Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cover Art

Everybody knows the old saying: You can't judge a book by its cover. Both literally and figuratively, however, we do it every day. Psychologists (or at least mine - I'm married to one) say that you have 30  seconds to meet someone and make an impression. At a writing workshop, a speaker said much the same thing about book covers.

We choose a book by checking out the cover, flipping to the back to read the "blurb" about the story, then, if we like what we read, we read a few sentences on the first page. A quick decision that seems to work for most of us. We know pretty fast what appeals to us and what doesn't.  I know I've bypassed books that are purported to be great, but I just can't help my little biases and gut reactions, and I don't think many of us can.

Looking at this design, you might ask yourself questions. Does the main character literally fight the elements in a storm? No. Does she have the gorgeous blue eyes depicted at the top? Hers are actually brown, but it isn't about telling the whole story in a picture. The cover is about that first impression, and this one, appeals to me, of course. I like the image of a girl, alone, facing a snowstorm. It opens possibilities to me - wondering what her status might be. Is she lost? Has she run away? Is there shelter around? Will she survive?

Snowstorm is about being a teenager with problems. It describes the choices we all have to make, but with added challenges for these characters. No vampires or wizards make an appearance. Nobody can fly or shape-shift. So, I think the cover is a good reflection of the plot - a girl in trouble. 

Now, if the writing is as pretty as the picture, on April 1st Ill be all set!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An old recipe for an old English dessert

While we're all taking a holiday break, I hope you'll enjoy this recipe that has become one of my favorites at Christmas.  We'll talk next week. Happy Holidays to all!

FIGGY PUDDING        Serves 8       Prep Time: 30 min.        Cook Time: 60-75 min.

3/4 c. dried figs
1/4 c. orange liqueur (such as Cointreau, triple sec, or Grand Marnier)
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. fine dry bread crumbs
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. chopped dates
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. coarsely chopped almonds

1/4 c. walnut pieces

1. Soak figs in orange liqueur at least 1 hour. In a bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar just until combined. Add flour, baking soda, salt, allspice, and pepper; beat on medium speed until bombined. Stir in undrained figs, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, dates, raisins, almonds, and walnuts until combined.
2. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 1-quart heatproof pudding mold, bowl, or casserole. Spoon batter into pudding mold and cover the top with a double layer of aluminum foil. Press foil firmly around edges of mold to seal. Place pudding mold on a rack in a deep kettle. Add boiling water to a depth of about 1 inch. Cover the kettle. Bring to a gentle boil and steam for 60 to 75 minutes or until a long wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Add more boiling water to the kettle, as needed.
3. Remove mold from kettle. Cool pudding for 10 minutes, remove pudding from mold. Serve immediately with Hard Sauce. (To store, cool 30-40 min, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store up to 2 days. To reheat, return to same bowl or mold and steam until warm.

To make Hard Sauce: In a small mixing bowl beat together powdered sigar, butter, and brandy (or vanilla) with mixer on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Cover and chill to harden - about 30 minutes.. Makes 1 cup.

1 recipe Hard Sauce:
2 c. sifted powdered sugar
1/2 c. softened butter
1/4 c. brandy (or 1 tsp. vanilla)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Release date: April 1st

I finally have a release date for Snowstorm. The April 1, 2011 date came in a e-mail from my editor.  When I read it, I gulped and sat there for a moment staring at the screen before I told my husband the news. For ten months I've waited for the release, and now, for the first time it seems very real.

I knew, as I digested the information, it was what I asked for, but that fact didn't make it any less disquieting. People I know and people I don't will look it over and decide if they like it or not. Maybe some kind soul will think I write better than s/he expected; someone else will likely be (ouch) disappointed in my ability. Either way, my own little project, after years of belonging just to me, will actually be out there.  Only a couple of minutes after the initial nerves, I broke out in a smile and didn't stop grinning for about 48 hours.

Now, with the initial "hooray for me" phase over, I remember the reason I wrote the book in the first place.  After years of listening to my husband (the psychologist) speak of the misery some teens endure, seeing it on the faces of some students, and observing the abuse and neglect foster kids suffer, I wanted to try to tell their story. I hoped I might give some kid, going through the same troubles, a little kernel of an idea about how to muddle through. If that doesn't happen, perhaps some kid will have a little better understanding about the problems some of their friends might be coping with at home. 

In the end, it was never about me at all. This one was about the kids.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

En franc,ais, s'il vous plait

This week I find myself humbled in more ways than one. I've been down with a virus, and the bug I had is about as humbling as they come, but I don't think anyone wants to hear about that.

More daunting, in its own way, is the process of editing Snowstorm, the novel and labor of love to be published in the spring. I must have communicated my apprehension in emails to my editor, because she referred me to a colleague's blog from more than a year ago when he was feeling the same things.  Dave Anderson (author of Killer Cows) did a great job of describing the "happy dance" ( did around the house after getting a book contract. I will admit to doing my own, though I would say mine more resembled the frolic of woodnymphs in spring. He also put very concisely into words my own dismay at finding how much work would be necessary to get the manuscript ready for publication.

What strikes me though is the similarity of my reactions to those of my students struggling to learn French. I see those who pick it up easily, others have to work it, but can make sense of it eventually, but some students, no matter how bright, just don't get foreign languages. Often they study for hours and seem not to have gleaned the basic concepts. More than once I have discovered a resistance in these students, who are, sometimes in spite of themselves, unable to accept the differences in grammar, phrasing, pronunciation, or sentence structure. Many of them want the French to say things the "right" way, like we do in English, and this insistence somehow appears to prevent them from remembering what they consider "wrong" concepts.

Languages are not finite, however, and neither is writing in your own language. Now I find myself facing the same dilemma as some students. I know very well, after rewriting the book several times, rephrasing and restructuring can vastly improve your message. But see, those were my revisions. I even realize the changes the editor, Jenny Turner, has recommended will improve the work, but doggone it, it's just hard to accept.

When the next semester begins, I vow to have more compassion for my unyielding students, because I see, much to my surprise, I am a kindred soul:  stubborn and defensive of my own way of saying things. Funny, I always thought teaching teenagers improved my writing. Maybe writing can make me a better teacher.

And if any of those students ever read this, I give them full permission to say "See? It's not so easy, is it?" (Though I'd prefer they say it in French.)