It happens every year. You would think I'd learn, but I never do. Each year I make resolutions I can't possibly keep. By February and March, most of my resolutions have been so far forgotten, the only memory I have of them is my January 1 journal entry about them. Even when I try to give myself some kind of accountability, the resolutions don't last long. Do you have that trouble?
The past couple of years I've tried doing weekly short stories. It's just not going to happen this year. I'm not even going to try. The trouble is, I'm not very good at short stories. I write these short stories and then suddenly the characters have names and faces and long, complicated stories. But by making it a short story only, I don't have the time to delve into them like I want to. The girl with the scarlet scarf doesn't get to have the college romance I see in her future. The Kansas homesteaders don't get to finish out a year. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
But even though I'm not very good at short stories, I am pretty good at longer stories. This year, one of my resolutions is to write a chapter in a story every two weeks to be posted on my blog. Here's where you come in. You, the readers, will drive the story. I'll put polls at the end of each chapter to determine where the characters go next. All you have to do is read the chapter as it's posted and then vote in the poll. Sounds fun right?
So let's get started! I've been throwing around some ideas and I think I've decided to do a modern(ish) retelling of Rose Red and Snow White. It was one of my favorites growing up and one that I didn't get to work into the Charming Academy series. Need a refresher?
The way I remember it, there were two sisters: Rose Red and Snow White. They lived with their mother in the woods. One day there was a winter storm and they found an injured bear. He begged them to take him to their home and help him heal. If they did, he would ensure they were protected through the winter and pay them well at springtime. Perhaps overly trusting, the girls took him home and cared for him. They were kept safe during the winter and often found jewels where he rested near the fireplace. When spring came, he left. They followed his trail, but inside of finding the bear they found an imp/dwarf (memory's a little fuzzy). They rescued him from drowning and he disappears, several jewels left behind. They took these home and told their mother (and the returned bear) about their adventures. The upshot is the imp/dwarf thing had placed a spell on the bear (who of course is actually a prince) and stole all his wealth. The bear and girls come up with a plan to force him to remove the spell and return the prince's wealth. There's a battle of wits and in the end the bear turns back into a prince, he marries Rose Red and brings Snow White and the girls' mother to live at his palace where they all live happily ever after.
I need to read it again a few times, but I've got some ideas on how to work this out. What I need today are character names. So, take a look at the polls, choose your favorites and on January 1st, you'll get the first chapter of, well, the title will need to be determined too. :)
A good author will connect with other authors in order to cross-promote, share the spotlight, and increase followings on social media.
A great author will befriend other authors in order to rejoice in their successes, encourage them when they begin seriously contemplating that four-letter word banned from every artist's vocabulary (I'll give you a hint, it starts with "q"), and offer advice, humor, and love in an increasingly difficult market.
Jess Strong was a great author. Like many of the authors I have connected with and befriended over the last couple of years, Jess was just an online presence to me. I never had the privilege of meeting her in person. And yet she was one of those people you felt you had always known. Jess helped polish the dreaded blurb of many an author. She shared author events and attended them via Facebook. She was great retweeter and helped spread the word about new releases, sales, and general posts. Her posts could make you laugh, no matter how down you were feeling. She offered constant support, encouragement and love. Jess loved other authors. You could feel it through her posts.
Unfortunately, her time on earth was far too brief. Earlier this week, the authors at Clean Indie Reads were rocked by the news that Jess had unexpectedly passed away. We have mourned her untimely passing and prayed for peace for her family, her friends, and us. I don't know who started the idea, but it was decided that today, the day after Christmas, each of us would try to purchase at least one of Jess' ebooks. It may seem like a small condolence, but not really. There are over 2000 authors part of Clean Indie Reads. If each of us buy just one book, Jess' rankings will climb. A higher Amazon ranking means it will be easier for other readers to see her books.
So today, I won't ask you to fill your brand-new Kindle with my books. I won't ask you to look at my special sales page and put those gift cards to use there. No. Today, I want you to go to Jess Strong's author page at Amazon. Pick a book, or buy her whole collection, and make a purchase. The money earned in royalties will help her family and perhaps together we can make her a bestseller. It's not much. And perhaps it may even seem like a vain effort. But it's something simple that we can do.
Rest in peace, Jess my friend. You will be sorely missed. May God grant peace to your family and loved ones.
I love Christmastime and I love baking. When I was growing up, we spent every Christmas Eve baking the day away. We made cookies in three or four varieties, various candies and fudges which we then gathered up into foil tins and delivered anonymously to families we knew. It was the ultimate Ding Dong Ditch and I loved it!
As a young girl, and even as I got older, my dad always had the assignment of helping make the Oatmeal Gingersnaps (recipe below). Mom always said it was because the recipe was stiff and needed "a man's strength" to stir it. Knowing that my mom is no weakling, and as a mom myself, I'm beginning to understand why that became a tradition.
Sure, it's fun baking with my kiddos. In fact, there's very little in this world I enjoy more. But after a while the fighting over who's turn it is to stir the cookies (and resulting flour and sugar poofing all over my once-clean counters), having to wash someone's hands every few seconds because they've licked the sugar...again, and general craziness that is baking with small children can be taxing. But Oatmeal Gingersnaps are the best cookies for young chefs to help with. There are many parts they can help with, and who doesn't like watching a three-year-old try to figure out how to roll the dough ball around so every orifice is coated in sugar?
This morning we started baking for a Cookie Exchange I'm having tomorrow afternoon. My kiddos are still a bit too young for the Ding Dong Ditch Cookies, though that is certainly a plan for the future. But it doesn't mean we can't enjoy that blessed time in the kitchen. My kiddos are learning how addictive those gingersnaps are (especially since they can't have any more until tomorrow). They're learning how delectable cookies in the oven smell. And they're learning how to take turns and cook in a clean(ish) way.
But it's exhausting too. It would go a lot faster if I just made them myself, that's true. And I'd even enjoy it since I love the kitchen so much anyway. Yet, despite knowing that I'm going to spend half my time rewashing licked fingers and scooping bits of dough back into the bowl to be stirred in again, I love this time with my kiddos. I sometimes think though Mom was right. Oatmeal Gingersnaps need a man's strength. It isn't just the muscular kind, though trust me: if you double a batch of Oatmeal Gingersnaps you will need the strength. It's the patience too. My dad could handle us kids being, well, kids while baking easier than Mom could. And perhaps it's because every other time she was cooking she had one or more "helpers" and just enjoyed the break. I know sometimes I need it! Dad would laugh as he washed our hands...again. He'd put a finger to his lips as he snuck us bits of dough while Mom wasn't watching (even if she was watching). He'd wink and sweep up the messes and say, "A little flour never hurt anything." And more than once he snapped a wooden mixing spoon from the sheer effort of mixing the ingredients. We'd laugh and he'd show us his muscles before getting a new spoon.
One of the most precious parts of Christmas baking with Dad was how he always had a Christmas story to tell us while we baked. I can't even begin to count how many times I heard the Schofield abridged versions of Christ's birth, A Christmas Carol, The Other Wise Man, and other tales I'm pretty sure my daddy made up just for us kids. He sang Christmas carols with us, getting everyone in on the fun. And Mom watched us play together and laughed and sang and occasionally nabbed a child who'd licked their fingers without getting caught by Dad. These memories of Christmas Eve baking together are some of the best memories I have. Mom told us about having Christmas in Hawaii, Japan and other places she'd lived as a "Navy junior" (Dad always says she was actually a Navy brat). Dad talked about the snow in New Mexico and how he truly did have to walk through three feet of snow uphill both ways to get to school.
Yep, some cookies just need a man's strength. You dads of the world have so much strength to give. And I'm not just talking your muscles. Your kids need your laughter, they need your stories. They need your goofiness and mischief. They need your tenderness and your love. They need these moments with you to help them build strong character and to see what it really takes to be a good person in this crazy mixed up world of ours. Your kids need you. There are unique things only you can give and your children need that from you.
So yes, Oatmeal Gingersnaps are tough to make. So tough, I think I might just need a man's strength the next time they need baked.
P.S. Daddy, I love you!
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup rolled oats
Preheat over to 375 deg. F. Cream together shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses and stir till well-mixed. Add 1 cup flour and baking soda, ginger, and cloves. Stir until well-mixed. Add remaining flour and oats. Stir until a stiff dough forms. Put sugar on a plate. Create 1 inch balls with dough and then roll in sugar. Place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. Makes between 2 and 3 dozen depending on how big you make them. :)
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius