This week's writing prompt asks authors to express their gratitude.
Living where I do, I have much for which to be grateful. Watching the news or reading the newspaper brings home that dismissive expression of "First World problems" when I gripe about something that annoys or inconveniences me. Because my list of gratitude would be exhaustive (and exhausting), I'll restrict it to a few key entries.
I'm grateful for:
Of course, I'm thankful for the readers who enjoy my stories and even plunk down their hard-earned money to buy the books. I'm even thankful for the readers who leave less than flatter reviews: I learn from them what works and what doesn't work. Writing and publishing stories is an evolving process.
Last week MFRW blog challenge authors posted on their favorite holiday dishes. This week, we stick with the culinary theme: the best dish I cook. It's a toss-up.
When I married, my culinary skills could best be described as an ability to burn water. Over the last 30 years, I've improved. I no longer detest cooking and can even find some pleasure in it. My palate has expanded and I've learned, more or less, what seasonings go well together. For instance, pork goes well with rosemary or tarragon. Dill weed and lemon work beautifully with just about any fish. Garlic goes with just about everything. And so forth. I'm no contender for Master Chef, but my cooking doesn't suck.
I do make one entree that my husband and I particularly enjoy during cold weather: chicken paprikash. I deviate from the traditional recipe, but it's still sinfully easy and really tasty and can best be described as a heart attack on a plate. It ain't pretty, but who cares? Here goes:
Put water on to boil for the noodles. Cook the noodles while you work on the rest.
Melt the butter on medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and paprika. Stir. When onions have softened a bit, add chopped chicken and sliced mushrooms. Stir, being sure chicken is thoroughly coated, then reduce to medium low or low. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and let the chicken simmer, stirring occasionally. When the chicken is cooked through, reduce heat to its lowest setting and stir in the sour cream.
While the chicken simmers, core the head of cabbage and cut it into quarters or smaller pieces. Put the cabbage in a pot with a little bit of water and a tablespoon or three of butter. Cover tightly and simmer over medium heat for no longer than 10 minutes.
When noodles are tender, drain. Dump them in a large serving bowl or return them to the empty pot. Pour the chicken mixture over the noodles and stir. Serve immediately with the cabbage as a side vegetable. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle black olives on top.
Steamed broccoli goes well with this, too. Not only is this good when freshly made, it's wonderful if you eat the leftovers the next day--and you always want leftovers of this dish.
Seeing that this is the holiday season, what's more natural than to share favorite holiday dishes? I remember my mother making Christmas cookies with a cookie press and decorating them with sprinkle of colored sugar. She also made divinity, a candy based on egg whites. I can't remember the taste of those. Other than that, my family has no traditional holiday favorites; however, I have two, one of which is supposedly too simple for words and which I never make. The other comes from my sister-in-law, Deva, who believes in the wonders of butter and heavy cream.
The first holiday delicacy that I only get at potluck dinners hosted by my mother-in-law is deviled eggs. Yes, she told me the recipe once, but I don't remember it. I have never made them--and likely never will. The temptation to gobble down a dozen eggs is too strong. Best to enjoy them as holiday treats.
The second holiday delicacy is sweet potato casserole. I've had such casseroles that were disgustingly sweet, heavy (lead in the belly), and slimy. My sister-in-law's recipe comes from the mountains of North Carolina and is the only way that I'll eat pecans. Here it is:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes. For additional sweetness, sprinkle the mini marshmallows over the casserole and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until marshmallows are golden.
I prefer to leave off the marshmallows, as the casserole is plenty sweet enough. This casserole is surprisingly light and fluffy, utterly delicious even with pecans.
What's your favorite holiday dish?
#HenHousePublishing #HollyBargoBooks #SpringfieldOHBookFair
Reviews carry huge significance to authors. A plethora of positive reviews--plus sales--helps catapult a book to bestseller lists on Amazon, where--to be perfectly honest--most book sales occur. Sure, experts advise authors to list their books across multiple platforms: Smashwords, Barns & Noble (Nook), Kobo, Apple iBooks, etc. I listened to those experts a while back and published five books through a service that listed them across multiple platforms. The only platform from which I received a dime in royalties was Amazon.
Say what you want about Amazon, that's where book sales happen. Therefore, I play their games and agree to subject myself to their demands for exclusivity.
But I digress. Today's topic on "worth bragging about" began with reviews. The Falcon of Imenotash received a second review this week. Because it's a solid 4-star review, I posted it on Facebook. Hey, it's something for this hen to squawk about.
Because we--women, especially--are taught not to brag, posting praise of our work oftentimes comes across as self-aggrandizing and boastful. We have an inherent distaste for someone who toots her own horn, even though we want to hang out with the popular crowd, to be included in the next big thing, to be known as au courant and hip. We're reluctant to spend our hard-earned money on something likely to disappoint us. We depend upon (reader) reviews to help us make our purchasing decisions. We don't know the people who leave reviews, but, strangely enough, we trust in their candor.
Marketing and advertising capitalize on that desire to align with what's popular, so authors and every other industry out there selling some product or service make an art of tooting our own horns.
It's nice, though, when positive reviews pop up. We can boast without being braggarts because--and this is important, folks--the glowing praise comes from someone else. We aren't telling the world, "Hey, this is the cat's pajamas!" Someone else kindly did that for us and we're just spreading the good news. We all get that warm, fuzzy feeling when we receive praise and recommendations.
For instance, consider these four titles: The Cowboys Heart by Helen Evans, Finding Love Again by Jessica Matthews, The Loving Cowboy by Erica Ratliff, and Falling for the Cowgirl by Holly Watkins. Only one of them has a cumulative rating of better than three stars. In reading the negative reviews, one sees common themes of poor writing, poor editing, and cliffhanger warnings. Despite covers that look professionally designed and book descriptions that hint to good stories (note the suspiciously similar wording in those cover blurbs), reviews warn readers away with comments like this: "So poorly written I stopped reading before half way through because I just couldn't take it any more. Not jjust [sic] the spelling and poor sentence structure but also the absurd details in and needed details left out. Get a new editor. Yikes!!!!"
(By the way, I have not read the above books.)
It's so easy to sink a book's future with poor reviews that every positive one deserves mention. I've received a fair share of negative reviews, which have a purpose beyond warning away potential customers. Negative reviews sprinkled among myriad 5-star reviews add authenticity and veracity. Do you trust a book with an extensive list of only 5-star reviews? Or do you suspect that the author paid or cajoled friends and family to post positive reviews?
When I see an author posting a book promotion wherein the author states that the book is just fabulous, thrilling, amazing, and any other superlative, it immediately draws a snort of disbelief. Toot your own horn and I'll immediately assume you do so because no one else is candid enough to blow it for you. In other words, the book is inferior despite the author's desperation to convince us otherwise.
Authors want reviews. We crave positive reviews, so we can proclaim to the world that someone--someone--liked our stories. We bask in that validation. We preen and congratulate ourselves even while sighing with relief and gratitude. Even a writer assured in his or her craft cannot exempt herself from that roller coaster of neediness, that yearning for approval. Soaking in that temporary warmth of praise, we know the next review might not be so kind.
Authors who haven't achieved best selling status react to positive reviews like Sally Field once famously exclaimed at an awards ceremony: "You like me! You really like me!" Our careers thrive only upon the sufferance of good public opinion. We learn not to toot our own horns, but to let others validate our creativity and mastery of the craft.
We know that pretty is as pretty does.
#HenHousePublishing #HollyBargoBooks #SpringfieldOHBookFair
This week's writing prompt fits in with the Halloween season: My biggest fear.
I'm not a brave person, never have been. As a kid, I feared getting into trouble, because punishment usually involved painful spankings and humiliation. That fear lingers. I don't worry about a physical whupping, but humiliation still burns. The older I get, the more I fear being hurt. Where I once might have faced off a fractious horse, I now duck aside because I am cognizant of my own mortality.
I suffer many fears large and small, most hidden behind a facade of reserve. Other fears I have no problem in expressing. I cringe and squeal like a coward when faced with wasps, cockroaches, spiders, and rats. On the first trail ride on Diva (aka "the monster"), I ducked, squirmed, and squealed as she plowed through every single spider web on the trail. The horse did a stellar job of concentrating on the business at hand rather than the idiot on her back. I couldn't fault her there.
I fear failure. Who doesn't? But I fail often enough that failure itself has become an old friend. It's almost comforting to know that, yep, once again just wasn't good enough. So, I'll lick my wounds and sulk for a while, then hoist myself up by my own bootstraps to try again.
Any author who doesn't get accustomed to failure will never succeed. At least that's what I tell myself. If I'm going to write--and I am--then the discouraging fizzle of book after book cannot prevent me from trying again with a new story, a new plot, maybe even a new genre.
But what's my biggest fear? I don't know. Perhaps it's the fear of disappointing those close to me or the fear of disappointing myself. Or something greater. I tend toward obsession and melancholy and must always guard against backsliding into acute depression. My younger son likes to state that writers have a higher rate of mental illness than other professions ... hint ... hint.
Some things are best kept private.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
Looking for a place to swap blogs? Holly Bargo at Hen House Publishing is wanting to Blog Swaps in 2018. For more information:
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