Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating Autumn

I love autumn. Love the harvests, the cool evenings, the pumpkins. I usually make an apple pie. One of the few downsides of living in Alaska and Arizona is we don’t get those incredible fall colors. Oh, we get some nice golden aspens, and the mountain ash are lovely and covered with berries. Just not the incredible blend of warm shades I’ve seen in pictures of hardwood forests.

But I’m hoping I’ll get my fix. Next week, we’re visiting my husband’s grandmother in southern Illinois. I'm always amazed by the huge variety of trees there, and if we’re lucky maybe the leaves will have started to turn. I can’t wait to find out.

In the meantime, this is my own spin on a fall display. Mums, because they’re traditional and beautiful. Sweet alyssum, because the lacy honey-scented flowers appeal to my romantic side. And hot peppers, just to spice things up a little.

How are you celebrating Autumn?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Wealthy Dog

Wealth can be a burden. Just ask Roxy. Two weeks ago, I spent a dollar on a new squeaky ball for her. She loved it! In fact, she loved it so much, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

We’d play fetch and it would roll under the bed. Roxy would do her best to lift the bed high enough to crawl under, and when that didn’t work she stood at attention and pointed out where the ball was hiding until one of us would get a yardstick and knock it out. She’d grab the ball the moment it shot out and prance around the room, thrilled that her precious was safe and sound.

It was also great for her favorite game, Hide the Toy in the Blanket. She’d sniff and feel around until she’d located the lump, then pump it with her paws to make it squeak until she’d worked it free.


In between playing sessions, the ball went in the bin with the other toys, but she couldn’t be sure it was safe there. She’d stand next to the basket, staring at it and trying to convince anyone who walked by to throw the ball. Sometimes I’d try throwing one of her other toys, but she was having none of that. Only the squeaky ball was good enough. She’d ask for a play session even before asking for breakfast, and if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Her love for the ball even led her to crime. If we set the ball on a table or shelf after a play session, Roxy would wait until we were out of the room and steal it. We would return to find it nestled under her chin, or in her mouth. She would try not to squeak it, so as not to draw attention, but eventually she would. We’d take it away and put it in the bin, where she would stand and gaze at it.

Finally, the pressure was too much. Roxy gave in to impulse and chewed a hole in the ball, permanently de-squeakafying it. She still carries it around, but now that's it's less valuable, she feels comfortable going outside and leaving the ball in the house. She doesn’t spend her entire day worrying.

I’m torn over whether to replace the ball or not. It’s a great feeling to provide so much joy, but with great wealth comes great responsibility, and I’m just not sure Roxy’s up to the burden. We’ll see.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Thrift Store Decorating Fun

There's something so satisfying about getting a bargain. I think it's a gene I inherited from my grandmother. She once bought a cashmere coat because it was 75% off, only to discover it was too heavy to wear in Texas. The good news is that when I moved to Anchorage, she gave me the coat.

I've been having fun decorating my guest room. The nice thing about a guest room is there was no huge hurry to get it completed, so I was able to take time and poke around for treasures and bargains. It started with this side table I found in an antiques mall. I've always loved the stacked suitcases look, but this one is even better because it has a real drawer and a map theme. Later, I found a matching box and couldn't resist it. 

Then we got the bed, sort of a modern take on mission style, but needed another night stand. I found one on Craig's list, used gel stain to change the color, and decopauged some antique map wrapping paper on top. Did you know Mod-pauge was still around?

Lamps were next. I found the candlestick base at a thrift store for $5, plus another $3 each for two matching shades and $5 for a harp kit to convert it to the right sort of holder for this shade. I found another lamp whose lines I liked, but the formal shape of the shade and gold base didn't work in the room. A little spray paint in a hammered bronze color and switching the shade to match the candlestick lamp made all the difference. I think I spent about $25 for both lamps, all in.

A green comforter set, a wooden bowl, and a cute map picture, and we had a nice, cozy guest room when our daughter came to visit a couple of weeks ago. 

I think my grandmother would be proud. What projects have you been working on? 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Proposal in the Desert Botanical Gardens

It all started with a tweet.

Well, that's not true. It started several years ago, when I first heard about a one-page contest for Harlequin Heartwarming books. I sent in the first page of my current WIP, and it was good enough to move to the second stage: three chapters and a synopsis. That was AFTER THE FIREWEED, which is now up for nomination on Kindle Scout. Turns out the mystery/romance ratio was a little high for Harlequin, but the encouragement I received got me excited about the possibility of writing for Harlequin Heartwarming.

Several rejections later, I felt like I was honing in on what they wanted. My agent was highly encouraging after reading my latest stories. She submitted them to Harlequin. I knew Victoria had my manuscripts, and that's where the tweet comes in. 

When I saw it Friday, my heart started racing. My daughter and mother-in-law were here for the weekend, and I read it aloud, assuring them it probably wasn't me she was talking about. Still, I emailed my agent to let her know we'd be out sightseeing for the next few days, but she could reach me on my cell phone, just in case.

Thank goodness we had guests to keep me distracted or it would have been a really long weekend. Monday morning, my husband and I put his mother on the plane in Phoenix and decided to take the opportunity to tour the Desert Botanical Gardens. We were admiring the prickly pears when the call came through. My knees were shaking, and it wasn't because of the heat.

A two-book deal. Both are set in Anchorage. One takes place in summer, the other at Christmas. 

Now I get to discover what takes place behind the curtain. Editing, cover selection, scheduling, marketing -- I can hardly wait.

I'm so appreciative of all the people who've helped and encouraged me to keep trying. The writing community is made up of some of the most generous people I've ever met. Also, my family never lost faith, even when I did.  

Thank you. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Mystery of Kindle Scout

I’m campaigning, which  I’d have thought was about as likely as me taking the Polar Bear Plunge. Appearing in a swimsuit in public and leaping into ice-water is the stuff of my nightmares. So is putting myself out there, asking strangers and friends to nominate my book. But this is for my baby, AFTER THE FIREWEED, a romance wrapped around a mystery that takes place in my hometown of Anchorage. I love this book, love the characters, and I want to give them their best chance for success. And so, here I am, running a campaign on Kindle Scout.

The campaign goes from September 10th through October 10th, which happens to be my birthday. I didn’t choose the dates, so maybe it’s an omen. Good or bad, I’m not sure. But then, I’m not sure about a lot of things in this campaign.

Amazon set up Kindle Scout to be easy to use, and it is. It was a simple matter to upload the materials, and turnaround time for approval was fast and painless. Now that the campaign is live, I receive daily updates on the number of pageviews and how much time my book spent in “Hot and Trending.”  I’m just not sure what to do with that information.

It appears that in this game, the object is to get the most nominations possible. Except you don’t know how many nominations you’re getting, only pageviews. Since it’s necessary to see the page in order to nominate, I’d assume the more pageviews the better.  And more pageviews must be what propels a book into Hot and Trending which puts it on the front page, where it can garner more attention and get more views. It all makes sense, so far.

But I’m seeing stories about books that were Hot and Trending for most of their campaign and not chosen for publication, and others that didn’t spend much time on the list and were. So Amazon’s decision-making algorithm must include other factors as well. But what, exactly? Ah, a mystery. I do like mysteries.

(Click here to see it on Kindle Scout)
It could be total nominations. Perhaps some Hot and Trending books got many views and few votes. But I doubt it’s that simple. Maybe Amazon looks at the ratio of views to nominations to judge the appeal of the book. Maybe they look at where the votes come from to determine how widespread the writer’s support may be. Or it could be just the opposite; they’re interested in how many people, already browsing the Kindle Scout site, are attracted to that book.  Maybe they’re counting the number of people who clicked on "Show Full Excerpt" and read it.

It’s been suggested Amazon may take into account past sales of other books by the same author. (Bad for me.) Or they might look at the percentage of repeat buyers, who start with one book and end up buying everything the author has written. (Good for me.) Maybe having other books in KDP Select adds extra points. Maybe not.

Or maybe it’s not an algorithm at all. Maybe all this campaign business is just an elimination round. Could it be that once a book has demonstrated a certain threshold of interest, a real live human takes over, reads the book, and decides if it’s likely to generate sales? I don’t know.

So, until the mystery is solved, I guess I’ll keep on campaigning, and hope to earn your vote – er – nomination. Thank you for your support.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Peach Pie: A Summer Classic

I grew up on peach pie. Thanks to the foresight of my grandparents, we had a peach trees that yielded bushels and bushels of juicy, delicious fruit. If you’ve never had a tree-ripened peach, you don’t know what you’re missing. They bear only the slightest resemblance to the peaches you get at the grocery store. 

My mother used to give away grocery sacks full, but there were still plenty left to fill the freezer and use in ice cream and pie. So, in honor of the end of summer, I decided to bake a peach pie, homemade crust and all. I did have to use grocery store peaches. We actually have a peach tree in Arizona that blooms profusely, but thanks to late frosts, we’ve never harvested a peach.  The pie wasn’t quite as good as my mother’s, but maybe that’s just fond memories of childhood. It was still pretty darn good. The recipe is below.

So what are you eating these days? Are you still enjoying summer fruits or have you moved on to pumpkin lattes and apple pie? What's your favorite seasonal dessert?

Summer’s End Peach Pie

(For an easier crust, try Oil Pastry or use pre-made crust)

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening (I like butter-flavored Crisco)
6-8 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour and salt. Add shortening and cut together with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle a tablespoon of water on top, and use the pastry blender to mix with the top layer of flour mixture and scrape aside. Sprinkle another tablespoon of water onto the next layer and mix. Continue until you’ve added six tablespoons, then mix it all together. If pastry doesn’t stick together, add another tablespoon and mix, up to eight tablespoons. The less water you use and the less you work the dough, the more tender and flaky the crust will be.

Divide dough in half and roll out the first half between two sheets of parchment or wax paper. Remove paper and press crust into pie pan without stretching. Add filling. Then roll out the other half of pastry and top pie. Pinch the two crusts together by pressing thumb and forefinger together on one hand and using the thumb of the other hand to form a scalloped edge on the pie. Cut slits in top crust. Bake as directed.

Peach Filling

6-8 peaches
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 ᵒ. Peel and slice peaches. The easiest way to peel peaches is to blanch them by pouring boiling water over them and letting them set for a few minutes to loosen the skin, but it’s not necessary. Put peach slices in a large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix cinnamon, sugar, flour, and salt, then stir into peaches.

Pour peach filling into prepared crust. Top with another crust and seal edges as described. Cut several slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake at 450 ᵒ for ten minutes. Reduce heat to 350 ᵒ and bake for about thirty to thirty-five more minutes until crust is brown and filling bubbles up through crust. If the edges are getting too brown, you can cover them with foil about half-way through cooking. 

Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kindle Scout Campaign

AFTER THE FIREWEED is up for nomination on Kindle Scout. 

It’s a romantic mystery, or maybe a mysterious romance. Anyway, it’s sweet and cozy, and a fun read.  And it takes place in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.

Fireweed is that pink flower on the cover. It blooms in spikes, starting at the bottom and working its way up the stem. Local legend has it that when the blooms reach the top, summer is over. And in this story, summer's end means the heroine has to leave Alaska and go back to her real life.  But if she does, an innocent man be be convicted of murder.

If you’re not familiar with Kindle Scout, it’s a program where readers can read excerpts from books and nominate their favorites. If any of the stories you nominate is selected to be published by Amazon under the Scout program, you’ll get a free advance copy of the e-book. Anyone with an Amazon account can nominate a book, and you can have up to three nominations active at any time. More nominations mean it’s more likely to be chosen for publication.

Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can read Amazon books on your phone, computer, iPad, or tablet by downloading a free Kindle App.

The campaign for AFTER THE FIREWEED will run September 10 through October 10, and I’ll be forever grateful if you check it out. Just click on this link and it will take you to the book on Kindle Scout. Or if you’d rather, paste this into your browser

Thank you!