19 August 2014

Crock Pot Gourmet Recipe: 3-Ingredient, Gluten-Free Peach Cobbler

This time of year, I prefer a lighter, mostly vegetarian diet (meat and heavy starches weigh me down in the hotter months, and I just feel sluggish), but my family misses the comfort foods and treats we often enjoy in the winter. So when my friend gave me a big batch of slightly-squishy peaches, I decided to try a lighter twist on peach cobbler. With only 3 ingredients in the Crock Pot, it's super-simple to put together, and just as delicious as "the real thing!"

For a batch that fills a 5-quart Crock Pot, you will need:
* 12-16 corn tortillas (3-4 per layer)
* approximately 2 dozen peaches, pitted and sliced (perfect use for the peaches that are starting to get over-ripe, or you could probably use canned peaches, drained)
* 1/2 to 1 c. brown sugar, divided (if using canned peaches, you may want to use even less sugar)

Spray crock with non-stick cooking oil. Spread 1/4 of the sliced peaches in a layer on the bottom of the Crock Pot. Top with 3-4 tortillas. (I prefer to use 3 tortillas. If you position them like in the picture below, you can tear the middle one in half to cover the outside edges of the layer, avoiding a 4-way overlap, and a very thick layer of tortilla, in the center of the dish.)
Sprinkle with 1/4 of the brown sugar (I used approximately 3/4 c. total, but you can use more or less depending upon how sweet your peaches are, and how sweet you want the final cobbler to be).

Repeat layers 4 times, ending with a sprinkling of brown sugar.

Cook on low for 5-6 hours (or overnight if you want a delicious breakfast to wake up to!)

Serve warm or cold, either by itself, or with your favorite whipped cream / plain yogurt / ice cream.

This recipe is naturally gluten-free and vegan!

18 August 2014

It's Not a Competition (Just a Contest)!! Pitch Wars Lesson #1

As you know, I'm a Pitch Wars mentor for the second year in a row. For those of you who don't know about Pitch Wars, it's an annual contest hosted by Brenda Drake, where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine, preparing them to submit their manuscripts to agents. There have been a LOT of success stories from previous Pitch Wars contests, and judging from the quality of writing I've seen so far this year, I expect even more successes this time around!

One of the torture trials fun things Brenda cooked up for us this year was a series of videos, where mentors had a chance to make fools of themselves introduce themselves to the Pitch Wars community. Of course, I jumped at the chance to participate, because I'm certifiably insane I believe we only really grow when we do things that scare us. Besides, I was afraid that, if I didn't, I'd be the only Pitch Wars mentor who didn't have a video. And so I sent Brenda the 30-second clip here to include in the mentor chat video.

I know. Amazing, right? Who wouldn't want a chance to be helped along by the best Pitch Wars mentor ever?? And do you see how effortless the whole process is? Yep. I'm awesome, and I'm not afraid to admit it.


But here's my little secret:

It wasn't effortless at all.

I was shaking like crazy, stumbling over my words and feeling like a giant dork. And I almost didn't send my video in at all. Not because I didn't have faith in my abilities as a mentor, but because I kept thinking about all of the OTHER Pitch Wars mentors, and wondering how my video would stack up in comparison with theirs.

What if everyone else was more creative?

What if they were better looking?

What if I was the only one who looked like a dork, and everyone decided they'd rather miss out on the contest entirely than get stuck with that dorky mentor with a frog obsession? (Here's a fun game: How many frogs can you find hidden in my video clip?)

But here's another secret:

None of that stuff matters. Not really. Because Pitch Wars is a great contest, but it's not a competition. The whole point is to help each other get to the next level with our writing and our careers. To become better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. (Really, isn't that the whole point of life here on earth??)

And we can totally "win" Pitch Wars even if we're not the most popular mentor or one of the contestants selected for one of the coveted mentee slots. (Fun fact: I wrote TWELVE STEPS after I didn't make it in to Pitch Wars 2012, as a final goodbye to the characters I loved from my first manuscript, intending to shelve the whole thing when I finished writing. Less than a year later, I accepted an offer of publication for my debut novel!)

And when I went back to look at the rejected clips to construct the blooper reel today, I discovered that at least ten of the nearly-forty not-good-enough videos were actually much better than I originally thought. Now that I wasn't comparing them to the better-than-Hollywood-quality videos I imagined that all of my fellow mentors were creating, I couldn't even remember why I'd deemed these clips unworthy. 

When all is said and done, It doesn't matter if I'm the "most popular" mentor or if I receive less applications than anyone else.

It doesn't matter if the mentee I eventually select for my team is fought over by all of the YA mentors or I'm the only one head-over-heels in love with his/her manuscript.

Because it's really not a competition.

That's not what Pitch Wars is all about. (It's an amazing contest, but trust me, making it into Pitch Wars isn't your only shot at success. It's just one contest. There are a ton of other opportunities waiting just around the corner!)

I promise to do my best, and that's enough.

I guarantee that by the end of this year's contest, my mentee and I will both grow as writers.

And I'm willing to bet there will be plenty of Pitch Wars success stories among those who don't officially make it into the contest as well.

02 August 2014

I'm a Pitch Wars Mentor Again!

I'm so excited to be a mentor for 
Pitch Wars again this year!
(looking for YA this time around)

Last year was so much fun! I got to mentor three fabulous middle grade writers as they polished and perfected their manuscripts, in addition to all of the other amazing writers I met through the process, who I still count among my dear friends. If for no other reason, the lasting connections we make are the best reason for participating in online pitch contests like Pitch Wars.

So why do you want me as your 
Pitch Wars Mentor?

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I write in all age categories of children’s literature, from Picture Books to Young Adult, so I can bring a unique perspective to the process that other mentors may not haveMy debut novel, a Young Adult contemporary romance called TWELVE STEPS, released on 25 March 2014, and reviews have been great so far. Last October, I caught my amazing agent, Jessica Sinsheimer's attention with my middle grade novel, LETTERS FROM HEAVEN, and I also write picture books. 

Want to learn more about me? I have a list of links to recent interviews on my About Me page. Also, in case you missed it, last March I got to participate in a great online panel about being an introvert vs. being an extrovert in the publishing world, with Elizabeth Flora Ross and two of my favorite literary agents, Jessica Sinsheimer and Connor Goldsmith. (Jessica is one of the agents for Pitch Wars again this year, so this video interview is a great way to get to know her as well!)

 Through contests like Pitch Wars and connections I've made on Twitter, I've also helped dozens of writers with polishing their queries and manuscripts, 

See? It's official. I'm awesome. ;)
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, which later led to not only an agent success story, but a three book deal! Another critique partner just signed with an agent (and I have no doubt her fabulous book will be snapped up soon.) And just a few weeks ago, one of my other critique partners announced her own two-book deal.

Even Brenda Drake, the contest queen herself, thinks I'm pretty awesome. (See? I have proof!)

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that choosing you as your mentor will guarantee amazing things will happen to you ... I'll just let the results speak for themselves. *winks*


So now that we've established the fact that you want ME to be your Pitch Wars Mentor, you're probably wondering what types of manuscripts I'm looking for, right?

This year, I'm a mentor for Young Adult! 

Specifically, I'm hoping to find:

*  YA Contemporary Romance -- This is my absolute favorite (as you probably guessed, based on my own books). I love a good "fluff" book (sometimes, cotton candy is exactly what the doctor ordered, after all), but I also adore a book that can balance romance and bigger issues in a hopeful, upbeat way. A couple of my recent favorites are THE BREAK-UP ARTIST by

* Retellings -- I'm a sucker for taking well-known stories, like fairy tales, folk tales or titles from classic literature and giving them a new, fresh twist. Some YA favorites recently are DON'T FALL by

* Science Fiction -- I've always loved Isaac Asimov. In fact, I try to read his "Nightfall" collection of short stories at least once every couple of years. And I absolutely loved CINDER by MI'd love to find something with a similar feel. (I'm a little burned out on dystopian books these days. If your sci-fi story has a dystopian feel to it, I may not be the mentor for you.)

* 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, 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 YA manuscript fits the bill, you definitely want me as your mentor. :)

If I'm not the mentor for you, there are many other fabulous mentors to choose from. Even more than last year!
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More details about Pitch Wars here, and 
you can find a list of this year's participating agents here.

01 August 2014

Book Review: CUPCAKE COUSINS by Kate Hannigan

CUPCAKE COUSINS by fellow OneFour KidLit author, Kate Hannigan, is an adorably fun middle grade novel, perfect for summer reading.
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Every summer, nine-year-old cousins Willow and Delia look forward to their vacation at Lake Michigan with their families: a whole week of catching fireflies, picking peaches in the orchards and boogie boarding in the lake together. But the best part is that they always get to take over the kitchen to cook up mouthwatering treats for everyone.

This year, the family vacation will be extra special, because Aunt Rosie is getting married, and everyone will be a part of the big day. Unfortunately, she wants Willow and Delia to wear ugly, pink dresses and be flower girls for the ceremony. And they're much too old for that. But if they can show everyone how amazing their cooking skills are, they're sure to convince Aunt Rosie to put them in charge of the wedding reception refreshments instead, right?

Willow and Delia are best friends who are nothing alike but perfectly matched. Willow is a big dreamer, great at coming up with fabulous and adventurous ideas. Delia is a planner who can find practical ways to make Willow's schemes happen. But even Willow's big ideas and Delia's logical plans might not be enough to overcome exploding blenders and a cranky new head chef.

I loved getting to know these adorable cupcake cousins. (They remind me so much of myself and my cousin/best friend, when we were younger!) And the recipes sprinkled throughout the story ... Yum!