Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017 is the Year of the Rooster and I had much to crow about!

Getting the call

I had fallen into a slump in 2015 when my former agent couldn’t sell any of my stories and then suddenly quit the business. Nothing went right for a while and I was sliding into a “learned helplessness” state where I didn’t believe anything I did made a difference. Because of that, I almost didn’t apply for the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB™) Mentorship Program.

But two things spurred me to:

1) Salina Yoon, superstar author-illustrator and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, predicted good things happening for me in 2016, and

2) my picture book critique group, the Penguin Posse, kicked my butt (in the best possible way).

So, I entered and put it out of my mind because I couldn’t bear another disappointment. I watched November and December tick away, and had just resigned myself to the fact that 2016 was another bust when just before Christmas…

I received a call from Miranda Paul, the creator of the Mentorship Program and , telling me that I won the nonfiction category, chosen by none other than Jane Yolen--yeah, THE JANE YOLEN!!!
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Some of my old favorites of Jane's books. I still bawl when I re-read Owl Moon and Encounter.

Best. Christmas. Present. Ever!

Getting the ball rolling

After the call from Miranda, I think I was in a state of disbelief for a while. Surely something that good couldn’t be happening, could it? Then it all became very real--and very surreal, too--when Jane emailed in the middle of January to introduce herself to me, as if a lifelong speculative fiction and children’s literature fan such as myself wouldn’t know who she is and didn’t already worship the chair she BICs on!

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Some of my new favorites of Jane's book.
Jane became the icon she is by working hard (along with colossal talent) and expected her mentee to do the same. While I don’t think anyone could work as hard as Jane does, I am more than willing to roll up my sleeves and put in the time and sweat to hone my writing skills.

I think Jane was pleased to hear it.

Getting down to business

The WNDB program allows for each mentor-mentee pairing to work out their own schedules and rhythms. Jane is not a helicopter mentor. She expected me to be an adult and keep track of my progress, asking her for help when I need it, and essentially take charge of the process. She wasn’t going to baby me and change my literary diaper, but she always made time to teach me how to change it on my own, so to speak. I truly believe that is the best way a mentor, or a parent, can help you grow.

Here's how we proceeded:

To begin with, Jane gave me very thorough feedback on my manuscript. I revised based on her comments, rewriting the areas where I felt her advice was spot on. She never pressured me to take her recommendations as the final word, always reminding me to heed only what felt right for my vision.

For the first half of 2017, we went back and forth like that, going over my story initially with a broad brush, making sure the story had structural integrity and the right tone and palette. Then we narrowed in on specific sections, going tighter and tighter into the fine details. I was lucky enough to meet with Jane in person at the spring NESCBWI conference to talk over the progress of the manuscript.
Jane, her lovely and equally talented author daughter, Heidi Stemple, and me.
The NESCBWI Conference was also notable because I won the Pitchapalooza event there, beating out the 12-14 other people who were called up to pitch their story ideas!

Jane coached and I refined and polished until we had exhausted every possible adjustment we could think of.

Getting out into the world

At that point, I felt like my baby, with Jane’s blessing and a promise to write a blurb for the book, was ready to be sent out to face the critical eyes of agents and editors.

Everyone tells you that the publishing world is subjective. It is 100% true. Even though THE JANE YOLEN had put her stamp of approval on a story doesn’t mean it will be universally loved. Some agents and editors thought the story wonderful, others gave a resounding “meh.”

Getting…an agent!

Even though WNDB says not to expect to get an agent or a publishing contract out of our mentorships--that it is purely for improving your craft with a dedicated and experienced personal teacher, after all--I was very lucky to have found (again, serendipitously, but that’s another blog post), and signed with, Natascha Morris of BookEnds Literary Agency, who is as savvy and hardworking as she is fun and clever!

There is a decent chance that I might get a publishing contract, too, but I won’t think about it until I actually see it. 

As we near Thanksgiving and the mentorship year comes to a close, I want to express my deep gratitude to those who have made the past eleven months unforgettable:

* Salina Yoon, for being a dear friend who publically predicted my success
These are a few of Salina's books that I own and love.
* Miranda Paul, for her brilliant mentorship program idea, and the entire We Need Diverse Books team

* Jane Yolen, for being my inimitable mentor and guiding star
* Natascha Morris, for being a tireless agent who saw my potential
* my critique groups, the Penguin Posse, the Minnows, and the Scribblers, for always being there to support me in every way
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Chicken and dumplings, east coast style

There are a couple of different version of chickens and dumplings that I know of. One has a biscuit-like topping (biscuit in the American sense, not the British sense), and the other is sometimes called "slippery dumpling" and is really pretty a noodle. The latter is the one I grew familiar with when I lived in DE for three years. This is the recipe hubby grew up with since he's from DE.

The recipe is super simple but oh so tasty!

Dumpling noodles

2 C flour
1 t salt
2 T shortening
2/3 C water

Mix flour and salt together. Add shortening and mix with fingers until crumbly. 

Add water a bit at a time until the dough turns into a ball.

Roll out into 1/8" thickness and cut into one inch wide strips and those strips into 2.5" long noodles. Slip those into the boiling broth. 
We like to add peas into the chicken broth with the noodles for a bit of veggies and color. Mmmm!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Before there was bubble tea

Tapioca pudding has long been a "thing." For whatever reason, the tapioca rounds have a very pleasant mouth-feel for me (and my older son who is a fussbudget about food sometimes...he never used to be as a little kid).

It's not hard to make but does involve an extra step of whipping up egg whites which always seems like a pain in the butt to me, so I don't make it often. But when we have 12 dozen eggs in the fridge, I break down and make some tapioca pudding.

whisking egg whites
the main mixture with tapioca pearls, milk, and egg yolks

folding yolks mixture with egg whites makes for a fluffy pudding
We get Bob's Red Mill tapioca which has a recipe on the back of the package but I imagine there are tapioca recipes elsewhere.

Do you like tapioca pudding? If so, do you have a favorite recipe?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Soap talk

I first got obsessed with making soaps about 10 years ago. Back then, the kids were younger (and cuter and sweeter, possibly...but I digress), and I didn't want to get into lye and hot oils. So, I started with melt and pour soaps, and made some pretty cool soaps if I say so myself.
sushi soap with ginger and wasabi should see the cute nori pattern!
But recently, after the kids have grown (it happens so fast...waaah), I decided to make good old-fashioned lye soap. It's a bit of work but I love the results. Most of all, I love the different scents I can try out when making my own soaps.
a mess on my table

Christmas Spice scent

Jade scent

soaps I made in the spring

close up of the cut Christmas Spice soap

top rack has the 3 recent batches of soaps
If you're interested in making old-fashioned soaps, there are a lot of YouTube videos to follow. I also recommend the products from Bramble Berry (and their Soap Queen blog). Their products are reliable and excellent quality. The micas and glitter I used in the soaps are from Mad Mica, another company I highly recommend for great service and quality.

Would you try making soaps if you don't already?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The fall garden

For some people, the fall garden signals a time of winding down, when they're done with growing and nearly done with harvesting.

These people have obviously not read any Eliot Coleman books! Duuuude. Stop reading this blog Right Now and check out Mr. Coleman's books. Okay, no; finish reading this blog first.

Hubby is a Coleman fan and while he's not quite gotten into the whole 4-season harvest thing completey, he has extended his growing season. He just planted spinach, choi sum, and other cool weather crops, for instance.

The garden may look a little yellow
the garden, looking west
looking south-west

and some plants are dying (the wussy summer ones)
the eggplant that has seen better days

but things are still very pretty
the south garden with squash and melons still holding on
okras are not that tasty but are sure beautiful

much like our chickens.
the chickens get our food scraps

And we're still harvesting a lot of goodies.

 I look forward to eating spinach well into January...or at least the mashe (even though I don't look forward to washing mashe). Plus, even if nothing came out of the garden by February, we have lots of canned and frozen beans and canned tomatoes to remind us of summer.

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Indiana banana

Seems like every year I post about our pawpaw harvest, I get into the same conversations with my friends. They usually say they've not heard of it, or know the song (I don't know the song) but haven't had the fruit, or think it's a papaya.

our harvest this year
So, here's the write up of the fruit we know as the pawpaw:
 not to be confused with a papaya:
 taken from this really neat book:
 This year, I went to the Kentucky State University site where they had some interesting recipes for pawpaws to try something different. I made this pawpaw meringue pie and it wasn't half bad. Tastes a lot like a banana custard pie (hence one of its nicknames of "Indiana banana").
Have you ever tried pawpaw? If so, do you like them?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sour grapes...make good jelly

A dear friend of ours, Carol, gave us a grape plant that she had an extra of. We had previously planted grapes but between the deer and possibly too-wet soil, they all died off with nothing to show for our efforts.

This new plant did surprisingly well this year. They were so cute on the vine:
All 3 pounds of it picked:
 The messy juicing process...the is the remainder that we fed to the chickens:
I forgot to take a photo of the juice before popping it into the wait until cooler weather to make jelly.
So far this year, I've made many jars of marmalade, one batch of strawberry jam, and one batch of Autumn Olive jelly. I'm waiting until late fall to make grape and blackberry jellies. What is your favorite jam or jelly?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Love takes time

Did I give you an ear worm?

Sometimes falling in love with something takes a while. I'd seen this bowl that my dad had for several years now. He tried to have me take it home with me, but I while I liked it well enough, I never thought I loved it. So, I always made the excuse that it'd be hard to take home on the plane. I said it might break, even though it was packaged in a padded box.

Well, as my sister and I went through Dad's junky basement this last visit, I saw the bowl again. This time, I decided to take it with me.

Fish is a common motif.

Sadly, I only recognize the words "fish" and "longevity." Not sure what the other words are. Do you know?

You can see the outside design from the inside!

I set up up on the bookcase behind my standing desk and I pick it up to marvel at its beauty daily...the art and calligraphy on it, the translucency of the porcelain...and I am glad that I finally fell in love with it and brought it home.

What about you? Have you ever resisted something and then finally falling for it after many years?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Winter pursuits

In the winter when there is no garden to tend to (and nothing to process and can, thank goodness!), I like to do other things, like make jewelry. Here are some I made when my sister visited this past Christmas holiday.

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams