Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chocolate Layer Cake? Must be my birthday!!

Every birthday, Mother baked a chocolate layer cake for me. In my family, no one had a party or received gifts—we got a cake with candles and had our picture taken with a Kodak Brownie box camera. I never attended a birthday party as I grew up. Did anyone during those years have parties? I don’t know. I never knew anyone who had a party.

These three photos are samples of me holding my cake. I actually have one for every year until I graduated from high school, but I didn’t want to bore you with all of them. You’ll get the idea from these three.

The first snapshot (upper left) shows me on my fifth birthday, and obviously, the cake was heavy, for the plate leaned precariously to the side. You notice I’ve already had my first permanent, because my hair is naturally straight as a stick. Daddy had taken a job with an oil company, and we moved twice a year for six years in a big circle on the South Plains of Texas. So, this might have been our first location during those six years.

The second snapshot (right) shows me on my eighth birthday, and I held that cake listing to the side, too. There must be something wrong with my inner balance, because I can’t hold a plate perfectly horizontally. At least I’m dressed in this photo. Notice the 1940 Ford sedan? That’s ours. We kept that car for fifteen years. You can’t beat those old Fords.
The third snapshot (left)shows me on my eleventh birthday, and thank goodness, I’m dressed properly. But there again, the plate tilts to the side. I wonder if Mother’s cakes cooked unevenly so that one side of the layer cake was heavier than the other side. Probably not—she was an excellent cook. No, it has something to do with my equilibrium.
Weeks ago, my husband and I bought a scanner. We pulled down a couple of boxes filled with old snapshots and photographs, and away we went. In going through the stacks, I almost re-lived those years I was a carefree, happy child. Honestly, I never remember being unhappy.
My teacher friends gave me my first party when I turned forty. That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest surprises of my life. I had no idea they planned a party for me. All twelve of us sat down at a table in a restaurant, and I noticed that presents filled the middle of the table. My good friends stood, and announced—“Happy birthday, Celia!” My lands, I began to cry and laugh at the same time. They surprised me so much, I became giddy.
But you know? I looked around the table, but I did not see a chocolate layer cake. How could I have a birthday without one?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mini-Interviews: Maggie Toussaint, Liana Laverentz, and Cindy K. Green

Welcome Maggie, Cindy G., and Liana—and greetings to our visitors. This is my first Mini-Interviews blog. Instead of interviewing one author, I thought of having a three-in-one session. Maggie Toussaint, Cindy Green, and Liana Laverentz agreed to be my first guests. I have the distinct pleasure of co-moderating The Book Spa with them. We think we have a super team.
I have asked the same three questions for each author:

1. What is the last thing you do before you submit a manuscript to a publisher?
MAGGIE: I do a final read-through in hard copy before I sub a manuscript. Not that I think I’ll find errors, but to be sure I have my book in the best possible shape.

CINDY: I am a tireless self-editor. It probably comes from my years as a teacher. I go through my manuscript over and over until I’m positive it’s the best it can be. By the time I submit, I am so sick of it that I think I never want to read it again. As I heard from one great author, ‘No one reads a book more than the author himself.’

LIANA: Read it out loud from beginning to end.

2. What do you do when you lose your confidence in your ability to write a note-worthy novel?
MAGGIE: I’ve had white-out moments like this before. They are usually in the vein of “omigosh I have to do this again, what if I don’t have anything relevant to say?” When this happens I do something creative in another field (arts and crafts, photography, landscaping, sewing, etc.). This helps recharge my energy and muse.

CINDY: I read. Reading always puts me back on track. It never fails during the writing of a story or novel that I lose confidence and wonder why I ever thought I could write. Reading helps me find my way back and regain the needed inspiration to finish that writing project.

LIANA: Write something else. Come back to it later when I’m in a more positive frame of mind.

3. Do you think publishers are too tough on submitting authors?
MAGGIE: No way. Pubs are in this to make money. Inferior work won’t sell as well as well-written books. And publishers know their niche. Writers should not be surprised by rejections. They are the nature of the beast.

CINDY: Certain ones definitely are. And then there are others that have lowered their expectations too far. We need to find a happy medium that incorporates high standards but allows individuality and creativity too. Some acquiring editors have settled on a particular style that has closed them off from other talented authors. The rules of writing change from year to year. It’s difficult to be what every editor wants. All you can do is write the story of your heart and find an editor who agrees that it’s terrific too.

LIANA: No. In almost every case, I’ve gone back later and seen why they rejected my work. I don’t believe editors want to reject people. Or even like to. But I’ve spoken with enough of them to understand how they really need to be one hundred percent behind a project to take it on and be an advocate for that author, because if they’re not, if their heart’s not in it, the book’s just not going to get the attention it could with a more enthusiastic editor behind it.

Excellent answers, Maggie, Cindy, and Liana! We’re so glad to have our visitors here, too. Please leave a comment. Below, you will find links to purchase novels from these authors.
Celia Yeary
Maggie Toussaint
No Second Chance, buy a book, help a horse
ISBN 9781601541628 buy it: Amazon The Wild Rose Press Kindle

Cindy K. Green
The Heart Never Lies
Read an Excerpt
Buy for $1.00 at Champagne Books

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Home Permanents and Exploding Beans

When I was young, our family was poor, but I always thought we were rich. If not rich, then certainly my two sisters and I were beautiful. Daddy always said so, until our hair grew a little long and reverted to its natural state of straight-as-a-board. However, I do need to edit that last statement. My little sister had naturally curly hair, so she never suffered through a home permanent.

“Honeybunch,” Daddy would say to Mother, “you need to cut and curl these girls’ hair, so they’ll be real pretty.”

Mother was in her glory when she permed someone’s hair. Since she only had two of us at home who needed to be “fixed up,” she recruited other girls and young ladies to be her subjects. All the time she spent on the process was absolutely free of charge, and it was a good thing, because few people had extra money to spend at a real beauty shop. All the person had to do was buy the permanent. This was a generous act on my mother’s part, but I did not realize that until I became older.

Mother became very popular in our small town, located on the South Plains, where the wind blew, sandstorms roared through, and tornadoes were a common occurrence. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was the day when some female visited to have her hair curled by the caustic, overwhelmingly odorous liquids. Mother would bring out her arsenal of different sized curling rods, the little squares of paper, cotton balls, towels, metal clips that often caught the scalp with the sectioned-off hair, and a rattail comb.

The ritual of the permanent always took place in the kitchen and on a Saturday. For as long as I can remember, the wonderful aroma of pinto beans and ham bubbling and simmering in a large pot filled the house on that day. Then, like the advent of the home permanent, a new device for cooking appeared in the stores and the Sears catalog. Even though the five of us lived in a three-room stucco house with very little, Mother loved a new pot or pan for cooking, or canning, or roasting. So, when the pressure cooker was invented and the price was brought down so that even we could afford one, my mother became the proud owner of a large, shiny, very frightening pressure cooker. For the beans. On home permanent days.

The pressure cooker scared me to death. There was that gauge sitting on top, which displayed the rising pressure numbers, and the gauge would jiggle back and forth as the pressure built, rattling faster and faster to match the immense boiling and bubbling of the beans. Alongside the gauge was a little rubber stopper, which served as a safety valve, in case too much pressure built and somehow must escape.

Mother would say, “Now, you girls help me watch that gauge. We don’t want that lid to blow off.” Well, I watched, but from a vantage point well across the room and near a door, in case I needed to escape.

One Saturday, my older sister’s friend arrived to have a home permanent. Mother loved this activity, mainly because it broke the boredom of living in a small town with no money for entertainment. Daddy made certain he had business elsewhere, when he knew there would be five females in the tiny house all day.

First, Mother began cooking the beans slowly without the lid on the pressure cooker. She laid out all the necessary implements of the home permanent on the table. The girl had washed her hair in readiness of the rolling process, so, she sat at the table, wrapped the towel around her shoulders, and combed her wet hair straight back. While she was doing this, Mother put the lid on the pressure cooker, but failed to turn it one last fraction to lock it. She adjusted the burner but forgot to remind any of us to help watch the gauge.

Mother rolled the hair in her speedy, practiced way. She poured part of the developer, the one that smelled sort of like rotten eggs, into a small bowl and began dabbing the solution on the girl’s hair. All the while, Mother, the visitor, and my sister chatted, laughed, and completely forgot about the pressure cooker.

I was playing dolls with my little sister in the front room when I heard a mighty hiss, and a scary rumbling, and then a loud boom! Mother screamed and dropped the bowl of developer down the girl’s neck, the girl screeched and jumped up so violently that she knocked the chair over, and my older sister yelled and ran around with her hands in the air.

Terrified, I peeked around the corner to view a scene that could have been part of a Keystone Cops routine. Hot, exploded beans, juice, and bits of ham were all over the kitchen, as well as, everyone in the room. Mixed in with the curling rods and developer on the poor girl’s head was our supper.

No one was hurt, except for a few mild burns. With everyone working, we cleaned away beans, juice, and ham, even though it took the remainder of the day. Later, Daddy had to climb on a ladder to clean the ceiling. Mother could wash the clothes, so no harm, there.

However, the girl’s hair stayed rolled and soaked with the developing solution. Hours later, when someone remembered, Mother applied the neutralizer, but it was too late. She wore a headscarf for weeks to hide her ruined hair, frizzed and burned like yellow steel wool.

Did this adventure deter my mother from her passion for curling hair, or her use of the beloved pressure cooker? No, it did not. It only gave her a story to tell and laugh about every time a visitor or one of us had a Toni or a Lilt Home Permanent.

(Previously published in the Texas Power Co-op magazine under the title "A Permanent Memory"-by Celia Yeary

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Meet Lovely Linda Laroque

I read When the Ocotillo Bloom in a record two days. Since I’m a slow reader—I generally read every word—this should tell you how much I enjoyed the story. If you’re looking for a light-hearted, uplifting, genuine contemporary romance, you will absolutely adore this one. The plot offers the added bonus of a unique setting—a dude ranch-turned-camp-for-troubled-teens in far Southwest Texas near the area of the Big Bend National Park. A lover of that area myself, I especially appreciated Linda’s correct descriptions. Yes, Linda, I know the location of Marathon, and I spent a night there just as your heroine Lynn does in the story! And…I have seen the glorious ocotillo bloom!

Linda has created “real” people.” I mean it. I think I know these characters! The heroine, Lynn, is a high school teacher, fortyish, slightly overweight and out of shape, and is a little insecure from a divorce. As the clueless victim of a ruse by her daughter and her friend, Lynn takes a summer job as a bread cook “to relax, get away from teenagers, and take advantage of the Spa-like ranch.” But is she in for a few surprises. You will love Lynn and the handsome owner of the ranch, Seth, and you’ll keep hoping they’ll get together soon.

Let’s talk to Linda:

When did you begin writing? I believe you’ve said you were a late-comer to the world of romance.

“First, thank you, Celia, for your kind words about When the Ocotillo Bloom. This was the book of my heart, the one I had to write. And thank you for having me on your blog. I’ve been reading your interviews and you do an awesome job. I’m honored to be your guest.
I’ve read all my life, but during the early 1990s while teaching in Presidio, TX, I experienced a bout of depression. Reading didn’t occupy my mind at night and I couldn’t sleep. I thought, I’ll write a book in my head and maybe that will help. It did. The story grew and I decided it was one I should put to paper.

One late Sunday afternoon as I drove from Alpine (my husband and son lived there and I drove home on the weekends), I topped the hill just South of Shafter and gasped at the view. The sun sank behind Lincoln’s Profile to the West and to the East lay a valley floor covered with ocotillo in bloom. The ground looked like a red sea. It was breath-taking. I stopped to look at my leisure and will always regret not having a camera, and though I’ve tried several times, I’ve never been able to view the site again. This was the inspiration for my title.

I’d like to add, it was fourteen years later and at least seven re-writes before When the Ocotillo Bloom was published.”

I know you grew up in Newfoundland. Why were you there, since you were born in Texas?

“I was born in Houston, Texas and have lived in Texas most of my life. My father was an Air Force Master Sergeant and we traveled some. In 1953 he was sent to Harmon AFB at Stephenville, Newfoundland. We were there for only two years but my brother and I loved it and didn’t want to leave. From that time on, I’ve lived in Texas, except for the ten months my husband and I lived in Aberdeen, MD when he was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground after returning from Vietnam.”

If you could live one portion of your life over, would it be your childhood, your teenage years, your college tears, your early marriage and babies period, or your career years? I know your first reaction will be: none, I like where I am today! And while I’d say the same thing, I’m just curious.

“I’m tempted to say I’d have stayed home while my children were in grade school, but then again, I know they benefited by the friendships they established at the sitter’s. We were fortunate to have an excellent sitter who kept children in her home. We adored her and visited her years later when the kids were teenagers.”

Will you name the books you now have published? And your “coming soon” novels?

When the Ocotillo Bloom, Champagne Books
My Heart Will Find Yours, Book One of The Turquoise Legacy, The Wild Rose Press
Investment of the Heart, Champagne Books
Forever Faithful, Champagne Books
Flames on the Sky, Book Two of the Turquoise Legacy, The Wild Rose Press, will be out October 23, 2009.
“I also have two short stories published with The Wild Rose Press – A Law of Her Own and Desires of the Heart.”
When the Ocotillo Bloom is so descriptive and vivid, I would easily believe you’ve lived this. Does the plot or characters reflect you, your life, or your family in any way?
“Yes, in several ways. Like Lynn, I’ve experienced the battle fatigue of being a teacher, but after a restful summer was eager to get back to school and the kids again. I also experienced depression and anxiety attacks. But that’s where the similarity ends. My husband and I will celebrate our forty-second wedding anniversary in December, and though the years of raising our children were far from perfect, our children turned out nicely. I’m quite proud of them.”
Where can we buy When the Ocotillo Bloom?
Lynn Devry takes a summer job at a spa in West Texas hoping to dispel the depression she's experienced since her divorce, only to discover the spa is really a ranch for problem children. Seth Williams, ranch owner and child psychologist still loves his glamorous ex-wife, but finds himself inexplicitly drawn to the needy but prickly school teacher. As this mismatched pair help their young charges improve their self-esteem and modify behavior, both learn it’s not the past that’s important, but the future. Set against the rugged splendor of Big Bend Country, two people meet and discover that all things are possible when the ocotillo bloom.
At 6:15, she slid the first five pans out of the oven. Cookie started the waiting wranglers through the breakfast line. Though 15 minutes late, no one complained.

At the appearance of Seth’s commanding appearance in the food line, Lynn bristled. She waited for him to comment on their lateness, but he didn’t. He pinched a bite off the top of a flaky biscuit and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, a grin as big as Texas spread across his face.

“Excellent biscuits, ma’am. I see Art didn’t lie about your baking skills.”

Lynn snorted and turned her back on him. Arrogant man. She’d like to make a few special biscuits just for him. Wonder what he’d prefer, arsenic or hemlock? When she looked again, he was gone.

Seth watched his new bread cook. Her face flushed from the heat of the ovens and the hard work of rolling out biscuits. If she were tired now, she’d be dead when she finished kneading bread dough.

He leaned back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and looked around the room. It was going to be a good day. The wranglers were well fed and happy. Lynn’s face lit with pleasure at their compliments. She deserved every one. Her biscuits were some of the best he’d eaten. He considered going back for two more, but didn’t want to experience another glare like the one she’d shot him as he went through the line. Probably because of the big grin he
had on his face. Flour smeared her cheek, and a glob of dough clung to a strand of her bangs that had escaped the bandana she wore to hold her hair back. Damned if she didn’t look cute.

Again, thanks for having me as your guest today, Celia. Happy Reading and Writing to ya’ll out there in cyberspace.
Linda, I enjoyed having you here so much. And I do thank you for the compliment. Now, I need to read your other novel I have downloaded—My Heart Will find Yours. I’m really looking forward to that one, too. Celia
Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, Flames on the Sky10-9, Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart, When the Ocotillo Bloom