THE OPEN BOOK

30
Mar

The Adventure Continues!

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What a weekend! I hope everyone is refreshed and relaxed for the upcoming week because it is going to be a BIG one. Tomorrow, I am scheduled to meet with my agent to plan a publicity campaign that involves an expanded book tour. Right after I meet with Krista, I get to have lunch with the graphic designer who will be creating the book trailer for Seven Stones. Just writing that makes me feel professional and cool. ūüėČ

I also have some pretty fabulous updates to share from over the weekend. In addition to meeting my writing mentee (she is fabulous. I am really looking forward to working with her!), I was contacted by several bloggers and businesses who are interested in reviewing and carrying Seven Stones. Getting those emails absolutely floored me. Thank you to everyone who has helped get the word out! A big shout out to everyone posting pictures on Facebook of them reading my book, writing reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Twitter, or just letting me know that they are enjoying the read. It makes my day to see those posts, and I do a happy dance every time!

Shane and I also have¬†been fortunate to have another friend come visit us this week.¬†So far, I’ve done a pretty good job balancing school, writing, fun, and¬†what I call The Book Stuff.¬†One thing that really helps keep us sane (and well fed) is our giant¬†slow cooker. I could write an 80’s love ballad for that thing. It is beyond awesome to be able to throw ingredients together, completely ignore them¬†for 8-10 hours, and then come home from work to a delicious dinner. Because we¬†have company, I decided to whip out¬†one of my favorite recipes: African Chicken Peanut stew.

My version was adapted from this recipe. I mainly added more peanut butter, omitted the heat for Shane, and adapted the cooking time for a slow cooker. I like to serve the stew over a bed of brown rice with fresh cilantro sprinkled (in my case, piled) on top. African Peanut Stew is one of the most requested dinners in the House of Lee. Enjoy!

Julia’s African Chicken Peanut Stew

4 chicken thighs, skin and excess fat removed

1 medium or large yellow onion, diced

A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced

8 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 medium or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes

1 quart stock (vegetable or chicken)

2 cups peanut butter, chunky

2 Tbsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 bunch of fresh Cilantro, chopped (for serving)

Easiest Directions Ever

1. Chop everything and add it to the slow cooker

2. Add stock and diced tomatoes

3. Submerge the chicken thighs whole

4. Turn slow cooker on Low and ignore for 8-10 hours (5-6 on High)

5. When the time is up, remove chicken thighs. Shred the meat from the bone with two forks. Discard the bones (or save to make stock) and put the shredded chicken meat back into the stew.

6. DEVOUR! Serve over cooked brown rice with fresh cilantro heaped on top. I like mine with some sass, so here’s when I add cayenne pepper.

Suggested Pairing

This dish pairs well with old friends and a board game nigh

Happy Monday!

 

27
Mar

Friday Favorites!

Happy Dance!

Can EVERYTHING about this past week be considered my favorite things? Well, almost everything (homework is not making the list). Seriously, between the book release, online sales, and signing orders, I’ve been dancing through this week. I’d be lying though, if I said there weren’t two things that top my list this week. Two pieces of news I received this week absolutely blew my mind and are possible because of the wonderful people at the Region 2 Arts Council.

I am very excited to announce that I am the recipient of the 2015 McKnight Foundation Individual Artist Grant!

I applied for the grant back in February to help boost my publicity budget. I asked for $2,000 to hire a publicist to organize a book tour, cover gas expenses, and hire a graphic designer to make an online book trailer. On Wednesday, I got a letter from the Arts Council telling me that I was awarded the full amount!!! Thanks to the generous support of the arts in Northern Minnesota, I’m going to be able to expose my novel to a wider audience and take my writing career to the next level.

I am happy to say that I will be working with the lovely and fabulous Krista Soukup from Blue Cottage Agency¬†and Christy Tobin from Brown Design¬†to help bring¬†Seven Stones¬†to as many readers as possible. I can’t wait to begin working with these wonderful ladies!

Writing Mentor

In addition to the grant (I know, what could top that?!), I was asked by the Arts Council to be a mentor for aspiring writers in the Bemidji area. I’ve already been paired with my mentee, and will be meeting with her for the first time this weekend. I can’t wait to dust off my teaching skills and share my experiences with a fellow writer. It is such an honor to be offered this position!

As you can see, I’ve had a pretty awesome week. I cannot believe that I not only was chosen to receive the Individual Artist Grant, but was asked to be a mentor as well! The level of support for the arts that exists in such a rural area of the state is just astounding. I am incredibly grateful for both opportunities–I actually feel like a real professional. ūüôā¬†If you are an aspiring artist, I highly recommend checking out the local art grants available in your area. You might be surprised by what you find!

That’s my week! Do you have any fabulous news to share?

Happy Friday!

25
Mar

Author Events!

Taking these bad boys on the road...

Taking these bad boys on the road…

Now that the book is officially released, it’s time to really spread the word! I have been amazed at how many people have been sharing Facebook posts, Tweeting, and telling friends about Seven Stones. THANK YOU! I am very eager to hear what you think about my book. Please feel free to post reviews on the Seven Stones Amazon page and on GoodReads. Word of mouth and personal reviews are an awesome way to get the word out on a good book. ūüôā

And in other exciting news: it is time to begin planning THE BOOK TOUR!!!!! We’ve been putting together a schedule of author events and appearances, and I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve decided to truly kick-off the book tour in May because I’ll be done with grad classes for the semester and able to focus on all things literary (including finishing the sequel by September). I can’t WAIT!!! Here is the list of author events and appearances that I am scheduled for so far. There are some events that are still being worked out (more details to follow), and I’m hoping to add more events as the summer draws nearer! Stay tuned for updates!

Seven Stones Book Tour

Also, I’ve had several people ask me about book clubs. My answer is YES! I would be honored to come to your book club and discuss my book. Just give me enough heads up and I will be there (or Skype)!

And for any of my Minnesota friends who may have missed the book release in Brainerd: my first official book signing will be in BEMIDJI! Even if you did happen to make it to the book release, please feel free to stop by and say hi!

That’s all for now!

Happy Wednesday!

23
Mar

Dream Come True

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Wow.

Just, wow. I don’t know if I have the words to describe how amazing this past weekend was. The book release party was better than I ever DREAMED it could be–and that’s saying something. I still have a GIANT smile on my face that probably won’t come off for a good long while. Just thinking back on the whole thing makes me do a happy dance all over again.

The Recap

We drove down to Brainerd on Friday night to spend the evening with family and friends that drove in from out of state. My first order of business was taking everyone to Rafferty’s Pizza (the BEST pizza I’ve ever eaten) followed by a long soak in the hot tub. Just talking, laughing, and hugging all of my family and friends was awesome enough. But the best was yet to come!

Saturday morning began with the official breaking in of my Published Author mug (here’s the picture you asked for, Sheila! In the style of Morning Meanderings, of course!). So many milestones that day!

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After breakfast, I got a fancy new author haircut (short and sassy). I have to laugh because I was so excited that I gave all the hair stylists business cards and told them ALL about my debut novel. Whether they were just being nice or not, they seemed interested¬†in the book. ūüôā After the haircut, I also got a manicure with my mom and two of my best friends from high school. Finally, it was time to go back to the hotel, put on my dress and make-up, and go through my talk one last time (insert panicked hyperventilating here).

To say I was a little nervous about the speaking part is an understatement. I spent a lot of time planning what I would say and practicing my reading to get it just right. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about! I had a BLAST! I just talked to a room packed with my friends and family, and got asked some great questions during the Q¬†& A. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

After practicing, Shane drove me over to Prairie Bay. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that when I’m nervous, I tend to show up early. Really early. We were the first ones there, and I got to survey the empty room, imagining how it would look full, praying that people would be sitting in those seats.

It wasn’t before long that people started showing up, filled up the seats AND THEN SOME! We had a FULL HOUSE, and had the wonderful problem of needing to grab more chairs. I can’t tell you how wonderful it made me feel or how my heart swelled to see so many people who loved and believed in me. Somehow, I managed not to cry during my talk!

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After a bit of mingling (I tried to give each and every person who came a BIG hug!), Chip and Jean¬†did a¬†fantastic job introducing¬†me. By the time I got up to speak, my nerves were all but gone. The more I talked, the more comfortable I became. It was great–the part I was nervous about the most ended up being the most fun. ūüôā

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Then, came my favorite part of being a PUBLISHED AUTHOR: signing the books. My friend Katie and I used to practice our “author signatures” during English class. I could not get over the fact that I was actually signing MY books for REAL! AND THERE WERE SO MANY TO SIGN! I could not BELIEVE how long the line was! It was AMAZING (I’m running out of adjectives to describe how happy I¬†am and how incredible the night was)!

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People kept asking me if I was getting tired of signing books.

NEVER! I was so pumped to be signing books–and I couldn’t believe how many people bought copies! I loved every signature and every second of it.

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After the last book was signed, I ate a lovely celebratory dinner and spent a LONG time in the hot tub. One final night of games and fun with friends and family, and I am back in Bemidji. And I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll probably never stop saying it: THANK YOU. Thank you to everyone who came out to show support, or bought a copy online if they could not attend the book release. I can’t wait to hear what you think of my book! Spread the word! ūüôā

Love, from the happiest author in the world!

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20
Mar

The Big Day

It’s here. It’s here!¬†The day of the book release is finally upon us.

I’ve got the dress.

dress

I’ve practiced reading excerpts from the novel for the party.

Book 3

We’ve even got the books.

Book 1

My friends and family are arriving in droves. The word has been spread. As of tomorrow, I will be a published author¬†(my friend bought me a “Published Author” mug over a year ago. I promised I wouldn’t drink from that mug until my release. I’ll be sipping my coffee from it¬†for the first time Saturday morning!).

I’m going to be a published author. I keep repeating this to myself over and over, but I still can’t believe it.

What does it feel like to have a life dream come true? Honestly, it feels like I’m dreaming. To think that other people actually want to be a part of the story I thought up; that people will meet my characters and care about them like I do. That hopefully, those same people will take something positive with them, a little piece of my story that will stay with them long after the pages run out. It is unbelievably awesome.

They say that you never know what kind of friends you have until you need them. Well, throughout my publishing journey, I certainly found out what kind of friends I have: the best. The love, support, and encouragement I’ve received has been truly inspiring and humbling. When my soon-to-be novel was still just a few pages in a Word document, my co-workers at Caribou coffee gave me words of encouragement (as well as caffeine) to keep writing. When I told Shane I wanted to pursue writing, he never once said that writing doesn’t pay the bills and that I should get a real job. He told me to go for my dreams. When I asked my friends and family to read my rough manuscript, they took the time and effort to muddle through bad grammar and sentence structure to offer sound advice and critiques. And finally, when I got to announce my release date, the instant reaction and constant outpouring of love I’ve gotten from all of you¬†brings tears to my eyes even as I write this.

To everyone who has given me hugs, chocolate, sent me care packages, congratulatory cards, liked my Facebook posts, read my blog, pre-ordered my book, is coming to the book release party, or asked me how my book was coming along: thank you. Your name might not be listed in the book acknowledgements, but you have have helped me more than I can say. Seven Stones is only possible because of you, and this post is for you.

And to anyone who has a life dream and hasn’t gotten the same encouragement or opportunities–go for it. You are capable of more than you know. And I will be there for you every step of the way.

This is it! By the time I post again on Monday, I’LL BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR! For everyone who can’t make it to the party Saturday, fear not. I’ll be posting lots of pictures!

Love to you all!

18
Mar

The Best Muffin Recipe: Double Coconut Banana

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The book release party is three days away.

I feel like grabbing a megaphone and announcing it for all to hear: THREE DAYS!!!! And in case you didn’t see the post on Facebook, you can now preorder copies of Seven Stones through my publisher’s website (coming to Amazon soon, but we prefer people buy direct from the RiverPlace Book Store because then we don’t have to share the profits with anyone else ;)). And yes, I will sign copies ordered through our website.

Two other great things happened over the weekend: I finally turned the corner and am feeling much better. I’ll probably be a little sniffly for the party, but I’ll take it over what I went through last week. I was exhausted. All I could do was go to work and sleep. I’d get home at 6pm and crash on my couch. Game over. This week, my energy is back, so I can get properly excited for the party!

Second great thing: I am done with midterms! I don’t know how I did yet, but I feel that they went very well. In any case, they are behind me and I can focus on what is truly important. THE BOOK RELEASE!

Oh, and there is a final great thing to share: one of my best friends from high school is coming from Maryland to spend the week with me! She flew in last night to Minneapolis, rented a car and then drove the four hours up to Bemidji, all to be here for me during book release week. I am beyond excited to spend time with her; it means so much that she will be here for the release. YAY!

To celebrate all these good things, I am going to share with you my favorite muffin recipe: my double coconut banana muffins. They have all sorts of goodness in them: coconut, banana, lemon, steel-cut oats, and honey. A yummy and refreshing way to start your day (or, as an afternoon snack). I adapted my recipe from this one that I found last year. Through many trial and error batches, I now bring you the perfect celebration muffins. Enjoy!

Julia’s Double Coconut Banana Muffins of Joy

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup steel cut oats

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

zest of 1 lemon, grated

1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, melted

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup shredded coconut, plus more for sprinkling

Sucanat, for sprinkling

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil. Not gonna lie, most recipes say they yield 12 muffins. The way I make muffins, this recipe makes six GINORMOUS muffins. I like muffins the size of my face.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

4. Once the batter is divided into the muffin tins, sprinkle the tops with shredded coconut and Sucanat.

6. Bake for 20 minutes. Once out of the oven, make sure to let these bad boys cool for about 10 minutes before diving in (the coconut oil needs time to cool and harden or your muffins will fall apart). DEVOUR!

 

Suggested Pairing:

A cup of organic Ethiopian coffee and your best friend

Happy Wednesday!!!

What is your favorite muffin flavor?

 

13
Mar

Quiet, Please! Test in Progress

Exam time

This week has been a doozy. I finally succumbed to the cold that Shane’s been suffering through the past ten days. In case you are wondering, it’s a bad one. Whenever I haven’t been at work or doing homework, I could be found curled up on the couch surrounded by a pile of used Kleenex and cough drop wrappers. It has been a bit rough, especially considering that midterm exams begin on Sunday.

Because I’ve been sick and pretty much out of commission, I’ll be spending the next few days studying and preparing for two exams as much as I can. The plan is to get one done before the book release and finish the other after the party (though it is hard to plan ahead that far right now. All my being is focused on NEXT SATURDAY!!!!).

The upside to being sick this week is that I SHOULD be healthy in time for the party. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, both for my health and my test results! Since my favorite things this week have consisted of cough drops and Sudafed, I’m going to take a break from Friday Favorites and instead just ask for good thoughts and wishes from everyone during the upcoming week!

I’m going to take Monday off to focus on my midterms, but I will see you on Wednesday to share one of my favorite muffin recipes! Then Friday will be the last blog post before the big day…

Stay tuned! I hope everyone reading this is healthy!

8 DAYS!

11
Mar

Homemade Granola Bars

The Ultimate Snack

The Ultimate Snack

During these final, crazy weeks leading up to the book release, this recipe has been an absolute lifesaver! Anyone who knows me knows that I love to snack. Busy schedules make it tempting to reach for convenient junk foods, but these granola bars have your back! My mighty granola bars are easy to make and packed with protein, nutrition, and an extra does of YUM!

It all started when I stumbled across this recipe. I’d always wanted to try making granola bars, but thought it would be way too complicated. Not true! The original recipe only calls for 4 ingredients.¬†I ended up doubling the ingredients (because who wants just a few granola bars?) and added raisins and pepitas. If you want to add chocolate chips, coconut shreds, cranberries, almonds, or walnuts, go for it! Have a peanut allergy? Try sunbutter in place of peanut butter. Vegan? Replace the honey with brown rice syrup.¬†This is an incredibly adaptable recipe that can suit any needs or sensitivities! Experiment, have fun, and–most importantly–snack well!

Julia’s¬†Mighty¬†Granola Bars:

4 cups regular rolled oats (NOT quick)

1 cup peanut butter (natural is best)

1 cup honey (At the time, I only had a 1/2 cup honey so I added 1/2 cup brown rice syrup. It was perfect!)

1 tsp sea salt (if using salted peanut butter, reduce to 1/2 tsp)

1 cup pepitas

1 cup raisins

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl

2. Pour the honey in a saucepan and heat on medium-low until it comes to a boil. Set a timer and allow honey to boil for 1 minute.

3. Remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter. Try to do this quickly as the mixture will get super sticky as it cools.

4. Pour honey-peanut mixture into dry ingredients and combine. I started with a spoon and ended up using my hands to squish everything together. ūüôā

5. Press the sticky granola bar mixture into a 9×13 pan. Squish and flatten as much as you can with your hands.

6. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

7. Cut apart and devour! Store leftovers in an airtight container. I’ve been keeping mine in the fridge, but you can also leave them out on the counter, depending on how quickly you think you’ll eat them all.

Eat throughout the day whenever you need an extra boost of energy or a healthy pick-me-up!

Suggested Pairing:

Glass of almond milk a few carrot sticks after a workout for a rejuvenating snack

Time to get back to writing!

11 DAYS!

09
Mar

A Day in the Life

dream breakfast

My Dream Breakfast, Hobbit Style

When I describe all the projects I’ve got going on, a question I get a lot is “How do you have time for all of that?” That, my friends, is a fair question. Someday, the ultimate dream is to be a full-time writer. How amazing would that be? I’ve often thought about what my “dream” Monday would look like. Here’s what it would look like:

Dream Monday

6:00am: Wake up

6:30am: Sit down to write with a mug of tea in hand

9:30am: Take a break for breakfast with Shane

10:30am-12pm: Check email, social media stuff, etc.

12pm: light lunch/snack

12:30pm-5:30pm: Write!

5:30-6:30pm: Yoga and shower

7:00pm: Dinner with Shane

8:00pm-Bed: Relax, hangout with friends, movie, reading, fun time

Sounds pretty great, huh? That’s the dream writing day with no other commitments or obligations. For the moment, however, here is what a day in the life of Julia normally looks like:

Real Monday

6:30am: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.

6:35am: Alarm goes off again.

6:45am: Cannot ignore alarm anymore. Reluctantly dismiss alarm and groggily find way to kitchen where I’ll make tea and feel somewhat more human.

6:45-7:15: Check emails, update social media, etc.

7:15-8:15am: Work on homework. This includes reading chapters, articles, answering prompts, and working on projects

8:15-8:45am: Breakfast and get ready for work

9:00am-4pm: Work at the library. I actually love being a librarian. Being surrounded by books is the next best thing to reading/writing them.

4:00pm-6:30pm: More homework

6:30pm-8:30pm: If Shane’s having a good sports day, he’ll have an opportunity to come home for dinner and we’ll spend the next few hours eating and hanging out. Possibly playing Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I’m obsessed.

8:30pm: Shane goes back to the station to be sports anchor on¬†the 10 o’clock news.

8:30-9:00pm: Check email, social media, etc.

9:00pm-10:00pm: Yoga and shower

10:00pm: Time to watch Shane on the news!

10:30-11:00pm: Do a little cleaning up (laundry, dishes, etc.)

11:00pm: Get in my jammies, grab my notebook and pen, and finally–finally–have a chance to write. Some nights I won’t actually get into bed until midnight because I’ll continue working on homework after yoga. Regardless of my bed time, I’ll write until I fall asleep.

It’s all a bit crazier this semester because of the book release party, but I’ve managed to be very successful with my grad school classes so far. The work load for these classes is more intense than I’ve experienced with other classes, but I’m doing okay. I just have to keep up by constantly chipping away at assignments. It’s all worth it, though, because I genuinely love being a librarian. It doesn’t even feel like work. So, while I would love to be a full-time writer, I know that relying on my writing for¬†my primary source of income isn’t¬†very realistic. At least, not at this point. Hence, the grad school¬†classes. But you never know, maybe someday my dream day will be a reality. Until then, I’m still having a pretty great time!

What does your dream day look like?

06
Mar

Friday Favorites: It’s Real!

Book 3

My favorite thing this week?

Book 1

I think it’s pretty obvious.

Book 2

Have you guessed yet?

Getting a copy of Seven Stones in the mail on Wednesday suddenly made everything very real. The book is being published. Soon–fifteen days, exactly–other people are going to hold it in their hands. Will they love my novel as much as I do? I’m not sure if that’s possible. Since the book arrived, I’ve been carrying it around like a small child carries around her favorite blanket. When I left a room, the book came with. I took it to work, showed everyone, and read it before I went to bed. In the morning, the first thing I did was pick up my book and smile. I can’t help it. I’m in love.

The overwhelming support, enthusiasm, and excitement since I posted pictures of my book has been absolutely incredible. To everyone who called, texted, liked, tweeted, and shared: THANK YOU. The outpouring of love made my heart so full I’ve been walking on clouds the rest of the week.¬†Seven Stones would not be possible without you. The fact that I am going to be a published author would not be possible without you.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy the story that I’ve created as much as I do. Thank you for wanting to be a part of it.