A Little Something Set Aside

Growing up, my grandparents always sent a check for my birthday. It was for my college fund and I remember my father always taking the check from the card and setting it in a safe place in his office, to be deposited in my own account at the bank, along with all the other checks I’d gotten from them.

When I went off to college at eighteen, my father handed over half of that money to me. The other half, he told me, was in a mutual fund, which I would get when I turned twenty-five. My grandparents weren’t rich, so the money went to buy textbooks and not much else. (I still have the textbooks, by the way.)

I spent the next four years of college having a grand time–finding myself, discovering my passions, and meeting my true love. (Yes, I met my husband in college. Yes, it involves science.) I didn’t think much about the rest of that money, sitting there in the stock market.

My love of reading is genetic. My grandmother was a school librarian and always had stacks of books sitting around, which she never forbade us from going through. She enjoyed romance and women’s fiction and stories like that. Things that others might turn their noses up at, but she enjoyed them. She was also the keeper of the family history, carefully saving birth certificates, baptismal records, photos, and stories to pass on to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The stories I write would never have been possible without the things she saved. And that little bit that she set aside for me.

Today, I called the company that manages my mutual fund, started all those years ago, and I told them I wanted to close the account. The gentleman helping me was very nice and asked what I would be using the money for.

“I’m going to publish my books,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, “I hope I see your books someday and remember that I helped you with this today.”

I told him I hoped he did too.

And when I finally have a physical copy of one of my books in my hand, I’ll take it to my grandmother and explain how everything she set aside, everything she saved for me, the little and the big, led to this.


A Long Time Coming

Versions of this post have been simmering in my mind for months and now it’s finally time to write it. (Don’t worry, like any good romance, it has a happy ending.)

As you might notice if you’ve ever visited my book page, I write two different series. Both are set in the same period and place–1900s Southern California, but they’re quite different in subject.

The first series I began to write was set in a little mountain town in the San Jacintos, loosely based on the places I grew up and details “borrowed” from old family legends. The heroines are the Moreno sisters and all of these stories are at heart, Western romances. There are cowboys, marshals, ranchos–all the ingredients of a Western.

The other series is what I’ve been calling my “scientific historicals”. The setting is a university in Pasadena (no, not that one, but based on it) and at the time, neuroscience as a discipline was being born while the golden age of physics was beginning. These books are a little harder to categorize–are they Edwardian? (No, not really.) Gilded Age romance isn’t really a thing (yet) and Gilded Age implies a setting and stories that really aren’t in these books.

I had always planned to self publish those “scientific historicals” for many, many reasons, but I thought that my Westerns at least had a chance at the traditional route. And I wanted to try for it.

In the meantime, as I polished my manuscripts and query letters and waited the 12-16 weeks to hear back from publishers, I read everything I could on self publishing. I stalked the kboards, the self publishing forum on Romance Divas, I read blog post after blog post from successful self publishing authors. I even fired up the ancient PC and began to relearn Photoshop and Illustrator so I could play at making my own covers. And I liked it. I enjoyed combing through everything out there and thinking about what sounded good and what didn’t. And I waited.

As of yesterday, the wait is over. I got a very kind, very detailed, very helpful rejection. And decided that it was time to self publish all my work.

For the first half hour after the rejection, I moped some. And then, something remarkable happened. I started to feel really good. Better than I had in months. I even got…excited. And that more than anything, told me I was making the right decision.

I began to make a list of tasks I needed to complete to start my own little publishing company. Some of the tasks are rather large (like forming a corporation) and some are small, but I am so excited to have a to do list again. One that’s almost completely in my control.

(I have a deep love for to do lists. In grad school, I kept really detailed ones, spanning over months. People teased me, but I got stuff done. Also, there is no better feeling than crossing something off that list.)

There are other reasons why this is likely the best choice for me. I write fast and can put out books faster than a publisher might. I can brand all my covers the way I want to. I want to keep track of my sales numbers myself. I want to run my own sales and promotions.

Of course, it will be quite a bit of work and there’s a steep learning curve. But I can work and learn at my own pace and I’m not afraid of long hours. (In fact, the reasons I’m writing this so early is because I couldn’t sleep. Because I was thinking about cover designs.)

So, this is it. I’m self publishing. And I’m really happy about it.

Now, the important question is: When can you actually buy my books?
Hopefully, by then end of this year. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, even when the book is finished (editing, revising, editing some more, revising some more, proofreading…you get the picture).

The Western series, which is three novels and two novellas, will be released first. Because it’s closer to being done.

The “scientific historicals”, which right now are tentatively two novels (maybe three?) and two novellas, likely won’t be out until next year. As you can see by my fuzzy numbers, I’m in the middle of drafting that series.

But soon. I promise.

Are you excited? Because I certainly am.

Little House in the Chaparral

First off, I should have posted this ages ago, but here it is now. My critique partner, Emma Barry, and I have been discussing religion in romance novels over at her blog. You should head over and check it out! (And we have more coming soon.)

Now for today’s topic. When I was five, the same age as my daughter now, my aunt gave me the entire set of the Little House novels for Christmas. They were the ones with the iconic yellow covers and the illustrations by Garth Williams. I still have the entire set including the box. The inscription from my aunt is even there, although it’s a bit faded now.

(I understand that there are new editions available, without those yellow covers or the original illustrations, but we won’t speak of those abominations.)

My grandmother, when we saw her, would read my sister and I those books at bedtime. It took a while, but we slowly made our way through the entire series. Those are some of the fondest memories of my life, the three of us sitting together as my grandmother read those stories of long ago.

(I should confess here that Almanzo Wilder was one of my first literary crushes. These Happy Golden Years is really a romance novel in disguise and Almanzo is a wonderful hero. In fact, my own choice of setting was likely influenced quite a bit by the Little House books.

I should also point out, that while I love the books, they still have problems. The depictions of Native Americans are terrible and I shudder now at the minstrel show, although I had no idea what it was when I was little.)

I carefully kept those books all these years and even today, they’re still in decent shape. And last week, I started to read Little House in the Big Woods in my own little girl.

She is completely enchanted. We read the first chapter and afterwards, she begged me to keep going. “Just one more page,” she said. I gently explained that we would read more tomorrow. She made me promise before I could leave. :)

Every night since, we’ve read a new chapter, and she’s listened raptly. And every night, she’s made me promise to read her a new chapter the next night. I imagine those books describe an almost fantasy world to her, one where bears and panthers roam freely, one without phones, or TV, or even computers.

She’s asked a lot of questions about the trundle bed and how they can all live in one room together. I think that might be the most difficult thing for her to wrap her head around, that people could live in such small spaces. And our house isn’t even that big.

I have had to skip over some bits about the “Indians” and I’m not certain what I’ll do when we get to the more troublesome parts, but for now, I’m amazed that a book written so long ago could still be captivating children even today. And I’m grateful that I can share something I loved so much as a kid with my own little girl. And hopefully (with some rebinding perhaps) she can share them with her own kids someday.

The Indolent Homesteader: Greens and Hash

I’ve said this before, but winter is the season when we eat a lot of greens, many of them from our winter garden. (Of course, this year we’re not having much of a winter at all. Not only are the fruit trees in bud, they are also beginning to bloom. There have been many mutterings in the Turner household over this.)

One of most favorite recipes for greens is quite easy and can mostly be made with stuff right from the garden. It’s a hash, made with only five things: potatoes, greens, garlic, cheese, and eggs. (The recipe is modified from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.)

You begin by boiling the potatoes in salted water. When I was working, I liked to do this step the day before and just leave the potatoes in the fridge. If they’re thin skinned potatoes, I don’t even bother to peel them.

Then take some greens–wash and chop them. Wilt them in a pan with some salt and just the water clinging to their leaves. (I usually use kale for this, since it’s my favorite kind of green.) Set them aside.

Roughly chop up the potatoes and mince some garlic. Heat both with some olive oil in the pan, then, when they’ve began to brown a bit, add the greens, mashing them all together to make a hash.

Top with some cheese (a sharp cheddar is my favorite) and a fried egg. And it’s done!

Simple, easy, and delicious.

(And if your kids are like mine, they will gleefully eat the egg and potatoes, while screaming whenever they encounter a green bit.)

On to 2014!

So, this post will be a little bit of writerly bragging. Feel free to skip if you don’t enjoy that sort of thing.

I tallied up my word count for this year, to see exactly what I accomplished. As for revised works (things I would actually show someone other than my CP), I wrote a total of 195,328 words. Those words make up two complete novels and one novella. Not too shabby.

As for first drafts, things that won’t be ready for anyone to see for another two (or three) passes: I wrote 161,060 words. Those make up one complete novel, two novellas, and half of a novel. Again, not too bad.

So grand total for 2013: 356,388 words. Give or take a hundred here or there. :)

For next year, I plan to write even more. And yes, I have more romance novel talk and indolence planned for the blog as well.

If everything goes well next year, some of those words might even be published. As a palate cleanser, I’ve been reading quite a bit of George Orwell these days. For taking a break from romance and old science papers, there’s nothing quite like his prose. I came across this advice from him in Politics and the English Language which strikes me as excellent for writers of all kinds:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

I’ll leave behind 2013 pondering that very excellent advice and wish all of you reading a happy and healthy 2014!

Hooray for Lady Neuroscientists!

I’ve begun work on my next historical scientific romance, with another neuroscientist hero but starring a physicist heroine this time. It’s a reunited lovers story, complete with flashbacks–a first for me.

So, I’ve been reading a lot about physics and neuroscience research from 1906. And since my heroine is a physicist, I’ve been reading about the lives of woman physicists working at the time. For all that they are underrepresented, it is rather easy to find historical examples of women physicists. There’s Madame Curie and Lise Meitner to name two of the more famous ones and there are many, many more less famous ones. (And many of these women were married to male physicists–even then, scientists tended to intermarry!)

But finding examples of female historical neuroscientists is much harder. Part of the problem is the relative youth of neuroscience as a field–just a little over a century old. The only historical example of a female neuroscientist I could think of was Rita Levi-Montalcini, who did some of her pioneering work on nerve growth from her bedroom laboratory–while also fleeing fascism in Italy.

But as I’ve said, I’ve been doing some reading on historical experiments, specifically Charles Sherrington’s work on neural inhibition. And as I was reading, I came across this:

…an index of sciatic nerve-conduction, Miss Sowton and myself found…

Wait, Miss Sowton?! I’d never heard of a female neuroscientist named Sowton. I did some digging on the internet, but all I could really find out were her scientific papers–nothing at all biographical. (If you’re interested, her papers can be found here.)

All I really now is that her name was S.C.M. Sowton (first names weren’t usually listed in scientific articles of the time) and as best I can guess, she was a research assistant. Which doesn’t mean much, since many female scientists of the time were only hired on as assistants, no matter their skill level. She also co-authored a paper on the menstrual cycle, but I haven’t found that online yet. :)

So, there was a lady neuroscientist working in the early 1900s. I only know her last name, but I can still read her papers. I suppose, for a scientist, having someone still able to read your work after a century is quite an achievement. So I won’t mourn what I can’t discover about her, but celebrate that I could discover that she even existed at all.

The Indolent Homesteader: Paneer

When we first entered into coupledom, my husband and I had to make some changes. Before we met, one of his most favorite meals (besides his mother’s cooking, of course) was chicken simmered in Trader Joe’s Curry Simmer Sauce.
He’d rhapsodize about it every time we passed that sauce in Trader Joe’s, no doubt feeling just the tiniest pang for his bachelor days.
You’re probably wondering at this point, “Why didn’t you just make the poor man his chicken and simmer sauce?”
Well, remember those changes I mentioned?
My husband had to adjust to the fact that I don’t eat meat. (Well, not usually. There’s a complicated moral calculus that goes into what animals I eat that exhausts even me–don’t worry, I won’t bore you with it, or start singing “Meat is Murder”. :) )
Which brings me to paneer. Paneer is a soft Indian cheese and one of my most favorite foods ever. I don’t think I’ve ever had a paneer dish I didn’t like.
But cheese making intimidates me. It requires rennet, and aging, and dank French caves, and speciality molds. Cheese making was one of those things I’d attempt when I have more free time. And a goat and a sheep. (So, never.)
Since paneer is cheese and exceptionally delicious, it must be exceptionally difficult to make, right?
Wrong. I found a recipe for paneer in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian and was surprised at how dead easy it was.
It goes like this: Boil about a half gallon of milk. (Having a full half gallon of milk on hand is the hardest part of this recipe.)
When it boils, turn off the heat and stir in vinegar a tablespoon full at a time, until the curds separate from the whey. (About three tablespoons usually.)
Strain the whey and press the curds until they’re at the desired firmness.
And that’s it–you’ve got paneer.
I like to cook it up with some onion and peas and that simmer sauce my husband loves, then serve over rice.
The peas are frozen and the sauce is from a jar, but it still feels a bit decadent, because I made the cheese.
I think my husband still wishes it were chicken though.