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September 2016

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

This rotation, we’re supposed to blog about easy meals for the writer on deadline. But it’s Autumn!!! I want to write about pumpkins. PUMPKIIIIIIIIIIIINS!!!

pumpkins

This is the one time of year I love to bake because it’s time for pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING!!!

I’m trying out a few dessert recipes this year, in order to decide on Thanksgiving’s after dinner treat and for our neighborhood Halloween block party. The other day I modified a recipe from Pinterest and made Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars. Oh. My. Pumpkin. They’re so good!!! Here’s the simplest recipe ever, go forth and share the Pumpkin spirit throughout the land.

McGovy’s Pumpkinnnnmmmmmmmm Bars

2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Dough

1 can pumpkin puree

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 8oz pkg of cream cheese

6 Tbsp of sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

tbsp cinnamon

1/4 cup butter

Lightly spray a 9 x 13′ baking dish with cooking spray, and roll out one can of crescent dough. In a mixing bowl, blend together your pumpkin, cream cheese, pumpkin pie spice and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Evenly spread this delicious mixture across the dough. Unroll the other can of dough and place on top. Melt your butter and stir in 1/2 a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of cinnamon. Drizzle this all over the top of the crescent dough, then sprinkle brown sugar over that, to taste. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until top layer of dough is done. Remove from oven and WAIT. This is the hardest part of the recipe. Let the dish cool a bit or you’ll have a hot mess when you try to slice and serve.

pumpkin-pic-2

My coworkers preferred their bars cold. I like mine hot, with a cup of coffee. How you devour your Pumpkinnnnmmmm Bars is totally up to you.

Enjoy!

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Quick Meals for Writers

The header of this post is the theme for the next several blog posts, and when I first saw it I was like, “But my husband does the cooking!” When I thought about it, however, I knew what I wanted to blog about. I’ve been eating more healthfully lately and counting my calories. So I thought I’d share my easy recipe for grilled chicken salad complete with calorie counts. This salad is filling, which can’t always be said of salads, and full of flavor. And it takes only enough time to make it to give me a quick break from sitting at my computer. I can eat it while continuing to work or while I take a short break from work. After I finish eating, it’s back to the computer I go — especially when I have a week like this one stuffed with deadlines that are mere days away.

p1110150But you may be saying it takes time to cut up and grill chicken. Enter the pre-cooked, grilled chicken strips or chunks/cubes in your grocery store’s frozen food section. Tonight I happened to have a tad spicier fajita chicken strips for use in my salad. Having these on hand drastically cuts down on the amount of time assembling this salad takes. I put two tablespoons of Italian dressing in a skillet (the only dressing I use), dial it to slightly about medium heat, and let it cook, flipping occasionally, while I assemble the rest of the ingredients. When I’m done with all the other ingredients, the chicken is ready to go on top. Here’s what I use:

4 leaves of romaine lettuce = 13 calories
4 ounces grilled chicken = 146 calories
2 tablespoons Italian dressing = 60 calories
10 green/Spanish/Manzanilla olives = 50 calories
1/4 cup chick peas/Garbanzo beans = 55 calories
About 1/4 of a chopped, peeled cucumber = 10 calories
A sprinkling of shredded Cheddar cheese = 50 calories
6 cherub tomatoes = 18 calories
TOTAL = 402 calories

p1110152Sometimes I add guacamole, which is an additional 25 calories per tablespoon. You can obviously add or take away whatever ingredients you want; just make sure to watch the calories as some things might have more than you’re expecting.

Happy and healthy eating! Now I’ve got to get back to work. Book due in six days!

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A Writer For All Seasons

Yay!!!! Today is officially the first day of fall.

Fall is my very favorite season. As a kid, I probably loved fall because it meant celebrating my birthday. As a work-at-home mom, fall means my own children are back in school and I can write in relative peace. (There are still interruptions, but not quite the INTERRUPTIONS of summer.) I love the fall holidays, the fall wardrobe (comfy sweaters and cute boots!) and the fall weather.

Of course, as I enthusiastically celebrate fall, I have to remember that it’s late spring in the book I’m currently writing. My heroine will look insane if she starts carving jack-o’-lanterns in May.

Writers are frequently “out of season.” Do you know how many times my family has heard Christmas carols blasting out of my office because I’m trying to write a holiday novella in August? I frequently get the date wrong on school notes, checks, etc. Not necessarily because I’ve killed too many brain cells with pinot grigio, but just because there’s so much weird time overlap in my career. In 2016, I’m booking speaking engagements for 2017 and promoting a book I first started writing in 2013. It’s September now, but I just got the cover for my January book, which takes place over Valentine’s Day. (But, really, there’s no wrong time of the year for a cover that looks like this! *heart eyes*)

jan-17

You may not know this, but every manuscript goes through its own cycle of seasons. A book starts with the bud of an idea, one a writer joyfully nurtures. There’s beauty and hope in this creatively fertile time. Blossom, little story!

in-bloom

Then, as you write pages, those pages become chapters and the story really heats up! Your characters become more real to you–scenes play out in your head, as vivid as a summer blockbuster film. On the best days, writing doesn’t even feel like work. It feels like a vacation from reality.

summer

But things change. Even if you plotted your book ahead of time, there will be forks in the road you didn’t anticipate. The story takes on a life of its own, requiring flexibility on your part. (In worst-case scenarios, a once promising story feels flat and lifeless on the page, requiring problem-solving and revision.) Change is as inevitable as the barrage of pumpkin spice products that hit every autumn. Sometimes it’s a beautiful change–a poignant dialogue exchange you didn’t see coming that makes you cry at the keyboard. Other times, the change is your plot falling apart faster than leaves fall from the trees.

fall

And then…

The winter of authorial discontent, those bleak days when you’re frozen by self-doubt, second-guessing every decision you’ve made. It feels like this in your soul (but less cheery):

bleak

You regret having ever started this damn book and realize the Starks totally knew what they were talking about: Winter WAS coming. It has descended upon you, leaving you up to your eyeballs in snowdrifts of uncooperative characters and unwieldy prose.

But don’t panic! This is just the natural life cycle of a book, not a sign that you are a hack who should quit. We must question our books, or how would we make them better? It’s okay to look for ways to improve the story, it’s okay to retrace your steps and find a better path. It’s okay to throw out four chapters (OUCH!) and write four new ones that incorporate all the knowledge you’ve gained about your story and characters along the way. The ice will thaw and your talent will shine through.

Just remember, every season offers something to celebrate and something to learn.

I wish you the happiest of falls and hope you’ll find time to curl up in a comfy sweater with your favorite autumn beverage (pumpkin spice or otherwise) and a good book.

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Oh, The Places I’ll Go

Guys, I’m in a rut.*

I’m trudging along with my current book as one does, albeit at a glacial pace. This story has dug its heels in like a recalcitrant toddler. It doesn’t want to be written. I don’t want to write it. The antipathy is rather mutual. I thought today’s blog post would be about inspiration in the hopes that I might find some for my current WIP.

Attribution: RE Hawkins

Attribution: RE Hawkins

When I thought of the inspiration for my works, one thing cropped up again and again: place. Did you know that my first novel after graduating from college was inspired by a trip to the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona? True story. I wrote a historical western about a buckskin wearing heroine who played poker and was falsely accused of robbing the town bank.

No, you may not read it. I’m hoping it’s lost to all posterity.

My first published novel, The Happy Hour Choir, came about as I was contemplating how horrible being named Beulah Land would be if you didn’t live up to heavenly behavior. What really got the book going, however, was seeing a little cinder block bar out in the middle of nowhere. Never once have I visited that bar, but it served as my inspiration for The Fountain.

Book two, Bittersweet Creek, has a setting very near and dear to my heart. Almost none of my readers

A painting of my Granny's House

A painting of my Granny’s House

would recognize the farmhouse that belongs to the Satterfields, but, in my mind, it’s my Granny’s house. I also used several of the outbuildings, including a barn that’s no longer there. The old green house that meant so much to me will now live on in fiction, if not in reality.

Better Get to Livin’ has a unique inspiration in Casey’s Funeral Home in Henderson. Not only have I attended about a bajillion funerals there, but I also used to play “Taps” for military funerals and spent more than one afternoon cooling my jets in the back kitchen. I also included a trailer park in homage to my formative years.

The Ryman Auditorium

My novella, tentatively titled Orange Blossom Special, didn’t take off until I started envisioning places I’d been. I used Knoxville for that one, both the University of Tennessee campus and the old Tennessee Theatre. I also toured Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium over the summer so I could include it. Before I turn in the final draft, I’m going to visit General Neyland’s grave, too.

Gentle reader, as I write about these places, I realize I don’t have one for my current work in progress. Hmmm. Could it be that, in writing to you, I have stumbled upon the solution my problems? Time will tell. In the meantime, what inspires you? What do you do to refill the well? Readers, do you like to read about actual places?

*Funny story: I attended church services at a different church on Sunday, and the preacher included a line about how a rut is “a grave with the ends kicked out.” Kinda inspired me to get out of mine, if you know what I mean.

P.P.S. Important note: I will often write about places that actually exist, but I never intentionally write about people who exist. Any resemblance you might see to someone you know, is completely coincidental. Well, there is the character I quite loosely based on a dead person, but that’s another story for another day.

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Editing and Critiques…oh my!

I’m pulling a Carol Burnette and taking questions from the “crowd.” Does anyone else love her as much as me? Or even know who she is? Went With the Wind is my favorite skit ever….YouTube it, people!tumblr_mq5avosuov1qar83lo6_500

Over there in the back, what’s your question?

How do you know when you’re finished editing? It could go on forever!

Yes, yes it could. This is where deadlines help. Unless you not even near the finish line, you’re hitting send to your editor on the due date. That’s a nice, abrupt end to your edit! But, gearing this toward a newer author, I think what you really want to know is when to let go of that manuscript you’ve been working on for months (years)? You query and get a full request from an agent and suddenly you’re convinced your manuscript needs one more pass…and then another. Sending off requested pages or even entering contests can be daunting. Is it ready for prime-time?

I’m going to reference something I heard Eloisa James say, and I apologize that I’m going to have to paraphrase, but basically, she said write the best book you can RIGHT NOW and send it out into the world. This is not to say you shouldn’t study your craft and do your very best, but people (and women especially) aim for perfection and will beat themselves up and hem and haw over every single sentence. Basically, when you are tweaking individual words, you need to let it go.

Here’s the truth: what will get you signed by an agent or your book contracted by an editor is not which verb you picked to use in the last sentence on page seventy-five, it is your VOICE. Is it compelling? Does it draw the reader in and not let them go? Voice matters more than perfect grammar or even plot sometimes. Plot and grammar are fixable; voice is a more elusive creature. (As an aside, I didn’t understand what a dangling participle was until my first editor pointed them out…eek!)

How do you know whether your critique group is helping or hurting?

One thing I’ve learned in the years since I started writing is there is no right or wrong way to approach a manuscript. Some writers I know write 1-3 chapters and send them off to their critique partner or group and wait for feedback before moving on. Some writers have sworn off critique groups/partners.

I fall somewhere in between. I have one critique partner, and I usually “use” her to read projects where I’m stepping out of my usual genre. For most of my manuscripts, I write/edit/turn in without anyone else reading it before my editor, mainly because of those pesky deadlines I mentioned above. Honestly, I usually don’t have the time for someone else to read my manuscript.

My rule of thumb comes from entering somewhere around a million unpublished contests…if the critique makes you feel like crap and question whether or not you should even be a writer, then it has turned toxic. I’ll be honest, some people are toxic by nature. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe someone kicked their dog when they were eight and they have a vendetta against the world. Who knows?! If the feedback resonates and fires new, better ideas, go for it. But, all feedback is not good feedback. Do a gut check. Basically, if you’re excited about the feedback you get and can’t wait to make your manuscript better, then you have a helpful critique relationship. If the feedback makes you want to cry and instills more doubts than optimism, then move on!

Don’t let your critique group/partner become a crutch, and don’t change something just because someone else thinks you should, even a more experienced writer, which leads into my next point…

It’s important to TRUST your stories and your voice. I queried and signed with an agent and sold two manuscripts without having any critique partners, so I’m proof it’s not necessary for success. I learned early on to trust my method and my voice because I had no choice (aka ignorance is bliss:) There will be many, many times after you get published that you won’t have the chance/time for someone else to pat your head and tell you everything looks good before you hit send. And once your’re published, you have to trust yourself enough to weather rejections and bad reviews, because if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, all those flung arrows from outside sources will eventually kill your joy. Don’t let it!

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Paying It Forward

This year’s RWA National Convention in San Diego was one of my favorites I’ve attended for a lot of reasons. To my surprise, one of the highlights of the conference was also one of my biggest sources of stress leading up to it. Namely, teaching a workshop.

To be fair, this wasn’t my first time teaching a workshop. It wasn’t even my first time teaching this workshop. I’d given it for my local chapter and then for a small group at Chicago’s Spring Fling conference. And yet, giving it at Nationals?? That was a whole other ballgame.

It’s hard to believe I attended my first RWA only three years ago. At the time, I was still at the beginning of my career. Every workshop I went to, I sat in rapt attention, soaking up the wealth of knowledge being laid out for me. I was in awe of the people who stood at the front of those rooms, speaking so authoritatively about things I was only just learning. I won’t pretend to be so humble that I never imagined I might someday be up there, doing the same, but it seemed like something for a far-off, distant future. Surely, I could spend decades and still not know enough to be able to pretend to pass that knowledge on.

Funny how time passes.

In the intervening three years, I’ve been to a lot of workshops, both at conferences and at local chapter meetings. I’ve worked with three different editors and a half dozen critique partners, received lots of feedback from readers and reviewers, and spent hours talking with my peers about the intricacies of what we writers do. Basically, I’ve learned a lot.

And in the end, the thing I decided I knew enough about to pass it on to others was one of the things I used to be the weakest at: writing in deep point of view.

I believe it was fellow Bad Girl Tanya Michaels who first gave me the advice that it’s easiest to teach others about topics you once struggled with. If you’ve always been good at something, chances are it came to you naturally, and it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to put your understanding of the skill into words. By contrast, a skill it took hard work and patience to develop? You remember every hard-won inch of that slog. You already know how to explain it to someone else because you know how you wish someone else had explained it to you.

Me in front of the packed house for my Deep POV workshop at Nationals

Me in front of the packed house for my Deep POV workshop at Nationals

So it was that I found myself at the front of a packed auditorium, laying out the wisdom I had gained through years of practice and education to over a hundred people, many of whom were probably at the beginning stages of their careers, listening to me the way I had once listened to others. It was a heady feeling. Look how far I had come.

Look how much good I could do, helping others.

The romance-writing community has always been a special, amazing place, and a huge part of that is the sense of comradery and cooperation. The feeling that we’re all in this together—that one person’s success is not another’s failure, but an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow. Where else do best-selling authors take time out of their day to travel to chapters or present their wisdom and share their stories at conferences? What other genre has such a tradition of writers helping writers?

Paying forward the things I’ve learned from this community has been such an incredibly rewarding experience. I loved getting to share what I’ve learned. I loved the conversations I got to have with the people who came up to me after the workshop. I love feeling like I can give something back after everything this community has given me.

Have you ever thought of presenting a workshop? What topics would you want to teach?

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In doubt? Just ask, “What would Bowie do?”

I was a wee whippersnapper when I first became interested in music, and from that point onward, David Bowie was my hero. Thirty five-ish years later, he’s sadly been promoted from my music/style icon to patron saint. Beyond the sadness, though, is mad respect. Who else could maintain such a lifetime of creativity and artistic expression on his own terms, right to the end?

When I came upon this interview a couple of months ago, his advice resonated. I was at a moment in assessing my writing career, and where I wanted to go, versus where I thought I was capable of going. Should I stay in my comfort zone, even if I get bored with it? If I don’t, what if I overshoot, and can’t deliver the story I want? How will I know I’m at the “right” place?  I don’t know if this happens to y’all or not, but when I’m reading a book and really enjoying it, I often think, oh, this is so awesome… I don’t know how Author Awesome does it. I could never pull off a story with the plot/concept/depth that she does! A really great book can be intimidating, much like Bowie had to have been to pretty much every rock musician, ever. But seeing the advice he gives in this interview put my mind at ease. Even though it’s probably geared more to musicians or visual artists, it still perfectly sums up the very question I’d been struggling with. Don’t create according to others’ expectations of you. Stretch yourself, go a little (not a lot) out of your depth.  It’s short, simple, and sweet–but if I get advice from my patron saint, I’ll damn well take it. And if it worked for the Thin White Duke, it ought to work for me!

So remember, when in doubt, just ask yourself what would Bowie do?

All the best,

 

 

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The Down Low on Life with a Multi-Book Contract

Hi ho! Sophia Henry here and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on what happens after you sign a multi book contract. 🙂

1. Celebration! Seriously. Dance and shout and let it all out because you scored a multi book contract with a publisher! That is awesome!! Congratulations! Get the celebration out of your system, because it’s time to…

45840449 - writing with quill pen last will and testament or concept for law, legal issues or author

2. Write your butt off. Remember that first novel you wrote? I’m guessing it takes most of us more than a year to research, write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit that first book. It took me over three years w/ my first. You *probably* won’t have that kind of time again during your contract. Do you write slow? Save yourself some stress >> Be honest and realistic about how fast—or slow—you draft and build that time into your contract.

3. Editing. You will go through at least two—maybe more—rounds of edits on each book. The first will be developmental edits from your editor. Once you complete those your MS is sent to copy edits. (*Keep in mind you may go through more than one round of developmental edits to get the book where it needs to be). If you have a print book, you will probably have a page by page proof to go through after copy edits.

4. Market/Promote. While you are doing all the edits on the book to polish it to perfection, you will also be marketing and promoting. On Facebook. On blogs. On Twitter. On Instagram. Wherever you chose to have an author presence. 🙂 My advice is: take those posts to heart and make them the best they can be. Whether it’s an author interview, a guest post or an excerpt–this is what you ware showing the world about you and your writing. Maybe the blog only has 25 followers. It doesn’t matter. Promotion is promotion. 25 is better than Zero. AND if someone googles your name, that blog might come up. So always best at your best. Your brand is your career.

46744572 - promote yourself concept

5. Write your butt off. While you are doing all of this you are also (or should be) writing the next book in your contract—because I bet your deadline to have that to your editor is coming up soon.

6. Release Day! CELEBRATION TIME! Stop what you’re doing and celebrate today. I don’t care if it’s your 1st book or your 71st. Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment. You published a book (or 71 books). You ROCK!!

7. Release Day Continued… Don’t plan on doing anything on Release Day other than: answering calls, texts, FB messages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, commenting on blog posts. THANKING everyone who bought, read, shared, helped in any way with your book.

8. Write Your Butt Off. At this point you should be very close to turning your next book in to your editor. Can I just say that TIME FLIES when you have all of this going on. It goes in warp speed, I swear.

9. Edit. See above. Just because you’re a super awesome published author with an amazing book out doesn’t mean your second won’t need (major) editing.

10. Market/Promote. See above, but you’ll be doing it for Book 2…AND Book 1. You can’t forget about that puppy! Because it’s probably going on sale a few weeks before book 2 comes out and you want to get people into your series so they preorder book 2 or snatch it up on release day!

11. ARE YOU WRITING BOOK 3 YET?? BECAUSE IT’S DUE TOMORROW!! Okay, maybe not tomorrow, but all of these things will sneak up on you. You *may* need to ask for an extension. I’m not promoting it, but it happens. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your editor. If you are honest, changes can be made. Don’t avoid contact with the world because you’re embarrassed or stressed. We are humans, not machines. An e-mail or phone call is a glorious thing. 🙂

12. #2 through #7 above OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you die. Death may be a *slight* exaggeration, but the cycle continues so you must be prepared for it. It’s overwhelming and amazing simultaneously. YOU’RE AN AUTHOR!!

This post is not meant to scare. It’s meant to PREPARE. Because on top of all this–you have REAL LIFE. Jobs, family, root canals…Life doesn’t stop when you are writing. Honest and realistic are my favorite words. If you are honest and realistic with yourself and your editor: You’ll be happy, your publisher will be happy, your readers will be happy. WIN WIN WIN!

Has anyone felt the heat yet? Please share your words of wisdom from your magical and crazy experience. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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