Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Catching Lizards and the Path to Publication

Did you ever try to catch a lizard when you were a kid? I did. It’s not easy. They’re incredibly quick, and they don’t often get too far from safety. Meet Roxy – Lizard Hunter. She’ll spend hours prowling around rock walls and rip-rap piles, sniffing in the cracks and looking for lizards. She’s had little success, but the occasional lizard sighting or scent is enough to keep her hunting.

I was thinking today that a career as a writer is a little like lizard hunting. Someone said eighty-one percent of people surveyed wanted to write a book. I have to wonder why, because another survey said only seventy-two percent actually read even part of a book last year, but that’s a topic for another day.  The point is there are a lot more people writing than there are publishing slots to fill.

Sending out queries to agents, hoping to catch their interest, is a little like sniffing around the rock pile. Just as Roxy occasionally spots a lizard, occasionally an agent will ask to read all or part of the manuscript, but more often than not, that ends in a polite rejection, or in Roxy’s case, a vanishing lizard.

So you write another story. And then the big day comes. An agent actually likes the manuscript and wants to represent you. Hurray! Now you’ve got the lizard by the tail. But as Roxy discovered, sometimes those tails are detachable.  Sometimes, even though the agent loved the manuscript, she can’t sell it.

So you write another one. And another. Don’t give up now. Catching that lizard tail only spurred Roxy on to greater enthusiasm, and eventually, she caught a lizard. And, if you’re very, very lucky, eventually your agent finds an editor who recognizes your brilliance, and you become a published author.

Of course, that's just the beginning. Every new book you write will be a challenge. As a writer, you must prove yourself over and over. 

So why do it? I think Roxy’s wagging tail as she sniffs along the rock wall answers that question.  She hunts because she’s a hunter. That’s what she was born to do. Writers write. Whether or not they’re ever published, they create stories.  It’s what they were born to do. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Being Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving, a day set aside to take stock of all the good things I tend to take for granted. Family, community, home, health, country, pets, books, love, laughter, and so much more. I have so much to be grateful for.

It’s funny how even bad things can turn out to be blessings, like that broken leg in March that gave me lots of couch time to write one of the two stories that led to a writing contract in September.  I’m thankful for good medical care and a devoted husband who picked up all the slack while I was laid up. I’m thankful to the people who shared their knowledge and experience to help me become a better writer. And I’m thankful for the support of my friends and family. My cup overflows.

What were your special blessings this year?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Visit to the Corvette Museum

Can a car be a work of art? I vote yes. I’m not really a car person, but even I can appreciate the sinuous curves of a Chevy Corvette. I should say Corvettes, because in the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, we got to see Corvettes of all vintages, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

Seeing these amazing cars, many displayed in historical dioramas, makes me wish I could climb into Roy Orbison’s '67 Vette and roar off to explore Route 66.

The Corvette factory is here, too, and in the entryway to the museum, brand new Corvettes sat behind velvet ropes, awaiting their proud parents to come and claim them.

The museum also contains an unintentional display of a natural disaster. In February of 2014, the cave under part of the museum collapsed, creating a huge sinkhole that dropped eight Corvettes thirty feet into the earth. Fortunately, the museum was closed at the time, and no one was injured. The cars have been pulled out, but as you can see, they were severely damaged. A tape marks the outline of the sinkhole, and they’ve left a window in the floor so visitors can see just how far they fell.


To top off our nostalgic tour, we enjoyed burgers and fries at the adjacent classic diner. It was a fun outing. If you ever find yourself in Bowling Green, I’d highly recommend it.

One warning: a trip to the Corvette Museum can be expensive. Not the entry fee, that's only ten dollars. No, the expensive part is that after seeing all those gorgeous sports cars, my husband is itching for a 1977 model of his own. And judging by the vintage Corvette dealer just a block away, he’s not the first to catch Corvette fever. 

What do you think? Can you see yourself in one of these beauties?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Christmas Gourds: How To

Two years ago, a garden experiment resulted in an overabundance of gourds. I've been trying to find ways to use them ever since. These are small gourds, about four or five inches tall, so they're not really big enough for birdhouses. I've been dying, painting, and woodburning them, and even adding polymer clay. Results have been, shall we say, mixed. I'm not much of an artist, but I've been having fun.

My latest project turned out fairly well. It involves making gourds into Christmas tree ornaments, for indoor or outdoor trees. It's a fairly simple project. If you'd like to try your hand at gourd-craft, here's how I did it.

You'll need a gourd, a pencil, a small paintbrush, and paint. Also a woodburner, a jump-ring, jewelry glue, and spray-on clearcoat, all optional.

1. Clean the gourd well, scrubbing with a stiff brush or steel wool. You'll need to remove the natural waxy coating so the paint will stick. As they cure, gourds get this ugly black stuff that looks awful, but most of it scrubs away. If it leaves a few stains, that's okay. It adds character. Now let it dry.

2. Mark your design with a pencil. I freehanded this one, but there are lots of poinsettia clipart designs on the internet. 
3. Use a woodburner and go over all the lines. Add veins to the leaves and petals. My woodburner cost around twelve dollars. This step is entirely optional, but I like the way it looks.

4. Paint. Because I wanted the woodburned lines to show through, I thinned the acrylic paint with water to create sort of a transparent wash. If you decided to skip the woodburning, you'll want to use paint at full strength so it's opaque. If you use the opaque method, let the paint dry and then paint veins onto the leaves and dots in the center.
Here I used ivy green for the leaves, and red for the flower, and yellow-green for the center.


5. Glue a jump-ring on top so you can hang it on the tree. Jewelry Goop works well, and you can get the rings cheap in the bead department of the craft store. I tried screwing a tiny screw-eye in, but the stem end of a gourd is surprisingly hard. The glued-on ring works well. Or you could just glue a ribbon to the top.

6. Let dry, and spray with a gloss clear-coat if desired. I recommend it. It protects the paint, darkens the gourd to a nice leathery finish, and makes the whole thing shine. 

7. Thread a ribbon through the jump-ring, and there you have it: a Christmas gourd ornament. 

Are you working on any crafts for the holidays?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Spirit of Giving

Here's a chance to do good and have fun. A group of wonderful writers have joined together to produce this collection of fourteen holiday novellas, and the proceeds go to to diabetes research. 

I've got my copy.

Google Play:

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. 

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?