Thank You & a Fond Farewell

This is a day that has been long coming, but I’d been trying to put it off because I love Magical Musings and ALL of the people involved with it — each of my fellow writers and every one of you readers! Not surprisingly, though, I suspected I’d eventually have to step back when life started to get too busy for me to blog regularly…and that day is here.

So, first and foremost, let me say THANK YOU!!!!!!!! I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed getting to spend a few minutes of every day with the members of our MM community and have the chance to read your thoughts and share mine. I truly appreciate the warm reception you’ve given to me and to the guests I’ve hosted over these past several years, and I’m so grateful for your comments on my posts.

PerfectBet - Brant - FINAL - smallOver these next few months, I’ve got some final drafting and a fair bit of editing to finish up for my summer release, PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT BET (which is Bingley and Jane’s story and the sequel to Will and Beth’s story from Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match). Then I have a book-club project I’m working on for The Road to You. And after that…well, I’m not sure which of the half-dozen projects awaiting me I’m going to write next, but I was never a particularly speedy author, so I’ve got my work cut out for me, LOL.

In any case, in spite of the busy writing days ahead, I know I’m going to be missing you all and needing a break from the offline drafting, so I’ll be checking in! And, if we’re not already connected on Facebook or Twitter, I hope you’ll visit me there, as well as on my website, where I’ll do my best to keep things as updated as possible :razz:.

Thank you all again and again.
XOXOX
~Marilyn <3

A Cookie for Springtime & a Giveaway!

flowers - white and yellowYAY! At long, long last…spring is (technically) here!

Of course, as I type this, the weather looks hardly welcoming in my region of the country (northern Illinois). It’s rainy and overcast with a chiller of a wind…so I’m not convinced the seasons have officially changed yet.

However, my calendar tells me that it’ll soon be time for Easter (and Passover, too, for my Jewish friends) and, as is usually the case for big holidays, we’ve got some family plans in the works. One of those plans involves cookies. :razz:

My mom and my grandmother are both REALLY good at baking. Me? Well, not so much, but I can handle a few easy culinary projects. My relatives have desserts that are a tradition on certain occasions — like the Italian Christmas cookies my mom makes every year in December with her Sicilian friends — and her favorite date cookies, which she likes to make in April around Easter time. Here is a simple version of the recipe:

DATE COOKIES

date cookiesIngredients:
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

????????Directions:
Step One – Cream butter and sugar in a bowl until fluffy then add the beaten eggs. Add in the flour, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda — mixing well.
Step Two – Combine the dates, the water and the pecans, and then add them to the dough, too.
Step Three – Cover with plastic and chill for an hour.
Step Four – Grease a cookie sheet and drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto it.
Step Five – In a preheated 375 degree oven, bake the cookies for about 10 minutes. Let them cool for another 5 – 10 minutes before removing them from the tray. Enjoy!

Holiday Man - final cover smallDo you have a favorite recipe — dessert or otherwise — that you love to make (or have made for you!) during late March/early April? For our friends in the southern hemisphere, I know it’s autumn now, not spring, but I’m just as happy to read about your tasty favorites during this time of year, so please share!!

And, because Holiday Man is a contemporary romance that takes place during a full year of holidays — Easter included — I’ll give away one PDF copy of the novel to one random commenter below. Open internationally! I’ll draw the winner’s name around noon on Monday, March 31st and post it in the comments section.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

Book Club Love

Clara, Tina, Diane, Liz and Cheryl

A few members from a wonderful local book club that read FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE and who, as a group, get together weekly on Friday mornings at…eight-thirty ;).

I love book clubs.

As a reader, it’s just tremendously fun to have an excuse to get together with friends, chat about stories, drink wine and eat tasty food all night.

As an author, it’s nothing short of a huge honor to have your story be the one that a group of smart, creative, thoughtful people are discussing. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be a part of book clubs — both in person and online — ever since I released my debut novel, According to Jane. It quickly became one of my favorite perks of being a writer.

IMG_0842

A real-life reenactment of the “Halloweiner Party” from FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE — note the cute costumes and the wrapped candy stuck on the wall!

One of the most memorable book-club experiences I’ve ever had was when another Chicago-area book club read Friday Mornings at Nine and, because they’re such clever and hilarious women, they decided to surprise me by replicating the fairytale-esque, grownups-only Halloween party from the middle of the novel. I walked into their meeting, idly wondering why there was a big orange jack-o-lantern poster on the front door — in mid-May, LOL — only to find several of the members actually dressed in Halloween costumes, having made some of the wacky dishes I’d created for the story (i.e., “Jack & the Bean Dip,” “Three Bloody Pigs in a Blanket,” “Headless Gingerbread Man Cookies”) and even taping miniature candy bars to the walls, like my characters had done. It was so amazingly cool — I was floored and still laugh when I think about it!!

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My coming-of-age romantic mystery, THE ROAD TO YOU.

But I’ve also enjoyed being a part of some fantastically fun book clubs online and via conference call. No real candy or costumes were involved (although we’ve never been short on virtual treats!), but we’ve had some great discussions, too. I just finished a month-long book club for The Road to You at The Reading Frenzy (here are the links to the Opening Interview and to Week One of our chat, if you’re curious about how it worked ;). And I’m about to start another month-long book club, this time on Goodreads as part of the Women’s Fiction Writing Association. We’ll be reading and discussing A Summer in Europe throughout March. It’s open to the public, by the way, so anyone who’d like to join in the group read/chat is welcome!

A Summer in Europe--small

A SUMMER IN EUROPE, my romantic women’s fiction travel adventure…

How about you? Have you ever been part of a book club — either as a reader or as an author? Did you get together in person or through some sort of virtual means, i.e., Internet, telephone, Skype? What was a novel you enjoyed discussing with the group? I’d love to hear about your experiences!!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. :razz:

A Visit with Freelance Editor Anita Mumm

Anita_Mumm_headshotToday, I’m thrilled to introduce you all to a friend and a wonderful publishing professional — Anita Mumm! She’s a freelance editor based in Denver, Colorado, and before starting her editing business, Mumm’s the Word (LOVE that name!), she worked in submissions and foreign rights at Nelson Literary Agency. I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time in New York City at the RWA National Conference in 2011, and have always enjoyed our email correspondences, no matter where in the world she may be. (Read below about her recent trip to India!!)

She’s a passionate author advocate and draws from her years of experience in publishing and education to help writers attain their best work and achieve their traditional or self-publishing goals. You can read more about her work and find advice and tips for writers on her blog, Word Café.

WELCOME to Magical Musings, Anita!!

Thank you for having me, Marilyn! Your visit to my blog last year was such a treat and I’ve learned so much about what it takes for authors to succeed by following your versatile career. It’s an honor for me to be here.

It’s a pleasure to have you as our guest!! So, please tell us, what are the best, and worst, things about being an editor?

There are so many things I love about this job: working with talented writers, applying what I’ve learned about the publishing industry in a meaningful way, and getting to use my creative and problem-solving skills. Reading has always been one of my favorite activities, so I still have to pinch myself sometimes—do I really get to do this for a living? I also love the flexibility; I set my own schedule so I rarely have to say no to activities with family and friends. And I can’t complain about the commute—down the stairs to my home office in my “uniform” (aka bathrobe).  :razz:

The only not-so-great part is that if I want time off, or want to take a holiday, I have to make it happen—my office doesn’t automatically close! I love the kind of flexibility that allows me to travel, spend time with family, and show friends the best of Denver when they visit. But sometimes I’m not so great at shutting my computer down at a decent hour, or taking weekends off. Balance is something I definitely have to strive for.

What do you see as the role of freelance editors in today’s publishing landscape? And what types of perspective did working at a literary agency bring to your editing work?

I think freelancers have an increasingly important role, as self-publishing continues to grow and refine itself. It’s really an exciting time for this profession. You can see the evidence in how many editors have left their jobs at major publishing houses in the past couple of years to pursue a freelance career. With the self-publishing boom, they’ve recognized the need for their skills on the ground floor. Some of today’s freelancers contract for publishers, some focus on indie authors, and many do both.

The goal we should all have in common is that we try to bring out the very best in a writer’s work. We can’t guarantee a client will end up with a major publishing deal or land on the bestseller lists. We do our darnedest to get their work to that level, but if you’re hiring an editor with that expectation, you are risking major disappointment. What a freelance editor can do is spot the strengths and weaknesses in your writing, then give you specific guidelines for refining the former and smoothing out the latter. We can’t rewrite the book for you—and you wouldn’t want us to because it would no longer be your voice and vision. We can give you scene-by-scene guidance for the overhaul, and help you learn techniques for improving your writing for the life of your career.

Each writer has a different goal in mind, but most of my clients either want to attract an agent and get a deal with a traditional publisher, or successfully self-publish. Working closely with agents for nearly four years taught me exactly what does or doesn’t impress them in a manuscript, how to stay current with news and trends in the industry, and how to work with authors in a way that incorporates a good balance of criticism and support. I saw what a healthy agent-author relationship looks like, it’s that kind of relationship I strive for in my work. There should be open communication, mutual respect, and a genuine desire for the author to succeed.

You’ve seen a mind-boggling number of query letters over the years, first at Nelson Literary Agency and now through your critique work. What was it like to read thousands of queries a month in the slush pile? Any advice to authors, in a nutshell?

Yes, I definitely saw my fair share of queries—over 30,000 a year while I was working at NLA! Believe it or not, I never got tired of reading them. Every time I thought I’d seen it all, something fresh and exciting would show up in the slush pile. Admittedly, there was also a big helping of the bizarre and creepy. But it all added up to an interesting workday, no doubt about it!

I wish I could boil my advice down to a couple of paragraphs, but every query has its unique strengths and weaknesses. I’ve come up with quite a few general tips I hope are helpful in the query workshops on my blog, and I often recommend sites like Agentquery.com and Query Shark. My single best piece of advice is this: focus on crafting a strong hook, let your writing voice shine through, and keep it professional. While the really quirky queries caught my attention and made my job interesting, they rarely gained any real points for the writer. A certain level of professionalism is essential, and it doesn’t have to stifle your writer’s voice. Make sure you’re grabbing attention for the right reasons—your good writing and intriguing story. Any other kind of attention is useless—unless you enjoy being “that query” that agents giggle about at conferences while hoping not to bump into you. Doh!

What kinds of books do you hope to see more of in your work, and on the market?

Love this question! Another fun thing about my job is that I get to work in a variety of genres, which I choose to do because I enjoy reading widely. Currently I’m getting a lot of clients in YA and women’s fiction, both of which I adore. I’d love to see more literary and commercial fiction, middle grade, and sci fi/fantasy. I’m also starting to see more requests for short story editing—love that medium and would be thrilled to see more!

I’d also like to see more multicultural projects—stories set in other cultures, stories about minorities, immigrants, refugees, and expats. Stories of people coming into contact with things that are foreign to them and growing from that. A client of mine just approached me with a new project, set in Somalia, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to learn from her experiences while sharing my editing skills. That’s something I should have mentioned in the perks of being an editor—constantly learning and gaining new insights from the material I read. There is so much truth in fiction.

TajMahal - AnitaYou have a background in ESL instruction and just returned from spending the fall in Dharamsala, India, where you volunteered to teach English at a school for refugees. I know this was an amazing adventure! Can you tell us just 2 or 3 new experiences you had while you were abroad? Do you have any other major trips that you’d like to take?

That’s right—I got to spend September through December of last year at Kunpan Cultural School, a wonderful nonprofit focused on educational opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India. It was intense, rewarding work and truly one of the best experiences of my life. The students and other refugees I got to know were among the bravest, most openhearted and resilient people I’ve met. I hope to return within the next couple of years to help out at the school again.

After I finished my teaching project, I got to travel a bit with three wonderful Indian friends I had met during my time in Dharamsala. My new favorite place to sleep? On a train in India! You fall asleep and wake up in intoxicating places like Udaipur, city of lakes and forts…and camels! We also visited Agra and the Taj Mahal, which was shrouded in fog that day, making it even more magical.

Now I’m enjoying settling back into life in the States, but one of the major reasons I decided to start my own editing business is that it gives me so much flexibility in terms of location, and it allows me to continue teaching ESL part-time, which I love. When I go abroad again, I won’t have to miss a beat with my editing work, but I’ll also be able to contribute to projects like Kunpan School and other projects I care about. As for other big trips, in the not too distant future I’d love to visit Turkey and Tibet, brush up on my French in Morocco or France, or return to Brazil, one of my favorite places. That’s where my beau is from, so there’s a good chance we’ll be heading south in the near future.  ;-)

And, finally, you live in the beautiful state of Colorado. When you find yourself with a little free time, what types of activities (aside from reading, writing, editing, etc., which I know you’re doing often!) do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite sport? A place you like to hang out with friends?

Colorado is a great place for those who love the outdoors, so I try to really take advantage of that. In the summer, there’s hiking in the mountains, river rafting, and the miles and miles of bike paths that crisscross Denver. In the winter, I take advantage of winter sports at ski hubs like Keystone and Monarch (that one’s my favorite because it’s low-key and Salida, the neighboring town, is a gem). A lot of my friends and relatives are amazing skiers or snowboarders, and while I do both of those, let’s just say I have nothing to brag about! But just being in that invigorating mountain air is enough. Also, I recently discovered snowshoeing. It’s great exercise and takes a little less athletic ability—perfect for me! It’s a nice opportunity to observe wildlife like moose, elk, and foxes up close.

As for favorite hangouts in Denver, coffee houses top my list because they serve as both a work environment, where I can do editing and meet with local clients, and a place to meet friends. Stella’s is one of my favorites—it’s kind of a Denver icon. And in warm weather I love hanging out in the many wonderful parks in the city. We’re really blessed with outdoor opportunities, even within the city itself. It’s a great place to visit (hint, hint)!

Thank you so much, Anita!! (And you don’t have to twist my arm to visit Denver…I love that city! :smile:)

To our Magical Musings visitors — a question: Is there a place somewhere in the world that you’ve never seen in person but are longing to travel to someday? And what’s one place you have visited that you particularly loved? For me, Moscow is one place I’d love to see, and Venice will always be one of my personal favorites. You?!

The Things That Move Us

Watch Budweiser's puppy love commercialThere was a chat on Twitter this week about Super Bowl commercials — ones that were especially memorable because they were really humorous or really touching. It reminded me of something a well-known New York editor once said at a conference: That the kinds of novels she hoped to find and publish were “really” stories, as in really sad, really funny, really clever, really scary, really something. Because those were the kinds of stories that moved us. They touched our emotions and made us feel.

And that, in turn, reminded me of something else I’d heard or, possibly, read lately. (The words of wisdom I encounter on the Internet these days have a tendency to start blending together, and I can no longer recall if the source came from YouTube or a blog site, LOL.) In any case, I liked the understanding that the speaker/writer conveyed…that although it takes a “big brain” to write a good book, it takes an “even bigger heart.”

When I look at the authors whose work I greatly admire, or think back on the films, TV shows, or even commercials that stayed with me over the years, it’s usually the ones that made me smile and get a little teary at the same time that I loved most. This classic Hallmark commercial about “Freddie and Sam” was one of my favorites as a kid:

And the link HERE is to the new Budweiser commercial called “Puppy Love” that will be shown during the Super Bowl this Sunday. It is, in a word, adorable.

What are some of your favorite TV commercials? Ones that touched you, made you laugh aloud, or just really surprised you? I’d love to hear about them!

The Road to You - Brant - smallAnd on a final note, for those who may not already know this, my coming-of-age romantic mystery — The Road to You — has been on super sale this week! The ebook is just $0.99 (at least until midnight EST tonight — reg. price $3.99) at Amazon/Kindle (worldwide), B&N/Nook  (US/UK), and Apple/iTunes (US, UK, Canada, AUS, NZ).

It’s also the February Book Club pick on The Reading Frenzy, so if you’d like to be part of the online discussion and read/chat about the story with me, please do!! It’s a public blog, free and open to everyone. From Feb. 3rd – 9th, we’ll begin by reading Chapters 1 – 6 of the novel and discussing it. More reading and conversation will follow throughout the month. So, if you’d like to join in for a week, for all of February, or even for just 10 minutes…you’re more than welcome!

Happy Weekend, All. :razz: