Monday, December 29, 2014

Resolutions to make 2015 a Happier Year

A new year is upon us, the traditional time for New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve been around long enough to have made a lot of resolutions, with mixed results. So instead of resolving to lose weight or get rid of clutter (because they've worked so well in the past) I've decided to focus on three resolutions that will make me a happier person.

I do have specific professional and personal goals in mind for 2015, but while I’m working on those, I resolve …

1) To put my head down and bull through the work that needs doing, but remember to pop up often to touch base with the people in my life.

2) To take time to notice the beauty in nature, big and small.

3) To share my abundance and give thanks for the sun, the rain, and the wind ...

and most of all, for love and laughter.

 Happy 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas

Christmas is almost here, and I'm almost ready. I've been wrapping the last few gifts and baking cookies, and more cookies, for all the neighbors on our cul-de sac. Raspberry thumbprints, chocolate jam bars, oatmeal Florentines, lemon spritz, and chocolate dipped cranberry slices, plus a few dried fruit/almond chocolate clusters for my gluten free neighbor. Now they're all packed in bags and ready to deliver tomorrow. 

The tree is up. Because of a trip in early December, we were late shopping for a tree, and the one we ended up with shed a lot of needles and looks a little skimpy around the bottom, but it smells wonderful. Besides, it's not the tree but the memories that make the magic. 

So I'm going to take a moment to sit and drink a cup of tea ... 

and admire the tree. 

So many ornaments with so many memories...
The one my husband's grandmother embroidered when our son was born ...
The souvenir ornaments collected on trips  ...
The ones the kids picked out or made over the years ...
And of course, the reason for the celebration.

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas with lots of good memories, and a wonderful 2015!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Boys Will Be Boys

The sign says:



Young Bull Bison at Caprock Canyon State Park, Texas

So, how do we explain this?

Bull Moose at Windsong Neighborhood Park, Anchorage Alaska


                Or this?

Ah, the things we do for love. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Moral of the Story

I grew up on fairy tales and fables. I loved those stories, of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the Lion and the Mouse, the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs. But I have to wonder about exactly what some of them were trying to teach.

Everyone knows the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  In the race, the hare takes off and leaves the tortoise in the dust. The hare gets so far ahead, he decides to show off my taking a nap just before the finish line. In the meantime, the tortoise plods along and manages to slip over the line before the hare realizes what’s happened. The moral is supposed to be “slow and steady win the race” but it seems to me the real moral is “don’t get cocky.”

Then there’s the Princess and the Pea. In this story, a girl shows up on the castle doorstep in a foreign kingdom, claiming to be a princess, and catches the prince’s eye. To test her, the queen puts her in a bed with seven mattresses stacked atop one another, but with a pea hidden beneath the lowest mattress. In the morning, the queen asks how she slept. The princess replies that she didn’t sleep a wink, because something poked her through the bed. Ta da, proof she’s a real princess, and the queen gives her blessing for the prince to marry her.

So what lesson do we take away? That truly high-class people are spoiled rotten? That royalty should feel free to impose on others' hospitality and then complain about it? That the queen hated her son and wanted to punish him by sticking him with a whiny wife?

I happen to have my own undercover princess. Roxy certainly doesn't look like a princess, and she’s as tough as an overcooked steak. She once tangled with a porcupine and then ran two miles back to the car for a trip to the vet with nary a whimper. And yet, every chance she gets, she sleeps on pillows. Not just one, but as many pillows as she can scrape together in a pile whenever our backs are turned. So in spite of the fact that she has no pedigree, no history, and no certain breed, I’m pretty sure she’s actually a lost princess in disguise. But at least she doesn’t whine about it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Visit to Tonto Natural Bridge

 On a recent road trip, we stopped by Tonto Natural Bridge. It's hidden deep in a canyon in central Arizona. That's it on the right. It doesn't look too impressive until you realize that those little dots deep inside the arch are people. This shot was taken from an overlook maybe 200 feet above the creek.

The travertine wall formed as a constant spring deposits calcium carbonate onto the trees and roots that grow there, encasing them in rock. It grew until it formed a dam in the creek, but the constant wear of the creek eventually wore a hole through the wall and created the bridge. 

It's still growing. The little spring continues to deposit minerals and drip over the bridge, while down below, Pine Creek keeps flowing. Calcium carbonate is the same stuff that makes white spots on your bathroom fixtures and plugs your pipes, but here, it's creating a miracle.

And it's not the only natural wonder in the canyon. The spring dripping down a canyon wall has created a fern grotto on the edge of a cliff. On the day we were there, icicles hung between the ferns. Up above, prickly pear clung to the rocks. It's an odd mix, but so beautiful.

I think there is a lesson here, maybe two. One is perseverance, to keep on plugging, keep on doing what you were born to do. A drip at a time can eventually build a bridge. The other is that  the odd juxtaposition of ordinary things can create something extraordinary. Each person's life is made up of various experiences, and you are the only person with that particular collection. You are unique. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

For the Joy of It

Image courtesy of NPS
It’s windy today. Driving through downtown, I saw a dozen ravens surfing in the air above the buildings. I see them often, hanging out near bluffs or large buildings, playing in the surf of the wind. They’re not nesting, or feeding, or protecting their territories. They’re just playing in the wind for the sheer joy of it.

Joy.  That’s really what it’s all about. I’m thankful for the big things in my life: for health and family, a loving husband, a comfortable home. But life is made up of moments, and it’s the moments of joy that make life the celebration it is.

You’ve seen it. It’s the way a baby’s face lights up when he spots his mother. It’s in the way certain soccer players manipulate the ball, reveling in their athleticism.  It’s the perfect focus of a Labrador on the ball in your hand, waiting for the throw.  

It’s the squeal of a child on a swing, pumping higher and higher until she almost flies. It’s that first taste of a perfect piece of apple pie, of sweetness and spice wrapped in a flaky crust. It’s the satisfaction an author feels when a reader says a story touched her heart.

There are sad and serious things happening in the world and our lives. Always, people are suffering in ways big and small, and we can’t ignore that. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take the time to experience the joy.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the little flashes of joy that happen all day, and for the ability to notice them. May you and yours have a joyful Thanksgiving and a joyful life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting Ready

I wrapped my first Christmas present today, and I've already baked and frozen three kinds of cookies. I know, I know. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I’m rushing the holiday, yadda, yadda, yadda. I sometimes say the same, but secretly inside, I’m a little kid who just can’t wait for Christmas.
So are some of the characters in my books. In Family Planning (which is on sale through Dec. 7th), Donna has met the man of her dreams and moved to Flagstaff to start anew, only life gets in the way. The story starts and ends at Christmas. Here’s a little excerpt.

“Christmas cookies?” Blake looked at her suspiciously. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
“One of whom?”
 “One of those Christmas people.”
Donna started a pot of decaffeinated coffee. “You mean those annoying people who bake cookies and decorate everything in sight and wear ugly Christmas sweaters and go around singing carols for the whole month of December?”
“Yes, those people.”
“I’m afraid so. My name is Donna and I’m a Christmas person.”
He nodded solemnly. “I thought so. I saw the signs.”
Donna laughed and opened the tin of Christmas cookies. “Is this going to be a problem for you?”
Blake reached into the tin. “Actually, I’m a closet Christmas person myself. I don’t actually bake cookies or wear Christmas sweaters but I’m always available for taste testing and I have been known to cut a tree.”

So Grinch about rushing the season if you must, but know that once Thanksgiving is past, my house will smell like Christmas cookies, fir needles, and vanilla candles. Hope yours is filled with all the scents you love, too. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I Love Autumn

Ten Things I Love about Autumn

      1. Warm shades of red, gold, and brown
      2. Frosty mornings and crisp sunny days
      3. Baked apples
      4. More gourds than I know what to do with
      5. Cuddly mornings under the quilt
      6. The scent of wood smoke
      7. Plans for Thanksgiving
      8. Bringing nature inside
      9. Vees of geese flying over
      10. Hints that Christmas is coming

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bonding over a Bad Recipe

Halloween is behind us and November is here, which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. For the first time in a very long time, neither of my kids will be with us. Instead, we plan to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s mother.

This takes me back to my first Thanksgiving with his family. We were in college and hadn’t been dating long. I was just starting to get to know his family and working hard to convince them I was good girlfriend material. His mother set a beautiful table and the food was wonderful.

The next day, she suggested we try a recipe she'd cut from the newspaper for Turkey Frame Soup. We spent a good part of the day preparing the bones, chopping vegetables, and rolling out and cutting homemade noodles. When dinnertime came, we gathered the family together and served the soup. It tasted like dishwater.

Everyone ate quietly, too polite to comment. Finally my future husband turned to me and said, “Thank you for making this for me. Please don’t ever make it again.”

My mother-in-law and I had many later successes in cooking collaboration, especially that year their apricot tree produced a bumper crop. The pie we made was prizeworthy. I’m not sure why the Turkey Frame Soup was so bad. I make soup all the time now, and it’s not hard. In fact, my husband begs for my chicken soup made from the remains of a rotisserie chicken. And yet my mother-in-law and I still reminisce about that awful soup. Somehow the failure created a bond.

I don’t have the Turkey Frame Soup recipe (not that you’d want it) but here’s my recipe for Chicken Barley Soup. It takes a while, but it’s easy and the aroma is wonderful. The chilies aren’t spicy; they add a rich flavor to the broth. As you can see, measurements aren’t exact.  It can be doubled or tripled for a turkey carcass. Rice can replace the barley, but I prefer the nutty texture of barley.

Chicken Barley Soup

To make the broth:
1 cooked chicken carcass after the good stuff (breast, thighs, drumsticks) has been picked off
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
A handful of celery leaves
Half a carrot
Half an onion

Using your fingers, remove all meat that comes off easily (backs, ribs, the meaty part of the wings). Reserve. Put the bones with whatever meat is clinging to them in a stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with water. If you have a neck, throw it in. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low simmer, cover, and ignore for a couple of hours.  When the bones are falling apart, remove from heat and let cool for thirty minutes or more.

Set up a strainer or colander over a bowl. You’re after the broth, not the solids. Pour the soup through the strainer and discard the bones and vegetables. At this point you can refrigerate the broth and make soup the next day if desired.

To make the soup: 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stocks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced thin
¼ head cabbage, roughly chopped
Reserved broth
1 4 oz. can chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (or ¼ each basil, thyme, marjoram, rosemary)
½ teaspoon sage or poultry seasoning
2/3 cup pearl barley
Reserved chicken, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in stockpot. Saute onion and celery on medium heat until onion is just starting to brown. Add carrots and cabbage and saute for a minute more. Add broth, chilies with liquid, seasonings, and barley. Cover pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour. Taste and check barley for doneness. Add salt and pepper as needed. When barley is done, add reserved chicken and heat for 10 minutes.  Serve hot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Laidback Writer

KangaOn the  100 Acre Personality Quiz I discovered I'm a Kanga. It's not far from the truth, except that kids don't know not to misbehave around me. Just the opposite, really. I say, "Everyone gather around me here at the table," and three-fourths of the children ignore me. Where do you get one of those "I mean it" voices that successful teachers and coaches use? 

It was the same with horses. I spent my childhood dreaming of owning a horse someday. Rather than an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary horse, Jerina. White, graceful, with the delicate face of an Arabian, the two of us galloped effortlessly across the farm. My parents finally got me a real horse when I was fourteen, and I discovered I have little talent for riding. I took good care of Lady and she was fond of me, but many of our rides turned out to be long arguments about where and how fast we should be going. She felt her opinion was at least as valid as mine. When my cousin or anyone who knew horses rode her, she was a different animal: obedient, smooth, predictable. Just not with me.

Maybe that's why I enjoy writing so much. The characters in my stories sometimes surprise me, heading off in directions I didn't anticipate, but I have the ultimate power to let them roam or call them back. In the end, everyone behaves, or misbehaves, just as they are supposed to. I've always been a live and let live sort of person. I don't like being bossed around, and I don't try to boss others. I live a lot of my life inside my head, and maybe that's why. In there, I'm (more or less) in control. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living History and Family Treasures

We just returned from a visit to various relatives, including my husband’s grandmother, an amazing woman.  She thinks she was born in 1917, although there is some doubt because she was born at home and her parents didn’t get a birth certificate until a few years later.  Officially, though, she’s ninety-seven, living in an apartment of her own in a senior facility, and doing her own cooking and housekeeping. She still has sharp hearing, a sharp mind, and judging from her geraniums, a green thumb. I want to be her when I grow up.

We did a little sightseeing on the trip. We saw Cave-in Rock, a notorious hideout for bandits including the James gang, and some beautiful cemeteries, and lots of corn. But mostly, we chatted. My husband’s grandmother is a walking history book. She was there during the depression, WWII, the moon landing, and everything since, working hard and raising a family. She grew up on a farm, married a farmer, and then after her husband died, went to work as a hospital aid. It was never an easy life, but she’s not the type to complain. "We didn't have much, but we grew vegetables and had chickens, so we always had enough to eat." 

The town where she lives celebrates a fall festival called Corn Days, but she mentioned Rooster Day, when someone threw a rooster from the upstairs window of an office building and people tried to catch it. We were able to find a record of Rooster Day on the internet, to her great satisfaction. “See, I didn’t make it up.” It took place in the thirties. Kiwanis promoted the day, encouraging farmers to bring their roosters to sell in town, and she remembers.

She's seen so much, stored up such wisdom, it's a shame that she won't always be there to share her experiences. I love to include characters like her in my books. They've been through all the stages of life and recognize BS and melodrama, although they're usually too polite to say so directly. The curiosity of children, energy of youth, balance of middle-age, and wisdom of elders: all add richness and depth to a story, and to life. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gourds, Deer, and Expectations

Our Grand Garden Experiment had an unexpected ending. In late May, my husband and I decided to plant a few vegetables in our garden in Arizona even though we were spending the summer in Alaska. We mulched the garden carefully and set automatic irrigation to provide water. The idea was to come back to okra, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and gourds.

The local deer population had other ideas. They found the tender shoots too yummy to resist. No pumpkin, no sunflowers, no okra, no peppers. They left enough of two Better Boy tomato plants that they regrew and bore fruit, but they’re not ripe yet. It will be a race to see if they ripen before frost.

And they left the gourds. Boy did they leave the gourds. I only planted two hills of three seeds each, but the gourds have taken over the entire garden terrace, crawled up and down the steps to the next levels, and even climbed a tree. We have green and yellow striped gourds, green gourds that look as if they were dipped halfway into yellow paint, and white egg-shaped gourds.

I’ve never grown gourds before, but according to my research, once they’re mature I just have to dry them and then wax or shellac the skins, and I’ll have gourds for decoration and possibly birdhouses. Or maracas. I could start a rhythm band. Too bad gourds aren't edible.

So I spent about five minutes being angry at the deer, and then I saw a doe bedded down in the lot next to our house. Look at that face. Who can stay mad?  It was a privilege to provide a snack to such a beautiful creature. But did she have to eat the grapevine too?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time Traveling the Pages

My taste in books leans toward contemporary, or at least stories set in my lifetime, but lately I've been living in the past. Three of my favorite reads in the last few months were historical novels. The Yankee Club is set in New York City during the depression. It features Jake, a detective turned writer, and Laura, an actress, who grew up together in Queens. I Am Livia let me into the life of a powerful woman in Rome during the ascention of Caesar August. An Orphan's Tale takes place in Paris in 1834 and introduced me to all levels of society, from a street urchin to nobility. Three stories, all different, and yet each let me into the lives of fascinating people in other times and places. 

For my reviews and links to these and other books I've enjoyed, check out the Book Reviews Tab. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Funny Side of Life

I’ve long ago decided the only way to keep sane is to find the humor in life. I think an individual’s sense of humor is as unique as his fingerprints. My husband likes to play with words, puns, and double meanings. My son’s wit is more biting, especially when he spots pretension or lapses in logic. My daughter has a gentle humor, but with an eye for the ridiculous. Even the dog has a sense of humor.

“Don’t ever let me catch you on that bed.” Roxy must have taken that to heart, because I’ve never caught her. Yet every single day, the covers are ruffled, and sometimes I even find a dog toy hidden under my pillow. Keep in mind that I work from home. She’s obviously slipping into the bedroom while I’m occupied in the study. Apparently, the joke never gets old.

I’m thankful to be surrounded by people (and dogs) that don’t take themselves too seriously. I hope the characters in my books reflect this. Because, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice that life is funny.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tastes like Summer

I got a lovely surprise today. My neighbor, who has a set of terraced gardens in her front yard, called and said she was going out of town for the weekend. Could I do her a favor? Pick (and eat) all the strawberries growing there so they don’t go to waste.

Yes, she actually made it sound like I was doing her a favor. These aren’t the plum-sized giant berries I’ve been finding in the store lately. These are concentrated, extra-strength berries, each thimble-sized berry containing the flavor equivalent of a large commercial fruit. The fragrance alone is worth the effort.

I picked a big bowl full and now we get to eat them. Strawberries and cream. Berries in our cereal for breakfast. Maybe a fresh strawberry tart with a cream cheese filling. Rhubarb from my backyard with strawberries in a pie. I’m drooling.

Tonight we celebrate summer with dinner on the deck. Barbeque chicken, potato salad, beans, spinach, and fresh strawberries with homemade shortbread and whipped cream. The sun won’t set until 10:30, so there will be plenty of time for a bike ride before dinner. Hurray for good neighbors. Hurray for summer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jets, Mowers, and Summer Days

One of the sounds of summer at my house is a rumbling in the skies. No, not thunder. Thunder is rare around here. I live about a mile from an air force base, and every July means the air show.

I’ve attended a couple of times, but usually I just go outside on my deck to watch the jets tear across the sky  in close formation. They’re moving so fast, I see them before I hear them. By the time the sound arrives, they’re moving out of sight.

As I stand there on the second story deck waiting for the jets to appear, it's interesting to watch the people enjoying a summer Saturday. One neighbor mows her lawn, another unpacks after a fishing trip. A couple walks their dog, and a boy rides by on a bicycle. As the roar of the jets dies away, I can hear the children giggling at the playground in the park.

It reminds me of books I’ve enjoyed. There are the thrillers, like the Da Vinci Code. Just as I’m in awe of the skill of the pilots to fly in formation at almost the speed of sound, I’m amazed at Dan Brown’s ability to keep up the pace, the sense of urgency that keeps the reader turning pages so fast, they almost fly past the story before they hear it.

Then there are the books like Rosamunde Pilcher’s that slow down and live the summer. In her books, I can smell the freshly cut grass, notice the young couple holding hands as they walk in the park, hear the children playing. Her characters are so real, I count them as friends.

I’m glad I don’t have to choose, that I can read whatever suits my mood: fast or leisurely, terrifying or mellow, funny or sad. I love a good story. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Round 4

Well, my black-eyed pea luck finally ran out. My ABNA entry, Recalculating Route, was a casualty in the final 95% cut. It’s been a great run and I did get a nice Publisher's Weekly review out of it, so overall I’m pleased with my first writing contest.

Of course, I wish I could see the scores, to know just how close I was to the final five in my category. Did the finalists get all fives? Did it come down to tie-breakers? Is there a particular weakness I should work on? Maybe it’s better for all the quarter-finalists that we don’t know. We can tell ourselves that we might have just missed the cutoff, that if we work hard we can make it next year.

That’s the danger and the thrill. I’m hooked now. It’s like winning at bingo or slots on my first try. I can’t wait to try again. Fortunately, luck only plays a part in this gamble, so talent, hard work, and hours of writing and rewriting won’t be wasted.  Even if I get knocked out in the pitch round next year, the extra motivation should result in a better book.

I also met some great writers on the forum, and I’ll continue to interact and keep in touch. They're not only talented, they’re special people and I’m honored to have spent time with them. Some of them may well be famous someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.     

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Forest Fire Meadow

I just returned from a short trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. The scenery there is incredible, the erosion through layers of multicolored rock creating fairy-tale castles against the canyon walls and multi-hued vistas that seem to stretch on forever . Surrounding the canyons in this highland, dense ponderosa pine forests cover the hills. 

One image that stuck with me was of wildflowers growing under the skeletons of charred trees. The tall pines were gorgeous, but as long as they shaded the forest floor, the wildflowers couldn’t grow. After the burn, the flowers took advantage of the sunlight to create a beautiful display of their own. 

Sometimes when I’m writing a story, I build whole forests of description or conversations that I love. It seems as though the words just flow so easily in those moments, and I can see or hear the passage clearly in my mind. However, once I’m editing, I occasionally find that those passages don’t really add much to the story or further the plot. I have to burn them away, so the wildflowers can get the sunshine they need to move the story forward. It’s not easy to burn away the trees, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to make the story flow. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Publisher's Weekly Review from Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

I've received my official second prize, a Publisher's Weekly review of the Recalculating Route Manuscript. I'm pleased. See what you think.


Widow and former home economics teacher Marsha Davison is still trying to recover from the death of her husband, Eric, 19 months earlier when she meets Ben Mayfield, a wealthy retired geologist who invites her on a road trip along old Route 66. The ex-husband of a dear friend, Ben’s courtly manner and sense of adventure intrigue Marsha. Although initially she declines, Marsha decides to throw caution to the wind and she and her dog, Lindy, go along for the ride. After a nearly three-month jaunt on the road, Marsha returns to her home in Sedona, Arizona, and Ben to his in Texas, planning another roadtrip -- an East Coast one this time -- for the fall. But soon after returning to their respective homes, Marsha and Ben soon realize that their relationship is far from being a simple friendship, it’s turned to love, and then quickly they decided to marry. It isn’t all smooth sailing because both have grown children who object to the relationship for various reasons, and they live hundreds of miles away from each other. But can these obstacles stand in the way of true love? The author writes movingly of the mixed emotions that come after mourning a beloved spouse and then dating again in this sweet romance that targets a less-than common demographic: those in the later stages of life, who refuse to give up on love. A sweet treat.

Now for the required disclaimers: Publisher's Weekly is an independent organization. Review was based on entered manuscript and not the published version (which is slightly different).

The reviewer at Publisher's Weekly also graded the manuscript from one to five on character development, originality of idea, plot, prose/style, and overall strength of submission, but we won't get to see the scores. The five entries with the highest scores in each category will advance to the semifinals. I can't tell from the review how highly the reviewer would have rated me in these categories, but I'm hopeful. Semi-finalists will be announced June 13th, so until then, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What I've learned from Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, so far

As I wait for the next round of ABNA to be announced, I’ve been thinking about the contest and what the experience has taught me. Here are a few lessons I've learned:

1. You can’t win if you don’t enter. It’s scary to put your writing out there, open to criticism and drama, but the whole point of writing is to share the story with an audience. Will the reviewer at Publisher's Weekly love it or hate it? We'll see.

2. A pitch is not a synopsis. A pitch’s job is to sell the book, to give the reader a taste of what the book is about and why they would want to read it. Clarity, brevity, and voice are important.

3. Writers are generous people. Of course, some writers are selfish, mean, and petty too, but through the forums I’ve seen so many that freely give their time and efforts to help other writers with no expectation of payback.

4. All feedback is useful. Sometimes criticism hurts, and sometimes it should be taken with a grain of salt. One person may hate a story because it’s dark and violent, which is why another loves it, but understanding it’s over the line for some readers is useful knowledge for a writer. Getting defensive and trying to argue that criticism is invalid doesn’t teach the writer anything.

5. Waiting is hard. It’s also distracting. My mind keeps drifting from my current work-in-progress to the entry, thinking perhaps I should have done this differently, or taken that out. The rules of the contest have a few apparent discrepancies, so I’m not even sure if the Publisher’s Weekly reviews will show up on May 23rd or June 13th. I know the next round won’t be announced until June 13th, at which point 95% of the current contestants will be telling themselves, “There’s always next year.” In the meantime, we can dream.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Round 3

I’ve started to take a real shine to black-eyed peas. Back on New Year’s Day, in spite of my historical dislike for the spotted legumes, I tried a new recipe for Hoppin’ John and ate my black-eyed peas for good luck. My, how it’s paid off. My book has just moved into the quarter-final round of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.

I never expected to make it this far. Out of 10,000 original entries, 500 (100 in each category) are still in the running. So far, they’ve been judged on the pitch and an excerpt from the first few pages of the book. Next, someone from Publisher’s Weekly will evaluate and review each of the manuscripts, and the top five from each category will move to the semi-finals.

My original post about black-eyed peas talked about taking chances and trying new things. New things are scary. Writing a book was scary. Publishing with Amazon so that anyone out there can read and criticize it was scary. Entering the contest was scary, but I’m so glad I did. In the next few days, Amazon will post the quarter-finalists' excerpts, so everyone will be able to read and review them. It's yet another scary thing to have my excerpt posted, but I'm getting used to it. Maybe I'm even beginning to like it. 

Excerpts are up. Here's the link:  Recalculating Route ABNA

You can find all five hundred excerpts by typing ABNA into the search bar at Amazon, or by title or author. Download your favorites for free.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Round 2

After a month of obsessively dropping into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award forum for the latest gossip, I peeked tonight to find the titles moving into round two have been posted, half a day earlier than expected. I opened the romance list and …(drum roll, please)  … I’m in!

This is just the first cut, from ten thousand entries down to two thousand, based entirely off the pitch. I’m sure there were many excellent books, probably better than mine, that didn’t make the cut. Still, it’s gratifying to know the editors found my concept interesting enough to move to the next round.

Next is the excerpt round in which judges score the first five thousand words of the book and the top five hundred contestants move on. Viners, top Amazon reviewers, will serve as judges and leave two reviews for each excerpt. I’ve got my fingers crossed that my Viners aren’t adrenaline junkies and maybe have a soft spot for old cowboys. It’s going to be a long wait until April 14th to find out what they think.

Either way, I’m thrilled to have moved into round two, and excited to be part of this contest. The black-eyed peas must have worked.

Here’s the link so you can see if you spot any familiar names to cheer for as the contest progresses.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014

Remember all those black-eyed peas I ate on New Year’s day for luck? Well, now I’m hoping to cash in. I’m gathering my courage and entering Recalculating Route into the Amazon breakthrough novel award tomorrow.

The first round is based entirely on the pitch. That means that out of 10,000 entrees, 8,000 of them will be cut without a judge ever seeing the book. Anyone who has ever tried to boil down a complete novel into a couple of paragraphs of sales copy will tell you it's extremely difficult. I’ve been frequenting the pitch thread and polishing mine for several weeks now. Sometimes I think it’s perfect and other times far from it, but it's certainly better than it was at the beginning. I’m impressed with the generosity of so many posters over on the thread who spend huge amounts of time helping with pitches. They’ve taken some real messes, and with subtle suggestions and questions, helped the writers turn them into something great. And remember, these are their competition.

So, good luck to all the hopeful writers out there, and thank you to everyone who helped me with my pitch. Even if we don’t make it through the first round, it was great spending time with you. I’m looking forward to seeing many of those familiar titles when they announce the next round on March 18th.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Recently, someone criticized one of my books because one of the main characters had been divorced several times. She said people like this don’t change, and it was wrong to make him a hero. She had a point. The odds of someone with multiple failed marriages succeeding in love are low. But the story isn’t about averages; it’s about specific characters and the possibility of redemption. It’s about hope.

I’m a lucky woman. I married my college sweetheart on the same day we graduated, we have two healthy children who are in the process of launching, and this year we’ll celebrate our thirty-second anniversary. We have very little drama in our lives. I’d highly recommend this path to happiness, but reading about it for two-hundred pages would bore you silly. 

Much more interesting are people who have made mistakes or faced hardship and are struggling to overcome. I love characters that are flawed but likable, that I can root for and commiserate with. I love the satisfaction of a happy ending after the struggle, especially when the character had to work hard to achieve it. I believe in redemption, and I believe in love. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Black-eyed Peas for Luck

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings luck for the whole year. That’s the legend, anyway. Personally, I’ve never been a fan. I grew up with them and spent hours of my childhood hoeing, watering, and shelling them. According to my husband, by mother’s are the best, picked fresh from the garden, shelled with a few snaps thrown in, and home-canned with a little salt pork, but I could never develop a taste for them.

I always managed to consume a few on New Year's but didn't enjoyed them until this year. I found a recipe in the newspaper for Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice), but not the traditional recipe I’ve used before with sausage and lots of cayenne. This one called for dried peas, a ham bone, and collard greens. I happened to have a bone left from the Christmas ham and some frozen spinach to substitute for the collards, so I gave it a try. Who knew black-eyed peas could taste so good?

So, the lesson for me is to keep trying new things. Maybe I’ll eventually develop a taste for some of those other things I never enjoyed, like exercise and public speaking. Maybe all that luck I’ve stored up by eating all those black-eyed peas on New Year’s will help with the process. It can’t hurt. 

Speaking of luck, rafflecopter is giving away an ipad mini. Here's the entry:
a Rafflecopter giveaway