Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A delightful day indeed...



Warning: This blog entry is powered by Vicodin.  Possible spelling, grammatical, and other errors ahead.

Christmas is over.  The presents have been opened and broken already.  As usual, Christmas didn't turn out exactly as I planned.  This year I injured my rotator cuff (muscle around your shoulder).  I'm not sure how I did it, most likely it was from lifting Grace into bed or from her yanking on my arm.  I knew this day was coming, but I didn't think it would get here so fast.  She's now over fifty pounds and only a foot shorter than I am.  She's seven.  Sigh.  (I'm thanking God for Sarah, my oldest daughter.  She has been a GREAT help to me.  I hope everyone has a teenage daughter like her.  She's wonderful!)

Anyway, I spent Christmas Eve at urgent care and most of Christmas day in bed.  Yuck.  Luckily, I was able to watch the kids open their presents and then it was back to bed.  On Friday I have an MRI to find out if the muscle is torn or just swollen.  If it's torn, it might mean surgery.  Needless to say I've crossed my fingers, toes, legs and anything else I can think of that the muscle is just swollen, not torn.  Of course it's my right shoulder and I'm right handed. 

On the bright side, it's not Crohn's related.  Yay!  It's almost a relief to have a "normal" injury. 

Anyway, in a effort to speed the blog posts will be very brief until I'm back to normal.  I'll still be posting, but things will be abbreviated.  Once my shoulder is better and I'm off of the pain meds, I'll start posting about my editing process and give everyone an update on that.  Until then, thanks for hanging in there with me, and I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peanut Butter Candy


My last gift to you is the one that means the most to me.  Every year for Christmas, my mom used to make peanut butter candy.  Christmas was her favorite time of year and she did her best to make it special for us.  Part of that was her peanut butter candy.  I've tweaked her recipe a bit, but it's still just as good as I remember.  More than lights or presents, this makes it feel like Christmas for me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

Peanut Butter Candy

Ingredients

3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons light Karo corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

Prepare

  • Grease an 8x8 pan.  Set aside
  • Combine sugar, brown sugar, salt, milk, and corn syrup in a large pan
  • Stir over medium heat until it boils
  • Cover and let boil for 2-3 minutes (don't stir)
  • Uncover and continue to boil over medium heat (don't stir) until syrup dropped into cold water forms a ball (for me this normally takes 3 minutes or so)
  • Remove from heat
  • Add peanut butter and vanilla
  • Stir until thickened.
  • Spread into greased pan
  • Let cool and cut into squares when firm
Merry Christmas and may the coming year make dreams come true for all of you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Simple White Bread


Sorry the posts aren't as regular.  Four kids at home during the holidays leaves little time for blogging (or anything else!)  But I'm thinking of you and so grateful for all of you.  I wish I could reach through the screen and hug you all. 

Today I'd like to share this recipe for simple white bread.  It's one of the easiest bread recipes I've found, and my kids love it!  They ask me to make it all the time.  (All credit goes to Great Tastes Baking.) 

Simple White Bread

Ingredients

2 1/2 teaspoons instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 2/3 cups white bread flour

  • Sprinkle yeast and sugar over 5 oz warm water.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Leave alone for 10 minutes or until yeast is foamy
  • Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook attachment.  Make a well in the center
  • Add another 5 oz warm water to the yeast mixture
  • Add yeast mixture to the flour (pour it into the well you made)
  • Set mixer to lowest speed and mix for 2 minutes or until dough forms
  • Increase speed to medium and knead dough for 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic
  • Grease a large bowl with oil (I use olive oil) and transfer dough to bowl, turning the dough to coat it in oil
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in size
  • Knock back dough by punching it gently.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.
  • Shape into a rounded oval and transfer to greased baking tray.
  • Cover loosely with a damp cloth and leave for 30 minutes or until doubled in size
  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Use a sharp knife and make three diagonal slashes on top of loaf
  • Bake for 40 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on base
  • Transfer to wire rack to cool completely
  • Serve with butter or olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies


Christmas snuck up on me this year.  With all of the excitement over finding an agent and working on revisions, I fell behind pretty much everything else, including Christmas.  This is Not Good when you have four kids.  Not Good At All.  We just put our tree up this weekend.  (I'm hanging my head in shame.) 

Anyway, yesterday I finally finished my Christmas shopping, and as I was doing so, I was thinking about you, Dear Readers.  I'd love to reach through the blogosphere and deliver presents to each of you, but alas, I can't.  So I thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes this week in the hopes that your family will enjoy them as much as mine does.

Today, I give you the World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies.  These cookies are fantastic, every time I make them, I get requests for the recipe.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper
  • Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside
  • In medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown and white sugars until well blended.
  • Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy.
  • Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until just blended.
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Chill the dough (I normally pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes).
  • Use a cookie scoop to drop out dough onto the prepared sheets--space cookies about 2 inches apart.
  • Bake for 15-17 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.  (I set a timer for 7 1/2 minutes then rotate the cookie sheets so that they cook evenly.)
  • Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Enjoy and Happy Holidays! 


Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Friday


My wish for you: that you wake up and find your dreams have become your purpose.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All I want for Christmas



One of the things I dream about is having a room of my own, a space that's just mine.  A space where I can spread out my papers and line the walls with books.  Preferably, a room with a window overlooking the garden.  Or better yet, an entire studio in the middle of a garden.  One where I can't hear the kids when they stand in the middle of the house screaming, "Mommy!  I need a pink crayon!  Where are the pink crayons?" 

Right now, I work anywhere I find the space--often at the kitchen table or propped up in bed.  It works, but I'd love to have somewhere I can leave my stuff without being afraid that the kids will use my novel for coloring sheets. 

Since Christmas is coming up, I've decided that this is what I'll ask for.  Specifically, Santa, I'd like to request a replica of the cottage above (and the garden to go with it!)  Please, Santa, I've spent enough years writing in the toy room next to a Thomas the Train table.  I'd like a grown up space now. 

Thanks.  I'll leave out some extra cookies this year!
   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing retreat



Today I want to talk about writing retreats.  I'm in the process of revising my novel and in desperate need of A Room of My Own.  Since this is difficult to come by in a house with four kids, two dogs, two cats, an assortment of fish and frogs, and one husband, this weekend I checked into a hotel to find that quiet space where my mind could wander. 

I grabbed my novel and left the house on Friday afternoon, not returning until Sunday afternoon.  (Let me pause here to say, Yes, I have a Very Supportive Spouse.  If you are a writer, you must get yourself one these.) 

I have been writing for a long time.  I was not under the illusion that I would be sipping wine, Thinking Great Thoughts, surprising myself with my brilliance.  No.  This would be work.  I brought my laptop, a hard copy of my manuscipt, and my iPad (I'm thinking of having it surgically attached to my body). 

I set a goal for the number of chapters I wanted to get through, and as soon as I checked in, I got to work.  Dear reader, I thought I was prepared.  I write every day at home.  Every.  Single.  Day.  But I've never spent a weekend immersed in my work. 

It was invaluable. 

It was exhausting. 

I got home and wanted to crawl into bed.  It probably didn't help that I ate like an 18 year old college student--caffeine and carbs--all weekend, but diet aside, I did not expect to come home utterly worn out. 

And yet, what else should I expect?  I'm creating this world.  Everything in it comes from somewhere in me.  Shouldn't the act of creation be exhausting?  Isn't bringing something new into the world worth the effort? 

It is for me.  Coming home exhausted means I poured myself into my work, and as a writer, isn't that the point?  Isn't it about finding your own voice and putting it out there?  That's not easy.  


This weekend, I got through a large amount of text, and I was able to think through some issues I was having with the book.  I feel like I have a handle on this stage of the rewrite.  That will probably change later, but for now I'm feeling good. 

And tired.  I'm also feeling tired.



Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inquiring minds want to know


I've been getting a lot of questions since signing with my agent.  Much of the information I used during my agent search (and before that, while I was writing my book) came from blogs like this one.  So, with the hope of helping my fellow writers along their path, I thought I'd answer some of the more frequent questions I've been getting.  If you have a question I haven't answered here, feel free to ask it in the comments section.  I'll do my best to answer.

Did you have an "in" with your agent?/Do you know anyone in publishing?

Nope.  I'm a slush pile success story.  I didn't know anyone in the industry.  I did exactly what agents tell you to do.  I researched agents and sent out queries.  Then I bit my fingersnails to the quick and tried not to check my email every five minutes. 

How did you decide which agents to query?

I read a lot.  If I read a book that was similar to mine, I found out who the agent was then added them to my list.  After that, I checked the agent's website to make sure they were still interested in my type of book.  I specifically looked for agents who were interested in quirky, off-beat characters and magical realism. 

I also subscribed to Publishers Marketplace, which is a great resource.  It's $20 a month but you can research agents and the deals they're making.  You can sign up for a month, do your research, then cancel your subscription. 

Plus, I spent a lot of time on querytracker.net.  It's a great way to organize the agents you are interested in.  I also checked the forums on Absolute Write, so much information is available on that site.  Everything from query letter critiques to information about agents and agencies. 

Finally, I read interviews the agents gave.  Two blogs were especially helpful to me there:  Mother.  Write.  (Repeat.) (she has interviews with several agents) and Literary Rambles (they spotlight agents who represent children's books, but a lot of agents rep both children's and adult literature.)

As you can see, I put a lot of effort into figuring out which agents would be a good fit for my book.  Using a scattershot approach wastes you're time and the agent's.  Why query someone if they don't represent the type of books you write? 

Now this wasn't something I did overnight.  I started researching in the spring, months before I began querying.  My thought was to spend a bit of time here and there to create my list, then when I was finished editing/revising my novel, I'd be ready to query. 

How many agents did you query?

I sent out 16 letters. 

How long did you spend querying?

I sent out my first query on 10/31/11.  Dan Lazar offered to represent me on 11/29/11.  This is not typical.  Don't get discouraged if it takes longer.  Keep going.  You will get there.

Did you have a system? 

Sort of.  Months before I began querying, I made a spreadsheet and divided it into columns: Dream Agents, then agents A, B, and C.  (Keep in mind that I only queried agents I would have been thrilled to work with.  Everyone on my list was fantastic and often it was hard to seperate the agents into categories.  Most of the time it was based on which books they already represented.) 

When I started sending out my letters, I chose agents from each column on the list.  I sent out roughly 4 letters a week.  (I didn't query all of the agents on my list right away just in case my query letter wasn't good enough.  I wanted to make sure I could rework it if needed.)

What is something you wish you had known before you began querying?

This is going to sound weird, but I wish I had known how truly nice everyone was going to be.  It would have been a little less stressful for me.  As a writer, you spend so much time researching what agents want, trying to make sure that you get everything just right, that it's easy to forget agents are people too.  More than that, they're fellow bibliophiles.  And let's face it, we book people tend to be pretty nice (at least to our own kind!) 

Since this has ended up being a very long post, I'll end here.  I was planning on talking about query letters, but I'll save that for another day--probably some time next week.  I hope this helps those of you on the agent quest!  Good luck to everyone, the world needs your books!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This is my new motto

As you know, I'm diving back into revisions.  It's a wonderfully scary thing.  Wonderful for all the obvious reasons.  Scary because I don't want to mess it up!  Not the book.  The opportunity.  So I've decided that whenever I get worried, I'll repeat my new motto:

(In case you're wondering, I'm saying it now.  Don't tell anyone.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

For the Moms (and Dads) Out There



The day I signed with my agent was absolutely one of the best days of my life.  You see, like many of you, I've loved books since I was a little girl.  Some of my best childhood memories involve curling up with a book, long after I should have been asleep.  I'm a writer, but the idea that someone can create a world out of nothing but words still awes me. 

We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up.  Our house was falling down around us.  Half of the shingles on the roof were gone, and when it rained, water poured down the walls.  Not a trickle or a few drops.  A stream of water running down our walls, making puddles on the floor.  In winter, the thermostat was set at 55 because we couldn't pay the electric bill.  I spent many days covered in blankets, sitting on the floor register, trying to get warm. 

The one thing we did have, the one thing my mom made sure we had, were books.  Lot's of them.  Books from the library.  Books of our own.  Our falling-down-house was filled with books.  Not only that, but from the time I was a baby, to the time I was reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. my mom read to us.  She read to us at night before we went to bed.  She read to us at lunch.  My brother and I ate.  She didn't so that she could read to us. 

Not only that, she made up stories that we starred in.  Many nights my brother and I fought with the rebellion against Darth Vader and the Emperor.  Or we sailed the seas with Prince Caspian and the Dawn Treader. 

My mother not only gave me life, she gave me dreams for my life.  One of which came true last week.  It was bittersweet because my mother, the reason I'm a reader and a writer, died three years ago and is not here to share this with me.  And yet, in a way she is.  If she hadn't shared her love of reading with me, I would never have written a book.  I would never have signed with an agent. 

This part of her is always with me.  One of the last conversations I had with her was about a book we had both read--Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  She had loaned it to me, and I had just finished reading it.  (Beautiful book by the way.)   I have a closet-full of books we've read together.  Books we talked about.  Books we planned to share, but never got the chance.  So you see, she is still here.  In the dreams she gave me.  In the love of books she planted deep in my heart when I was too young to see that she wasn't just sharing a story with me; she was sharing a dream. 

This is what I hope to do for my children.  This is what my mother did for me.   

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's official!!!


I have an agent!  I just signed the contract, so now I am represented by Daniel Lazar of Writers House!  I'm still stunned.  I only started querying on Halloween.  I expected to spend at least six months looking for an agent (and that was being optimistic.)  Never in a million years did I expect to sign with such a fantastic agent in such a short amount of time. 

So, here's how it all went down.  I queried Daniel on 11/9/11.  He requested the full manuscript the same day.  His wasn't the first request I received, but I was nervous anyway.  If you're a writer, you understand.  Every time I sent something out to an agent it felt like turning my skin inside out.  Scary.  Very Scary. 

Still, life goes on, especially when you have four kids.  I went about my day.  I refrained from checking my email every two minutes--showing great restraint, I only checked it every five minutes--and tried to forget (HA! as if that was possible) that an agent might be reading my book right this very second!!! 

Fast forward to this Tuesday (11/29/11).  I got an email from Daniel asking if I had time to talk to him on the phone some time that day.  Um, yeah.  I had time.  I spent the day walking in circles with both my cell phone and my home phone tucked into my pockets.  I tried not to get too excited (didn't work).  He might be calling to ask me to revise the novel and resubmit it.  He might be calling to say he read it, but didn't love it.  Or...he might be calling to offer to represent me. 

Finally, at 4:30, the phone rang.  Three of the kids were home.  Attempting to appear professional, I bribed them into silence and ran into the other room.  

It was The Call.  He offered to represent me.  I was stunned.  He said he liked several things about the book, but that there were also several things that needed to be changed.  If I accepted the offer, big rewrites would be involved.  I suspected this because the entire time he had the manuscript he would periodically email me with his thoughts on edits the book needed. 

If you're a writer, you know what a great kindness this is.  You know how it feels to wonder what's going on with the manuscript you submitted.  Agents are busy people.  They don't have to update you.  You're not their client.  They have no obligation to you.  Taking the time to do this was one of the (many) things that impressed me about Dan. 

The other thing (okay--besides the fact that he's a Rock Star of an agent!) that impressed me were his suggestions about the book.  The things he thought needed to change were not small things, but they were the right things.  If I accepted his offer, I would work with an independent editor to revise the manuscript before he submits it to publishers. 

All of this was going through my mind during our phone conversation.  (Well, that and trying not to embarrass myself too much!)  Another agent had my manuscript so I didn't accept his offer right away.  I notified the other agent and waited to hear from her before making my decision. 

Obviously, you know the outcome.  I'm thrilled to say that I am now represented by Daniel Lazar.  I have a lot of work ahead of me, but the thing that's so exciting is that I'm working with people (I just got off the phone with my editor and she is Fantastic!  Really, I love her already!) that get what I'm trying to do with the story. 

So what's next?  Well, I dive into the revision process.  Again.  And I'm excited to do so!  After that, we try to find a publisher which is a whole different process!