Monday, July 29, 2013

So you think you want to write a book...

On almost a daily basis I have someone tell me (either in person or through email) that they would like to write a book. Some people tell me in a straightforward, confident way. Others express this desire with embarrassment. Then they usually ask me how I got published and to advise them along the same path. So I have decided that for the next few weeks I am going to use my blog to give both my experience and my advice to anyone who is interested. 

I believe that every single person who has ever been born on earth has a story inside them. Some people have many stories. But not everyone was blessed with the ability to control the written word.

Some people are blessed with the ability to see musical notes and convert what they see to beautiful music. I can see the notes. I have the desire to create the music. But I can’t turn notes into music. Some people can see a beautiful scene and convert what they see onto canvas. I can see beautiful things, but I can’t transfer what I see into art. I can’t even take a good photograph (always crooked, usually someone’s head is cut off). I believe it is the same with writing. Please understand that I am not comparing myself to great writers - think of me more in the same category with photographers who can take pictures without cutting off their subjects' heads!!!!!

People seem to feel that the stories within them will be more real if they are in book form. I agree that everyone’s stories need to be written down. Even if they will never be books your stories will be of value to your posterity and the therapeutic benefits of writing help to soothe and ground us. In the process of writing your story/stories you might find out that you are a wordsmith. If, however, you determine that you are not a ‘writer’ any more than I am a musician or an artist – your stories will still be written and they will still have value.

Now, having said that – I will proceed with my writing/publishing experience:

I wrote my first 'chapter' book when I was in the 4th grade. My mother said it was 
wonderful. My grandmother said it was super-wonderful and offered to buy me a 
typewriter. (I'm sure it wasn't nearly as good as they claimed, but their 
encouragement was sufficient to keep me trying). During 5th and 6th grades I 
became obsessed with a television show called “Here Come the Brides” about a 
group of women who were imported from New England to the Pacific Northwest 
where women were in short supply. So during recess I used to write 'scripts' for 
this television show. My friends would sit around me on the steps of the school 
and as I would finish a page they would pass it and then wait on the next page.
By high school I had graduated to spiral notebooks. I would write a chapter and 
then pass it to my friends. They would read the chapter then return it to me for the 
next installment. I was also a voracious reader. I would check out a book every 
morning at the school library and check it back in the next day (even if it meant 
staying up half the night to finish it). I read every spare moment – sitting in the gym 
during PE, during classes, at stop lights. The only books that took me two days 
were Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zhivago.

As much as I loved reading and writing, I never considered it as a career. My 
mother died of multiple sclerosis when she was 43. I had four younger siblings 
and one Christmas I realized that I had more memories of our mother than they 
did - since I was the oldest. So I used a memory as the basis for a short story 
and sent it to them for as a gift. And that is how my adult writing ‘career’ began. 
I didn't even know there was such a thing as LDS fiction, but when I went out to 
Salt Lake for my grandmother's funeral and visited a bookstore I was properly 
introduced. The thought occurred to me, as I was thumbing through books written 
by women who would later become my friends,  that I could probably write a book 
like this. Later my aunt commented that she thought my short stories about my 
mother were very good and that it was possible if I tried another type of 
writing I might be able to get published. I appreciated her kind comments, but 
didn't seriously consider it until almost a year later.  

As our eight children were born they didn’t really add a lot of expense. They didn’t eat much, we passed clothes down, we didn’t really go anywhere – not on vacations or even out to eat. But then they grew and college and missions loomed in the not so distant future. And I started to worry. My husband assured me that the Lord would provide. I believed that too – but I needed to know HOW! I thought about it and worried and finally decided the only thing I could do to provide the extra income was to write. So I came up with a plan and took it to the Lord. I promised to work hard, but knew that without His help success would be impossible. Then I began.

For the next 8 months I worked on my first novel. I did it largely in long hand, transferring it to the computer after I had it 'mapped out' on paper. (I would never do that now - tremendous waste of time). I made two serious mistakes with this first manuscript. I tried to write about a place I had been only once for an overnight stay when I was seven (California) and I tried to write about a lifestyle I'd never experienced (movie star). Once I was finished I found the names and addresses of all the LDS publishers (about 6) and sent copies of my manuscript out. My plan was to wait and see what happened before I invested any more time in this venture (I had given every moment of spare time and cut back sleep to 5 hours a night in order to finish the first manuscript). But it was summer time and the kids were out of school and spare time was a little more abundant so I decided to go ahead and try another one. I sent off my second attempt a week before I started getting rejection letters on my first manuscript – which was a huge blessing because I think if I’d gotten the rejection letters first I might have been discouraged and quit.

The second time around I placed my characters in a small southern town (very similar to my father's hometown) and mixed in everyday things (that I actually have experienced) with the murder and mayhem (that fortunately I have not!). Covenant contacted me a couple of months later and offered me a contract. Hearts in Hiding was published in May of 2001. I had to 
re-write my first manuscript twice before it was finally published as my third book,  
Until Proven Guilty. 

So I had very quick success and there is no doubt in my mind that it was purely a miracle.

Next week I’ll give suggestions on how to find out if you are a wordsmith 
(and ideas to help you to practice your writing craft).

New Blog Feature - Book giveaway

Beginning in August I will have a monthly drawing for a free book! Everyone who comments on any blog post during the month will be entered in the drawing. I will post the winner on the last day of each month and request mailing information via email. This month’s free book will be A Motive for Muder by Maureen Bateman.

Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But one day into her vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed when she stumbles, literally, over a dead man on Wendy’s driveway. With police closing in on her friend as their main suspect, Erica must find the real killer before Wendy ends up behind bars. With Erica’s skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake but then a second homicide-attempt hits close to home. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion. As the plot thickens, it appears Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew, but she forges on, sifting through mounting evidence until she hones in on the killer who has a most surprising motive for murder. With a dash of romance and some surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Recipe of the Week

Macaroni Salad -

1 lb box elbow macaroni                  2 chicken breasts
½ head of lettuce                               1 cucumber
1 can of medium pitted olives          Salt and Pepper
Mayonnaise                                       Dash of garlic salt

Boil chicken breasts. Remove from water and allow to cool. Chop into small pieces. Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool. Chop lettuce and cucumber into small pieces. Drain olives and slice in half. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and stir in mayonnaise (start with 1 cup and add more as needed). Add salt, garlic salt, and pepper to taste.

What are the chances . . .
When Cathy and Ricky got married her brother Andy was about to turn six. He was running around at the reception having a great time – eating all kinds of good foods without much supervision. Just when it was time for me to help Cathy get out of her wedding dress he came up and told me he didn’t feel so good. I told him to sit down and quit running around on a full stomach. Then I went to help Cathy. A few minutes later someone knocked on the door and gave us the bad news. Andy ignored my advice and continued to run. He passed Ricky, who was headed to the men’s restroom to change out of his tux, and Ricky noticed that Andy’s shoe was untied. Trying to be a good brother-in-law he bent down to tie Andy’s shoe. And Andy proceeded to throw up all down his back. All over that rented tux. On Ricky’s wedding day. Wow.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

If things were now as they were then – we’d be in Nauvoo

Our family was privileged to be members of the City of Joseph Cast for its last two years (2003 and 2004). Our oldest son, Jamie, was also in the cast in 2002 as part of the Byron Hogan family. The pageant is now just another part of Nauvoo history. But we have reminisced over the past few days – wonderful, poignant, treasured memories. So my blog for this week is about Nauvoo and how the Lord helped me prepare Jamie to go that first year.

But first a little backstory -

My ancestors, Lindsay and Elizabeth Brady joined the Mormon Church in Kentucky and moved to Far West, Missouri and later settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. While there they purchased property, built a house, and buried three children. As part of the Mormon Exodus, Lindsay and Elizabeth left Nauvoo headed west in the spring of 1846. After crossing the Mississippi River by ferry they sat down on the Iowa bank for a picnic dinner. They untied the oxen to let them graze and didn’t realize their mistake until the oxen walked into the water. The animals were headed home, back across the river.

This was a terrible tragedy for the Brady family. Without the oxen they couldn’t continue their journey west. If Lindsay tried to swim the river to retrieve the oxen and drowned, the family would have no means of support. While they were discussing other options, the three teenage sons stepped forward and volunteered to swim across the river and get the oxen. Elizabeth was very much against this idea and begged her husband not to consider it. But it was getting dark and the animals would soon be lost and their trip west ended before it started. So Lindsay agreed to let the boys try. Elizabeth sank to the ground, weeping as her sons waded into the water.

The boys swam across the river, got the oxen and brought them back, so the story has a happy ending. But when I read this for the first time, I wondered why Lindsay and especially Elizabeth had to be tested to such extreme lengths. They had already given up their comfortable home, their property, and they were leaving the graves of three children to follow the saints west. Why did they have to risk their three living sons as well? I tried to imagine myself in that same situation. Watching in terror as my sons walked into the deep water, then seeing them return in triumph, protected by the hand of the Lord.

It seemed like more than one person or family should have to bear, but sometimes the Lord has to lead us to the very edge of our endurance. Because it’s on this edge that we develop spiritual maturity and strength. Where we truly learn to know God.

In the summer of 2002 when Jamie was in his first City of Joseph Pageant, he was at a critical time in his life. He needed faith promoting, testimony building experiences. I was thrilled that he had the opportunity, but in order to participate he had to have a costume and I don’t mean just any old costume. He had to have authentic drop front pants and a frock coat with tails and a work shirt and a vest and a white fake shirtfront (to cover up his work shirt) and a top hat. I had to submit material samples to the pageant costume director for approval. Then she sent me homemade patterns with handwritten instructions like ‘cut out the pattern pieces’ and ‘sew the coat together’.

The pants were one of the hardest things I’ve ever made and when I got them done, they were too small. I considered having a nervous breakdown, but instead I bought more material and put 2 ½ inch inserts on each side. The costume director was very particular and I knew there was a good chance she wouldn’t even let him wear them, but it was the best I could do. The vest didn’t have a lining and seemed flimsy, but the shirt was relatively easy. Then on the Wednesday night before he was to leave on Thursday, while the rest of my family slept, I started on the frock coat.

There were pattern pieces that weren’t mentioned in the instructions and I didn’t know what to do with them. They didn’t even look like they fit and I wondered if maybe two patterns had gotten mixed up. It was too late to call the costume director so I sat there in my quiet living room and thought that I was going to fail. If I didn’t get the coat made that night, Jamie couldn’t go to Nauvoo. But I didn’t know how to make the coat. I cried for a little while. Then I prayed. Then I sat and stared at the stupid coat pieces. And then I got an idea. It didn’t make sense, but I did it anyway. And miraculously – it worked and soon all the pieces were assembled into a frock coat.

Exhausted but encouraged, I started on the fake white shirtfront. I made a mistake early that left it looking like a Catholic priest’s collar and I thought I was going to have to start over. Then I got an idea. What I did broke every rule of fine sewing, but it worked. When I went to bed in the wee hours of Thursday morning his costume was completed. I don’t think I could do it again. But that night, with the Lord's help, I was able to make the pieces fit together.

I certainly wouldn’t compare my sewing experience to sending sons into a river to face possible death. But I do think that in our own trials and struggles today, sometimes we are pushed to the limit of our faith. And we grow. So as bad as that night was – I’m thankful for it.

If things were now as they were then, I hope I would have been courageous like Lindsay and Elizabeth.

And while I wish that we were in Nauvoo right now, sitting in the auditorium at the old Academy, listening to orientation, singing the pageant songs, and visiting with friends we only saw once a year, I've accepted that sometimes good things - even very good things - come to an end. Now  we have to be content with our memories and be grateful that we were there. Although I doubt that any of us will ever be able to think of a place we’d rather be . . .

Recipe of the Week
Easy Apple Turnovers
2 tbsp butter
3 medium apples, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup brown sugar
½ tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla
1 pkg ready made pie shell (or make your own)
Vanilla ice cream

¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp melted butter

In a large skillet melt butter over medium heat, add apples and cook for 5 min. Mix in brown sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Cook and stir for 7-8 minutes until apples begin to caramelize. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Cool.

Preheat oven to 400. On a lightly floured surface roll out pie crust to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 5 inch circles. Re-roll until dough is used. Put about 2 tbsps of filling in each circle. Moisten edges of pastry with water, fold over and press closed with a fork. Transfer to lightly greased baking pan. Prick each turnover with a fork. Bake for approx. 20 minutes until lightly brown.  Allow to cool slightly. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with combination of sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This recipe is so good and easy enough for kids to do!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Girl Within
This week we had the rare opportunity to attend a Brown family reunion (my mother-in-law was a Brown before she became a Green). She is the only surviving sibling of eight and her parents were some of the first members of the LDS Church in north Alabama. So they planned a short program to discuss family history and made (in advance) a video showing how the family had grown. We were all asked to contribute some pictures and I sent this one of Butch and myself at the airport in the summer of 1977 while we were waiting for him to board a plane to Korea for his mission. His cousin, Rhonda, who was collecting the pictures, said she cried when she saw it because that is exactly how she remembers us. I told her I still felt like that girl – until I looked in the mirror. To which she replied, “You are still that girl.”

I’ve thought a lot about those words during this past week. I love the idea that young Betsy, idealistic, confident, and thin – still exists. Many years have passed and many things have happened – good and bad, wonderful and terrible, special and mundane – the fabric of my life. I reflected on what I hoped my life would be and how reality compares to those dreams I had at nineteen.

I wanted more than anything to marry Butch Green in the temple. (That happened in the Washington DC Temple in August of 1979 just a couple of months after he returned from his mission.)

I planned to work Butch through veterinary school and then begin a family. (Butch never made it to vet school. He found out he was allergic to almost all animals and I found out I was expecting our first child – Cathy. We moved to Birmingham and he got a job with UPS that has provided not only a good income but excellent benefits for our family.)

I wanted to have ten children and already had names for them – Faith, Hope, Charity, Jeremy, and Joshua are the ones I can remember. (We had eight wonderful children and didn’t use any of my names although Laura married a Joshua so maybe that counts!)

I wanted to graduate from college. (Still a goal.)

I drew out plans for my dream house. (My home does not resemble the plans I drew, but it has provided safety and refuge for me and my family for almost 25 years – if that’s not a dream house I don’t know what is!!!)

I wanted to write books. Actually this was more of a dream than a goal. My high school friends (who read my spiral-notebook novels) would tell me that one day I’d be an author, but I never seriously thought it would happen. (20 books and counting!!!!)

If I look at every day of the past 30-something years I see many, many things that I wish I had done differently. But taken as a whole, I am very thankful for the years between the day I watched Butch get on that plane for Korea and today. We have worked hard and we have been blessed. And just as Rhonda said – deep down, underneath the wrinkles and extra pounds, Young Betsy is still there – looking to the future with idealistic, confident optimism. And just think, 30 years from now when I look back on today – this pudgy middle-aged woman will be a Young Betsy!!!!

Works in Progress
I’ve been working hard on my re-write for Danger Ahead. It’s taking shape and I’m confident that I will have it finished by the end of the month and that it will be better for the revisions (even if that means it won’t be published when I wanted it to be).

Recipe of the Week
Lemon Icebox Pie (perfect for a hot summer day!!!)

1 (6 ounce) can frozen lemonade (softened)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
½ pkg cream cheese (4 ounces) softened
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 TBSP sugar
1 graham cracker crust (ready-made)
Lemon slices (very thin) for garnish

Combine lemonade, condensed milk, and cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Pour into ready-made graham cracker crust. Refrigerate until firm – overnight if possible. Just before serving whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form (but don’t over-whip or you’ll have a bowl of butter!!!). Fold in 1 TBSP of sugar. Then spread whipped cream on top of the pie and garnish with a few lemon slices. Serve immediately.

What are the chances?
I hate to post another WalMart incident – but since I spend so much time there it’s only logical that many of my experiences would happen there! Premature gray-ness runs in my family. Both my father and my grandmother grayed early but they have beautiful hair and I never planned to color mine (although it had been suggested several times by my beautician). But when I went on a Kindergarten field trip with Tommy (my fifth child – I still had 3 more Kindergarteners coming) and someone asked if I was his grandmother – I changed my mind. I think I bought a package of Miss Clairol on the way home. And I have been coloring my hair ever since (nearly 20 years) without a single problem. Then I bought a package – just like always – took it home and went through the procedures (that by now I could probably do in my sleep). Once I got the dye on my hair I noticed that it was kind of a maroon color – not the way it usually looked. Slightly panicked, I studied the box. There was the same picture of a girl with lovely light brown hair and the right name Medium Dark Blonde. So I looked at the bottle of dye more closely. It was not my usual color – still a light brown – but definitely a different name. Now I was REALLY panicked.

I washed the dye out of my hair immediately. It was a little darker than usual, but nothing terrible (thank goodness!!!). Then I called the 1-800 number on the box, assuming that there had been a mistake at the factory. The very nice customer service representative asked if the box had opened easily or if I had to break a seal. I thought back and didn’t remember a seal. She said that occasionally someone will switch the dye from a cheaper brand so that they can save a couple of dollars. I only had to deal with the hair color for a few weeks and the Clairol people even sent me a coupon for a free box. But this leaves me with two questions. What is wrong with people (switching dye to save a couple of dollars and nearly giving people a heart attack)? And . . . What are the chances that I would be the one to buy that particular package????

Have a great week!!!!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Week in Hindsight

Good News/Bad News
Well, I have two items of good news and one item of bad news. When faced with this option I usually ask for the bad news first but since I have an odd number of ‘new-es’ I think I’ll present it good, bad, good.

Good News #1 – I am recommitting myself to making a weekly blog post. Now keeping in mind that I’m out of work for the summer, I’m just back from a trip to the beach, and I’m in between books so my outlook is optimistic! In a few months the world may cave in on me and I might give up again. But I have received many requests and so I am going to try. In looking at my life – searching for a way to make it work – I realized that I find time every week to email my missionary son. So if I plan to combine that process with a blog update and I plan to include a few new features. I’ll give a little family update (The Week in Hindsight), a little something funny (What are the chances????), a progress report on books that are in the works (cleverly called In the Works!!!), and a recipe each week. I hope that these features will make it worth the while to come check out my blogspot weekly.

Now for the bad news
Covenant has decided to delay the release of Danger Ahead (the sequel to Proceed with Caution). SO, even though I have been promising for months that it will be coming out in October – it will not.

I accept responsibility for the delay. I got the manuscript to them late and they want some changes (which will almost certainly translate into a better final product) and they don’t think there is time to make the changes and then push it through the publishing process in the few months we have left. So, all I can say is that I’m sorry and I’m working hard on the re-write. Hopefully it will be out at the first of next year.

Good News Again
Covenant asked me to make sure that the release dates of my self-published books don't overlap the release dates of  my Covenant books. Since I thought Danger Ahead was coming out in October and I am working on another book that I was hoping would come out next spring (sneak peek next week) I wasn’t sure when I could release the sequel to Pivot Point. But since I will not have a Covenant book out in October, as soon as I finish the re-write for Danger Ahead, I get back to work on that sequel. I plan to have it ready for publication in September (or October at the latest) filling the empty spot in my book release schedule. So while I can’t wrap up one storyline – I CAN wrap up another.

And really –  two pieces of good news and only one piece of bad – I can't complain!

Works in Progress 
Danger Ahead (Sequel to Proceed with Caution) - This story picks up where the first book ended - but that was part of the problem. The evaluators and my editor all felt that I dropped the reader too quickly into the action without any back story. They felt that it would be difficult for people who read Proceed with Caution to remember all the details and impossible for people who didn’t read the first book to know what was going on. We don’t want to discourage new readers and we don’t want everyone to have to re-read PWC in order to understand the sequel. But I also hate retelling the old book in the new one. So we have compromised with the addition of a preface (or possibly a change to the prologue) that will be a brief summary of past events so that by Chapter One – everyone has all the information they need to understand and enjoy the book! There was also some concern about the split plot (I just can’t seem to get away from too much going on at once). But by rearranging the events I can pretty much finish one plot before I begin the other one. So that's what I'll be working on for the next few weeks. I will have this re-write in to Covenant by the end of July for a release date early 2014 (I hope).

Side Track (Working title for sequel to Pivot Point) – Planned release date September or October 2013.
Recipe of the Week
Layered Ranch Dip
2 cups (16 oz) sour cream
1 pkg ranch party dip mix (salad dressing mix is okay)
1 medium tomato chopped
1 can ripe olives, chopped
¼ cup red onion finely chopped
2 cups Monterey jack cheese
Tortilla chips

Mix ranch dip packet with sour cream. Spread mixture in casserole dish or on a small platter. Sprinkle on layers as follows - tomato, olives, red onions, and cheese. Serve with tortilla chips. Refrigerate until time to serve.

This is a new twist to an old favorite of ours that has refried beans as the base layer and taco seasoning mixed in with the sour cream as the second layer. My husband is a diabetic so I particularly like this one because it is relatively low carb – not the chips, but the dip!

What are the chances...

I was in our local WalMart recently and while checking out at the Express Lane my cashier was acting kind of strange. She was muttering under her breath and with every new step in the purchase process she would act like she wasn’t sure what to do. I thought she was new and so I was waiting semi-patiently for her to finish my few items. All of the sudden she turned around, heading away from the register, and passed straight out in the floor. It was a pretty graceful fall, thankfully. I looked around but there was no other cashier or WalMart employee anywhere nearby. So I went over to the fallen cashier. She didn't appear to be hurt and was kind of moaning – not completely out. I was pretty sure that she wasn’t having a seizure and very sure that she needed more help than I could provide. Still no one else has noticed or come to help. Not a customer, not a manager, not a custodian, nobody. So I had to leave the poor woman and go running up the line of registers calling for help. I got some strange looks, even from the WalMart folks, until I finally got them to look and see the woman lying in the floor. Then they came running. It was determined that the cashier’s blood sugar bottomed out and she didn’t feel it coming on until it was too late. They offered to call an ambulance but she declined. Once they had her up and drinking orange juice, the manager completed my transaction and I left. When I got home and told my kids they didn’t believe me at first. Then my daughter said, “You know that kind of stuff only happens to you, right Mom?”