Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day 1 - The Best Book You Read Last Year

Or maybe I should say Entry 1 -- because if you've been around for a while you know that I'll get sidetracked and even if I didn't, I don't blog every day, and even if I did, I'd get sidetracked. See what I did there? Full circle. 

You also know that a few years ago I started, but never finished, a 30-Day Book Meme, so you're no doubt rolling your eyes and thinking, "What? Again??" 

Well, yes. Because I'm an author and I think about books .. a lot.  

So here goes: The best book I read last year. Would it surprise you to know that it was an older book? Or that it's a toss-up between two books? Or that both books are older books? Well, try not to be too surprised.  

I read quite a bit last year, but not as much as I could have. As I look back on my year of reading (thank you goodreads!) I realize that several of the books on my list from 2014 were books for young readers that I read along with my oldest granddaughter. We plowed through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and knocked off several Judy Moody books, which added to my somewhat impressive list. 

I read several books that I already owned (including my two favorites) and several that I checked out from the library. I don't borrow books from friends because (a) I don't like to loan books to friends and (b) I've already proved that I can't be trusted to either read them in a timely manner or return them before the friend moves to parts unknown, or I move across country. (Yes, that is shame you hear.) 

I read several books for contests in which I acted as a judge. All of those books were newly published last year. Sadly, none of them qualifies as a favorite read. I won't discuss them here because that would be against the rules and unethical. 

So which two books did I read (or re-read) last year that qualify as my favorite?  

1.  The Rich are Different by Susan Howatch. 

You could substitute several books by Howatch here (Penmarric, Cashelmara, Sins of the Fathers) if I'd read them last year -- but I didn't, so this one wins. 
Dinah Slade was young enough to be Paul Van Zale's daughter. But she didn't care. She was a very ambitious and beautiful woman with her eye on Van Zale's tremendous fortune. However, she hadn't counted on falling in love. Paul found himself attracted to Dinah in a way he had long forgotten. Her vitality, her sensuality, consumed him. With her he could forget his past, his wife, his enemies, his empire....
If you like family sagas, the kind that were big in the 1980s, you'll love this book. If you prefer short reads, well, you'll want to give this one a miss. As for me, I'm sure I'll be reading it again. 

2. Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer.  

Again, you could substitute a number of books by Mr. Archer here, and any one of them would do. This was the first book of his I read back in the day, however, and this one remains my favorite. 

Again, this one's a family saga full of all the stuff a family saga should have: love, hate, lust, greed, betrayal ... You know. All the good stuff. 
Born on the same day near the turn of the century on opposite sides of the world, both men are brought together by fate and the quest of a dream. These two men -- ambitious, powerful, ruthless -- are locked in a relentless struggle to build an empire, fuelled by their all-consuming hatred. Over 60 years and three generations, through war, marriage, fortune, and disaster, Kane and Abel battle for the success and triumph that only one man can have.
And yes, I'm sure I'll read this one again, too. 

What about you? What was the best book you read last year? 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

World Prematurity Day

It's World Prematurity Day, and rather than talk about candy or books, I decided that today it's time to raise awareness.
As many of you know, my first granddaughter was born at just 27 weeks. She was 14 1/2 inches long and 2 lb 9 oz. While in the NICU, she had NECK, sepsis, pneumonia, E-coli based meningitis, seizures, apnea, and a brain bleed. I don't mind telling you, those first few weeks were terrifying. It seemed like every day we got some new piece of frightening news. 
We were told she was going to have trouble keeping up with kids her own age, she would be slow to learn, walk, speak. We were told for the rest of her life she would probably have trouble hearing, talking, seeing and that she would struggle in school.
I remember sitting in the doctor's office, listening to them talk about what her future would probably hold, and feeling overwhelmed by the panic. Was I strong enough to help this child? What could I possibly do? Every touch from another person robbed her tiny body of the energy she needed to develop parts of her body she would need. I remember vividly the day my daughter was first able to hold her baby. I remember desperately just wanting to hear the baby cry, which we couldn't because of all the tubes and other equipment. 
At some point during that visit with the doctors, I asked what my other daughter and I could do to help. Since we couldn't even touch her, rocking her was out of the question. She couldn't swallow, so feeding her wasn't on the list. The doctor told us one thing we could do to help: read to her. It didn't matter what we read, he said. Just read. I can't give you all of the scientific reasons why reading helps premature babies develop. I just remember feeling an immense sense of relief that there was something I could do. 
And so we did. Day after day, for hours at a time, we read aloud from children's books, like he Baby Blue Cat Who Said No, and Mama, Do You Love Me? We read Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport and Minerva Louise. We read magazines and books about Egypt and the Romance Writer's Report
My two nieces were also born prematurely, and both faced their own set of challenges when they were first born.
Thanks to the prayers of friends and family and the knowledge of the nurses and doctors in the NICU, all three of the premature babies in our family grew up healthy. All three dodged all of the things we were told could be challenges for them because they were born so early.
My nieces are adults with families of their own, and The Princess is a happy and healthy 9 year-old who not only keeps up with the kids her age, but consistently hits the honor roll and helps other kids when they have challenges with their lessons. She loves to read and writes stories of her own. I don't know if she inherited her love of stories from me, or if she developed a love of stories in the NICU, but it doesn't really matter. Wherever it came from, I'm glad she has it. 
Not every family is so lucky, but every family deserves to be. Please help support the effort to raise awareness and get the kind of care premature babies need everywhere. And if you find yourself with a premature baby inside your sphere of influence, read. Read, read, read. I promise you, it will help. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Not Nice to Fool with Mother Nature ...

As I write this, the sky is gray and overcast. Rain is bucketing down from the heavens in a great, soaking deluge. Trees are bent in the wind--even the usually stoic trees that do little more than sway in a storm. Palms (the notorious Drama Queens of the tree world) are whipping to and fro, dropping fronds all over the neighborhood.

It's not a bad storm as storms go, but it is the remnants of a hurricane that downgraded to a tropical storm, and like much of the country, we're feeling some of the fallout. A few people are without power and flood warnings are popping up all over the Internet and TV. Luckily no one I know has suffered any damage to their homes, but we'll have a bit of a mess to clean up wen the storm moves past us.

It's hard to imagine living in an area hit by a storm of a larger magnitude. I've lived through killer hailstorms in Montana, storms that delivered hailstones the size of golf balls. I've lived through Rocky Mountain snowstorms that have snapped tree limbs and taken out electric lines, leaving us without electricity and heat for days. As a kid, I learned to judge the look of the sky, and I knew to run home without stopping when the clouds turned a certain color.

Somehow, the idea of a hurricane is different to me. Worse, somehow.

Maybe it's the wind. Maybe it's the thought of seeing everything covered with water. The idea of digging out from under the mud. The stink of the mold. I'm fascinated by water, but I'm also a little frightened by it. I never lose sight of the fact that if Mother Nature gets a bug up her nose, I could be snapped like a twig.

The truth is, I'm a little frightened by Mother Nature in general. I was raised to appreciate nature, but to never underestimate it. Wild animals are not predictable. The weather is much stronger than I am. And there are very few arguments with nature that I can hope to win.

But that doesn't seem to be the prevalent opinion. Ever since I was a kid, I've been shocked by the number of people who visit someplace like Yellowstone National Park and act as if they're inside a Disney theme park.

How does someone grow up in this world and be so supremely unaware that man is nothing but a speck on the planet? We might have brain power on our side, but in a battle of strength, we're never going to win. I've watched idiots approaching herds of wild bison, thinking, I guess, that the bison are tame and trained. Disneyfied.

I've seen parents posing small children in front of wild moose, thinking they're going to get a terrific picture. I've seen people wander off the trails onto the thin crust of earth surrounding the geysers, so supremely certain that they matter, in some way, to the grand scheme of the universe they can't conceive of anything bad happening to them.

Every year or two, we hear reports of someone being attacked by some animal or falling through that crust of earth and being severely burned--and that's if they're lucky, or unlucky, enough to survive. And while there's a human part of me that grieves for their families, I'm also irritated by the idiot who put their kid in harm's way, who left food lying out to attract the animals, or who stepped off the clearly marked path and ignored the warning signs.

I feel the same thing for those people in the mandatory evacuation areas, who chose to ignore the warnings to evacuate. They wouldn't bother me if they didn't and then put the Coast Guard and other volunteers in danger when they cried for help. It's not about being "brave," it's about being smart. I have to wonder what part of "certain death" they found so difficult to understand. Did they all die? No, but that's not the point. The point is that if you survive a face-to-face battle with Mother Nature, it's because she spared you, not because you won.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Two Things

What are the two things everybody needs to know about your job? Interesting question. I'll play along.

The two things everybody needs to know about my job are:

1. It's much harder than it looks. In fact, this is the hardest work I've ever done. It's also the most rewarding, but that leans dangerously close to being the second thing, and I'm not sure I want to go there.

2. Authors don't get paid from the sale of used books, or from the downloading of bootlegged copies of books on the internet, or from sales of books on eBay (which, you know, are mostly used), or for the sale of stripped books (selling these is illegal anyway, but they show up with alarming regularity, so I thought I'd mention them.)

 Authors, in fact, don't get paid for much of anything, with the notable exception of a few cents on the original sale of each copy of their books. Any advances they may have received are exactly that -- advances. Not bonuses, not additional money, but an advance against payment the publisher expects to be coming. Some authors agree to contracts that don't incude advances. Assuming the author has received an advance, the author now has to sell X number of books to loyal readers before the author gets any additional money from the publisher. So while I think most of us understand all about the lack of money and either not being able to or not wanting to spend $7.99 for something you're just going to read and then toss, we hope that all of you understand that while picking up a used book is a whole lot easier on your wallet, it's not so kind to ours.

There is an argument to be made, however, that the circulation of used books builds readership, and that's our ultimate goal, right? Word of mouth is always a good thing. So if you've read one of my books and want to pass it along to a friend, I say go for it! Just please keep in mind that authors don't get paid every time somebody opens a book they've written.

Most importantly, please remember that if you find a free download of someone's book on the internet (other than respected book stores where the author may have opted to give the book away for a certain amount of time) chances are the book has been uploaded there illegally. Please don't encourage people to do this. Don't download from pirate sites!

photo credit: A book is a book via photopin (license)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Truffles

It's almost Halloween, and as anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows, Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I was scrolling through recipes this afternoon and came across a recipe on that was so cute I couldn't resist sharing it with you. 

Take a look at these adorable pumpkin truffles: 

Are they cute, or what? 

The recipe says that they're "bursting with flavor from pumpkin puree, cream cheese, cinnamon graham crackers, and plenty of spices." The cream cheese flavor isn't overwhelming, but gives the candies a pleasant cheesecake flavor. I'll post the basic recipe here, but you can find the full thing here:

  • 6 oz white chocolate, chopped (or use chips)
  • 2 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 cup powdered dry milk
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs (I recommend using cinnamon grahams)
  • 1 lb orange colored candy coating
  • 3 oz green colored candy coating
Yield 24-30 truffles


1. In a small bowl, melt the white chocolate in the microwave in short bursts until it is melted and entirely smooth. Set aside for now.

2. Combine the softened cream cheese and the pumpkin puree in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth and combined. Scrape the bowl and beat again to make sure there are no lumps in the cream cheese.

3. Add the powdered milk, the powdered sugar, and the pumpkin pie spice. Beat on low until incorporated, then scrape down the mixing bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until very smooth.

4. Add the melted white chocolate and mix until incorporated. Finally, stir in the graham cracker crumbs.

5. The mixture will be fairly soft at this point. Press cling wrap on the top and refrigerate it until firm enough to roll, about 2 hours.

6. When the candy is firm, use a candy scoop or a teaspoon to scoop up small balls. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and roll the truffles between your palms to make them round.

7. Melt the orange candy coating in a microwave-safe bowl until melted and fluid.

8. Dip the truffles in the coating, one by one, using dipping tools or a fork. Set them on a foil-lined baking sheet when finished.

9. To make them look more like pumpkins, add a bit of melted chocolate to the remaining orange coating to turn it a darker shade of brownish-orange. Put it in a small plastic bag and snip off a tiny corner. Pipe intersecting lines across the top of the truffles.

10. Finish them off with green leaves: melt the green candy coating and put it in a plastic bag as well. Draw a small swirl on to of each pumpkin truffle to simulate vines or leaves. (Note: There are two #9s in the recipe on the website. I've renumbered here.) 

11. Refrigerate the truffles to set the coating, for about 10 minutes, before serving. Store Pumpkin Spice Truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and bring them to room temperature before serving.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trading Spaces

This is my last week in Missouri, taking care of my grandkids. My daughter is coming home tomorrow, so we'll get a couple of days to visit before I leave to go back to Florida. I've been living her life for the past two weeks, getting kids up and ready for school, doing laundry and dishes for four, doing homework after school and refereeing the inevitable spats between sisters who share a room. 

I've loved every minute of my time with the kids and I've had a great visit with my son-in-law. We've talked about everything there is to talk about and we've pretty much figured out how to save the world should anyone ever put us in charge. But I'm exhausted. 

I don't know if my daughter would feel equally worn-out if she were to take over my life for two weeks, what with the writing, the blogging and the demands of social media. I like to think she might find it somewhat challenging, but I could be deluding myself. All I know is, after living her life for a couple of weeks, I have a deeper respect for her. 

Today was probably my most challenging morning yet. The kids and I went to a party hosted by the local Baptist Church last night. The invitation said from 6:00 to 7:00, and in the interest of being supportive and a team-player in this small-town atmosphere, I thought it might be fun. 

The event was supposed to include a "weinie roast" and games. Turned out to be cooking hot dogs and S'mores over a bonfire and a kitchen filled with great food and a bunch of kids racing around and squealing -- all great fun. 

About the time I was getting ready to go home, I learned that the evening's festivities also included a hayride from town to the lake and back again. It was crisp and cold and a perfect October night, and I loved being out in the fresh air and experiencing autumn at its best -- but it meant that we were all out later than I'd expected and that gave this morning a rough start. 

I wasn't careful about what, how, and when I ate yesterday, so I started the day off not feeling well. A crew of men showed up this morning without warning to fix some damage to the drive leading to the house just as I was taking the kids to school. By the time I got back and got the message that my son-in-law needed me to bring him something to him in town, I was completely blocked in by half a dozen trucks, a back-hoe and several mounds of dirt.

The crew eventually finished, and off to town I went, but whatever schedule I had in my head when I woke up was completely shot. 

Luckily, we'd planned a crockpot meal for dinner tonight -- a meal my daughter had pinned on Pinterest that looked quick and easy. She's made it several times and her family always enjoys it, and it's my turn today. 

Photo from The Larson Lingo
You can find the recipe and more about it on The Larson Lingo blog, and it really does seem to qualify as one of the easiest dinners ever. Ingredients include a frozen bag of chicken tenders, a block of cream cheese, a can each of black beans, corn and Rotel. Dump it all in the crockpot and cook it for 8-10 hours on low. You can find the pin here

Give it a try some day when the world is falling down around your ears. It's certainly made my day a lot easier! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Writing Candy Apple Dead

Having recently discovered that all the books in the Candy Shop Mystery Series were available in digital format, I've been thinking about the series a lot. I loved writing this series, and I still get notes and letters from readers who love the series, as well. The characters were a lot of fun to work with, and I had a great time coming up with Abby Shaw, her family and friends. 

I based the story in Candy Apple Dead on real-life events, the death of a personal friend that I never believed happened the way the police said it did. My friend, Terry, owned a clothing store in Salt Lake City, and back in the day I was a member of a local band. We were known for wearing matching clothes--clothes that Terry tailored for us in his shop. 

One morning I woke up to the news that Terry's shop had burned down in the middle of the night and his body had been found inside the store. I was devastated. Truly devastated. The police determined that Terry had set the fire himself, but I never believed it, so when I found myself at the start of a brand-new mystery series with a whole new set of characters to create and a new protagonist to work with, I thought it might bring me some closure to solve a case like Terry's. 

Am I suggesting that Terry's death happened the way I wrote it in Candy Apple Dead? No. Not at all. I want to be very clear on that. As any writer can tell you, we might begin with a particular person or situation in mind, but the characters in the book soon come to life, take on personalities of their own, and say and do things the original inspiration would never have said or done. 

People appeared in Brandon's life that never existed in Terry's. The one true character that existed in both Terry's life and Brandon's was Max, the inventory retrieval specialist. No, I didn't end up with the real Max after Terry died, but Terry did give me my doberman, Pride, and I loved that dog like crazy. 

You can read an excerpt from Candy Apple Dead and find buying information here

Did working through my friend's death in a work of fiction help? Yes, I think it did. If you're new to the series, I hope you'll enjoy getting to know Abby and the folks of Paradise, Colorado. If you try any of the candy recipes included in the books, please let me know how they turn out. 

Happy Reading!