Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Incredible HNS Conference Experience

In costume as a pregnant Vestal Virgin
I know it's been days since I got back from the Historical Novel Society Conference in Tampa, but I hadn't posted about it until now because I'm hard at work editing Sacred Fire. I was lucky enough to get several agent requests, and I don't want to keep those agents waiting!

Conferences are so much fun that I wish I could go to one every month. The best part about them is the friendships. Making friends might seem like a frivolous pleasure compared to everything else you can accomplish at a conference, but in any business endeavor your success is based off of who you know. In writing where word of mouth determines how many books you will sell, having friends is essential.

But there's more to it than that. Being around so many intelligent, like-minded people is soothing and regenerating at the same time. When I first got to conference I was feeling down about my book because it's taken longer than I'd hoped to find an agent. Every person I spoke to was supportive, encouraging, and helpful. For instance, Kate Quinn told me I should sell my book as women's fiction. That will make a huge difference in communicating to agents what to expect from it. Thanks, Kate!

I was stupid this year and didn't take copious notes on every panel. The Brooklyn Scribbler is posting multiple articles like I did last year, so if you're interested in learning more, I recommend visiting that blog. Also, someone "storified" all the related Twitter posts and it's a treasure trove of wise quotes from speakers and panelists. You can check it out by clicking here

On Saturday morning, I moderated a panel on Depicting Religion in Historical Fiction. It went perfectly! There's nothing more satisfying than looking back on an endeavor and deciding you wouldn't change a thing about it. The speakers were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and they happily took on some challenging questions.



I highly recommend their books, if you haven't checked them out already:
I have a voice recording of the session, which I will post... as soon as I figure out how.

To think, I almost didn't submit the idea for the panel because I didn't think they'd be interested in an unpublished author such as myself. I'm so glad I went for it anyway! The fact of the matter is I had a good idea, and good ideas are more valuable than talent and experience. If you ever have a good idea, go for it!

The panel was my favorite part of the conference, but the Costume Contest was easily my second favorite. I went dressed up as a Vestal Virgin... who was seven months pregnant. Gillian Bagwell, who was in character as Lady Rivers, interviewed me on stage as if I were walking down a red carpet. She was a hoot! Acting with her was a real pleasure.

Hopefully I'll be able to post a video of the contest later, but the basic jist of it was this: she'd ask me about my clothes, and every time I said something represented virginity or modesty, everyone laughed. Finally Lady Rivers asked me how I could be a Vestal "Virgin" if I was with child, to which I responded, "How dare you! I've just gained weight!" The audience roared with applause.

I won the contest, and for the rest of the event, people wished me luck on my "weight loss."

Last year, I practiced the pitch I would give agents until I could do it in my sleep. This year, I said "To heck with it," and just talked, saying whatever came to mind. I was more comfortable and my passion showed through more easily. I guess the agents liked it, too.

It was a successful weekend, but not everything went perfectly according to plan. I met with one agent who straight-up hated my book. It was okay because I already knew she wasn't the right agent for me, and in her defense I did egg her on asking her to tell me exactly what she thought, but it was still tough to hear. 

The sad thing is, she was one of the first people I spoke to at the event and I was already feeling a lack of confidence in my book, so my weekend started on a negative note. But between the encouragement from my friends and the interest from other agents, I was able to take her helpful-though-saddening advice with renewed confidence.

Only two years before the next HNS Conference in America. I'm already counting down the days.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoughts Before the Historical Novel Society Conference

As the incredible Historical Novel Society Conference draws near, I find myself comparing the upcoming trip to the last time I went in 2011. A lot has changed... but perhaps too much is the same.

The conference was a huge turning point in my career and my life. Two years ago I was at a dead-end job, I had been working on the same novel for four years, my spirit was broken, and my dreams of being an author seemed an eternity away. I didn't read much historical fiction so I knew little about the genre. The thought of speaking to a real author made me giddy and nervous.

By the time I came back from the conference, everything was different. It was like I had glimpsed the life I always wanted -- a life where I speak to agents face-to-face and socialize with brilliant, talented authors -- and suddenly I didn't feel stuck anymore. My dreams felt possible again.

I learned from that experience that your situation doesn't affect your happiness nearly as much as your attitude. (Sure, I had heard that a million times, but it's completely different to  learn it first-hand.) With a renewed sense of purpose, I tackled the edits on my novel, read as much historical fiction as I could, joined my local roller derby team, and joined a writers' group. Things immediately started looking up.

This time when I go to the conference, I won't be an uneasy novice. I'll be a panelist! It's still hard to believe I'll be on the other side of the microphone. I'm going to be in the costume contest as a Vestal Virgin. Instead of being star-struck, I'll meet up with tons of friends I made last year and online since then. Best of all, instead of escaping from a job that I hate, I'll go as a happy stay-at-home writer with a huge pregnant belly. Life couldn't be better.

But.

Despite all my progress, there's one thing weighing me down: 

I'm going to pitch the same book I pitched two years ago. When people ask me what my novel is about, instead of excitedly chirping "It's a retelling of a Roman legend about a Vestal Virgin," I'll reluctantly mumble, "Oh, it's the same as last year."

It's frustrating when things happen so much slower than you want them to. But I guess that's the way writing goes. Heck, that's the way life goes. If there's one thing I've learned from this pregnancy, it's that timing is everything. Often the absolute perfect time for something to happen is years later than you think it should be, but when it finally happens, you're glad it didn't come a moment sooner. Hopefully, the perfect time for me to meet my agent is now.

If not...

Well, that's life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Recreation of a Vestal Virgin Uniform

The Historical Novel Society Conference is just three days away and I am finally done with my Vestal Virgin costume for the contest. I am perhaps the worst seamstress in the world, but all-in-all, I think the costume turned out really well.



 I asked a friend of mine to model the costume to match different Vestal Virgin statues. She did a great job! I would have done the modeling myself, but I'm seven months pregnant, so I would look significantly different from the statues. It'll be amusing for the conference, but not quite what I envisioned for the pictures.



 These pictures show a close-up view of the infula, a red head-band the vestals always wore. If you ever see a Roman statue with this headband on, you know you're looking at a Vestal Virgin.

The infula was probably the hardest thing to make. I couldn't figure out what to do for them so I asked Janet Stephens, the historical hairdresser extraordinaire, how she made them in her video Recreating the Vestal Virgin Hairstyle. She sewed together cotton filler cord and dyed it red. Brilliant!   



The first two statues you see in this post are in museums, but the ones above and below are still in the Vestal Virgin house, which is still standing (more or less) in the Roman forum.


Making this costume gave me excellent insight into the characters in my novel -- so much so that I wish I had made it when I first started working on the book. From now on, I will always try to recreate my characters' clothes so I can have an idea of what it was like to wear them.



I hope you had fun looking at my pictures! Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the Vestal Virgin uniform in the comments; I'll be happy to discuss them with you.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meal RoationSystem: Curry

This is Day 13 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.


I get sick of foods easily. Curry is one of the few things I could probably eat every single day without complaint. It is sooooooo good. And, while it takes a little time to prepare, it doesn't take much effort.

Pretty much every grocery store sells at least a couple kinds of curry. If you go to an Asian market, you can get the good stuff: Mae Ploy. I recommend getting the Massaman Curry at first because it's mild and a little sweet, so everyone likes it. If you go to any Thai restaurant, the waiter will tell you Massaman is their bestseller.

I have a recipe for the kind of curry I make below, but there are tons of different stuff you can put in it: chicken, pork, beef, lamb, shrimp, carrots, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, pineapple, apples, cilantro, peanuts, chickpeas... the list goes on. Just choose whichever sounds the best and experiment until you find the perfect recipe for you. You can also add more coconut milk to make a soup, or you can eat it with noodles instead of rice.

Curry

1 can coconut milk
Curry paste
1/2 lb chicken, cubed
1/2 lb carrots, diced
1/2 lb potatoes, cubed
1 onion, sliced
Cooked rice


  1. Pour coconut milk into large saucepan. Add curry paste (see directions on box for amount).
  2. Add chicken, carrots, potatoes, and onion.
  3. Boil until meat is cooked and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add salt, pepper, and additional curry flavoring to taste.
  5. Serve over rice.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Breakfast for Dinner

This is Day 12 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

Dutch Baby, aka German Pancake

I LOVE breakfast food, but I never cook it in the mornings. When I first wake up I'm too tired and too hungry to put in any effort beyond pouring milk into a bowl of cereal. Ergo, it's fun every now and then have breakfast for dinner (or as some call it, "brinner.")

If you don't believe that I am truly an avid fan of breakfast, check out my Brunch Pinterest Board. I've pinned 71 recipes so far, and I'm just getting started!

Day 12 of my rotation is great not just because it's delicious, but because most breakfast food is quick and easy to make. It barely takes ten minutes to fry up some pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon, sausage, or eggs, heat up ready-made biscuits, english muffins, or toast,  cook grits, cream of wheat, or oatmeal, cut up some fruit, or make a smoothie. 

Of course, you can always get fancy with foods that take longer to make, like cinnamon rolls, scones, fruit tarts, hash browns, breakfast casseroles, breakfast burritos, crepes, cobbler...

Need I continue?

If you need even more inspiration, here's a recipe for Dutch Babies (aka German Pancakes) with blueberry syrup, which was a classic in my family when I was a kid. It takes maybe 15 minutes to make. 

Dutch Babies, or German Pancakes

3 eggs
½ cup milk
1/3 cup flour
3 Tb sugar
½ tsp salt
butter


  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees
  2. Combine all ingredients in a blender except butter
  3. Place 1 Tb butter in each pie pan that you use and place in oven until melted
  4. Pour batter in pan and bake in oven 10 minutes
  5. Pour syrup over (see syrup recipe below)
Blueberry Syrup

1 lb frozen blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 Tb lemon juice
cinnamon

  1. Heat all ingredients to boiling in a pan
  2. Cover with lid and remove from heat, let cool a little
  3. Liquefy in a blender
  4. Pour over pancakes

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Ground Beef Day

This is Day 11 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

This day is dedicated to the ever-versatile ground beef. You can include in this group hamburgers, meatloaf, meatballs (with or without spaghetti), and meatball sandwiches. (Click on the links for some excellent recipes from Allrecipes.com.)

Meatballs are easy to freeze and reheat in the oven. I recommend making the meatballs bland when you freeze them so that you can add any sauce you want later. 

Some of you might hesitate dedicating a whole day to ground beef because it's high in saturated fat. Personally, I think this anti fast-food hype has given the hamburger a bad rap. Only 4 ounces of lean ground beef has 30 grams of protein, which is more than half of your daily protein requirement. That's reason enough for me to make it a part of my family's meal system. Instead of removing certain foods from my diet, I prefer to have a variety of foods so I get all kinds of different nutrients in different quantities.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Italian Sausage with Bell Peppers

This is Day 10 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.


This meal is unlike anything else I've ever had, and it is amazing. It's one of those meals where all the flavors are in such perfect balance that you pretty much have to follow the recipe exactly. Usually I make enough leftovers of each dish to eat until we get sick of it, but my husband and I are always sad when there's not more italian sausages with bell peppers in the fridge.

Italian Sausage with Bell Peppers

1 pkg Italian sausage links
Olive oil
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
1 red or yellow bell pepper
Salt and pepper
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tsp chopped garlic
½ cup marsala cooking wine
½ cup fresh basil
½ tsp oregano
1 can diced tomatoes


  1. Coat bottom of skillet with olive oil. Heat over medium.
  2. Add sausages. Brown on both sides, remove from pan and set aside.
  3. While its browning, thinly slice onion and peppers. After removing sausages from pan, add vegetables, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté.
  4. When translucent, add tomato paste, and stir until paste is distributed evenly. Add garlic, wine, and basil. Simmer about 10 minutes.
  5. Add oregano and tomatoes, mix well. Slice sausages and add to pan. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove lid and cook down, about 10 minutes. Serve in bowl or on Italian rolls.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Meal Rotation System: Hawaiian Haystacks

This is Day 9 of the Meal Rotation System: a pattern of meal planning where you go down a list of meal groups each month, picking one from the group for each day, and rotate through the list when you're finished. Read more about how the Meal Rotation System works.

I don't know why they call it "Hawaiian Haystacks," but whatever the reason, this crock pot recipe is always a popular hit. Since you can put whatever toppings on it you want, it's fun to do for parties or big gatherings.

Possible toppings: Chinese noodles, cheddar cheese, onions, green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, olives, and pineapple.

Hawaiian Haystacks


Ingredients
10-12 chicken tenders, cut into chunks or 2-3 chicken breasts
1 cup chicken broth
2 cans (10 3/4 oz) cream of chicken soup
1 can (12 oz) evap milk
6 cups of cooked rice

1. Place all ingredients except rice in crock pot
2. Cook on high 3-4 hrs or on low 6-8
3. Serve over rice and add toppings
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