Sunday, August 31, 2014

Acknowledgments

As my third book, I'm Still Here, is about to go live on all markets in about 7 hours, I wanted to publicize my thanks to those who have made the book happen. I'm not sure it is the vogue thing to do, but I put my acknowledgments in the beginning of my books, rather than the end. I know that people tend to skip over this part, but to me it is important to include all the people who make my writing career a possibility.

As I have been acknowledged in a few books, I have to say, it is so cool to see your own name in print at the beginning of someone's book. So, here are the people that made I'm Still Here happen.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To my bestie, Michele Vagianelis. Yet another story that would not have been written without you. Oh, and make sure to thank JV for the spam email I supposedly sent to him that got this all started.

I had an incredible team of beta readers on this project. Without their collective insight, suggestions and encouragement, this book would be nowhere near what it is today. I'm so lucky to have this group of lovely, smart and talented writers and editors: Jayne Denker, Tracy Krimmer, Heather McCoubrey, Jana Misho, Becky Monson, Susan Rys and Chrissy Wolfe.

And speaking of editors, this would be a hot mess without the critical eyes of Cahren Morris and Karen Pirozzi. I promise, someday, I will learn how to use a comma properly, as well as the difference between abject and object poverty.

I would still be floundering, trying to decide on a cover and a blurb if not for the great group over at ChickLitChatHQ. Thank you all for your wisdom and opinions!

My first friend in life, Julie Stewart (you will always be Julie Cheney to me!), thank you for giving me some insight about what it is like to be in a band. I wish you'd move back up here so I can go see you play again.

Meghan Francis, who is not only a talented soccer coach, but a gifted speech-language pathologist as well, thank you for answering my questions about aphasia. If there are any technical errors, I assure you that they were all mine in the making.

Becky Monson, cover designer extraordinaire—I'm totally crushing on this cover too.

Cheryl and Dean Schoeder, thank you for the use of your names. I'm sorry for what I did to them.

Without the support of my parents and husband, none of this would be possible. And now to that team, I've added my brother, Dan, who comes to my book events and asks insightful questions and my niece Lexi who helps me with my social media marketing. I'm so lucky to have all of you, as well as my biggest (smallest) supporters, Jake and Sophia.


I never knew it was possible to miss someone you never met. Mike, the void you’ve left is immeasurable and I wish you were still here.

If you're interested in reading I'm Still Here, you can find it here:


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Helping Out

I've often been asked what is one surprising thing I've found since publishing. My answer on my latest interview was to say the people who I don't know who have come out of the woodwork to support me. Now it is my turn to pay back some of that support.

I'm about to publish my third novel, I'm Still Here. The main theme of the book is finding family. The main character, Esther, has to learn what it means to be family. As the back cover blurb says, "... blood does not always mean family." While I do happen to have a wonderful biologically-related family, I also have a family of friends and a family of other writers.

As I'm on the cusp of publishing my latest work, one of my fellow writers is going through a very difficult time. Although we live in the same community and know some of the same people, we've never met. We've liked each other's posts and shared each other's links, but we've never met. But I know that I need to do something to help her at this time. Her husband is the former fire chief in the fire department in which my grandfather was a charter member. And now her family is going through a terrible time due to an accident at the fire house.

So, here's what I'm proposing. No, not proposing. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to donate a portion of my royalties during the month of September to the Wheatley family. So that means, anyone who pre-orders I'm Still Here will be donating to this family. Any pre-orders or purchases of any of my books through September 30 will count. The more people who buy books, the more we will be able to help this family out.

I thank you all in advance for helping me to show a small amount of support to the Wheatley family during this difficult, uncertain time. If you would prefer to donate directly to the family, you can send a donation to this address:

The Chief Jason Wheatley Fund
C/O The Verdoy Fire Department
988 Troy Schenectady Road
Latham, NY, 12110
I'm Still Here is available for pre-order on Kindle, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Piece of Cake

My mom always made our birthday cakes. And, of course, as a child, I wanted nothing more than the bakery concoctions with mountains of frosting and brightly colored roses that could induce a diabetic coma. However, as I grew up, I realized I don't like most bakery cakes (unless they're chocolate with chocolate ganache). I was attracted to the intricate designs. I wanted my cake to look pretty (not that my mom didn't do a great job. She did. There were no fancy roses or intricate piping though).

Then, when I was in college, Martha Stewart came into the picture, establishing an impossible xenith of decorating and home keeping. I have no where near the talent and skill it takes to be Martha, but dammit I'm gonna try. For years, I spent Christmas Eve frosting sugar cookies in six different colors of royal icing, just so they looked smooth and professional. They looked nice, but my mom's round ones with cream cheese frosting taste a whole lot better.

For my wedding cake, I chose a cake with fondant, just because it looked so smooth and nice. Just like Martha Stewart would make. I didn't actually eat any of my wedding cake that night. People kept coming up to me and asking what type of frosting it was. I smugly replied, "It is a buttercream frosting with fondant over it." Most people had never heard of fondant. I thought I was impressing them. Until the day after, when I tasted it, and realized it was horrible (fondant has come a long way in 13 years).
This was the only taste of the cake I got that day. You can see it in the bottom left corner.
And then I became a mom myself. I had three co-workers at the time who had taken the Wilson cake decorating classes and they made cakes. One of them even made the cake for my baby shower.

And as  mom, I wanted to make my own cakes. Of course, I wanted them to be fancy and professional looking. My first attempt for Jake's first birthday was not that successful.

What you can't see in this picture is the horrible time I had with the chocolate cake crumbing up. It kills me every year, trying to frost a chocolate cake (because that is what the kids ALWAYS want) with white frosting and not to get crumbs. Since 2005, I have tried several methods to reduce crumbing. My current one is to bake the cake, and then freeze it. Frosting it while frozen seems to help a little.

By Jake's second birthday, I was branching out into better designs. I'm pretty proud of the free-hand design on this one. I was still using canned frosting and the tube gel for decoration.

His third birthday had me thinking a bit outside the box, as I couldn't find how to make a Thomas cake without buying the pan and doing star tips, which scared the bejeezus out of me at the time. I was, however, stuck in the rut of using a 9 x 12 pan.

For Jake's fourth birthday, I finally changed it up. For the first time, I made my own frosting and started using gel coloring, rather than the liquid stuff. So many more color options and it doesn't thin the frosting out either. I also branched out into cupcakes this year. Go figure ... finally getting complicated when I have a baby in the mix.

With said baby, that meant I got to make two cakes a year. I finally tackled the star tip frosting for Sophia's first birthday. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. Of course, I went off the deep end and made candy to go with her cake as well.

Jake wanted an ice cream cake for his fifth birthday. Not much to look at, but it tasted pretty good. He had a friend birthday party that year, for which we used a store-bought cake. His party and actual birthday were about a week apart, so we definitely needed two cakes.

For Sophia's second birthday, I traced this picture on waxed paper and then frosted that, putting it right on top of the cake. Back to the 9 x 12, but I always liked how it came out. The purple looks blue in this picture, but it was definitely purple and red. Or rojo, as Dora would say.

I went back to cupcakes for Jake's sixth birthday. I started to get more creative and confident in my skills.


But for Sophia, I don't know what got into me. I was like a person possessed. This is where my rush-through-it and OCD battle, which is really tough. Two of my dad's favorite sayings are, "I cut it three times and it's still too short" and "Ready, fire, aim!" Both of those apply to me. However, when you have crazy high expectations of perfection, it leads to a lot of hard work, over ambitious projects and ultimately disappointment. It wasn't terrible, but certainly wasn't what I wanted it to look like. The project engineer needs to be fired. Still, Sophia remembers getting the princesses to play with, so that's what's important.


I borrowed a friend's sphere pan to do a Mets themed baseball cake. This really wasn't that hard and I think it turned out pretty good (especially considering his party was about an hour away, and I had to carry this all the way up there). I need to remember that sometimes, the simpler cakes come out better.

But I forgot that lesson by the time Sophia's birthday rolled around. Pinterest had hit the scene, which can be a cake-maker's best friend and worst enemy. Still, not terrible, and I ventured into fondant again, used glitter and candy flowers. I don't want to think about how much this cake actually cost me to make.



About one month after Jake turned seven, he was looking at a catalog that has birthday party supplies and said, "For my next birthday, I want Tom and Jerry. I am going to be eight, you know." Eleven months later, I found a company that does edible images and ordered it so Jake could have his Tom and Jerry party. He had a homemade ice cream cake again for his family party.

Sophia wanted a horse birthday for her fifth birthday. This was her first time having a friend party. One of her friends had a peanut allergy, so I was limited in the ingredients I could use. I also need to come to terms with the fact that I cannot make a straight line. 

Jake wanted a Star Wars birthday for his ninth. For some reason, I am not very creative in February when his birthday rolls around. However, I think my frosting ability has improved slightly. It could be because I've invested in better tools over the years (a lazy susan has made all the difference!).


I hit Pinterest again for Sophia's birthday, and was pleased with this one. Still didn't love the way my frosting tasted but I loved the way this one came out.

Ok, mom-fail moment here. I have no cake for Jake's tenth birthday. But before you pass judgement, we were in Disney for his birthday and he got a cake there. He didn't have a friend party (his choice), so there was no second cake. I did send cupcakes into school (of which I have no picture). Sophia's birthday is in August, so she never gets cupcakes for school.

Which leads us to Sophia's birthday again. The party is tomorrow. She is having a spa birthday party. The spa's theme is zebra print and pink, so that's what she wanted for her cake. She also wanted a tiered cake (despite the fact that there will only be seven girls there). So, I combed Pinterest, and this is what I came up with. I think it is my best cake ever. Don't look too closely. It is a bit crooked and my fondant could be trimmed a bit cleaner. But I totally love it. Totally.


And now, I finally have a decent frosting recipe. As it happens, I have a friend who writes stories about a fictional baker. This fictional baker has a real buttercream frosting recipe that is AMAZEBALLS. Completely and totally. Best part, you can have that recipe too. It's right here. Follow the directions. Use room temperature salted butter.

As much as I love these cakes (even the messy, ugly, crooked ones), what I love is that my kids love them. Sophia came in the kitchen today and looked at the half-done cake and said, "That is the most beautiful cake ever." She helped me make it and decorate it as well, dictating where dots should go and what size they should be. She also approves of the frosting.

I love looking back on the themes and remembering where the kids were at that time in their lives. What their interests were.

My cakes don't belong on Pinterest. They are more in the Pinterest fails category, but I don't care. My kids have loved them and that's what makes this all a piece of cake.