1/30/2013

Disneyland ... Old Favorites and New Thrills

We're back from a week spent in Southern California with our son's family. We spent three days at the Disneyland parks (Disneyland and California Adventure). It was our first trip back since taking our family there when our children were about the grandkids' ages (9 and 11). Disneyland is everything I could ever imagine it to be and so much more. I love it when something so far exceeds my expectations, it blows my mind. Note: I didn't take any of these pictures, but borrowed them from Disney promo websites, so as not to bore you with my own, decidedly non-professional shots.

In the original Disneyland Park, an old favorite of mine, Pirates of the Caribbean, has been delightfully updated with Jack Sparrow. I discovered him peeking out of about three scenes during the ride.






Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom isn't new, but was new to us and, again, simply delightful. The imagination that goes into everything at Disney is mind boggling.




Space Mountain was my favorite ride, however California Screamin' now ties with it.

On Space Mountain, it's as if you're traveling through space at Mach speed, and it's all in the dark, so there are twinkling lights all around you as you hurl through dips and turns. It's basically a roller coaster in a pitch black room.

Which brings me to the other roller coaster, over in the new park, California Adventure, called California Screamin'. What a WONDERFUL roller coaster it is!

Talk about excitement. It takes you from 0-55 mph in FOUR seconds at the start (see picture at right). Sooooooo fun!

There are a couple of  steep climbs, dips and 180 degree turns that had me screaming for joy, plus the highest drop of 120 feet. The ride lasts only 2.5 minutes, and I was so sorry when it ended.

As we were making the loop, it felt as if we had slowed down considerably (maybe we had), which enables riders to thoroughly enjoy the time it takes the train to climb the loop, become completely inverted, and then make its way down the other side.

This was the only part of the ride that felt slightly rough; the rest was smooth as air.


The Cars race car ride was also fun, however it was the ride with the longest wait ... 35 minutes.








The Soaring over California ride takes IMAX to a new level. You sit in a row of seats (left), and then are brought forward and a few feet above the ground to simulate being in a Hang Glider while sailing over California, seeing it all around you. You even smell the scent of evergreens and orange trees.



Of course, there are a hundred more things to do and see at Disneyland, but these were my faves!


1/20/2013

TSS: The Sunday Salon


The days are getting longer. Have you noticed? Hooray.
On the reading front this week, I finished Karen Kingsbury's The Bridge as well as The Beginning, which is an e-short prequel to the book, which many authors are doing as a marketing tool. I received The Bridge free from NetGalley, and went ahead and bought The Beginning for $.99. I wanted to see how I related to the book, having read both pieces, and to guage what my response would've been, had I read only The BridgeI'll review both soon. 

On the writing front, I finally have a blueprint for my agent search, which I posted about here

As to the UltraSimple Diet, hubby and I have now completed two full weeks. We have reincorporated all foods that people are frequently allergic or intolerant to, one day at a time. I accelerated the process, due to the fact that we are leaving for our vacation in Southern California on Tuesday morning. 

Our results? We discovered that my husband has a gluten intolerance, and I am intolerant to eggs. Nice to know. We will continue to eat as Dr. Hyman suggests, as much as possible, being especially mindful of gluten and eggs. Hubby's now lost 10 pounds. I've not lost anything beyond the original 5 pounds, but I'm okay with that. At least, I didn't gain it all back!

We'll be visiting Disneyland in Anaheim and Sea World in San Diego next week, as well as other attractions, with my son, daughter-in-law, and the two grandkids. We've been planning this since our first grandchild was born. I feel honored that my daughter-in-law originated the idea. 

While we're in California, our son-in-law will be remodeling our third-floor bathroom. Everything is ready for him, except that I need to decide on the paint color and empty the cabinet and medicine chest. 

Fun times this week: I met with my Critique group, and we watched a SCBWI DVD of an interview with Richard Peck, which was interesting. 

We also helped our youngest grandson, my daughter's little boy, celebrate his third birthday!

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise?



 

1/19/2013

Tips for Creating an Agent Search List

I’ve spent the past three weeks, close to 40 hours each week, drawing up an agent search list. 

I started with a list I’d been updating over the past several years. It contained over 200 children’s/YA agents who post their deals to Publishers Marketplace. The biggest reason for keeping it was to be aware of what would be coming down the pike, which, as a children’s librarian, I would be sure to purchase for my library.

The past three weeks, I looked over the list and eliminated agents who seem to sell only picture books or a YA genre that is different from mine. If they like super high concept, fantasy or horror, they will certainly pass on my contemporary romance.

From there I got on QueryTracker, with a database of over 1200 agents. They listed more than 400 for YA, and so I suddenly had many, many more agents to choose from. Particularly newer agents who have yet to make their first deal, or agents who don’t post their deals to Publishers Marketplace.

I also needed to find agents who sub romance. That caused a ripple in my emerging list, as some of my favorite children’s/YA agents do not represent romance. I then looked for YA agents who might not specifically sub romance, but who do, at least, rep contemporary YA with a romantic element.

There was the problem of entire agencies that represent both childrens/YA AND romance. These are my key agencies/agents, in case I decide to opt out of YA entirely and focus on Inspirational Romance in future books. At those agencies, I needed to prioritize my list from first to fourth choices, which was often a tough call.

Then there are the agencies that state that a “No” from one agent means a “No” from all, which quickly eliminates further possibilities from that agency. Those were the especially tough calls.

At Andrea Brown, for example, I like Caryn Wiseman and Jennifer Rofe. Jennifer Rofe represents my friend Diana Greenwood. Jennifer sold Diana's book, Insight, to Zondervan, a Christian publisher. My book could be slanted toward the inspirational market.

But Jennifer Rofe reps far more picture books and MG than YA. Diana's book was, in fact, a MG. 
Caryn, on the other hand, looks at far more YA than Jennifer. So who do I choose? I decided to choose Caryn. 
Now after three weeks, I am at a new threshold. I have drawn up a list of 70 agents to query, seven rounds, 10 agents per round. There are first choices from a number of agencies, and if those agents pass, I have an additional list of 36 second and third choices from said agencies.

I am now ready to write up highly individualized query letters to each agent. I know the books they represent that are similar to mine, which I will name. I know which books, overall in the market, are most similar to mine, for comp titles. In many cases, I know specific details about an agent, that I can share as an ice breaker—they had grown up on a farm, and I live on one; they’re former children’s librarians, as I am. Or, I met them at a conference.

I know their response habits, and so I have a pretty good idea as to how frequently they look at full YA manuscripts. If they look at one each month, that’s a very good average. Two or three agents on my list look at more. Most look at fewer.

The staggering thing in all of this is that I’ve not even begun my journey. In essence, I’ve done nothing more than decided what needs to go into my suitcase and packed my bag, with a second bag for what I hope will be non-essentials (the second, third, and fourth choices from certain agencies).

I’ve read comments on QueryTracker to the effect that, on average, people query one hundred agents before finding one. So here’s to the beginning of a very long journey. I have my choices broken up into tiers of 10, for seven possible journeys.

Strategists suggest refraining from sending to your top choices until you’ve gotten feedback from some of those you want less, to see if your query is on target. If you get no requests to see more, you need to fix your query. And thank goodness you didn’t waste an ineffective query on your top choices.

If you get requests to see fulls, you’re on the right track.

If you get offers of representation, you can then query your top choices with “Offer of Representation” in the subject line.

One agent stated that agents are like sharks, and when they get that query, it’s a signal there’s blood in the water. Most agents will rush to look at your manuscript, if they are hungry and fear missing out on fresh meat, err--a possible new client.

My suggestion for others who are about to embark on the journey: instead of waiting until your manuscript is complete and then devoting three solid weeks to the search for a viable list, why not spend an hour or two each day at it while you are writing or revising?

Had I done it that way, my list could’ve been ready to go at the same time as I completed my (third) revision. Oh, well. There was only a one-month gap. 

Do you have ideas or strategies for creating an agent search list, or the agent search?


1/15/2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Book Description:
In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.


If you read this book to find out what it was like to be Charles Lindbergh's wife, you will not be disappointed ... assuming that Melanie Benjamin has managed to see the marriage accurately, as if through Anne Morrow's eyes. The background for the book was extensively researched, and so, one would hope, she is on target. However, with the wealth of information at her disposal, it was  necessary to downplay some events while highlighting others. Additionally, there is the problem of a contemporary person trying to understand a marriage that began in the 1920's, as well as understanding class distinctions. These were not 21st century, middle class people with middle class values. They were also not ordinary people, or Charles wasn't. His endless drive and ambition was both a blessing (fame and fortune) and a bane (impossible to live with) to his family.  

The book covers the first time Anne and Charles met, on Christmas in Mexico, when Anne was still an undergraduate at Smith, and her father was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. It follows Anne's life until Charles's death. 

We are all familiar with Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean, that made him almost a God in people's eyes throughout his entire life. Charles and Anne were married several years after the flight, and so both lived their lives with all the perks, as well as the annoyances, of fame. For Anne, it also meant being overshadowed at all times by her famous husband's opinions and activities. Though Anne was an excellent pilot in her own right, people always viewed her as an accessory, and were more apt to ask her about her clothing than her piloting skills. 


I would like to have learned more about the two years they spent criss-crossing the globe, scoping out air travel routes and so on, before their first child was born, but Ms. Benjamin chose to play this out more like a footnote to their lives. But indeed, other events did tend to diminish the significance of the travels, especially the kidnapping and subsequent death of their first child, Charles, who was about 18 months old. It took a toll on their marriage, which never recovered from it. 


Then, before World War II, Charles, who was flagrantly anti-Semitic, became known as a Nazi sympathizer. His fame was tarnished until World War II, but after apologizing for his earlier opinions, and wholeheartedly desirous of serving his country in the war efforts, he was finally allowed to do so. 


His fame was restored after that, and he spent much of the rest of his life as a globe-trotter, attending to various needs in the aviation industry. 


It meant leaving Anne at home to raise the family that eventually grew to five living heirs. They were wealthy people, and so Anne always had (except during World War II) ample paid help, including cooks, cleaning ladies, chauffeurs, nannies, gardeners. The thing she didn't have was the physical presence or emotional support of Charles, who came home only about five times a year.  


When he was home, he was a stern, emotionless, unforgiving, taskmaster and perfectionist. He was a great man who achieved great things, and he expected every bit as much from his more ordinary wife and children. Finding it hard to live up to their husband and father's demands, the family was happier when he wasn't home to bully them. 


But the bullying wasn't always bad. He did finally get Anne to do something with her writing talent, and she became somewhat of a famous writer in her time, probably due more to her famous husband than to any other reason. 


As it turned out, Charles had three other families around the world, and six other children, besides Anne and their brood, which was partly why he was never home. As it also turned out, Anne took a lover in her family doctor. 


The Lindberghs shared qualities that brought them together. Both enjoyed flying, and apparently their sexual chemistry was strong and continued to be so throughout their lives. They had children between them. 


There were also qualities that split them apart: She was from a high society background, and loved what I like to call the Edith Wharton lifestyle. Charles, on the other hand, detested society folk, who he felt were silly and lazy. He far preferred to spend his time accomplishing important things in life. 


Despite living mostly apart for the final 20 years of their marriage, they stayed married until Charles's death in 1974. As someone who controlled every aspect of his family's lives (or tried to, despite being away from them most of the time), Charles wanted Anne to be buried next to him in Hawaii. 


Upon her death, as her greatest act of rebellion, she refused to obey his last command and was not buried beside him. 


It was an interesting book and well worth reading, even if neither Anne nor Charles are especially likable.  


Book source: Review copy provided by NetGalley.

  


1/12/2013

TSS: The Sunday Salon

What is the Sunday Salon? It’s a virtual meeting of people who like to read and enjoy blogging about what they are reading. It’s also a place to update your friends about other things going on in your life.

I didn't do a ton of reading this week, but I did some. I finished The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. It's an extensively researched fictionalized story of the marriage of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The book is being released on January 15, 2013. I'll post a review on Tuesday.

I also finished reading UltraMetabolism by Dr. Mark Hyman, which I wrote about here, and also here.

That's all the reading I did this week. We also went to see Tom Cruise's new movie, Jack Reacher, which was very entertaining. The camera angles were different from those I've scene before; the dialogue was crackling sharp; the story was satisfyingly complex, and mysterious Jack Reacher was a surprisingly likable anti-hero.

Hubby and I have begun to line up our spring and summer travels.

  • In less than two weeks, we will be vacationing in Southern California with our son and his family. 
  • In March, we'll be taking a trip to Orlando and environs. 
  • In May, we'll visit Whitefish, Montana again (love that little town) for a weekend get-together with some friends. 
  • Also in May, we hope to fly the RV-7 to see the Canyon Lands in Utah. 
  • In July, we'll be in Sturgis, Saskatchewan, around the 4th of July. 
  • Between times, we hope to make smaller, day trips to local points of interest.

On the writing front: The week was spent narrowing the list of 200+ agent possibilities. Lest you think that is all the agents in the world, more than 1000 are listed in QueryTracker.

My list on QueryTracker has now been narrowed to 53 real possibilities. Of the 53, they may all be matches, but not all are excellent ones. I'm doing further research on them, honing in on what will be my top 5-10 "dream agents." It'll take a couple more days to finish the project. When I get back from Disneyland, I'll begin the querying process.

If you are a writer looking for an agent and are not familiar with QueryTracker, check it out. It's an amazing database and fabulous tracking tool. Premium membership costs only $25 per year. There is also a free version, but you get access to nowhere near as much useful information.

I would also recommend a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. It's more expensive ($25/month), but you could subscribe for a couple of months, get the info you need, and then get off. It's also a source of valuable information you won't find elsewhere.

Frankly, I don't know how anyone can find an agent without these two tools.

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise?

UltraSimple Diet Update--We are Believers!

Hubby and I have been on the UltraSimple Diet by Dr. Mark Hyman for one week, and WE ARE BELIEVERS.

This is significant, because by nature, we are both “Doubting Thomas” personalities. We have both lost five pounds, and hubby said this morning he feels 10 years younger! 

This is saying a lot, because my husband is the envy of the family for his HIGH ENERGY. Holy moly, hold onto your hats, and get ready to launch. 

I had decided to give the diet a second chance (after failing to adhere to it for more than three days a year ago) because of a recently acquired, confounding “jelly roll” above my waistline. The jelly roll was hard (meaning, it didn't feel like soft, ordinary fat). Couple that with the roiling motions (like a baby moving across my stomach above my waist) I've felt in that area for the past 18 months, and I was getting both frustrated and worried. The doctor said it was peristaltic waves, or gas. No, I don’t think it was gas. I know what that feels like.

Then, I was looking at pictures taken of myself a year ago when we were in Hawaii, and I discovered I didn’t have the jelly roll. My question became: So what's been happening to me, or what have I been doing wrong over the past year that caused the hard jelly roll, the roiling movement, plus a 10-pound weight gain? 

Especially as, all summer long, I averaged walking/jogging two miles/day, and I watched my diet. I wasn't on a calorie counting diet per se, but I have a degree in Dietetics, and I was aware of what I was eating. I ate sensibly, walked/jogged an average of two miles/day all through summer, and did not lose one pound. It was aggravating and, frankly, mystifying to me.

So I decided to finish reading Dr. Hyman's UltraMetabolism this week while adhereing to Phase One of the UltraSimple Diet. UltraMetabolism focuses on what Dr. Hyman sees as the seven keys to keeping your metabolism functioning normally, and your immune system strong. After answering a questionnaire for each of the keys, I discovered that I was fine in most areas, but I scored too high in two of them: Inflammation and Oxidative Stress. If I had taken the test in June or July, I would've scored too high for ordinary stress as well. 

These were my very bad habits
  • Overstressing myself with a full time job (this, of course, cannot be helped in most cases) but I was also writing for an additional 15-20 hours/week. 
  • Grabbing a fast food lunch and eating it in my car--which I'd been doing for eleven years. I always tried to choose the most nutritious fast food, but even the best probably has unacceptable fats and other unknown chemicals, preservatives, what have you. Plus, I was undoubtedly eating things that (I am soon to discover, as we continue into Phase Two) I am intolerant to. 
  • I've never eaten much sugar, but I did drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day, and one beer. 
  • I also live in an area where pesticides are applied aerially, and one day when I was out jogging, they were spraying for Army Worms in the garbanzo beans in our field. I felt some fines (water droplets + pesticides) hit my exposed skin. I did go and shower immediately, but who knows. Maybe it impacted me.  
  • Add to it that I worked in a Carnegie Library built in 1906. All through spring and summer, I could smell the mustiness from molds and mildew in the wall four feet behind my desk. And indeed, I had a chronic sinus infection all spring and summer. (The sinus infection is now gone.) 
Dr. Hyman's Seven Keys to UltraMetabolism are as follows: 

1. Appetite Control and Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance). The questionnaire assesses your risk of developing diabetes. (I did fine on this one.)

2. Stress. (Ditto for this one—now that I’m retired.)

3. Inflammation. In addition to food allergies or intolerances, this includes environmental stressors such as exposure to pesticides, and working in sick buildings. (I failed this test!)

4. Oxidative Stress. (Failed this one too!)

5. Metabolic Engine—metabolism, fatigue factor. (Did fine on this one.)

6. Thyroid. (If I had taken this test five years ago, I would’ve failed. My thyroid was so inflamed and diseased, I needed a full thyroidectomy. When the surgeon removed it, he said it was so huge, it had grown almost to my left lung.) (Now with full thyroid supplementation, I scored fine.)

7. How well is your detox system working? (Love your Liver). (Did fine on this one.)

If you want to see how you score in each of the Seven Keys to UltraMetabolism, you can download a free guide here.

Results of being on the UltraSimple diet: I need to say first that the diet evens out one's blood insulin levels, and so we are seldom hungry. Three times over the week, we each felt minor hunger before a mealtime, so a handful of nuts (a dozen) tided us over until our next meal.  

By the end of the fourth day on the detox diet, the jelly roll above my waist had shrunk, the movements in my tummy had stopped, and I had lost five pounds. Yes, there is still a (smaller) roll above my tummy, but it now feels soft, like fat.

So, hubby and I are happy with the results of the beginning of this journey. We decided to move into Phase Two of the diet yesterday, and are reintroducing foods that people are frequently either intolerant to, or allergic to. This process will take a couple of weeks.

After that, we will continue our newly formed habits forever (being vigilant not to slip back into old eating patterns). The new habits, and because we have detoxified—excreted the inflammation which interferes with weight loss—will help us as we continue to lose the extra weight we still carry—25 pounds for me, and 15 pounds for hubby

Plus, I'm planning to incorporate Dr. Hyman's suggestions for the two keys to UltraMetabolism that I scored too high on. 

Hubby and I hope to enter springtime both lighter and healthier. Following Dr. Hyman's regimen is a new way of eating and living for us, but he promises us and everyone who adheres to his program that we all will be healthier, more energetic, less prone to common viruses (colds and flu) and at a far lower risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and dementia. Sounds good to me. 

Click here for details about the UltraSimple diet.


1/06/2013

TSS: The Sunday Salon and The UltraSimple Diet


News on the diet front: Hubbie and are three days into the UltraSimple diet and I must say, THE CONTEXT IS DECISIVE, meaning, it’s no biggie to me this time. Last time I tried it, I was on a week-long vacation, and (resentfully) spent half of it just figuring out the diet, amassing the required supplements, pre-preparing food (broth), and trying to figure out how I could fit it all into my schedule once I went back to work. (Which didn't happen, as I bailed on the diet after three days.)

In addition to the diet plan, if you want to go all out and pretend you’re at an expensive Detox and Weight Loss spa, the regimen includes 30 minutes for Yoga, 30 minutes for journaling, 30 minutes for aerobic exercise, and 30 minutes for a spa-like bath or sauna each day. Last time, I could hardly keep up with the meal plan, and certainly not, once I went back to work. This time, it’s a non-issue. 

I finally got around to using the baking soda, Epsom salts and lavender essential oil, that I'd purchased over a year ago, to turn into an UltraBath. (Here's the recipe: 2 c Epsom Salts, 1 c baking soda and 10 drops Lavender essential oil.) I do like this, and will stop buying cheap bubble bath from Bed, Bath and Beyond and use this recipe instead. You can substitute other essential oils, which I plan to do, as I own a bunch already. The combination of salt and soda is supposed to draw toxins out of your body, as well as to relax you.

Also, and this cannot be overstressed, it helps that my husband doing the regimen with me this time. He’s not doing the extras, but he IS forcing down the food, most of it, without too much complaining. He's not crazy about the juice of 1/2 lemon mixed with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, first thing in the morning, to cleanse one's liver. Or the green tea.

But neither of us is feeling any hunger whatsoever. I don’t mind the vegetable broth this time (4 c/day), which is used to help make the body more alkaline. It could be because I bought a Cuisinart and am able to slice the veggies more finely, which might cause more flavor to be released into the water to make broth. Or maybe it’s because I’m using Shitake mushrooms this time (in addition to everything else it calls for), but was too cheap to buy, last time. Who knows? It tastes great. Maybe I just chose a better combination of veggies overall.

We’re eating ½ cup brown rice and 2 cups of steamed or sauteed veggies for lunch, and the same for dinner, plus chicken, fish, beans or tofu. We find it's too much to eat! (Well, all those veggies are.)

For breakfast, we have a choice of three different shakes. Two are made from blueberries, almond butter, bananas, ground flax seeds, soy milk, and some borage oil. The third is from a rice protein powder labeled Medical Food that physicians prescribe to their chronic fatigue syndrome patients. It’s very spendy, and I had to order it, but we’ll try it out in the morning.

Next Friday, we’ll be adding beef, quinoa, avocados and all fruits back into our diet. 

Three days later, we’ll start adding foods that commonly cause allergies, one at a time, eating them 2-3 times/day for three days each. (Or less, if we discover a sensitivity to something.) The process will take a month in all, at which time we’ll be detoxified as well as knowing what, if any, food sensitivities we have. 

I’m also hoping to lose some weight through all this, as I could stand to lose 30 pounds. Dr. Hyman’s belief is that we are toxic and inflamed by the crap we call food, and if we detoxify ourselves, we’ll lose the inflammation and will be able to lose weight more easily. I must confess, I didn't think I had such a terrible diet, but when hubbie and I went to Costco to shop for these foods, I was struck by all of those foods we used to buy, that weren't in our cart this time. I don't expect to lose 30 pounds in a month, but if I can lose even 4-8 pounds, I will be happy. Last time I lost 25 pounds, it took me six months.

I’ll keep you updated.

Reading: The only book I read this week, and am only 50% done with it, is UltraMetabolism by Dr. Mark Hyman. It’s similar to the UltraSimple Diet in some ways, but each book has plenty of information that the other doesn’t cover.

Writing: My writing time was spent in narrowing down my agent search. It’s quite time consuming, but once I draw up a list of true possibilities, meaning that they represent books similar to what I write, and that they have connections with editors who buy similar type stories, I’ll be able to start querying them. Hopefully, I will begin the actual querying process within a week. 

Other: We visited some relatives the full day on Thursday, and then on Friday and Saturday, my daughter spent some time here with her kids. Other than that, it was an unusually quiet week for me, but very busy with diet preps!

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