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!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Everyday Miracles

Lately, I've been thinking about miracles. Not the big ones, like a building collapsing around someone, but a beam falls in such a way that they're somehow protected. Not even the medium ones, like the odds of my future husband's college roommate happening to be a friend of my college roommate. I've been thinking about the ordinary miracles we see everyday, if we take the time to notice.

Like the beautiful berries on the mountain ash trees in Anchorage this year. A warm summer coupled with lots of rain in August mean lots of berries for the cedar waxwings to feast on this winter.

Or there's this view of the Little Su during a sunny break on an August day. Every year, salmon hatch here, and eventually make their way to the ocean. They'll spend their lives there, but eventually something sends them home, where they'll fight their way up this river in order to lay and fertilize eggs, and the cycle starts again. Isn't that amazing?

On the flight from Anchorage to Phoenix, I snapped this photo of a glacier. Just like salmon, the snow falls and accumulates on the mountains and compressing into rivers of ice, which ever so slowly run down the mountains to the sea. And like the salmon, the water in the ocean evaporates, forms clouds, and eventually drops in the form of snow to start the process again. 

Zucchini are another miracle. If you've ever grown a healthy zucchini, you know it produces more fruit than anyone could eat. Of course, if you neglect it, the zucchini grow big, and eventually get woody. In this case, woody enough to create a zucchini sculpture. I'm calling it a swan, although my husband says it's a penguin. What do you think?

And of course when we talk of miracles, there's my favorite little miracle of all. Hummingbirds. I love the sound they make as they buzz past on their way to the feeder. How can any bird move their wings fast enough to hover? And those tiny little wings are strong enough to migrate, too. 

What everyday miracles are happening in your life right now? I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Reindeer Farm

When you're at home, do you visit the local tourist attractions or does everyday life get in the way? I never seem to get around to enjoying all the things people come all the way to Alaska to see, but I'm trying to do better. Which is part of the reason why, after living in Anchorage for twenty-five years, I finally made a visit to the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, in the shadow of Pioneer Peak. The other reason is that I'm writing a Christmas story set at an Alaska reindeer farm, and I wanted to get a firsthand impression.

Yes, that's a buffalo in the photo. There are more than just reindeer at the farm. Dolly, a plains bison, has lived her whole life there with reindeer, and probably doesn't even know she's a bison. She was born late and only grew to half the size of a normal bison, but she's had a good life on the farm.

When we arrived, we were greeted by this lovely fellow who gave us a sniff and went back to chasing sunbeams. While we waited for our tour, we were allowed to wander over and meet a few of the other residents of the farm, including an exceedingly friendly pig who loved petting, some rather exotic-looking hens, and quite possibly the cutest animal of all time - a one-and a half month old reindeer calf. She was a surprise, born three months after all the other calves to a mother who hadn't breed during the regular rutting season, but somehow caught up later. These photos don't do her justice.

Once our guide arrived, we got to the fun part, feeding the four-month old reindeer calves alfalfa pellets. That big guy on the left is the babysitter, in the pen with the calves to teach them how to behave. Letting the tourists feed the calves is not only entertaining for the us, but helps teach the young reindeer to be comfortable around people as part of their training so that someday, they'll learn to pull sleighs. 

You may have noticed that the calves are already growing antlers. They're still in the velvet stage now. Reindeer are unusual in that both males and females grow antlers. The bulls shed theirs after the rut in the fall. The cows keep theirs until spring. That may be a clue about the sex of Santa's reindeer. Here I am holding one of the antlers after it's been shed and dried. It's heavy! It must take a huge amount of energy to lug these around. I'll bet when they shed them, the reindeer feel like they can fly. 

Reindeer, like caribou, seem to grow antlers in erratic patterns. Look at this guy. One goes straight up, but the other has a little dip, and the front parts don't match either. I saw another with a horn that dipped low over her eye, Veronica Lake style. I say like caribou, but actually reindeer and caribou are the same species. Reindeer are simply the domesticated version of caribou. We have lots of wild caribou in Alaska, but they're further north, starting around Denali National Park. These reindeer descend from European reindeer imported to Canada more than a century ago.  They're smaller than Alaskan caribou.  
Speaking of antlers, the farm also has a resident herd of elk. Unlike reindeer, the cow elk have no antlers, but the ones on this bull are magnificent, don't you think? 
It was a beautiful day to be out and about in Palmer, and if you're ever this way and would like the chance to pet a reindeer, I'd highly recommend a visit to the reindeer farm. 
So how about you? What local attractions have you been meaning to visit and haven't? Or is it just me?

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Ah, the dog days of summer. 

Time to chill out,

take it easy,  

and enjoy the season while it lasts.

Hope your summer (or winter if you're Down Under) 
has been spectacular.