Monday, October 28, 2013

Last Five Books I've Read

Per a blog topic request I did a bit ago, one suggestion was my five favorite books this year. I'm not sure I've read enough books to choose my top five, so instead I'll put the last seven books I've read:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I'm not quite finished with this one yet, and I don't even know how to evaluate it exactly because of that fact. It is more literary than I usually read, and it's discussing books I've never read, but I am rather captured by it. I'm listening to the audio, which has a great reader, and I probably have another week or so before I finish. I have determined that I will never read Lolita, and I've learned some very intellectual evaluations of some other classics, and I am more grateful than ever to be an American. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir from a former English Literature professor in Tehran before/during the revolution that turned a relatively progressive country into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Fascinating look at a culture different than my own, but also very interesting in light of different groups I see in our own country trying to control the actions of everyone else. I have heard that the end is intense, and I have a feeling I know what happens so we'll see how I feel when I finish it. Right now I would rate it a PG 13 but that might change by the end.

Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell

This is a book about four different moms--different types of moms--and the struggles each of them are facing within their roles. The chapters switch between the four characters and I liked the way it showed such differing women and different problems. I liked that it wasn't a 'man hater' book nor was it a 'super mom' book. It was more like 4 women's fiction novels put into one, showing each woman and what she was up against. The stories were good, though most of these women live a more cosmopolitan life than I do and so there were some portions that I did not relate to well. And, at the end of the book I found that while I liked each woman a bit better than I had in the beginning, there wasn't a single one that I felt I really related to; that I felt approached the role like I did. Not that I do it right or they do it wrong, but I think because my lifestyle is different and my motivations are different, I didn't 'fit' within the relationships of this story. The writing was good although the author had a tendency to use adverbs in dialogue tags like "she said sarcastically" "He said loquaciously" "she said energetically" "He said darkly" "she said humorously" "He said charmingly" and I did tire of all those adverbs. This was a rate R book.

Come to Zion Volume 1 & 2 by Dean Hughes

This is a story about English converts to the Mormon church at the time of mass immigration to Nauvoo. The first book follows the individual characters through their processes of converstion and then their crossing of the ocean to come to Zion. The second volume shows the life in Nauvoo as the church is still trying to figure itself out and then loses its first prophet. I love Dean Hughs and I have the other LDS fiction series he's written and have enjoyed this one just as much. One of the things I love about Hughs is how much I learn through the stories he writes. He does a fabulous job of showing the details of times and places. I feel that I better learn the facts through seeing people live through these times. One of the things I loved, loved, loved about this story is the imperfections he allows us to see in the early saints. We so often put early saints on pedestals and believe that they were these amazingly perfect people of faith and character. I have never believed this was the norm. Yes, they had great faith. Yes, they made great sacrifice. Yes, they paved the way for so many of their posterity to benefit from both of those things. But they could not have been perfect. They had to have had doubts. And they had to have been taking their journeys for their own growth--not ours. That meant it was hard for them, it means they struggled, it means that some of them were jerks. I like that Hugh shows this. I'm a bit nervous about the next book because it will involve polygamy which is still a difficult thing for me to deal with, but I trust Hughs and am therefore willing to take this journey with him. These books are rated PG.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This is a memoir about a girl who got lost in the Florida foster care system in (I believe) the late 80's--before many reforms were implements. The book covers her story from being a toddler taken from her dysfunction mother, to a child living in a variety of homes that were not equipped to truly care for her, to young woman finally in an adoptive family. It did not sugar coat anything but neither did it feel gratuitous. It was shocking to see how many times the system failed her, frustrating to see how ungracious she was when she got an adoptive family, and humbling to see those people who gave Ashley a chance to really change her course. My husband and I have recently become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and this book was required reading in our training. Since then, our appointments have become official and we are working together with a child whose family is involved in a DCFS case. It is our job to report to the Guardian ad Litem about how they are doing, what's working and what's not. I've reflected on Ashley's story many times, looking toward those things that made a difference for her story. I listened to the audio version which was read by Ashley herself. For me, this was a paradigm shifting book and I highly recommend it. I would rate this PG 13.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I am not a Sci-fi reader, and I'm not a big YA reader. But the movie is coming out, I have heard about this book for years, and I decided to listen to it during a long road trip. I was reminded why I don't like science fiction, and yet I do agree that this book is more than that and it crosses that genre line. It's a story about a boy being trained to be a military commander in an intergalactic war. There were parts that were hard to listen to because of the fact that it was a little boy in the story, there were also parts that I would have liked more clarification on, but all in all I liked the story. My favorite part was toward the end, after the climax and many changes have taken place. Ender reflects on the fact that in order to know people well enough to beat them with his military tactics, he has to know them so well that he loves them. Which then leaves him torn between the feelings of empathy for his enemies and loyalty to his side of the war. I found that absolutely fascinating and for me it made the story both complete and important. The writing is fabulous, the story was easy to follow, and I am glad I read it. I listened to this on audio and liked that as well. If I were sitting and reading I'm not sure I could have stayed with it simply due to the genre not being one that I like. I listened to the first chapter of the next book, Speaker for the Dead, and determined that I will likely not read any other books in this series. Not that it's bad, but it's just not my thing. I would rate this book PG 13.

Farenhieit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this book many moons ago in high school and remembered liking it. I have talked about and heard about it many times since then. Recently, after mentioning a part of it in a presentation, I realized that I had heard about that part I quoted from someone else--I didn't remember it on my own. I decided to read the book again and I am so glad I did. I've heard people say that Bradbury is overrated--I disagree. I love his use of words. I loved the depth of this story, the reflections it made to our time right now, and the connection it gave me to the time when I had read this book the first time. I listened to it on audio and the reader was excellent but I want to get a new copy of the book and highlight some of the ways Bradbury used words. For me this is a beautiful story and made me want to seek out more Bradbury in the future. It also reminded me that while there are only so many words out there, the way they are put together can make them feel brand new. Included at the end of this audio were some thoughts from Bradbury about the book and some very interesting cases of censorship that had taken place with this book in the preceding decades. What irony. I loved hearing Bradbury's comments and learning how this story came together for him. I would rate this book a soft PG 13, more from ability to understand content than from anything of a sexual or violent nature.

As you can see, I am moving more and more toward audio books as the time to sit and read seems to be a more and more fleeting experience for me. It has allowed me, also, to 'read' books I likely would never have read if I had to sit down to do it. Sitting to read, for me, is an experience of intimacy and visualization--I will continue to reserve it for those books who are best enjoyed in that situation.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Questions From Dina, Answers From Josi

I put out a request on Facebook a couple of weeks ago regarding blog topics. I've just finished a book and that gets my fingers itching to blog, but sometimes I don't know what to talk about. I had several fun responses and I'll be covering them for the next little bit. Today, I'm going to answer several questions that Dina asked--I fully expect everyone to be wowed by my answers! :-)

How to keep three teen boys fed and full on a tight budget?

I do not have three teen boys--but I do have one and just keeping him fed and full can be a challenge. I had four brothers growing up (Those are my brothers in the photo) and I was amazed at how much food they could pack away. AND, I am one of nine kids raised on a school teachers salary--so home economy is in my nature and my nurture. So here are my suggestions and though I like to sound like an expert, I may very well have this wrong but I'm trying :-)

-Growing up my mom always made a lot of food for dinner so that we could have leftovers. She then somehow trained us to like leftovers for snacks. This kept her from having to prepare food over and over again and there was always something yummy in the fridge. It was usually something more healthy than traditional snack food, too.
-Years ago I bought this book, The Tightwad Gazette, which was published by a woman who was on Oprah as the biggest tightwad on the planet. I am amazed at the penny-pinching methods she used, but more than that I was really impressed with how dang happy she and her family were. They had made it into a family goal and they had fun with it. I haven't employed all of the tips, but several of them have worked their way into my lifestyle and the toffee recipe she makes at Christmas, is awesome! (and cheap)
-Fat and protein make people feel fuller longer. Not the kind of fat in a twinkie, but the kind of fat in meats, dairy, fish, coconut oil and olive oil. Try buying meats in bulk and freezing it, teach kids how to make a hamburger on their own, keep lots of canned tunna and chicken around which can easily be made into a casserole, sandwich, salad, or wrap. One chicken salad sandwich can do the job of six pieces of toast with jam. I've been working on helping my son recognize the need for protein with every meal--string cheese, hard boiled eggs, meat of some kind or another. He's gotten a lot better at it and admits that he is fuller longer--for instance I used to do Oatmeal for breakfast but he gets to 10:00 and is "starving his face off" so now I make sure I make some eggs too. Luckily, I really like cooking breakfast. When he starts with good protein, he doesn't seem to be hungry all day long. I also buy protein shakes and bars in bulk at Costco so there are quick grab things for him to take.

There you go--that is the gammut of my expertise on feeding teen boys :-)

 Things to do with exchange students for free?

We had an exchange student last year (pictured left), it was a lot of fun. I realized that while I had assumed he'd want to go to movies and bowling and that type of thing, he was as interested in just our 'community' as he was anything else. So, my suggestions would be go to different playgrounds--teenage boys always seem to be able to enterain themselves at those. How about Frisbee golf courses, hikes, and national monuments in your area. Going to state capitols, historic buildings, museums, and churchs can be interesting. Often we are so used to the things in our area that we forget how interesting they can be to someone else. I would never plan long trips because it might be 1) boring for them 2) overwhelming for them.

From the comments you made it sounds like you're already doing a lot of expos and things--those are awesome. You could also look into car shows, community theater, and local libraries that have events. Do you have friends that would give you guys a tour of where they work? Maybe call the news stations, sports arenas, and animal shelters for tours there too. And the more excited you are about something, the more excited they will be. And take lots of pictures!

Do you have Grandchildren? If so, what do you like and what don't you like about it? If not, what do you think about that time in your life?

I kind of have grandchildren (pictured left.) My husband and I raised his niece for several years and she has two boys. They are our grandchildren in the way that my husband and I are parent figures in my niece's life, but I don't think it's like a real grandchildren relationship in other ways because several family members helped to raise our niece and when she and her family married, his parents took that central role as grandparents for the boys and are quite close to them. She and her husband have divorced and he has primary custody now. She lives several hours away, so we don't get to see them very often. I have loved watching them grow up and it's always a treat to see them, but because of circumstances we aren't in their lives very often. 

I anticipate that things will be different with actual grandchildren, that I'll be more involved with their parent's lives and therefore more involved in theirs. I don't want to be the grandma who is constantly babysitting--I don't' know how I ever did it with my own now that they are past that point--but I'm looking forward to that time and plan to enjoy them very much. I'm getting closer to that point of life every year so it is something I ought to ponder on a bit more. :-)

What's your favorite color? Has it always been your favorite color? if not, what other colors have been your favorites and why?

My favorite color is black. It has been my favorite color since junior high. It's probably my favorite because I look good when I'm wearing it and it matches everything. I am a bit color-disabled. I'm not good at visual arts, which makes clothing and home design not a natural fit for me. For many years 90% of my wardrobe was black or white, then I added some gray (I know, craaaaaazy) and then some red. In the last few years I've gotten all colorful and have one item of almost every color, but I still love black best of all. I go back to it over and over. If I were to boil it down, it would be because black is an easy color. I have plenty of other things about me that are complicated, so it's nice that this one thing is not. I do remember being in elementary school and my favorite color changing all the time--usually because I wanted a favorite color that no one else had. Black might have served that purpose too.

Thanks Dina, I hope the answers were satisfying :-)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Great Is my Editor

I asked for blog ideas and one came in from an undisclosed source, asking about how great my editor is. Might have been tongue in cheek, but if so she should know better. :)

Because I had published prior to having a book accepted by Deseret Book back in 2006, I thought I understood what an editor's job was. I thought they managed the production of the book and asked a couple of clarifying questions. At Deseret Book, however, it was very different. First off, I was assigned a Production Manager, this is the person who coordinates all the different aspects of my book--editing, cover, production schedule, marketing, etc. The remarkable Jana Erickson was the Production Manger assigned to me. Under her, I was assigned an editor whose job it was to make my book more awesome.

With my first book, the editor gave me a list of things I needed to fix. (I think my first editor was Emily Watts. I'll check when I get home or if someone has a copy of Unsung Lullaby hanging around, maybe you can check for me.) It was highly stressful and made me think my book must not have been that great. But they had accepted it, and I so wanted them to love me, and so I made most of the changes. I had one point I didn't agree with and I wrote a very long and involved explanation of why I couldn't change this one thing. They responded with "Good point. Leave it." Not too bad.

With my second book, I had a new editor, Jay Parry I think, and fully expected not to have any revisions. Surely the feedback I had with that first book was a fluke, right? And this book was perfect. In reality, I had three times the revisions for Sheep's Clothing to the point where I cried when I got the feedback, sure there was no way I could make it work. The things they wanted changed would change too much. I talked to Jana, she gave me some suggestions, I boo-hooed to my husband and friends and then I went in to make the changes. They didn't end up being as intense as I thought, I had to fix some motivations, add a few scenes and clarify some details. It did make some big changes to the book, but the book was much better for it.

My third book with Deseret Book (Her Good Name) was the first one I did with Lisa Mangum. I knew Lisa before this, she is a huge supporter of the Utah writing community and had been at several conferences I'd attended. She was the "face" of Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain that I knew when I was first accepted by them. Our paths had crossed, but she made me nervous. First, she's very tall--I am short--and tall people have always intimidated me. Second, she's very confident and while I second guess myself a lot, she never seemed to. Third, she's a smarty-pants--anyone who has a college degree directly tied to writing in some way, is a smarty-pants in my mind, it's not a derogatory term--and I am not. I am a "street" writer, you could say, and she is an educated, confident, tall woman. I had listened to her talk to other writers, listened to her presentations and though I liked her a lot and admired much about her, she still made me nervous. All that said, I was so excited to have her as my editor. Because I knew her and I knew she knew her stuff (edit that sentance, Lisa--3 knews!) I also knew (4!) that she would be good for me. And she was.

Intimidation aside, I had something different with Lisa than I'd had with my other editors. We were industy-friends and I trusted her expertise. Trust, within a publishing relationship is huge. Yes, there are contracts and legal assignments that it's good to have trust with, but the process of taking your brain child and building a body around that soul is big stuff, and trusting the people who are helping you make this creation is important. Not that I didn't trust my previous editors, but because I knew Lisa it was different. I know without a doubt that she is making my books, and in the process, me, better.

Over the last twelve books we've done together, our relationship has changed. I would dare say she is now a good friend of mine, even outside of our working together. We have traveled together, roomed together, met each others' husbands, and we both love our cats. I know a lot about her life and she knows a lot about mine which is why I have to keep being super nice to her  :-) Because of the relationship we have built, I know that when she makes a suggestion about my book, she's probably right and even if I don't agree at first, as I look into it, she almost always is (I say almost because while I can't think of a time she was wrong off the top of my head, for my own self-esteem I have to believe that I was right at least one time). On more than one occasion I have called her and brainstormed out plot issues--she is brilliant, truly. She can insert a new character or suggest a twist or lay out a new arrangement of information and it's as though the sun shines through the clouds. She has saved more than one book with her suggestions and because of her I have learned what an editor should be. Here's the basic job description:

Be a cheerleader with a deep well of information and an iron hand. Be confident and trustworthy, keeping the author's best interest at heart even if they don't believe it. Don't be afraid to point out weaknesses and suggest correction and if they balk, remember that, like a good parent, you are there to make them better. A good author will respect you for it and acknowledge your role.

Within my culinary series, she's been especially helpful because she knows Sadie and she knows my style. She can make changes that still sound like me, she can suggest things based on who my characters are because she knows them and knows how they will react. We talk about Sadie as though she's a real person--how many people can a writer do that with? It's amazing. And yet she gives me the hard truth. My last round of revisions had the line "I think Rocky Road is a solid B+ and with a little effort we can make it a solid A+ book." And I think we did--but only because she was willing to point out the confusing, missing, and understated elements of the book. AND I think she was kind in giving it a B+, once the changes were made I'm pretty sure it was more like a B- when I first sent it in.

People ask me all the time if I'm going to get into Indie publishing with my books, many previously-published authors are publishing in both industries and having a lot of success. I'm not ruling it out--who knows where the book industry is going--but for now, I can't imagine my books being the best they can be without an editorial process that helps me fix the book but also grow as an author. I have learned so much through the editing I've done per the revisions my editors give me. I can't imagine having the confidence in my product without it and though there's freelance editing and I have talented friends who give great feedback as well, there is something about the personal connection Lisa has to my books that makes a difference. An important difference.

I'm sure there are bad editors out there--I know a few people who have had really bad editors. I think most editors, however, are like Lisa. They love books, they love authors, they want to be a part of the process of making both of them great. I am very grateful to have had good ones and, because of that, expect that I will continue to have good editor relationships in the future. I think they are an essential part of my success and, Lisa, specifically, has made an impact on my career that I can't put a price on.

Beyond the editing, Lisa is a talented writer. You can read up about her books HERE.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I'm not Having a Launch

In 2005 I had my first launch party and it was an event! I had gotten the idea from the book "Guerrilla Marketing"which talked about artists, authors, singers, etc, having these parties to kick off a new book or tour or album. I had never seen it done in Utah. So I started from scratch and went about planning an event. I had doorprizes, drawings, a grand prize drawing, food, perks, etc. The event cost me about $400 and I spent at least 75 hours coordinating prizes, working out details, putting up posters, printing fliers, etc. It was a lot of work, but it was so much fun!

I had family, friends, readers, and just curious bystanders stop in and see what was going on at the independent bookstore where I hosted it. People had a great time, I had a great time, and while it was a ton of work, it was a very positive experience. I realized that it was easier to promote an event than it was to say "buy my book please" and I found it much more comfortable than a regular book signing.

I have had 13 additional launch parties for the 13 books I have published since then. Over time I did away with the drawings and the doorprizes, mostly because it was so much work but also because people get funny about donating every six months :-) Other authors were doing the same things, organizing events, contests, etc to announce their books. We were all on the launch-party train together. When I started publishing the culinary mysteries, it was a no brainer to use the signature recipe as the treat at the launch party. I stand behind the fact that it was a GREAT idea, but here are some behind the scenes things that made it highly stressful:

*For "English Trifle" I drove to Salt Lake and bought 16 oz plastic cups with lids so I could premake 100 trifles. I spent two days preparing all the different parts I realized that the lids I'd bought were the wrong size. I spent four hours driving all over Ogden, trying to find lids (Yes, it would have been faster to go to Salt Lake) and I finally found them--McDonalds McCafe drinks use the same lid. I begged a manager to sell me a sleeve of lids, she called her district manager and they, blessedly, agreed to the sale. Cost me $20 but, still. No way could I transport 100 cups of trifle without lids.

*For "Devil's Food Cake" I had to make chocolate curls for the 10 cakes I made. I'd never made chocolate curls and ended up doing three attempts before one worked--each one was a jelly roll size of melted chocolate. We had 'chocolate chunk' cookies for months at my house trying to use up the mistakes. I had three left over cakes that I ended up giving away at the end of the night.

*My sister and I juiced--by hand--about 60 key limes for "Key Lime Pie" our fingers were numb by the time we finished.

*A good friend kept "Blackberry Crumble" warm in her oven a mile or so from the bookstore and drove back and forth with pans for me in order to make that one work.

AND then, the kicker that was the beginning of the end of launch parties for me.

For "Banana Split" I made actual banana splits. I bought a case of 500 'banana boat' plastic dishes and we covered the floor in plastic. Mid-point through the evening a couple approached me and asked me about my license. They went on to explain that in order to serve home made food I had to have a special license that could be obtained through the health department. I'd never heard of that and they graciously didn't write me up, but they coyly said they'd come to the next launch and check things out. I was not thrilled by this, but I understand it's their job.

Between books I looked into the license. It wasn't expensive, but I had to get a food handlers certificate and I had to file a document and go through all the hoops to get it. I talked to my publisher and they graciously offered to not only take care of the licensing issues but to make all the cupcakes for "Tres Leches Cupcakes." Without them doing this, I'm not sure I would have done that launch at all. The night went well, the cupcakes were delicious. The health department guys did not show up, thank goodness. And I was off the hook for a few more months. But then I published "Baked Alaska"

Have you ever made baked Alaska? I only have because I wrote a book with that title. The recipe isn't overly difficult, but it's persnickety and the ability to make enough baked Alaska for 100 people and keep it cold but not frozen for the event was not possible. So, I rearranged my expectations and did a five bookstore stop event in one day. I had some chocolates to hand out and got to see a lot of people. It was a good day, but exhausting. The prep was better, but still intensive.

Now I have two books coming out.

On the one hand, in regard to Rocky Road, you can't get a much better dessert for a crowd than fudge. I could make it in advance, some with nuts and some without, and do my traditional launch. BUT, what about the food licensing? And what about Shannon's Hope which came out at the same time? Beyond that, did I have time?

The last question is the one that really mattered. The fact is that my life is full of lots of great things but that makes every day intense. Every amount of time I spend marketing, writing a presentation, traveling to an event, answering emails, etc, is time that takes away from my writing. Every amount of time I spend on my writing takes me away from my home and family. As my kids are growing up and leaving home, I am feeling the panic of not having them there any more. It's been hard for me and made me that much more aware of all the time I'm away. I get anxious about the time I spend that isn't writing and isn't family. I have begun charging for events I'm invited to, I've limited the number of things I'll do in a month, and say no a lot. Part of me just hates this. For so many years I was scratching out opportunities. I needed the exposure, the experience, the chance to talk to people and meet readers. It was essential. Now that my series is doing well and I'm not having to work so hard to put myself out there, it feels ungracious to turn down opportunities. But I have to accept that things have changed for me--for the better--and I need to be willing to adapt my life to that. If I said yes, I could do well over a dozen events a month. I can't do that so I have had to draw limits.

And so, I sat down with myself and we had a chat about what to do regarding the launch parties I'd done in the past. We formulated the time that would go into the launch parties for both "Shannon's Hope" and "Rocky Road." We calculated the pros and cons, we admitted that attendance has been decreasing at the events, that many bookstores are limiting events, and we asked ourselves if this was how we wanted to spend our time in the first place. Keep in mind, I have another book due in two weeks. Keep in mind, that I have two daughters in college this year and last year I missed several weekends my oldest came home because I was committed to events. Keep in mind that at some point in the next few months I need to develop whatever idea will become my next book when I finish with Sadie. And so we suggested that we skip the launch. We thought about it, and then we decided that's what we would do.

I will miss seeing those true-blue fans who never miss a launch. I will miss hearing how much people have loved the series. I will miss having a party to celebrate the release. I will even miss the cooking which, overwhelming as it is to bake for 100 people, is something I love. But I feel like I've chosen the better part this time. AND I am doing a handful of signings over the next few months--I'm hoping my readers will come see me there. You can find details about those events HERE

I was also influenced by this blog written by Shannon Hale. When I finished reading her post I was able to take a deep breath and just be okay with putting some limitations in place. It was validating to hear her say the same thing. I do not want to live in the spaces left over from my career--I want my career and my family life to work together to create a good experience for me and my family. And so, this is what I've chosen this time around. Perhaps things will change in the future, but perhaps not. I have stopped imagining that life gets less busy as time goes on.

I appreciate everyone's support and I hope to see you at an event this fall. Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Today's Morning Pages

Morning Pages (also called Author pages) is a concept I first heard about in Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. The concept per Cameron's book is that you spend some time free writing before you get to your actual writing. I tried it years ago and while I liked the concept (I talked about it on my blog back in 2007--here's the first post), I found that I would spend so much time with my morning pages that I struggled to find the time for my current WIP. I stopped doing it, went on to do many fabulous things, and then came back to it of sorts after a blog post I can't find now where a woman talked about writing about what she was about to write before she wrote it. She found that it clarified her thoughts and helped her focus, kind of brainstorming, kind of outlining, kind of therapeutic. So I tried and I loved it. These days, if I feel the smallest amount of reluctance when I sit down to write (about 85% of the time) I will spend a few minutes writing about how I feel about my writing and what I need to focus on. So, for no reason what so ever, I decided to type today's morning pages into my blog. For posterity sake, of course.

July 17, 2013

I made such great progress at first and then hit a wall. Not with ideas--just life. It's summer which means the kids are home and un-routined. I feel guilty leaving them and it seems I am always leaving. I hate it so much. I also had some edits and two rounds of Galleys for Rocky Road. We went to Jacob Lake to see Nanna {that's my oldest daughter who is working near the Grand Canyon for the summer} and the annual Teen conference. On top of that I've been working on organizing the upstairs study and my home office. There is just so much. My grand plan of writing 3 days a week this summer has become a not-so-funny joke. I have written almost nothing for 3 weeks. I'm rather pissed about it. If not for writing group I would be writing nothing at all--but writing group leads to editing which triggers my "This books sucks" and creates doubt about the excitement I had about this outline and the story. I'm already deviating from my outline which stresses me out. I feel like I need to rewrite my outline but that takes me away from writing the book and I wanted to have a first draft done by August. Argh! I am so tired of feeling the continual stress of a story and a deadline. I don't enjoy writing when it's all wrapped up in anxiety. I so want to enjoy it. I did for awhile--the outline was magical. I need to recapture that and I'm hoping to do so this week at the writing retreat the weekend. If I can update my outline and fix my current chapter I think I can get a ton done. I have today to prep for it. Stress!

I have an hour right now to get this chapter ready for writing group. I love the shoe scene but it isn't plot. I need to make it plot and I need to get right to Sadie calling Next Faces. I need to skip the Ji background stuff--we have enough of that already. It needs to be tight and the action and the questions need to be ramping up.

I'm on it

**I did fix that chapter, cut the shoe scene for now and cut some of the background. I presented it to my writing group who gave me great feedback and then I spent 2 1/2 hours rewriting that scene. I'm happy enough with it now to move forward in the story. Expecting great things at the retreat.

Monday, April 01, 2013

2 + 20 = Awesome.

Today, is my 20th wedding anniversary. Yes, we were married on April Fool's Day. Yes, we knew it was April Fool's Day when we chose it. No, he hasn't yet packed a bag and said he was just kidding (yet.) I was trying to think of what kind of post I could do to celebrate such an occasion and it got me thinking back to that day and all the awesome things it was. The carpet in the gym where we held the reception was orange. My dress was a rental I haven't seen since that day. Lee's cowlick wasn't properly tamed but he looked awesome in his tux. We shoved cake in each others faces, I hated the earrings I was wearing, and we honeymooned in Midway Utah--incidentally the hotel we stayed at is now a drug and alcohol rehab. Go figure. After our honeymoon, we came home and opened all the presents given to us by the family and friends who were so generous in helping us get on our way--we needed EVERYTHING and we got what we needed to start a life--one towel and pan and shower curtain at a time. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed by everyone helping us so much--for years and years those gifts gave back over and over again.

Thinking about the presents got me thinking about which ones have survived the twenty years, 7 moves, 4 kids and our niece we raised for several years, and  7,285 days of life we've shared since then. So, I did a little tour of my house to see what I had left. I was surprised at some of the things that had survived and sad by some things I looked for and didn't find. Here's my report:

 We were given these goblets by a friend who I can visualize in my mind but can't remember her name--she and I worked together at Olympus Clinic where I worked as a receptionist. She gave it to us with a black nightie and a bottle of Apple Cider. I have the nightie too but I'm sparing you :-)

I had a very good friend named Laura Rustad up through high-school. She always had a smile and a hug on hand for me, even when I didn't deserve it. Her mom owned a store in the Cottonwood mall that could print photos on just about anything. For my wedding, they printed a copy of our engagement photo on some fabric and then sewed up a pillow. This was on our bed for years before I realized it was going to get worn out or ruined so now it is in my cedar trunk. Such a thoughtful gift.

The women in my ward made quilts whenever anyone got married. Ruth Rands headed up this project for me--I had been freinds with her granddaughter for years and always loved going to Ruth's house. I think she was a bit dismayed when I told her my colors were black and white, but she did it anyway--each black square has a yarn X. The backside is black, with X's also--pretty intricate quilting in my opinion. Months after the wedding she talked to my mom at church and asked if I knew she'd made it, I'd never sent her a thank you card. I remember being embarassed about that, but I don't remember if I ever sent her that card. I sure hope I did. Many a child has used and loved this quilt. Currently it is used to create the "Man Cave" for the boy child.

I have no idea who gave me the set of four black coffee mugs--my colors were black and white--but for years they were the only mugs we owned. This is the only one that survived. It has held much hot cocoa over the years.

My friend Jenny Lunt (now Moore) made me this quilt--I couldn't beleive she knew how to do something like that. She threw me a bridal shower at her home and was so sweet and supportive of my wedding. Her sisters played the harp at my reception, the classiest part of the whole day. This quilt was on my bed for the first few years of marriage and has been used by many of my children over the years. A few years after we were married a kitten we had at the time pooped all over this quilt. My brother in law was staying with us and threw it in the washer without pre-treating the stain. I cried when I realized it wasn't going to come out, though it's faded over the years. It also had a jar of pickles broken on it once. No stain from that. I'm very thankful to have Jen's friendship too after all these years. She is a gift that has continued to bless my life.

I don't know who gave us this stool, but we have used it more than any other gift we received. It has been a part of us painting numerous walls, getting things out of cupboards, helping kids wash their hands and reach the potty. When I remember to give wedding gifts to new couples (I'm so bad), I usually give them a simple step stool like this. Like many things, it's nothing fancy but it has turned out to have great value through it's use.

My crazy aunt Buleah gave us this as a wedding gift--it's our wedding invitation matted and framed. I have loved, loved, loved having this keepsake. It's something my kids have very much enjoyed as well. When I can afford it, I love giving similar gifts like this as well--but it's pricey and takes some pre-planning so having those two things line up is a bit of a trick.

This is the dress I wore from the reception. I rarely bought retail anything at the time and my mom insisted I buy a NEW dress to wear that day. So I did. And I loved it. It was an excellent breastfeeding dress in later years. :-) I consider it a gift from my Mom because she helped me pick it out and paid for it herself rather than taking it out of my wedding budget which I was ridiculously cheap with.

I don't know who gave me this platter, I remember thinking I would never use it. I didn't use it for a few years, but I've used it for numerous events since then. It's one of the nicest 'dishes' I own. And I still have the box!

My Aunt Sandy and Aunt Anne, on my dad's side, hosted a shower where all the girl's on the Schofield side made this quilt. We originally tied it with satin ribbon bows, but I had to replace it with yarn after the ribbon frayed and things. This is another quilt that has gotten a great deal of use and serves of a sweet reminder of how blessed I am with wonderful women in my family.

My good friend Cindy Voorhees--and former Young Women's President--gave Lee and I this book. I read it cover to cover the first week we were married and revisited it many times, especially in those early years. Lots of great advice from a woman who has continued to be such a fabulous source of love and encouragement over the years.

I don't remember who gave me this either, but it continues to be my very favorite vase.  For many years it was one of the prettiest things in my house.

Most importantly is that after twenty years I still have that man I fell in love with. He continues to be the greatest gift in my life and one I thank my Father in Heaven for every day. On the day we made vows to each other and to God, I felt sure I could never love him more than I did in that moment. In the years since, however, I see THAT love as only the beginning. I had no idea how big love could become--no clue how much a part of him I would be one day and how big a part of me he would be too. He is my best friend. He is the keeper of my heart. He is a big part of my identity. He is my biggest fan and cutest cheerleader. I've no doubt that the next twenty years will be just as wonderful as these two decades have been for us.

Twenty years and counting!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Seeing Red? It's Just my Color Code showing.

Back in high-school (21 years ago, yikes!) I had a Psychology class where the teacher had us take a color coded personality test. The colors were green, gold, orange, and one I can't remember. I remember that most of the kids in that class were orange--which our teacher predicted. I was not orange which I found a little embarrassing--orange was basically "fun" and what 17 year old didn't want to be fun? I think I was gold--can't remember for sure--but I do know that whatever color I was reflected that I was practical and determined--only one other kid in the class was the same color as me.
Life moved on and low and behold, I continued not to be fun and grew in both practicality and determination. About ten years after this high-school profile, I was introduced to The Color Code, a book by Taylor Hartman which was similar to that green/gold personality profile I'd taken in high-school. I bought the book and took the test to determine what color my personality was. Here's the basic color mapping:

Red: The Power Wielders
Reds have the most dominate, intimidating personality. Expressing themselves emotionally is uncomfortable and creates the vulnerability they typically avoid.

Blues: Do-Gooders
Life cannot bestow on anyone
a more grtifying reward
than the sincere appreciation
and trust of a Blue friend,
employer, or family member.

Whites: Peacemakers
Whites offer us all
a model for gentle
human dignity.

Yellow: The Fun Lovers
Happy is as happy does. Yellow people love themselves because they know exactly what they love to do and always find the time and resources to do it.

No one is all of just one color, but when I did my profile I was a bit dismayed at the results. I thought I was a Blue/White, with a little Red mixed in to make sure I was on time for appointments. Instead I was very Red, with some Blue, a little White and absolutely no Yellow. NO YELLOW. Not even one stupid answer came out Yellow!

If you go back and read those personality descriptions (they are from the chapter headings of the book) you'll notice that only Red points out the negatives of that personality type. With great power comes great responsibility, I gather.

Basically, Reds are hungry for power, want to be productive, want to look good to others, shouldn't be taken too seriously, and seek leadership. This also means that they have strong opinions, get frustrated with other peoples opinions, get the work done, often have a big mouth, and tend to keep people at an emotional distance. They like to be in charge, they like to debate, and operate from a practical and logical place. It sounds like I'm portraying these negatively, but in my mind, I see most of these as good things. However, I have just enough Blue in me to feel bad about that.

Blues are motivated by altruism (which means helping others), seek intimacy, crave being understood, need to be remembered and appreciated and are directed by strong moral conscience. Basically, they are nurturers and want the world to be a better place. They like understanding and getting along and want people to be happy and comfortable.

Not-so-surprisingly, Red/Blue is one of the trickier personality profile out there because so many of the personality traits work against each other. Basically, I am this:

  • I have really strong opinions I share easily but then feel bad when people don't agree with me.
  • I like to give other people opportunities to feel the success of leadership, but I want to do it myself.
  • I can do almost anything (as far as role/organization/commitment) but I want to do it my way.
  • I'll feel bad for not wanting to do it your way if I bowl you over.
  • I share opinions then regret them later and want a do over.
  • I hate hurting people's feelings but often roll over them to get my way.
  • I have emotional baggage but don't let it get in the way of progress.
  • I am impatient with other people's emotional baggage but feel like a creep about it.
  • Accomplishment is important to me but I worry it makes others uncomfortable.
  • When I hold back, I often regret it.
  • When I put it all out there, I often regret it.
  • I am very confident in my opinions.
  • I second guess everything.

I am about 60% Red, 30% Blue, and 10% White. Seeing as how I have no Yellow, it perhaps makes sense that I hate Disneyland, don't make room for play in my life, and tend to prefer small groups or no groups when it comes to down time. My idea of 'fun' is lunch with a friend, reading a book--alone--or creating something. When I exercise it's about accomplishing a goal rather than enjoying the invigoration or the sunshine. I really don't see this lack of fun as a drawback--but I know other people do and I have enough Blue to regret that. I have enough White to forgive myself for it. My Red thinks I'm wasting my time missing Yellow, my Blue thinks my Red is being mean, and my White wishes that Red and Blue would both just calm the heck down and think about things in the greater scheme of existentialism.

Right now, I am feeling very frustrated with the world at large and my place within it's varying opinions. I have opinions that differ with many of my family, friends, and peers, and I can't seem to shut up about them, which I can feel is creating gaps. Then again, when someone agrees with me, I am over the moon and further motivated to share my thoughts, which inevitably makes someone else uncomfortable and ends with me questioning myself all over again. I'll read one opinion piece and completely agree and tell everyone how much I agree. Then I read a rebuttal and agree with parts of that too but don't know how to respond and then I second guess both my earlier opinion and the one that follows. I find myself continually asking, "What is Right?" because Reds want to do things the right way. But what is right? What is right? What is right? There are a lot of people telling me what is right and as a Blue I am motivated to agree, but then they disagree with each other which makes my White hesitant to trust either of them. And then there are people telling me what is wrong, and that gets my Red up because I hate being questioned.

So, what's the point of this post? I don't know. My Red says that it's to educate all you people so you better understand me, my Blue says it's to help you understand me in hopes of better understanding yourself, and my White says that it's because with understanding comes a sense of comfort and peace and who doesn't need more of that in their lives? My Red wants to share all my political opinions about everything tell people how wrong they are when they don't see things my way, my Blue wants to retain a neutral presence and encourage everyone to find their own foundation, and my White doesn't want to rock the boat.

The real point of this post, I think, is to help me try and make sense of myself. The fact is that I am Red. Red is awesome--it's Red's who run the world and keep it going. So, how can I be my best Red? Can I use my Blue to temper my Red without taking away the great things about being Red? How can I let the quiet strength of my White show through the loudness of my Red?

I guess that's my course right now--learning from myself and others and trying to embrace the best of all three of my colors. They all have strengths and they all have weaknesses, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. I want to be Red. And Blue. And White.

As for Yellow--well, I haven't really missed it and I have enough to worry about (Blue) without adding that to the list (Red.) And I have a whole bunch of lists :-)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

14 Things I Love . . .

  1. My husband's arms around me.
  2. Hearing that someone loves my child.
  3. A sincere compliment.
  4. Lunch dates with friends.
  5. Accomplishing a goal, big or small.
  6. A clean house.
  7. Fireplaces.
  8. My faith.
  9. Chocolate covered cinnamon bears.
  10. Appreciation.
  11. A book that makes me think.
  12. Soup.
  13. Movies.
  14. Believing someone else's life is better for having me in it.
 Happy Valentines Day. May you have love in it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Baked Alaska Events!

For the last 7 years and 12 books, I have done "Opening Night Parties" at local bookstores to celebrate when each book is released. These events are published in the paper, advertised like crazy online, and have included food, drawings, door prizes--the whole nine yards. With the Sadie Hoffmiller series, the title recipe for each book has been served at these events. I had 11 triple layer devil's food cakes complete with chocolate curls on top. I made about 30 pounds of blackberry crumble and hired the local high school's culinary services class to make 16 pumpkin rolls. It's been a labor of love, I have loved it, but, dang, if it hasn't required some manual labor on my part. Not only making the items (other than pumpkin roll which I hired out and tres leches cupcake that was made by Lois Blackburn) but also the shopping for the items, the transport, figuring out how to keep cold things cold and hot things hot. I still have 150 banana split boats in my cupboard because I had to order 300 of them, I once had to beg some lids from my local McDonalds because I'd bought the wrong size in Salt Lake and the RIGHT size happened to come on their McCafe's (I searched half a dozen fast food places and gas stations before I found the right size) and I have leftover napkins for every single book; yellow, red, pink, green, purple, orange, blue--you get the idea. It has been fun, I've had fabulous helpers (my kids, my friends, my sister Cindy) but Baked Alaska posed a bigger problem than I'd faced with the other books.

Ice cream needs to stay frozen. Meringue does not travel well. IF the ice cream melts, the meringue slides right off. IF the transport is too bumpy, the meringue slides off. IF the meringue slides off, it's a mess and it can't just be put back on. I would need a way to store ten to twelve frozen baked Alaskas, but not in my deep freeze because that would be TOO frozen. I would have to transport them without destroying them and then keep them frozen enough to serve, and I couldn't stack them on each other. I spent a great deal of time trying to resolve these issues and make a plan, I even developed a baked Alaska cupcake that seemed easier, and is delicious, but so time consuming to make and difficult to store that it too had to be rejected (though the recipe is in the book, and it's really yummy!). In the end, I could not envision a result with the baked Alaska desserts that didn't end in failure. There were a couple other considerations for me as well:

When we served banana splits for Banana Split's release, a couple came to the event who also happened to work for the Health Department. They informed me that in order to legally serve food at such an event, I needed to have proof of a food handlers permit, and I needed a provisional certificate of some kind from the health department that certified that I was following proper technique when serving this food. There's a rather hefty fine associated with not having followed these protocals, but they didn't turn me in, just gave me a warning for next time.

When Tres Leches Cupcakes came out, the woman who had come up with the title recipe offered to make the cupcakes (she has proper certification). But that wasn't available to me this time around.

The other consideration is that my attendance has gotten lower with each opening night. In the beginning I used to get about 200 people, at the last one I probably had 100. I think in part this is because life is just so busy, I think it also has to do with the fact that I'm doing an opening night every six months and it's kind of lost it's 'punch.' Now, having the opening night has never been about selling as many books as possible, it's more about me having a chance to celebrate the book and I get to visit witht readers I only ever see at opening nights. But, still, with attendance getting smaller and circumstances getting more complicated and Baked Alaska feeling impossible to serve to a crowd, I decided to explore other ideas and I came up with something I hope will be successful.

Instead of doing one signing in my local community and serving the title recipe, I'll do five signings in five different stores across the Wasatch Front and have some yummy treats that are easy to transport. Here's a list of where I'll be and when I'll be there on Saturday, February 16th:

UVillage Deseret Book – 10:00 am-11:00 am
1076 S 750 E

Fort Union Deseret Book – Noon-1:00 pm

Layton Deseret Book – 2:00 pm-3:00 pm
754 N MAIN

Ogden Temple Deseret Book – 4:00 pm-5:00 pm
339 EAST 2250 SOUTH

Brigham City Seagull Book – 6pm-7:30pm
725 W 1200 SOUTH

The first four signings are just 1 hour but I get to finish in Brigham City, which is fitting since they have given me such great support in prior openings. I'm looking forward to the chance to see a lot of fans in one day and since I'm doing less signings throughout the year, I'm hoping people will come out for this one. I'm looking forward to doing something new; changing things up and seeing how it turns out. I'll let you know how it goes :-) or, better yet, come see me and find out for yourself!

I started getting emails yesterday (February 8th) that people were finding Baked Alaska in their local stores. You can also order it online at or or The ebook versions for Kindle and Nook are on their way and it will be on audio, both MP3 and CD within the next week. I hope you love it. You can also buy it in paperback AND ebook, as a combo.

If you'd like to read the first chapters, go HERE. Recipes will be posted on the 16th.

Thanks for all the great support, the series has continued to grow in popularity and I could not be happier with where I am in my career. I owe that to my readers who have laughed with Sadie, rolled their eyes at Sadie, and, ultimately, cheered her toward victory! I hope you enjoy her latest adventure.