterdam´s most beautiful saloon boat is available 7 days per week for private tours with gourmet food and wines.

Private Boat Tours
Rental of beautiful intimate saloonboats 'Paradis' and 'Ivresse' for 2 to 12 passengers and the elegant 'Belle Epoque' for up to 28 passengers. Also for lunches and dinners.

Jasmijn Rondvaart
The cosiest canal-cruises in Amsterdam. Jasmijn organises birthday parties, bingo cruises singalong cruises and a lot more.

Sloep Amsterdam (web site in Dutch only)
This company specializes in the rental of open boats, ranging from small self operating boats to the largest open boat in Amsterdam with a kitchen and toilet on board.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise
Captain Jan's famous “Champagne and Roses Cruise”' and “Pre Champagne Dinner Cruise" and are legendary and have been the scene of many a marriage proposal.

Rederij Welvaren
Exclusive cruises with a classic saloonboat, from pubcruise to a deluxe dinner.

Rederij Vlaun
The beautiful antique saloonboat "Old Queen" is the flagship of this company.

Rederij Aemstelland
With two boats, designed for optimal enjoyment of what Amsterdam has to offer.

Boat Amsterdam
Exclusive trips, delicious catering, fun packages in classic canal boats. Both small and large groups. From simple to luxurious dinners and drinks.

Saloon boat Hilda
Silent and environmentally clean luxury cruise on first commercial sight-seeing boat in Amsterdam. From drinks to extravagant dinner cruise.

Blue Boat Company
Apart from the standard one hour cruises, Blueboat hosts an impressive range of waterborne entertainment, like Percussion Cruises and Comedy Theatre.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Junk Mail is Universal

Tuesdays in The Netherlands are Junk Mail day. You know what I mean. It's the day when you come home from a long day at work hoping and praying you can just get the front door open. Mail boxes are few and far between and most people receive their mail through a slot in their front door. Unfortunately, today was no different (see picture of what my front entry looked like this evening - and that is only from one day!)

In The Netherlands, you can opt out of receiving the weekly kilos of advertisements by placing a simple sticker on your front door.  The "NEE - NEE" version means you are saying no to all unaddressed advertising as well as addressed advertising. (Some companies hope to sneakily circumvent this and reach people by addressing their paper spam to "The Resident Of This House."

The other variant of the sticker is "NEE - JA" which means you don't want all the circulars, flyers, and ads but do want the advertising directly addressed to you. After twenty years of residing in Holland I still don't understand the difference!

As a tree-loving Oregonian, what surprises me about all of this is that there is still so much tolerance for printed paper advertisements in a country which claims to be so environmentally-friendly. (There must be at least a small Christmas tree from the Black Forest lying on my doormat this evening). I am convinced that this is all part of a massive conspiracy to keep the printing presses alive after the death of so many newspapers here recently in The Netherlands.

I guess I should really get one of those NEE - NEE stickers to stave off the constant barrage of attacks from the Dutch tree killers, but if I did that, I might just miss out on my favorite spring garden tools sale! If only the NEE - NEE sticker existed virtually to ward off email spam in my inbox *sigh*

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Muiderslot Castle - The Netherlands

Number nine on my top ten list of things to see and do in The Netherlands is Muiderslot Castle, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Located about 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam, the castle is one of the most popular middle-age castles in the country, and several movies and television shows have been filmed on its grounds.

With an honest-to-goodness moat surrounding it, several rooms in the castle have been restored and outfitted to look just as they would have been during the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. If you ever wanted to step back into history to catch a glimpse -- this is the place to do it.

The castle's foundations date back to 1285 -- staggeringly old to an American such as myself -- and has had quite an amazing past. First built by Count Floris V (nicknamed "God of the Peasants") he was considered one of the most important figures of the native Dutch dynasty which lasted from 833-1299. He allied himself closely with King Edward I of England and even encouraged his son to court an English princess. However, when he later transferred his allegiance to Phillip IV of France, noblemen under the influence of Edward took him prisoner and when the common people of Muiden would not allow Floris to be taken away to England, he was executed in his own castle in June of 1296. Many songs, stories and plays were written about his death.

Later in 1609 the castle's most famous occupant came into residence -- P.C. Hooft. Living in the fortress for 38 years, the famous author known as "the Dutch Shakespeare" wrote poems, novels, sonnets, and letters during his time in the castle that remain an important past of Dutch heritage even to this day. As an aspiring author, I can appreciate the source of inspiration the views from the castle windows must have provided towards some of his better works.
Frequently the castle is the site of plays, concerts, and a popular place for weddings. On June 16th, there will be a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night but due to overwhelming demand, all tickets have been sold out.
If you ever find yourself in Holland and would like to see a real slice of life from centuries in the past, make a trip out to Muiderslot -- you'll be glad you did!

More information about Muiderslot Castle including opening times can be found at: