30 July 2013

Giant News! or How My Book Became a BOOK! (The Long Version)

My super-talented, amazing, artist-hubby, Phil, drew this beautiful picture to celebrate the announcement of my debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, coming in 2014 from Swoon Romance. This is my main character, Andi. Isn't she amazing?
 You may have already seen my book announcement here. That's the short-and-sweet version of the story. But if you've ever met me (or read my blog), you know that short-and-sweet isn't really my thing. Because the real fun of a story is in the details. If you're more of a "just the facts, ma'am" kind of person, my original announcement is the one for you. But if you're more like me, then keep reading. ;)

Taking the Next Step: Swooning Over a Story

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to write stories. And she told everyone she knew that she was going to become a famous author someday. And everyone she knew told her that she was sure to become one of the best. She began collecting beautiful pencils and told all of her friends and family that she wouldn't sharpen any of them until she was ready to write her very first published book. Because these pencils were full of magical stories, just waiting for her to unlock them.

But that little girl grew up, and suddenly, "someday" seemed to be coming too soon. The little girl began to worry. What if she tried and failed? What if the one thing she'd always known she was good at wasn't really enough? What if people laughed? She packed away her beautiful pencils and put her dreams on hold, because as long as she hadn't yet begun, "someday" was still a safe dream.

Then, in October of 2008, this grown-up girl (who now had 4 adorable children of her own) went to a women's conference where she met NYT best-selling author, Jason Wright. And as she listened to him speak, and then later chatted with him for a bit, she realized something earth-shattering. He was a super-successful author, and he was just a normal person!! She left the conference with one thought resonating in her mind: "If he can be a bestselling author, then so can I!"

Someday had arrived.

The girl sharpened her first story pencil and pulled out a brand-new spiral notebook, and started writing the book she hoped would be her very first published novel.

Less than a month later, the first draft of that first novel was written. And it was pretty awful. So she revised and edited and showed it to some friends who told her that it was still pretty awful. (Thanks, Shawn, for forcing me to find my voice!) And after she finished crying, she revised again, until she was convinced that it was perfect. She printed off the manuscript and sent it to 9 agents and a publisher, knowing that the first batch of queries would probably bring several rejections. And she was right. Because the story really wasn't ready yet. But out of the ten queries she sent, one of the rejections was a semi-encouraging letter that appeared to be just half a step above the standard form letter, and the girl was thrilled to see the encouragement.

The novel wasn't quite there yet, she realized. So she put it away for a while and wrote something new. And then she wrote something else. But she didn't know how to make any of her stories "good enough." She couldn't do it alone.

The girl joined SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and MWA (Maryland Writers' Association). She met some other writers who helped her polish and revise her first manuscript until it no longer resembled the original. She attended writing conferences, where she met even more professional authors, and rubbed elbows with some pretty fabulous agents and editors. And then she sent out more queries. And she entered a few contests.

There were a few requests and some very highly-encouraging rejections, but no offers. And in the fall of 2012, after revising and querying for two years (but a total of only 21 queries - an average of less than one query per month), the girl decided it was time to move on to different projects. Her beloved critique partners tried to tell her that 21 queries was not enough, and she shouldn't give up on this story they loved, but the girl would not be swayed. After all, she had several manuscripts waiting to be revised. Surely, one of them would be the key to her dreams.

Yet, the girl wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters she'd grown to love so much. And so she decided to take a break from the heartache of writing to try to get published. She set aside the month of November (or, as it is known in the writing world, NaNoWriMo) to write something that would be just for her. Something silly and fun that she didn't have to worry about trying to publish. She wrote the story of the little sister from her first manuscript, fully intending to file it away with the now-abandoned first manuscript as soon as November was over.

But when December rolled around, the girl realized that she might have created something worthwhile. And so she sent it to her critique partners, who loved it even more than her first manuscript. And they made her promise not to give up so easily this time around. "When you have 200 rejections, you can quit."

So the girl entered a contest. And then she entered another one. And she received several requests. She sent the manuscript to the agents who had requested to see it, and she waited. And slowly, the rejections trickled in. But she hadn't hit the magic number yet, so she couldn't quit. She took the advice of an amazing super-agent and revised the manuscript, pulling out an entire subplot and tightening everything.

She entered another contest, and she received several more requests. And then, some friends talked her into entering one more contest, in which she received two requests.

The girl sent the requested pages to everyone who had asked, and she waited. When a few weeks went by with no response, the girl decided to hurry the process along. If she wasn't allowed to give up on this manuscript until she had 200 rejections, she had to get to work. She compiled her list of top agents and started writing query letters, sending fifteen in one week, before she lost her nerve.

And then, one day, the girl came home from a date with her amazing husband and found an email waiting for her. Awesome Editor said she wanted to buy the girl's book.

And the girl did not sleep that night. She was too busy dancing and squealing with excitement.

After contacting everyone who was still considering the manuscript, the girl waited the required week to see what would happen next.

And another Amazing Editor said she also wanted to buy the book. 

And then two agents said that they would like to talk to the girl, so phone calls were scheduled.

The first agent was one the girl had dreamed about for years. Dream Agent had even given the girl the idea for one of her other stories, when they met at a conference. The girl was certain that this was destiny. She dreamed of rainbows and bubbles and a giant Happily Ever After of Publishing Bliss. But although the conversation was pleasant, and Dream Agent was very knowledgeable in all aspects of the publishing business, the "spark" just wasn't there. And so Dream Agent and the girl decided that a partnership wasn't meant to be.

The second agent was one that the girl had never even heard of before Super Agent* requested her manuscript in a pitch contest. And so the girl came into the conversation warily, with no preconceived expectations. Super Agent  totally blew the girl away with her professionalism and enthusiasm. After a ten minute phone call, the girl would have signed a contract with Super Agent in a heartbeat. But Super Agent proved her total and complete awesomeness by advising the girl to negotiate this publishing deal without an agent, because most of the work was already done, and Super Agent said she wouldn't feel right taking commission on a deal she hadn't brokered. Super Agent told the girl that she should wait to find an agent until her NEXT manuscript was ready to query. Then, Super Agent took time out of her busy schedule to help the girl understand the totally-overwhelming, tiny details of the offers she had received, so the girl could make the best choice possible.

And two days later, the girl accepted the offer of publication from Swoon Romance! Her book is scheduled to be published in 2014, and she's ready for the hard work that will bring her to the next Happily Ever After. 

*Super Agent, I hope you read this, and that you know who you are. You will forever have my gratitude! You totally rock!!!

29 July 2013

BIG News!! (or The Day My Story Became a Book)

So, this happened today:
 Actually, it happened a few days ago, but it was announced today. ;)

I feel like my head and heart are going to explode. This is such a dream-come-true! (I'd add one of those dancing .gif thingies here, but I've not yet actually learned how to do those. Just imagine me dancing. Because I am.)

It's been quite the roller-coaster ride to get to this point, and I'll share the full story soon (when my brain calms down enough to let me form a full, coherent thought). Until then, I've noticed that everyone always shares their statistics in announcement posts like this... So here are my stats for TWELVE STEPS:

Contests Entered:4
Queries Sent: 15
Requests from Contests: 3 full, 10 partial (4 of the partials were later bumped up to fulls)
Requests from Queries: 1 (full)
Form Rejections: 13
Personalized Rejections: 8
No Reply: 6

And I'm so happy to announce that I've signed with Swoon Romance to publish my YA Contemporary Romance TWELVE STEPS in March/April 2014!!! :D

25 July 2013

TASTE THE HEAT by Rachel Harris - Giveaway!

Update! I've decided to amp up the heat on this giveaway. I'm now offering a SECOND copy of TASTE THE HEAT to another lucky winner... and this one can be awarded internationally!!! Please spread the word!

A few days ago, I was excited to learn that I won a prize package from Rachel Harris, including a SIGNED poster for TASTE THE HEAT!

Unfortunately, the house we're living in right now (military housing) is too small, and I don't have wall space to display this fabulous poster... So with Rachel's permission, I'm passing it along to one of you lucky folks! (I'm also throwing in a copy of the TASTE THE HEAT ebook for the lucky winner!!!)

Just enter on the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

23 July 2013

Book Review: I HATE PICTURE BOOKS by Timothy Young

The title of this picture book was so eye-catching that, without knowing anything else about the book, I knew I wanted to read I HATE PICTURE BOOKS by Timothy Young. So when I saw a chance to get a review copy from NetGalley, I jumped at it. And Yay!! They sent me a copy to review!

Reading I HATE PICTURE BOOKS was the most fun I had in reading a picture book in a very long time! It's not only a story in it's own right, but a walk down memory lane, through all my favorite picture books.

The little boy in this story decides that he hates picture books. He's going to throw them all away, because they cause nothing but trouble. (For instance, when he read Harold and the Purple Crayon, he got in trouble for drawing on the walls! Totally unfair!) The little boy puts himself (literally) into the pages of his favorite picture books, and I love the way Young captures the unique illustration styles and narrative tones of each of the picture books explored.

I read it on my own several times over, and then read it to my kids too. Even my 15-year-old son wanted to sit on the couch with me to read this one! This is a must-have for anyone who has ever read a picture book.

21 July 2013

That They Might Have Joy

One of my favorite scriptures is from the Book of Mormon. In the Second Book of Nephi, Lehi (the patriarch of the family) is teaching his sons about the creation. He tells them:

"Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25)

I've been thinking about this scripture a lot this week. Because through all the ups and downs and trials we face, no matter how gloomy the path may get, that's the ultimate goal, isn't it?

Life may not always be fun. We might hit all kinds of snags and detours on our paths, but true Joy, real Happiness, doesn't come from external forces. It's been a bumpy week, full of all kinds of ups and downs for me (some super-amazing, wonderful high points, and a few really-not-so-great lows). And I'm realizing that I get to choose my attitude.

I choose joy.

What about you?

19 July 2013

Vegan Chocolate Mousse Recipe

 Last week, in honor of Rachel Harris' debut adult romance novel, TASTE THE HEAT, I shared my Super-Easy Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse recipe on Rachel's blog. One of the people who commented on the post lamented the fact that she couldn't eat dairy, so my delectable mousse was not an option for her. She wondered if the recipe could be made with coconut milk instead of heavy cream. As you know, I love a good challenge. And I definitely take requests for recipe creations on this blog. So today, after finding 4 ways not to make chocolate mousse from coconut milk, I'm pleased to say I've succeeded. I present to you Easy Vegan Chocolate Mousse!

You will need:
3/4 c. coconut cream powder
6 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 c. boiling water
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or hazelnut extract, if you prefer)

 Place coconut cream powder, cocoa, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

 Stir ingredients together to mix thoroughly.

 Add boiling water and vanilla extract, and stir to combine thoroughly. Chill 6-8 hours, until firm.

 Whip at highest speed for three minutes, with the whisk attachment of your mixer.

 Serve immediately for a soft, pudding-like texture, or chill for several hours if you prefer a thick mousse. Garnish with berries or mint and serve.
This mousse isn't exactly identical to the texture and taste of the Easy Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse, but it comes awfully close!

15 July 2013

First Crushes and Life Lessons

Last week, TASTE THE HEAT, by Rachel Harris was released. (It's about Colby, a Cajun chef, and her childhood crush, Jason.) To celebrate, last week everyone was posting their favorite recipes. (I actually posted two. One for chocolate souffle, here on my blog, and one for a super-simple chocolate mousse over on Rachel's website.)

This week, Rachel issued a new challenge for Flirt Squad members:
Write a Blog Post about your first crush. Whatever happened to them? Did you love from afar, tell them, was it unrequited or lead to more? 
 So of course you know I had to participate. A chance to share embarrassing stories with the world? Heck yeah! But my first crush story isn't all that exciting. At least, there's not a lot of let's-embarrass-Veronica-in-public potential. He was my kindergarten "boyfriend," and we held hands at story time until he moved away.
My first truly memorable (highly-embarrassing) crush was when I was about six years old. I was totally, head-over-heels in love with my Aunt's boyfriend, Maurice. He was the cutest, sweetest, nicest guy I'd ever met. And I wished he was my boyfriend instead. But I was six and he was eighteen. Far too old for me. So I couldn't let anyone know about my crush. I was terribly clever. To throw everyone off track, I refused to call him by his name. Instead, I always called him "More Grease." Ironically, everyone (my parents, my sisters, and even my aunt) seemed to know about my secret crush anyway!
But I'm sure the crushes of a five or six-year-old aren't exactly what Rachel had in mind when she issued the challenge. So it's not my first crush, but my longest-running crush that I chose to tell you about. He was the brother of one of my best friends, and a good friend of my older sister. (In fact, my sister dated him a little bit, off and on.) I was totally in love with this boy for years. I first noticed his make-my-heart-melt smile and his gorgeous blue eyes when I was in fourth grade, and he was in fifth. Whenever I went over to my friend's house, I tried to find excuses to get him to talk to me. And when he'd smile at me or laugh at my jokes, it made my entire week.
When I was in seventh grade, this boy and I had P.E. in the same class period, and I got to watch him playing basketball with his friends, and sometimes our classes were combined and he even talked to me!! But he was my best friend's brother, and so he was off-limits. I almost worked up the courage to tell my friend that I was totally in love with her brother, but then she complained about the way all of our friends kept developing crushes on him. She admitted that she felt like all of her friends were only using her to get close to her cute brother. Obviously, I could never tell anyone how I felt.
When I was in ninth grade, we moved across the state, and I was sure I'd never see this boy again. But he played football and basketball, and Wyoming is such a small state that teams traveled all across the state for games. So I got to see him every time his high school came to see my high school. And since his sister never came with the team, I could flirt a little bit. But ten or twenty minutes at a time a few times a year wasn't enough to build a relationship on. And besides, I was pretty sure he didn't think of me that way.
Until the state basketball tournament during my junior year (when he was a senior). The tournament lasted for several days, and I got to see him several times while he was there. Since it was such a big deal, his mom came along this time, and I overheard her telling my mom that she was pretty sure her son had a little bit of a crush on me. Still, I was too scared to really talk to him, especially not with our mothers watching us. After much prodding, and both mothers teasing "we'll pay you $20 if you go over and kiss him right in front of his entire team" (yes, I had an embarrassing mom, as did he, apparently), I finally went over to talk to him. (No, I didn't kiss him, even though I kind of wanted to - but I'd never kissed a boy, and there was no way my first kiss was going to be in front of my mom!) The conversation was going really well, though, until our moms told him "We had to pay her $20 just to say hi to you." (For a couple of women who were determined to play matchmaker, I'm surprised that they didn't realize this would totally ruin it. Especially since I didn't even take the money!)
He graduated, and then he went to Brazil on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for two years. My mom tried to convince me to write to him, but I didn't want to distract him on his mission, and I was still embarrassed by our last encounter, so I think I sent one half-hearted, "hey buddy" kind of letter. Still, I was counting down to the day when he'd be home again. And even though I really wanted to go to college back east somewhere, as far from Wyoming as possible, I let my mom talk me into going to the University of Wyoming with one simple argument: "If you go to UW, you'll be around when [boy] gets home from his mission next year."
 And while I was at UW, waiting for this boy to come home, I met my husband, the true love of my life.
For more than seven years, I chased after the boy I thought I wanted. And he was really a great guy, but in the end, it turned out he wasn't the one for me after all. As it turned out, he was only a step on the path to finding my true happiness. If I hadn't been waiting for crush boy, I wouldn't have been in the right place at the right time to meet Phil. These days, I try to remember that the path I'm following might not lead to the destination I think I'm trying to find. And that the destination I finally reach might be a little more than perfect.

09 July 2013

Book Review: TASTE THE HEAT by Rachel Harris (Plus Bonus Recipe!!)

Okay, you know I don't usually read books written for grown-ups. And adult romance novels are usually way too steamy for this G-rated girl. But I'm a big fan of Rachel Harris' writing. I loved her debut Young Adult novel, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY (which I just realized I didn't post a review for... so that will be coming soon), and after I got the opportunity to read an advance copy of her second Young Adult novel, A TALE OF TWO CENTURIES (coming August 6th), I had to sample Rachel's writing for adults as well.

The official blurb:

One sexy fire captain. One Cajun chef. One combustible kitchen…

When chef Colby Robicheaux returned home to New Orleans to save her family restaurant, the last person she expected to reconnect with was her brother’s best friend and her childhood crush. As tempting as a sugar-coated beignet, Jason is one dish she can’t afford to taste. Colby can’t wait to leave the place where her distrust of love and commitment originated and go back to Vegas.

Fire captain Jason Landry isn’t looking for love, either. Disillusioned by his past, he knows he should be focusing on finding the perfect mother for his daughter. But when he first sees Colby, all grown up and gorgeous, he can’t help but be drawn to her. And when she suggests a no-strings-attached fling, Jason can’t say no.

As their relationship grows more intense, Colby finds that Jason isn’t as easy to leave behind as she thought. Could turning up the heat on something real be worth the possibility of getting burned?

My thoughts: 
Okay, first of all, a love story that centers around food and cooking? You have to admit that's perfect for me, right? You see why I was tempted?
So, I admit, I was kind of nervous as I began reading. And I don't know if that's why it took me a few pages to really connect with the characters, or if there were other factors at work, but by the time I was about ten percent through, I was hooked. I loved this story! After the kind-of slow start (which may have been entirely my own apprehension at work), I couldn't put it down. I read the whole book in just a couple of hours and ended with a happy sigh. (Love those happily ever afters!) And I totally fell in love with the characters. Jason was definitely swoon-worthy, and Colby was just as fun and spunky as a girl named Colby ought to be (she totally reminded me of my good friend, Colby)! I'll be watching for the next book in the series, because I'm anxious to see how the stories of the minor characters (particularly Colby's little sister) play out. As for the romance elements, TASTE THE HEAT was steamy enough to give me that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, but clean enough that I won't freak out if my daughter stumbles across it on our shared kindle account (though I won't be recommending it to her, at her age). A word of warning for my fellow G-rated readers: this book isn't squeaky-clean. It is a romance novel, after all, so it won't be our next read-aloud-as-a-family book. There is some sex, although it's a behind-closed-doors, fade-to-black kind of thing. Like I said, nothing graphic that would make me squirm if I found out my daughter was reading.

BONUS! Of course, I can't review a book about cooking without sharing a decadent dessert recipe of my own, right? So yesterday, after I finished reading TASTE THE HEAT, I pulled out my trusty Crock Pot and started experimenting. The result was a delicious
Chocolate Souffle with Mixed Fruit 

You will need:
9 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. oil
1 tsp. brandy flavoring
1 tsp. hazelnut extract
2 c. powdered milk
1/3 c. baking cocoa
6 c. water (divided)
6 c. whole wheat flour (you can use white flour, but whole wheat is more flavorful)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add sugar, salt, oil and extracts. Beat in powdered milk, cocoa and 3 c. water. Stir in flour, one cup at a time, until fully incorporated. With mixer on lowest setting, drizzle in remaining 3 c. water, scraping down sides of mixing bowl after each cup. Pour mixture into greased 5-quart Crock Pot. Cook on low for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Vent the top of the crock pot for the last 30-45 minutes. Makes about 12 large servings. Serve warm, either plain or topped with mixed fruit. (I mixed about 2 lb. of frozen blueberries, strawberries and peaches together with 1/4 c. sugar to make a delicious sauce, but if your fruit is fresh, you probably won't need any added sugar.)

You can find TASTE THE HEAT here: