Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blog updates

As often happens when I go to RWA, I've been making midsummer resolutions. One of them is to get back on a regular blogging schedule. I figure I've got two main topics:

1) Books, and the reading and writing thereof
2) Food, and the cooking and eating thereof (with occasional side discussions on health and fitness)

So my new goal is four posts per week, two on each topic. For books, that's one post on what I'm reading and one on something to do with writing--what I'm working on, or aspects of craft, time management, or the business of writing.

On the food side, I'm reluctantly abandoning my 52 Cookbooks series. I'd fallen too far behind on posting, and the blogging was becoming a chore, though the cooking wasn't.  So I'm starting fresh. I'm going to keep doing one new-to-me recipe per week from a random cookbook, though I'm going to cull the ones I know aren't very good and add those I've gotten since starting the project.

But I also want to blog a bit about day-to-day cooking. Because my husband has a long commute while mine is quite short, I do most of the weeknight cooking.  It's a constant challenge to come up with a variety of interesting and nutritious meals that are FAST, and therefore don't eat up my precious writing time.  And as groceries get more and more expensive, I'm looking for ways to eat more frugally.  So...fast, frugal, tasty, and nutritious.  All at once. Methinks that won't be easy...and therefore that anything I discover might be worth sharing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Marriage of Inconvenience giveaway!

Today I'm on my way back from RWA '12.  Later I hope to post about my conference experiences and what I learned there.  But for now I'm here to let you know about an opportunity to win my 2011 release, A Marriage of Inconvenience.

I'm taking part in The Romance Reviews Sizzling Summer Reads event.  Stop by today, July 29, and answer a question on my book for your chance to win! And while you're there, take a look at the other participating authors and their giveaways.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Coming to RWA? Help choose my next cover!

Tomorrow I fly down to Anaheim for RWA '12. At this point I'm mostly packed, though I've got plenty of last-minute errands to make this a busy day.

This year for the first time I'll be signing at the annual literacy signing. It's on Wednesday from 5-8 PM in the 3rd floor ballroom of the Anaheim Convention Center, and it's open to the general public, so do stop by if you're in the area.  This is the first year they've let ebook-only authors participate, and what we'll be signing is publisher-produced CD's of our works.  Personally, I'd far rather they set it up so readers can download copies for their e-readers onsite and have the sales count toward the literacy benefit. Maybe next year...and at least they're finally letting us take part.

Oh, and unlike previous years, authors will not be seated alphabetically. I'll be at Table 207, along with Loreth Anne White, Angie Fox, Olivia Gates, Anne Hope, and Ruthie Knox.

One more piece of conference news...as part of the Carina Press spotlight this year, the Carina team will discuss the cover selection process and offer those at the spotlight the chance to vote on different cover concepts for two upcoming releases. And one of them will be An Infamous Marriage. I've seen the two draft covers, and they're both wonderful, as Carina's generally are. But they're quite different in how they're posed and in the overall look and feel, and I'll be fascinated to see how the vote turns out.

If you're going to RWA and want to help pick my cover, come to the Carina spotlight at 9:45 on Thursday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What I've been reading lately

So, I've had a bit of a reading drought the past couple weeks, partly because I went back and read Captain Vorpatril's Alliance again slowly, to savor it properly after bolting through it the first time around.  I do that a lot with Bujold's books--they just get richer on re-reading.

That said, I have a few novellas and graphic novels to add to my 2012 reading count:

59) Slow Summer Kisses, by Shannon Stacey. A contemporary romance novella with a heroine decompressing from a downsizing at her grandparents' summer cabin and a hero who downsized himself a long time ago. I'm not usually a huge fan of small town contemporary romances, but this story really worked for me, and also did a great job convincing me of the characters' compatibility and hopes for happiness despite the relatively short length--I finished it in three half-hour sessions over lunch last week.

60) Serenity: Better Days, by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, and Will Conrad. This graphic novel read just like an episode of Firefly--a fun one, but not one of my all-time favorites from that 'verse.

61) Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale, by Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, and Chris Samnee. Shepherd Book's backstory. I liked this one better than the previous one, but it still felt a bit...incomplete, I guess. I would've liked a bit more of Book's post-conversion life, and some of his childhood hardships seemed a little obvious, but I still enjoyed it.

62) Kilts & Kraken, by Cindy Spencer Pape. Another Carina novella, this one a mid-19th century steampunk romance set in Scotland. I'm not inherently into steampunk, but I enjoyed this book, which like Slow Summer Kisses managed plenty of character development in its short length. (I'm working on a novella now myself, so I suppose I'm studying the form.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One week till RWA

With just one week till RWA '12, I've gone from resolutions to to-do lists and schedule-making. I won't bore you with an accounting of my multiple lists and spreadsheets.  Suffice it to say I'm the type who plans out my outfits for each day and has a schedule of workshops with second and sometimes third choices for each hour should the first prove less intriguing and useful than the title and handouts led me to hope.

The last six weeks have led me to reflect, glumly, on my habit of making vows to eat better, exercise more, and really-o, truly-o stick with Weight Watchers this time, only to give up after a week or two, as soon as some mini-crisis upsets my precarious equilibrium.  It makes it hard to start over again, because why should I expect myself to do better next time?

But I don't want to give up, either, and say, "This is the body I have, and these are my eating and exercise habits, now please pass the potato chips." I've got the family history, and I'm starting to have the cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, to tell me what a bad idea that is.  Not to mention that I'd really love the wider array of shopping options open to me if I were at my goal weight, two or three sizes smaller than I am now.  Plus, I'd see my cheekbones again. I miss them.

Yet somehow I don't think deciding to start Weight Watchers again the day after I get back from conference and really meaning it this time is the answer. I'm still figuring out what the answer might be, but I think it involves A) starting with smaller steps to give myself some victories, and thereby build in some new habits that won't collapse as soon as I have a deadline or a fever or something crazy happens at work, and B) stepping back and doing some serious brainstorming about what a healthy life would look like for someone with my combination of gifts and constraints, and then planning what it would take to get there.  In other words, plan my healthy lifestyle the way I plan my writing schedule for a new manuscript, or my ever-evolving 5-year writing career goals, or the way we tackle backlogs at my day job, rather than grabbing some one-size-fits-all plan and trying to force it to fit.

I've got some ideas for both A and B, and I've also got a new, marathon-distance goal for myself: the big European trip I'm planning for the summer of 2015.  I'm planning to be at Waterloo for the bicentennial of the battle, and I'm hoping to spend at least a month in Europe on either side of the anniversary. That's just a little less than three years away, and a smidge over 1000 days.

So that's the new goal.  1000 days from now, I'll be making lists and schedules for the trip of a lifetime instead of an annual conference.  I want to be ready to jaunt around the Continent as the healthiest, fittest, and most energetic version of me as I can muster. All I need is the right plan and steps to make that happen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Two weeks: time to regroup

I leave for RWA '12 two weeks from Tuesday, and it's time to admit I'm not going to live up to the ambitious goals I set myself four weeks ago.  I haven't stuck with my health goals, and while the writing has been coming along, it hasn't gone as quickly as I'd hoped.

Normally this is where I quietly beat myself up for failure and stop publicly admitting I had goals. But this time around I think I'll look at why I failed, and try to regroup so I can still have a productive summer.

As for the why, the health thing I've been dealing with for the past 2-3 weeks is probably the biggest culprit. I've been deliberately vague to spare you all the TMI, but suffice it to say this was clearly an annoyance rather than a scare almost from the very beginning. There were three possible treatments, and we decided to go with the simplest first. So far it's working fine, but if that changes the second simplest will probably do the trick, and the most complex/invasive is pretty much a guarantee.

But at no point was I afraid.  It just took me a couple referrals and tests to get to that simple treatment, and it added a layer of hassle to my life. It's as if that hassle layer knocked aside the most recent addition to my schedule--the time I was spending exercising and preparing and journaling my food.

I'm not happy with myself, but I think the best thing I can do is to get back to those habits now that I'm healed-for-now, in hopes that next time life kicks me up a level in Hassle, my good health habits will be more than a week or two old, and therefore not so quick to melt away. So it's back to Weight Watchers and exercise, even though I can no longer hope to drop a size by RWA.  Maybe by Emerald City Writers Conference instead.

On the writing side, the health hassle impacted me there, though not as strongly.  I've been writing fairly steadily, but my word count isn't where I expected it to be at this point.  So I've shifted my goal from finishing my draft by 7/22 and having it ready to submit by 8/12, to finished by 8/12 and submission-ready 8/26. Then I can take a week or so off and start my next manuscript right after Labor Day, just when Miss Fraser goes back to school for the fall.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Summer reading, continued

I'm now up to 58 books read on the year, 10 of which count toward my library's summer reading program.  Miss Fraser is kicking my butt in that regard--she's up to 24. Even allowing for the fact a lot of hers are manga and graphic novels, she's turning into one bookish kid, I'm proud to say.  Her chapter books are from the Warriors and Wolves of the Beyond series, neither of which is short or easy for a rising third grader.

Anyway, my latest reads:

55) Lessons After Dark, by Isabel Cooper. This is Cooper's second book, a sequel to No Proper Lady. Unlike many fantasy romance authors, Cooper gets the balance of romance and fantasy just right, with solid world-building. This book isn't as fast-paced and high-stakes as her debut, but it's still well worth reading, IMHO.

56) Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Properly speaking, the book doesn't release till November, but Baen is selling eARCs directly from their website, and I couldn't resist.

It's a fun, lovely book, and I enjoyed seeing Ivan in an adventure of his own, revealing himself when out of Miles's orbit to be capable and intelligent in his own more deliberate and level-headed style. It's something of a romantic comedy of manners meets crime caper story, and while I'd rank it below my all-time favorites, Memory and A Civil Campaign, I'll definitely be re-reading it.

57) Watching Baseball Smarter, by Zack Hample. For the most part, this book just confirmed that I'm already a fairly savvy fan, but I learned some new things. I'd never noticed that all catchers are right-handed, for example, and I'm surprised singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch only dates to 1971, since the song itself is so much older.

58) Hearts and Harbingers, by Olivia Waite, is an erotic historical romance novella, one that, frankly, is more explicit than I'd feel comfortable reading as a steady diet. That said, the writing is polished and the heroine in particular an engaging character, so if you like super-hot reads, I recommend it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

52 Cookbooks - #30, Best of Home Economics Teachers Bicentennial Cookbook

Even before I learned to cook, I enjoyed paging through cookbooks, and the one in my mother's collection that fascinated me most was The Best of Home Economics Teachers Bicentennial Cookbook.  The bicentennial bit was the draw. I was a patriotic wee lass, and already fascinated by history, which this book had bits of in its introduction on regional American cuisines. 

At 6 or 7 I took the regional and seasonal/holiday recipes to be prescriptive rather than descriptive, and on some level thought we must be Bad Southerners because we never ate grits and cheese or sausage and hominy scramble, and that if we really wanted to do Halloween right, we needed to start making flying witch cake and molasses-popcorn balls.

Such was the cookbook's fascination for me that it's one of a handful of cookbooks I claimed after both my parents passed away, along with my daddy and grandaddy's Bibles and a circa-1900 speller that belonged to my great-uncle, or maybe my great-great-uncle.

But when I actually sat down to choose a recipe to cook from it, whatever my childhood self found so fascinating wasn't there.  It's just a very 70's cookbook, bland and heavy compared to how we cook now.  In the end, I settled on the Vanilla Flag Cake.

Vanilla Flag Cake

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
6 eggs, separated
2 T vanilla extract
2 T lemon juice
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Fresh blueberries
Fresh strawberries, sliced

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Cream butter and 1 c. sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, 2 at a time, until mixture is well blended. Blend in flour mixture gradually with electric mixer at low speed until just blended. Blend in vanilla extract and lemon juice.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; add remaining 1 c. sugar gradually.  Beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold egg white mixture into cake batter until just blended. 

Pour into greased and lined 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven until cake tester comes out clean.  Frost with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate top of cake with blueberries and strawberries to resemble the American flag.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 T vanilla extract
1 T milk
1 1-lb package confectioners' sugar

Combine cream cheese, vanilla, and milk; beat until blended.  Add confectioners' sugar gradually; beat until creamy.

As I suppose isn't surprising given the amount of butter and eggs, this is one dense, buttery cake, and at least for me it came out a bit on the dry side.  Mr Fraser commented that it tasted like a 70's recipe, and I knew what he meant. Eating it brought back the after-church potluck fellowship suppers and baby and bridal showers of my childhood. Miss Fraser thought it was the best thing EVER, and keeps asking when I'm going to make it again.  Since I think her real love was the frosting, I might make a nice, moist chocolate cake with the same frosting.  If I'm really ambitious and the local berry crop is good in a few weeks, maybe I'll make a British flag cake in honor of the Olympics.  Or an Olympic flag cake with blueberries, blackberries, red raspberries, yellow raspberries, and...not sure what to do for the green ring. Mint leaves?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Six months of reading

Now that we're halfway through 2012, I thought I'd list my top five reads of the year so far.  I feel like I've been reading a lot that, were I to grade them, would get B's--good, enjoyable books, or I wouldn't be finishing them but not memorable "wow" reads.  These five, however, are solid A's.  I'll have to see how many make my top ten at the end of the year.

In the order I read them...

1. Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally. YA romance, about a girl who happens to be the best high school quarterback in Tennessee (her football pedigree reads like a fictionalized version of the Manning family) and dreams of landing a college scholarship--only to have her plans for her senior year put in jeopardy when one of the best h.s. quarterbacks in Texas moves to her town. As a tomboy (albeit a klutzy, non-athletic one) who grew up in SEC country, I'm the target audience for this one, but I'd recommend it for anyone, teen or adult, who enjoys YA romance.

2. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Post-apocalyptic YA. I'm late to the party on this one, so I'll just say this was a case where I thought a wildly hyped book fully deserved its popularity.

3. Moscow 1812, by Adam Zamoyski. Nonfiction (history). Dense with human detail and never dry, this is what historical nonfiction should be, IMO.

4. The Scottish Prisoner, by Diana Gabaldon. Historical fiction with a touch of mystery. I blogged about this one just the other week, so all I'll say here is that Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey are something I rarely encounter in fiction--officers and combat veterans who actually remind me of the Army men in my family and those I've read about in my military history research--and that I love the way they work together with grudging respect despite all the tensions and fault lines in their relationship.

5. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Science fiction with a touch of crime caper and more than a touch of romance. This book doesn't officially release until November, but as soon as I heard Baen had the eARC up for purchase, I bought it. While it didn't topple Memory or A Civil Campaign from my all-time-favorite Vorkosigan books pedestal, it's a lovely, fun story and a worthy entry in one of the best series that's out there.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Three weeks

Just three weeks now till RWA...and this week was good on the writing front.  I worked on my copyedits for An Infamous Marriage, turning them in on Wednesday, and after that got back to work on my new manuscript.  It'll take a push, but I should still be able to finish the first draft before RWA.

The whole healthy eating/exercise thing?  Didn't happen.  The past two weeks have been Clean All the Things? time for me. For those of you who don't recognize that phrase, it comes from a Hyperbole and a Half blog post from a couple years back. In short, it's about falling into a pattern of overloading yourself with responsibilities, then crashing into a world of junk food and late-night websurfing. Actually cleaning all the things hasn't been my system failure breakpoint for months now, because when I got my new job, complete with higher salary, back in September, I contracted with Merry Maids to Clean All the Things for me twice a month.  And it's been well worth it.

But I've still got a busy life. There's the day job. There's the family, both spending time with them because I love them and all the schedule juggling of raising a kid in a family where both parents work full time. Now that school's out, this means summer camps, which typically have more stringent drop-off and pick-up time requirements than her regular before- and after-school care. I've finally got her into swimming lessons every Saturday this summer. She wants to learn karate, too, and I sometimes feel like the Worst Mother in the World, or at least in North Seattle, because I swear Miss Fraser is the only rising third grader at Daniel Bagley Elementary who hasn't been part of a soccer league since she was 5. (If she didn't want to play soccer it would be fine, but she'd love to--her busy parents just haven't got their acts together to make it happen, and I worry that she'd be irredeemably behind all the kids who've been playing since they were 4 or 5.)

There's writing, of course, just about the only responsibility I have that I could theoretically give up, but I'm not about to because it's too central to who I am. Then there are all the writing peripherals, like volunteering as a contest judge and as part of my chapter's conference planning committee, that I try to keep to a minimum but have a way of cropping up and taking more time than I expected when I agreed to them. Oh, and social media, which I enjoy but feel guilty for not doing more of.

Now, I need to eat better and exercise more.  I need to stop using junk food as quick comfort when I'm stressed. I need to journal my food because otherwise I'll just plain eat too much. The way I eat and (fail to) exercise now just plain isn't healthy, especially for someone whose family history includes heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes, and colon cancer to the degree mine does. It has to change. But my healthy eating and exercise plan is the first thing to go whenever one more thing gets dumped on my plate.

It doesn't even take much to throw me off course. These past two weeks it's been a combo of minor medical hassles--nothing dire or long-term, just one more thing to juggle and schedule around--and my daughter's summer camp schedule.

This has to change, but I'm not sure how. If anyone has ideas for how to trick my brain into thinking it's less busy than it is, or how to make my eating and exercise plan seem as crucial as writing, the day job, and making sure Miss Fraser has all she needs, please share them. I'm starting to reach the point where I no longer believe myself capable of change, and I know that's dangerous.