Friday, May 27, 2011

Mrs. Obama and Jacquelyn's Magic Pin

About ten years ago, one day when I was escorting my son into first grade, I noticed another mom who looked very familiar. It didn’t take long to recognize this mom as Jacquelyn Orton, who at the time was married to former Utah Congressman Bill Orton. Her son, Will, and my son are now about to finish tenth grade. We’ve all known each other a long time. We’ve known great teachers, not so great teachers, good things and sad things like the tragic death of Jacquelyn's husband Bill who was killed in an ATV accident two years ago.

Every year, Jacquelyn ventures back to Washington D.C. to attend the Congressional Club’s luncheon honoring the nation’s first lady. This year, I was fortunate to be invited to go with her, her friend Susan and her goddaughter, Victoria (who lives in D.C., but met us at the luncheon).

Now, I thought this would be a very fun and very cool experience, but I truly had no idea just how fun, cool and amazing it would be. I’ll start with how amazing it was to be in the same banquet room with Mrs. Obama. There were about 1600 attendees, but being in the same room and able to walk up to the main table and take her picture was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I was beyond honored. She spoke and I was struck at how down-to-earth she really is. She’s also beautiful, just like she seems to be on TV. And, she seems even taller in person than she does via media pictures. There were gift bags at the luncheon and one of the gift items was a pair of cute flip-flops. The story was that Mrs. Obama was looking around to find some that would fit her daughters. So, even though she’s the first lady of the nation, she’s first a mom. That’s pretty cool.

The entertainment was Gloria Estefan. Wow, that woman can still sing up a storm. She was also quite beautiful, and I got the biggest kick out of all of us (including Mrs. Obama), in our fancy clothes, up and dancing to the Latin beats of the Miami Sound Machine. Yeah, I’ll remember that for a long time.

I can’t even begin to share the names of all the people Jacquelyn introduced us to, but most of their last names were familiar and from the world of senators and congressmen. Everyone was so kind and gracious and the luncheon was extraordinary, a truly great time all around.

But the trip was even more than the luncheon. Jacquelyn knows D.C. probably better than she knows Salt Lake City, and she has this pin that by only a few minutes into our touring, I began to call magical. The security in Washington D.C. is like nothing you can imagine, but when security people noticed Jacquelyn’s spouse’s pin, it was as if they were suddenly tamed into respectful acquiescence. I loved the fact that it took us into places and down hallways that you just don’t normally get to see. I will forever think about D.C.’s secret tunnels and the Capitol’s back hallways as the only way to see the fun stuff.

Congress wasn’t in session but the senate was. We decided to watch the session from the gallery (oh my, I’m certain I don’t have all the right words for these places and things - forgive me) for a little while. I thought I would be C-Span bored to tears. Not even close!

The first thing I had to get past, though, was that Al Franken was sitting at the main desk when we first got there. It was hard for me not to think he’d break out into an SNL sketch at any moment. He didn’t and I was able to focus on the other goings-on.

We were able to see our political process doing something that actually meant something, something that was about something important. Senator Tom Harkin, who is from Iowa and was a senator even back when I was growing up in Iowa, was presenting facts about how many of the for-profit universities (I won’t name them, but they’re the ones that advertise on TV all the time) are cheating their students out of money, particularly the students who are able to take advantage of the GI Bill for tuition. I won’t go into detail, because I’d get the details wrong, but by the end I was fired up and ready to fight for the cause. It was another experience I’ll never forget. And, directly afterwards, Jacquelyn and her magic pin took us down a back stairway and directly to Senator Harkin. He’d been in Utah a number of years ago and involved in a children’s hospital fundraiser that Jacquelyn had also been involved in. She introduced us all and we had a great conversation. Senator Harkin’s pretty awesome, by the way.

And though the magic pin didn’t have much to do with it, we also visited the Library of Congress and signed up for reading room library cards. With these cards (don't need a magic pin to do this), we were able to go into the magnificent LOC reading room. I recommend it highly. As we left the reading room, Jacquelyn had a librarian look to see if they had my book, FARM FRESH MURDER. They do, and the librarian who helped us happened to be into mysteries. That was pretty cool, too.

But even better than all the above was the company. Jacquelyn, Susan, and Victoria were the best. We ate yummy food, talked about important things (well, we thought they were important) and laughed about things that I’ll laugh about for years. The Congressional Club put on an amazing luncheon and we had a magic pin, but bottom line it’s always the people you’re with that make things fun and memorable. And, this was the best kind of fun. Thank you, all, for one of the best adventures ever.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On My Way Home . . .

If all has gone according to plan, I'm on my way home from Washington D.C. today. See you next week!

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Ghost Story That Wasn't Supposed to be a Ghost Story, Ghost Story

My Gram’s Cooking School Mystery Series was the result of a phone brainstorming session with my editor at Berkley Prime Crime, Michelle Vega. It was a great session. Understand, we’d never met in person and had mostly communicated through my agent. When she bought the farmers’ market series, I, of course, considered her amazing and wonderful and intelligent, but we really didn’t know each other all that well. I was excited about the brainstorming session, but I was also nervous about saying or doing something so stupid that Michelle would never buy anything I ever wrote again.

I didn’t need to worry. Michelle and I communicated smoothly and soon creative ideas were bouncing back and forth between us. She’s a natural - I’m grateful for this.

One of the ideas we came up with was Gram’s Country Cooking School. That was the one that sparked the most for me. I had visions of my own grandmother’s cooking and the stories I’d heard about my ancestors' recipes. It felt right, I guess. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis and sent the full proposal to my agent, who then sold it to Michelle. We got lucky and she bought the first three books! I was thrilled and I got back to work on the first one, IF FRIED CHICKEN COULD FLY.

But a big problem soon put a halt to my excitement. Shortly after the contracts were signed, I was working on the manuscript and I had a sense that someone was looking over my shoulder. The hair on the back of my neck literally stood on end. I turned, but no one was there. Once I shook off the wonky feeling, I turned back to the manuscript and started typing. Surprisingly, a ghost suddenly appeared - in the story, not in my office. I decided to go with it and figure out what character I could turn the ghost into. This series was sold without ghosts, without ANYTHING paranormal. Adding a ghost into something that was sold without one isn’t really the best of plans. But there was nothing I could do. The ghost wanted to stay, no matter how I tried to get rid of him.

I was distraught. I didn’t sleep for three nights as I mulled over what to do. Finally, I sent what I’d written to my agent with a cheery email that said something like - I can get rid of the ghost if we need to, but I thought you should take a look at what I’ve come up with.

Then I spent another sleepless night waiting to hear Jessica’s response. I’m not sure I can describe the relief I felt when she told me she liked it and I should send it to Michelle to see what she said. I did. And, not only did I feel relief when I heard good news back from Michelle, I felt pure glee. See, not only did the ghost not want to go, I didn’t want him to leave. I liked him, my other characters (well, the ones who can see him) liked him too. I got lucky again, and I’m having a great time with the books.

Additionally, I finally met Michelle in person at the Malice Convention. She is amazing, wonderful and intelligent, and kind of perfect.

Books -
Hate to jump the gun, but I’m in the middle of something that I’m really enjoying. I don’t think I’ll change my mind about it, so I thought I’d mention it: THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton. The pace is a little different than what I usually read, but I’m not finding it at all tedious. It was recommended to my via last week’s post by JBull. Thanks! Good rec.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


One of my favorite things to do is walk around a town I've never visited before. Because I wanted to make sure I made it to the Sunday afternoon Sue Grafton interview, I thought I might miss the opportunity last week when I ventured to Bethesda, Maryland for the Malice Domestic Convention. But, I got lucky; oddly, it turned out to be cheaper for me to stay another night in the hotel and catch an early flight Monday morning than to leave Sunday night. So, after the interview (which was amazing and perfect - I was on the front row), I put on my walking shoes and hit the sidewalk.

Normally, I don't have a destination in mind on these walks, but my agent had shared some information with me a couple days earlier that gave me a plan: Georgetown Cupcakes has a location in Bethesda. I love cake, I love cupcakes. Who doesn't? It's one of my 'dreams' to be a judge on Cupcake Wars. I love watching all those cake and cupcake decorating shows. I'll never be able to decorate the way they do, but I enjoy watching the 'art' of it all.

Georgetown Cupcakes was easy to find. It was just a short walk away. Keep in mind, it was late Sunday afternoon but there was a line out the door.

The line moved quickly and before long I was inside.

I'm convinced that a big part of the recent boom in cupcake popularity is how pretty they've become. Frosting is no longer just spread across the top and dotted with sprinkles or sugar. Frosting is piled high, fondant and gum paste are used in unique and creative ways, and cupcakes are the darlings of the brave new baking world. When it comes to pretty, the GT Cupcakes displays didn't disappoint.

The taste didn't disappoint either. I bought a dozen cupcakes and took them and a handful of forks and knifes back to the hotel. I found a few leftover convention attendees in the lobby and convinced them to help me with some taste tests.

Not surprisingly, they were a hit! They were all yummy, but my favorite flavors were strawberry and peanut butter fudge (chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting). The strawberry cupcakes had big chunks of real strawberries in the cake and the frosting on the peanut butter fudge was almost - yep, almost (smile) - as good as a peanut butter frosting I've been working on for the Gram's series.

Along with GT Cupcakes, I give a resounding thumbs-up to the whole weekend. I had a great time at the convention as well as walking around town. It was also interesting to be so close to D.C. the night the Bin Laden news broke. Late Sunday night, I thought about heading into D.C. just to observe the activities, but ultimately I was just too tired.

And even though I had a great time, it was good to get back home. It always is - the frosting on the cupcake, so to speak.

I didn't read one thing this entire week. I was just too busy. I have a stack for this week though. Hope I find something I love.

Happy Reading!