July 15, 2019

Holiday with an Old Friend - Writing Prompt (July 2019)

Monte Carlo, the Principality of Monaco
R Meehan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For this month's writing prompt, we wanted to give you a situation and just have you start free-writing.

Writing Prompt
Write a scene where your character is on holiday, and they run into an old friend. (3-5 pages)

Things you might include:
What your character was planning to do while on holiday?
Where are they staying?
Are they trying to keep the visit a secret from the press?
Who is traveling with them?
What is the history between the two friends?

If you want something more challenging, write the scene 2 ways. The first time have the two friends get along great. The second time have there be some hate or animosity between the two friends.

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June 30, 2019

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot - Book Review (June 2019)

Disclosure: This blog post contains some links to books on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You may have noticed we haven't posted a book review in a few months. SORRY! I could write a whole blog post of excuses. But one of the main reasons is, I got sidetracked after I read this book. I had to read the rest in the series. (I've gotten up to book 6 so far.)

But the good news is our June book review gets my highest recommendation! In honor of my birthday, back in April, I decided to reread one of my absolute favorite books.

This book is one of the reasons I love the royals and why I decided I wanted to be a writer. So, without further ado:

The Princess Diaries 
(Book 1)
By Meg Cabot

The Princess Diaries is the fictional diary of Mia Thermopolis, a high school freshman living in New York City, USA. Mia has plenty of problems in her life. She is failing algebra. She is five foot nine and flat-chested. She is single and the guy she likes bearly notices her. And NOW, out of 2 million men living in Manhattan, her mom has to go on a date with Mr. Gianini, Mia's algebra teacher.

Mia is a relatable 14-year-old. She struggles in school, loves watching tv, hanging with friends, and is bullied by her school's cheerleaders.

Mia just wants to be normal and fit in. But then her dad comes into town and tells Mia, she is a Princess and heir to the throne of Genovia. And Mia's life gets turned upside down.

"I'm so freaked out I can bearly write, plus people keep bumping my elbow, and it's dark in here, but whatever. I have to get this down exactly the way it happened. Otherwise, when I wake up tomorrow I might think it was just a nightmare. 
But it wasn't a nightmare. It was REAL. 
I'm not going to tell anybody, not even Lilly. Lilly would NOT understand. NOBODY would understand. Because nobody I know has ever been in this situation before. Nobody ever went to bed one night as one person and then woke up the next morning to find out that she was something completely different." (pg. 43)
(And yes, there is a Disney movie based on the book. It's a loose adaption. There are a lot of differences, and the book is much better [in my opinion].)

(Note: As always, page numbers reflect the edition I used. They will be different if you are reading a different edition.)

Some Musings on: 
The Princess Diaries

With each month's book review, I share with you some of my musings on the book. What I thought interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring, etc.

Mia, The "Normal" Girl
One thing I always loved about this book series is, Mia Thermopolis is a "normal" girl. She struggles with the problems that almost every teenager faces:
  • School 
  • Self-Esteem 
  • Body Image
  • Bullying
  • Pressure to drink
  • Pressure to be in a relationship and hit certain milestones (e.g. French kiss)
  • Family problems
  • etc.
And the story doesn't start off with a Princess, dealing with princess problems. Rather, it starts with a "normal" teenage girl and her "normal" problems. Mia doesn't find out she is a Princess until over a week after the story begins (pg. 26). And rest of the world doesn't find out about Mia being a princess until two-thirds of the way through the book (pg. 146).

I like to that Cabot waited to bring up the Princess issue. I think Mia being normal is what really resonated with readers and made this such a popular book series. 

One of the scenes that struck me most was a fight between Mia's parents, Helen Thermopolis and Prince Phillipe of Genovia. Mia goes to her room and puts on headphones to drown out the sound of her parents fighting: 
"At this point, I decided it might be best to retire to my room. I put my headphones on so I wouldn't have to listen to them fight. This is a trick I learned from watching kids on made-for-TV movies whose parents are divorcing. 
I lift up my headhones. They're still at it. 
Looks like it's going to be a long night." (pg. 167, 169)
For me, this just seemed like an incredibly human moment. Parents fighting is something almost every child has experienced, especially those who grew up with separated parents. And it has nothing to do with being royal. 

I think as we are writing characters who are royal, we must remember they are also human and will go through the range of human emotions and experiences. Don't be afraid to make your characters imperfect.  

French Language
I really liked the use of foreign language in this book. Mia Thermopolis is an American, living in New York City, and her native language is English. But, Genovia's official language is French. So, most of Mia's conversations with her Grandmére (French for Grandmother) happen in French. 

Flag of Genovia, as depicted in the movie
Blakegripling_ph [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
The French language is a way of incorporating some of the Genovian culture and also creating a distinction between Mia's normal New York life and the Royal Genovian life. 

But what I thought Cabot did particularly well was incorporating the French language while not burdening her reader. This is especially important for a younger audience, as they may not have a lot of patience for translation. 

What Cabot often did was have Mia write the conversation in her diary in English, but then tell us the real-life conversation happened in French. 

"Only it sounded even worse because it was all in French." (pg. 86) 
"Then my grandmother used some pretty strong language. Only since she said it all in French, only my dad and I understood. My mom and Mr. Gianini just stood there. My mom looked mad. Mr. G[ianini] looked nervous." (pg. 209)
Cabot also sprinkled in some French terms, many of which were new to Mia, so Mia defined them for herself (and the reader) in her diary.

Diary Entries 
The book is written on the form of diary entries. Cabot does a great job with this medium. She uses it to give the reader a great first-person narrative. We get to see all of Mia's private inner thoughts and the part of her she doesn't share with the public.

We also get to follow events in the moment. This can create great suspense. We finish one diary entry, it ends in a cliff hanger, and we have to flip the page, to the next entry (that might take place a few hours later) to find out what happened. And while we are in suspense, Mia may also be sharing her own excitement, fear, etc. about what is about to happen. 

But an interesting thing about this medium is, while we are following events moment to moment, most of the diary entries are actually written in the past tense, as Mia is writing about that just happened (in the recent past). It does give Mia some time to reflect and come to some conclusions. 

But it's also funny and interesting when Mia writes about what is happening while she writing the diary entry. It reminds us that we are living in the moment with Mia.

Entry Headers
One thing I noted is, the diary entries don't feature a constant header style. For example:
  • "Thursday, September 23"
  • "Wednesday, September 24, Fifth Period"
  • "Really Late on Friday, Lilly Moscovitz's Bedroom"
  • "Saturday, October 4, Early, Still Lilly's Place"
  • "Saturday, October 11, 9:30 a.m."
  • "Later on Saturday"
  • "Saturday Night, Ladies' Room, Tavern on the Green"
Cabot didn't feel like she needs to be rigid about the header format. The headers are a way of marking a new diary entry, and showing the passage of time and possible change of location. Cabot gives the reader the information they need to understand this entry and where it falls in connection to the previous one.

It also speaks to Mia's character. She is not the type of person who would be rigid about how she labels her diary entries, especially as this is supposed to be her private thoughts.

This is definitely something I will be keeping in mind, as I like to use headers to mark each scene. And I was debating recently about whether I ought to be consistent or not, given that there are some different location changes, but most of my story takes place in the same location.

Maggieab10k at English Wikipedia
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One thing I love about Cabot, as an author, is her use of "multimedia." She does this in a lot of her works.

The Princess Diaries is mainly written in the form of diary entries, but Cabot also includes a lot of other types of things: todo lists, top 10 lists, math notes, poems, etc.

These things may seem like they have nothing to do with the story. But they always relate somehow. Cabot uses it to share information, foreshadow, help to fill a gap of time between story events, etc. For example, when Mia's crush finally really notices her, she is unable to focus on her school work: 

Algebra: ??? Can't remember!!! 
English: ??? Ask Shameeka
World Civ: ??? Ask Lilly. Forgot. Can't ask Lilly. She's not speaking to me.  
G&T: none 
French: ??? 
Biology: ??? 
God, just becuase a boy might like me, I completely lose my head. I disgust myself." 
(pg. 182) 

Varying Lengths
I also like too how the diary entries varied in length. One line/short entry can be a very good way of showing a passage of time, building suspense/frustration, etc. One of my favorite short entries was: 
"Past Midnight, Sunday, October 12 
She still hasn't called."  
(pg. 112)
The diary entry is in some ways totally unnecessary, as Cabot makes it clear from the diary entries before and after that Mia's friend hasn't called. But the entry helps to show that Mia is really preoccupied by the fight she is having with her friend. Mia's not only staying up late, but this is literally the only thing on her mind. 

(It reminds me of the blank pages in Stephenie Meyer's New Moon. Meyer used black pages as a wonderful way of showing that Bella Swan is sort of out of it after Edward Cullen's departure. Meyer is saying there is literally nothing of note in Bella's life during those few months of blank pages.)

Young Adult (YA)
"What genre is this book?" is an important question to ask and think about as you read. Doing so will help you better understand the genre, and the characteristics of it, which is crucial for a writer.

When I was looking for this book, at my local library, I found it in the children's section, not the teen section as I had expected. This was very interesting as I tend to think of the children's section as ending at Middle Grade and the teen section being Young Adult.

So, while I was reading I kept thinking about how I would classify The Princess Diaries. (And I did try to focus only on this book, not the entire series, as the books get more mature as the series continues.)

I decided that The Princess Diaries is a Young Adult novel and really belongs in the teen's section.  I felt like the subject matter, themes, language, writing style, length, etc. all aligned more with the Young Adult genre. (Cabot's website confirms the book is Young Adult.) 

Princess Lessons
If we are looking at this from a royal research point-of-view, The Princess Diaries book series has some great insights on protocol, etiquette, etc. 

Princess Lessons by Meg Cabo
Throughout the series, Mia has princess lessons with her grandmére, Dowager Princess Clarisse Renaldo, every day after school. Grandmére is instructing Mia on a variety of topics. So, there is a lot of great information to pull from.

I would note though that Grandmére is quite old fashioned and traditional, so her princess lessons don't always apply to a younger modern generation. (And there are definitely rules that Grandmére made up to fit her own personal preferences.) So, take everything with a grain of salt. 

And remember the less your novel is based on the real world, the more liberty you have in creating your own rules of protocol and etiquette.

I would also note that the early books in this series don't go into depth with Princess Lessons, as Mia isn't doing any royal duties yet. We start to see Mia's doing real princess duties in book 4, Princess in Waiting (also called Mia Goes Forth
), when she travels to Genovia for her official introduction to the Genovian people. 

There is also a tie-in book, Princess Lessons, that goes into more details about "how to be a princess." But I will note that is more a pre-teen self-help book, aimed at the series's readers, rather than an actual etiquette/protocol guide.  

June 26, 2019

Mad med Respekt (Food with Respect) with recipes by Princess Marie - Book News

Princess Marie of Denmark will write the foreword and contribute recipes to the new charity cookbook, Mad med Respekt (Food with Respect), that will be released later this year. 

The cookbook will focus on eliminating food waste. It does this by teaching the reader how to properly plan meals, purchases ingredients, and how to store and use leftovers. Mad med Respekt will feature 80 delicious recipes that use ingredients commonly found in Danish households. The recipes come from:

Photo Credit: Stop Spild Af Mad
  • HRH Princess Marie of Denmark
  • Selina Juul (Founder of Stop Spild Af Mad)
  • Timm Vladimir (Actor & Chef)
  • Anh Lê (Food Entrepreneur)
  • Francis Cardenau (Chef)
  • Michel Michaud (Chef)
  • Louisa Lorang (Cookbook author)
  • Etc.
Food waste is a serious problem around the world. It is estimated that more than 30% of the world's food production ends up in the trash. This adds up to an annual food waste of 1.3 billion tons, which is enough to feed 3 billion people.

The cookbook is created by The Stop Wasting Food Movement (Stop Spild Af Mad), which is Denmark's largest movement against food waste. Princess Marie has supported the organization for a number of years. This will be their 2nd cookbook. 

Release Date: November 5th, 2019

Language: Danish
Publisher: Gyldendal

** We will update this post when more information is released**

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