Monday, August 31, 2009

For the Love of Chaos

Everyone has been asking me lately how I've been doing, with the expectation that I must be positively glowing with delight over the upcoming release of According to Jane (in 29 days) and that, really, no time in my life should be more exciting than this.

Yeah...um, those of you who've had a baby or two, remember how you were nauseous for months? How 1/3 of the time you were thrilled and a 1/3 of the time you were kinda nervous and 1/3 of the time you were panicking beyond all reason? How you needed to devour daily Cadbury bars--with healthful nuts and raisins, of course--to calm your nerves? (Or maybe that was just me.) Well, I see very little difference between pregnancy and pre-publication, only I'm doing a LOT more blogging these days.

At least in the knotty area of reviews, I have a sense of (some) personal peace. I wrote about it in the October 2009 issue of Romantic Times, where I discussed the difference--emotionally and logically--between being the reviewer vs. the person whose book was being reviewed. But I think the talented Barbara Samuel explained her thoughts on reviews and dealing with publication anxiety far better than I could have in this post on Writer Unboxed last week.

She wrote about two very important things to remember, and her wisdom has helped me to embraced the current chaos a bit better and to let go of expectation a little more. Ironically, both lessons my main character has to learn... Who said that we teach best what we most need to learn? (A caramel-covered brownie to anyone who shot back, "Richard Bach, Illusions." :-)

Barbara writes:
#1 Once the book is published, it no longer belongs to us. It belongs to each individual reader.
#2 The book is not the writer who wrote it. Your book is not you. You are not the book.

(Grateful sigh.) Thanks for the reminder, Barbara. That is all so, so true.

Anyway, one thing I promised myself I'd do this week was to take some time away from the persistent demands of the computer screen and read or watch something that interests me. So, soon (!!!), I will have more to add to my list of completed Everything Austen Challenges. What are you all doing this week? Upcoming Labor Day plans?? Would love to hear about one thing you're doing *just for you.*

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Love of Coffee and Mysteries

It has been truly a delightful journey for me getting to share this fun Starbucks VIA™ taste-testing experience with so many of you. Thanks to you all! Thanks for your time, your willingness to try out some new coffee, your enthusiasm and creativity (there were some WAY cool recipes :) and, mostly, for simply popping in here to comment or even just read my posts and the responses of others. You've made me want to seek out new ways to make my tiny corner of the Blogsphere even more enjoyable for visitors...

The polls were closed at midnight on the "vote" for the favorite VIA™ Ready Brew flavor, and the results are in the right-hand column (just under my book cover photo). They are:
Colombia: 25%
Italian Roast: 56%
Both equally good: 18%
Neither: 0%
Of course, since only 16 out of the nearly 100 tasters formally voted (!!!), we didn't get the full range of potential opinions on the poll. However, judging from the comments people made on the prior post (August 20th), it was probably a fairly accurate sampling. So, again, thanks to all of you who shared opinions!

Now, the winners of the drawing...

I put the names of all the people who wrote out recipes into my son's Cubs hat and drew a name: celi.a (congrats!), you win the Crazy for Chocolate book, the ARC of According to Jane and the $10 Starbucks giftcard!

Then, I added to the slips of paper already in the hat, the names of all the other people who contributed thoughts, ideas, comments, etc. during our tasting week and drew 4 more names: Lucy, vvb32reads, Bethany and Nean (yay, ladies!), you each win the Crazy for Chocolate book, the ARC of According to Jane and your choice of one coffee: a 3-pack of the Colombia VIA™, a 3-pack of the Italian Roast VIA™ or a 1 (1.5 oz.) packet of ground Berres coffee. (Leave a comment here or email me at marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com to let me know your preference.)

I'll mail out all the prizes to everyone within a week!

Also, today I have the great privilege of being a blogging guest of amazing author Hank Phillippi Ryan (her newest novel, Air Time, JUST came out this week, and she'll be visiting here soon, too!). She invited me to join her and her wonderful fellow mystery authors on Jungle Red Writers for the day and, being a long-time mystery fan, I couldn't be more thrilled. If you have a chance, please visit us there and share the name of one of your favorite mystery writers. I'm blogging today about a few of mine :).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew Taste Test: The Results

First and foremost, thanks to everyone who took part in my very first taste test! This has been an exciting process, getting to share my coffee addiction with the Blogosphere :). For all of those who tried the two flavors of the new Starbucks instant coffee--whether you got the VIA™ packets as part of an AustenFest prize, were handed a couple of them by me in person during the RWA conference or here in Chicago or signed up for the taste test on my blog--ALL of you are welcome to share your thoughts.

And, as promised, there will be names drawn for prizes, too! Anyone who has tried the coffee and leaves a comment below is eligible...whether you loved it, hated it, thought it was okay but wished it were mixed with something stronger, etc. What are the prizes, you ask?

4 randomly selected commenters will each win: a Crazy for Chocolate step-by-step recipe book, an advanced reading copy of According to Jane and their choice of either a 3-pack of VIA™ Ready Brew (Colombia or Italian Roast--whichever they'd prefer) OR (if they weren't wild about the coffee) a 1.5 oz. packet of Berres Brothers Coffee Roasters, ground for use in an 8-10 cup coffee maker.

1 creative commenter (who shares a recipe he/she tried with the coffee) will win: a Crazy for Chocolate step-by-step recipe book, an advanced reading copy of According to Jane and a $10 Starbucks giftcard, which can be used toward any store or online purchase.

Because it's a taste test, the most important question is this one: Did you like it? How did it hold up against other instant coffees you've tried? Against the prepared coffee you've gotten at Starbucks? I'd love to know if you sampled it hot or cold or both. Did you prefer it one way over another? Which flavor did you like better--the Colombia or the Italian Roast? (I'll admit to a preference for the Colombia.) Were there any flavorings or toppings you added that made it especially tasty? (I've got a few of those...) Did you try it at home, at work or on the go? Would you buy it if you came across it in a store or would you rather just zip over to a Starbucks and grab a beverage made to order??

Okay, since I started this, I'll go first: I DO like the taste, and I enjoyed both flavors. The Colombia is a little nuttier and not as intense as the Italian Roast, IMO, so, if pressed for a favorite, that's mine. I really liked the convenience of the little packets, too. Being that I don't want to leave the house until absolutely necessary in the morning, I appreciated having the instant packets handy. Plus, I was traveling for half of July, so it was really convenient to just open a VIA™ packet, pour in some hot water and some sugar and stir. Seriously simple.

For me, this worked well when I was making the coffee hot. Clearly, though, I am not barista material AT ALL, because I made a total mess of it when I tried to prepare the coffee cold. I love iced coffee, but it would take someone far more skilled than I am (some kind of Coffee MacGyver, perhaps :-) to be able to fix it successfully on the road with little more than a cup and a handful of ice cubes. Or, in my case, even doing it at home didn't work so well. I'll stick to having my VIA™ hot, thank you. And I'll drive to Starbucks when I want an icy beverage.

As for flavorings, well, some people can drink their coffee without added sugar. I'm rather impressed by them and their taste buds of steel, but I'm in no way prepared to do the same. This was my favorite VIA™ variation:
"Marilyn's Mocha"
1 packet of the Colombia VIA™ coffee
1/2 packet of hot cocoa mix (like Swiss Miss or Nestle)
4 oz. water
4 oz. skim milk
Pour the water and the milk into a mug, microwave for 1.5-2.0 minutes, add the coffee and the cocoa mix. Stir well. Top with a couple swirls of whipped cream, if desired. (For me, that's always desired. :) Enjoy!

I was pretty pleased with myself for creating this concoction. If you like mochas, it's GOOD. Then I saw the recipe for the "Mocha Malted Milkshake" that Starbucks came up with...OMG! So, check this out:
1 packet Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew
1/2 cup (4 fl.oz./118 ml) cold milk
1 cup (132 g) chocolate ice cream
2 Tbsp (30 g) malted milk powder
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend and serve.
*Note: to make a Caramel Macchiato Milkshake, substitute vanilla ice cream for chocolate and add caramel sauce instead of malted milk powder.*

Starbucks has a link with this and other VIA™ recipes featured. Take a look here for more :).

Okay, now your turn! What worked for you? What didn't? All opinions are welcome! And, because this is the very first time I've used the "poll" gadget on my blog, please take a sec and answer my one question (look in the upper right column). I'll post the final results when I announce the contest winners on the 27th!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Almost Like Time Travel

Today I'm blogging about our visit to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and the very cool "Printing Office" we stopped in during our day there. That post is up at Nobody Writes It Better, so please stop by!

Also, I just joined Goodreads last week and have been enjoying being part of that reading community. If you're not a member, check it out and see what you think. If you're a member already and want a new "friend," (raises hand) pick me (!!)...or just stop by to say hello :-).

Speaking of good reads, HUGE congrats to the wonderful Nancy J. Parra, whose novel Mr. Charming was just released a couple of weeks ago! My copy has been tempting me from the top of my TBR pile...I can't wait to dive into it!!

Back on Thursday for the Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew Taste Test results--whoo-hoo!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Coffee, Zombies and Summer's End

Just a couple of quick notes to update everyone:

The coffee packets for the Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew Taste Test were sent out this morning. Many, many thanks to all who joined in. I truly hope you'll have fun giving these a try!! Everyone participating should get their samples of the Colombia and the Italian Roast in the mail this week. (Please email me if you do NOT get them by Saturday.) From August 20th through 26th, I'll have a post up for all of the taste testers. There, thoughts and opinions can be shared and prizes can be won!

Also, congrats to Melanie for winning the copy of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, as well as an ARC of According to Jane! I sent you an email about mailing... Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Austen + Zombies ;).

Finally, I'm not sure if this is true around the country or around the world for many of you (it's winter in Australia, I know!), but for those of us here in Chicagoland, summer is starting to wind down. Two more weeks and then school will start again for both my teacher-husband and our son. Not that I believe the weather is going to cool significantly anytime soon, but it feels as though we're about to turn a corner... A corner where "fall" is the reality, regardless of any heat or humidity index.

Despite longing for those peaceful hours where I can, at last, concentrate on writing uninterrupted again, I'm going to miss our family summertime. The bike rides (of which I haven't done nearly enough). The pool visits (of which I've done too many, but they're my son's favorite). The late nights and lazy mornings. Sigh. The transition from one season to the next always makes me reflective, a luxury I know I won't have much time for over the next two weeks as we prepare for a new school year and I prepare for my end-of-September book launch.

Anyway, I've always loved fall, and I'm especially looking forward to this one, but I hope all of you will enjoy this summer's end. Anything special left to do before August comes to a close? Any favorite memories from June or July that you'll carry with you into the autumn months?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge: "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies"

Okay. This was one of my stranger reading experiences.

Seth Grahame-Smith's additions to the classic Jane Austen text were, in a word, odd. There are many intellectual and thought-provoking responses to this book out there, ranging from an appreciation of the humorous absurdity of it to an outspoken disdain at the perceived defamation. My personal opinion, however, is far less marked by extremes than by the absence of them. I was kinda...bored.

I know, I know. How could this be true? I mean, there were zombies (or, rather, "unmentionables") roaming the English countryside and attacking my all-time favorite literary couple: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Under these circumstances, it seems wrong of me to plead indifference. But that's the way it is.

I will admit to having been Very Surprised by the story's premise when it was first catapulted upon the pubishing world. Intrigued. Curious. Some of my fellow Janeites expressed a tremendous animosity toward Mr. Grahame-Smith upon encountering the "changes" he inflicted on the original text. But I was too busy with other writing commitments to skim beyond the first chapter or two and, thus, I remained detached and mostly amused by the resulting uproar until I read the book. And then...nothing changed.

I think I should be more upset than I am. Or more amused. Or just more passionately any emotion. On the level of pure logic and rationality, I'm impressed by the marketing genius of the novel. Truly, it's an idea that NEVER would have occurred to ME, so I have to give it points for originality. But I still don't feel anything when I read the altered scenes. Whereas, when I read Jane's novel, sans the undead, I do. Every time. (And there have been many readings. :)

So, I'm here in Chicago, staring at the front cover and shrugging. Maybe someone else out there can get more out of this book than I did... Does anyone who hasn't read it want my copy? I'll give it away this weekend to one random commenter on this post, along with an ARC of my debut novel According to Jane, and will look forward to hearing someone else's thoughts!

**p.s. Anyone still interested in my Starbucks coffee taste test (free VIA Ready Brew!) has until THIS Saturday to sign up. Go HERE!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

D.C. and Lands Beyond

The Golden Heart and RITA Awards Ceremony may have marked the end of the 2009 RWA National Conference for most attendees (in the picture to the left, I'm with fellow Cherries/authors Corrina Lawson, Christine Merrill and Jill Purinton), but it was just the start of Part 2 in my July adventure.

My husband and son picked me up from the Marriott Wardman Park and promptly drove us to a somewhat different "park"--Nationals Park--baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals who, in an amazing stroke of luck (at least according to my baseball-obsessed husband), were playing the Chicago Cubs that very afternoon.

Now, it was hot. And I was tired (this was after 5 days at an RWA conference, remember?). But, even so, it was a fun way to kick off the family portion of our vacation. And Cubs fans--of which there were surprisingly many in the stadium that day--were deliriously happy with the 11-3 victory. It was also our 10-year-old's first live professional baseball game. So, for him, it was an incredibly memorable event.

Next, we braved a few maniacal drivers and a handful of irritating traffic delays on I-95 to visit my friend and fellow author Laura Moore. I first met Laura when she lived in the Chicago area and was a member of my local RWA chapter. She's since moved back East, but I love getting updates on her writing and her life, and the first two books in her new trilogy will be out next year. Can't wait to see them in print!

Next we drove off to see a number of historical sites in Massachusetts (note Plymouth Rock--yes, THAT one--in the photo :). Seeing it again had me humming Schoolhouse Rock's "No More Kings" for much of the afternoon and evening. Thankfully, I had fresh lobster, clam chowder and salt water taffy to distract me! We also went to Old Sturbridge, a recreated 1830s village, which gave me some wonderful insights into life at that time and will be the subject of my August 17th Nobody Writes It Better post. So, more on that later!

Those of you who know me, know my family and I can do long roadtrips. We were just getting started... Next up: Maine--land of jagged, gorgeous coastlines and, also, more delicious seafood. We visited Acadia National Park and, atop Cadillac Mountain, saw this wonderful view.

And, later, this cute lighthouse.

We wound our way through the center of the state, then through the pretty White Mountains of New Hampshire--avoiding downpours whenever we could, but they got us a few times. We made it into Vermont, where I'd long anticipated a visit to this famous ice cream factory: Ben & Jerry's! A bit like the Holy Grail to me :).

Finally, we zigzagged through the Green Mountains, past Lake Champlain and into the state of New York so my husband and son could get their fix of military history: Fort Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. Reenactments were afoot at Crown Point that day and many muskets were fired in honor of the French and Indian War. Ticonderoga was celebrating its 100th year of being open as a museum and, thus, there were canon demonstrations and many kid-friendly activities. While weaponry doesn't hold the same fascination for me as, say, a pint of "Cherry Garcia," I'll admit the tour guides and reenactors we met were funny and interesting. We spent five or six hours between the two forts, but our time there provided much discussion on the long car ride back to Chicago.

And that's it! Now we're home and, much as I love traveling, I'm glad to be back. I have a Taste Test to kick off this month, which I'm really excited about, friends to catch up with, and a house that could use more than a little bit of cleaning...