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Stepping it Up

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One reality prospective authors need to face is that getting published is not winning a sweepstakes. No one is going to show up at your door with a giant check, flash you a brilliant smile, shake your hand and shout: Congratulations, you’re a winner!

Getting published is a series of steps. If you can keep your momentum, the steps go upward—working towards bigger and better goals and often getting easier as you climb. Some of those steps are major ones: my sister, children’s book author Allyn Stotz (http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/), took a giant hop up this week: she saw her second book, Kailee Finds Magic IN Words, in final form—ready for press. I know that seeing the heroin of her first book, The Pea in Peanut Butter, come to life again on the pages and knowing people will soon hold her creation in their admiring hands has to be a wonderful feeling: in this case, it’s enough of a leap up to carry her past some challenges to come.

I took a big step this week, too, though it wasn’t that golden glow event of seeing my name on a printed page. My step was that I submitted our first draft of Fate of the Violet Eyes, book three of the Sam Osborne series, to our publisher. That means for just a moment, I can sit back, take a deep breath, and realize I’ve done all I could to make this book better than the last two. Having been through this twice already, it also means that I can finally let the experts at Spectacle Publishing Media Group, tell me how to make it even greater.

While it’s vital to our sanity as authors for us to acknowledge and feel our accomplishments—pat ourselves on the back for the steps we overcome, Allyn, as well as Mom and I, will not rest long in this heaven. That’s because as authors of more than one book, we know there are many steps ahead, even after the book is in print. The hardest part about becoming an author is the reality that getting to the point where your book populates the crowded lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble is much easier than what comes next: getting someone to notice it. And having tracked the blogs of several major writers, I know that, unless you’re James Patterson, you have to direct and participate in how well your book goes over. You have to force yourself to become what you may not be: a marketer. And I bet even Mr. Patterson sometimes dreads putting on a suit or combing his hair to give a speech, an interview or to make a video to post on his official website. We are writers―our art is creation of stories and the alignment of words in such a way that we lead readers down a path we want them to travel. The reality is that, even if you’re shy, you have to believe in your own work enough to want others to feel what you felt when you were creating it.

My intention in saying this is not to throw water in prospective author’s face. While Allyn, Mom and I have been learning how tough it is, we’ve also seen the rewards. Every time you lift a foot and climb up another step, you gain a little strength; you make the next stage of the climb a little easier because you have one thing going for you that you didn’t have before. Whenever you need it, you can turn and gaze back down the staircase and see yourself on that first little stair. You can remember that you are climbing towards your dream—which is a brave step not many people do in their lives. You can feel what it’s like to have recognized what you want enough to have built the staircase in the first place.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Old-fashioned Goodness

cooking 4For more than 70 years I’ve enjoyed cooking, but lately it’s become a chore. I still do it many days and often for an event or family get together. But it doesn’t carry the enjoyment I had when I was younger. This was especially true during the first few years of my marriage. Since this was right after World War II, cooking was something that was a challenge on our limited budgets (not to mention the lack of all of today’s fancy kitchen gadgets.) But it was something to be proud of, and something that gave us a challenge and usually a success every day.

Once the kids were born, it became a challenge for a different reason, mostly because there were so many foods they didn’t really like. It wasn’t fun, believe me, when one of my children refused to eat anything with ground meat of any kind and another one hated meat and potatoes so badly she acted insulted when I chose it for dinner. I think I began enjoying it again when I realized I just couldn’t please everyone so I stopped trying, started looking for new recipes and started experimenting.

I especially like to cook when I can make up something—I have a general dish in mind and certain ingredients, but no specific recipe. The trouble is, when I have a success this way, I’ve generally forgotten to write it down. It doesn’t seem to ever turn out quite as well as that first time, but maybe that has to do with remembering how good the initial success felt.

Like with writing, one of the reasons people enjoy cooking is the audience. For most of my senior years, my husband has been that audience unless we’re going to an event. Now my husband is good about everything and has never complained about anything I ever made and often complimented me. But he wouldn’t cook himself. He was raised in a different era than men today; he never even did much grilling—it just wasn’t his thing. This was fine because he enjoyed what I made and made me feel good about my cooking skills. After almost 65 years of marriage, however, even cooking for this one-man audience has become a chore.

If you’re wondering what my point is, I started writing this column after having a craving for something I used to make a long time ago, one of my personal favorites. It’s a simple recipe given to me by my brother-in-law’s wife. It’s just a frosting, which I usually put on a cake made from a mix. But it really crowns the cake and makes it a showpiece for its flavor. Somehow it’s just as good as eating candy. My son Mark mentioned it to me not too long ago, and it reminded me that there are simple recipes that stand the test of time as well the test of age. When it came to cakes, usually my kids preferred something simpler – white cake with white frosting. This one was the exception.

spry

Museum of American Packaging

Since this recipe is in my brain because I plan to make this frosting for a potluck I’m attending next week, I thought I’d pass it along to you. It reminds me that even with all the ease of canned frosting and boxed mixes, sometimes going back to the old-fashioned way of cooking produces something that reminds you why you like to cook: because you like to eat good food and you like to give that pleasure to others. If you’re wondering what “Spry” is, you have travel back to the 1950s and 1960s. It was a shortening that rivaled Crisco and was actually better tasting at the time, but lost the battle. I’ve left it in this recipe to keep it historically accurate. You’d have to travel to Cyprus today to buy any, so I’d advise substituting shortening!

Brown sugar frosting
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Spry
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together in medium size saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add 1/4 cup milk.  Bring to boil again and boil for 3 minutes over low heat.  Take off stove and cool. When cool, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  When thoroughly blended, frost over prepared baked cake. Very good on spice cake or white cakes.

For our readers, I want to leave you with this thought: when something becomes a chore, even when it’s something you’re as passionate about as your writing, one place to look for inspiration is to your own past. Dust off that old recipe or old creation and visit again how good it was.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LOCAL, Sharon and Genilee will be at the Porter Library, 2001 Parkway Blvd, Stafford, VA Thursday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. to sign copies of Twist of Fate.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Wonderful World of Readers

I’m at a business convention in Orlando, Florida this week, which is not my favorite place to be. I have nothing against the city: it’s family paradise. But many visits to Disney’s kingdoms and Universal’s fantasies have left this mom with a deep desire to visit almost any city but Orlando when I’m wearing my professional hat.

Still, this trip, like the smaller trips to the local grocery, post office, neighborhood restaurant, almost anywhere back home, have brought the wonder of publishing into clearer focus. I tried not to use job time to market Twist of Fate. To do so would be unprofessional in my view—I’m at this convention to learn how to write about a housing-related product that helps to pay my bills. However, although this is a fairly new client (I’ve been doing their magazine one year), I have already developed friendships with some of the people in this industry, and when they ask me what’s new in my world, I tell them.

And I’ve gotten that same wondrous look. “You’ve published a BOOK? When did you find time? What’s it about? How can I get a copy?”
One woman in particular (yes, it’s you, Mary) was very supportive and proud of what I’ve done. I could see that she wasn’t lying when she told me it was an inspiring accomplishment. It’s people like Mary that make the hours and hours of rewrites, the months of waiting for something to happen once the book has left your hands, the countless stories from authors who have never made a dime—insignificant.

I should understand this – how many times have I told my talented musician brother Mark that, while he is not making a living by playing his many instruments – he has truly accomplished something in his life by pursuing what he loves. There are so many people out there that don’t have that opportunity or that never even discover what passions lie within.

To those of you who are authors like mom and I, this picture, which was taken at our most recent book signing (thanks to Potomac Place in Woodbridge!), is why we do this.
The woman purchasing our book is a reader, and readers are what drive authors. She was very excited to meet a creator of the words that entertain her—that take her mind to places of adventure. To her, that’s art. And that makes it all worthwhile.book signing for january 2013

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Peek into Book Three

magnifying glassI just received a phone call from a lovely woman who met Genilee in a dress store, found out about Twist of Fate, our first book, ordered it, then called to tell us how much she enjoyed the story. It’s people like her that make what Genilee and I do truly enjoyable. She also said what many of the people who have read the book say: hurry up and write the second one!

We have done just that and sent it off to the publisher for editing. I am very fond of this second book (Wretched Fate) because the characters are so different—both from one another and from the characters in the first book. Someone asked me recently how I go about coming up with these characters and the rest of my writing. Do I visualize and work out the personalities and appearance on paper, figure out the plot and timeline and outline everything? No, I don’t. I write exactly the way I remember Sidney Shelton saying in an interview that he used: “I just sit down and write. No planning. It just comes to me.”

However, like all things in life, the process doesn’t end with the first draft. I go through what I’ve done. Right now, for example I am going through Book No. 3: Fate of the Violet Eyes. And let me tell you, this second draft is not fun. I love to sit down and just write—rereading it, however, is a chore. Not just because it’s not as fun, but because the computer and I don’t always get along. I am 85, and like many people my age, very dumb about all that a computer can do for me, as well as what I must do to use it right. Inserting new chapters and then getting them in the right place, changing new chapter numbers to replace the old —well, it’s not my cup of tea. I get thoroughly mixed up, to say the least.

Still, it’s been fun remembering what I wrote because it’s been awhile since I’ve dealt with these characters and plot (I’ve finished book four and gone on to write a book unrelated to this series). The third book is a about a kidnapping, something Detective Sam Osborne (who is a recurring figure in the series) does not want to handle because of his past experiences (You’ll get a glimpse of those experience in books one and two). The main characters in the Fate of the Violet Eyes tale are the male kidnapper and a little girl he takes, and one of the most endearing aspects of this book is the effect the girl has on her captor. I sincerely hope you will be as intrigued with these two characters as I was while I was creating them.
And I’ll leave our readers with one more juicy tidbit that should get you to buy this book: Sam falls in love!

Thanks to everyone who has called or written to encourage us and tell us how much you are enjoying the Twist of Fate series.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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