26 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

As you probably know, this has been a tough year for us, and I've been struggling with finding the Christmas spirit in a way that I've never struggled before. So I'm especially grateful for friends who love me enough to reach out and let me know they care.

Two weeks ago, we came home from a visit to see the Washington DC Temple Festival of Lights,

and there was a small package on our doorstep. Inside was a small, ceramic lamb. No note. No explanation. Just a lamb. As my children wondered what it could mean, I felt the first flutterings of the Spirit I'd been missing.

That lamb looked like it must belong to a nativity set. Maybe someone who knew I collect nativities was giving us an extra-special "Twelve Days of Christmas." I immediately felt pangs of guilt for my selfishness in hoping that I would continue to get a new piece to the set each night. Because wishing for presents for yourself isn't what Christmas is all about. Still, I couldn't help hoping that the gifts would continue, and I found myself watching for the next piece each night.

They came.

Piece by piece, the nativity arrived from our anonymous givers.

And when a friend handed me a small package at church with the instruction that I should open it on Christmas morning, I was pretty sure I knew who my Secret Santa was. I quietly tucked the gift under the tree without saying anything to my children, to preserve the mystery for them. But for me, it meant so much more each night when I received the next piece of the nativity, because I was loved not by a faceless stranger, but by a family full of some of the most amazing people I know.

We kept the growing nativity in the middle of the dining room table, where I could see it several times a day. And each time I passed by, I thought of the hugs and smiles I receive each time I see these sweet children. The words of comfort and encouragement from my friend (their mother). I thought about the scrumptious Christmas cinnamon rolls they made for us.
I thought about how these children go out of their way nearly every day to make sure my kids know they have friends. And the way the father came rushing to our rescue with tools in hand two nights before Christmas, when the boys in my cub scout troop locked our cat in the basement room, for which we had no key. (We couldn't pick the lock, and I had to call an emergency locksmith in the end anyway, but the $250 emergency lockout fee was a little easier to swallow when we'd already exhausted everything we could do on our own.) Each piece of the nativity reminded me that I wasn't alone.

Sure enough, the final piece (the Christ child) was in the package we unwrapped Christmas morning. Along with a note and the story that inspired their gift.

I'll admit, I'm still struggling more than usual. This gift, as amazing as it was, didn't magically cure everything. (This isn't a Hallmark Channel movie, after all.) But I do know that I'm not alone.

No matter what happens, no matter how difficult things may be ... even if we can't get the loans we need and never do get back to our home ... I have friends by my side to help me through.

And somehow, I will be all right.

26 November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving! plus a new recipe: Peanut Butter Custard Pie

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (And for my non-US friends who may not celebrate the day: Happy Thursday.) I am so thankful for all of you! Far beyond words. Thank you for your love and support. And just thank you for being you.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A whole day set aside for spending time with family and friends. And for being grateful for what you already have. ... And, of course, for eating delicious food. 

My favorite part of the feast is the pie. I have fond memories of making pies with my mom when I was a little girl, and how my favorite tradition is making pies with my own kids. Every year, I try to invent a new pie recipe. This year it's a peanut butter custard.

You will need:
1 c. Peanut butter
1/3 c. Agave syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
Chocolate chips
1 9-inch pie crust (or 12-18 mini pie shells*)

Place pie crust in baking dish. Cover bottom of crust with chocolate chips. In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350° for about 40 more minutes, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve with whipped cream or drizzled with melted chocolate.

* for mini pies, if you don't have mini pie tins, you can fill muffin tins halfway with aluminum foil, then line the muffin tins with foil to make 12 shallow pie tins

30 October 2015

Crockpot Gourmet Recipe: Stuffed Pumpkin

It's fall! And that means pumpkins! As you've probably guessed, I love pumpkin. I've already posted several pumpkin-based recipes on my site. (spaghetti sauce, chili, pumpkin custard) But one of our favorite fall meals is Stuffed Pumpkin. You can stuff the pumpkin with a variety of different fillings. This one, with cranberries and turkey, is like Thanksgiving dinner in a single dish.

You will need:
One pumpkin (about 7-8 inches in diameter, or whatever size will fit into your crock pot)
2 pound ground  turkey
Two onions chopped
2 tablespoons garlic
half cup Craisins
quarter pound mushrooms chopped
Half cup oats*
1 tablespoon each oregano and basil

Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Brown the ground turkey. Add the onions and sauté until slightly tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until mushrooms are tender and onions start to caramelize. 

Pack as much of the filling into the pumpkin as you can, pushing it down with a spoon to really smash it in. (You will probably have some leftover filling. The amount depends on how big your pumpkin is. Extra filling makes a great topping for baked potatoes or omelets ... Or you can do as I did and just eat while you wait for the pumpkin to cook.) 

Replace the top of the pumpkin. Place in a crock pot, and cook on low for 6-8 hours until pumpkin is soft. 

This is a complete meal. You don't even need side dishes! 

* If you need your dish to be gluten-free, make sure you use certified gluten-free oats. Oats are a naturally gluten-free grain, but they are often grown and processed so that they are not safe for those with gluten allergies.

31 August 2015

"Win" or "Lose," Pitch Wars Might Change Your Life

When entering online writing contests like Pitch Wars, it's important to remember that, whether you make it to the next level or not, simply taking that step forward to bravely enter might be the catalyst that changes your life forever. 
 I've written about this subject many times before. Many times. Like here, here, here, and here. And here. I've talked about how I got my agent after NOT getting picked in a contest. And how my debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, was both inspired by a contest rejection AND how success in a contest ultimately led to publication.

You might think that I've already exhausted the subject, and I couldn't possibly have anything more to say. Unless, of course, you've ever met me. Because then you'll know that I'm constantly looking for new insights and lessons to learn from the trials I go through.

Three years ago at this time, I was a Pitch Wars hopeful, biting my nails to oblivion while I nervously waited for the mentor picks to be announced. In case you haven't read the blog posts I linked to above, I wasn't picked for the contest. And I was devastated. I wanted to give up on writing altogether.

But my amazing new writing friends ... all the people I met in the contest trenches ... wouldn't let me give up. So instead of packing away my story pencils, I wrote something new. (And that manuscript went on to become my debut novel.)

Last year, and the year before, I participated in Pitch Wars on the other side of the glass, as a mentor. And I got to meet a TON of amazing writers. My fellow mentors. My mentees. Writers who submitted their manuscripts to me, who I wanted to choose but couldn't. Writers who chatted with me on the Twitter #PitchWars hashtag. I've met my best writing friends in the contest trenches.

But you already knew all of that, didn't you? I've told these stories hundreds of times, so why bother writing yet another post to rehash the same old tales?

Because when I tell you that participating in  Pitch Wars might change your life, I'm not just talking about your writing career.

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you probably know that last April, I was thrilled to hear that the Air Force was sending us back to Maryland, back "home," back to the area where the climate is best suited to help with my health issues. And you probably know that in May, I was devastated to discover that my home had been destroyed by water and mold. And you probably even saw one or both of the auctions that friends in the publishing community put together to help raise funds for the repairs, when the insurance company refused to pay.

You've probably seen my repeated posts, thanking people for their help and support, and counting the many, many blessings that have come from this particular trial. I honestly don't know I could get through each day without the support I see from my friends.

And here's the thing, folks: The majority of those people helping me and supporting me and carrying me through the trials when I literally can't walk another step on my own? Guess where we met? Yep. Through Pitch Wars and other, similar, online contests. Even the friend of a friend I mentioned last Friday ... the one who helped me find a temporary place to live so my family and I won't be homeless while we're trying to repair our house. You guessed it. The mutual friend connecting us was one of the writers I met in this amazing community.

When I say that Pitch Wars changed my life, I mean it. Yes, the experience made me a better writer. Yes, I credit much of my publishing success to the lessons I learned from both successes and failures in the contest trenches. But publishing success is only a part of what makes Pitch Wars great. The real value in these online contests is the connection you make with other writers. 

The friendships you forge here may be the relationships that carry you through when the stress of real life pushes you down. That's the true value of Pitch Wars.

For other perspectives on how Pitch Wars changes lives, check out the stories and advice in this blog hop with messages from last year's Pitch Wars mentees.

28 August 2015

Adventures in a Real-Life Hallmark Movie

You know that scene in all those Hallmark Channel movies, when the whole town comes together to save the main character from whatever drama she's facing? Yeah, I feel like I've been living in that scene for the past several months, as we struggle to get our home fixed. I've been living on the verge of a total meltdown every day, yet every time I hit that place where I simply can't do it anymore on my own, someone steps forward to carry my burden for me. Between the overwhelming auctions put together by so many amazing publishing people and the donations on our gofundme page, I spent a lot of this summer crying happy tears. I still can't believe how much support we're getting from all of you wonderful folks!

We've officially moved back to Maryland now, but we're still waiting for work to begin in restoring our house. We're facing what I think will be the last hurdle before we can get a loan to pay for the renovations, and I'm trying to stay positive, even though the silence is killing me with every day we wait. (We have to get an official appraisal saying what the house will be worth after repairs ... but so far we've had two appraisals scheduled, and though both were warned about the damage, they didn't take the warnings seriously. Both appraisers backed out as soon as they saw the true extent of the mold damage. If you're the praying type, please send up a prayer for us, as we have a third appraiser scheduled to go in today. If the appraisal comes back with a value high enough to justify the loan we need, we'll be able to get work started!)

Still, I'm a firm believer that every trial brings great blessings. And every challenge, no matter how devastating it may seem, is just another building block in the foundation of greatness.

This belief has certainly been strengthened since we arrived in Maryland.

We arrived with cheerful thoughts and high hopes a little over a week ago. We didn't know where we were going to live while waiting for our home to be fixed or how we were going to get through the next few weeks or months, but we were confident that it would all work out somehow. (I'd hoped, when I discovered the damage in May, that we'd be able to get the work completed over the summer and be ready to move in by the time we arrived. Sadly, that was not the case. Instead, we spent all summer trying to find a way to pay for the repairs.)

Turns out, finding affordable (or even super-expensive) temporary housing (a place that doesn't require a long-term lease) for six people and two cats isn't as easy as you might think. We found several apartments that offered short-term leases and welcomed our two cats ... but they had a four person limit. Then, we found one place that would allow all six of us, but only one of our cats. And one place that had room for all of us (cats included), but wouldn't be available until mid-October! Each possibility we explored started with a surge of hopefulness, leading to total despair when my hopes were crushed. When we reached the end of the list (after calling or visiting every apartment complex we could find in the area, and even begging a local realtor for leads) with no results, I sat in my car and cried. My only options were to give up one or more of my family members in exchange for a place to live ... or to remain homeless for a couple of months. None of those options were acceptable, but I didn't know what else to do.

So I went online and sent out a call for help to all of my friends in the area. Minutes later, a friend of a friend saw my plea. And she had a friend who was getting ready to put her home up for rent at the beginning of September. A friend who was willing to speed up the process so we could move in right away. A friend who had room for our whole family AND our cats. ... And her friend has become, in only a few short days, not only my landlord but someone I can truly call a friend as well.

I'm still hovering on the edge of tears every single day, and I feel like I'm walking an unmarked path through woods so dark I can't see farther than my next step at any given moment. But I will keep walking, keep moving forward. Because though the journey is difficult and sometimes truly terrifying, there are so many wonderful blessings to be found along the way. And I have discovered the best traveling companions to get me through. Thank you all for being a part of my journey! I love and appreciate you more than words can possibly express.

31 July 2015

Final Hours in the Auction to Save our House!

Once again, I'm overflowing with gratitude for the support and encouragement we've had regarding our efforts to save our house. The second auction, hosted by Emily Moore, has another great group of items available, and the auction actually had to be extended because the item donations kept coming in even after the bidding had started!

There are only a few hours left in the auction (it runs until noon pacific time - 3pm eastern today - Friday 31 July), so I thought I'd post a quick list to make it even easier to find the perfect item for you.

Here are all the awesome items up for bid …
Critiques by Agents:
 Signed Books:


 Full Manuscript Critiques:
 Marketing, Social Media & More:

Auction Item #6 - Marketing Consultation by Dea Poirier

Auction Item #21 -  45-minute phone consultation with Tobie Easton

Auction Item #29 -  Social Media Platform Analysis + First 50 Pages Critique by Carrie Ann

Auction Item #25 - Online Platform Graphic Design Package by Veronica Bartles

Auction Item #26 -  Swag Graphic Design Package by Veronica Bartles

18 July 2015

When Thank You is Not Enough

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am so grateful for the trials and troubles I experience in life! Not that I'm a glutton for punishment, or that I actually enjoy that miserable experience of feeling like the whole world is crashing in on me. But every disaster I've ever experienced has come with an outpouring of love and blessings ... and for that, I am truly grateful.

 If you haven't yet heard about our house in Maryland being destroyed, you can catch up on the story here. I already mentioned how grateful I was at the outpouring of support I received in the days immediately following the discovery, but the love and support has been so constant and ongoing, I have to write another post to say thank you!

I'm especially grateful this week for Brenda Drake, who organized an online auction to benefit our house rebuilding efforts. And for all of my friends in the publishing industry (agents, editors, artists and authors) who have donated items for the auction! 

In case you haven't seen the auction yet, there are a TON of AMAZING items up for bid! Books for all ages, manuscript and query critiques, custom artwork, marketing consultations, editing services ... My amazing editor, Mandy Schoen even offered a 50 page critique PLUS 30 minute phone consultation about the manuscript! I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of awesome in this auction, and there simply aren't words big enough to express my gratitude for you all. Both those who donated auction items and those who are bidding on them.

When Brenda told me that she was putting together this auction, I never imagined that she would have more than 90 people wanting to donate to help me! (Brenda said she had so many offers that she had to turn people away in the end. I can't believe how supportive everyone has been!!) There are auction listings for:
* Signed Books (including Advance Reader Copies for books that haven't even come out yet!)
* Marketing Help and Consultations
* Custom Artwork and Formatting Services
* Query Critiques
* Partial Manuscript Critiques
* Full Manuscript Critiques
* Query & Chapter Critiques with Literary Agents
* Critiques & Phone Calls with Editors

My twitter feed has been blowing up with notifications, and I simply can't keep up with all of the well-wishes and support that has been coming my way. But I wanted to send my gratitude and undying love out to all of you! If a grateful heart truly is a beginning of greatness, then I am well on my way to achieving that status. Because I am absolutely in awe. You guys are the best!!

For those who might be interested in the auction, I've included the links at the bottom of this post as well, sorted into easy-to-navigate categories. (Click on the item number to learn more about the item - and to bid. Click on the donor's name to learn more about the author / editor / agent who donated it. Many of the Pitch Wars mentors who have donated critiques for this auction have also participated in one (or more) of Brenda's Query & First Page Workshops. You can find samples of their critiques from those workshops on Brenda's blog, if you want to get a sense of their critique styles.

Signed Books (Including Advance Reader Copies!!)

Auction Item 22: Signed Copy of ANOMALY by Tonya Kuper

Auction Item 27: Signed Copy of REAPER Plus Swag by L.S. Murphy

Auction Item 28: Signed Trilogy of THE PAPER MAGICIAN series (paperback) by Charlie Holmberg

Auction Item 29: E-ARC and swag bundle of CHAMELEON by K.T. Hanna

Auction Item 30: Signed Copies of JERICHO RISING & JERICHO’S REDEMPTION by Mary Lynne Gibbs

Auction Item 31: Signed Copy of THE MAIDEN’S COURAGE by Mary Lynne Gibbs

Auction Item 32: Signed Copy of YOU’RE INVITED by Jen Malone & Gail Nall

Auction Item 33: Signed Copy of BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall

Auction Item 34: Signed Copy & Swag of ACROSS THE DISTANCE by Marie Meyer

Auction Item 35: Signed Copy of FREE AGENT by J.C. Nelson

Auction Item 36: Signed Copy of ARMAGEDDON RULES by J.C. Nelson

Auction Item 37: ARC OR Final copy of WISH BOUND by J.C. Nelson

Auction Item 38: Signed Copy of BASEBALL’S BEST ROOKIES by Russ Cohen

Auction Item 39: Signed Copy of WINTER CLASSIC by Russ Cohen

Auction Item 40: Signed copy of NUMBERS DON’T LIE: METS by Russ Cohen

Auction Item 41: Box Set of FRACTURED IMMORTAL and FINDING IMMORTAL by E.L. Wicker

Auction Item 42: Signed Copy of TIMEKEEPER RISING by Allyssa Painter

Auction Item 43: Signed Copy of DANGEROUS LOVE + bookmarks by Kara Leigh Miller

Auction Item 49: Signed Copy of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS by Helene Dunbar

Bonus Auction Item 3: Signed Copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan

Bonus Auction Item 4: Signed ARC of MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS by Brooks Benjamin

Bonus Auction Item 12: Signed Copy of THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake 

 Marketing & Consultations
Auction Item 4: One Hour Marketing Consultation Call by Jen Malone Consults

Auction Item 19: Query + 1st Chapter + Skype Consultation with Rebecca Yarros

Auction Item 20: Character Personality Analysis by Lawrence Kotkin

Auction Item 23: Custom Author/Book Swag Pack by J.C. Davis

Bonus Auction Item 9: Marketing Consultation by Dea Poirier

Custom Art & Formatting
Auction Item 21: A Custom Digital-Only Book Cover Design by S.P. McConnell

Auction Item 24: Cover design by Caitlin Greer

Auction Item 25: Full Formatting Job by Caitlin Greer

Agent Critiques & Consultations

Auction Item 5: Query + First 3 Chapters Critique by Agent Roseanne Wells

Auction Item 6: Query + First 10 pages Critique by Agent Emily Keyes

Auction Item 7: Query + First 3 Chapters Critique by Agent Julia A. Weber

Auction Item 8: Query + 1st 3 chapters or A Full Non-fiction Proposal Critique by Agent Terrie Wolf

Bonus Auction Item 6: Query Critique by Agent Rachel Brooks

Special Bonus Auction Item: Query Critique by Agent Eric Ruben 

Editor Critiques & Consultations
Auction Item 2: 50 Page critique & 30 Minute Phone Consultation by Mandy Schoen

Auction Item 48: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Editor Meredith Rich

Auction Item 9: Query + Synopsis + 50 Page Critique by Anya Kagan with Touchstone Editing

Auction Item 14: Query + Synopsis + 50 Pages Critique by Kim Graff with Wild Things Editing

Auction Item 15: Submission Package Critique by Maria Ann Green with Wild Things Editing

Auction Item 18a: Private Class: Editor’s First Aid by Lynnette Labelle

Auction Item 18b: Substantive/developmental edit by Lynnette Labelle

Auction Item 63: 1st Chapter Critique by Editor Tara Creel

Auction Item 64: 1st Chapter Critique by Editor Tara Creel

Auction Item 65: 1st Chapter Critique by Editor Tara Creel

Full Manuscript Critiques

Bonus Auction Item 7: Full Manuscript Critique by Ashley Turcotte

Auction Item 1: Full Manuscript Critique by Lara Edits

Auction Item 26: Full NA or YA Manuscript Critique by Molly Lee

Multi-Page / Chapter Critiques (& More!)
Auction Item 19: Query + 1st Chapter + Skype Consultation with Rebecca Yarros

Bonus Auction Item 13: Query + 50 Pages YA Critique by Jodie Andrefski

Auction Item 13: Query + 50 Pages Critique by L.S. Murphy

Auction Item 3: 50 Page Middle Grade Manuscript Critique by Jen Malone

Auction Item 10: 50 Page Middle Grade Manuscript Critique by Elliah Terry

Auction Item 11: 50 pages manuscript critique by Kelly Calabrese

Auction Item 12: 50 Page Critique by Jennifer Blackwood

Bonus Auction Item 10: 50 Pages YA Critique by Trisha Leaver

Auction Item 16: Query + Synopsis + 1st 3 Chapters Critique for YA by Brianna Shrum

Auction Item 44: Three Chapters Critique + B&N Gift Card Package by Jeanmarie Anaya

Bonus Auction Item 14: Query + 3 Chapters Critique by Sharon Johnston

Auction Item 17: Three Chapter Critique by Kara Leigh Miller

Auction Item 46: First Three Chapters Critique by Stacey Nash

Auction Item 47: Three Chapter Critique by Nicole Zolteck

Bonus Auction Item 2: Three Chapter MG Manuscript Critique by Laura Shovan

Bonus Auction Item 8: Query + 1st 25 Pages Critique by Agent Intern, Kyra Nelson

Auction Item 50: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Sonia Hartl

Auction Item 51: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Dannie Morin

Auction Item 52: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Casey Lyall

Auction Item 53: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Rosalyn Eves

Auction Item 55: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Natasha Raulerson

Auction Item 56: Query + 1st Chapter by Natasha Neagle

Auction Item 57: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Jennifer Hawkins

Auction Item 58: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Marie Meyer

Auction Item 60: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Ronni Arno

Auction Item 61: Query + 1st Chapter by Suzanne van Rooyen

Bonus Auction Item 5: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Brooks Benjamin

Bonus Auction Item 11: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Wendy Spinale

Auction Item 62: Query + 1st Chapter Critique by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Auction Item 54: First Chapter Critique by Roselle Kaes

Auction Item 59: First Chapter Critique by Laura Heffernan

Auction Item 66: First Chapter Critique by Linda Budzinski

Auction Item 45: Ten Page Critique by RuthAnne Snow

 Bonus Auction Item 1: First 5 Pages Critique by Lara Edits

 Query Critiques
 Auction Item 75: Query Brainstorming Package by Naomi Hughes

Auction Item 67: Query + 1st Page Critique by Kelly Siskind

Auction Item 68: Query Critique by Amy Trueblood

Auction Item 69: Query Critique by Helene Dunbar

Auction Item 70: Non-fiction Query Critique by Jenna Glatzer

Auction Item 71: Query Critique by Tamara Mataya
 Auction Item 72: Query Critique by Michelle Hauck

Auction Item 73: Query Critique by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Auction Item 74: Query Critique by Lynnette Labelle

Auction Item 76: Query Critique by Nikki Roberti

Auction Item 77: Query Critique by Elinor Sattler