Saturday Situation Report

file0001354955594What’s the situation? Well…

I am making tomato soup even as we speak, with the intention of canning a few jars. I’ve never canned tomato soup before, but we have tomatoes ripe in the garden and have no need for any more canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I like Campbell’s cream of tomato soup (made with milk instead of water). I think it’s the only canned soup I like. Making it from fresh tomatoes is a lot of work just for a bowl of soup, so I don’t do it very often. But I need to do something with all these tomatoes, so I decided to experiment. I’m not comfortable canning something with cream in it, though, so I’ll leave out the cream. I can always add it later, when I open a jar.

2015-08-22 11.37.42Yes, we have tomatoes in our garden despite the determined efforts of the neighborhood groundhog. The tomatoes in the photo at left are high enough off the ground that the The Beast can’t reach them. The one shown below is in a less fortunate location. I wouldn’t say we’ve lost half our tomatoes to groundhog predation (if herbivores can be said to prey on vegetables), but the critter is making a significant dent in the crop. No pun intended…

2015-08-22 11.37.28Fortunately, we planted more than we needed, so we still have plenty.

I needed more tomato puree, so I planted some San Marzano “paste” tomatoes in addition to the round “eating” tomatoes 2015-08-22 11.39.11shown above. The plants are starting to die off, partly because of being grazed upon by The Beast and partly because it’s not uncommon for them to do that in late summer. The round tomatoes are still going strong, so The Beast should have plenty of good grazing for a few weeks yet.

We haven’t seen as many groundhogs here in Maryland as we did in Ohio. But where gardens are concerned, it only takes one! And here’s the problem: we live in town. In a neighborhood surrounded by houses and people. Which means we can’t handle the problem the way we did in Ohio. There, we had some occasional damage from groundhogs, but let’s just say that the same hog never visited us twice, if you get my drift.

These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beasts calls them "lunch."
These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beast calls them “lunch.”

We could legally trap this critter in a live trap, but what well-fed beast, for whom the whole world is a salad bar, would go into a box to get food? We borrowed a live trap for a while, but the only thing we caught was a possum. Don’t care about possums. And I’m pretty sure I heard the groundhog laugh as it passed the trap on its way to eat all my green beans.

Excuse me while I go stir my soup… Okay, I’m back. One more thing about that, and then I’ll move on: I like this tomato soup because, besides being yummy, it allows me to use tomatoes and carrots from my garden, basil from my herb garden, and chicken broth I made this spring and put in the freezer. It irks me that I had to buy onions, considering the fact that I used to grow marvelous onions in Ohio. But it’s still satisfying to make something yummy from things I have on hand, and to be able to preserve the result for use in the cold months to come. I can anticipate only one down side: I’ll probably never want Campbell’s tomato soup again.

This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park
This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park

Now, let’s talk about writing. I had the opportunity last weekend to go to a one-day “Writing to Inspire” workshop near Frederick, Maryland. Despite being a bit dragged down by a stomach bug that almost-but-not-quite kept me home, I had a good time. (Would have been a great time if I’d been feeling better!) Met some people I’m very happy to know. And hope to be able to go back next year if and when they do it again. This was the first year for it, and it seemed to be well received by all who participated, so I hope it will be the first get-together in a long tradition of them.

11781694_10204935433811036_3742185297715992323_nIn the pic above, you can see a back view of me along the left edge.  The picture at right was taken from the back porch/patio of the tea room. That white disk at the lower right corner is a table, in case you couldn’t tell. The view was lovely, but it was a hot, sunny day and only a crazy person would have sat out there.

Umm… okay, I guess I did sit out there for lunch. So I’m a crazy person, okay?

Find me in this pic. I dare ya. (This is not a trick; I really am there.)

Anyway, here’s the thing about writer get-togethers. It wasn’t a place where everybody tried to sell their books. Actually, I did sell two of mine, but that’s not the reason I went. My purpose was to find a little inspiration/encouragement, and to encourage others. And I think both those goals were accomplished.

Nobody understands a writer except another writer. Being a Christian writer adds another dimension. If you’re a writer and a Christian, you’re a Christian writer, no matter what you write. A Christian has a higher standard and a greater purpose for whatever he or she does, and that applies to writing. So it’s helpful for those of us who are flopping around in this confusing land of Christian Writerdom to have a little company along the way.

So, speaking of “along the way,” what’s along my way in the way of writing? Well, now that I’m feeling myself again after the aforementioned stomach ailment (so wonderful to finally emerge from the fog!), I’m eager to move forward on three fronts:

c1b3b9b01) My friend whom I’ve been helping with her project, Dancing on Stones: A Quest for Joy, is at the point where it’s time to actively pursue publication of this thing. This is huge– exciting–and a long story. But I won’t get into it all now. I’ll just say I’m actually looking forward to promoting this book when it’s available. (Did I really say that? Yes. I’m looking forward to helping her promote it, because it’s a book I’m wildly enthusiastic about.)

2) I’m negotiating with another individual concerning my helping him with a memoir. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s always good to expand our horizons and learn new things. Besides that, I think the guy will be fun to work with.

This has nothing to do with this blog post. It's just pretty.
This has nothing to do with this blog post. It’s just pretty.

3) My friend Susan and I have agreed to hammer out new novels together next month — kind of like NaNoWriMo except less formally organized, and in September. Less pressure, too. We’ve just decided that it’s time we got cracking on these things, and a little determination, as well as accountability to someone one else, might help. I’ve actually already started this new novel — yes, I have written five sentences. So I’m well on my way, ha ha.

My soup is in jars and in the pressure canner now. (The acid in the tomatoes might make it okay to can in a hot water bath canner, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.) The kitchen is cleaned up, and I have some laundry going as well. Once I publish this post, I’ll be able to check off all the items on today’s must-do list. What a nice feeling!

2015-07-24 12.30.28And speaking of nice, I’ll share another photo I took a few weeks ago of the Rose of Sharons beside the driveway. This is a very popular shrub in these parts (they’re like belly buttons: everyone has one), and I’m glad, because I like them. They’re not only beautiful, but they also give me warm fuzzies, because my mom had one when I was growing up. But her one Rose of Sharon was nothing to compare to the ones planted along our property on two sides. When at their peak they’re just short of spectacular.

So there you go: a report of my situation this Saturday.



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Book Reviews: It’s a Jungle Out There

file0001570123023The farther I go on this writing journey, the more complicated it seems. Even something as simple as a book review has hidden pitfalls.

For better or for worse, Amazon sells more books than anyone. In an attempt to prevent writers from buying bogus reviews (a practice that at one time was prevalent), Amazon has strict review policies.  One of their rules is that a review cannot be paid for. If you’re given a book for free, you’re supposed to state that in your review. If Amazon’s records show you purchased the book from them, they’ll give it their “Verified Purchase” seal of approval. But if you didn’t buy it there, they reserve the right to remove/refuse your review.

You’re not allowed to “swap” reviews. That is, you can’t agree with a fellow author to review one another’s books. Of course that happens all the time — being an author, I know a lot of authors, and I’ve reviewed some of their books and they’ve reviewed mine. But if Amazon gets a whiff of your relationship, they can take down a review you posted of a friend’s book.

Review me! (But don't tell Amazon I asked you to.)
Review me! (But don’t tell Amazon I asked you to.)

Though every author loves having others praise their work, getting Amazon reviews isn’t just a matter of pride. The more reviews you have, the more your book sells as people read the reviews and think, “all these readers can’t be wrong.” Also, the more reviews  you get, the more Amazon recommends that book on their site. I believe the magic is supposed to start happening once you get 10 reviews. (Which is why I’m a bit frustrated that The Last Toqeph has been stuck at 9 reviews for months now.)

And then there are the paid reviewers, like the much-vaunted Kirkus. You can spend several hundred dollars on a paid review, but all that gets you is the right to use a quote from your great Kirkus review on your promotional materials. You can’t post it to Amazon, and you can’t use it to pay your electric bill.

The fact is, I don’t put much thought or effort into book promotion. I don’t track sales (other than to record the few bucks that are automatically deposited into my checking account each month). I don’t try to figure what marketing effort brings the greatest ROI (return on investment), seeing as how nothing seems to bring much return. (But then, I don’t invest much.) I pretty much do what I can without going broke and/or knocking myself out over it, and let come what may.

For that reason, when I saw a message on one of the Goodreads authors’ forums on which I lurk, I took notice. One of these organization that produces paid reviews (“like Kirkus” is the way it was worded) was running a contest in which they would give five winners a free review. “A $300 value!” (Or whatever the quoted cost was — I don’t remember the number for sure.) I took a closer look, and, seeing no danger involved in entering, I gave it a shot and then forgot about it.

But a couple weeks later, I received notice that I’d won a free review from Entrada. Huh? Oh, yeah, I entered that contest, didn’t I? Hmmm… pretty suspicious. I never win anything. Even more suspicious? Someone else on that Goodreads forum said he entered and won. Is it a case where five people entered, so everyone won? Adding to the sense of unease, if you google Entrada in general or Entrada Reviews in particular, this organization doesn’t show up on the first page of results. (It comes up if you search for Entrada Book Reviews, but I didn’t include the word “book” when I did my initial search.)

My unfounded guess based on nothing in particular? It’s probably a start-up company whose internet presence and reputation in the publishing world is not yet established, and this contest is a way to get their name out there. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially since they asked for no money from me — not for entering, and not for winning.

The only thing I was asked to send them was my ebook (so the reviewer could read it), a headshot and short biography — a typical request. As I sent the book file, it occurred to me they might try to sell the book on the black market or something, but who cares? My purpose in writing it was to allow people to read it, not to make money. So even black market sales will further my purpose.

Before Pella Book signing
Pella, Iowa May 2012. Photo by Glenda Mathes

So I sent what they asked for, and they delivered what they promised. Their review of The Story in the Stars is live on their site. It’s a good review — I’m happy with it. And I can use it (or excerpts therefrom) on my Amazon author page, my Goodreads page, or on any promotional materials I create.

I’m still not sure how reputable it is for a company to charge big bucks for reviews. But since I got this one for free, I’ll try to figure out how to use it. Gotta get my money’s worth, don’t ya know.


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