The Great Library Bake Off 2021

Welcome to the Great Library Bake Off!

Calling all bakers, both novice and experienced, amateur and professional! From Monday, March 22nd through Monday, May 3rd, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in three cake baking adventures: a heart-pounding signature challenge, a chocolatey technical, and a deliciously book-ish showstopper. There are great prizes up for grabs at the end for everyone who bakes, whether yours are Great British Baking successes or Nailed It-style flops.

How It Works

All bakes must be submitted by the final deadline: May 2nd at 11:59PM.

The Details

You can participate in as many or few of the challenges as you like!

Once you complete a challenge, submit your name, the title of your bake, and your photos to: tbirckhead [at] Please submit two photos: one view of the whole item, and one of a slice, to show the inside texture. Photos must be submitted before the next challenge is issued to qualify for star baker.

If you miss the original 2 week window for a challenge, you can still submit your bake before the final deadline for an entry into the prize drawing. You won’t be on the voting sheet for star baker for that challenge, though.

Virtual post-bake discussions will be held at 6:30pm on April 5, April 19, May 3. Instructions for joining the discussion via Zoom or phone will be emailed to all registered participants, so make sure you sign up!

The Prizes

Every challenge you participate in gets you an entry into the final drawing for one of two $25 gift cards to The Happy Cook in Charlottesville. Two bakers who participate in all three challenges will be crowned the champions and receive a beautiful wooden spoon and spatula set engraved with “JMRL Bake Off 2021” on the handle at the end. That’s four possible prizes! All are welcome to participate, whether you live in our service area or not, but prizes must be picked up in person at one of our member libraries.

We can’t wait to see your creations. Happy baking!

Writers Assemble!

NaNo-2017-Participant-Badge (1)The hour is nigh! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins in just two days, and JMRL is here to support you in your writing endeavors. Are you thinking of taking on the 50,000-word challenge, or setting your own November writing goal? Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. That 50k can feel like a lot, but the first 25k is the uphill climb. After that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will be hard, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward the official NaNo 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the real deal starts can be a huge confidence booster. Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an awesome opening scene.

If nothing else, figure out your premise. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death; There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that’ll keep you motivated and inspired throughout November. If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it like a toddler who just learned “why?”. And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Use placeholders to keep up momentum. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible while fast drafting. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @GUY1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Anything that will break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and move on. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any symbol that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards. A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you.

The challenge IS doable. Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any NaNoPrep strategies or tips that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em in the comments! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

For a list of writing resources and related upcoming events at JMRL, see our Writing at JMRL page. See you at the finish line, writers.

Out of This World

smallangryplanetJuly 2nd was World UFO Day, so how about some aliens for your summer reading? Some are literary, some are campy, some are scary, and some are pure fun. This list is a mix of adult, YA, middle grade, and picture books, but don’t limit yourself—adults and older teens would enjoy all of these!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers — For those who love character-driven stories and rich, detailed worldbuilding. Follow Rosemary Harper as she joins the crew of the Wayfarer, an ailing ship with an eccentric and diverse crew that makes a living tunneling wormholes. Winner of many awards and “Best Book of 2016” lists.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex — The inspiration for the absolutely wonderful animated movie Home. 11-year-old Tip goes on a quest to rescue her mother, who was abducted by the Boov, and save the planet from disaster with the help of an alien mechanic friend.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson — Aliens abduct Henry Denton and give him an ultimatum: Push the button, or the world ends. Seems like a simple choice, but Henry has had a rough life and is dealing with a lot: his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, his overworked mother, his boyfriend’s suicide, and his occasional hook-up’s bullying. The end of the world doesn’t seem so bad.

Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis — Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies, but when Omek borrows Yelfred’s spaceship without asking and crashes it, they get in their biggest fight ever. A fun lesson in understanding made-up language via context clues.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin — A literary science fiction classic. A lone human ambassador is sent to a world where the people can change gender at will. The goal is to foster an alliance, but our two cultures have very different beliefs. It’s been optioned for a mini-series a la The Handmaid’s Tale.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi — Retirement-age folks have the option to be made young again in exchange for a short commitment to the Colonial Defense Force. Too bad most people don’t live through their service, because the war is far tougher than anyone back on Earth knows. Great sense of humor in this first book from the now-famous Scalzi.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Stapes — This award-winning adult graphic novel series follows two soldiers from opposite sides of a generations-long war as they become parents for the first time while on the run. Absolutely stunning, hilarious, a personal favorite.

Adaptation by Malinda Lo — All across the nation, flocks of birds hurl themselves at planes. People die, communication breaks down, martial law is declared—and Reese’s car is run off the road, nearly killing her. But when she and her friend wake up in a secret facility in Nevada, a month has passed and they’ve received some experimental treatment that drags them into a government conspiracy. An X-files-esque thriller with a sequel to wrap up the cliffhanger.

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers — When a boy flies a plane all the way up to space and runs out of gas, he encounters a martian whose spaceship has broken down. They’re both scared, but friends can be found in the most unexpected places.