Check This Out: Love, God, and Mexican Pastries

With me on the blog today, for the first of two holiday giveaways (’tis the season) is one of my Secret Gardener VCFA classmates, the wonderful Karen Ripley. Karen is here to talk about her recently released young adult novel, Love, God, and Mexican Pastries, a Gallina Roja publication. You can find the synopsis here.

   

One of you will get a copy of Karen’s book. But we’ll discuss that later. Let’s talk to Karen!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Karen: (1) I had to fill the Santa cookie jar with old, leftover Halloween candy because I ate all the cookies.


(2) Yesterday, I went to an exercise class with my t-shirt on inside out.
(3) My kindergarten report card says, “Karen is great at napping.”
(4) My sixteen-year-old daughter and I goof off by practicing kickboxing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this young adult novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Karen: ***BIG spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you are like me and don’t want to know the ending of a book before you read it.*** This novel is based on a very personal experience. Many years ago my young niece became pregnant and decided to place her baby for adoption. We’re good friends and I watched in awe at her faith as she courageously went through all heartbreaking steps and placed her beautiful daughter with a loving family. I asked myself over and over, how could someone make such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I ever answered that question, but this novel is me searching for that answer.

El Space: Your novel has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I’m so glad you hung in there with Melina [the main character]. How did critiques and your editor help you shape the story?
Karen: When I started writing, I read and heard advice such as trust your reader and make sure your character is likable. I thought that along with cutting out the adverbs, I was doing all of that. But when my critique group pointed out scenes that weren’t moving the story along and my editor said my character was starting to bug her, that’s when the real revision started. It was a lot of serious work but it also made me really proud of my writing.

El Space: How did the characters change as the story developed?
Karen: Probably the biggest change for me was coming to really love my characters. Starting the book, I knew some characters were going to do some rotten things and in many of my drafts, some of the characters, maybe all of them, felt more caricature-like than real. It wasn’t until I got to know their back story completely that I could understand them and I saw them develop. Recently, my daughter was reading my book, and said, “I’m so furious at Marcus right now.” And my first thoughts were, He’s really a good guy who’s just messed up.

El Space: What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Karen: Probably the biggest challenge was and is overcoming my own doubts and fears. I started this novel over a decade ago. I’ve needed to learn a lot about writing and it’s taken a long time. It’s so easy to doubt your abilities when it takes years and years to get a novel out. I put the manuscript aside for a solid year and worked on another novel after a very painful face-to-face rejection with an agent. Looking back, a year off was exactly what I needed to be able to come to the story with new eyes; but I really struggled with feeling like a failure.

El Space: How did you select the title?
Karen: Ha! 😄 Really, it was like the whole writing process, trial and error, critiquing, revision. I tried lots of cheesy titles such as: Love Story and The Right Forever. After bunches of cheese, I threw out Love, God, and Mexican Pastries almost as a joke. My daughter really liked it, my editor loved it, and that’s how it came to be.

El Space: Who designed the cover? How did you feel about it when you first saw it?
Karen: Shawnda Craig was the cover designer, and she’s amazing. As an indie author it’s different than traditional publishing where you usually don’t get to consult with the cover designer, but Shawnda and I chatted about different concepts and went through several drafts. When she sent me two covers I loved, it felt like seeing the first snowfall of the year.

El Space: What are you hoping teens or other readers will take away after reading your novel?
Karen: I’d love readers to finish the book with a feeling of hope and a joy in family.

El Space: What books have inspired you lately?
Karen: I’m reading about book marketing lately. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear has a lot of great advice for indie authors. I enjoy reading to my grandson, though he’s 18 months and only sits still for a couple of pages. I love reading Long Ago, on a Silent Night by Julie Berry to him. And every night I try to read something beautiful, and lately it’s been The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Karen: I’ve got a middle-grade story about a spunky girl who goes to battle with her bus driver. Another middle-grade story about a young cowboy who competes in the rodeo is in a rough-draft state. Also, I’ve done a little free writing on another YA novel but so far that’s just mush.

Thanks, Karen, for being my guest!

Looking for Karen? You can find her here. Looking for Love, God, and Mexican Pastries? (Or all three in a different context?) Click here.

One of you will be sent a copy of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries simply because you commented. Winner to be announced after next week’s giveaway.

Katie insists that you read this book, because it’s the best book ever and you should also feel that way, ’cause she is always real with people and that’s how she feels.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photo by Sara Brewer. Love, God, and Mexican Pastries cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Santa cookie jar from ebay. Kickboxing image from clipart-library. Failure sign from teachertoolkit.me. Other photo by L. Marie. Katie is one of the Capsule Chix, a product of Moose Toys.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Is it me or has this year flown by? Here we are at Thanksgiving! And I mean Thanksgiving, not Black Friday or any of those “holidays” touted in the media lately.

Here in the U.S., many people (especially me) plan to overdose on turkey and all of the trimmings. But not every Thanksgiving meal includes turkey. One Thanksgiving, my family had different types of pasta, having all agreed that we didn’t want turkey. Another Thanksgiving meal featured some really great beef ribs.

Anyway, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! What is your favorite Thanksgiving menu item? Do tell in the comments below. I have several favorites: turkey (despite not wanting it one Thanksgiving), cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, and sweet potato pie.

Happy Thanksgiving from Henry, Lazy Buns, and the Squeezamal. I plan to be a lazy buns and skip Black Friday shopping.

Turkey from wallyball.homestead. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Life Giving or Deadly?

One of my favorite episodes in the history of the BBC show, Doctor Who, is an episode called 42, written by Chris Chibnall. (If you’re totally confused about what Doctor Who is about, click here.)

The Doctor [David Tennant], and his companion at the time, Martha [Freema Ageyman], land on a ship that’s about to crash into the sun in 42 minutes (done in real time during the show’s run). According to Wikipedia, the episode is called 42 to pay homage to the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which in that series was determined to be 42.

Imagine the stress of solving that problem. You get creative when your life is on the line. That’s why this episode is one of my favorites. That and the fact that the sun has always been a source of fascination for me. It can be pleasantly warm on a spring day and lethal in a desert or a drought. It’s untamed. The same object that is life nurturing can kill in an instant.

Words are like that. I don’t have to convince you of that if you have a Twitter account or other forms of social media. Perhaps you’ve witnessed one of the infamous Twitter mobs where one tweet launches a thousand words—each like a flaming arrow—at a target, igniting a war. But in just about every case, the flaming arrows defy the laws of physics in that after they hit the target, they boomerang and hit the first tweeter as well, usually within a day or so. Even when tweets are deleted, they live on through news stories and word of mouth. Many a career has derailed because of a word.

Many times, I’ve said things in anger I wish I could unsay. But I’ve never experienced regret after affirming someone.

Every day we have a choice to be life giving or deadly; to enlighten someone or to burn him or her with a word.

Heard a good word? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Pinkie Pie thinks the chicken’s tweet, Everyone is a cluck, will cause problems down the road. But the chicken is adamant and refuses to delete the tweet.

Doctor Who 42 images from Wikipedia and the BBC. Sun image from Union of Concerned Scientists. Other photos by L. Marie.

Talkin’ About the Car Wash

If you’re familiar with old songs from the 1970s, you’ll know that the post title is a line from a song by Rose Royce—the titular song of the 1976 movie, Car Wash. (Go here if the video is not below. Some YouTube videos I’ve posted have disappeared in other posts.)

When I was a kid, I loved going to the automatic/tunnel car wash. Loved watching the big brushes on the sides of the car and the huge blowers. And just when I thought the car wash was over, other services my father asked for (like wax or an undercarriage wash), would begin. The more time in the car wash the merrier, I always thought!

My younger brother, however, was terrified of the experience. He would cover his eyes and sink low in the backseat. My older brother and I made fun of him, because we were exercising our sibling right to torment him. Yet as I look back on that today, I feel bad for mocking him for something he genuinely feared.

It’s interesting how as kids, our first response to someone else’s fear was often to laugh, especially if the fear is not one to which we can relate. “Fraidy/Scaredy Cat!” “What a baby!” Ever hear those phrases? I’ve said them. It’s what kids do.

There are some fears we grow out of. But others linger longer than childhood.

Awhile ago, someone told me that more people than ever are suffering from anxiety. It is certainly on the rise among teens as this article mentions. Many people have had debilitating panic attacks. But instead of empathy, some have been given advice along the lines of, “You need to get over it.” I wish I could pretend that these words weren’t uttered to someone I know. But they were.

That’s why I think of the car wash and the empathy I withheld from my brother. I didn’t understand the fear, so I didn’t offer support. Even into adulthood, sometimes I thought a push in the form of a platitude was enough to motivate someone whose situation I didn’t really understand. I ignorantly assumed that emotional obstacles could be readily surmounted in a short time span. That is, until I went through a period of grief myself.

Sometimes a kick in the pants is necessary to motivate someone who has the power to move on but procrastinates. But some emotional seasons go beyond a pat answer. Grief, anxiety—neither has a preset limit. Just when you think you’re out of it, like a car moving along a conveyor belt at the car wash, another stage begins. It’s over when it’s over.

So from now on, I’m giving pat advice the brush off. Daily I’m reminded to be quick to hear and slow to speak* when someone shares his or her pain.

Car wash image from clipartmag.com. Grief image from the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society.

*From James 1:19.

Finish Well

One of the things I find fascinating about The Great British Baking Show (as it is known here in the States because of Pillsbury; it is The Great British Bake Off where it originated) is the fact that you can win the accolade of Star Baker—the best baker—in one week of the competition and be sent home crying in another. It’s what you do each week of the competition that counts—particularly the final week. (Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers.) You can see this scenario played out in any of the series on Netflix (or wherever you watch the show). So, winning Star Baker is not an iron-clad guarantee that you will win the whole competition.

A good motto for the show is, “What have you done for me lately?” On this show, you can’t coast on your laurels. You have to prove yourself every week to the very end.

This is the concept of finishing well. Haven’t you’ve seen Olympic runners tragically stumble before crossing the finish line, or a gymnast execute a perfect tumbling run only to stumble out of bounds—or worse—fall and injure himself or herself? And how many of us have mourned when our favorite sports team choked in the last minutes or the last game of the championship?

And who can forget the hoopla surrounding the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones—a show highly favored until the last season?

I’ve read book trilogies and viewed movie trilogies with endings that disappointed me to the point where I wished I’d never started the journey in the first place. Have you? Some of the trilogies I’ve regretted reading had endings that felt rushed or tacked on. In all fairness, the downside of some publishing efforts is that some authors spend years on the first book but are only given a matter of months to finish the second and the third.

And I know: art is subjective. The same trilogies I’ve disliked were liked by many people. You can’t please everybody! But there are some series with endings so satisfying, they have become regular destinations for me. One of those is The Lord of the Rings. Another is Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, not the movie). (I realize that fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea. 😀)

I’m impressed by the fact that the Avatar series creators, Michael Dante DiMartino (right) and Bryan Konietzko, knew the ending of their series well before that season ever aired. In Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Art of the Animated Series (Dark Horse Books, 2010), DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko explain what happened during a meeting they attended to discuss the show:

We pitched for over two hours, describing the four nations, the entire story arc—all three seasons’ worth (12).

So, before the show was ever greenlit, they knew what was going to happen. And the show ended pretty much on par with that pitch meeting. Many fans and critics agree that this series is one of the best animated series ever made. Ending the series took four episodes! But it was one of the most satisfying endings to a series I have ever seen.

 

Finishing well is definitely not an easy undertaking. If you’ve ever run a race, you know that your strength begins to flag before you reach the end. When my brother ran the Chicago marathon, he said that around mile 20, he was ready to quit. But he tapped into a well of determination to cross that finish line. (We enjoyed some great snacks when he did. 😄)

The road to finishing well begins with finishing what you started. But that’s just the beginning, especially in writing! For many who have written a story, an article, or any book, you know that finishing a draft leads you to the beginning of another journey—that of revision. But revising helps you finish well.

What do you do to ensure that you finish a story or some other project well? What series have you read that finished well?

Finish line image from the intentionallife.com. Mile 20 image from Wikimedia. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko image from Toonzone. Avatar book photos by L. Marie.

Let It Snow???

“Oh the weather outside is frightful,” as the song goes. I’m staring out at snow falling in a rather sheepish way. No pun intended ’cause snow and sheep are both white. I mean the snow is kind of light and noncommittal. Like, “Eh, I’m falling, ’cause it be like that. But I may not stay.” The determined, take no prisoners snow has yet to arrive.

 

Though I’m irritated by the snow (I want autumn! Go away, winter), Henry, however, is in his element. He wishes every day could be a snow day. He might get his wish, since we’ve had two days of this.

  

This is a short and sweet post, because I want to get to the main reason why I posted (besides complaining about the autumn snowfall). Before I get to that, let me throw out that I’ve been nominated for a blogger recognition award. There are a bunch of conditions for this award one of which involves acknowledging that I’ve been nominated (done!) and thanking the one who nominated me—FictionFan, which she announced at this post. Thank you, FictionFan!

Another is to tell you how this blog got started. Since this is not the anniversary of my blog, I will give you the simple answer—my younger brother challenged me to start a blog back in 2013. Within a month of that challenge, another guy basically said to me, “If you call yourself a writer, you’ll start a blog.” I took the plunge in February of that year. The results, as you can see. . . .

There are other conditions for this award, which I am skipping over, ’cause it be like that. And now, on to the main point of this post. What more fitting day than a snowy one to announce the winner of the ice cream giveaway, which was announced here. So without further ado, Nancy Hatch, Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Caramel Almond Brittle Ice Cream has been ordered and is on its way to you.

Thank you to all who commented! That’s all for now from the snowy Midwest!

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream image from their website. Other photos by L. Marie.

I Scream for Ice Cream

When I was a kid, one of the dearest sounds in the world was the song the ice cream truck played. Often, the tune played was “The Entertainer,” written by Scott Joplin. I wondered why, so I turned to your friend and mine—Google. According to this AVClub.com post by Joe Blevins, “Most professional ice cream distribution vehicles come complete with a music box from Nichols Electronics.” This music box has “public domain favorites like ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’ and Scott Joplin’s deathless ‘The Entertainer.’”

Ooookay. Though we often had ice cream in the freezer, as my mother would remind my brothers and me, we still wanted to buy whatever the truck sold. We knew the right moment to bug Mom for money—when she was on the phone. Many times she would give it to us just to get us to leave her alone.

Why am I bringing up ice cream? Because I am resurrecting the ice cream giveaway. If you’re new to the blog you’re probably wondering what on earth I mean. (It’s been awhile since I hosted this giveaway, so even if you’ve followed this blog awhile, you might be confused. Click here for a past giveaway.) I’m giving away one pint of ice cream (or yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto, if you prefer), which will be sent by Icecreamsource.com. Again, you might be wondering why. My answer is one that many parents have given over the years: “Because.”

Why now? I love the notion of giving away ice cream outside of the usual ice cream season—summer. I’m just weird that way.

Click here to see the varieties offered. In the comments below, please name the pint of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto you’d like to receive. This company only delivers to the U.S., so my apologies to any readers outside of the States. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

After a hard day, Tia Tigerlily needs a little pick-me-up. And yes, she can quit eating ice cream anytime she wants. She just doesn’t want to.

Ice cream truck from clipartion.com. Ice cream images from Serious Eats and Tasting Table. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.