Chocolate Potato Soup

I’ll bet that title got your attention. And yes, there’s a story behind it. As you’re reading this blog, I am at the eye surgeon having a cataract removed from my left eye. In two weeks, I’ll have the right eye done. So what does that have to do with chocolate potato soup?

Back in the 1960s, my dad had cataracts in both eyes. In his mid-forties, he was rather young for having this kind of surgery. And back then, it wasn’t the quick out-patient dash-and-slash that it is now. Back then, it required a week in the hospital, six weeks recovery at home, and all sorts of special instructions and cautions.

My dad did a lot of the cooking at home and he was especially good at soups. When he was able to get around again, he decided to make some potato soup. As most know, one of the last things you do is add milk (or cream) to the soup. Dad, still not seeing quite right, grabbed the milk carton from the fridge and added it to the soup. When it started coming up brown, he thought he’d burned the soup. But he hadn’t. He’d grabbed the container of chocolate milk! (The boxes were similar in size, color, etc.) Thus, chocolate potato soup.

No, we didn’t eat it, but it has been a family chuckle for many years.

So what’s the first thing my son said when I told him about my upcoming eye surgery?

Don’t make potato soup!

Have a good one everyone!

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What’s in a name?

Shakespeare once used the line: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

A name, or in the case of a writer, a title, for a book is not always sweet. Or easy to come up with. My cover designer (Charity Parkerson) asked me yesterday what the titles to two of the books I’m working on (as my alter-ego) are so she could finish the cover art. And I had no clue. I’ve been working on both of these books for some time, but couldn’t come up with titles. Everything I thought of… had dozens of similar titles already in the places I checked. Very frustrating. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what my titles would be. Usually, I have a title in mind when I start working, but not with these two. Or rather, I did, but, as noted above, dozens of books already had those titles. One of the books concerns a phoenix/woman. The other is about a young man and his dragon.

I know a lot of writers struggle with this subject. Titles can draw a reader in, or turn them away. They can give indications of the genre, the events, and more. Titles are a major part of the book, a marketing point that helps sell your book.

Right now, there is a huge brouhaha going on over an unscrupulous author trying to trademark a word that is in the title of a series she wrote. She is demanding that all other authors who use this word take down their books and give them new titles because she owns this word. So bunches of writers got together and wrote stories with that word in the title. She took them to court. Guess what? She lost the lawsuit. It’s a long, involved case that I won’t get into, but it does point out how important titles can be. You can’t copyright (and yes, copyright and trademark are two different things) a title. A book, yes, but not the title. That’s why there are so many with the same titles. So how to make mine unique? I kept searching.

The titles I eventually settled on?

Dragon Crumbs

The Last Phoenix

Now that I have the titles in mind, I can get back to writing the stories! 🙂

 

All those books…

Over the past few years, in my capacity as a full time editor, I read a lot of manuscripts. The equivalent of three to four full length novels a week. Throw in things my crit partners sent, and the contests I judged…that’s a lot of books. But those were unpublished manuscripts.

As for real books–both ones you can hold and digital–I’ve got several hundred sitting on my shelves, floor, tables that I received either as gifts or at conferences as freebies given out by various authors and publishers. I haven’t had time to read them yet. Some of them, I never will because they just don’t draw me in. So what to do?

Lots of things. I haunt two stores that handle used books–Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA and Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, PA. Both are small, independent bookstores that sell both new and used books. I recently donated almost 700 books to Cupboard Maker (mostly because they had the room to take them), but I’ve also given ones to Aaron’s. In addition, I’ve donated to women’s shelters and local libraries (when I moved to the town I now live in, I donated almost 1000 books to the local library for their sale).

Even with all that, I still have stacks and stacks of books to read. My husband cringes every time I go near a bookstore because he knows I can’t resist. There is nothing better than having a good book in hand to read.

Now that I am “retired” (hah!), I don’t have so many manuscripts to read so I can actually get around to reading some of those books I have sitting around. I am looking forward to it.

Do yourself (and the businesses) a favor and go to a local indie bookstore and buy some books from them. Don’t go in, look around, then buy what you want online (and yes, a lot of people do this). Help a small business out and purchase from them. And when you’re done, consider donating your used book either back to the store or to some place like a shelter or library.

Life is what happens…

Have you ever anticipated something for weeks, maybe months, waiting for that special day, thinking it will never get here? And then whoosh – it’s over and gone in the blink of an eye and you’re left wondering…what happened?

This past week was kind of like that for me. Last weekend, we had an open house party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I planned it for weeks. Middle son was flying in from out of state. There would be food, and fun, and friends…

And there were all of the above, but after all that planning, it went by so quickly that I’m not sure it even happened. Yes, I was there. And yes, there was laughter and eating and playing of games… but it happened so quickly. Son is back at his home, leftovers are all gone and life has returned to its state of normalcy. But where did that time go and so quickly?

At the beginning of the year, I had all these plans for my writing. I charted out what I would do each month. Then vision issues caused all those plans to change and my timeline ended up being trashed. Now, I’m happy to get done what I do each day – whether it’s a paragraph, or a chapter. It’s frustrating, but I deal. It’s all I can do for now while I await eye surgery. Waiting and planning.

Time is a funny thing. It moves so slowly when we are waiting for something, but goes supersonic when the event gets here. And passes us by without us noticing. It’s the middle of May and I wonder where the year has gone. Like the quote, published in 1957 and attributed to Allen Saunders, but made famous by John Lennon: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Go enjoy some life today. 🙂

Reviews

We hear every day “Please write a review for my book” from authors (and app producers, movie people, businesses, etc.). And many wonder why they should leave a review.

The simple answer is a little thing called algorithms. The more reviews, the higher your product–book in this case–moves in the listings thanks to those algorithms. No reviews=no movement. And upward movement is what it’s all about. Numbers are everything to businesses – and make no mistake, writing is a business.

Reviews don’t have to be in depth or extensive. Something as simple as “I really liked this because it made me feel good” helps with the numbers.

So do your favorite author (or whatever) a favor and leave a quick review for them. They’ll appreciate it, I promise.

Waiting…

We spend a lot of our time in life waiting. Waiting to grow up. Waiting to graduate. Waiting for that special someone to call. Waiting for…

Yesterday, I spent most of my day waiting. My husband and I had a dear friend who was undergoing open heart surgery so we were waiting to hear the outcome (he made it, but there were issues). While we were waiting, my husband made his daily morning call to an elderly aunt. As they were chatting, she slipped and fell and all he could hear was her crying. Because we live too far away, there was nothing we could do physically. After consoling her, he hung up and made a quick call to her daughters to let them know. And we waited. Finally last night, we received word that she had broken her collarbone. Because of her age (93), the hospital was keeping her overnight.

It was a day fraught with worry and waiting. Unfortunately, besides praying, there was nothing we could do to alleviate either situation. For myself, when things like this happen, I bake. It’s my calming place. It’s something I have to concentrate on and something I can do. When my father was in hospice before his death, I filled a 32 cu ft freezer with goodies.

As authors, we do a lot of waiting too. Waiting for agents and editors to get back to us.  Waiting for contest results. Waiting for cover art. Waiting for edits. Waiting for publication. But in these cases, there are things we can actually do while we wait. We can do promotions, build websites and blogs. Write the next book. In these cases, the waiting can be productive to the career.

Waiting is never easy, but if you can find something to do while you wait (besides pacing the hospital corridors), that activity does make it bearable.

50/50 Challenge

My local writer’s group is three weeks into our 50/50 challenge – write a minimum of fifty words a day for fifty days–and it has to be a work of fiction. You can take two days off in any one week, but those words must be made up so you have a minimum of 350 words for the week.

That doesn’t sound like much, does it? Fifty words a day for 350 words a week? That’s barely a page and a half. Most of us make our fifty and more. Some make way more–in the thousands range. The point of the challenge is to get you writing every day.

But you’d be surprised how hard some of those days are. Some days, I get my fifty in and that’s about it. For instance, yesterday… I had a bad night of non-sleeping and was up by five. Paid bills, took care of household accounts, worked on an edit for a friend, and yes, got some words done. Not many, but some. I had grocery shopping to do, then was on the road to deliver five boxes of books to a used book store (I’m downsizing) that is on the way to the home where my mother lives. It’s an hour drive one way and there was road construction everywhere, plus I don’t travel well. Oh, and add in there a stop for gas and another stop for groceries for my mom (called brother to tell him we were coming and was informed that Mom needed some things – could I pick them up?)

By the time my husband and I got home, I was exhausted, not feeling well, and–thanks to some things I found out at the home–had some financial issues to take care of for my mom. Because of my morning writing, I managed to get my fifty in…but barely. Total count was fifty-three. Last week, I had a 2000 day.

One of my friends lost her mother-in-law this week. She dropped out of the challenge because she has enough to cope with at this time. Another dropped out because of illness. Another because of work. Our numbers always start out strong, but along the way, we lose some for one reason or another. The reasons are valid. Life gets in the way of our writing time. Some manage to work around these problems, others don’t. And that’s fine. Each person has to do whatever works for her.

The point is, we face challenges every day. Some are more difficult than others. Am I going to tell my friend that the funeral she’s helping plan doesn’t matter? Or another that her husband’s brain surgery isn’t as important as her writing? Nope. Not going to do it.

But as soon as I’m done with this blog, you can bet I’m going to get my fifty words in. Because of my schedule today, it may be all I get in, but that’s okay. I challenged myself and I will meet that challenge.

What’s your challenge today?

Series vs. serialized

I recently read a book by an author I had heard of through another. They recommended her series as something I might enjoy. And I did…right up to the end. When I got so angry at the author, I will never buy another one of her books.

Why? Because the book didn’t end. It stopped, but it didn’t end. It was a serialized novel. One book split into many sections and sold as a series. But it’s not a series! A series is defined as a set of events, programs, books, etc. each of which is complete in itself. They may contain the same characters and settings, and even an overall arc that connects the stories (like Harry Potter vs. Voldemort) but each one is a complete work all by itself. A serialized novel on the other hand, is not complete until the last book.

And I hate that. Okay, it’s a particular pet peeve of my own, but I really don’t like spending time to read a story only to get to the end and there’s no end. And I have to wait for the next one. I’m okay with it if I know this up front. Tell me that this is the first book of a set that will be continued in book two, three, four, etc. That way, I don’t feel cheated when I get to the end.

I understand that it’s a marketing ploy. If you want to know what happens, you have to buy the next book. But… as a reader, all you’ve done is anger me–and a lot of other people I’ve talked to. We feel cheated when we get to the end of book 1 and find out that it’s not the end. For me…that means forgetting about that story and that author because I refuse to buy any more of her books. (Plus, it wasn’t that great to begin with, but that’s another blog).

Yes, I have purchased some serialized novels from other authors over the years, and bought the entire set. But I usually wait until the entire set is available and then get them all at the same time so I can “finish” the book. But I knew before hand that they were serialized and not a series.

So… your opinion… how do you feel about series vs. serialized novels? Especially when you don’t know ahead of time that they are serialized?

Blasting through writing

My local RWA writing group has an event we do every other month that we call “Blast Week”. Basically, we go to a chat room and as many as want show up. One person is the “host” and generally runs the show. It usually runs for two hours. During that time, we “blast” through our writing in 20-25 minute increments. You write like crazy for twenty minutes, come back and chat for a little bit, then blast off again. Blast week is a great way to kick start your writing. It makes you really focus for that twenty minutes – and you’d be surprised how much you can get done in that amount of time. Most times, the twenty minutes flies by so fast, you don’t realize it’s happening until the host calls you back.

Though I wasn’t in the “mood” last night, I went to the blast. I’ve been struggling with my writing of late. Partly because of vision issues I’ve been having – being on the computer for more than about an hour gives me a vicious headache. But mostly because I’ve lost some of the joy of writing. It happens. All writers go through these highs and lows. But the blast last night brought me up. I found a new direction for my WIP and got almost 1200 words done for the day – mostly thanks to the blast. Plus chatting with them helped with a plot point I was struggling with. The blast for me was…a blast. 😉

So thank you to Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers (www.cprw.org) for pulling me out of my slump. And it’s only day one of blast week!

PSA: Don’t eat that!

Going off the topic of books today.

Many of my friends know I have multiple food hypersensitivities. What does that mean? It means, if I eat one of the foods on my “don’t touch that” list, I get sick. Except for one food, they’re not “allergies” – my body doesn’t produce antihistamines, I just get sick. Really sick.

For instance, yesterday afternoon, I was heat up some pasta sauce for my husband. I dipped the tip of my little finger in to see if it was warm enough (it wasn’t). Without thinking, I licked my finger off. That’s all it took. The dip of my little finger and a moment of not-thinking. For that, I spent the rest of the night running to the bathroom with horrible gut cramps or trying desperately not to puke.

For the lick of the tip of my little finger.

And no, there are no medications I can take for this. It’s not an allergy (besides, I’m hypersensitive to the allergy meds too – can’t take them).

And it’s not something I “will grow out of” as a doctor once told me – it’s actually getting worse as I get older. I’m down to a handful of fruits and vegetables that are “safe” for me. I can’t go to a grocery store and pick up a box or bottle of something that has the word “spices” listed on the label because I have no idea what those “spice” are. Is it what sent me to the ER and landed me in the hospital in January? I don’t go out to eat except for a very few places and even then, I’m extremely careful what I order. I know the wait staff gets frustrated with me asking what’s in something, but I can’t just order anything I want. When I’m at your home for a meal, I’m not being rude when I ask what’s in something. And I don’t want your grandmother’s secret family recipe. I need to know the ingredients – not the recipe. Because I need to know if it’s safe for me to eat.

But the worst is people who think “just a little bit won’t hurt you”. You don’t get it. Just a little bit WILL hurt me. (Remember – little finger, dipped) People like me who have food allergies/hypersensitivities aren’t faking it. Trust me. I wish I could eat like a regular person. Yes, there are things we don’t like, just like everyone else. But a food allergy/insensitivity is not a dislike. If we eat it, our bodies react in a bad way to that food. A really bad way.

So please, be aware of friends or relatives who have these food issues. When they ask what’s in something, tell them – and don’t leave anything out. And don’t be insulted. We can’t help what’s going on with us. It’s an illness – but one that cannot be cured. So please…understand.

Thank you

Vicki