Monday, April 30, 2012

Highlights Fantasy Reunion Day 2

Today was the second day of our Highlights Fantasy Reunion workshop.  This morning, we all had one-on-one sessions with our assigned mentors who critiqued the first 50 pages of our manuscript.  It's this individualized attention that makes the Highlights workshops so great.  Since Laura Ruby looked at my manuscript last year, Anne Ursu critiqued it this year.  We received our written critiques and marked-up manuscripts ahead of time, and today was an opportunity to ask our mentors questions and come up with a revision game plan.  

I feel so rejuvenated and optimistic from my chat with Anne.  I've actually been at a stalemate in my manuscript for a while now, and unsure what direction I should go with revisions.  A fresh pair of eyes was precisely what I needed to get back on track.  Sometimes when you're lost in the dark woods, all you need is someone to hand you a lantern.

Our workshop today was led by special-guest speaker, Patti Lee Gauch.  I was super-excited to meet her since she was the US editor for Brian Jacques' Redwall series.  Since I, too, write animal fantasy, Jacques has had a huge impact on my work.  Unfortunately, Jacques passed away last year so I'll never get the chance to meet him, but it was wonderful to hear about his life from Patti.  She even signed some of my Redwall books for me!  :)

Patti loves the fantasy genre and led us in a discussion about the "Ordinary versus the Extraordinary."  In short, this means making your fantasy believable by incorporating aspects of the real world.  This can be done in many ways, from interactions between siblings, to your character griping about chores or wearing hand-me-down clothes, to describing your unique fantasy elements using real-world terms (i.e. a monster's wagging tail, well-groomed Hobbit toe hair, etc.)  She warned that too often, fantasy writers think that their world must be filled with stereotypical "medieval language," but in reality, "thou's" and "thee's" and "on the morrow's" most often distance the reader from your world.  By incorporating images and words your reader can relate to, he or she then feels comfortable in the unique world you have created.  It's a bit of a balancing act, though, to make things both fantastic and real.  To drive the point home, she told us to remember that, "The bricks of your world are still from this world."   

Patti also gave us some general writing advice.  She urged us all not to follow a "recipe" for our books or spend our time worrying about rules.  She also encouraged us to revise until our work sings, and to strive for authenticity by truly knowing the fantasy worlds we create.  And of course she had one last recommendation for us all: read, read, READ!

Oops!  Took this before I applied the pretty sauce.
Patti stayed to eat dinner with us, but two great meals came before that.  Today's breakfast consisted of fancy scrambled eggs, bacon, and blueberry scones.  Lunch was peanut noodles, deli sandwich fixings, salad, and macaroons for dessert.  Appetizers during Patti's workshop included artichoke bruschetta, a new round of local cheeses, and spiced popcorn.  And (as if that wasn't enough), dinner was meatloaf with horseradish-ketchup sauce, seasoned broccoli and carrots, polenta patties, and garlic-butter mashed potatoes with lemon-coconut cake for dessert.  Yum, yum, yum!

Time to get back to my own critiquing!   

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Highlights Fantasy Reunion Day 1

I live here for the next week!

Today was our first official day for the Fantasy Reunion Workshop.  Attendees trickled in all afternoon and settled into our cozy cabins.  There was an abundance of hugs, laughter, catching up, laughter, eating, and more laughter. 

My new home before I mess it up.
Boy did I miss this delightful group of people over the past year!  Hanging out with fellow writers is such a treat.  (And if you're a writer, you know what I mean.)  Who else can you have a conversation with regarding clockwork limbs, diaper-wearing goats, and pirate nicknames for pets without sounding positively raving?

We didn't do a formal workshop today, and introductions were brief since we already all know each other.  And so it was a day to catch up on reading, critiquing, and preparing for the real work ahead.

Fancy-schmancy veggies and cheese.
We did eat a lot, though!  (Seriously, one meal hardly ends before we're all wondering what will be served next.)  For breakfast, we enjoyed a spinach and tomato fritatta, seasoned potatoes, homemade blueberry muffins, fresh fruit, and bread with summer plum AND three pear jelly.  (How's that for a breakfast of champions?)  Lunch was tuna salad with broccoli asparagus soup and whoopie pies for desert. 

Our evening appetizers included a veggie tray with red pepper hummus and crackers with local cheese.  And last, but not least, we devoured our official kick-off feast of chicken pot pie, creamy apple salad, pickled beets, and apple cobbler with walnut, oat and flax seed topping for dessert.    

I think I might be in a permanent food-coma for the rest of the week...

Time to go rest up so I can be ready for tomorrow's one-on-one mentor critiques and first group workshop!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Highlights Bound 2012

Today was my travel day to the Highlights Fantasy Reunion Workshop.  This year, I decided to fly instead of drive.  Nine hours wasn't a terrible drive last year, but I arrived exhausted and returned home super-exhausted after a rather, well, exhausting week.  Flying was so much more relaxing and enjoyable, allowing me to spend down time reading instead of singing Animaniacs songs to myself.  However, flying was a lot more boring, too, and not nearly as adventurous as my road trip from last year.

Summary points of my trip for your amusement:

-Had a fun conversation with hubby about my electronics choices this morning:
      Me: I'm not sure I can cram my CD's and CD player into my carry-on bag.
      Brandon: (snorts) CD's?  You're taking CD's? AND a CD player?
  It may be time for me to invest in an iPod....
-Was checked for questionable items three different times at airport security.  Apparently, I looked suspicious today.  At least I didn't have any kindergarten scissors for them to confiscate this time.  (One time, security found three separate pairs of child-proof scissors on me and threw them all away.  I'm not kidding.)

-Later, had an odd conversation with security at my layover airport:
      Me: Excuse me.  I've never been to this airport before.  Is the Sbarro's closed?
      Security: How do you know there's a Sbarro's if you've never been here before?
      Me: Um, I checked the directory?
      Security: (Gives me a long, hard stare.) Okay then.
  Apparently, I looked extra-suspicious today...

-Played a game using the stylus for the first time on my 3DS. (I've only had it for four months...)  I'm certain I looked like a baffled monkey poking the screens with a stick.

-Kept dozing off, then jerking awake on the 25 minute plane ride to Scranton.  Pretty sure I freaked out the passenger next to me on multiple occasions.

The best part of the day, though, was that we had our first Highlights feast tonight!  (The workshop officially starts tomorrow, but some of us out-of-towners arrived a little early.)  First, we were treated to crostini and crackers with brie for appetizers.  Our main-course spread consisted of lamb and goat curry over rice, zucchini pancakes, roasted sweet potatoes, and a delicious hearty bread.  (I don't even like curry and it was delicious!)  We finished with tangy rhubarb pie and whipped cream for dessert.

Oh, my pants are going to hate me this week...

The workshop officially starts tomorrow, so it's time for me to catch up on some sleep!  (And dream of what goodies breakfast will bring!)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Highlights Fantasy Workshop 2012

This was under construction last year!
Last April, I attended the wonderful Whole Novel Fantasy Workshop put on by the Highlights Foundation.  It was such a great experience, and I am thrilled to say that they invited us back for a Fantasy Reunion Workshop this year!  The workshop takes place from April 29th to May 6th, and I'll be on a plane to the Highlights homestead tomorrow.  Just like last year, I will be posting daily summaries of our lessons and speakers all next week (provided the internet holds up, of course!)  
Returning this year are fantasy authors Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu, our faculty extraordinaires.  There are also some bonus guest speakers on the agenda, including agent Tina Wexler and editors Jordan Brown and Patricia Lee Gauch.  (In case you don't know, Patricia edited the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  I am ecstatic to be getting the chance to meet her!)
If you didn't follow my trip last year--or if you want a preview of all the fun that's to come--here are my workshop posts from last year.
2011 Meet the Faculty (Since this post, Ursu's Breadcrumbs has also been released.)
And yes, I will be bringing a camera with me to every meal to document the unbelievable food Highlights serves.  :)
Do check back daily to see what we're learning, reading, and eating!  I'm looking forward to sharing my time at Highlights with you!   
Note: Above photo of the Barn is from the Highlights Foundation website

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

COSCBWI Meeting April 2012: Panel Discussion

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured authors Linda Gerber and Nancy Roe Pimm and a panel discussion on book publishing.  Linda writes both middle grade and young adult novels and is the author of many books including Trance, the Death by Bikini mysteries, and her brand new Lights, Camera, Cassidy series.  Nancy writes non-fiction and is the author of The Indy 500: The Inside Track, Colo's Story, The Heart of the Beast: Eight Great Gorilla Stories, and The Daytona 500--The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race.  The authors shared their very different roads to publication and offered great advice to help aspiring authors find their own success.

Nancy first decided she wanted to be a writer when she was ten and wrote a book called, Horses, Horses, Horses.  (Sounds like my kind of book!)   She became a dental hygienist, but knew deep-down that she still wanted to write.  Her first big break was in magazine publishing, and then she turned her race-car knowledge into her first published book, The Indy 500: The Inside Track.  Her book contract wasn't the end of her path to publication, though, and she's triumphed over publishing houses closing, re-shopping (and re-writing) her books, and finding the strength to soldier on no matter what life throws her way.  Nancy told us that she loves doing research and that writing non-fiction is like a treasure hunt with all the information she finds.  She's met and interviewed many fascinating people and even had a disagreement with a gorilla over the title of her book!  Her #1 advice to aspiring writers?  Join SCBWI!

Linda's road to publication was a bit different.  She loved to write and joined a critique group that insisted all members had to actively submit their work to agents and editors.  The group made her take her writing seriously, and it was through this networking that she learned about the SASS book series.  Also known as "Students Across the Seven Seas," the books are part of a multi-author series about strong, dynamic teens around the world.  Since Linda lived in both Japan and Finland, it was a perfect series for her to jump into and allowed her to get her foot into the publishing door.  Her biggest advice to writers is to read ALL THE TIME and be connected with other writers.  You never know who will provide you with a contact or lead that will land you your first book deal!

After each author told their publication stories, they fielded questions from the COSCBWI members.  To brand-new aspiring authors, they advised that a writer needs to have a full manuscript complete before he or she queries agents and editors.  (A manuscript doesn't need to be complete for critiquing, though--and it's never too early to start!)  For those writers who are ready to submit, they recommended looking at books similar to what you write and researching who represents them.  And for any writer--newbie or seasoned--they recommended attending lots of workshops and conferences!

Linda and Nancy shared some of their favorite writing resources, too, like Query Shark, the Miss Snark archives, Verla Kay's Blueboards and Harold Underdown's Purple Crayon website.

Linda left us with one last piece of advice to remember: "You can't edit a blank page!"  Now go write!

For more information on the authors and their books, do check out their websites!
Linda: and

For more information about COSCBWI, please check out the website at:

Hope to see you at next month's meeting!

Note: The cover image for Colo's Story is from and the cover image for Lights, Camera, Cassidy is from

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exciting Art News!

Hello everyone!  Remember back in February when I said I'd have some exciting art news to share soon?  Unfortunately, that news came to a screeching halt with my manuscript-theft shenanigans.  But now that I've cleaned up that legal mess, I'm happy to announce that...

I've joined the online art community, deviantArt!

Yes, I've finally crossed off one of those goals from my New Year's resolutions list and taken the plunge into joining an art network! 

If you'd like, you can check out my brand new profile and galleries of artwork here.  My Deviant ID is "Seeburglar," and if you're a member, too, I'd love to meet you!

From now on, I'll be posting a good chunk of my artwork to my deviantArt gallery instead of my blog.  Featured pieces will still be posted here, but all of my fan pieces (and plenty of Bannock characters) will primarily live there.  I've added the link to the side bar and invite you to please check out my Deviant account anytime you'd like.  :)

I'm excited to have all of my art under one roof and thrilled to start making new art acquaintances!  Hope to see you there! 

Note: The above logo is from Wikipedia and owned by deviantArt.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recipe: Fettuccine alla Ronco

Featuring everyone's favorite culinary helper:

There are several things you can count on this time of year: tulips, marshmallow Peeps, and leftover Easter ham.  If you're like me and get tired of eating ham sandwiches, then I have a treat for you!  My mother-in-law gave me this wonderful recipe for Fettuccine alla Ronco that is both delicious AND easy to make!

Fettuccine alla Ronco

To make this dish, you will need:
-12 oz of fettuccine
-1/2 cup butter
-1 cup cooked, sliced ham
-1 cup frozen peas
-1/2 cup light cream (I used half and half)
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-pepper to taste (optional)
-1 friendly kitchen octopus

Serves 4 of your favorite people.

~Get your friendly kitchen octopus from his tank and make him wash his tentacles.  When he finds out what you are cooking, he's going to get excited.  VERY excited.  Squeeze-you-half-to-death-with-his-tentacles excited.  (Octopi love pasta dishes as the jiggly noodles remind them of themselves.)

~Once your octopus has calmed down, boil a pot of water for the fettuccine.  Cook according to directions on the box.  (If you are like me and could only find a 16 oz package of fettuccine, do not make the entire box and assume things will "work out fine."  I assure you, they won't.)

~As the fettuccine is cooking, you can start preparing the sauce.  While you melt the butter in a saucepan, instruct your octopus to cut the ham into thin, 1-2 inch slices.  (Make sure he cuts off all the fat and skin.  Those parts are just gross.)

~After the ham is cut up, defrost the peas in the microwave.  (Octopi consider peas to be the perfect projectiles.  DO NOT let him throw peas at you.  Put him in his time-out corner if you have to.)

~Once the butter is melted, add the cream, ham, and peas into the saucepan.  Heat it over low, stirring often.  (If it looks disgusting, you are doing it right.)

~When the buzzer goes off indicating your noodles are cooked, your octopus will go wild.  Drain the noodles and place them in a large mixing bowl.  Put a portion of the noodles aside and give them to your eagerly waiting cephalopod.  He will dance around the kitchen with them and likely wear them like a hat, wiggling and giggling and having the time of his octopus life.  (If you disobeyed me and made the full 16 oz package of fettuccine, shame on you for not following instructions.  At least your octopus will thoroughly enjoy the extra 4 ounces of noodles.) 

~When your octopus tires of frolicking with his fettuccine, pour the heated sauce mixture over the noodles in the mixing bowl.  Add the Parmesan cheese and instruct him to toss it gently.  (NOT in the air like confetti.)

~Add pepper if desired.  (Octopi hate pepper.  It makes them sneeze, and I'm guessing you do not want ink in your dinner.  Don't say I didn't warn you.)  

~Serve the dish to your hungry family and return your octopus to his tank.  (He'll probably fall asleep immediately.  You'd be tuckered out, too, if you danced with all that fettuccine.)


And that is how you make Fettuccine alla Ronco!  Easy-peasy, right?  (Especially if you have an amazing kitchen octopus!)   


Oh, and in case you are wondering what "Ronco" means, I have no idea.  I assumed it meant "ham" until I looked it up and found out that it is not the Italian word for anything.  I'm declaring "Fettuccine alla Ronco" now means "Fettuccine with Awesomeness."   :)

What are some of your favorite dishes to make with Easter leftovers?

Happy cooking!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good News and Bad News

It has certainly been quiet around here lately.  You may be wondering where I've been.  Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news: On February 28th, I discovered that an online critique group I was in got hacked and my manuscript, The Beast of Bannock, was stolen and leaked to the internet.  Yes, my pride and joy, my baby, my product of five years of hard work, was just sitting on the internet, available for all the world to use and abuse.

It was awful.

The good news: After several stressful weeks of submitting letters, seeking legal advice, clearing caches and shedding many tears, I am happy to say that my manuscript is finally safe, sound, and mine again. 

As you can guess, this situation consumed much of my time and energy over the past month.  I am very fortunate, though, that I caught the theft and was able to take action before more serious damage was done.        

If you are a writer, please Google yourself and your manuscript titles right now.  Make sure your work is safe and secure.  I don't want this to ever happen to you. Words can't do justice to how truly wretched it feels to have your hard work taken from your hands and exploited by others.  This experience made me feel so vulnerable and helpless, frustrated and devastated.  I felt like a mama bird with an empty nest; like a shepherd who failed his sheep; like macaroni without any cheese.

Coincidentally, words also can't do justice to how truly wonderful it feels to be "whole" again.  :) 

It feels just like this...

Soon, I will be posting about the actions I took to resolve the many issues that resulted from this theft and how you can fight copyright infringement.  I couldn't have done it alone, though, and I am extremely grateful for my support system and everyone who helped me through this difficult time.  Muppet movies and Chinese buffets work wonders for turning frowns upside-down.  An extra-special thanks also goes to my hubby who handed me tissues, listened to my curses, and administered hugs in large doses.

I'm looking forward to putting this all behind me and getting back to my normal life--including lots of blogging!  Here's hoping to brighter days, more smiles, and smooth sailing from here on out.