24 November 2013

Overcoming Fear and Learning to Speak Up

At the Last Supper, Jesus taught his disciples, to prepare them for his imminent sacrifice. And he told Peter “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Peter was offended. He insisted that his faith was strong enough that he’d happily follow Christ anywhere, even to the grave. Yet, not many hours later, when faced with accusations from the murderous mob, Peter denied any association with Jesus Christ. His faith wasn’t as strong as he thought it was, but this experience gave him the push he needed to allow his faith to grow, until he was ready to live as an example of Christ.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I’ve been taught over and over again to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with friends and family members who haven’t yet heard the good news, or those who may have wandered away from the truth. In fact, David O. McKay, the 9th president of the church, declared “Every member a missionary!” Nearly every week at church, I’ve heard my teachers, leaders and friends talk about the importance of missionary work. And over the course of a lifetime, that’s a lot of weeks!
To be honest, for many years I was more than a little bit uncomfortable with this charge.
Did I believe wholeheartedly that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would bring peace and joy to the hearts of all who embrace His teachings? 
Yes, without a doubt.
Did I want my friends and family members to be happy? 
Of course I did.
So I should be out in the world, preaching the Gospel to everyone who would listen, calling friends and family members to repentance, right? 
Well… :-/
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He taught His followers that unconditional love was always the answer. He invited all to come follow him, but He didn’t pressure anyone or condemn those that didn’t immediately jump at His invitation. As a follower of Christ, I wanted to emulate his example of unconditional love for everyone, and I took the charge, found in Matthew 7:1 to “Judge not, that ye be not judged” very seriously.
Here is where my problem with the “every member a missionary” charge arose. If I pointed out the truths my friends and family were missing in their lives, wouldn’t that mean I was judging them? How could I reconcile the need to share the Gospel with the charge to love unconditionally, without judging?
I told myself that I didn’t have to “be a missionary,” because loving others was the most important thing, and if my friends were ready to hear the Gospel, they’d remember my example and seek Him without any prodding from me.
But then, several years ago, I attended a scrapbooking party with a friend. As I talked and laughed with the other ladies at the party, one of the ladies I didn’t yet know asked a question about what Mormons believe.
I honestly don’t remember what her question was, but I remember the uncomfortable silence that filled the room, as all of the Mormons in the group waited for someone else, maybe someone who knew her better, or someone who had served a mission and was more qualified, to answer her question. We’d been having so much fun, and no one wanted to turn the focus to our potential differences. We didn’t want to risk alienating this woman, if she didn’t understand our perspective or didn’t agree with the doctrine.
Finally, I found the courage to speak up and answer her question. That led to more questions, and we talked until well-past two in the morning. That first conversation led to many others. And soon, Tracy was one of my closest friends.
A few years later, when both of us had moved from the military base where we initially met, Tracy and I met up again at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The location of the conference naturally led to more “What do Mormons believe?” conversations, and when Tracy introduced me to her group of friends, she informed them, “Veronica isn’t afraid to answer your questions, so feel free to ask her anything you need to know about Mormons.”
And she was right. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Because the more I learned about the love Jesus has for me, the more I wanted everyone around me to feel that same love and peace.
Like Peter, I had to be truly converted before I understood how to strengthen those around me.
The thought of “being a missionary” still terrifies me. Yet, when a conversation with a friend reveals that they’re struggling with an issue for which I’ve found an answer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s easy for me to assure them that the answer is there for them as well. When the Lord advised Peter to strengthen those around him “when thou art converted,” He wasn’t questioning Peter’s loyalty or faith. He was reminding Peter that it’s easy to share the love of Christ with others, when we feel that love within ourselves.
I’m still painfully shy in large groups, and I’m not likely to be the one to go knocking on doors, offering to share God’s message with total strangers, but I’m no longer afraid to share my faith with others. (Seriously. If you have questions about Mormons, please ask me. I’d love to answer your questions for you!) And when a Gospel principle that I’ve been struggling with clicks in my mind and I finally understand, I’m excited to tell my friends about the new and exciting truth I’ve discovered. Because I love them and want them to feel the joy and peace I feel.
That is what “being a missionary” is all about.

20 November 2013

Pitch Wars: Mentor Bio, Wishlist and List of Participating Agents

I'm so excited to be a mentor for Pitch Wars this year!

So why do you want me to be your Pitch Wars Mentor?

I write in all age categories of children’s literature, from Picture Books to Young Adult. My debut novel, TWELVE STEPS (a YA contemporary romance) is releasing via Swoon Romance on 25 March 2014, and my Middle Grade contemporary novel, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, recently caught the attention of Super-Agent, Jessica Sinsheimer. (I signed with her in October of this year.)

As a co-administrator of Sub It Club, I’ve helped dozens of writers with polishing their queries and manuscripts, and many of them have gone on to find success in the query trenches and in online pitch contests like this one. In fact, one of my critique partners had an extremely popular pitch in last September’s Pitch Madness contest, spurring a bidding war between agents.

As I’ve been most recently focused on Middle Grade, completing revisions on LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, I’m accepting applications for MG manuscripts in Pitch Wars. As you may have guessed, Contemporary novels, like Jenny Lundquist’s SEEING CINDERELLA, Danette Haworth’s A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY, and Kathryn Erskine’s MOCKINGBIRD are my absolute favorite, but I’m open to most MG genres. I enjoy historical novels that pull me into a less-well-known era or setting in history and bring the past to life. Something like Caroline Starr Rose’s MAY B. And I like stories with an element of mystery or suspense that will keep me on the edge of my seat, my heart thumping as I watch to see whether the main character will make it through. Something like Margaret Peterson Haddix’s RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

I’m an incurable optimist, so I prefer stories with an upbeat outlook. If you write super-dark, serious books, I’m probably not the mentor for you. To be clear, I don’t shy away from serious issues. In fact, my MG novel, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, follows the story of a twelve-year-old girl dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death. But I love to laugh. And if you can make me laugh and cry in the same manuscript, you’re golden.

No matter what the genre or plot, I’m looking for strong characters, a great story, and a unique voice. If your Middle Grade manuscript fits the bill, you definitely want me as your mentor. :)

Submission guidelines can be found on Brenda Drake's blog, here.

Update: I've picked my fabulous team for Pitch Wars!! It was SO difficult to narrow down the fabulous choices to only one mentee plus two alternates, but I'm proud to announce Team Magic:
* Mentee: Super Jake, Not-So-Super-Freddy, and Me, The King of Chaos by Naomi Milliner
* 1st Alternate: Riding on Shoulders by Khyl Shumway
* 2nd Alternate: Miracle Meggie by Toni De Palma
(Watch for a blog post soon, where I'll introduce my team properly and tell you what caught my attention about their entries.)

The amazing agents participating in this year's Pitch Wars are:
Louise Fury – Bent Agency
Louise Fury represents young adult, middle grade, new adult, commercial fiction including romance, and select nonfiction. She’s looking for writers with a unique voice and an unforgettable story. She’s particularly drawn to stories with a strong protagonist. In young adult, she looks for manuscripts that are written with an unforgettable voice—this can be deep, dark and gritty or literary, lyrical and emotional. She’d love to find a young adult novel that has a bone-deep sense of danger that haunts her from page 1 and doesn’t let go of her for days. She wants delicious adult romances with creative plots, sexy liaisons and unique characters who sweep her up in their love story. She wants to feel something unforgettable when she read your pages; manuscripts that she can’t stop thinking about.

Suzie Townsend – New Leaf Literary 
“My favorite books are ones that keep me up all night with characters that I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve finished.” Suzie Townsend represents adult and children’s fiction. In adult, she’s specifically looking for romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy). In Childrens’ she loves YA (all subgenres) and is dying to find great Middle Grade projects (especially something akin to the recent movie  SUPER 8). She’s an active member of AAR, RWA, and SCBWI.

Nicole Resciniti - The Seymour Agency 
Nicole  loves discovering new talent and helping established authors to take their career to the next level. Do you have a smart, tight read she won’t be able to put down? A signature voice she’ll fight to represent? HEA’s are a must for romance. Mainstream suspense, thrillers, mysteries, YA and inspirational novels are welcome. A consummate science geek and card-carrying Mensa member, Nicole would love to find the next great science fiction/fantasy novel or action/adventure masterpiece.

John M. Cusick – The Greenhouse Agency  
What John is seeking: Fiction by North American authors, from Picturebooks and Middle Grade through Young Adult.  Particularly keen to see MG (and maybe YA) for boys. Fast-paced/thrilling/heart-breaking stories. Contemporary realism, historicals, speculative fiction, sci-fi and fresh fantasy, villains with vulnerabillity, bad decisions with best intentions, boldly imagined worlds, striking imagery, characters with histories, stories about siblings and about middle America.

Sarah LaPolla – Bradford Literary Agency
Sarah represents YA and adult fiction. On the adult side, she is looking for literary fiction, science fiction, magical realism, dark/psychological mystery, and upmarket commercial and/or women’s fiction. For YA, she is interested in contemporary/realistic fiction that doesn’t shy away from the darker side of adolescence. YA sci-fi, horror, mystery, and magical realism are also welcome; and she would love to find a modern Judy Blume for the MG market. No matter what genre, Sarah is drawn to layered/strong characters, engaging narrators, and a story that’s impossible to put down. Sarah is not looking for: picture books/children’s, inspirational/spiritual novels, romance, or erotica.

Victoria Marini - Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency 
Victoria is looking for literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture  non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging Literary fiction and mysteries / suspense, commercial women’s fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ). Above all, she is looking for anything with an engaging voice, compelling narrative and authentic characters.

Jessica Sinsheimer - Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency
Always on the lookout for new writers, Jessica is  most excited about finding literary, women’s, and young adult fiction, and — on the nonfiction side — psychology, parenting, self-help, cookbooks, memoirs, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. Visit her company’s website for more details.


Pam van Hylckama Vlieg - Foreword Literary
Pam is looking for high concept young adult. Middle grade in these genres: fantasy, contemporary, literary. Romance in these categories: historical and contemporary. Genre fiction: urban fantasy, paranormal, and epic/high fantasy.

Quinlan Lee - Adams Literary
Quinlan Lee brings to Adams Literary her experience as a published author of numerous books for young readers and more than 15 years of business and project management expertise. She has been a part of the  Adams Literary team since 2008, representing clients in all genres from picture books to YA. 

Jen Udden – Donald Maass Agency
Jennifer Udden joined the DMLA in 2010. She represents speculative fiction, urban fantasy, and mysteries, as well as historical, contemporary, and paranormal romance. 

Emily Keyes – Foreword Literary
Emily is a particular lover of all types of young adult and middle grade books. She wants to represent the kind of stories that will resonate with kids for the rest of their lives. She loves strong voices and unique characters, not knock-offs or trend chasers. She thinks books are best when they make you laugh and cry. Emily is also looking for a select list of commercial fiction which includes fantasy & science fiction, women’s fiction, new adult fiction, along with pop culture and humor titles. She is not looking for poetry, short stories, picture books or anything that is not amazing.

Brianne Johnson – Writers House
She loves middle grade—bring on the whimsical, the imaginative, the dark/crass/wacky/hilarious. She’d love to find a historical MG that is also fun and exciting. She’d just love to find a beautiful, fun, thoughtful story that makes that first real step into adulthood seem brand-new, all over again. She’s also looking for exciting, high-concept YA novels (the creepier, the better!) as well as more beautiful, literary works that explore the coming-of-age theme. She tends to gravitate toward stories featuring offbeat, alternate-lifestyle protagonists who trailblaze their own weird and wonderful paths through life. Her adult list is narrower than her children’s list. What she’s really on the hunt for are juicy, well-researched historical novels. Her ultimate adult project wish list would include a romantic historical with some unique fantasy elements, a literary, Beat-like coming-of-age, a thrilling survival tale with well-researched, back-to-the-land details, and a dark, witchy, semi-realistic novel (think a modern-day Practical Magic or Garden Spells). She’s pretty excited about the New Adult category. She loves stories set in the counter-culture, quirky love stories with a stand-out hook, and subtle twists of fantasy or magical realism. The one link she has throughout the many genres she’s interested in is humor.

Carly Watters – P.S. Literary
Carly is actively looking for Literary and Commercial Fiction, World Literature, Women’s Fiction, Literary Thrillers, New Adult, high-concept Young Adult, high-concept Picture Books, and up-market nonfiction in Health, Wellness, Memoir, Humour, Pop Science and Pop Psychology. 

Molly Jaffa – Folio Literary Management
She focuses exclusively on middle grade and young adult fiction. She’s looking for books that challenge the reader intellectually and emotionally, from the high-concept and fantastical to the frank, fresh, and contemporary. She loves fiction set in another country, time, or place (real or imagined!) that opens up a rich new world for the reader to discover. "Stories featuring characters with strong passions, talents, or smarts – or characters in search of theirs – resonate with me." She’d also like to see: Contemporary YA that’s not afraid to explore complex social issues, historical fantasy, smart middle grade adventures, heartbreaking middle grade with beautiful writing, and good, old-fashioned YA romance.

Evan Gregory - Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
Evan Gregory manages subsidiary rights for the agency in addition to his duties as an agent and general office manager. 
He is accepting clients, for more information see his listing at the Association of Authors Representatives.

Stefanie Lieberman - Janklow and Nesbit Associates
Stefanie is actively seeking to represent writers offering fresh approaches to romance and young adult commercial fiction. She is particularly energized by manuscripts featuring strong female characters.

Rena Rossner - The Deborah Harris Agency
She’s actively seeking picture books, middle grade and young adult books, science fiction and fantasy for all ages (kids and adult) – in adult books her tastes skew more towards the literary, but she’s open to falling in love with something in any genre. She has a particular interest in Jewish-themed,  Israeli or biblically-related books.

Lana Popovic - Zachary Shuster Harmsworth
At ZSH, Lana works closely with authors on a wide range of both fiction and nonfiction projects, and is committed to providing extensive editorial guidance. She is particularly interested in edgy YA, from gritty coming-of-age novels to contemporary fantasy and supernatural romance. She is also keen to represent thoughtful chick lit, literary thrillers, and well-crafted projects in the fantasy and mystery genres.

Natasha Alexis - Zachary Shuster Harmsworth
Alexis is currently seeking works of literary and commercial fiction and nonfiction. As a fan of popular culture and cosmopolitan trends, Alexis is keen to represent YA and adult fiction with an edge and fresh point of view, especially works featuring women and people of color.

And the Fabulous Pitch Wars Mentors are:
Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
For best results, use HTML mode to edit this section of the post.

14 November 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Minestrone

Five years ago, in November 2008, I flew out to Maryland the week before Thanksgiving to sign the final paperwork on our house. My husband was overseas with the Air Force, and the kids had school (I divided them between several friends, who graciously agreed to take care of things for me), which meant I was doing all of the house-buying stuff on my own, armed with a Power of Attorney and a whole lot of faith.

I flew into Baltimore on Monday morning, and arrived at my realtor's office ready to sign the paperwork for my house at 10am. But there was a problem with one of the loan forms, and the bank didn't want to accept my signature (even though I had both a General Power of Attorney and several specific Special Powers of Attorney to allow for any issue that might pop up). They insisted that we had to get the form signed by my husband and faxed back to us before we could proceed. Coordinating overseas, with a major time difference, meant that the closing would have to wait until Tuesday evening.

My flight back to California wasn't until Wednesday morning, but I didn't have a hotel reserved, because I'd planned to buy an air mattress and sleep in my new house - and get a head start on the painting, etc. that I wanted to do before we officially moved to Baltimore in January. I went to the library down the street from my new house, to check my email and research hotels in the area. And there was an email in my inbox from an old high school friend, who had moved to the Baltimore area and wanted to get together while I was in town. She ended up inviting me to stay with her, so I wouldn't have to spend the night alone, feeling sorry for myself in a lonely hotel room. And in return, I offered to make dinner for her. But she'd just had her braces tightened, and said she didn't feel up to eating anything more substantial than soup.

No problem! I can make soup! Stacy's favorite was Minestrone, so I created this easy recipe for her. Now, every time I feel like life is beating me senseless, I make a big pot of Minestrone and remember the night when a dear friend reminded me that I was loved.

Stacy's Minestrone
(The original recipe was cooked on the stovetop*, but it easily converts to Crock Pot cooking.)
You will need:
2 (46oz.) cans vegetable juice (like V8)
2 (15oz.) cans dark red kidney beans (or approximately 3-4 c. cooked beans)
1 (15oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/2 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. green beans, cut into 1-inch sections
large handful dried oregano
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1/2 c. shell pasta (uncooked)

Place celery, onion, green beans, and carrots in the bottom of your 7-quart Crock Pot. 

 Add tomatoes, kidney beans, and vegetable juice.

Stir in oregano, rosemary and garlic powder.

 If desired, for extra flavor, chop the celery leaves (from the center of a bunch of celery) and add to the soup. (I always do this, because the celery leaves complement the oregano and rosemary deliciously.)
 Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours, until vegetables are tender. 30-45 minutes before serving, stir in 1/2 c. pasta. (You don't want to add pasta too soon, or it will get mushy.)

*Note: I like to make this in my Crock Pot, because I can put it in first thing in the morning and forget about it all day long, until just before I'm ready to eat. But if you don't have a Crock Pot, you can make this recipe on your stove instead. Simply put all ingredients (except the pasta) into a large pot and simmer until veggies are tender. (Make sure to stir frequently, as the tomato base will burn if left unattended for too long.) 6-8 minutes before serving, stir in the pasta and cook until tender. Serve as-is or topped with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

**Note 2: For Gluten-free diets, omit the pasta. And for my vegan friends, this soup is delicious without topping it with Parmesan cheese. :)

12 November 2013

Cover Reveal: CAMP CHRISTMAS by J.K. Rock

I'm excited to be a part of the cover reveal for the upcoming novella by J.K. Rock: CAMP CHRISTMAS!
December needs to hurry up and get here, because I can't wait to read it!

About CAMP CHRISTMAS (Novella #2):

Release Date: December 17, 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Blurb: Hannah never meant to be a mean girl – at Camp Juniper Point or at her high school. It just sort of happened during one painful year when her parents split and her life fell apart. Who knew being mad at the world would catapult her to popularity? But since changing the status quo would make her some serious enemies, she’s prepared to ride out her time until graduation. That is, until a camp friend calls her on the act during their school ski trip. Will Julian out her to her friends? Or will the guy she once accused of being King of the Nerds make her wish she was a whole lot more like him?

Find J.K. Rock online:

Goodreads / Author Website / Series Website / Karen's Twitter / Joanne's Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Amazon / Barnes & Noble 

08 November 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Chili with Pumpkin and Cranberries

One year ago today, I had a Twitter conversation with Summer Heacock (@fizzygrrl), Emily McKeon (@ERMcKeon) and my now-agent, Jessica Sinsheimer (@jsinsheim) that kind of changed my life in a way I didn't expect. We were talking about food, and favorite pumpkin recipes (because pumpkin is the best ingredient ever and November requires creative pumpkin recipes). I mentioned my Crock Pot Pumpkin Souffle, and Summer, Emily and Jessica told me that I should be sharing my delicious recipes with the world. So the next day (one year ago tomorrow), I posted my first Crock Pot Gourmet recipes for Meatball Stew and Pumpkin Souffle. And the response has been overwhelming. In the past year, I've posted many other delicious Crock Pot creations, as well as some favorite recipes that can be cooked without a Crock Pot. Today, I'm celebrating this delicious anniversary with a mouthwatering Pumpkin Cranberry Chili.

 You will need:
2 lb. dry beans (or 8-15oz. cans of beans)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. baking cocoa
1 large can pumpkin
1-5oz pkg of Craisins
2-15oz. cans diced tomatoes (I like the kind that have green chiles in them)
1 large onion, diced

I prefer to use dry beans when making chili for two reasons. First, I control all of the seasoning. I don't have to worry about my dish being over-salted, etc. And second, it's much cheaper. But if you aren't comfortable cooking with dry beans, or you don't have the time for these first steps, canned beans work just fine, and you'll still get a healthy, delicious dinner.

Wash your dry beans, and cover them with water. (The water should come up at least 2 inches above the top of the beans. You want them to stay submerged even after they've begun to expand.) Soak them overnight (or for at least 4-5 hours). I like to place the beans (still in the colander I used to rinse them) into a very large silver mixing bowl (or a clean and sanitized sink, if I'm using my mixing bowl for something else) filled with cold water.
When the beans have finished soaking (they'll probably be 2-3 times the size they were when you started), drain the water and rinse them thoroughly. (Soaking the beans in the colander makes it super-easy to do this.) Draining off the water you soaked the beans in and rinsing them before cooking makes the finished product less likely to cause gas. (Also, the more you include beans in your diet, the less likely they'll bother your tummy.)

Place the beans into your 7-quart Crock Pot (if you have a 3 or 4-quart Crock Pot, you can easily cut the recipe in half) with fresh, cool water. (Fill the crock until the beans are covered with 1/2 to 1-inch of water.)
 Add your cocoa, salt, garlic powder and chili powder.
 Cook on high for approximately 4 hours (or on low for 6-8 hours), until beans are tender.
The beans will continue to expand as they cook, and will look something like this:
 Add the tomatoes, Craisins, onion and pumpkin. 

You could, if desired, cook the onion with the dry beans in the first step, but DO NOT try to cut corners and add the tomatoes and Craisins early. If you add acidic ingredients to dry beans, you can cook them for hours and hours, and they will not get tender. If you're putting this chili together before work, and you won't be home during the day to add the acidic ingredients at around lunchtime, you can cook the beans overnight on low, so they'll be ready in the morning, or you can use canned beans (in which case, you would add the seasonings to the beans at the same time that you add the remaining ingredients).

I like to stir in the onion, Craisins and tomatoes first, then carefully stir in the pumpkin. (The extra juice from the tomatoes makes it easier to stir in the pumpkin.)
Continue to cook, on low, for 4-5 hours, or longer. Now that you've added the tomatoes and cranberries, you don't have to worry about the beans getting any mushier as they cook, so you can easily keep the chili simmering all day long, and the flavors will simply continue to meld together.

 Serve as-is (my favorite), or top with your favorite chili toppings (cheese, sour cream, corn chips...) 
We like to use the leftover chili the next day for things like Chili Omelettes and Chili Cheese Fries or served over the top of spaghetti noodles for a delicious Chili Sketti.