Month: January 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Did you know?

The following songs all have 112 beats per minute. As I discovered prepping my world for Kid 3’s science fair project. GO:

Mozart’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra #26
Cake’s “Frank Sinatra”
Goo Goo Dolls’ “I Wanna Get Married”
The Cardigans’ “Love Fool”
Aretha’s “RESPECT”

You never know when that information is going to come in handy. And that, my friends, is precisely how I am Here For You.

You’re welcome. Happy Monday.

(Don’t forget to show up here on Wednesday. Because we have the fabulous, brilliant, lovely Ally Condie returning for a second interview, and I’m totally giving you a chance to win CROSSED. Already have one? Have another. Want to know how many copies are in my shelves? Or, just wait. Many, many more prizes throughout February. But our Ally is first. So get here.)

The Are-You-Kidding-Me Section

And a few notes from the Are-You-Kidding-Me section of my life:

1. Kid 1 has been going to a seriously awesome conference over the past 3 days at BYU for high school theatre kids, and she is in drama-queen heaven. In fact, I haven’t seen her much at all, and certainly not in daylight, and I’m missing her, because this is kinda what it’s going to be like when she moves out which day is very far away but steadily coming closer.

2. 10 days without sugar and white flour, and only one cheat. Yay, me! (And thanks to Kid 2 for sharing that shake with me.)

3. Did I mention that I’m in NUNSENSE in March? The musical comedy starring 5 nuns? Where they have to raise money to bury the last 4 nuns that died on that terrible day when Sister Julia, Child of God, poisoned everyone with her vichyssoise? And did I mention that I’m playing Sister Hubert, the novice leader? That’s it. The 38-year-old white Mormon mom of 4 is playing the Black Nun. Sell it, Sister!

4. Famous people are milling around our little town in the Frozen Mountaintops because of the Sundance Film Festival. And I stay inside altogether too often to run much of a risk of bumping into anyone.

5. Husband’s film project that I told you about a few weeks ago is going strong. Yesterday Mr. Vai Sikahema wrote an excellent article for the online Deseret News, and people are getting excited about jumping on board. Also, I want Mr. Vai Sikahema to move into our house. I grow fonder of him by the hour. What a gentle, lovely man. Also, a darn fine writer, which I’m not sure you can say for Every Single former NFL player.

6. I loved John Green’s The Fault in our Stars and read it all up in one day. I dream of the day when I’ll be so clever in sentence construction. Also, I may have a tiny fangirl crush. Is that even possible if I’m WAY older than he is? Can you still call it Fangirl?

7. I got a pulse-reader app for my phone, to help Kid 3 with her science fair project (yes, I still hate the science fair). It told me, on the day I first tried it, that my resting pulse rate was 53. Pretty normal. Then, the next day, because it’s fun, I measured again, still resting. 113. 113? 113. Huh. How science-y is that?

The Query Zone and Hard Things (and what makes them Possible)

So when you’re a writer and you’re in the Query Zone, you have these REALLY HARD things[1] to do, which are not in any particular order, because this is MY blog and I can do things out of order if I so desire. And I do.

1. Put yourself and your story out there. I know it’s supposed to be different, you vs. your story. But guys. I’m one of the weak ones. I find it difficult to separate myself from my words, when it comes right down to it. Love me, love my book, right? So if you don’t even want to see it, I cry. (See #2, below.) But the Really Hard Thing to do is to be bold. Do it. Expose your book, or else how is Magic Agent going to know it’s the Book of Dreams? Things that make this possible: Beta readers, critique partners, agentQuery.com, and queryTracker.com. Also Blue Bunny ice cream and a great deal of buttered popcorn.

2. Not cry. Remember “What About Bob?” I do. I love Bob. “I just treat them like a phone call. Bad connection? Hang up and try again.” It is a Really Hard Thing to take rejection gracefully. But we can do it. We can. We can even send a very short “Thanks Anyway” email, if we’re so inclined. We can breathe in and out. All day long. Things that make this possible: Lindt Excellence “touch of sea salt” Dark Chocolate Bars. And I don’t usually even like chocolate. Also a hot bath or a few episodes of White Collar. (Also, one “yes” goes a long way toward making me graceful about several “no”s, but that’s not really within my control.)

3. Write the cursed Query. Yup. Really Hard Thing. What? you say. It’s a PAGE long. Just write it, already. Yeah, okay, I answer you. But it’s the ONE PAGE that an agent will see and then say, “Holy cow. That is the most charming writer / fabulous story in the history of charming writers and fabulous stories. I must, must adore everything that person ever writes.” So there’s that tiny expectation of brilliance at the beginning. Also, there’s the conflicting advice. One agent says “This is a business letter.” Another says, “This is not a business letter.” One says, “Make me laugh.” Another says “Gimmicks are the death of your query.” (The only non-conflicting advice seems to be “Spell my name correctly, if you please.”) But we can write the letter. Things that make this possible: Remember you’ve already written the book. That should help a bit. Also, agentQuery.com has archives of query letters, along with “formulas” and success stories. And Chuck @ Writer’s Digest has this ongoing Successful Queries” segment, where every couple of months he posts a (you guessed it, didn’t you?) successful query. Agents sometimes post good queries on their blogs. So go steal some good ideas. And then make them yours. And then ask people who read books to look at the letter. Would they want to read the story from your hook? Like that. Go get ’em.

4. Tailor said query. Because agents are human (oh, yes they are), they’ll want different things. So it’s not a very good idea to create and send a totally bland, generic query. You sort of have to tweak it to each one’s needs, personality, and current wishes. Have you met him? Say so. Does she rep someone you read/love/know? Say so. Has she recently given an interview wherein she announced that what she’s REALLY looking for is a post-apocalyptic zombie mermaid story told in verse? And that’s just what you have, right there on your laptop? Mention it. The research alone for such tweaking can take FOREVER. Okay, not forever, but hours a day. Hours. And then there’s the actual rewriting. That is a Really Hard Thing. Things that make this possible: Hello, computers? Just let yourself imagine doing all this junk longhand. Smile about your privileges. Carry on. Also, if you’ve done #3, you have a solid basis. Just sand it, paint it, and tie a little bow on it. Or something.

5. Add a synopsis, sometimes. And that’s what we’re talking about today, my friends. (Oh, did you think I’d already done plenty of talking? Pardon.) Several of the agents I’ve contacted request a synopsis. According to most sources, this is a 500-1000-word document (3rd person, present tense) that Tells Your Story. Remember all that business about Show vs Tell? You have shown. That’s your book. Now tell. Sounds easy, right?

*chirp*

It was hard. I found myself starting paragraphs, deleting them, saying unladylike words, starting more paragraphs. Repeat. And repeat. So here’s what I finally did that worked for me. And it’s not rocket science, but it’s a beginning. Take it or leave it, as always. The thing that made this possible: In short phrases, I wrote what someone did. NOT what happened. There’s a difference, because you only have 500-1000 words, so you don’t want to go into all the psychology, the history, the backstory. What someone did. Like this: Verb direct object.

I made a list. Maybe you’re one of those character-laden people who outlines. Of so, you win at this part. Just copy stuff from your outline. (Another reason it might be good to learn to outline. I’ll take it under consideration. Maybe.) My list was about 18-20 sentence fragments that told (with an active verb) what someone did. If I saw the words “realized” “understood” or “learned” creeping into my list, I deleted them. That’s not an action.

Let’s do one.

Walks in woods
Sneaks into house
Eats porridge
Sits in chair
Breaks everything
Sleeps in bed
Wakes to Bears
Runs away

When my real list (not this super-classy one) took me from beginning to end of story, I made each sentence fragment a paragraph, or combined a few into one. Then, when all the verb/direct object fragments became paragraphs, I whittled down what was too wordy and plumped up what needed more detail to be understood. As you can tell from my list above, I didn’t list everything that happened in the story. I didn’t list every character’s viewpoint. I can fatten up some of those things in the paragraphs, but just enough to give the gist. Now that you’ve stunned them with your storytelling prowess, they’ll be once again stunned, upon reading your manuscript, that you can also WRITE. Which, as we all know, is not the same thing. Also, a synopsis, most websites will tell you, is not a movie trailer. Tell how the book ends. If this goes against your grain, too bad. Agents who ask for synopses want spoilers.

If the writing the synopsis part seems too much work, maybe you’re not ready to query. Did that sound harsh? It was meant to, kind of. Because, yes, “finishing” your novel is the end of your work.

Want to know which end?

[1] assuming you’ve already done the Really Hard Thing of, you know, writing a fabulous book

Won’t February Be FUN?

Oh, come on. You know it will. Fun is what February is made of, after all. Fun and and pink frosting and gimmicky crap.

Gimmicky Crap. Let’s make a band.

Okay, so maybe not.

But. Fun. We’re going to have it. In February. We are. And you’re invited, and so are all of your friends.

There will be BOOKS to give away! (At least 4 books. Maybe more. Given away. Maybe to you.)

There will be TREATS! (or at least recipes. But maybe really real treats, if I’m back on sugar by then. Now that I’ve given this some thought, don’t count on really real treats.)

Kid 3 will return with BELLE’S BOOKSHELF!

There will be some GREATEST HITS!

There will be HAIKU!
And it might make you giggle
Or simply weep, weep.

There will be INTERVIEWS and GUEST BLOG STUFF and LINKS to more fun things.

The whole month is like one of those Oprah episodes where she did that “Favorite Things” thing. (I never saw one of those. I watched Oprah a few times, and it didn’t actually agree with me. It mostly gave me new things to be afraid of, I’m afraid.) But Becca’s Favorite Things should be free from fear. Unless you’re afraid of Broadway musicals. Or butter. Or Creepin’ Death, the Dorm Cat. Like that.

Also, I promise, if you want to win something, you won’t have to do anything other than comment and maybe answer a private email wherein I ask for your address. I don’t do tweets or followers or “mention this on FB and win my eternal devotion” — although eternal devotion does have its plusses. So come on back. Stay a while. And we’re all in for some FUN.

Want to be a guest? Want to pimp your product? Want to get some face time? Email me and let’s discuss.

ALSO: Looking ahead to March, don’t forget to sign up for the STORY @ HOME conference – whether you’re a family history kind of person, or a blogger, or a storyteller, or none of the above but just want some excellent ideas on writing your story. DETAILS HERE and HERE and HERE. Also in the sidebar.

On Ulcers, and Querying, and Rejectamenta

What? A week? It’s been a week since my Last Brilliant Post? How does such a thing happen?

I’ll tell you how it happens.

You just go ahead and live a little of your life and your blogging time diminishes to a little sparkly crystal of preciousness which you hold near your heart and stare at in your quiet moments.

Or something.

But we took a little family trip (to a sunny southern city) and we laughed and we hiked and we sang songs and we told funny stories and Kid 1 may have poured her coffee-machine hot cocoa into the bottom of her mug, forgetting that little detail of Turning the Mug Over. We swam and we fogged-in the hot-tub room and we ate 5 pounds of gummy worms among us. And those were a few really fun days.

But also. There was this other thing.

I’m querying, you see. And for me, querying is a mad mixture of exciting and horrible, much like cheese fondue or deep-fried anything. It feels so awesome right up until it starts feeling barf-inducing.

I’ve sent out several queries. I’ve gotten about 10% positive response. (No, Dad, that doesn’t mean offers of representation. That means people saying “That doesn’t sound too bad. Send the manuscript – or part of it – to me and I’ll have a look at it.” Which is so very, very positive. To me.) And I’ve gotten several very polite rejections.

Rejections, polite or otherwise, make me sad.

Because as much as I’d like to say I can separate myself from my work, it’s PERSONAL. You know? It is. And a tiny part of me wants to knock on the metaphorical doors of these nice people and say, “But LOOK at me. I’m nice. I’m groomed. I’m wearing accessories. And also, I know how to write a book that is Good.”

Which, naturally, I can’t say to them, because that’s not how it works.

Which, naturally, causes ulcers.

Naturally.

So I live with it. I put on a happy face and I do a few deep sighs once in a while. I send out five more queries. I eat a piece of something delicious (which was, up to yesterday, a square of almond toffee, but from now on until later, it will be something sugarless and without white flour, because also the one-pound-a-week thing isn’t working no matter how many positive thoughts I send its way. See note above re. gummy worms) and I move on.

Also, because I have had some successes (remember those positive responses?) I bought myself a book. “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green. I hope it’s glorious. I have reason to hope. Because he’s brilliant, and stuff. (But mine wasn’t signed. And I might have to do something about that. If you’re not a Nerdfighter, you may not know that JG signed like 150,000 copies of “TFIOS” for the first run. Who gets a first run printing of 150,000? John Green does.) **UPDATE: I looked it up. Only the PRE-ORDERED 150,000 books are signed. Pre-ordered. 150,000. Signed. Go, John Green. You go.

So, on we go, ulcers and rejections and smiles and carrot sticks and all.

ONCE by Morris Gleitzman

I have a book recommendation for you. Yes, you. This is my new thing, as opposed to telling you every book I ever read or re-read. Because I have decided that you probably don’t care, and so there you go. But if you’re looking for something, try this.

Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad.

Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house.

Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh.

My name is Felix.

This is my story.

Everybody deserves to have something good in their life.

At least ONCE.

(The above, from the book, actually taken from Mr. Gleitzman’s personable and delightful website.)

Poland, WWII. A Jewish boy who prays to God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Adolph Hitler. All at once. A notebook full of stories. An adventurous heart. A poetic, spare, lyrical narrative. Oh, guys, just a very, very great book.

It reminds me of Spinelli’s remarkable “Milkweed” which cracks the heart wide open, but ONCE tells a smaller story in scope, and leaves the possibility of perfect-ending in the reader’s mind.

Happy things

Happy things happen,
Grateful-making things.
Sweetness happens and kindness happens
And fulfilment happens.

And then I say Thank You  —
But sometimes only inside my head,
And I wish I were better about saying
It aloud, about writing it down,
About Sharing the Thank You.

So, I’ll share it today.

Thank you to those who live inside this house.
Thank you for loving each other,
For laughing together
And for helping each other.
For standing up and Doing The Thing.
For being my constant source of Happy Things.

Thank you to those who are ALL my family,
Through birth and choice and circumstance.
You make me better and you bring me things to think about.
You give and give and smile and smile.
You say the right things, even the hard ones.
You are good, family.

Thank you to those who stand on the other side of my writing.
You readers.
What’s a writer without a reader, anyway?
Not much. And so I thank you for reading.
For commenting.
For suggesting.
For writing back.
Thank you.

Thank you.

So you want to know what we’re eating…

All right. Good question. (The question, that is, of HOW ARE YOU GOING TO FEED YOUR FAMILY ON $60 A WEEK PLUS ONE MONTHLY TRIP TO COSTCO? Yes. That question.)

I have a few disclaimers, first.

1. I am a cooker. So, I can cook things. From ingredients. Which, you know, is cheaper (by a lot) than the alternative.

2. My Kids are big. They don’t need hourly snacks. They’re gone all day at school. They can wait till dinner. Like that.

3. I am a firm believer in the Food Storage. I have shelves of food, and I know how to use it. (Did that sound like a threat? It wasn’t meant to. More like a back-up to my #1, above.)

4. Moderation. That’s a ticket for us. We try to not overdo any one thing. A bit of meat, a bunch of vegetables, some rice or pasta, and maybe a whole lot of smoothies. But have you seen the replacement for the food guide pyramid? It’s a plate. Of food. Sort of.

Sorry, Kid 4. That so doesn’t resemble your dinner of choice (a huge steak, some sauteed mushrooms, and a pile of fried potatoes). But it’s not that far off from what we usually eat. So, you know, it’s spread around.

So, here is my meal plan for the week. Starting today. Ready?

Wednesday Breakfast: Waffles and Blueberry Syrup

Need to buy: Nothing. All on hand.

Waffles: I keep a mix in the freezer, but I had to refill it this morning. Here’s what’s in it.

7 cups wheat flour
2 and 1/4 cups cornmeal
3 cups “quick oats”
1/2 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons salt

Mix all that together and put in a gallon-sized ziplock. Write this on the label part: “Waffle Mix — 2 cups mix, 2 cups milk, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup oil.” That feeds my family of 6 waffles for breakfast, occasionally with a bit leftover for birdies.

The blueberry syrup recipe is HERE, and I had all those ingredients on hand this morning, too. If I didn’t have oranges, I could have used lemon juice or pineapple juice or probably something else. But I have oranges. So that’s what we (they) had for breakfast.

Wednesday Lunch: Kids and Husband packed sandwiches last night, I’ll have some manner of Green Smoothie, hopefully way tastier than the seriously yucky concoction that was my breakfast. *Shudder*.

After School Snack: Crackers (leftovers from New Year’s Eve) and cheese (always on hand, bought when ON SALE, don’t you know).

Wednesday Dinner: Cheese and Onion Enchiladas (Red) and Corn/Black Bean Salad

Enchiladas: All ingredients on hand. Here’s the Great Big Secret Recipe.

2 Large onions, chopped
1 or 2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (2 for us. We LOVE cheese)
1 can (14 ounce-ish) red enchilada sauce
12 corn tortillas

Simmer the onions in a lidded pan with about 3 tablespoons of water until soft. Pour enchilada sauce into a small pie plate or something. Spray a medium casserole dish (I like the round one for this) with pan spray. Dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce, both sides. Put it in the sprayed dish. Do it again, and again, so you have 3 now-red tortillas in the bottom of the pan. Scoop in 1/3 of the onions and sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat layers. Pour any remaining sauce over the top. Put a lid or some foil on it and heat until it’s hot. The onions are already cooked, so you can do it fast. Even in the microwave, if you’re into that.

Salad:

(I need to buy cilantro, because I used too much in last night’s salad.)

1 can (14 ounce-ish) black beans
1 cup frozen corn (I like the Costco kind)
1 tomato, chopped
2 Tablespoons red onion, diced
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons Italian or Vinegar-based salad dressing (I like that Brianna’s one with the artichoke on the front. Very peppery and delicious)

Stir it up. Inhale. Can use avocado to make it perfect, but I’m on a budget. Tell you what. I will buy an avocado if it’s less than a dollar.

(So, to get up to speed, today’s meals will cost me about $1.30 including the possible avocado, because I stored everything else.) After dinner, Kids will clean up, thank me, and, smiling, start making tomorrow’s lunches. Which will include a protein, a veg, a fruit, and a treat. For which everything is in the fridge and pantry.)

Want to hear tomorrow? All-righty.

Breakfast: Smoothie and Scrambled Eggs

Smoothies are our favorites. My Kids much prefer them orange, pink, or purple to green. Whatever. I can do that.

One Good Smoothie (feeds 6)

1 can pineapple (the 20-ounce size)
6-8 ounces vanilla yogurt (I’m a huge fan of the Mountain High – it feels like food)
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 can peaches (the 14-ounce size)
2 peeled oranges
(Then I splash in some rice milk, because I like it better than the cow kind.)

Blend it all up. Serve with straws, because everything tastes better when you drink it from a straw.

I don’t really need to tell you how to scramble eggs, right? Right?

Lunches were packed last night, remember?

After school snack shall be popcorn. Usually reserved for Sundays, because I tend to WAY overdo it, but I’m willing to celebrate. I’m a pushover that way.

Dinner is Aunt Abbi’s Tomato-Basil soup, food storage style, which means I have everything on hand (hers is classier than mine, using cream and stuff but either way, it tastes awful darn good):

1 onion, diced
3 cups chicken broth (made from water and bullion)
4 cans crushed tomatoes (the 14-ounce size, or use a big can if you have one)
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup basil pesto (I have some fresh-ish stuff from Costco in my fridge, and I have some bottled stuff in my pantry. Obviously, I’m going to use the fresh. Because… well, I am.)

Boil the onions in the broth till soft. Add tomatoes. Simmer for however long you have. 20 minutes? That’ll do. When you’re ready to eat, add evaporated milk and pesto, heat through and serve. It’s really good. We all like it, even Husband the Non-Soup Man.

Then I’ll probably make some bread to go with it, because who doesn’t like homemade bread with their soup? I have all the ingredients on hand to make all manner of wonderful breads, but that’s another post entirely.

So, Thursday’s meals cost a total of ($0) –nothing. I have it all on the shelves. Yea, me! Here’s what else I can make without going to the store:

Pizza, Chicken Scaloppine, Tacos, Tuna Sandwich Pitas, Sloppy Joes, Potato Salad, Egg Salad Sandwiches [ick], Fried Rice, Granola, Chicken Parmesan, French Toast, or Spagetti. Plus all manner of breads, cookies, pastries, and, always, popcorn.

So, Friday? Breakfast is German Pancakes and Orange Juice. Lunches? Made. Dinner? Pizzas. Two. One cheese, one cheese and pepperoni. That leaves enough leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. Also a big fat green salad for which I think I have plenty on hand.

Saturday? Usually my day off. Cold cereal and an apple or toast. This week is different, because we’re having a party. I’ll tell you about it soon. Lunch is leftover pizza, remember? And fried rice and perhaps frozen potstickers for dinner. All on hand.

Sunday? I’ll beg Husband to grill his famous Dad-burgers. I’ll need to buy meat for that. I’ll do some baked “fries” and a bunch of veg-ish toppings for the burgers (tomatoes, grilled onion, lettuce, mushrooms) and I’ll need to buy the mushrooms.

So the list for today: Cilantro. Avocado, if it’s a good price. Hamburger meat. Mushrooms. (Plus Party Food, but I’m not taking that from the normal grocery budget.) And that will take us through Sunday. For something like $16. So I’ll add on some fruits for school lunches and snacking purposes, and smile to myself. $30 easy.

(Grocery-shopping/budgeting disclaimer: I know it’s not an easy thing. I do. And the simple secret is this: Shop the perimeter. Go to produce, meat, dairy and then go home. I am lucky to live in a town that believes in Case Lot Sales, which is the time I buy almost everything I may need that lives on inside-the-maze grocery shelves, like canned veg and beans, tuna, flour/sugar and canned fruit [for smoothies]. I make a menu. I make a list of what I need. I go to the store and I buy ONLY WHAT’S ON THE LIST. <– that’s the hard part. And that’s me, taking back the budget.)