Opine and Ponder

Today I spent a couple of hours at a reading by an author friend. The events are monthly, and take place at an art gallery and wine tasting room. Cool setting. Each month I learn something new from authors. I’ve been so impressed with the areas of knowledge and new ideas brought forward. The authors and their guests, in turn, have discovered this art gallery and tasting room, which they might never have done. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the number of people who attend these events are scant. There were six of us today.

Here’s where a bit of levity may go a long way. Attendance at readings, and artist events in general, is usually hit and miss. Cue the old, “Signing in the Waldenbooks” video.

Today’s speaker, Nebraska author, Margie Lucas, began with a story about an author who was to present a reading where only one person showed up. But knowing one person might just make a difference, the author gave the best speech he possibly could… to that one person (then went on to win the Pulitzer because of it). Today’s speaker did the same for those of us present. I assure you, it was not a waste of her time. Her words made a huge impact on all of us and the ideas she introduced were things I’ll be thinking about for a very long time.

We live in a world where we’re bombarded by ideas, information, and things to do. Yet, it wasn’t so far back in history… within my lifetime… when to learn the news, you watched it on TV at noon and six, or read it in the paper or magazine articles. If you wanted to know about an author’s ideas and insights into writing books, you might learn about it in a library book, or an article, or go to an event where the author read from their work, signed their books, and spoke to the people there.

But now? We can google an author’s name and find their website, their amazon page, read articles they’ve published, read their blog, their Facebook page, follow what they’re tweeting—so, when an event comes around on a Sunday afternoon where one can actually go meet the author and hear them speak… well, hey, it’s Sunday… there are many reasons not to go.

No one understands this more than I do.

What little spare time we have is precious. After all, we work all week, then on Saturday, often, we catch up on house and yard work. Sunday is the one day we can do whatever we want! We can watch football, take a nap, take grandkids to the zoo, see a matinée, have family over for dinner, go to a museum… we have that one day to relax. And people need that day of freedom from obligations. Who of us doesn’t relish a quiet Sunday?

So, who ends up going to the reading or signings? Usually, it’s the friends and family of the author; the people who love them. But, that’s not a writer’s target market, is it? It’s the proverbial “preaching to the choir.”

Maybe people would come if it weren’t on a Sunday. Yet, my Saturdays are almost always busy with football games, making food for Saturday night gatherings, or weekend projects.

Let’s face it. There is no magic day of the week. Even if one wants to go to an event, there are often other obligations, or illness, or church, or being out-of-town…

…honestly, excuses aren’t required or expected. You come or you don’t. It is what it is. Everyone who plans an event must understand the size of the audience cannot be guaranteed. This blog post’s intention is absolutely not to cuss people out for not attending events.

This post is to opine and ponder, ‘cause that’s what writers do.

So (here’s the pondering part), what is the point of even having events such as this? Are speaking events relevant anymore? Do we just keep having book signings and readings because it’s what’s always been done? Or do we keep racking our brains trying to figure out the magic combination of how to get people to the events we create. Librarians, book stores, and those of us who try to promote these events make posters and post cards, Facebook event pages, we send press releases to the newspapers, we post about the event on blogs and websites and group pages. We email it, we invite friends and do everything we can that doesn’t cost money, (because it’s a free event and spending money on advertising would have to come from somewhere and probably wouldn’t bring in but a few people anyway.)

This isn’t my first foray in planning events which feature artists in small town America. It’s always a trick to get people to come. One can offer food, drinks, music; one can encourage community involvement, try hard to plan it for a time that works for most, talk about it until you’re blue in the face… and in the end, there will still only be a handful of people who attend.

So, why do it? What’s the point?

Well, here’s the point. Today I sat in a group of six intelligent women and had a mind-stimulating conversation about the history of women and how religion has swayed the way cultures all over the world have come to treat them. How we’ve come to treat each other. And how we feel about ourselves.

And we talked about how to affect positive change.

Now those are some big ideas for a Sunday afternoon. The coolest part was we discussed it all without whining or male-bashing—our conversation based on ideas and facts. It was educational and, well… very cool because of the way the speaker lead the discussion. I love solution oriented conversations, but they’re often hard to find. Positive energy is powerful. It’s like sunshine breaking through the clouds. Such a treat.

So, what will come of that small conversation? We shall see. But I know this: it was worthwhile. A small group of quality can be plenty… or as a friend of mine likes to say, enough is a feast. And in the end… everything is food for thought.



Zucchini and Squash Epiphany

If you don’t enjoy cooking, feel free to skip this post, but, if you have a garden or have gardening friends who bless you with fresh produce, and enjoy spending time in the kitchen cooking, read on.

Today I had an epiphany about turning garden goodies into delicious sauces, so I dove in to a counter-full of yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, and green pepper.

I have a teeny-tiny bit of cooking knowledge, and one thing I know is if you can make a sauce, you have a fundamental cooking skill that allows you to do many things. The French, of course, figured this out in the early 19th century, then refined the idea in the early 20th century when they created: The Mother Sauces.

The gist is, if you can make a mother sauce, you can then make many things. The everyday cook uses a can of mushroom soup in the same way: to pour on pork chops, or use it in a casserole, or as the base of a soup… or more likely, they use it when a recipe calls for it. In the same way, cooks know a basic béchamel sauce can become any kind of cream soup, or cream sauce, or creamy base for any casserole. No need for a recipe. Just make the sauce and go from there.

I’ve had zucchini bread and zucchini brownies, and found that the zucchini blends nicely; you don’t really taste it. So why not let it blend into a sauce? I did some googling and so indeed… others have already thought of this, and although I didn’t find tons of recipes, I got the general idea. Make a sauce, add cooked zucchini—viola!

Therefore… here are my end results should you be interested in using your squash and zucchini in a new way.

I started by making a big batch of béchamel sauce… just butter & flour in equal amounts, add milk with salt, pepper (I used white pepper), and nutmeg. Stir, stir, stir… yummy, delicious, smooth delightful creamy sauce you could basically put on a shoe and it would be well-worthy of licking off. I set that aside.

Then in two different pans I sauté sliced zucchini and squash, respectively, with onion and garlic, in olive oil and butter.

Once cooked, I put a batch at a time in the food processor and zapped it nice and smooth. I took each batch out and to this I added 1/2 the béchamel sauce. Then to each sauce I added 1/2 cup of grated fresh parmesan cheese and stirred it until it melted. I like spice, so I also added some red pepper flakes to each of these batches of sauce. The squash sauce is golden and the zucchini more green.

I plan to use the yellow squash sauce in scalloped potatoes, but of course, it would be a great base for mac and cheese, or potato soup, or chicken pot pie, or an Alfredo style pasta sauce just for a few ideas. I put it over eggs and ham for lunch like a hollandaise. Technically, you could serve it as a soup as it is with a nice piece of bread. It’s extremely yummy!

I added roast chicken to the zucchini sauce and I think it will be great over pasta, by itself as a soup, or as a sauce on potatoes or even rice. If you didn’t add chicken, I think many meats would play well with it.

Then I took those jalapeños, several ears of corn from our garden, a lime, a can of coconut milk, and some Thai seasoning and made a kick-ass curry sauce. Chicken or shrimp can be added and it’ll be good over rice or noodles. Very spicy, but rich and delightful. The lime made it very fresh. It’s pretty too. I can see instead of using Thai spices, using Mexican spices like cumin and cilantro, then putting a dollop of the sauce on enchiladas or tacos or a taco salad or anything Mexican, really. I’d think it’d be nice as a base for tortilla soup, too.

Still in a playful mood, I took the tomatoes and green pepper with what was left of the onion and finished everything off with a small batch of red sauce. I think all of these sauces will freeze just fine. 

And now, I have at least four meal starters and I’ve used up my vegetables in a unique way.

Now. What to do with those butternut squash…

I think I have an idea!



Celebrating Joyce

Life in the country during summer means sweet corn and tomatoes, cooking, cleaning, and preparing for celebrations of one kind or another.

My daughter is coming home this weekend, bringing friends, and we’ll have a thirtieth birthday celebration with her at our cabin. There will be some games, and boating, a fire pit, and food. Plenty of sun and some firewater, too. The usual summer party things. My husband and I have some work to do yet to prepare for this. The inside of our cabin is almost ready, but the sand beach needs to be raked, the wood for a fire needs to be gathered, and I’m determined to figure out a better way to arrange the patio furniture. And then I’ll need to buy and prepare food. It’ll all fall into place. I have all week, I hope. But, then again, none of us know how much time we actually have.

Last week was a week to have a different kind of celebration — one of life and family. My sister-in-law Joyce passed away; too young at 70. She was one of the most interesting and intense people I’ve ever known; Intelligent, fierce, giving, and brutally honest. The church absolutely overflowed for her unique memorial service. The gathering afterward was a true celebration of life, dotted with hugs and tears, memories shared, lots of toasts—beers held high—Joyce enjoyed a good gathering and a beer or a margarita or two. She’d have liked seeing so many of us getting to know each other, reestablishing relationships, and making new friends, too.

So, here’s to another week full of work, family, friends, and celebrations. Here’s to these last days of summer with sweet corn and tomatoes, lakes and parties… and losses, too, which we only experience if we’ve had something special to begin with.

In Joyce, we had something special.

In honor of Joyce, here are words from Tecumseh, a Shawnee. No one honored Native American heritage as well as our Joyce did.

Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.

Trouble no one about his religion.

Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours.

Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.

Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.

Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.

If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs their spirit of its vision.

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.

Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

– Tecumseh
, Shawnee (1768-1813)

Joyce truly did die like a hero going home. She will be missed.

My brother Gary and his wife Joyce.




To those of us Indie authors who have been trying to figure out how to market our books for a while now…

Remember when you were writing your first book, and you started to get excited about publishing, and then some wiser author who already knew the ropes came along and told you…

“Make sure you know your market.”

If you’re like me, I understood them, yet, I didn’t. Like so many well-intended pieces of advice the old-guard give the new (in any regard), they’re delivered in a foggy cloud of words, fine-tuned over the years to encapsulate a bigger idea. It makes perfect sense to them, but it’s a bit of a mystery to a newbie until we’ve got a little of our own experience under our belts.

Simply put, here’s what “…know your market.” means: When pitching your book, speak to your audience in the best way THEY will understand. AND… YOU need to understand who your audience is because IT’S ALWAYS, ALL ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE!!

Well, my audience is “Everyone,” you may say. (I’m pretty sure I said that.)

Everyone technically includes elderly people, baby boomers, millennial, children, mothers, athletes, criminals, people from different countries, democrats, Buddhists, bipolar, scientists, and even bipolar scientists, etc… and what you need to understand as I list a small portion of the obvious is, “everyone” responds to information differently. Right?

“Everyone” likes different things. Right?

You can’t talk to “Everyone” in exactly the same way and have them understand exactly what you mean.

Now, picture this scene. You walk into a room to talk about your book. Here’s the catch… you have NO CLUE who the audience will be until you’re in front of the mic.

You open the door, and there sits two dozen… elderly people in wheelchairs. Absolutely no one is less than 80. Hearing aides are squealing all across the room. Some are nodding off. A couple of women in the back are arguing. An odd smell hits you the second you walk in, a combination of Bengay and hairspray… and yes, smattered throughout the group, there are some delightfully chipper, intelligent people. One of them is even texting someone on her smart phone. All these people have strong memories from the fifties and sixties, from long careers now finished, from raising children and loving grandchildren, and losing spouses, and having operations. Their attitudes and perspective are simply different.

Question? Would you talk about your book in a different way to that group, than say, a group of teenagers? Or a group of immigrants who just passed an English class? What about a group of kindergarteners? Or a sleek group of art critiques from New York? How about a bunch of college students in Sweden? Wouldn’t your words change for each group? Your tone? Your humor? Mine would.

Each of those groups will respond better to different types of pitches. Some of those groups won’t respond to you at all! kindergarteners don’t care about your book on Glass Blowing in the thirteenth century, or the mating habits of naked mole rats. If you even say, “Naked Mole Rats” to a group of kindergarteners, they won’t even hear anything else you say because they will have dissolved into giggles. Say the same thing to twelve-year-old boys and within three minutes they’ll all be making fart noises anyway.

So, “Make sure you know your market” simply means… when you pitch your book, whether on your website, in an advertisement, or at a book club… speak in a language your audience will best-understand. Think about TV ads. Commercials to promote buying gold, or nursing home insurance are very different from commercials for amusement parks and toys. The advertisers know their markets. They’re talking to their audience using language they’ll best-understand.