Monday, December 23, 2013

Twelve Things I Look Forward To Around Christmas...

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, ever since I was a little girl.  Of course, it used to be all about the presents, but now it's not about that at all for me.  It's about family, the food, the movies, and the music.  So, below, I've listed the things I look forward to every Christmas... (in no particular order).

1.  Decorating the Christmas Tree.  I love doing this every year.  I love the lights, the smells, the ornaments, everything.   I loved it when I was young, when our biggest thrill was who was going to get to put the angel on the tree that year (sister and I alternated), and it's even more special now that my kids get to do the same thing. 

2.  Christmas Songs.  Unlike the above, I seriously disliked Christmas songs when I was young, but as I've gotten older, I've grown a deeper appreciation for them, and am having a blast teaching them to my kids.  They're really loving "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," "I want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" and, of course, "Jingle Bells."

3.  Spending Time With Family.  This may be kind of an obvious one, but there's something really wonderful being around the people you love around the holidays.  After all, that's what the season is really about.

4.  Watching A Christmas Story.  I don't know what it is about this movie, but it's a classic and I enthusiastically look forward to watching it ever year.  I have it on DVD, sure, but there's something awesome about it being on for 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  And quoting it all day long until the hubby is sick of it.   

5.  Sugar Cookies.  Sugar cookies are available year round, true, but there's nothing like a sugar cookie decorated specifically for Christmas.  When I was young, my sister and I used to make them with my mom.  This is a tradition I plan to uphold when my kids get to be a little bit older. 

6.  Peppermint Tootsie Pops.  I have no special love for tootsie pops.  I can say the same thing about  peppermints.  But put them together and they make the  most delicious treat for the holidays. 

7.  Tamales.  Being from Tucson and all, I'm surrounded by many wonderful people who get together with their families around the holidays and spend an entire day making and rolling tamales.  And since the times I've made them they haven't been as great, I'm twice as grateful for all the wonderful friends, co-workers, and parents of my students who generously bring in tamales to share with this girl. 

8.  Mickey's Christmas Carol.  This one is another favorite from my childhood.  I remember bugging my parents to watch our worn-out VHS tape of this over and over again around Christmas time.  This year, I downloaded it from Amazon onto the TiVo.  I've been thrilled every day after daycare when I bring the kids home and they ask to watch "Mickey's Christmas," because it means I get to watch it over and over again. 

9.  Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie.  I'm, of course, talking about the stop-action one that first came out when my mother was a kid.  She watched it with me every year, and I plan to do the same with my kids. 

10.  Starbucks Caramel Brulee Latte.  Okay, fair enough, this is a new one this year, but I am in LOVE.  I plan to add it to my list of things I look forward to around Christmas time, because I'm certainly going to miss it when it's gone. 

11. My Mother-in-Law's Cioppino.  I make a mean Cioppino, but it's nothing compared to the epic Cioppino my mother-in-law makes each time we go to Washington...and I'm here now.  :D  I'm already mentally jumping up and down.  I swear, there's nothing than fresh, caught-that-morning seafood in your stew. #am_drooling.

12.  Two-Week's Vacation Around the Holidays.  Being that I'm a teacher by day, I've always had vacation around the holidays, and I love that time to recharge my mental batteries before returning for work for the new year.  

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!  And be sure to enter the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway below!

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Carrots, Sugar, and the Holidays (plus a giveaway)

Christmas is almost here! In light of that, I wanted to share with you guys something really special. I mean really, really special. (I know the pictures are enticing, but stick around because at the end of the post I have a giveaway for you guys!)

In my family, as long as I can remember, my family has baked one thing during every holiday, carrot cakes. These little loaves of deliciousness were given out as gifts, brought to parties, and shared for breakfasts and deserts. On my father's side, this family recipe is the only one that has been passed down several generations. The cakes are moist and packed with flavor. Even the recipe card is written in my late Grandmother's handwriting (which I'm going to have framed one day soon).

Now here's where I break your heart. I can't share it! I know, I know. I'm sorry for the buildup. It's the only recipe passed down from several generations of Italians (not pasta, gravy, or biscotti, but carrot cake). It's special and will either go to the grave with me or be passed down to my (future) kids.

What I can give you is the next best thing another carrot cake recipe I found years ago--and let me tell you it is just as amazing.

First, a story (it is my trade after all).

I'm a baker at heart. I'm not sure when exactly it started since I don't remember doing an abnormal amount of baking as child, but some time in my teens I realized the cookie dough rolled up in the tubes at the grocery store wasn't as good as the one I could make from fresh ingredients. Yes, cookies are my drug of choice, but I've nothing against a great cake either. I baked long before I learned how to cook anything other than packaged mac and cheese and romin, so I feel like more of a baker than a cook.

Keeping with that, here is the recipe for my
Almost As Good As Grandma Basso’s Carrot Cake 

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon all spice
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil (I know how it sounds, just trust me.)
1 pound carrots (about 2 cups) peeled and grated
Optional ingredients:
1 ½ cups toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup of raisins

Now, before we get any further I have two things to say. One: When baking, always use fresh ingredients. Baking powder that’s more than a year old isn’t going to rise right, and old spices are bland. Two: Grate the carrots yourself or with a food processor, don’t go out and buy those pre-shredded carrots, they don’t have the texture or moisture you’ll need.

Putting these bad boys together:

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 by 13-inch cake pan (or two small rounds which will cook for 25-30 minutes) with vegetable oil spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Whisk the eggs and sugars together in a large bowl until frothy and the sugar is mostly dissolved, about 1 minute. While whisking, slowly add the oil until the mixture is combined and emulsified, about 1 minute. Whisk in the flour mixture until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in carrots (and nuts and raisins, if you’re choosing to use them).

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached (this part is important, don’t over bake), 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

4. Let the cake cool before applying the awe-mazing cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting, you say? Why yes! Did I forget to mention the preverbial cherry on top?

Here’s what you’ll need for the frosting:

8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (but I always add a little more, about a teaspoon. Not into vanilla? Substitute the sour cream for orange juice and the vanilla for a teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest)
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

(Hey, this is a cake recipe for the holidays, not a quick guide for losing weight)

Stir together the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue to stir until smooth.

And boom. The yummiest (though maybe not the prettiest, sorry guys) carrot cake you’ve ever had!

Now I couldn’t think of a descent segue to get us from carrot cake to the rafflecopter, so I’ve done it the lazy man’s way. Look here! There’s a giveaway!
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Friday, December 20, 2013

The 12 Best Things about this Christmas

There are, no joke, a ton of things I could write about this year. 2013 has been really good to me, and there's so much I could share. But I'm neurotic and I love lists, so I'd rather do that-- and in keeping with the spirit of this event, I'm presenting you with: The 12 Best Things about this Christmas.

1. Familial support. My extended family found out about my publishing adventure via my mom (once I let her tell them), and they've all been so encouraging and excited for me. I actually can't wait to see them on Christmas day because there's nothing better than being tired, run-down, and listless (while pooping out at parties), and having people you love not only support your dreams, but to be excited to talk with you about them to boot.

2. Weather. I live in Northern California and many years around this time, it's warm enough (high 50's) to be wearing flip-flops even a week before Christmas. But this year? Uh uh. It's been cold! And while I'm a total whiner who tells everyone about how I hate being cold, it is kind of nice to have a season other than the perpetual spring we often have that can run from April through December.

3. My sister. She's off at college in Southern Illinois most of the year, and while I'm not grateful for that fact in say, April, because I miss her; I find myself extra grateful to even have her around the holidays because it's then that I realize how much I miss her the rest of the year.

4. My cats. Because wrapping presents with Creeper Kitty can be challenging, but it sure is fun.

5. My publishing family. Everybody from my awesome gals here at Indie Ignites to my personal assistant (and really good friend), to my sprinting buddies, and my Facebook friends, as well as the ladies I've met who have become so incredibly integral to my everyday world-- my life is very full and awesome.

6. Food. Let's be honest and just admit that I look forward to the holidays every year because I love variety, and I love food, and I get both this time of year. Cookie platters, FTW!

7. My coworkers at my day job. I've had the joy of seeing how really awesome some of them are this week. There's something about the holidays (and being off work for two weeks) that really brightens spirits and brings out the best in people. They absolutely make keeping that job worth it even on the worst days which means I have two pretty awesome jobs-- being a published author and being a paper pusher with great coworkers.

8. My mom. Yeah, I already said family. So bite me. Even on the days when I was to duct tape her mouth shut because she's on me in a way that should be illegal, she's 100%, no doubt, my biggest reader, supporter, and most rabid fan. I love that she not only reads my books, but that even when I've shocked and embarrassed her while reading, she still excitedly reads them and wants to talk about them. And what's wrong with me for some of the things I write, but that's another story.

9. Harleys. I want one, and I know darn well that there won't be a gift card big enough to buy one under the tree this year, but I feel compelled to mention that I'm grateful they exist because drifting off while fantasizing about which model I'd get-- Sportster or Softtail-- I've had many a dreamy sleep. So, thank you, Harley Davidson. Your very existence in this world makes mine a little brighter.

10. Blogging. Because of blogs like this one where I'm not only allowed, but encouraged, to absolutely be myself even though that often includes inappropriate content, "I Love Lucy" references, and other random crap; I get to spread my particular brand of insanity all over the internet.

11. Whoever invented the self-publishing platform. Because the Espresso Book Machine at only THE BEST BOOKSTORE EVER, Y'ALL (Powell's City of Books) is amazing and what-not, but ya know, it's in Portland. And I'm not. And self-publishing has never been easier, or more accepted. And, hell yes. It's literally changed my entire world. Being indie isn't just a label I use to explain what kind of author I am, it's how I define myself, and I've never been better because of it.

12. Books. My books in particular. (No, not that Books, but she's awesome, too!) I'm talking about the books I've published and the one I just finished writing that publishes next month. Every book was a challenge, and for a different reason. In a way, it gets easier, and in a way it never does. These objects that start out as a mass of words all strung together incoherently and with little direction eventually form and produce a story that I'm proud of. And once I'm done with that story and it's neatly tucked into the internet, enjoying its birth, and eventually put into paperback, I'm on to the next book. I don't know where this drive comes from, but having published four books-- OMFG, HOW HAVE I EVEN SHOWERED THIS YEAR?!?-- I can honestly say that nobody has it better than I do (in my mind, and that's a wonderful "place" to be within yourself). I don't know where I'd be-- or who I'd be-- now that I'm a published author. The future pre-publishing was so bleak for a variety of reasons (I'm being dramatic), but now it's bursting with color and possibility and a promise that the greatest gifts can't be wrapped (though some of them may be able to be one-clicked on Amazon).

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Favorite Childhood Tradition

I love the holidays. I love the crazy busyness of it and the music and the holiday parties. I love searching for the BEST present for someone. I love the weird things that become tradition.

One of my favorite traditions, growing up, was Christmas Eve. I was the middle child, and the only girl. So I was a little odd, and didn't always have a perfect relationship with my brothers. But Christmas Eve, after returning from my grandmothers house, we always were sent to bed as my parents hurriedly wrapped everything for us to open in a few hours. My older brothers--twins--would snag Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, and drag their blankets into my room (since I has a DVD player) and we'd stay up half the night, watching movies that we'd seen a thousand times and laughing st each other and wondering what Mom and Dad were wrapping.

When I got married, that tradition was replaced by others. But I still sneak in one viewing of those movies every year, usually while wrapping presents. It's different and that's ok. It does what a tradition is supposed to do: remind me of the years before and the people I care about.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Finding the joy of the season

Two years ago, two days after Christmas, my father-in-law passed away. He'd been sick for several months, and Christmas that year - my son's first - was spent sitting on the end of his bed because he was too weak to get up and come to the living room. It was a joyous time, but also incredibly sad.

This year, we are in the middle of a move. (This post is going up at 6:00 pm because this is the first time I've had a moment to breathe all day.) Our house is nothing but boxes and mess and chaos. No tree, no lights, no decorations. If it weren't for the music I keep playing in the background while I pack and clean (and the pile of snow I can see outside my office window as I type this), one wouldn't know it was Christmas around here at all. We leave in two days to take our first load to our new house, 500 miles away. We come back Christmas Eve, and start the day after Christmas to load the next trip.


My kid will be three in a month. This is the first year he is actively excited about Christmas. He gets what is going on, recognizes Santa Claus, and asks for Christmas songs every time a radio comes on. He is beyond thrilled. So even though I feel nothing but overwhelmed, I need to find the joy of the Christmas season.

(Can we mention how bummed I am that I have to search for the joy? I LOVE Christmas. Love it. I start listening to Christmas songs in October August. Even two years ago, when John was so sick, I was excited for Christmas.)

So every so often, despite how busy I am and how badly I can't afford to take breaks, I need to step back from packing and prepping and cleaning. I grab my kid and we dance to some Christmas tunes. Or we read a book. Or watch Prep & Landing. We leave the house and play in the snow. We talk about Santa and family and traditions and Jesus.

Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I'm listing the millions of things I still have to do. But sometimes - and these are the best times - I forget all of that and just enjoy the moment with Boy Sprout, the excitement of Christmas all around us.

Have you ever had this experience of having to search and work for holiday joy? What's worked for you?

(Pssst….don't forget to enter our 12 Days of Christmas giveaway. There are some fantastic books and goodies up for grabs, y'all!)

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Monday, December 16, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is You!

Ok, ok, I’ll spare you my signing, but the other day, my husband wasn't spared. When Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas came on the radio, I couldn't help but sing along at the top of my lungs. I absolutely love Christmas music and one thing I look forward to around Christmas time is creating a playlist that will play as we decorate the tree and while everyone is gathering before Christmas dinner. 

I've found that, regardless of all the new artists that release Christmas albums, I always go back to a core of songs that, when I listen to them, really make it feel like Christmas. Here are some of my favorites that will always find a way onto my playlist!

What are some of yours?

Let it Snow                                                               Boys II Men

The Christmas Song                                                  Nat King Cole                          

All I Want for Christmas                                             Mariah Carey

Last Christmas                                                          Wham

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas                        Frank Sinatra

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays                               N'Sync

This Christmas                                                          Donny Hathaway                      

Christmas Time                                                        Backstreet Boys

Joy to the World                                                       Whitney Houston

Rocking around the Christmas Tree                           Brenda Lee

To keep with the theme of music, I’m giving away a copy of The Awkward Love Song of Abigail Archer! Enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win!

Have a merry and  blessed Christmas!
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Love and traditions -- 12 Days of Christmas, Day 3

Hi, all! Welcome to day three of the 12 Days of Christmas with Indie Ignites! As I thought about my post today, the tradition of decorating the gumdrop tree with my grandpa came to mind.

My piddly little tree. No comparison to the original.

When I say this is a piddly little tree in the comment above, I'm not kidding. I have no idea where my grandpa found our gumdrop tree, but it was huge. And dark, dark green. And fat. And the branches came out, and upward a little. It took forever to get it covered (I probably ate half the bag of gumdrops before we were done), and we always used the colorful ones, not just red and green like in this picture. 

As I grew older and became engaged, things changed a little bit with my grandparents. My grandpa was sick, and for some reason, at word of my engagement at seventeen years old (yes, I know--I have three daughters in high school so I now get how this is a big deal) he took that as me rejecting him (the dementia working) and stopped talking to me. It broke my heart, but at the same time, I was in high school. I moved on.

Then, my grandpa passed away. And my grandma had to move. And a lot of stuff was sold. In those few years of all of that happening and me having three kids and whatnot, I completely forgot about the tree. Apparently, my grandma didn't think of it either, because when I finally remembered six years ago or so and asked about it, she had no clue where it was, and we figured she must have sold it. Which, of course, broke my heart again. So just like the book, back to the internet I went, searching for a "gumdrop tree". Not an easy thing to find, let me tell you. 

After searching for forever (okay, only months, but still), this little, piddly tree was all I could find. It's not the same to me, but the girls love it anyway. In fact, we've already had to fill it a couple of times this year because, of course, every time someone walks by they have to eat at least one "ornament". 

A lot of times, the "good" things about the holiday season are tied to things and people and feelings and emotions that aren't necessarily as "good". It's important to remember that this is the whole point of traditions--passing along the "good" that was done with those who are no longer here, so that other people will also have the opportunity to enjoy it. And why do we share in traditions? Well, ultimately, love. Love is the reason for this season. As one song goes, "Love came down and rescued me, Love came down and set me free." So for me, it's about, yes, Love with a capital L for my Savior's love, but also love for my family and those who are near and dear to my heart. We share and celebrate traditions out of love for one another, out of the love He gives us to pass along. 

When I look at that gumdrop tree, I think of the good days with my grandpa. Though the girls never really met him, this tree still reminds me of the good times we had together, and I know that, in a way, it ties them to him, too. And as Hattie says, in Pity Isn't An Option, "...When you love someone, it doesn't matter what they do or don't, or if what they promise takes a little long in carrying out. It doesn't matter if they've hurt you, how many ties you've fought, because true love is unconditional. It's a burning, lasting love, the kind that overlooks all the bad in your soul, and sees only the beautiful. It's an unquestionable pardon for your entire life."

Here's to that kind of love this Christmas, and always. Have a blessed holiday season, and don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter!
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas' past

I'm going to be honest. This Christmas just isn't doing it for me. Maybe it's the fact that this year has been full of changes, maybe it's the fact that we still haven't gotten our own place and therefore can't really do our own traditions, but I'm pretty sure it's because this is my first Christmas since losing my brother to Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

I had an entire post ready that explained how I'm feeling and how I just don't have much Christmas joy this year (which if you know me is actually reeeaaaallly strange) and how sometimes you just plaster a happy smile on your face and keep going, because it isn't all about you when you have a family. Sometimes it is and everyone deserves to have that moment where their feelings are all that matter. But, I digress, this isn't one of them and it was hard enough to write the first time. I'm a wimp and sharing those kinds of thoughts and feelings with the world scares me.

So...instead of focusing on this Christmas, I thought I would take you all down memory lane to a Christmas where everything was good and my family was whole. *Cue swirly lights and hypnotic music and cool smoke and stars*

The smell of wood burning floated on the air, which made me smile. That smell meant that it was Christmas. My Mimi, or Grandmother to those not cool enough to have a Mimi, lit the woodstove that sat in the dining room of her farm house every Christmas morning after we unwrapped our presents. I stood in the kitchen with her in my footie pajamas staring at the pile of baking ingredients on the counter that was still level with by eyes. I hadn't quite hit that growth spurt yet. Ask anyone...once I did I kept going. I'm rather tall now.

Mimi was teaching me to bake a pie. From scratch. No boxes, no frozen, and no cans. Just flour apples get it. I don't have the recipe next to me to list it all. If you want Mimi's recipe, let me know and I'll grab it for you. I had never been allowed to do anything on my own before. I remember being so proud of myself as I read the recipe and mixed everything together. She stood back and supervised, which had to be hard for her. I destroyed that kitchen. She of course dealt with the oven and by the time the pie went in, it was ugly as hell but it was mine. I of course was also covered in flour and pie bits. There is a picture somewhere. I wish I still had it.

As soon as I set the timer, I ran to the living room. I didn't care that I was a disaster. I wanted to play Mario with my brothers. They never let me play. I was the baby and they wanted to win. That day, they handed me a controller. And actually plugged it in. I sucked at Mario and ruined their score. They took my controller after twenty minutes.

That night after we ate dinner, we sliced into my apple pie. It didn't matter that some of the apples were a little crunchy because I didn't cut them into the same size before baking them. Or that the crust was a little too dark around the edges because I forgot I was supposed to listen for the timer and went out to make snow angels. Everyone at it and smiled. My Papa (that's Grandpa of course) smiled through every bite and was the only one to ask for seconds.

We went to bed that night happy and a little sad. We would have to leave the next morning to return home which was four states away. I don't know at what point I fell asleep, but I do remember being woken too soon. My daddy was beside the bed, waking me and my mother waking my brothers. When I looked out the window, it was still dark.

Our parents took us downstairs and bundled us up then took us outside where my grandparents were already standing. There, above the barn on our family farm in (very)upstate New York, were the northern lights. The swirl of blues and greens and pinks lit the small strip of sky in a kaleidoscope of color.

After a little while we all went back in, warmed up with some hot chocolate, then headed back to bed. We all slept a little later and that in turn made us get home a little later, but it was worth it.

I don't remember what presents we got that year. Not a single one. I do remember my family being whole and happy. I do remember feeling like Christmas was this special time of year. While I may not be feeling very Christmasy this year, I want my kids to have those same kind of memories. When I told my parents about this memory, they remembered it too. But not the same way. They remembered the bills and the fact that we ate more bean soup than anything that year and how they struggled financially. But they never let me see that. They made my Christmas special by pasting on a happy face and making Christmas magical. So in their own example, I will make my kidlettes' Christmas as special as I can. My daughter is seven this year...perhaps it's time for her to make a pie.

Oh and since I can't find the one of me at seven covered in flour... here's one of me with the Mall Santa who asked me to sit on his lap and called me gorgeous. about that raffle where I'm giving away BOTH installments of the Mackenzie Duncan series? The other lovely ladies of Indie Ignites have some amazing books in the line up too! FILL IT OUT!
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Friday, December 13, 2013

I'll have the (Christmas) special

I'm honored to be the first to post for the INDIE IGNITES TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

As the senior member of Indie Ignites (I think), I’m going to tell you young folks a little story of Christmas past. It goes all the way back to the days before blu-ray, before DVDs, even before VCRs – before cable TV, even. Yes, television used to come to us on four, maybe five stations, the three national networks and a couple of crappy local stations that played mostly local talent shows and horror movies (though I fondly recall one that had the Super G races, in which gerbils raced each other live, or even Dialing for Dollars, on which a host would call people during commercial breaks and give out prizes to those watching the movie.) Those were the days, kids. 

And the most magical part of the television viewing year was Christmas with its much-anticipated Christmas specials. They were only on once a year, so you had to study TV Guide to make sure you got the right night, because if you missed Santa Claus is Comin' to Town you were stone out of luck. You just had to wait another 360 days to catch it again.

My favorites were The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. I was always bathed, in my jammies, and right in front of the set on those special nights, and I didn’t even mind if they pre-empted The Brady Bunch. (Can you tell how old I am yet?).  I think my first crush on a fictional character was on Linus, despite his unfortunate hair.  He was thoughtful and had a spiritual quality I really admired even then. Plus his last name is "Van Pelt." How cool is that? And to this day, whenever I am in a situation that calls for dancing, I imitate the side-to-side sort of pogo that Charlie and his friends did onstage at the Christmas pageant, hoping that it looks kind of cool and retro and ironic and not evidence that I have all the grace of a crippled donkey. (I could not find a free-use image from the special, but here is a Charlie Brown latte, which is almost as good):
Charlie Brown latte, Christopher from San Francisco, July 9, 2012!_(7539446408).jpg

Unlike my own children, I was never scared of the Grinch. As a kid, I found his underbite kind of charming, though I cried whenever he mistreated Max, who had to be the sweetest little cartoon dog in history.  As an adult, I still love this special because it's about the holiday being about love and not material goods, my daughter bore an uncanny resemblance to Cindy Lou Hoo as an infant (though, mercifully, without the antennae), and because as a veg*n I appreciate the sly anti-meat critique in the serving of the "roast beast." Plus, I live in Dr. Seuss' hometown now (in fact, his wife grew up just down the street from here) and I like to visit Springfield Museum Quadrangle's Sculpture Garden to hang out with a bronze Grinch and Max. I could not find a photo of that that I could post without risking copyright infringement, but here is a pretty awesome sand sculpture Grinch:

You don't need to snow in Key West to make a festive holiday snowsandman.

And you don't need snow either to win some holiday presents. Just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here! Best of luck and have the happiest of  holidays!


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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Debutantes Reflect

While we didn't actually get to dress like this and practice our curtsies, some of the ladies of Indie Ignites became Author Debutantes in 2013. We published our first books and for the first time could call ourselves AUTHORS. So as this auspicious year comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to ask some of my fellow Indie Debs to talk about the experience of launching yourself into the world as a writer. Here's what they had to say, below, but, first, MEET OUR DEBS

JC EMERY released her first novel,
 which is also the first in a series (MEN WITH BADGES). She self-published this as well as her debut novels in the BAYONET SCARS series. It's been a very productive year for JC!

LISA BASSO also debuted with the first in a series; the novel
 kicks off the trilogy THE ANGEL SIGHT SERIES. She's published with Swoon Romance.

I, STEPHANIE WARDROP, brought out the first three in a series of YA e-novellas based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The first installment was 
published by Swoon. The last installment releases in January of 2014.


I spent so much time worrying about the writing that I didn't really put much thought into what it would be like when the book actually came out (I was just so relieved that it did!). Lisa Basso and I both had blog tours, so we were in the enviable but chaotic position of having to write twenty-plus completely fabulous blog posts in a few weeks. "It was crazy," Lisa says. "I didn't have much time to celebrate [that first week, but after that], man was that sweet."  JC had to figure out how to market her book on her own (and let me tell you, she has gotten very good at it), so her release week was "quiet." 

But once the book was out and people were actually reading it (squeeeee!), things started to happen. For me, people I hadn't been in contact with for years looked me up on Facebook and everyone was amazingly proud of me and very sweet about congratulating me.  Publishing a book is a big deal to people and it's really gratifying to have had so many people happy for me.  I also suddenly got to meet (virtually) a whole group of other writers and wonderful bloggers.  Lisa agrees, saying. "I've gotten to know so many amazing bloggers, authors, and book lovers I never would have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise. Including the amazing ladies of Indie Ignites." Right back at ya, Lisa! 

JC had a few more twists and turns in her year-long journey. I'll let her tell it to you straight, but if you go to Amazon or any other site selling books, you'll see it has a happy ending: Through a strange twist of events, my first book ended up being free for five

months (which I talk about here). It was (in my opinion) a really good thing 

for my career. It let people know that I’m here, but it also meant that I was 

giving away my work for several months. Because of a shoestring budget, I 

wasn’t able to do certain things until my fourth book (Ride, which debuted 

October 25th

months for me to consider myself a published author. I kept making excuses 

for how it wasn’t really real yet. I even made my mom wait until I was 

enough of a success to tell my family. I just didn’t want to fail in front of them, 

and since I had very low expectations, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with 

what I’ve been able to do.

) like a formal blog tour, cover reveal, etc. It actually took several


JC said "I felt brave. A lot of people thought I shouldn't publish at all, let alone self-publish . . . I've always wanted to be my own boss, and I didn't know that I'd ever be able to make enough money off of a business to truly work for myself . . . but for now I can say that I made my dreams come true in 2013."

For Lisa, the best part was, "hands down, being contacted by a reader who loved my book. There's nothing like it."

It seems that we'd do it all over again if we had the chance.  JC said "Were there things I could have done better? Absolutely. I made mistakes—

big mistakes—but I wouldn’t want to have done a single thing differently. For 

the first time in my life I showed myself how truly capable I am. I’ve worked 

harder, taken more risks, and have ventured into areas I didn’t know possible 

this year. 2013 has been the best year ever and I wouldn’t change a single 


Lisa had some good advice for newbie authors that I'll share verbatim: "If I could do anything differently, I would keep a journal of the things that came up after I signed 

my contract. I'd log how many hours I wrote, edited, and promoted each day." Especially if you are trying to figure out if you can really "afford" to do this, even if you are not planning on quitting your day job any time soon, it's probably a good idea to keep track of all the hours you put into everything in addition to the writing, the marketing, blogging, interviewing, and, with a little luck, red carpet-walking when you sell your book to Hollywood. Hey, 'tis the season to dream big! And this past year, many of our dreams have already come true.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Character Casting Call

I thought it would be fun to ask my Indie girls who they would cast if Hollywood ever came calling to turn our books into major motion pictures. Their answers, as always, did not disappoint. 

Angi Black's adult contemporary LIFE AFTER DEATH would have an indie film lover's dream cast.

The pitch: "Sometimes losing it all is the only way to learn how to live. Marine widow, Casey, and Mark, the single father of a four-day old, begin a friendship, not just with each other, but with the lives they thought had passed them by."

The CastMark LeBlanc - played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  

Angi says, "He has the innocent charm needed to follow through with such a heavy plot. He also has the gravitas to hold the darker scenes. "

Casey Barnes - played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. 

"She has the ability to wear the "everything is fine" face while letting you see she's really falling apart. Plus I think these two would have beautiful chemistry, says Angi, who has
 thought about this so much she already has a Pinterest board devoted to it.  

And Jessica Brooks has a board for her dream cast, too, for the future film version of her contemporary YA romance PITY ISN"T AN OPTION.

The pitch:   "Seventeen year-old Jonas' blood disorder has taken away everything that matters. Sixteen year-old Hattie's father is losing his marbles. When Jonas' perfectly healthy twin brother and Hattie's crazy dad are drafted into the President's army, Hattie's dad disappears. Jonas and Hattie embark on a journey to find him, and find something they'd lost long ago in the process."

The castHattie Akerman: Kaya Scodelario 

 Jonas Norton: John Patrick Amedori 

 Heath Akerman: Jeffry Dean Morgan 

Lucy Akerman: Elle Fanning  

Lanelle Akerman: Elizabeth Shue 
Elise Norton: Sela Ward 
Beck Norton: Andy Garcia 

If you want a little horror with your romance, buy a ticket to Adrianne James' The Enlightening   

The pitch:  "Mackenzie Duncan found out that pack life wasn’t for her. Now she is running for the second time in the six months since she was bitten and turned into a Werewolf. But this time, she isn’t alone. This time, she has Geoff and Liam with her, two very hot Werewolves vying for her heart.  But her companions aren't her focus. The only thing she can focus on is getting far from her old pack and their murderous ways. Only, she doesn’t just want to run. She wants to warn every pack she can that their lives are in danger too. No one should be turned against their will like she was and no other pack should have to surrender to the ideas of a centuries old, power hungry woman.  Not only does Mackenzie have to deal with her crazy ex-pack leader sending people out to kill her, she has to keep both men at arm’s length (and that proves to be much more difficult than she thought), but she finds out more about her own life and heritage than she ever thought imaginable. And suddenly, everything makes sense..."

The cast: Mia Mitchell as MacKenzie 
 Taylor Kitch as Geoff 

Xavier Samuels as Liam 
  and Joe Manigianello as Darren 

That is one smokin' hot cast, Adrianne! 

Rachel Blalock Bateman has already pondered this question so much in regard to her YA contemporary 99 Days of Laney Maguire that she had a nifty graphic ready-made for me!

The pitch: "Laney can’t wait to spend the summer at her father’s lake resort. It’s a place where time stands still and nothing ever changes—the perfect thing for Laney after the year she just had. But when she gets there, she discovers the lodge isn’t quite as unchanging as she once thought.

Some of the differences are good, like Rory’s new look; some are bad, like whatever secret Karissa is keeping. And then some things are just confusing, like Weston.

Weston, her mysterious new co-worker, who is the cause of so many of the changes Laney hates. She wants to despise him, but she can’t deny the attraction she feels, nor the desire she has to be around the one person who didn’t know her before the summer—the one person she doesn’t have to pretend for.

The cast:

Laney: Molly Quinn
Weston: Jamie Cambell Bower
Craig: Craig Sheffer 
Karissa: Jenna Ushkowitz
Derek: Denzel Whitaker
Rory: Robbie Sheehan
Angie: Alex Rice

I failed at the challenge myself when it came to casting Snark and Circumstance, but I came up with an interesting cast for my work-in-progress, A TIME OF SHADOWS, as long as I am allowed to play with the elements of time and space. (My game, my rules).

The Pitch:  A 400-year-old witch trapped forever in the body of a seventeen-year-old, Becca  MacCracken thinks she's seen it all. But could the cute boy in her history class really be the reincarnation of the man who tried to save her from the Burning Times? And is that chemistry teacher really her nemesis, the dark magus Count Giancarlo Montoni? Witch hunts, religious fanaticism, and theoretical physics: The Crucible meets a YA The Tudors meets The Big Bang Theory.

The cast: I realized a little while ago that the girl I had in my head as Becca looks a lot like Nicole Fox from America's Next Top Model.

I have no idea if she can act, but she has an awkward sort of grace that works and a sort of sadness that fits a girl who is not what she seems. Plus, her last name is FOX, which will mean something to others if I ever finish the darn thing. Her former fiance/present-day erstwhile boyfriend, Jack, looks like a young Ewan McGregor 
 (fitting since they are both boyish Scots).So I'm traveling back in time to get vintage Ewan for the role.  Her best friend Lilly Preston should be played by Evonna  Lynch , who's been around magic before as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies 
 and Lily has a secret crush on Kai, a physics nerd and martial arts expert who's a younger, dorkier Godfrey Gao 
 I have a Pinterest board here for the work in progress. Now I just have to write the thing!

If you're out there, Hollywood agents, we're ready for you. And of course this casting session has been an exercise in pure wish fulfillment. None of these books are being made into films and NONE of these actors are in any way affiliated with us or any of our projects. As writers, we just have really vivid fantasy lives.

- Stephanie Wardrop, author of the YA e-novella series updating Pride and Prejudice called Snark and Circumstance, Swoon Romance, 2013-14