Friday, June 22, 2012

Desserted Reads

Ideas are funny things. One person says something, then another adds something on to it, growing the idea. Before you know it you've got a Full Blown Good Idea on your hands. And what do you do with Full Bowl Good Ideas? Well you blog about them, of course!

I was had a recent conversation with Jenny Martin and P.J. Hoover about cake. Yes cake. Authors talk about cake a lot. Well, we talk about any sort of sweets a lot, it's like our weakness. Our kryptonite. Before you know it you're swapping recipes and foaming at the mouth at your keyboard because so OMG HAWNGRY. Well, Jenny, PJ, and I got to thinking... what if we turned this into a THING? No, we have no idea how often we'll do this THING, or if we'll do it again. But the idea is to blog about a sweet treat of our choice (Cake, pie, cookies, who cares?  Does it have sugar in it? Does it contain butter? Good enough!) as well as a little mini spotlight on a book. We decided to use the name Desserted Reads and talk about a book that is, well, deserted. Not deserted in the sense that it's a terrible book and no one reads it anymore, just deserted in the sense that it's an older book. Sometimes in all the fluff and fuss of newer books coming out, the older ones get left behind, struggling to keep up. So today, we're helping out the strugglers. Oh and talking about cake.

First, my book. I chose Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. This is particularly ironic to me because Zevin's newest book, All These Things I've Done, chocolate and coffee are banned. Can you IMAGINE? Check out the cover and synopsis of Elsewhere below.

 Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice
Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?
This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Elsewhere was first published from Macmillan in 2005. I'd seen it on the shelf for years and always admired the pretty snowglobe on the cover, but had no idea what the book was about. One day while shelving books in the YA section during my shift at Borders (RIP), I saw the book and thought, why the heck not? I picked it up without even reading the synopsis and began to read it on my lunch break. The first sentence in the book (from the prologue) intrigued me almost immediately. "The end came quickly, and there wasn't any pain." I think I read about half the book in my hour lunch break and couldn't wait to get home to devour the rest. And devour I did. I can remember lying on the couch while my husband was playing a video game when I reached the final chapters of the book, and I wept. No, I didn't tear up, I didn't cry, I actually wept. (Yes, my husband thought I was nuts. He kept asking me what was wrong, but I couldn't find the words to answer him through the huge lump of tears lodged in my throat.) I wept for the characters and the loss that they suffered, but I also wept for selfish reasons. I wept because it was hard to tell these characters goodbye. And as weird as this is to say,  I hope one day I can make people weep. I hope that the words that I put down on paper are so emotional, so moving, that it causes people to weep. (Writers are mean like that, we enjoy watching you cry.) If you haven't read this book yet, go out and pick it up ASAP. I promise it won't disappoint.

And now... THE CAKE. Just as Liz eventually finds her way back home (though through an odd means), this recipe reminds me of home. In a lot of ways it is the southern cake. No, I'm not talking about red velvet or coconut (though both delicious), I'm talking about the Coca-Cola cake.

Coca-Cola Cake
Mix the following ingredients and set aside:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon

In a saucepan, mix the following ingredients: 
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup coca-cola
1/2 cup buttermilk*

Take off heat and add to flour mixture. Then add 2 eggs and 1t. vanilla. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (it always takes me a little longer than 30 minutes)

When the cake is almost done, start to work on the icing.
In a saucepan, combine:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup cocoa cola
slowly whisk in 4 cups powdered sugar

Once boiling, remove from heat and add about a cup of chopped pecans (optional, of course). Pour directly on top of cake as soon as you pull it out of the oven. As hard as it may be, it is better if you let the cake set for at least an hour before diving in. That way the icing has had time to harden and settle. 

*I never have buttermilk on hand. Mix 1 tablespoon vinegar per 1/2 cup of regular milk and let sit for 5 minutes and viola! Buttermilk!

I've had people ask me before if this cake can be made with Diet Coke. And my answer to that is a resounding NO, the artificial sweeteners aren't conducive to baking. Plus, really, come on guys. The cake has two cups of sugar and 3 STICKS of butter. If you're really trying to watch your calories, I just wouldn't make the cake. It can, however, be made with any regular cola of your choice: Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, RC Cola, etc. Though I prefer just regular old Coke. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Anastasia Forever Trailer and Teaser!

Thanks to the lovely folks over at Sourcebooks, today I will be sharing with you a few teasers from Joy Preble's upcoming book, Forever Anastasia! If you haven't read Dreaming Anastasia or Haunted or just want a quick recap, keep reading!

In DREAMING ANASTASIA, Anne Michaelson begins to have unusual dreams and discovers that she is the only one who can save the daughter of the last tsar of Russia, Anastasia Romanov.  Believed to be dead by the world, Anastasia has been kept captive all these years by the Russian witch Baba Yaga, and only Ethan, a handsome and mysterious 18-year-old, can help Anne free Anastasia. 
Anne once again leaves behind her ordinary life in HAUNTED to join forces with the mysterious and gorgeous Ethan as the journey with the Romanov continues.  This time she is haunted by classic figures from Russian mythology, a rusalka, , a Russian folklore mermaid with a malevolent streak –  and a particular interest in Anne,  who tells her that Anastasia is still alive.  As she and Ethan team up, Anne’s search for the rusalka’s identity reveals deep and startling secrets - including the true source of Anne’s powers.
Now in ANASTASIA FOREVER, having survived Baba Yaga and the Rusalka, Anne finds herself bound by the witch to undertake a journey into past, present, and future that will determine her destiny - and that of everyone she loves. 
For those of you who can't wait to read Anastasia Forever, I have a little surprise for you! I just so happen to have the first three chapters for you! CLICK HERE to check them out!  

And if you want even more awesomeness, watch the Anastasia Forever book trailer below!

Anastasia Forever be out on August 7th. To find out more about Joy and Anastasia's world, be sure to check out Joy's website and follow her on Twitter!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing Retreat Recap

This weekend I experienced my first ever writing retreat. And I say "experience" because let me tell you, it was an experience! I was nervous, like ridiculously nervous, about going. I mean, I was excited to have the opportunity to go as well, but I knew I'd be spending the weekend with amazing authors. Authors that have a talent for the written word that I only dream of having! 

I arrived mid-morning on Friday and got settled in for the weekend. On my bed was an awesome bag of goodies (courtesy of the lovely Jo Whittemore) and our schedule for the weekend.

And once I got used to all the... amenities that the lodge had to offer, I was okay.

I've been in a rut with the MG I've been working on for the past forty years month. While I love my characters, being with them for this long has been exhausting. However, all that changed last week! I did some thinking and plotting and after reading Save the Cat, I found myself rejuvenated with my story and excited about it again. I was excited to dive back into my story and spent all of Friday rewriting or editing. I got through the first 10,000 words!

Friday evening after dinner we all read the first chapter of the story we were working on. For the most part I don't have stage fright or anything, but I was so nervous I was shaking. I'm so insecure about my writing, it's something I always keep close to my chest. What if I show it to someone and they don't like it? Or what if I'm not even good? I don't want someone to tell me I'm a good writer just to pacify me, but I don't want to feel like I've wasted the last nearly two years of my life writing full time either.

As I sat and listened to everyone's excerpt, I got even more nervous, if that's possible. Every single person that came on this retreat was so talented, I was blown away. We had MG authors and  YA authors and picture book authors and illustrators. Where did I fit in? I'm not even agented and most everyone else has at least two books under their belt! Talk about intimidating.

It came my turn to read all too quickly. I forced myself to read slow and clear. Why was my chapter taking longer than everyone else's? Once I was finally finished I cringed internally, preparing for my worst fear. Much to my surprise, everyone loved it and was very encouraging. Whew! For the first time in a long time I went to bed feeling proud of myself. Proud of the decisions I've made in life to go down this crazy path I've chosen, and proud that I conquered my fear of sharing my writing with others.

Saturday was much the same. I spent the entire day working and managed to rewrite or edit around 7,000 words. While I still have a long way to go on this book, I can't believe I managed to get 17,000 words edited this weekend. That's roughly a third of the entire book! Why can't I work like this every day? Oh right. A little distraction called The Internet. ;)

We sat down to dinner that night and I said a prayer of thanks for every single person in that room. Had I not had this weekend away to be inspired again, I'm sad to say this book may have died a horrible, sad death. So thank you Jessica, PJ, Kari, Joy, Christine, Jenny, Cory, Bethany, Salima, Jo, Emma, and Nikki. Thank you for your laughter, and for sharing your beautiful words. And thank you all for encouraging me and being such an inspiration to me as a writer.