A Dream Worth Having

My guest today is first-time novelist, Catherine Madera, author of Rodeo Dreams. This story is about fifteen-year-old Cindy Crowe, who adopts a mustang and pursues a dream of barrel racing fame. If only she can keep from being distracted by disappointment, rhinestoned rodeo queens, and a certain cute bull rider. Ultimately, Cindy discovers that any dream worth having has the power to break your heart…and change your life forever.

Catherine, this is a wonderful story for adults as well as young adult readers. Tell us what inspired you to write this book.

In 2004 I read the young adult book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Even at 32 years old I found the book delightful—fun and heartfelt. It reminded me of being a teenager and the importance of friendship. Though I’d never thought of myself as a fiction writer, I thought that if I ever did write fiction I’d want it to be something like the Pants books. I loved the classic horse stories as a child and worked to create an intriguing story that combines elements I never grow tired of: the drama of pursuing a dream and friendship (between humans and also human/horse friendships). My protagonist is a teen but I wanted to write a story I would enjoy reading.

How did you come up with the title and the theme? (Great minds think alike!)

Yes they do, Heidi! I love cowboy/girl culture and rodeo. And fighting for a dream is a universal theme that is endlessly fascinating to me. As to title, nothing else came to mind at the time. Shortly after I began writing, however, I had what I now call a “T-shirt from God” moment. I’d been feeling discouraged with my first attempts to write the story and that old negative voice we all fight with was berating me for wasting time on the thing. I remember a conversation I had with God that said, in essence, “What’s the use?” That very day I went into town and stopped at the feed store to buy a couple items for my small farm. I took a few extra minutes to look through some clothing that was on sale. My mouth dropped open when I pulled out a shirt that had a vintage rodeo cowgirl on the front wearing red boots. In rhinestones underneath it said, “Rodeo Dreams.” I bought the shirt. It may sound weird but at that moment I felt God’s encouragement to keep going.

Wow. That is so cool! I love anecdotes like this.

Have you always been a writer?

I was always an avid reader and enjoyed writing poetry, etc. in elementary school. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer when I worked on the school paper my senior year in high school. For many years after, I dreamed about becoming a journalist—flying to the scene of exciting stories and meeting interesting people.

What was your first published piece and when?

My first published piece was an essay for the now out of print Victoria Magazine in 2000. It was called “Horse Heaven.”

You’ve written many essays and non-fiction magazine articles. How did you get started in this writing arena?

In 2004 I won a national contest for Guideposts Magazine (one of fifteen women nationwide out of 3,000 entrants) and had a remarkable, intensive, all expense paid five-day trip to Rye, NY to learn to write inspirational non-fiction stories. That experience changed my life and birthed my freelance career. Most of what I know about story telling I learned from Guideposts. I still write for the magazine and other non-fiction publications.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (though I sometimes wish to be an outliner!). I work from a general idea of major events in a story but no firm idea of how I’ll get from one scene to the next. My characters constantly surprise me!

Have there been other authors or books that have influenced you?

An important early influence was my first editor at Guideposts, Jim McDermott. He taught me so much about the elements of story. The books that have helped me the most include: Writing for the Soul, by Jerry Jenkins; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and On Writing, by Stephen King. Very recently I also read Donald Millers outstanding new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It has great wisdom for writers about how to create a great story as well as inspiration for life. I also consider the northwest writer Sibella Giorello (The Stones Cry Out/The Rivers Run Dry/The Clouds Roll Away) an important mentor and friend in my writing life. The encouragement of those a bit farther along the road is critical.

You are a cowgirl in your own right. Did you grow up riding and barrel racing or is this a recent development?

I grew up with horses and have done lots of different types of riding. However, I’ve never barrel raced! In a curious twist of life imitating art, my eleven-year-old daughter has become serious about the sport of barrel racing. She takes lessons on her Quarter Horse, Cowboy, and we do local shows and 4H. She would like to do junior rodeo in the future. I own an Arabian stallion named Eli and enjoy dressage and trail riding.

How do you think your childhood background has influenced your writing?

I moved around as a child…a lot. Seeing many different places/people perhaps inspired my curiosity and fascination with people’s stories. I also grew up in a home where books and reading were very important. My father, especially, encouraged a love of good writing.

You decided to self-publish your book. Tell us what influenced this decision and what your experiences have been in doing this project.

I spent about four years editing the story, submitting it to contests and my critique group, and pitching to agents and such at writer’s conferences. I received enough positive feedback to feel like I had something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was bad timing in the publishing industry. I knew that, regardless of my solid experience writing non-fiction, I’d have a tough time getting an agent. I’d always thought self publishing fiction, in particular, was a bad idea. “Kiss of death” were the exact words, as I recall. However, God seemed to have other plans for me. He very definitely gave me direction to self publish and put the people in my path to help. Most notable, perhaps, was my graphic artist, Karen Bacon. From the beginning, Karen “got” my vision and I love what we created together. I also opted to use a printer, not a vanity press. This kept my printing cost down and also got the book into the major distribution channels immediately and with almost no effort on my part. Self publishing can be a confusing maze of choices and options with numerous pitfalls and ways to waste your money and compromise your copyright. I feel blessed that my experience has been extremely positive and low/no risk.

What are you doing to market Rodeo Dreams?

Good question! I have been pretty low key but am selling the book slowly and steadily through word-of-mouth, Amazon/Barnes, and also in a couple niche stores in the area. I am getting the book in front of my target audience through groups like 4H and horse expos/events. I am also interested in presenting the book at elementary schools and am looking into ways to do this. As every serious writer knows, marketing these days is almost exclusively up to the author whether you go through a traditional publishing house or produce the work as I have. It can be tough but also a good opportunity to learn and grow.

Are you working on another fiction project?

Yes. I am working on a sequel called Rhinestones. In addition, I’m about a third of the way into a work of women’s fiction.

Here’s a fun question for you: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have to have? Assuming I can’t have my husband, Mark (thinking deserted), I’d need good coffee, my Bible, and my Smart Wool socks/long underware for potentially cold days. I hate being cold!

Catherine, thank  you so much for sharing your publishing story with us.

Rodeo Dreams is available on Catherine’s website, The Writer’s Way, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The Right Ingredients for a Delicious Read

When the meanest gossip in Brea Ridge dies mysteriously, suspicions turn to cake decorator Daphne Martin. And all she’d done was deliver a cake…”

Gayle Trent writes the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery series for Bell Bridge Books. The second book in that series is Dead Pan. Both Thorndike and the English publisher BBC Audiobooks will be releasing the first book in that series, Murder Takes the Cake, in large-print, hardcover format in the coming year.

Gayle also writes an embroidery series under the pseudonym Amanda Lee for NAL/Penguin. The first book in that series is due to be released in August of 2010.

1. Tell us about Dead Pan.
Dead Pan is the second book in the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery Series. When the book opens, a police officer is questioning Daphne about a cake she took to the Brea Ridge Pharmaceutical Company Christmas party.  Many people at the party got sick, but most recovered after being treated with a vaccine manufactured by the company. Only one, Fred Duncan, went into a coma and died. Coincidence? Or did somebody have it in for Fred?

2. What would you like to overhear people saying about your book?
“I laughed so hard when–” A local book club selected Murder Takes the Cake as one of their books; and when I attended the meeting, I was delighted to hear that they thought this or that part was funny. I also love it when people say, “I never guessed ______ was the villain.” Also, there was a review where a woman said she loved the main character’s relationships with various members of her family–that they were beautifully or realistically drawn. I felt like, “Oooh, she got it!” Actually, I’ll take anything that’s not negative. 🙂

3. What inspired you to write Dead Pan?
I was reading an article in Wired magazine about clinical drug tests. I did some further investigation, and I came across some fascinating stuff.

4. What do you advise new writers to do?

Read the genre they’re interested in writing. For instance, when my agent pitched my first three chapters of the embroidery mystery to the editor, the editor said she liked it but didn’t love it. I needed to revise it to make her love it in order for her to buy the book. I asked my agent who the editor had published recently. With two names in hand, I went to the bookstore and bought two books. I read them and found they were more descriptive than my own books. I went back, added more description and gave the heroine a bit more spunk, and the book sold. Sometimes you have to be flexible.

5.  Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

1) There is a feral cat who comes to visit us on holidays. We’re pretty sure he belongs to somebody because he’s always well fed. We think we’re his “other family.” We first realized his penchant for visiting on holidays when he came and cried at our door on Mother’s Day. He came back for Memorial Day and Father’s Day, and so on. Sometimes he’ll drop by for a visit, and we have to check the calendar to see what holiday it is.

2) I have an adorable cartoon Debbie Ridpath Ohi did of me with a cake (for “Murder Takes the Cake”) when her blog InkyGirl hosted me on my blog tour. The cartoon is framed and hanging above my desk. I figure I’ll never look that good in a picture again!

3) I once got to interview the famous criminalist Dr. Henry Lee via telephone for an article which appeared in Law and Order Magazine.

6. Favorite quote

“It’s not enough to stare up the steps. You must step up the stairs.” – Vance Havner

7. Do you have any funny writing stories to share?

I once tried to “write” using my laptop’s voice recognition feature while baking brownies and peeling potatoes. Great multi-tasking, right? BUT, there is a drawback to using voice technology gadgets when you have a Southern drawl. Although, the exercise helped me get unblocked and continue on through the chapter I was struggling with, the computer misunderstood most of what I said. AND, to add insult to injury, when I read back over what it said and laughed, the computer translated that as “a a a a a a a a.”

8. What exactly is a cozy mystery?

Cozy mysteries usually take place in a small community and involve a relatively small number of people. The reader knows that someone within the intimate group will turn out to be the killer. Think Desperate Housewives with one of the cast turning out to be the killer as opposed to Criminal Minds or CSI. Cozy mysteries also feature an amateur sleuth as opposed to a professional detective, and the heroine has an interesting profession or hobby.

9. Do you decorate cakes?

I do decorate cakes but I’m nowhere near Daphne’s level! My daughter and I took a Wilton cake decorating class a few years ago, and that’s how Daphne’s profession came about.

Purchasing Information: Books purchased from Bell Bridge Books will be personalized. They  are also available from Amazon.

Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 11:17 pm  Comments (14)  
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Life Lessons From Mama’s Kitchen

My guest today is Johnny Tan, author of From My Mama’s Kitchen: food for the soul, recipes for living. Welcome, Johnny.

Tell us, what inspired you to write this book?

First and for most, thank you, Heidi, for giving me this opportunity to share From My Mama’s Kitchen with you and your fans.

In November 1999 my mom was leaving after staying with me close to 6 memorable months. During my mom’s visit I came to realize that, after celebrating her 71st birthday, she was growing old and that her traveling days might be numbered.

Since I love her cooking very much, and the thought of not having her being able to come to the United States as often as she did, gave me an idea that I better start writing down all of the recipes of my favorite dishes.

So, I decided to put together a cook book titled From My Mama’s Kitchen – food for the soul, recipes for living for my sister and me, and honoring my mom at the same time as well, by remembering the various wonderful moments we have spent being in the kitchen over the years.

Several months went by, and another thought came to mind, well since I am recording all these wonderful recipes, why not include some other wonderful recipes I like from other women who I have gotten to know as my other moms, while living in the United States?

So, I pitched this idea to them and they were very supportive of my project. Several months, and then years went by, and for one reason or another I could never get it off the ground.

I have always felt that there was something missing from the project. The intent was there, but I could not really get it started, as if the timing wasn’t right.

Finally, in January of 2007, Carol, my 90-year-old Italian foster mom called me up and asked me if I was going to get it done before she died.

I told her, yes, and as a matter of fact, I was planning to get started that April. I had already prayed about it, and I had scheduled myself to write at least a couple of hours every night starting on April 1st until I got it done.

Needless to say, my prayer was answered as I was spiritually inspired to write about this not so secret – secret, “Unconditional Motherly Love” instead of food recipes. I finished writing the book in 9 months.

This all came about because I realized that “Motherly Love” is the common denominator that connected me to all of these wonderful women.

Mothers certainly are an inspiration to us and food has always been a focus for social interaction. As you were growing up, did you realize the importance of time in the kitchen with your mother or did this wisdom come later in life?

Although I did spend some time in the kitchen with my mom during school holidays while I was growing up, it was much later in life that this special bonding between my mom and I occurred.

I could remember calling my mom on the phone and having her walk me through cooking a specific dish many evenings when I got home from work. The time difference between us is 14 hours and this made it perfect for both of us to talk on the phone. I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana cooking dinner at 7 – 8 pm in the evening, and she is in Melaka, Malaysia, refreshed and ready to chat at 9 – 10 am in morning.

Why the nine “moms” in your book?

I was adopted at birth in Malaysia by my Malaysian Mom, and then when I came to the United States in the Spring of 1980 to go to college at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I met my late Southern Belle Mom as she was the host family for me.

Later that summer, I met my Italian Foster Mom in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. I was invited for a visit by her late husband Ben, who I met in Seoul, Korea while flying to the US.

I met my next three moms when I started working.

My late Sanguine Savannahan Mom and I met in October of 1985, when I was on a business trip to Savannah, Georgia.

My Texan Earthly Mom and I met in 1986, when I engaged her employment agency to recruit managers for the company I was working for, at that time.

And, I met my late Spiritual and Progressive Mom at a business meeting in Hammond, Louisiana in the Spring of 1987.

I met my last three moms during my leisure time in the ballroom dancing community.

My late Ballroom Instructor Mom taught me ballroom dancing in 1996, when ballroom dancing wasn’t cool for the younger generation!

I met my German Mom in 1998 at a ballroom show dance, where we had both performed with our respective teachers.

And finally, my Cajun Mom and I first met when we danced the jitterbug/swing at a ballroom dance event in the fall of 2000 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Collectively these wonderful women helped me to decipher the various mysteries of living as my teachers, coaches, and counselors.

I loved what you wrote about “designing life is very much like preparing to cook a meal.” Can you elaborate on that?

Yes, successful people often use the phrase “designing one’s life” in expressing themselves whenever asked, “How did you do it?” From my various moms’ perspectives, designing one’s life is very much like preparing to cook a meal.

According to them, the secret to a delicious dish is not in cooking it, but rather in the hours of prepping it. It is in these hours of preparation that the mind lovingly creates the dish and anticipates all the possible scenarios that may pop up unexpectedly during the cooking phase. If by chance something unexpected occurs, they are fully prepared to apply their intellectual knowledge to find solutions to go with the flow and still end up with a wonderful mouth-watering dish.

After spending time cooking with my mom, I soon realized that the truly delicate part of determining the success of each dish is strictly governed by the degree of detail that goes into prepping each ingredient.

I learned that sometimes in life, when solving the most difficult challenges, I need to be patient and fluid. I cannot rush or cut corners. Everything has its own time, and the more thorough and focused I am, the easier it is for me to achieve the desired success.

I also like your mother’s saying, “No matter how much formal education you have, no matter how much material wealth you have accumulated, I will always have tasted more salt of life than you have.” How do you think mothers can impart this “salt” to their children without resentment?

I believe with effective communication and respect any message and word of wisdom can be imparted regardless of whether it is coming from the mother to the child or in reverse.

The most important thing we need to understand is that when we approach each other with “unconditional love” which is “God’s love,” then we know that the intent is always for our highest good.

You describe the many roles mothers play in our lives. What are they?

Our mothers are actually our teacher, our coach, and our counselor. Initially, they may not realize this about themselves; however, situations that affect our daily lives will soon draw these various roles out of them in time.

As a “child student” we, however, will not realize this until we finally have the humbleness to acknowledge that we actually don’t know it all! For some of us this may come early in our life, but for others it may take decades.

Did you make a love of food preparation into a career for yourself?

I do enjoy cooking very much. Although my cooking interest began out of the necessity to feed myself during my college years, I view it as a wonderful activity that challenges me to be creative, patient, and thorough.

It is also my personal outlet for a “rest and relaxation” time, resulting in giving me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I have the ability to cook very well.

You’ve included a recipe from some of your “moms” in your book. Does each one evoke a special memory or bond with that woman when you prepare or eat it?

Yes it does. As you know, the kitchen is the heart and soul of every home, and I have been very fortunate in my life to have the opportunity to break bread with my various moms over the years. It will always be something I will treasure and hope to pass some family traditions on to the next generation.

What does the future hold for you—are you working on another book?

Writing this book has been a wonderful and humbling experience for me. I truly enjoyed reflecting back on the various heart-felt moments. My goal for this year is to bring “motherly love” to the national center stage.

This is my first book, and I have trademarked the title phrase “From My Mama’s Kitchen.” For the immediate future I do plan to write two more books.

I also have a weekly FMMK Talk Radio show on the internet showcasing ordinary people, especially moms, doing extraordinary things to make a positive difference in our community.

I have started an in-house 9 by 9 charity program where 9% of the sale of my books goes to 9 different charities in 9 different communities. This year, our charities are Battered Women Shelters in the 9 different communities my various moms and I have lived.

I am doing more speaking engagements this year. Anyone who is interested in having me come to their community or organization can get all the information they need and get in touch with me through my website www.frommymamaskitchen.com.

My vision and mission is to bring Motherly Love, which is God’s Love, to the global center stage.

Johnny, Thank you for sharing From My Mama’s Kitchen with us.

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm  Comments (12)  
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Authors Make Things Happen

Get the latest tips and advice on book writing, publishing, and promoting from Dan Poynter.

There are lead­ers and there are followers.

There are con­trib­u­tors and there are takers.

Some bring oxy­gen and oth­ers expel CO2.

Some pour con­crete and oth­ers inscribe their ini­tials in it.

Progress is made when the ener­getic meet the enablers.

Advo­cates make things hap­pen while hoop-holders sti­fle progress.

When there are too many sen­tinels, sen­tries and guards in posi­tion of author­ity, there is lit­tle progress. Gate­keep­ers sti­fle growth.

It has been said that the world can be divided into three types of people. Those peo­ple who make things happen. Those peo­ple who watch things happen. And the largest group of all, those peo­ple who won­der what happened.

Authors make things happen.

Start writ­ing that book today!

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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Space Center Experience

I recently had my first experience touring the Kennedy Space Center at Titusville, FL and I’m still in awe at what we accomplished. The next launch is scheduled for Monday, April 5. I hope we don’t lose this program.

Headlines from all over the world when Man Walked on the Moon

Me under booster rocket–gives perspective!

Side view of Apollo 11, first moon landing

Apollo 11 Command Module

Lunar Module

Mock-up of Shuttle

Vehicle Assembly Building where shuttle is assembled, then transported to launch site on a crawler transporter, which by itself weighs 2,400 tons. Fully loaded with 150 tons of shuttle orbiter, tanks, fuel, and rocket boosters, it travels at .5 mph on a gravel roadway, and takes 6-8 hours to reach the launchpad.

Each cleat from the crawler-transporter weighs one ton

Discovery and Crew Prepare for STS-131 Mission April 5
Commander Alan Poindexter is set to lead the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery. Joining Poindexter will be Pilot Jim Dutton and Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Clay Anderson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Discovery will carry a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station. The mission has three planned spacewalks, with work to include replacing an ammonia tank assembly, retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior, and switching out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 segment of the station’s truss structure.

STS-131 will be the 33rd shuttle mission to the station.

Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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