Thursday, January 31, 2013

Doctors, Splotches and Snow

2012 On the plains in Northern Arizona, two families joined forces and began the trials and tribulations of building a small family farm with nothing in the bank but love.

This Tortuga Thursday should be called Tortuga Thursday Thoughts. Still in winter's throes, it's a little of this and a little of that going on.

More seeds are on order. Last week, we received our "bucket of seeds" but there are other things we plan to grow that weren't included. Lance toiled over the web site but got them ordered.

I had my regular three-month check up (because of past melanoma issues) at the Indian Medical Center in Phoenix with a new dermatologist a few weeks ago. This one didn't look in certain female places either. I thought the last guy was just shy, but this doctor said that the regulations of the center didn't allow it. Sort of seems like going to a nose and throat doctor who can only look at the outside of your nose. He had me make an appointment with the eye clinic and the women's clinic. The doctor who looked at my eyes was mystified why he needed to do so. Very unlikely anything there. My thought was so what - if it ever happens, then just do it. The gynecologist was even more mystified. He didn't say much but shook his head when I told him the dermatologist couldn't remove all of my clothes to check all of my skin. Three doctors later, I'm free and clear.

I received a jury duty summons, but the trial was canceled. I've never gotten to actually serve so hope I do some day. It's possible I could get called for Cottonwood. I'm not hoping for that since the drive would take me about an hour and a half.

I'd like to get my end of the house painted before planting season. Frank and I have the kitchen and one wall in the living room done. I always have a difficult time picking color. Those small jars of samples Home Depot sells are a blessing or a curse, depending on how I look at it. They've saved me from making some awful mistakes in color choices but then again, I seem to take longer making up my mind. I've had three different splotches on the remaining living room walls, two on the bathroom and four in the bedroom. I got sick of my indecisiveness in the bedroom and bought a gallon yesterday of a color I had not splotched on. Not sure I'm happy but I'm not going to waste another $30. The first color I bought I didn't bother testing, and it turned out to be the color of baby poop on the wall. Had to eat that $30.

Speaking of painting, Frank and I painted the baby's room. Excitement is building.

Rusty loves the snow
We had snow yesterday but the sun and heavy wind took care of that today. 

A last financial note since I promised to share it all on this experiment. We've finally put aside the RV dream for now. After crunching numbers, it seems best not to lock into a payment if there's a chance we'd have the RV but no funds to use it. We're going more commercial with the farm this year and who knows what that will bring. Yes, the farm is pretty much Lance's project, but we're partial owners in it and want to see it succeed. By next week I should be able to unveil our first crop adventure into the wholesale market.

And a P.S. on snow - the San Francisco Peaks are calling. From here they look solid white. Even though it's Tortuga Thursday, we're heading out to play in some real deep snow about an hour and a half away. I'll be back in the afternoon so I welcome your comments and will respond then. One great thing about where we live is that we're close to many different types of free entertainment like a drive and play in the snow!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Have You Kissed Your Editor Lately?

A couple of years ago, I worked as an editor for an e-publisher. What I learned could probably fill a book, if I was inclined to write nonfiction. Not only did I become a better editor as the year wore on, my skills as a writer also improved.

My authors ranged from the experienced to first time published. The blunders of both groups ran the spectrum from point of view problems to back-story dumps.

How much easier it was to see the foibles of other authors than to see my own. But what I came to recognize were my own weaknesses. When you’re removed from a manuscript, you see the pitfalls so much easier. I love my manuscripts like a baby and, like all mothers/fathers, I don't necessarily see the imperfections. The phrase I worked so hard over and is so clever has no history for the editor. Pretty easy to slash and burn. When I realized this, I was able to more easily step back and use the same technique on my own manuscripts.

We’re told to write without fear of our inner editor; to ignore her and lay our story down with abandon. I have a multi-published friend who requires little, if any editing, once she’s completed her manuscript. I’m convinced her inner editor works side-by-side with her. She’s at the point in her career, after having written so many books, she and her inner editor are one and doesn’t disrupt the creative process. Editing other authors has given me some of that ability. Kind of the practice-makes-perfect syndrome.

But, and this is a big but, I will always need an editor. In my opinion, an author will always be too close to her work to see all overused words, illogical plot lines, flat characters, questionable POV issues and unneeded verbiage to name a few. I also have great respect for editors. It’s hard work. And every suggestion from my editor gets a thoughtful consideration from me now.

What I found most amazing about the experience was hearing my voice in other authors. How many times had I disagreed when told to cut paragraphs of back-story? It hurts. We create this wonderful history, and shouldn’t everyone want to read about our well-rounded characters? You really have to know this! Or “but Nora Roberts” switched POV in the middle of a scene – why can’t I? Some edits are hard to make.

What I found most amusing about the experience was a comment my husband made to me one day when I was an editor as I toiled over one of my own manuscripts. My editor had sent back the first round of edits. I cringed at the amount of red. “My gosh, this is going to take me longer to edit than it took me to write it,” I complained out loud. My husband didn’t look up from his paper, but snickered, “Now you know how your authors feel.”

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

How Cool Are Hiccups!!

2012 On the plains in Northern Arizona, two families joined forces and began the trials and tribulations of building a small family farm with nothing in the bank but love.
This has been the week of seeds.
The most important little seed growing in my daughter in laws womb is nearly full term. Not exactly farm talk, but I'm so excited that this soon to be event merits mentioning. Until this week, I haven't been able to catch Sadi Belle in movement. Every time I put my hand on Christie's belly, Sadi stills. I'm taking this as a good sign. Gramma could be the calming touch or the charming touch for our newest edition to the clan. Time will tell. But when Sadi had the hiccups this week, I finally felt the life. Pretty exciting. Then yesterday, I went to Christie's doctor appointment as a stand-in for Lance. When the doctor set his stethoscope on Christie, Sadi's heartbeat thumped loud and clear at 160. Beautiful. 
We also got out first batch of seeds for this year's garden. A new local supplier offers seeds by the bucket, and they're actually local heirloom seeds. I hadn't thought about where seeds come from could make a difference. It makes sense that seeds from a particular area are going to be more acclimated for that area. This bucket of seeds was reasonably priced, and even though we won't use some of them, the cost was still attractive. I'm sure we'll plant the broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, green beans, lettuce, onion, peas, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, squash and a multitude of herbs. There are several varieties on some of these seeds. There are four or five others we will most likely take a pass on. They also included marigold seeds for free which are natural pest control plants. Winter isn't nearly over, but I'm already anticipating watching our new crop spring from the warm earth.
What a rich spring and summer this will be with Sadi and the crop both blooming with growth.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Comes First - the Story or the Characters?

Muse Monday

It's a question all authors get asked at some time or another. My answer is quick - the characters. My imagination is so character driven that there are times I've really had to search out their story. I might have only a vague idea. For instance, Sleeping with the Lights On started with a fifty year old woman who hadn't found the right man or the right career. I knew Sandra Holiday was upbeat and funny, but why hadn't she found what she needed in life? I gave her a past, and voila! The story began. I started her on her path of discovery but she led the way and got into all kinds of trouble.

1945 friends
Honey On White Bread also started with a character, Claire Flanagan. This young woman was inspired by my mom, so when I created her past, I plucked a few events from my mom's childhood. I wanted to write a story set in the 1940's. Although still character driven, this time I allowed the era to determine my direction. But Claire's sass jumped right off of page one and gave me the reason for the book.

For my novella, The Morning After, I answered a submission request from my publisher. They set the scene (at least one pivotal moment in Amarillo, Texas at the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk) but the story was the writer's choosing. So...Texas, dancing, drinking and romance. A thirty-something lady came to mind. Abigail Martin woke up with a hangover in Amarillo after a wedding at the Lonesome Steer. And since she needed a sexy cowboy to spice up her dull life - redheaded Bobby Stockwood swept her off her feet. And he gives the meaning to the word character.

The hotel Lacy stays at in Flagstaff
I'm currently writing a series, my Love and Murder series. I tried to start a bit differently this time. My intent was to write three murder mysteries and begin with the storyline. I came up blank. And then Lacy Dahl popped into my head - a woman looking for her past and a new future because her present had been yanked away. Why wouldn't she know her past? Why was it dangerous for her to make that discovery? So, as I did for Sandra Holiday, I created Lacy's past. Only this time, it was my secret. Or I thought it was. Once the story began, it got way more involved than I first thought. 

Because I write romance, there are of course heroes in all of my books. And where they come from is about as mysterious to me as where my heroines come from. All I know is, they're born before the story. I know most of their pasts, how they look, how they dress, how they smell and how they sound long before they divulge their stories. I share that with my characters - discovering the story.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ten Degrees and You Want Me To What?

2012 On the plains in Northern Arizona, two families joined forces and began the trials and tribulations of building a small family farm with nothing in the bank but love.

What's left of the punching bag Lance worked out on
Unbelievably cold temps lately. Frank and I moved in last January, and I know for sure it never got this cold. I look out at the orchard and wonder how on earth those trees stay alive. They certainly look dead. The grass in the yard crunches under my shoes in the early morning - can't be good for it. The empty garden is so sad looking  with the cold lumpy dirt.

Meanwhile, keeping active this time of year is more difficult. Some of us have more ambition than others. We have equipment on the back porch but I can't bring myself to brave the cold to lift weights. My fingers are getting more workout on the laptop. Does that count? I painted most of the wood trim today. I'm counting that since my back is feeling the pain.

We've sent off the proposed plan to get a quote for the watering system we plan to have in the spring. Last year we operated on the flooding system. Crops were planted in raised rows and the trenches on either side were flooded. This causes massive amounts of weeds in the trenches and was near impossible to keep up with. The new system would be flat hoses that have holes. The flat hoses can be buried under the soil on each side of the plants. No raised rows needed. The water would go more directly to the plants and should help the weed problem. In addition, plastic can be laid where the plants are not. I had the job of primary weeder so I'm rooting for this new plan.

Our crops will be fewer this year. For our own consumption, we're only planting what we like to eat. No corn this year, not as many patty pan, no cauliflower or leeks. We found some veggies produce so much per plant that we won't need as many. So far (seeds not bought yet) it looks like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, patty pan, butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cucumbers, radish and a variety of herbs. For commercial purposes, we're concentrating on one crop. Frank and Lance are the leads on that. When it's all in place, I'll unveil the great plan!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who's Your Muse?

Muse Monday
I've heard artists of all sorts talk of their muse. Many of my writer friends will reference their muse when a story or inspiration for a story comes to them. I usually couldn't add to the conversation because my muse has either not shown herself or maybe I've not been assigned one. There may only be so many to go around, and my name hadn't been drawn. I'm not sure I'd know her if she walked in the door anyway.

What exactly does a muse look like? I checked the dictionary and generally a muse is a goddess or power that inspires. Pretty cool having your own goddess. But then there are numerous cases of the muse being anything but a goddess. Picasso had Marie-Therese Walter. Lucky Patti Boyd was muse to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton.

Since I've never had writer's block, and there is a general belief that one's muse has gone AWOL when this affliction strikes, then my muse must work overtime. She's obviously too busy to even introduce herself. I picture her cooped up somewhere in a miniscule cubicle of my mind (soul? heart?), dipping her pen into the inkwell, jotting down bits and pieces of ideas on translucent paper that she then crumbles into sparkly dust and blows into my mind (soul? heart?).

I'm afraid I'm letting my muse down lately. She might even be the one who feels abandoned and in need of inspiration. What must she think when my life has been too crazy for me to put in my normal hours of writing, letting her great ideas and inspirational sound bites languish in piles of sparkly dust? I know I'm getting pretty antsy. First the holidays and now baby preparations - grand baby that is. Happy times even though my writing is taking a backseat.

Hopefully, she'll hang around. And if she should decide to take a vacation, there's a pile of ideas to last me until she returns.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Soggy Cabbage Anyone?

2012 Somewhere in Northern Arizona, two families joined forces and began the trials and tribulations of building a small family farm with nothing in the bank but love.
December 2012
Like I've said numerous times, this last year was a learning season. Not too long ago, Lance spoke to the man who owns Whipstone Farms in Chino Valley. When Lance stated his feeling about this past year, the farmer told him to expect to never quit learning. On one hand, sounds like there will never be a dull moment. On the other hand? Tires me out to think about it.
One thing we learned quite a bit about was preserving our harvested veggies and fruits to get us through the winter. Canning results showed their faults quickly. Each time a batch of three to five jars was finished, we could tell what needed to be adjusted. Some of those early jars are not full to the top. Recipes too were adjusted or tossed aside for different reasons. Christie found a great tomato soup recipe that didn't require the tomatoes to be peeled. Big time saver. And once she discovered the soup could be used for everything from soup to pasta sauce to Mexican dishes, she put more jars up.

Freezing results didn't show as quickly. We used freezer bags and sucked the air out before freezing. They looked vacuumed sealed and we got a lightheaded rush doing it. Our efforts didn't last long. We learned freezer bags are not as air tight as advertized. Many of our frozen veggies have frost bite and suffer from too much moisture. Many vegetables are supposed to be flash boiled before freezing. This is trickier than we thought. If it isn't processed very quickly, too much water is absorbed which equals soggy veggies when thawed. Cabbage is particularly susceptible to this problem.
An annoying but then again comical problem we encountered with freezing was the size of the bags we used. We often used the gallon size. It seemed reasonable to us that we could take out a meal portion from a large bag as we needed. Wet vegetables stick together - like in solid blocks. So we find ourselves chopping and hammering off the amount we need for a meal. Meal size bags might have been a better choice!
Before it's time to harvest and freeze this year, we'll invest in a proper system for freezing.
This years favorite Christmas present - the dinner bell
We're finding ways to use those soggy veggies. For instance, tonight's meal (besides steak on the grill) we had cabbage and onions from the freezer. I sauteed them in a little olive oil for a very long time until the moisture cooked out and they browned slightly. The okra was dipped in milk and mixed with cornmeal and also sauteed for a considerable amount of time. It clumps together but eventually gets crispy. And we had canned potatoes which have a unique flavor.
The learning curve? I kind of think it will keep on curving!

Monday, January 7, 2013

What's The Size of His...Publisher

Not too long ago, I was at a conference and went to a workshop on publishing. The speaker was a traditionally published author who's decided that we authors don't need publishers. He went on to talk about how great it is to be an author right now because you can self-publish. Part way through his presentation, he told us about the publishing company he's started and some of the authors he's publishing. What?

It's wild and wicked out there in the trying-to-get-published world. On my first Muse Monday, I thought some might find the topic interesting. Or at least my take on the publishing process.

At times, I wish I'd started writing many, many years ago - before ebooks and small publishing houses existed. There was a time authors could approach the big New York publishers with less effort than now. But then there were fewer publishers and only one avenue. But then there were fewer authors. But then your books, if published, would always end up in bookstores. But then the Internet now makes it possible for virtually unknown authors to be found. But then...and so my inner debate goes on.

I've published three books, various lengths, and a stand alone story as well as two stories in an anthology with two smaller houses. The Wild Rose Press is out of New York (like the big guys) but is at heart an e-publisher who also sells hardcover books. They're a large romance e-book house. Melange Books is in Minnesota and is also an e-publisher who will also sell hardcover books. This size of publisher is approachable by authors directly. Meaning, I can submit a manuscript to them, on my own, without an agent's introduction. There are pluses to working with this size of house, and I am going strictly on what I'm told as I can't compare from my own experience. Smaller houses are easier to communicate with, you have more hands on with your book decisions and overall it's a more personal experience.

I've been very happy with my publishers, but because of their size, certain results of being published are not readily available for my books. For one, readers cannot walk into a bookstore and buy my book because they are lured by the way it looks on the shelf or by the "feel" of it. The store can order my book in for you, but if you don't know me...well, the obvious. Many authors don't feel this is a problem. With the Internet, readers can go shopping and may just find their book on a virtual shelf. I do have my books in a few stores, but that happened by me going into the store and asking if they would carry a few copies.

An agent can gain entrance into the big publishing houses or at least get an author's foot in the door. I signed with an agent last year. Personally, I'd like to try traditional publishing and see my book on a shelf in a bookstore that I didn't have to go into and sell myself to. The process had just started when it was stalled by Hurricane Sandy then the holidays. Now, I wait.

At least there are options. I'm not giving up on small publishers. Just like I haven't given up on brick and mortar book stores. I love ebooks. But I love holding a traditional book too. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Burn and Turn

2012 Somewhere in Northern Arizona, two families joined forces and began the trials and tribulations of building a small family farm with nothing in the bank but love.

What's in store for my Discover Yourself blog in 2013? Until now, I've blogged sporadically about my life on Tortuga Flats Farm. In 2013, I'm dedicating Thursdays on a regular basis for farm life talk. Muse Mondays will cover the other half of my life as an author. An occasional guest blogger will show up from time to time with something of interest.

Today is the launch of Tortuga Thursdays. We're in the cold, brown days of a prairie winter, which means we're also in the planning stages for next planting season. Our plans are extensive and intensive with a few secrets I can't reveal - yet.

Before the temps dropped too low, we bought a blow torch to burn off the dead vines, plants and weeds. Frank took care of step one. Then the planning continued.
We didn't intend on growing much beyond our own needs the first year, but we managed to do much better than that. The food bank and relatives received our overflow. We're ready to begin the expansion and turn this little farm into more. Our first step - the tractor. Remember, we're doing this on a shoestring budget. After much research, we ended up buying a 1943 Ford. Yeah, I had the same reaction - 1943?! But the reputation of being a workhorse and still going strong is true. Lance cleared and plowed all of our land in one very long day.

We've had the meeting on what to plant next year for our own consumption and what to plant for profit. Oh - there's an important word. We haven't purchased seeds yet. Our last frost isn't until the middle of May so there's no great hurry.

What we do have to do is get the greenhouse built. That's the next step and next expense. We want to have it built and ready to go by the end of February.

Meanwhile, Lance is studying seed catalogs, I'm painting walls inside, Christie is getting the baby's room ready and Frank fishes whenever he can.