Friday, December 30, 2011

Write your WHAT off???

You've all heard of NaNoWriMo. Well, our CNY chapter of RWA is using the month of January as WYAO (which stands for write you @$$ off). And after this insane month of December, I am more than ready to do it. We are following the same rules as NaNo, so this should be fun. I have always wanted to participate in NaNo, but never have. We've done a smaller scale version in our chapter called Happy 100's, where we have to write 100 words a day for a specified amount of time, and we've done BIAW (book in a week) where we set goals for the week and hope to make them, but I have never committed to anything for an entire month. And I only get 3 "mulligans"!!!! This girl needs to buckle down for sure!!

I have 100 pages of a project that is screaming to be complete. It needs to be complete because I basically have someone interested in it, but it has to be finished. I have the first 100 pages done and the rest of the book is plotted out. I think I'm headed for some decent productivity, and I will have to make SURE I write SOMETHING on each and every day of the week!!!

In responding to a post from a chapter mate who indicated she was preparing for our WYAO by putting together a playlist for her current wip, I said how at this stage in my story I cannot have a playlist. I need quiet to be creative. Knowing that to be this disciplined during WYAO, I will be writing under all kinds of circumstances and quiet will be far from happening. To battle this evil, I recently downloaded an album of songs from the ocean - specifically areas in Cape Cod, Mass. I love it there! and I love the ocean. And when I put on my earbuds, I am transported right there to the shore. The waves crash in, the wind blows and occasionally I hear a gull.

At first I was kidding by saying all I needed to do was get an ocean scented candle, put on my flip-flops and big fuzzy sweater while I ran the stand-up fan and played my ocean music and I'd really think I was there! Now, I'm thinking that might be just what I need to set the mood and the course of action to make this a successful month!

2011 was undoubtedly a tough year for me. With the debut of my first book in December, and my second due to come out in January, I have a third to put out after that plus at least 2 projects to finish for submission and an idea for another Holiday romance. I really need this WYAO to count. And I think to break out of my rutt, I just might have to cue in on some "atmosphere".

I will be keeping you all posted every Friday with my progress! If you'd like to join in, feel free to use my Friday blog day as a chime in point! We can keep each other going.  Kind of like a writing Flash Mob - we meet on Fridays and go writing crazy!!!

Anybody else ready to shake things up in their writing world? What kinds of projects are you undertaking for the new year? Need a little shove? Maybe it's time YOU WYAO!!

Happy New Year Everyone! Here's to a safe, healthy & profitable 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cassy's Corner- The Most Special Gift


It’s now four days after Christmas and I’m still fighting tears. As I have mentioned before, this was the first Christmas in 30 years of marriage that my husband and I had alone. Alone- what a miss choice of words. Together. Just without kids, parents, friends or others. Just us, well and two Golden Retrievers.

The tears I mention have nothing to do with our solitude. No. They have to do with a  most special gift I received. I will tell you about it.

My family sent us wonderful personal presents. I have delightful cards my father designs and my mother mass produces. I am a card person (should you want to know) so these are doubly special. One daughter sent us a unique salt rock slab- huge like a platter- for grilling foods along with books about how to do it. As you have probably learned, we are rather serious about our cooking. Our other daughter has kids to care for. These are children hospitalized with serious and often tragic conditions. She took the money that she would have spent on gifts for us and went crazy at Target. Christmas Eve she played Santa and HO-HO’d the halls of the hospital where she is a doctor.

My heart twisted with all that arrived both at our home and through the images of others. Yet, my tears came with another present. I wrapped more cookbooks, books on travel, books on more  interesting topics than you can imagine. My dear husband has many months of reading ahead of him. Plus, there are a few I snuck in for myself. No, those weren’t the ones that caught me in surprise. I’d bought those. A bit of a theme here for our family.

After opening the new pajamas with dogs all over, the earrings I have worn since Christmas, the books on writing—I was handed the special gift. In September we spent a month at our house in Italy. My husband had insisted we renew our wedding vows, this was for the second time. I’ve married this guy three times. He is the romantic of this duo.

I didn’t know that he had chronicled the month at the extent he had. He was taking pictures, sure, but not as I had understood.

I opened a beautiful package wrapped in silver paper. Inside was a book. A true book. Not spiral bound. Not from Kinkos. A real book filled with color photographs that went on for nearly 50 pages. A book about our celebration, our friends, our time together.

So, four days after Christmas I am still holding my breath at moments. I love the trinkets; I confess I do. But, I would trade them all in for one copy of this book. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kari's Kave: Happy New Year

Eeeek!

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date....a date with blogging, that is :-)

Happy holidays. Hope you all had a fabulous time. Now it's time to think about a brand new year. New possibilites. New resolutions. New adventures.

This year, I am determined to exercise more.
This year, I am determined to eat better.
This year, I am determined to try more new recipes.
This year, I am determined to have more patience.
This year, I am determined to stay on a writing schedule (instead of killing myself)
This year, I am determined to write more books.

What are your resolutions? Inquiring minds want to know.

While you're thinking about it, here's a recipy for you to enjoy.

Special K Bars

Bring 1 cup karo syrup and 1 cup sugar to a boil, then remove from stove
Mix in 1 1/2 cups peanut butter until melted
Mix in 6 cups special k cereal
press mixture into greased 9x13 pan
melt 1 bag Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate double boiler style
pour over mixture
put in refrigerator, let harden, cut into bars and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Anita's Attic: Christmas Memories of a Flash Mob!

I'm still basking in the afterglow of Christmas. Fortunately, I'm still In Birmingham, Alabama, (Mountainbrook) so I don't have to deal with the usual after-Christmas messes. Instead, I have a wonderful mother-in-law who is the most gracious hostess, cooking meals to die for and treating us like royalty. Spending Christmas here has become sort of a family tradition. It's a different world in Mountainbrook; Southern hospitality, beautiful houses, and beautiful people. Not that you can't find beauty anywhere else, but you've never seen so many people looking so good. Even in the grocery store. Heck, even the joggers look like they've stepped out of a magazine. And good hair...it's like Salon Heaven. We always attend Christmas Eve service (another tradition) at Austin's parents' church, and I find myself getting distracted from the wonderful sermon by all the incredible hair. And that's saying a lot because I love their paster.

There are lots of great memories here. Everyone gathering around the Christmas tree to open presents on Christmas morning, followed later on by a Christmas dinner that's legendary, and one of my fondest memories comes from the family Christmas party, which has been in existance since before my husband was born. Family members from all over the country gather to celebrate family and Christmas. That particular year, when my son was about 4, the party was held in a castle. Yes, a castle, built as a replica of one in England, complete with secret entrances. We were all crowded on the grand staircase to sing Christmas carols and had just started singing, "Jingle bells, jingle bells..." when this little voice popped up. "Stop. Stop. You're singing it all wrong. It's 'Dashing through the snow.'" Every voice stopped and stared at the offender. It was my son, who was not about to let us start in the middle of the song. Then everyone burst out laughing because he was right. We were singing it wrong. We still laugh about that. What a great memory.

Something happened this Christmas that will live in our memories for a long while. Nothing to do with Santa Claus, botched Christmas carols, or the birth of Christ. We got caught in a Flash Mob. No kidding. Right in the middle of a movie theater in Birmingham, trying to watch the latest Mission Impossible. During the most exciting part of the movie, a mob of teenagers rushed the theater, running and screaming up the aisles.

We sat dumbfounded as they found seats, dozens of them, laughing and shouting all the while. Finally, after the shock wore off, Austin yelled out for them to shut up. They got a little quieter, and then after a minute the movie stopped. Again, at an incredibly exciting part. Everyone sat staring at the screen, waiting, waiting...we had no idea what was happening and no one came in to tell us. Of course my writer's mind was coming up with all kinds of interesting (and troublesome) scenarios. Like the movie guy had been murdered and no one had figured it out yet.

Someone yelled out that anyone without a ticket had better get out and half the theater emptied. The mob left, along with most of the moviegoers who were disgusted by this time. A few minutes later, a policeman came in and said there was a mob situation out front and we should stay in our seats while they dealt with it. Some people returned to their seats, and a minute later, the movie came back on. (A very good movie.)

The cops were still outside when we came out, but the mob was contained, or at a distance. They were just kids. Apparently, a bunch of middle and high school kids had organized the flash mob on Facebook. They hit two theaters with the intention of causing chaos and shutting them down and afer being thrown out, they had to wait for rides to get home. Poor parents had probably been told that they were just dropping Little Johnny off to see a movie and to pick him up at 9:30. All this for a joke. It wasn't much of a joke to the rest of us. We missed five minutes of important dialog in the movie, not to mention being freaked out. On Christmas!!! So our Christmas was once again memorable, and in one way I could have done without, but I guess memories come in different packages.

So how was your holiday? Good, bad, or bizarre?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Liz's Lair: Christmas Week Recipes


Today on Mysteries and Margaritas, I decided to do something different. Since a lot of you will still be enjoying family and the holidays instead of surfing the Internet and reading blogs, I'm going to save my words of wisdom and print a recipe today and hope you'll join in and post your favorite ones.

Today's offering is Cheesecake Factory's Louisiana Chicken Pasta. I love Cheesecake Factory and absolutely adore the Louisiana Pasta. I found this recipe on line, and I can tell you, it is almost as good as the real thing. You can find the longer version here.

Enjoy


Cheesecake Factory's Louisiana Chicken Pasta

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese ( grated)
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour

Cajun Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 small yellow peppers ( chopped)
1 small red bell peppers ( chopped)
3/4 small red onions ( chopped)
3 whole garlic cloves ( minced)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 pints whipping cream
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons fresh basil ( thinly sliced)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 (12 ounce) packages bow tie pasta
1 cup mushrooms ( sliced)

Directions
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add yellow and red bell peppers, mushrooms, and onion to same skillet,until crisp-tender, about 4 minute.
Add garlic and crushed red pepper to skillet and saute 3 minutes. Add whipping cream and chicken stock. Simmer until sauce re-heats and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add basil and 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese to sauce, stirring to incorporate. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, simmer; sauce will reduce and thicken.


Wash and drain chicken breasts. Pound until very thin (the thinner the chicken breasts the better). Mix breadcrumbs, flour, and Parmesan cheese together. Place milk in dish for dipping. Dip chicken in breadcrumb mixture and then in milk and then back in breadcrumbs. Place in fry pan that the oil has been heated and fry at medium high temperature until golden crisp and cooked through. Add more oil as needed.

Remove and drain chicken; keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook bow-tie pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain and return to pot. Add sauce and toss to coat. Place pasta with sauce on plate, and top with chicken breast.
Serve, passing additional Parmesan separately.

My mouth is watering.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

I normally don't do this - it's very out of character for me, really! For as much as I kid with my family and closest friends that it's all about me...I honestly hate to brag. But boy am I today!!!  My FIRST EVER publication is up on Amazon!!  *cue the screams, happy dance and margaritas!*

Santa Wore Combat Boots by Barbara Witek. (more screams!!!!)

In 2005 I wrote this as a 1500 word short story for our local newspapers Holiday Fiction Contest. And I won!! My first ever contest win. They did a full page spread in color, containing the story, some paper are depicting scenes from my story, plus a picture of me (dressed in my father in laws WWII uniform jacket and hat) and a small bio. It was the coolest thing ever! And my darling hubby had it professionally framed and it hangs in our house. Still makes me cry whenever I read it.

I've always loved the emotion of the story, and always thought if I ever had time I would love to make it into a longer Holiday story. Well, in 2009, Hollywood director/producer Doug McKeon had been asked by Oscar Winning actress Marlee Matlin to write a holiday screen play for her for the Hallmark Channel. Out of many ideas he and Marlee read...they chose MINE!!! In the midst of my writing, I had to find time to flesh it out and create that super emotional story I started. It took awhile because life gets in the way, but I finally did it!!!! And just in time for Christmas, no less.

In the short story version, the army widow is visited by the ghost of her husbands friend who died in the same helicopter crash. He makes her believe in the spirit and magic of Christmas. But in my story version, the young widow is visited by the ghost of her husband every Christmas Eve, it's the only way she can be with him. Christmas was their favorite holiday. Only she's lost the spirit of Christmas, and it's up to her neighbor to help her find it again, along with love. The season is indeed magical.

Santa Wore Combat Boots is a sweet, holiday love story and I hope everyone will buy it!!! .99 cent special now through January. You can go directly to Amazon or to the link on my website  Only digital format this year because I wanted to hurry and get it out. I'm excited to launch my career with this wonderful story!

Have a safe and wonderful holiday season everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cassy’s Corner- A Family Tradition


Given that the days are counting down until Christmas, and I’ll be spending a part of today carrying out a family tradition, I thought I’d share with you a long standing “must” for our holiday. Horns. They are a type of pastry we have Christmas morning. Truthfully, I’m not sure where they originated or even how they became a tradition when I was growing up, but they were critical. I did a Google search for “horns pastry” and found recipes for Hungarian horns served at Christmas. My father is of Romanian heritage, so maybe that’s where it started. I can’t believe I’ve never asked. As soon as it light outside and people are up, I’m making a phone call. Now I need to know.

I remember years when my dear mother would be making them in the middle of the night because somehow the time slipped away. And, gracious, it wouldn’t be Christmas morning without them. Here is the recipe that I’ve grown up with and still make each year. It looks long and slightly complicated, but trust me, it’s not. May your holidays be full of the traditions that make it special for you.

Horns

1 package of yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
5 cups sifted flour
1 cup butter
1 blob of oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 large can of evaporated milk
Cinnamon
Sugar

Filling:
1 cup pecans or walnuts, ground or chopped finely
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Or- anything you want!

Procedure:
1)   Sprinkle the yeast in the warm water, stir, and wait for it to proof.
2)   Mix together the butter and blog of oil. Add the sugar, salt, egg yolks and a little of the milk.
3)  Beat well.
4) Add the yeast.
5) Add the remaining milk alternating with the flour until all is well mixed.
6) Chill dough for 2-3 hours until firm.
7) Divide the dough into 4 equal parts.
8) Mix 2 teaspoons of cinnamon with ½ cup of sugar. Use this in place of flour for rolling out the dough. Sprinkle a generous amount on your counter top (this can be a tad messy). Roll each portion of the dough into a round of about 15 inches in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into pie-shaped pieces (like a pizza). You should have about 16 pieces. Sprinkle the filling over all the dough.
9) Roll each piece starting with the thick end and ending with the point. It will look similar to a croissant.
10) Repeat with the remaining dough. You’ll probably need to mix more cinnamon and sugar. I always seem to run out.
11) Let the horns rise for about 30 minutes until beginning to be puffy.
12) Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.
13) I often pre-bake them for about 10- 15 minutes the night before and then finish them off as the kids are reaching for their stockings.

I wish for you that your holidays be full of joy and the New Year be healthy and happy for you and your family.

Cassy

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kari's Kave: What's in your stocking?

Today is Wednesday...hump day! Is the week half over, or do we still have half a week left?

Are you a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person? Do you even know?

With so much to do this holiday season: shopping, wrapping, holiday cards, stocking stuffers, groceries, cleaning ... DEADLINES ..., I have been freaking out. I suddenly realized I've been dwelling on the fact that I'm a slacker and haven't finished.

I kept whining, "Oh, my gosh, I have sooooo much left to do!" I still have to shop, I still have to wrap, I still have to get groceries, I still have to clean...oh, and by the way, I have a deadline!

After annoying myself, I finally took a hard look at what I had already accomplished. It amazed me at how much I've actually gotten done. I'm almost done shopping, I've wrapped quite a bit, I've at least made my grocery list, and ... hello ... I've managed to squeeze in some writing every day. On top of decorating, sending out Christmas cards, and making cookies.

When I stop and really think about it, that's impressive given the fact that I have four kids who have "many" needs and are involved in a lot of activities, and my husband travels!

So from here on out, my glass will be half full. And look...I still have half a week left until Christmas :-)

On another note, do any of you have stockings? Any stocking stuffer ideas? What's in your stocking...inquiring minds want to know :-)

Happy holidays, everyone! May you have a wonderful eve and day filled with laughter and friends and family.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anita's Attic: Thanks for a Great Year - Happy Holidays!


The Christmas holiday is upon us...again!. I swear I feel like it just left. This seems like the fastest year in history, or maybe it's all the wonderful things that have happened that have made the time seem to pass so quickly, and what a wonderful year it has been. I have two books out; that in itself is such a thrill, and I've just sold my paranormal relic hunter series to Amazon Publishing. I am so grateful to all the wonderful readers who propelled Awaken to some impressive lists for a little debut author from nowhere.

I can't forget my wonderful agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency, who made it all happen. She has guided me, cheered me on, and kept me in line. I don't know what I would do without her. She's the most hard-working, caring, self-sacrificing person I know. From the moment I met her, she made a difference in my life. I was a stranger, but she took the time to talk to me and give me advice that I desperately needed. That same devotion and care have never stopped. I wouldn't be here without her. Thank you, Christine, for a great year!

There are lots of people I am grateful for. My family, my M&M sisters, the Book Cents gang, my critique partner, Dana Rodgers, and my wonderful readers, who've made this year a dream come true. I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday filled with family, fun, and lots of good cheer!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Liz's Lair: Christmas Confessions


Since this is the last time I will blog until after Christmas, I decided to talk about things I remember about this wonderful holiday. Like Scrooge, I have my Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future.

For my Christmas past
the one story I remember very vividly involves Christmas presents. Now I'll bet this is going to surprise a lot of you, but I was a little devil, even back then. As number eight of nine children, I had brothers who were already out in the world when I was a teenager. Being poor, they would send us clothes that we would wear when we went to midnight mass. Since my younger sister, older sister and I wore the same size, my brothers would always get us identical gifts in different colors. Being the imp that I was, I would unwrap the presents, choose the color I liked, then re-wrap them, making sure my name was on the right package. To this day I still number my presents under the tree instead of putting labels with names for fear that my children will do the same thing. One year I lost my cheat sheet, but that's a whole other blog!!

Talk about sins of the mother.

For my Christmas Present
, I want to talk about things that make me feel good around the holidays. Every year I swear I'm not going to go overboard again with my grandchildren, and every year I make a liar out of myself. This year there's a huge Mini Cooper for my granddaughter and way too many toys for my grandsons under the tree.(Okay, the Mini Cooper is actually hidden in the closet upstairs.)My point is, there is nothing more fun than watching their faces as they tear into the packages.

Every Christmas I always try to do something for those less fortunate than me. This year for one of my Christmas Angels I bought the cutest pair of boots. She asked for shoes and I went big. But just in case she was thinking sneakers, I enclosed the gift receipt. My hope is that she is excited about those boots as I was.

Saturday night we went with my daughter and her kids to see Christmas lights. Before we ventured out we stopped at Olive Garden for dinner and were seated next to two young soldiers in camouflage uniforms who looked like they were 12. Immediately I said to hubby, "Don't let them pay their own bill." I wish you could've seen the look on their faces when he walked over and picked up their check. My daughter was so touched, she began to cry. I have to say, it was really a feel-good moment.

For my Christmas future
I wish everyone the joy that I have for life. It's been good to me, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. For what, you ask?

I am grateful to love and to be loved, grateful that the war is ending and our troops are coming home, grateful for the opportunity to share my words, and most grateful to the people in my life who I call friends.

And I would be remiss if I didn't say Happy Birthday to the baby who was born in that cold cold manger many many years ago. He's the reason for the season.

If any of you out there are reading this blog today, be sure and say hey and let me know your Christmas past, present, and future confessions.

Bah humbug, my butt!! Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Magic

This has proved to be a wild and crazy week in the house of Barbie Jo. I have been working on a Christmas story and finally wrote "the end" on Wednesday. The story is titled: Santa Wore Combat Boots, and in 2005 it won our local newspapers Holiday Fiction Contest (it had to be a maximum 1500 words)and in 2009 it garnered the attention of Hollywood Producer/Director Doug McKeon and Marlee Matlin as a possible Hallmark Holiday movie! It was such a sweet emotional short story, I always knew I'd want to make into a full length book, and now I have!

My new debut novella, Santa Wore Combat Boots will be out on Amazon next week - just in time for Christmas. It's about what happens when a young military widow finds unexpected love wrapped in the spirit of Christmas. Here's  my blurb:


Emma Turner feels like her life ended with the death of her husband. Three years later she’s doing the best she can for her children and moving through life on autopilot. She doesn’t believe true love can happen twice in a lifetime. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t believe in much anymore. Putting her trust in one honest man might be just what she needs to move forward.
Bound by duty Jake Nicklaus never imagined he’d cross the line and fall in love with the woman he swore he’d watch over. If only he’d died on that chopper instead of her husband, she wouldn’t be hurting. The only way to heal her heart is to show her how to live again. Finding the magic in Christmas is the perfect way to start.
Will one kiss under the mistletoe change their lives forever?


I'm so excited!! I'm in the throws of editing right now so I'm keeping my post short. I've got a couple more hours before I have to take #2 son to the orthodontist, then run errands to pick up food, drinks, etc.. because I've invited friends over to share my hubbies birthday and celebrate the season! Oh yeah, I still have to clean my house too. Not to mention my Diva has volleyball practice until 5:00, and people are coming around 6.  But...as my M&M peeps know all too well, Barbie thrives on flying by the seat of her pants and working under the gun. Talk about holiday magic!

Booyah, people! Game on! And to be totally cliche.... There's no rest for the wicked!!

p.s. - But Santa knows I'm really good! :-)









Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cassy’s Corner- But, That’s My Story!


Before I launch on today’s post, I want to let you know I’m on an airplane and might not be able to check in as much as I would like. I am writing this a week before it actually shows up. Please don’t let my appearance of disappearance keep you from leaving your notes on the site. I will check in as I can.


Last week my husband and I watched a fun film by Wendy Wasserstein. We both fully enjoyed it. I think Wasserstein was a fantastic writer. I’m not going to tell you the name of the movie for that will possibly derail the point of this blog. As we were watching it, I kept saying, “That’s my plot. Or part of it.” “Oh my God, that’s so close to what I’m writing.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no Wendy Wasserstein. But, I sat there thinking how my wip was so close to this story. And, I’d never seen the movie before or knew anything about it.
It’s been said many times that there really are no new stories left to tell. They’ve all been done and the trick is to put a slightly different spin on the tale. Maybe true. Yet it was odd to sit in my living room and watch 80% of what I’ve written play out on the screen.
The flip side of that is, “Wow! If someone at Wasserstein’s level can do this, maybe my story isn’t all that bad.” I don’t have the exactly same characters. I don’t have the finesse she mastered. I don’t have the punch lines just right. Though, I’m working on it. Yet, there was a certain satisfaction in seeing “my” work on our flat screen TV.
It got me thinking. It actually empowered me. It made me want to go upstairs to my office an open the file on my computer. No, I have no interest in copying Wasserstein. I never started out to do that. Again, I’d never seen this work before. What it did do was validate my writing. Wherever we can find those moments that increase our confidence, reassure that our stories are worthy, and spur us on—I say go for it.

Thank you, Wendy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kari's Kave: Sugar Cookies for my Sugars

Okay, so every year I make sugar cookies with the kids and let them decorate.

And every year I say never again!!!

Ugh. They are sooo much work. You have to make the dough and then let it rise at least 3 hours. Then you attempt to roll the sucker out. It's SO sticky. Once you're done rolling them out, it's time to cut them into all sorts of cute holiday shapes.

Bake and cool and ... drumroll please ... decorate!

Oyyy, the decorating. Stained fingers from the food coloring. Every bit of counter space covered with cookies. Frosting covering everything else. sprinkles bouncing across the floor. If I hear one more crunch as I walk across the hardwood floor, I'm going to scream! And then the cleanup.....SIGH! I haven't had enough coffee to go there, folks.

So this is what I did last weekend. We get all the way to the decorating part, and the boys do maybe ... ONE! And my daughter does a lot more, but still, I doubled that recipe and had cookies coming out the hoohah!!!

I didn't even want to make them, yet I got stuck decorating the rest just so I could clean up and make dinner. I spent the entire day in the kitchen.

I repeat, NEVER AGAIN!

Yet somehow I know that next year I will do the entire thing over again. Why? Because it's tradition. So tell me? What are your traditions around the holiday time?

Here's the sugar cookie recipe ... it's yummy!

Sugar Cookie:
1 cup butter or margarine
1 8 oz. cream cheese
3 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix butter and cream cheese in mixer. Then add 1/2 of the flour and all of the sugar, egg, baking powder and vanilla to mixture and beat. Add rest of the flour (it gets thick). Cover and chill 3 to 24 hours.

When ready to roll dough, flour your surface and sprinkle enough flour on dough to handle it. Roll a portion of dough 1/4 inch thick. Dip cookie cutters in flour so they won't stick.

Bake on un greased cookie sheet at 375 for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm.

Frosting:
1/3 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups confectionary sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat butter and gradually add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Slowly beat in 1/4 cup milk (use more milk if needed) and vanilla and reamining sugar. Add 1 tsp. vegetable oil to frosting to make it shiny. Add food coloring for colors.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Anita's Attic: Wandering Down Memory Lane

Lately, I’ve been feeling oddly sentimental. I don’t know if it’s the season or because my kids are getting older, but I’ve been thinking about my own parents, how I don’t visit them enough. They’re only fifteen minutes away and while I talk to my mom every couple of days, I don’t drop in enough to spend time with them. I keep looking at my kids and thinking that in a few years, I'll be the one wishing my kids would come and visit. That makes me sad, but Austin reminds me that we’ll take advantage of the time and do the things we didn’t do when we first married because we started a family immediately. We'll travel and have grown up fun. I'm sure I'll insist on dragging the kids along on some trips, and if they don’t come visit me enough, then you can bet Mom will show up on their doorstep.

This streak of sentimentality isn’t just about my parents and children, I’ve been thinking about my own childhood. Out of the blue, a memory will pop into my mind of a special time or place. One nice memory is when my family would take Sunday drives. We would pack a picnic and drive along old country roads. I remember dragging my baby doll along, imagining myself married with my own family. Even back then, my imagination was always soaring.

Sometimes the entire family; cousins, aunts, and uncles would go. We would find a nice spot to picnic, and the kids would play games while the women chatted and the men hiked into the woods, seeing what kind of deer population there would be that year. It sounds like something from another century, not from just 35 years ago. On the way home, we were exhausted and starving. There weren’t fast food places on those lonely country roads, so we ate whatever was leftover from the picnic. Meat loaf sandwiches, cold green beans and cole slaw. I've even eaten green beans on a sandwich. Delicious.

Another fond memory is of this huge pine tree that was near our house Underneath, the ground was covered by years of fallen pine needles, and the branches hung all the way to the ground. Once you climbed inside, it was like a little hut hidden away from the world. I didn't spend a lot of time there, but something about the place stuck with me. I’ll always remember that tree. I've thought of going back to see if it's still there, but I'm sure I would be disappointed. The tree probably isn't nearly as grand as I remember.

There were all kinds of cool things there. Our house backed up to a national forest. My father and uncles had bought a big farm, divided it up, and each built a house. We would live there for a few years, then sell, find another place and do it all over again, so up until I was a teenager, there were always cousins nearby, playing in the woods and splashing in the streams. I learned to drive there, in an old Bronco on the long dusty drive that led to the house. I explored the mountains, carried abandoned pieces of furniture out of crumbling cabins and tried to fix them up. I remember this one wooden couch frame. I hauled that thing up the side of a mountain. I must have been insane. I found cushions somewhere and covered them in a beautiful teal fabric and kept it in my room.

I spent a lot of time with my cousin, Karen, my best friend, but when I wasn't hanging out with her, I was always searching for something intriguing. My brother and I found some old stones that looked like grave markers (at least in my mind they did) and I considered digging one up to see what was buried there, but I didn't have the nerve. I had heard rumors of lost treasure hidden hidden under a big mound in the woods, I can't even remember what it was supposed to be now, but occasionally I went searching. (OMG! I'm seeing a pattern in my stories...graves, hidden treasure!) I never found anything except old couches and possible graves. Well, there were the Indian arrowheads. The place was filled with them. I guess Indians had camped there. When we plowed our garden, we would find incredible arrowheads, along with a few bits of what looked like a pipe or tools. My brother and I have a collection that we share. We had fun times there. Sometimes our pet crows (my father had rescued them as babies) would circle around in the sky and land on our shoulders as we hiked and played. We didn't have all this technology that we have now. Other than friends, the great outdoors, and our imaginations, the biggest entertainment was an eight track player and Saturday morning cartoons.

I think as we age, we realize the importance of where we come from, of our families and friends. Time and people move on, but we always have those memories to make us smile fondly and sometimes cry. It's bittersweet to think that one day I'll be gone and my kids will sit and ponder their own childhoods. I want to make sure they have good memories to look back on. A day in our lives can seem so mundane, but those days create memories that will be present for a long time. Each one of us is living a page in history. We should make it count.

So that's my sentimental moment. Do you have any special memories that make you smile?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Liz’s Lair: Undervaluing Your Writing


In today’s world of self publication, we are entering new territory, and no one really knows what to charge for the stories we put up. We’re all learning, and sometimes it takes making a mistake to set us on the right track.

That’s the thing that is keeping me awake at night right now. Before I get into that, I want to take a look at what we know about self publishing. First off, let’s define it.

Self-publishing is putting your novel, short story, etc. available as a download and/or Print On Demand trade paperback without the involvement or vetting of an established publisher through a publishing system such as Lulu, Smashwords, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or Barnes & Noble's PubIt! The author pays to have it copy edited, pays for a cover, and either formats it herself or pays to have it done. All the catchy blurbs on the cover and on the websites are done by the author. The payout is usually 35 % for anything under $2.99. A $2.99 price tag earns the author 70%. Here are some facts.


1.There are a lot of people doing it! It no longer carries the same stigma as it used to. I was always told self publishing was the kiss of death for a writer…that no reputable publisher would touch you if you did. I believe Amanda Hocking’s story along with J A Konrath’s success tells a whole different story. Amanda, if you’ll remember, self pubbed a YA Paranormal series. When her sales skyrocketed (well over 450,000) she began getting noticed. Recently she signed a 4 book deal with St. Martin’s Press for two million dollars.

Holy crap!

2. Because there are a lot of people doing it, there are a lot of books out there with great titles, great covers, etc. that really are not ready for prime time for one reason or another. It’s difficult for readers to know if they are wasting their money on something that should have stayed under the author’s bed.

3. The popular thing to do right now is to put up short stories and price them at $.99. I see authors talking about how fast they write them and get them up there. After all, more books mean more sales, and even at $.99, their take is $.35. That’s about half of what a debut author gets for an $8 mass market paper back. So, IMO, that’s pretty good.

4. A recent survey shows 20 million people read e-books last year, and more self-published authors are taking advantage of the trend.

So, here’s my dilemma. I have my full length stand alone mystery up on Amazon with the introductory price of $.99. It’s been reviewed by a seasoned reviewer who fell in love with it. Three other readers (not related to me!!) also loved it. I know it’s a good book. Anyway, this weekend I was advised by two industry professionals to raise the price. These are people whose business opinions I value. To a man they said I was undervaluing my work.

How’s a girl to know?

Recently Elle Lohlorien posted on J A Conrath’s blog about this very thing. The entire blog is worth a read, but for the sake of arguing my case, I will try to break it down. Basically, she published her book on Amazon and slapped a $2.99 price tag on it. Sales were not anything to write home about. Then she ran across a thread where a reader said “she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos.” And one reviewer who gave her a 5 star review said she would have paid full price for her book.

That got her thinking about how pricing books compared to Starbucks coffee (you have to read the blog to get this.) so, she raised the price to $3.99 and guess what? Sales increased. When she jacked up the price another dollar, they sold even more.

What? This goes against all the advice I got before I self published…all the people who told me to price it at $.99 to get people to try me.

Elle went on to say that she questions the fact that pricing the book at $.99 may indicate to some people that your work had no value. On the flip side, one could argue that more people will download your book at the lower price, and then you can charge more for your next book.

Can you see my problem?

But I have to go with my gut and the advice of people who know what they’re talking about. For that reason, MORTAL DECEPTION will remain at $.99 until Wednesday when the price will go up. So if you’re seriously thinking about giving it a try, you’d better hurry.

Now I’d like to hear your opinions about ebook pricing. Are you more inclined to jump on the $.99 cent bandwagon or does it make you pause and wonder if the book is any good? Give it to me—the good, bad, and the ugly. And some lucky commenter will win a free download of MD...worth $.99 until Wednesday!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Barbie's Bunkhouse: A Little Help From Our Friends

I believe that was a Beatle’s song, wasn’t it? I’m not a big Beatles fan, though. Sorry. But it’s really true, isn’t it? When you have great news to share, you tell your friends. You cheer, high-five, laugh and celebrate. And when things are tough and not going the way you want…your friends are there with shoulders to cry on, to pick you up and give you the strength to persevere.

WARNING: Serious Subject Ahead

I decided to take off my playful hat in order to share a serious subject I feel strongly about.It isn’t news to anyone involved in the writing world that things are changing quickly. As authors we do our best to adapt and grow right along with it. Publication is a dream we have worked toward for many years, and we will do whatever we have to in order to keep that dream alive. For those of us who have writing in our blood, quitting is NOT an option.

I have silently watched as a few of my fellow authors have had to deal lawsuits or potential lawsuits in regard to their books and/or contracts. I’m sure they never dreamed something like that could happen once they were under contract and published. In a perfect world, publishers would offer fair contracts, honor their promises, and protect their authors.

Yet recently, lawsuits against authors have been the topic on countless writer’s loops and blogs. First we heard about Kiana Davenport whose publisher threatened legal action because she self-published a collection of short stories that the publisher had previously rejected. Then there was Christy Craig (Click HERE) who is being sued by the Texas Department of Transportation for using their trademark slogan as a title of one of her books.

Now, a fellow Book Cents author is being sued by her publisher, Sourcebooks. Click here for the author’s countersuit. It doesn’t surprise me to hear this about Sourcebooks, especially after my own experience with them. I’m alarmed because this very well could have been me. You see, I walked away from a deal with Sourcebooks almost a year ago. I was offered a 2 book deal and was on top of the world. This is what I had wanted for so long. But then, as I anxiously awaited my first contract ever, red flags started popping up. I heard from multi-published authors, now published with Sourcebooks, who were experiencing various problems. They were finding it very hard to get published elsewhere and even harder to get out. Authors literally had to re-invent themselves because of their association with Sourcebooks.

In my own situation, first my agent was given 3 different cover ideas for my story, and then I was asked for my bio and other personal information for the Sourcebooks catalog, months after my original offer. Yet, my agent and I still hadn’t received a contract! Red Flags???? MOST definitely! Even being new to publishing, I began to question a company that did business like that. The hardest decision I ever had to make as a writer was to tell my agent to pull my submission. The disappointment goes beyond words, and I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone. A year later, I can still feel the twinge – but I’d rather be unpublished or self-published than to give my blood, sweat and tears to someone like Sourcebooks. And I’m thankful every day that I’ve had my friends and fellow authors to lean on during this year of recovery and rediscovery. A little help from your friends goes a long way.

In today’s world when authors should be concentrating on plot, story arcs, and character development, we now have to worry about publishers turning on us. Let’s face it, contracts are already heavily slanted in their favor. Should we stand behind our fellow authors when they are in a fight we all might find ourselves in down the road? Absolutely. Now more than ever, we need a little help from our friends. Remember: UNITED we stand, DIVIDED we fall.

Are lawsuits now a trend we have to worry about? What do you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cassy’s Corner- Memorable Meals


If I asked you to describe your most memorable meals, what would list? Now, memorable can mean a wide range of experiences- not always for the better. With the “eating season” upon us I got thinking about some of the foods I’ve had that I’ll never forget. They range from the totally mundane to the slightly unusual. As you are reading this, start making your own list so we can share.
Do you remember the era of Good Housekeeping magazine setting the high standard of home cooking? I’m dating myself here. My poor mother will never live down the tuna noodle casserole made with peas and potato chips on top. It certainly wasn’t her lack of culinary interest; it was the time. She was, and definitely still is, extremely conscience of high quality preferably organic food. When my friends were eating Welch’s grape jelly and Skippy peanut butter with Campbell’s soup, we had organic peanut butter on rock hard bread so thick we literally had to take our fingers and peel the mush off the top of our mouths. I loved it when I stayed for lunch at a neighbor’s house for I could sinfully eat over-processed foods. Yet, with all of our teasing my wonderful mom, she created a foundation that can’t be erased.
During our lovely Thanksgiving holiday with my parents, we spent some time talking about the foods we associated while growing up. There couldn’t be a more striking difference from my maternal grandmother’s Bostonian fare (think boiled and bland) and the other side of my family.
My paternal grandmother visited when I was in high school. I didn’t know her before that, except for stories. I watched as she made what seemed to be exotic dishes from a Romanian Jewish heritage. There are flavors and techniques of preparation that hopefully won’t somehow disappear, but might except in some of the extremely traditional sectors of our society. My children, sadly, will probably never repeat many of the dishes I wrote down in my sloppy adolescent script with instructions such as, “cook until done.”
We leave for Bucharest this afternoon. On our last trip there I begged our friends to feed us true Romanian food, not the meals expected for Americans. They wonderfully took on the challenge. Many of the flavors were very reminiscent of those my grandmother made during her visit and ones my father tried to replicate. But, I also learned about a culture that wastes nothing. Nothing.
I ate more body parts that had never before made it to my plate. I confess I had to draw the line with the bull’s testicles. Of course, my wonderful husband asked for a second helping.




Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kari's Kave: A Trip Down Rose Ceremony Lane...

Ah, the memories. I joined CNYRWA romance writers group back in 2004. Each year they have a ceremony at the holiday party in December called the Rose Ceremony. Each member fills out a Rose Sheet listing all their accomplishments throughout the entire year. Each category is a different colored rose for everything from how many contests entered, conferences attended, speaking engagements, books written, sold, rejected, etc. Only, the roses don't have to be roses. We've used flowers, beads, office supplies, etc. The point is to celebrate how hard authors work all year long.

In 2005 a group of us became the Rose Queen (Barbie Jo) and all her princesses (the rest of us). We wore crowns and toilet paper sashes that said Miss Spell, Miss Take, etc. That year we didn't take pictures and didn't really know what we were doing, but we sure had a ball.

Then in 2006 the fun really began when Barbie Jo and I took over as the Rose Queens. That year we chose a Survivor Romance Island theme. Outwrite, Outsell, Outlast!


We had buffs and flowers and bongos and torches and even created the famous coveted Rose Cup Award for the person with the most roses (who got a fancy cup) to the person with the fewest roses who got a decorated athletic cup. The look on her face was priceless when I draped that sucker over her neck. She was a good sport, though, and the cup was clean...I promise :-)






In 2007 we chose American Writer as our theme. We had Oprah, Nora Roberts, and Stephen King as our judges. We had our contestants read a one line blurb of their work in progress, and then we critiqued them in a Simon, Paula, and Randy fashion. It was a hoot.
Then in 2008 and 2009 we took a couple years off. We had the CDC committee of fairy godmothers in 2008, which was a lot of fun, and then Holly and Shannon put on a red carpet show worthy of the Oscars in 2009.
In 2010 Barbie Jo and I stepped up to the plate once more. This time we created a talk show called Barbie and Kari Lee. Regis would have been proud. We had news and headlines from the paper and magazines, as well as a makeover, and interviews to boot. We even spun the wheel to win a prize and talked to our "caller" of the day. Talk about fun. We always have fun.













And now jump ahead to the present. 2011. Last weekend Barbie Jo and I once again pulled off another fabulous Rose Ceremony. This year we chose Who Wants to be a Bestseller as our theme. We started out with, Who wants to see if it's in the cards to be a star like us? Then we proceeded to put each of our contestants in the hot seat and ask them 3 questions with only one lifeline. The questions all pertained to the current bestsellers out there. Once again we had a blast.
We will miss being Rose Queens, but we figured it was time to let someone else bring out there creativity and entertain us for a change while we retreat back to our writing caves and pour out our creativity on the pages of our books.
Seriously, though, I think every chapter should do something like this. It's so much fun and a great way to celebrate just how hard writers work all year long.
Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane. So tell me? Do you belong to a writers group? Do they do anything to recognize the efforts of their members? Inquiring minds want to know :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anita's Attic: In the Presence of Greatness

The Greatness in this case is Nora Roberts. I had my second signing with her this weekend at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Md. This was a smaller signing than the one in May. According to them, their December signings usually are, but this one surprised them. They ran out of Nora's latest book, The Next Always, the first in her Inn trilogy. Her husband and bookstore owner, the very nice Bruce Wilder, had to drive to a nearby Sam's Club and buy their stock so the fans waiting at Turn the Page wouldn't be disappointed. Now that's customer service. This is the same book that my agent had recently bought and was telling me what a great cover it had. Nora was very pleased to hear that. :)

Austin went with me this time. They even had a chair for him beside me.
We had a great time. There were only six authors signing so it was more intimate than last time. Nora's husband and son were there, her publicist, and another writer's husband, who was a really sweet man, almost as great as mine. :) There was lots of laughter and joking. Even Nora commented on the great atmosphere. She took a picture with an adorable baby, and even she couldn't resist pinching those fat baby cheeks. And her publicist is great. She's wonderful with the crowd, offering to take photos, teasing to loosen them up. A couple of the people were really emotional and excited about being there. One girl was almost in tears. Most of the crowd was there to see Nora; some of them arrived really early to get tickets to the signing, but the other authors had our moments as well.

Before the event, Austin and I walked through one of the rooms where the authors' books were laid out on a table. We heard one woman comment to another, "Isn't that the highland warrior book I told you about?" Austin smiled and pointed to me. "She wrote it," he said. The woman looked kind of strange but smiled. A minute later, she poked her head into the room we'd just entered. "Were you serious?" she asked. And when we told her we were, she was so excited. She gushed about what a great writer I was and how she'd lost her husband recently and my book was one that had helped her through her grief. That was so touching. Bless her heart, she stood in line for a couple of hours to get Embrace signed. And another girl was very excited to see me there. She had made herself wait to get Embrace so she could get it signed. She said she'd found a favorite new author. That comment is enough to make me happy any day, but hearing it while sitting in the presence of a writer as great as Nora is enough to make me giddy with pleasure. It's such a thrill to hear readers say how much they enjoy my stories and to see the excitement on their faces. It adds a touch of awe when they say, "Please hurry and write the next one." These people are waiting for my stories. They're invested in me. That's a daunting thought.

Along with meeting some of my readers, it was nice to spend time chatting with Nora. Remember, I was busy at the authors' table and missed talking to her at the last Girls' Night Out? Well, I not only chatted, but got some Noraly advice.

I told her how frustrating it is trying to handle all the loops and promotion and writing at the same time. I wasn't surprised by her response. WRITE THE BOOK! That's the most important thing. She said writers need their local writing community, but being on a ton of loops will just take writing time. She said she didn't fool with that stuff when she started writing. Of course, times were different then, and now we do have to build on online presence. She agreed that I have to promote; she does lots of promotion too--I'm sure she can afford to have someone do it for her :) -- but she told me that until I can hire someone to handle email and some things for me, she suggested getting a family member to sort through my email and loops for anything that needs my attention. Between you and me...hubby is dying for the job and anxiously waiting for the moment when I can hire him. I'm sure that will come about the same time I buy him the ranch. Did I mention he's optimistic?

Nora also encouraged me to write every day, and when I asked if it was true that she writes 8 hours every day, she said she tries for 6-8 each day, but not on weekends. I asked if she worried about burnout. She looked blank for a minute and said she'd never considered burnout, that you're either a writer or you're not. My admiration continues to grow.

Another nice thing about this weekend was the comfort it brought. Some of the issues I'm going through at the moment are disheartening, and it was so nice to spend a few hours in the company of wonderful writers and dedicated readers. Grace Burrowes and Joyce Lamb were there along with two local writers S.D. Sawyer and Tim Snyder. Joyce sat next to me. The woman is hilarious. If she decides she's tired of writing novels and doing her new USA TODAY HEA Blog
http://books.usatoday.com/happyeverafter/index which is a great voice for romance writers out there, she could easily be a comedian. She had me in tears, and Nora's publicist is very funny herself, wonderful at putting people at ease. After a few difficult weeks, this day was rejuvenating to my writer's soul.