Monday, April 27, 2015

Making Your Stories Work For You

Okay, so I was at critique group last week, and I have some of the greatest crit partners. They are inspirational and talented. Ali's said this before, but it helped me once again. She said she likes to have her books "working for her."

That doesn't mean they're all published, making money, though she does have some awesome books out there you should buy and read. No, what she means is that she wants them DOING SOMETHING while she works on something else. Whether that's querying them, or sending them to beta readers, or editing them. She doesn't like to just let books sit.

I've been thinking about that for a few days, because I have a couple of books just sitting. They're good books (in my opinion), but they're not doing anything. I've basically shelved them. So I've been trying to access what, if anything, I should do with them. There are some options, but there are some limitations too.

I'm working on other things, so it's not like I don't have plenty to do writing-wise. But these two books aren't currently working for me.

What do you do? Do you put all of your books to work for you?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Following the Guidelines

Okay, so I'm querying again, and I've got my Tweetdeck all set up with the #MSWL and #tenqueries threads, among others. It's amazing to me that I keep seeing things like, "Didn't follow my guidelines," or "I don't rep non-fiction, which is listed on my website."

See, I've always been a rule-follower (which is really funny that my first series is all about a girl who breaks all the rules!), and if an agent lists the way to submit to them on their blog/website, I'm going to follow it.

I think querying is one of those spots where you don't color outside the lines.

But in writing, I actually like to break a lot of guidelines. I think that's where we can and should experiment. Think about narrating a story from a unique angle, a different character than what's already out there. Try writing in multiple POV's, maybe even different tenses. Get creative with the dialog, vocabulary, or dialect.

Most of all, I think the one thing we can do as author that will serve us the best is to write the story we love. Don't worry about whether your editor or agent will like it. Don't concern yourself with how things are "supposed to be." Sure, there are some things that must be in place, especially in specific genres (like in a romance, the hero and heroine must end up together), but other than that, we only grow and improve by stretching into new and different places.

So as you're contemplating starting a new book, think about what you can do that you haven't done before. Break free of your self-imposed guidelines and write a book that you love.

Have you had any experience doing this? I've been around long enough to have experienced a lot of highs (royalty checks!) and lows (rejections!) of the business. I've reached the point where I've thrown my hands up into the air and said, "Whatever. I'm doing what I want to do."

I think my most successful novel came from that, because I wasn't trying to write something for someone else. I was just trying to write something I love -- and it turned out to be something I'd never done before: a novel in verse.

So I've been on that street that's full of the same POV, the same plot lines, the same protagonists. And while that side alley might be kind of dark, it's a great place to discover -- or re-discover -- your creativity. Don't be afraid to break free of the mob and find a new set of guidelines.

Just not when you're querying. :)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Weekday Chef: Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

 Okay, so I'm a huge fan of Paradise Bakery. I love their Southwest Chicken Ceasar Salad, paired with a bowl of their fire-roasted tomato soup. I mean, it comes with a cookie (yum!), and with that little drizzle of sour cream and those tortilla strips -- heaven.

So I decided I was going to do a soup and sandwich night at home. Who doesn't love a grilled cheese? So I thought, "I want to make that fire-roasted tomato soup." So I went to my best friend--Google--and found a copycat recipe for the soup at Chef In Training.

I followed the directions exactly (usually what I do the first time I make a recipe), and... I didn't like the soup. It still tasted like canned tomatoes.

So I fancy myself a Food Network expert. Ha! I watch a lot of cooking shows, and I've listened to a lot of judges on Chopped and Guy's Grocery Games talk about acids and sugars, salts and sours, and textures.

My first thought to "fix" the soup was to add sugar to it. It literally tasted like tin. I thought sugar would mask some of that and sweeten up the tomatoes.

My husband tasted the soup, and his first thought was to add hot sauce--two great profiles there in vinegar and heat.

We added both, brought the soup back to a boil and let it go for a few minutes.

And it was a thing of beauty! I'm just glad my countless hours of watching Food Network has finally paid off!!

So here's my recipe for the Paradise Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup.

1 sweet onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 (14.5 oz.) cans fire roasted tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. hot sauce (or to taste)
1 cup heavy cream

1. In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil until almost translucent.
2. Add garlic and sauté a couple minutes longer.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water and chicken broth to pot. Stir to combine and until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Puree soup as necessary to reach desired constancy. I did about 3/4 of the soup in two batches in the blender. I like a smoother soup, with only a few chunks.
5. Add salt, pepper, brown sugar, hot sauce, and cream to pot with tomato soup and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Thin 1/2 c. sour cream with 2 T. milk. I had a squeeze bottle and added my sour cream to this for easy streaking.
7. Streak soup with sour cream and top with tortilla chip strips (help from the grocery store!).

Viola! Paradise Bakery Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup that doesn't taste like the can. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Report!

Dude, so one of my goals of 2015 was to read more. Remember that? Well, I do, and I have to say that it's been going pretty well. I still find myself in "reading droughts" where I don't read for a couple of weeks. Then, bam! I read like 5 books in 5 days. I'm not sure why I do that...

But since last time I reported (oh my heck! That was at the end of January!), here's what I've read:

SHELTER ME by Catherine Mann: This one was interesting. I wasn't sure I was going to like the narration by the dog -- I generally don't like human characteristics given to animals. I skipped it the first few times. Then I started reading them, and I actually enjoyed it. This is a good contemporary romance with some real issues.

A HOPE REMEMBERED by Stacy Henrie: FABULOUS and BRILLIANT inspirational romance. I loved this book and recommend it to everyone! You can read more of my thoughts on this book here.

CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT by Chelsey Krause: This is a NA contemporary romance. Honestly, I'm terrified of this genre. Ha! I've utilized the Kindle's "Look Inside" feature for this and I always read as much as I can there before I buy. Why? I'm not into erotica or pretty much anything that starts with lots of F-bombs and/or sex. Not that every New Adult novel is like this, which is why I'm carefully selecting the ones I read. This was a good one. Some talk of sex, but none present on the page. I enjoyed it.

SECOND CHANCES by Stacy Finz: This contemporary romance takes place in the mountains, with snow. Right where I live! (I mean, not Utah, but I get the setting.) I especially loved Darla's romance, and the evolution of Colin as he came out of his self-imposed isolation to take a chance on love.

THE COWBOY'S FOREVER FAMILY by Deb Kastner: This is a Love Inspired Harlequin novel. I absolutely love this line, and I'm branching out into their Suspense line too. Fabulous read about second chances and redemption.

HEARTBREAK COVE by Lily Everett: This story has horses, and I sort of love horses. I thought this was a great contemporary romance about heartbreak, families, and second chances.

HOLD ME by Susan Mallery: This starts a new series for Susan Mallery, Fools Gold, and I really enjoyed it. There was a large cast of characters in a small town. I love small town, Beta hero romances, and this one delivered.

THE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS GIFT by Donna Alward: This was the second book of Donna's that I read, and that's a high compliment! I liked this book, mostly because I enjoy ranches and cowboys.

SECOND CHANCE RANCH by Cindi Madsen: Ranches and cowboys! This read a lot like a young adult or new adult novel, but it had all the elements of a contemporary romance that I enjoy. I especially liked the dynamics between the hero and heroine, who had broken up previously.

FIVE DAYS IN SKYE by Carla Laureano: MY FAVORITE BOOK OF 2015 SO FAR. You can read all my thoughts about it here. Go get it. Read it. Love it like I do.

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE by Jill Shalvis: This book took me a while to get into. But I kept seeing Jill Shalvis's name all over the sites I've been visiting, and I thought I'd give it a try. A little sexier than I like, but a good example of contemporary romance.

LOVE ME SWEET by Tracy Brogan: This contemporary romance was a fun read! Lots of tension, and fabulously flawed characters. I learned a lot about writing romance from reading this book. Tracy's books are also a little sexier than I like, but they're so fantastic, I keep reading them.

REESE'S COWBOY KISS by Kimberly Krey: Uh, more cowboys and ranches? Yes, please! I liked this book because the romance was sweet and the characters were real. I found it read really young, but I like young adult too, so I went with it.

THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL by Donna Alward: A favorite contemporary romance -- see why I read a second book by her? I loved this first in her Jewell Cove romances, and I can't wait until the others come out!

AGAINST HER WILL by Serita Stevens and Jo Schaffer: I loved this book, and it's not a romance. Take that! It's literally the outlier in this list, as it's also YA. But I adore Jo and I adored this book. It's a somewhat chilling and stark look at a troubled teen's life. You can read what else I had to say about it here.

So that's 15 books in the past 10 weeks! I think I'm on track for my one book/week goal. Hey, even I'm surprised!

And looking at my Kindle, I have DOZENS and DOZENS of new books still to read!

Also, have you seen a trend in what I'm reading right now? Do you see any YA books? (There is one...) I've said I'm writing in a new genre -- and I'm sure you can see what it is!

What have you read lately that you liked?

Monday, April 13, 2015

What I Know About Writing

Okay, so I started writing a while ago. I've learned a lot about writing, the publishing industry, social media, and many more things. Sometimes it's really hard to keep up with everything, and everyone, all the time. (That's one thing I've learned!)

I've been to dozens and dozens of writing conferences. Heck, I sit on library boards that plan writer's classes, as well as committees that organize local, live conferences as well as WriteOnCon. I've learned that writers are fabulous people, who are eager and anxious to learn new things.

I've listened to keynotes, and some are really good. I went to the Teen Author Boot Camp on Saturday, and one of the keynotes was by Brandon Sanderson (there are a lot of perks to living in Utah, where a lot of amazing authors live!).

I've heard Brandon speak before. I always think he's eloquent and intelligent. He said some things that really sang to my soul. Things I've heard before, mostly from my equally amazing husband. But for some reason, to hear them from a really successful author struck my eardrums in a different way.

Now, I didn't record it, so I have to go off my memory, but Brandon said something like this: You are the product of your writing time. Not the book. You.

It doesn't matter if the book doesn't get published. You're "leveling yourself up" when you write. You're the main point of improvement.

It should be okay to spend time working on writing because we love it, and that's it. Writing makes us better than we were before. Not just better writers, but a better person.

I really loved that. And my husband has been telling me that for a while, and I swear I've listened! I know I'm just as valuable unpublished as I am published, and I know it's okay to write just because I love it.

But it was nice to hear from someone as successful as Brandon Sanderson.

What do you know about writing?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Happy Release Day to DRAGON OF THE STARS!

Okay, so I've been hanging around in blogland for a while now. I can't even remember when Alex, Jen, and I did the the Great Blogging Experiment. In fact, my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I can't believe that! Anyway, we did this big blogging thing about writing (specifics -- who needs them?) several years ago, and I've known Alex since then.

He's a great support to the blogging community, to writers, and he's a fantastic author himself. His new book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, comes out today!


About DRAGON OF THE STARS: The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

Check out Alex's blog here. Or the website for the book, What are the Kargrandes? And buy DRAGON OF THE STARS here! It sounds like a fantastic book, and I can't wait to get my copy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Seven Years Ago

Okay, so it's Spring Break where I am. Yay! I don't work in the summer either, but for some reason, I am so much more productive during Spring Break. I get a lot of cleaning done, and I try to get a lot of words on the page.

Seven years ago this week, I began my third novel. It was titled Control Issues all the way until it was sold and renamed to Possession.

I can't always remember when I wrote certain sections or sometimes even whole books. But with Possession, I remember that Spring Break vividly. I'm pretty sure I ate cold cereal for every meal, sitting on the couch as I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

I don't know how much I wrote during the week of Spring Break, but I know I started Possession on Monday, and 17 days later, I finished the rough draft. It was 90,000 words. (Take that NaNo!)

I didn't start querying it until 13 months later, because hey, I'm a "dirty drafter." I need lots of time to clean up my books before they're fit for anyone to see.

Anyway, my publishing journey over the past seven years has been twisty. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the right path and things are going in the direction I want. Other times, I feel like I've taken a lesser traveled path, and it's sort of dark on this side street.

Each trail, whether well-worn or choked with brambles, has been an adventure. I've tried different genres, I've tried collaborations, I've tried lots of things. And I'm excited to keep trying!

Where were you in the journey seven years ago?

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Okay, so I've known Stacy for years now. YEARS. In fact, she and I have been together in a critique group for going on 7 years. Wow. I'm sort of amazed just typing that. I've read all of her published books, and select pages from her WIPs. She is an absolutely brilliant writer. So brilliant, in fact, that her novel, HOPE AT DAWN, is a finalist in the RITA's this year. (In case you don't know what that means, the RITAs are the highest award a romance novel can win. And she's a finalist!!)

A HOPE REMEMBERED is the third book in the "Of Love and War" trilogy, a set of historical romance novels that center around World War I. They are simply fantastic, and I knew going into this book that I wouldn't be disappointed. And I wasn't! The romance was beautiful, the struggles that Nora and Colin faced real, and the writing spot-on.

A bit about A HOPE REMEMBERED: Nora Lewis just wants an escape after losing her fiancé in the Great War. When she inherits property in England, she boldly packs up and leaves America for a fresh start. But if not for her dashing new neighbor, Colin Ashby, she'd be lost. Even as their friendship deepens, Nora knows a British aristocrat would never be free to love an American orphan, no matter how much the war has changed the world . . .

After his brother's death in the war and his own experiences as a pilot at the front, Colin returns home broken, only to discover his family's estate is also in ruin. The pressure is now on him to save his home and the Ashbys' place in society with a well-bred match to a wealthy heiress. Too bad he finds more of a kindred spirit in Nora, the beautiful American next door. She, too, has faced the rigors of war and survived. Now the ex-soldier will have one more battle to fight-this time for love.

Buy on Amazon | BAM | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | iTunes | Google Play | Kobo

My review: I absolutely loved this book. It's a historical, inspirational romance. I've recently come to love books like these (hello, FIVE DAYS IN SKYE!), and this one is no exception. Nora is my favorite character. She moves from her farm in Iowa to the Lake District in England to start a new life as a sheep farmer. She's suffered from loss, first with her fiancee, Tom, dying in the war, and her parents soon following due to illness.

So she's no stranger to hard work and grief. I loved that she wasn't perfect, and that she struggled with simply life. I really related to that. I think we all have things that are hard for us, and they're different from what's hard for other people. But Nora felt three-dimensional and human. I loved her.

Colin is the second son to a baronet, and his brother -- the good son, the one ready to accept his place in society -- has died in the war. He's trying to figure out how to be himself while still living up to his brother's memory and satisfying his father. And who hasn't had to deal with that? Maybe just us second children...

Anyway, I liked Colin's dilemma -- his father wants Nora's land because their estate isn't doing as well as it once had -- and Colin's caught between his heart and his duty. What tougher place can there be?

Each character had flaws and perfections, and they came to rely on each other in unique ways. As I said earlier, the writing is spectacular, and with characters that are real and alive, and a romance that could sweep centuries, A HOPE REMEMBERED is a real gem. If you like a heartfelt romance, you should give it a try. You don't need to have read either of the first two books -- though you totally should. I mean, HOPE AT DAWN is a RITA finalist! A finalist!!

About Stacy: Stacy Henrie has always had an avid appetite for history, fiction and chocolate. She earned her B.A. in public relations and worked in communications before turning her attentions to raising a family and writing inspirational historical romances. Wife of an entrepreneur husband and a stay-at-home mom to three, Stacy loves the chance to live out history through her fictional characters, while enjoying the modern conveniences of life in the 21st century. In addition to author, she is a reader, a road trip enthusiast and a novice interior decorator. Her first novel, Lady Outlaw, released from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical in 2012.

Find her on her website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest

There's a giveaway going on this week during the release of A HOPE REMEMBERED. Be sure to enter in the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win the entire "Of Love and War" series!!

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