Unplugged

I’ve had computer issues lately. Not the kind where you push the ‘on’ button and nothing happens, which is one of the worst sensations a writer can experience. (That happened to me last summer. I about had a seizure.) This is the kind where, for some reason, I have to force myself to the screen and keyboard. I don’t want to check emails, update my Facebook status or tweet. Dust settles on my last post here.

Maybe it’s a reaction to spending a lot of time online in February and March guest blogging or sending in posts related to the release of Her Scottish Groom. Don’t think for a moment that I didn’t enjoy the attention and contact with romance readers! This is not something that I get to do that often, and I am thankful for every single opportunity to write a post and respond to comments. I appreciate the kindness of other blog owners and their readers, and it seems to have generated interest in my latest release. The Kindle edition of Her Scottish Groom is selling steadily enough to range from 99 up to 65 on Amazon’s Kindle Store Historical Romance Top 100 list for the last 10 days or so.

(I know, it changes hourly and it’s not selling thousands of copies or downloads. But it’s the first list I’ve ever made, darn it!)

Anyway, Life is Good and there’s no real excuse for disappearing from my online haunts. Still, I’ve resisted logging into anything but my Pandora stations for the last two weeks. I outlined two presentations for a couple of unexpected speaking engagements. I worked on my WIP, but in longhand on notebook paper. The page count is shaky, because I’ve also free-associated two potential series into very rough descriptions on paper. (If I carried smelling salts, I’d take a deep whiff at this point — do I really want to get involved with an entire series?? Never mind two!) It’s too early to tell if they’ll come to fruition, but the chance to let my mind wander felt sort of like a vacation.

Writing is a huge part of my life, but not its entirety. Time spent away from the computer means that my house is a lot cleaner. This is good because clutter seems to block me mentally. (In view of how much I dislike housework, this realization disconcerts me greatly.) My family got muffins for breakfast and  I’ve had lunch with my dad, chatted with my mom more often and helped my youngest host her friends for their pre-prom hair/makeup/dressing ritual.

So if anyone missed me while I was gone, thank you for the thoughts. I’m back, balanced, and ready to take on the world again. And I have the clean underwear to prove it.

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Blogging at Authors by Moonlight!

An Irish invasion of Canada? From Buffalo, New York??? Yup, it happened. Read about it today at Authors by Moonlight.

Cover Me! at My Book Addiction

Today I’m guest blogging at My Book Addiction and More! The subject is book covers and what makes them work — or an Epic Fail. I’m also giving away a signed copy of Her Scottish Groom, so come on by.

Shrove Tuesday, or the Festival of Pancakes

Several stacks of silver dollar pancakes
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have a problem with Mardi Gras. Between the fact that New Orleans is American and my mother-in-law is French, why not celebrate it? Laissez les bons temps rouler and all that. But the most recent immigrant up my family tree is my great-grandfather from Yorkshire, England. Between that and my lifelong membership in the Episcopal church, when I grew up, Mardi Gras took a back seat to Shrove Tuesday.

By now, you may be asking yourself “What the %*#* is a shrove?” I did for years. It is neither a specialized pan nor a gardening tool. ‘Shrove’ comes from ‘to shrive’, which in the Middle Ages meant to confess one’s sins to a priest and gain absolution. One would not wish to die, or enter the holy season of Lent, unshriven.

However, let’s talk about the traditional food served on Shrove Tuesday: Pancakes. Like the fried foods associated with Mardi Gras, Carnival and Fasching, pancakes used up fats, eggs, milk and sugar, all traditionally forbidden during the Lenten fast. They have been around in some form since at least the 15th century, when legend has it that a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire got so caught up in making them that she nearly missed getting to church. In her haste, she ran to the church, pan and cooking pancake in hand.  Olney commemorates her with an annual pancake race, held since 1445. Several other towns in Great Britain have their own pancake races, but only Olney (say that 10 times fast) competes internationally, with the residents of Liberal, Kansas.

I’m not sure how good a pancake tastes after being flipped several times in chilly air. My own requirements for the golden brown delicacies include being hot out of the pan. I eat mine with butter and maple syrup — real maple syrup, not the corn syrup substitutes so popular these days — and preferably accompanied by bacon or sausage.  I’m not ashamed to use the fast recipe on the side of the Bisquick box, but if I’m feeling really ambitious, I will make use the following recipe, from my trusty Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition:

Pancakes, Griddle Cakes or Batter Cakes

Sift before measuring: 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

Resift with: 1 teaspoon salt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 3/4 teaspoons double-acting  baking powder

Combine: 1 or 2 slightly beaten whole eggs, 3 Tablespoons melted butter, 1 to 1 1/4 cups of milk

Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Heat the griddle and test it by sprinkling a few drops of cold water onto the hot surface. If the water puddles before evaporating, it’s not hot enough. If it sizzles away immediately, it’s too hot. You want the water drops to bounce and dance around on the pan before you pour in the batter.

Pour the batter on the properly heated surface, then wait for bubbles to form on the upper surface. (Note: this is the upper surface of the middle of the pancake.) This should take 2 to 3 minutes max. Before the bubbles break, flip the pancake only once. The second side takes only half as much time to cook.

I like to serve mine hot from the pan, with any of the following: Butter and maple syrup, powdered sugar and fruit or jam, sugar and cinnamon.

I understand that Scarborough, Yorkshire has a half day holiday on Shrove Tuesday. (Anyone from Scarborough around to confirm or deny that?) And Ashborne in Derbyshire celebrates the day with the Royal Shrovetide Football Match, played over two days. It sounds more like a mob playing rugby than anything else, but I will admit to not knowing the fine points of the game. But what I want to know is: Do they have pancakes?

Do you celebrate Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival or Fasching? If so, what special activities or foods make the day special for you?

A Review, Guest Spots and Giveaways

My Book Addiction reviews HER SCOTTISH GROOM today. Stop by and see what April has to say. Not only that, the ladies at MBA were kind enough to invite me to blog with them on March 14th. I’ll be giving away away an autographed copy of the book that day.

This coming Monday, March 7th, I’ll visit Book Lovers, Inc. If you have time, stop by and leave a comment — there’s a signed copy of HSG in the offing there, too.

Monica Burns on Authors by Moonlight!

Monica Burns is blogging today at Authors by Moonlight! She’s got a great post about coping with one of a writer’s greatest fears: a silent muse. We all have days when we’re low on energy — follow the link and let us Moonlighters know how you cope when your candle has burnt out at both ends.

Taking a Day

‘Her Scottish Groom’ hits the shelves today! After the butterflies and nerves I wrote about last week, today I get to celebrate the release of my second book. It’s the first day out, but I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of 5-star reviews up at Barnes & Noble‘s site already. Thank you Harriet and April!

The time between submitting a manuscript and releasing a book can be a year or even longer. This may be a good thing, as it allows an author to forget the stress of finishing that particular book by deadline, or in the middle of a family flu epidemic, or whatever roadblock the universe decides to throw at her. And believe me, there’s always something. It’s sort of like giving birth: once you have the baby, memory of labor (eventually) fades, enabling you to consider going through the agony again.

I can’t describe the sense of accomplishment gained from seeing and holding my own book. I hope I never take that for granted! I’m not high enough in the writing food chain to think that just because I’ve been published, future sales are guaranteed. We all have to strive to be better.  But today I will pat myself on the back, look at my pretty cover and acknowledge what I did.

Everyone needs to take the occasional day to savor the fruits of their labors, large or small. It doesn’t have to be a book. A good test score, an outstanding review at work, the culmination of months of hard work on a project, starting the new art class you’ve always wanted to take — what is important to each of us differs, but we all deserve to pause, take a deep breath and say “I did that!”

How do you celebrate your triumphs, large or small?