THE OPEN BOOK

26
Jun

Friday Favorites: Wrapping Up June

This week has been bursting with gorgeous summer weather and beautiful sunshine. I have to admit: summer used to be my least favorite time of the year. I just don’t like being hot, and summers in Southeast Wisconsin are hot, sticky, and humid. Living in northern Minnesota, however, you learn to appreciate warmth. Honestly, you learn to appreciate positive temperatures–however short a time they last. Up here, the summer temperature hangs around the upper seventies and the daylight stretches past 10pm. I’ve been reveling in the sunshine–and so has my garden! Besides the lovely weather, here are a few other things that have made my Friday Favorites list this week!

Thai Crunch Salad

Recipe adapted and picture from Once Upon a Chef

Warm weather makes me crave refreshing foods and cool, fresh produce. This Thai Crunch Salad recipe combines a whole bunch of power veggies with a kickin’ peanut sauce. The result is an amazing salad you can’t stop eating–and one that so good for you that you don’t have to!

The original recipe called for Napa cabbage, but I just substituted with whatever I had on hand. Here’s what I tossed into my salad–mix and match with whatever you have and start munching!

For the Salad

1 green cabbage, diced

1 cucumber, sliced thin

6-7 carrots, diced

A bunch of chives (from my CSA), chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

For protein, I also added Ginger-Sesame baked tofu (recipe from Thug Kitchen cookbook)

For the Thai Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 Tablespoons rice vinegar (I had white wine vinegar, so that’s what I used and it worked just fine)

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one lime

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use tamari)

4 Tablespoons honey

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

A bunch of fresh cilantro (half for the sauce, half to sprinkle on top of the salad)

Blend all ingredients for the dressing in a blender. Then, chop all the veggies. Pour the dressing over the veggies. Add tofu or other protein, if desired. DEVOUR! 🙂

Next Stop: Book World in Baxter!

Book World, here I come!

The Seven Stones Book Tour’s next stop is at Book World in Baxter. I’ll be signing books from 11-2pm on Saturday, and am just so excited! I LOVE touring with my book. It is literally a dream come true and part of me still doesn’t believe it’s real, even though I’ve been at a different book store every weekend in June!

July is going to be even BUSIER! After a short break for the 4th of July holiday, I’ll be traveling almost non-stop. Here’s what’s going on in July:

Thanks to Krista at Blue Cottage Agency for making it happen! I hope to see you all at my author events. 🙂

Reader Photos!

Thanks for taking me on vacation, Jenn!

Thanks for taking Seven Stones on vacation, Jenn!

People have been uploading pictures of their copies of Seven Stones to social media! THANK YOU! I love getting these pictures and messages about how much you are enjoying my story. Social media is a wonderful way to get people interested in and talking about Seven Stones. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the pictures, comments, and reviews that have been posted! Want to tell people what you think of Seven Stones? Go to Goodreads, Amazon, or LibraryThing to post your review! I’ll also copy your review on my website for the world to see. You’ll be famous. 🙂

Love it!!!

Love it!!!

Book of the Week: Anne of Avonlea

I did not grow up reading Anne of Green Gables like so many other little girls. I was too busy reading all the Star Wars and Dear America books I could get my grubby mitts on, and I scoffed at poor Anne.

I only picked up a copy for the book club I was leading last year–and instantly fell in love. Anne Shirley is the type of girl I would have loved to be friends with. She is feisty, smart, and has the same luck for getting into trouble that I do. I’ve been hesitant to read the sequels because I figured nothing could compare with Green Gables. So far, Anne of Avonlea has delivered in the same delightful ways the first novel did. If you’ve never picked up one of L.M. Montgomery’s classic books, I highly recommend doing so! Anne is a perfect summertime read.

Word Count

784 words this week. What a stinker. After being sick last week, I found myself running around like crazy trying to do all sorts of catch-up work. When I finally had down time, I was flighty and distracted. I have the ideas in my head, I just couldn’t tackle them on the page this week. My goal for next week remains the same: I WILL hit 3,000 words.

Happy Friday!

24
Jun

Honey Ginger Rhubarb Compote

Our first CSA delivery came this week! Northern Lights Farm sent out a “practice” delivery this past Monday so us newbies could get used to the schedule and routine of the drop-off. We got a sample of fresh produce that really has us excited for the weeks to come! Our samples included: a beautiful bunch of rhubarb, a bunch of fresh radishes (and greens), onions, chives (with edible flowers), and some sprigs of fresh oregano. Also included is a weekly farm newsletter and recipes for the produce included.

I LOVE IT ALREADY! It is a wonderful feeling, knowing we’re supporting local farms. And getting deliveries is FUN! When Shane came home from work, he went directly for the fridge. “I can’t wait to see what came in our share. I’ve been so excited all day!” 🙂

As soon as I got home with the delivery, I knew I had to do something with that fresh rhubarb right away. I ADORE rhubarb. I didn’t have the strawberries needed to make my Strawberry Rhubarb Baked Oatmeal, and I just made Coconut Banana Muffins so I didn’t want to make any baked goods. Instead, I made an old favorite: Rhubarb Compote!

Now, I wasn’t sure what to call my concoction. It’s thicker than a sauce and a bit thinner than a jam. Compote sounded fancy, so I went with that. 🙂 Whatever you call it, this recipe is DELICIOUS and super EASY to make. Rhubarb goes well with everything, jazzing up everything from yogurt to oatmeal. Sweetened with raw honey, this tangy-sweet spiced compote is a healthy treat.

Honey Ginger Rhubarb Compote

1 large bunch of rhubarb (about 4 cups), chopped

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup raw local honey

1 tsp freshly grated ginger

1/8 tsp allspice (optional)

1/4 cup chia seeds

Combine all the ingredients in a pot, stirring to make sure all the rhubarb is coated with honey and water. Cook on low-medium heat until the rhubarb breaks down into sweet, mushy goodness (about 15-20 minutes). You don’t have to stir constantly during this time, but a few stirs every couple minutes doesn’t hurt.

Remove from heat and add the chia. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to let the chia soak up all the moisture they can. Spread on crusty breads, in oatmeal, on yogurt, ice cream–or just eat with a spoon!

Serving Suggestion

One of my favorite ways to enjoy rhubarb compote is mixed in with 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt and topped with granola. A quick and healthy breakfast!

Happy Wednesday!

22
Jun

Author Fest & Backyard Drive-Ins or The Most Epic Weekend EVER

What do an author festival, an outdoor screening of The Sandlot, and big screen video games have in common? My weekend! It may have been the most epic weekend in the history of weekends, and I still can’t believe everything was so perfect.

IMG_1348

Walking up to the beautiful Beagle & Wolf Books and Bindery

Let’s begin with the Beagle & Wolf Author Festival 2015! I arrived in Park Rapids, and seeing the bookshop for the first time was like stepping into a fairy tale. A cute little brick bookstore surrounded by an independent (and delicious) coffee shop and a bakery. Then you step inside: Beagle & Wolf is eclectic, fun, and full of personality. I fell in love!

IMG_1349

Karen Babine, author of Water and What We Know, reading from her book!

IMG_1351

I talked a lot with Gordon W. Fredrickson and Nancy A Fredrickson, authors of farm life books & poetry!

IMG_1352

Fellow YA author Margi Preus (Enchanted Lake) and Sue Doeden (Homemade with Honey). Awesome literary ladies!

IMG_1353

Getting together with fellow authors is a BLAST!

IMG_1356

My table was right next to Lin Enger, and I grabbed a copy of his latest novel, The High Divide

The wonderful people who work there did everything to make me feel welcome and comfortable–and gave me a table right in the front of the store! I was surrounded by 11 other authors, and soon began making new friends with my fellow literary enthusiasts. We traded books back and forth, talked about writing, and signed each other’s books. I was in author HEAVEN! I met SO many cool people that day–including William Kent Krueger!

IMG_1354

William Kent Krueger! One of the nicest guys I’ve met!

This was as close as I thought I was going to get to him, but then he came up to my table right before his book reading and introduced himself to me! He said he kept seeing people walk around with copies of Seven Stones and had to meet the author. I was speechless, but tried to play it off all cool like I’d met tons of famous people and was completely unfazed. Ha. It was AWESOME!

IMG_1357

I got to chat with author Tom Isbell and grab his YA novel, The Prey!

IMG_1358

Cozy book nook

IMG_1359

I just couldn’t take enough pictures!

IMG_1360

Some of the wonderful staff behind it all!

I can’t thank Beagle & Wolf enough! If you haven’t been there, GO! And while you’re there, snag a copy of Seven Stones. 🙂

popcorn

Birthdays done right: Backyard Movie & Retro Video Games!

Then, there was the party. I don’t even know what to say except it was quite possibly the best birthday party of all time. For a week, we planned a surprise party for our good friend, Stefania. All of the Bemidji crew chipped in and helped to make this not only a birthday party, but THE birthday party.

IMG_1364

Bonfire fun while we wait to surprise the birthday girl!

IMG_1365

That’s what I call a party face

IMG_1363

PERFECT weather for the perfect party!

At one point, I asked, “What do you guys think of doing our own drive-in? Does anyone have a projector?” Friends brought over not only a projector, but a screen, a speaker system, and an N-64 with multiple remotes and Mario Kart. Add in a bonfire, and you have one freakin’ epic night.

IMG_1366

SURPRISE! Nothing says Happy Birthday like sweet potato brownies!

IMG_1372

Setting up the projector screen!

IMG_1378

SUCCESS! Thank you screen crew!

IMG_1381

Mario Kart!

IMG_1382

Oh, it is ON!

IMG_1390

What would the first day of summer be without The Sandlot?

Happy, happy birthday, friend! Thanks to ALL our friends who came to the party and helped make the night truly fantastic. It was such a fun way to spend a day with people we love playing games, eating food, and celebrating! And yes, we are DEFINITELY doing this again!

 

What an AWESOME weekend! This one is going in the books as one of the best ever.

Happy Monday, everyone!

What movie would you want to watch on the big screen?

19
Jun

Friday Favorites: Beagle & Wolf Author Festival

Well, it is Friday and I am quite pleased to announce that I AM feeling fabulous! That Italian Wedding Soup really did the trick: I’ve been slurping bowls of it all week and am finally starting to feel like myself again. It got a little dicey there for a while. I lost five pounds in four days–yikes! But don’t worry, I am doing my very best to eat my way back to normal. My appetite has revved up and really am feeling great. Get ready, Park Rapids! Local author coming at ya!

So, besides the return of my good health, here are a few other things that made the Friday Favorites list this week!

Beagle & Wolf Books and Bindery Author Festival!

Next stop on my Seven Stones Book Tour: Park Rapids, Minnesota! This event is quite different than the regular book signing or reading. This is an all-day literary extravaganza! Over 30 other Minnesota authors will be at the festival, doing readings, and signing books! Come at 1:30 to hear William Kent Krueger read from his newest book, and stick around to say hi to me at my table! I’ll be there from 1:30-3:30. So stop by to grab a few books, meet authors, and have a grand time!

Apricot-Ginger Tea Scones

earl grey

When I started feeling better, I knew what I wanted more than anything else: a cup of tea and a chewy, fluffy scone. I whipped together a batch of my Earl Grey Scones with Lemon Icing, but added dried apricots and ginger to give it a little kick. Man, am I glad I did! This new version adds a lot of depth to the scones and really brings them to the next level of delicious. I’m definitely making them again and again! And for those of you who may not love traditional dry scones, these have moisture and fluffiness while being dense and not too sweet. They have Shane’s stamp of approval (who is a self-proclaimed scone hater). I only had powdered ginger at the time, but I will use fresh ginger next time! To make my Apricot-Ginger Tea Scones, follow my Earl Grey Scone recipe and add:

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

2 tsp powdered ginger (1 tsp fresh grated ginger)

Book of the Week: Vegan Cookbooks!

I’ve been playing around with incorporating more plant-based recipes in our diet. We are really good at eating our fruits and veggies, but Shane and I (like most Wisconsinites) tend to go a bit heavy on the cheese and dairy. So, to mix things up and keep meals healthy, I’ve been checking out purely plant-based foods to mix into our weekly meals. The results have been some truly delicious, super healthy foods! Here are some of my favorite vegan cookbooks, along with the recipes we’ve been trying. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, looking to eat healthier, searching for something new to try, or scrounging for a Meatless Monday recipe, these are my favorite vegan cookbooks:

Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon

The Oh She Glows website has been one of my go-to cooking blogs for a while. When Angela released her cookbook, I knew it would be a winner! Oh She Glows is without doubt the most used cookbook in our house. Here’s a few of our favorite recipes you’ll find inside: Mashed Cauliflower with Mushroom Gravy, Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas, Pumpkin Custard Pie with Coconut Whipped Cream, Grilled Portobello Salad, Roasted Beet & Hazelnut Salad, Gym Rat Smoothie, Pumpkin Pie Smoothie, Avocado-Basil Pasta.

YumUniverse by Heather Crosby

You ever come across a recipe that totally changes your life? That is the YumUniverse recipe for Pad Thai. Game changer. Another completely delicious and new favorite in our home is her recipe for Buckwheat porridge. Sounds weird, but it amazing and simple.

Detoxinista by Megan Gilmore

Usually, when I hear the word “detox,” I cringe. I don’t believe in juice-fasting or any other type of fasting. Your body craves nutrition, and that is exactly what I give mine. Meghan’s approach to “detox” is not what you think. Her cookbook is all about incorporating whole foods into your diet in very easy and tasty recipes. I have been following her blog for years and just got her cookbook. Here are some of my favorites: Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie, Chinese Cabbage Salad, peanut butter cups (from her website), healthier–and tastier–Klondike bars (website).

And, of course, the Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck cookbook. There are just too many amazing recipes to list, but check out this post for that awesome soup recipe!

So, there you are: my top picks for cookbooks! They all have no-fuss, easy recipes that result in truly delicious food. What are you waiting for? Go check them out and have fun experimenting!

Word Count

2,248. HUZZAH!!!! Next week’s word count goal: 3,000 words!

Happy Friday!

 

17
Jun

Feel Better Food: Italian Wedding Soup with a Twist

I’ve been hit. I write this post from my couch, where I have set up residency during the nastiest flu bug I’ve had in a while. It all started on Sunday–luckily, the day AFTER my book signing at Caribou on Saturday. I rested all day Sunday and Monday, and by Monday evening I had a ravenous appetite. After not eating food for two days, I whipped up a batch of my all-time favorite comfort soups: Italian Wedding. I had a good-sized bowl, and thought myself cured.

Ha.

After being at work approximately 1.5 hours on Tuesday, I had to call it quits. While my stomach is undeniably better, the dizziness, headaches, and uhhh gastronomical distress, that’s set in has really knocked me off my feet. So, here I lay, with a bottle of water and ginger ale.

But all is not lost. I have a wonderful boss who came in to give me the day to rest, and I’m confident that I will be well before the Author Festival at Beagle & Wolf Books and Bindery ,this Saturday. Hopefully, I’ll write about how fabulous I’m feeling in my Friday post. For now, I will leave you with my recipe for the ultimate Italian Wedding Feel Better Soup.

The twist? It is entirely vegan and 100% delicious. I got this recipe from the AMAZING Thug Kitchen Cookbook (which is one of my new favorites). Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck (yup, that is the real name), is full of delicious and irreverent recipes aimed at helping people eat real, healthy food. And it is also full of swearing (you’ve been warned), which makes for one amusing and unusual cookbook. I laughed throughout the whole thing–and then proceeded to make some of the best food EVER.

I love Thug Kitchen’s Wedding Soup even more than the traditional version, and make it almost on a weekly basis because it is so satisfying, healthy, comes together super fast, and is chock full of goodness. Though you may be intimidated by the sound of “White Bean Balls,” trust me, they are freakin’ delicious. One of the best soup recipes I’ve tried from one of the best cookbooks I’ve seen! Seriously, if you like this recipe, you’ve got to check out the rest of the book!

Thug Kitchen’s Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls & Kale

For the White Bean Balls:

Cooking spray

1 large yellow onion, divided (1/4 c. + the rest)

3 c. cooked white beans (2 – 15 oz. cans)

½ c. whole wheat bread crumbs

3 cloves garlic, pressed

¼ c. nutritional yeast or flour

2 T. olive oil

1 T. soy sauce or tamari

2 tsp. all-purpose no-salt seasoning blend (I used Penzey’s Tuscan Blend)

1 tsp. each: dried thyme, basil, and oregano

½ tsp. lemon zest (I used a splash of lemon juice instead because that’s what I had on hand)

For the Soup:

1 tsp. olive oil

The rest of that chopped onion

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. small dried pasta, such as orzo (in a pinch, I’ve used barley, coucous—whatever you have)

9 c. vegetable broth

1 T. fresh lemon juice (from ½ the lemon you zested, above)

4 cups chopped kale or other dark leafy greens

¼ tsp. each sea salt & freshly ground pepper

¼ c. chopped fresh basil or parsley

To make the white bean balls: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, mash the white beans until they form a paste (I used a potato masher for this). Try not to leave too many unmashed beans – really get in there and mash ’em! Stir in the rest of the ingredients: ¼ c. chopped onion, white beans, bread crumbs, garlic, nutritional yeast or flour, olive oil, soy sauce or tamari, dried spices, and lemon zest. You might need to use your hands to mix it all together. Don’t act like you’re too good to touch bean paste. Form the bean mixture into golf-ball-sized balls using your hands and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops with a little more cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes, pulling the tray out and turning the balls at the 15 minute mark to get both sides nice and goldeny-brown.

 To make the soup: While the bean balls are cooking, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the rest of the chopped onion (minus that ¼ c. you used for the bean balls), carrots, and celery. Cook and stir for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown and caramelize. Add the garlic and the pasta and cook for about a minute more. Gently pour in the broth and let it all simmer together for about 10-15 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Fold in the lemon juice, greens, salt & pepper, and fresh basil.

To assemble the dish: Place 3-4 bean balls in the bottom of a single-serving soup bowl. Gently ladle the soup over the bean balls. Enjoy the best Italian Wedding Soup you’ve ever had!!

Happy Wednesday! I’m going to go take a nap…

15
Jun

Seven Stones Book Tour Continues!

excited

Thanks to manager Jeb Van Eps for hosting my book signing!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by Caribou Coffee in Baxter on Saturday to chat about Seven Stones, show support, enjoy fabulous coffee, and get books signed. I had a wonderful time with old friends and even got to meet some new readers! The best part of a book signing is hearing how people have connected with my story and keep sharing it with others. People complimented me on the prose, saying that Seven Stones “does not read like a debut novel” and friends mentioned that they got into the story so much that they forgot that I was the author. THANK YOU! It is a dream come true to hear such positive feedback about Seven Stones! AMAZING!

A special thanks to Bri and Jessica for womanning the Square so we could accept credit cards as well as cash and checks. Having that option made it wonderfully simple for people to buy a copy of my novel (YAY!). They were even kind enough to snap some fun photos of the event:

Bri

kids

goofing

IMG_1091

color jeb

The fun continues this Saturday at Beagle & Wolf Books and Bindery’s Author Festival! I’ll be there from 1:30-3:30 to sign books along with other authors (like William Kent Krueger!). Here’s the list of my remaining June events!

  • Saturday, June 20th: 1:30-3:30pm

     

  • Saturday, June 27th: 11:00-2:00pm

There are LOTS more coming up in July, so stay tuned!

Happy Monday!

 

12
Jun

Friday Favorites: Seven Stones Book Tour!

Going on TOUR!

Going on TOUR!

Another awesome week filled with delicious food, friends, and maybe even a little writing. So many cool things happened that it is hard to choose just a few favorites! One of the big highlights was getting to interview Candace Simar, of course, but the biggest is coming up on Saturday. That’s right, folks! The next stop on the Seven Stones book tour is at Caribou Coffee in Baxter, Minnesota. I’ll be selling & signing books, drinking coffee, and visiting with old friends and new readers! Grab a latte and join me from 1-3pm. 🙂

So, those are the BIG highlights, but here are some other great things about this week that made the list for this Friday Favorites:

Our First CSA Share!

Shane and I are officially registered for our very first CSA half-share! CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and means that we get our produce directly from a local family farm. How it works is you pay the farm a specific amount of money prior to the season–think of it as an investment in the farm. The farmers take that money and use it to buy seed, machinery, updates or whatever else they need to make their farms amazing. In return, you get a delivery of whatever they are growing every week.

The farm we have chosen is Northern Lights farm in Solway, Minnesota. They are an organic farm that also offers truly free range eggs, grass fed Highland beef, honey, a variety of seasonal produce, and bread in their weekly shares. The season begins during the last weekend in June and runs for 18 weeks. The total cost of the half-share (big enough for a family of 2-4, or in Shane and my case, two rabbit spouses 🙂 ) comes out to be about $16.00/week. How cool is that?! For $16.00/week we are going to have super fresh, healthy, organic produce right from our community. I’m SO excited!

I am passionate about everything CSA’s stand for: supporting local agriculture, organic farming & food, and eating tons of delicious, fresh produce. Everyone I know who has participated in CSA loves it, and I’ve wanted to try being a part of it for years! Northern Lights is just such a perfect fit, and the share will definitely save us money while supporting great causes. I’ll be posting pictures of our weekly CSA haul as soon as it begins!

 

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

You heard me. Chocolate melt-in-your-mouth heaven coating thick, rich peanut butter. Whipped together in a matter of minutes. The best part? These mini-cupcake sized treats are totally devoid of refined oils, sugars, wax (yup, that’s an ingredient in Reese’s) or artificial anything. And did I mention that they are FREAKING DELICIOUS?!

One of my favorite cooking blogs posted a recipe for homemade peanut butter cups a while back, but I was a little intimidated to make candy. Turns out, I had nothing to fear! All you need is a microwave to melt the coconut oil, a whisk, two bowls, a muffin tin (cupcake liners optional), and a freezer.

This recipe from Detoxinista is a new staple in the house of Lee. Seriously, why WOULDN’T you try it? Go make some. Right now. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

 

Book of the Week: Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you couldn’t tell from my Jane Austen Tea Party, I am a pretty big fan of her novels. Jane has always been one of my absolute favorite authors, and such an inspiration for me. She was a feminist back when women were regarded as little more than property, and her witty, funny, and clever writing style charms and endears me. The woman’s got it all.

I’ve almost read all the Austen novels: I’ve just got Persuasion and Lady Susan left to go. So far, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility have been my favs, but they might have to make room for Persuasion to join the list. While Lizzy Bennett will always be my favorite heroine, I dig the story between Anne and Captain Wentworth. Grab a cup of tea, a homemade peanut butter cup, and settle into some classic English literature!

Word Count

Drum roll please…1,315. Still off the mark from 2,000, but I’m going to try again next week. It’s more than last week, so PROGRESS! I think my main word count limitation is not having a steady writing schedule. I’m going to try to implement one this next week and see how it goes. Wish me luck!

Happy Friday!

10
Jun

Interview with Award-Winning Author Candace Simar!

Candace Simar’s fifth novel!

Recently, I had a chance to talk to Candace Simar (award-winning author of the Abercrombie Trail series). Her newest book, Shelterbelts, was released on May 16th. Shelterbelts has everything you love about Candace’s writing: Minnesota history, Norwegian culture, a gripping story, and characters who steal your heart.

Tia Fiskum, the old maid of Tolga Township, yearns to retain her hold on the family farm after her shell-shocked brother returns from World War II. The neighbor she hopes to marry chooses a town girl for his new wife.The Potato King listens to the radio preacher and prays for a miracle. Eddy Root fears a return to the asylum. A German war bride struggles to find acceptance in this tight-knit Scandinavian community. Woven throughout is the man who walks lizards, a grieving father, a disillusioned pastor, and the neighborhood gossipmonger. Shelterbelts chronicles the life of a community struggling to return to normal after war. This is a story true to history of those difficult times while rich in the complications of the human spirit.

And here to talk about her fifth book, Shelterbelts, is the one and only, Candace Simar! *Applause*

Candace Simar

So, tell me Candace: How was writing Shelterbelts different than your experience writing the Abercrombie Trails series?

Shellterbelts was much more difficult.  For one thing, it is more character driven in the literary genre of writing. Even more so, the choice of writing a linked story cycle made it much harder than I expected.  I was influenced by The Spoon River Anthology and Winesburg, Ohio.  Both were written about a hundred years ago, and told the story from multiple points of view.  I loved the idea of getting “the rest of the story” after reading about the next character.  While this was exhilarating, it was also excruciatingly difficult.  Minor changes in later chapters, made huge revisions in others.  Trying to tell multiple POVs without giving away too much of the other characters about drove me crazy.   Just keeping the timelines somewhat in sequence was a challenge.   But, at the same time I loved doing it, and feel Shelterbelts is a much better work because of the multiple points of view.  I wanted Tolga Township to be the main character of the story, and I think it worked. 

I loved how much emphasis was placed on the town as the focal point of the story. Reading how different characters felt and reacted to the same events either made the community stronger or shook it to its core. Getting to know all the characters was probably my favorite part of reading Shelterbelts, so I have to know: do you have a favorite character?

I started out liking Tia best, but I really grew to love Tillie, the neighborhood gossip, as her story unfolded.  I also have tender feelings toward Eddie Root, who is based on a mentally challenged person in my family, and also on someone I have known in the community.  Norman is a complex character who I still think about from time to time.  Vera is based on my mom, and I loved writing her POV.  You can tell, I have a hard time choosing a favorite.  People ask me if the characters are based on people from my childhood—the answer is both yes and no.  The characters are more composites of people I’ve known, as characters from all my novels have been.  The setting is definitely based on my home territory.  Clyde and Vera’s farm is based on my childhood home, the Fiskum farm is our neighbor’s farm, and Tolga Lutheran is based on Tordenskjold Free Lutheran where I grew up, including their Pentecost Dinners.   The rural school is based on the one-room school I attended for 5 years.  Shelterbelts feels very personal to me.  My editor said that she could see I really loved my characters.  That is perhaps the nicest compliment I have received.

You’ve mentioned that Tolga Township is very similar to the town you grew-up in. How did your upbringing shape the characters and stories of Shelterbelts?

I was born in 1953, and WW2 shadowed much of my childhood, even though my father was not a veteran.  The war was such a monumental event that it impacted U. S. culture for decades.  We knew who had served, who had been imprisoned, who had lost family members, or who had moved, etc. because of the war effort.  My parents married in 1944, and I loved discovering the world where they started.   I knew someone called Big Barn and Potato King.  Everyone who had survived the Great Depression was influenced by their experience.  Farmers shared a common struggle. 

I have always been interested with the relationships of farmers to their neighbors.  Marrying a farmer means spending the rest of your life with his neighbors.  In Shelterbelts, Tia’s rival marries her next door neighbor.  Tia must learn to get along.  There was no other choice.

The title, Shelterbelts, is based on the wind breaks planted around prairie farms to stop drifting snow.  I love the metaphor of shelterbelts sheltering and protecting the entire community.

Norwegian language and culture serves as the backdrop to many of your stories, giving a foundation of identity and faith to your characters. As someone who has very little knowledge of the Norwegian way of life, I learned a lot reading Shelterbelts! Were you raised in a traditional Norwegian home, like many of the characters in the story? Or was your family like Tillie’s, and insisted on speaking only ‘American’?

I grew up sitting under the kitchen table listening to my parents and grandparents gossiping in Norwegian.  My sister, Claudia, always the smartest one,  would listen and translate what was said. When adults slipped into Norwegian,  we kids knew it was getting juicy!  Yes, we celebrated Christmas with lutefisk and lefse.  We mentioned Syttendemai, Norwegian Constitution Day, every May 17.  We learned Norwegian swear words and sang hymns in Norwegian.  We took great pride in our Norwegian heritage.  Almost everyone in our little corner of the world was Scandinavian and Lutheran.  It’s a time gone by, and I loved putting it down on paper in Shelterbelts

Every writer approaches writing differently. What is your favorite part of the novel writing process?

I love loosing the imagination that translates vague thoughts into story on the page.  I love seeing the characters unfold, and the story going forward.  I don’t plot or plan my books in advance.  If I knew too much what will happen, I tend to lose interest.  I like being surprised.  There’s nothing like the feeling that comes with writing the last line of a first draft.  At the same time, the writing process is excruciating.  A million distractions beckon.  The focus needed must be like that of an athlete going for the gold.  Filling the white spaces with meaningful words is mostly painful. And then the revision process.  I thought Shelterbelts was nearly finished in 2010 when I took the first draft to the Taos Master Novel Class.  In reality, it had just begun. 

My actual  writing process is to journal first, where I dump all the worries and clutter of the day on the page, then read Scripture and pray. After this, I go into the story.  I begin by reading what I wrote the previous day, and then hitting the blank page. Other writers have their own processes, but for me it’s always the journaling, scripture and prayer.   I spent a lot of time at a Bismarck, ND monastery to finish Shelterbelts.  It is the ideal writing spot:  quiet, clean and spiritual.  I can’t wait to go back.

Sounds wonderful! And I have to ask: Will you be turning Shelterbelts be a series, like Abercrombie Trails, or a stand-alone novel?

Ever since Shelterbelts came out a couple of weeks ago, I am being bombarded with requests for a sequel.  I’m not saying never, but I have other novels in my brain that need to be written first.  The first time it was mentioned, I was completely horrified!  I worked on Shelterbelts for almost 10 years.  It had only been out a few days and readers were asking for another!  I needed a little breathing time!

Any other novels in the works?

I am mid-way through an historical novel called ESCAPE TO FORT ABERCROMBIE.  This book is in the new adult genre, appropriate for younger readers but still appealing to adults.  An editor from Five Star/Cengage who purchased the large print rights to the Abercrombie Trail Series, asked me to write another book about the Dakota Conflict.  I hope to finish it by the end of the year.  I’m also researching logging camps, bonanza farms and the Benedictine nuns who started  many hospitals in Minnesota and North Dakota.  Solveig, from Abercrombie Trail, will be the main character in my logging book.  I’m anxious to get started on it. 

Awesome! Thank you SO much for the interview, Candace, and good luck with your next writing project! For more information on Candace or to purchase Shelterbelts, please visit candacesimar.com

08
Jun

Take a Walk in My Garden…

Welcome to my Garden!

Welcome to my Garden!

This weekend, I was able to play in the dirt between the rainstorms that swept through Minnesota. So far, my organic garden is looking superb! To me, this is the most exciting time for a gardener, when the tiny seeds I planted magically sprout up and anything is possible. Including skunks. I’ve had some disagreements with our new “neighbor” because he or she thinks my garden is a great place to dig for grubs, and doesn’t care what seedling he/she rips up in the process. I respectfully disagree. I’ve been sprinkling cayenne pepper around the edges, but if anyone else has recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Since everything has finally started to come up, I decided to snap some photos and give you a tour of what we’re growing in the Lee garden this year!

IMG_1330

IMG_1331

I got these beautiful flowers from my librarian friends for my birthday. They are a mix of morning glories, petunias, and snap dragons. Gorgeous! They add a nice pop of color to my yard. 🙂

IMG_1346

IMG_1347

Along the back edge of the garden, I also have a row of mammoth sunflowers planted. Sunflowers are my absolute favorite flower–I just love how huge, sunny, and cheerful they are.

IMG_1335

Planted around the inside edge of my raised garden bed is a mix of salad greens: kale, spinach, mesculin, arugula, red leaf lettuce, and butter lettuce. These little guys are almost ready for their first harvest! I love growing greens because they are easy, fast, and super producers. In about a month, I’ll do a second planting to ensure I’ll have greens all summer.

IMG_1340

I’ve also got a row of chard planted (a variety of Swiss and rainbow). I love my greens!

IMG_1333

My pumpkin plants are looking pretty good! Anyone who knows me knows I ADORE pumpkin all year round. I can’t wait to have my first homegrown pumpkin this fall!

IMG_1334

Another baby pumpkin plant poking up makes for a total of THREE!

IMG_1337

Nestled next to my pumpkin mounds, I planted some organic popcorn kernels. I wasn’t expecting them to grow, but two of them sprouted!

IMG_1339

Is that a honey nut butternut squash plant I see? YES! Yummmm, squash…

IMG_1338

For root vegetables, I’ve got a lovely row of beets (seen above)

IMG_1342

A gorgeous row of cosmic carrots (rainbow carrots!)

IMG_1341

And a potato plant JUNGLE! Seriously, my potatoes have gone NUTS! Yay!

IMG_1344

On the other side of the garden, I’ve got several cucumber plants! If this mound looks freshly dug, it is–by the skunk. I came outside to snap pictures and found my beautiful cucumber mound completely dug up. Fortunately, the plants didn’t seem to be damaged, so I replanted them and am hoping for the best…

IMG_1343

For all you gardeners out there: my cucumber leaves are spotty. Does this look like a blight to you, or are my plants being munched by something? Any suggestions?

IMG_1345

And last, but CERTAINLY not least: I HAVE A WATERMELON SEEDLING! This little guy took so long to sprout that I almost gave up hope. Watermelon is my favorite food, and I have high hopes for this plant. Grow, baby, grow!

So, there it is! My beautiful garden. I’ll post updates periodically and hopefully have photos of fat, scrumptious produce to share come fall.

This weekend, though, I won’t be gardening: I’ll be at Caribou Coffee in Baxter, MN from 1-3pmfor the next stop on my book tour! From there, I’m traveling every weekend in June and July to promote Seven Stones. I hope to see you at one of my events!

That’s all for now! See you Wednesday for an interview with award-winning author, Candace Simar!

Happy Monday!

05
Jun

Friday Favorites: Minnesota Authors!

This pretty much sums up how I feel about this week

I sit here writing this on a gorgeous sunny Friday morning with a mug of Irish breakfast tea. Not a bad way to end a week, and Holy Cats, what a WEEK! Some pretty cool stuff has happened the last five days, and here are my favorites:

Meeting Beth Hautala!

I was fortunate enough to meet Middle Grade author Beth Hautala this past Monday at the very first Brown Bag Lunch at the Brainerd Public Library. Beth kicked off the Brown Bag Lunch Author Series by talking about her wonderful debut novel, Waiting for Unicorns. Her novel is a heartfelt tale about 12-year-old Talia who, having just lost her mother to cancer, goes on a trip to the Artic with her whale-researcher father. In the ice and snow of Manitoba, Talia learns the truth about love, wishing, and saying goodbye through the magic of the “Artic unicorn”–the narwhal.

I loved Beth’s lyrical writing style and beautiful characters. Meeting her was fantastic, and I wish her much fun and success!

(And don’t forget I’ll be at the Brainerd Public Library on July 13th from 12-1 as a part of the Brown Bag Author Series! End of shameless plug)

 

The BOOK TRAILER!

Of course, this was one of my absolute FAVORITES of the week. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet (and I don’t know how you couldn’t have with so many amazing people sharing, liking, posting, and retweeting the video. THANK YOU!), here it is in all it’s literary glory!!! 😀

 

Book of the Week: Shelterbelts by Candace Simar

I’ve been waiting to read this book, and the wait was TOTALLY worth it. Candance Simar–author of the award-winning Abercrombie Trail series–is known for her love of historical fiction based on the Norwegian immigrants of Minnesota. While Abercrombie Trails focused on the pioneers and Sioux Uprising, Shelterbelts takes place just as World War II is ending.

Tia Fiskum, the old maid of Tolga Township, yearns to retain her hold on the family farm after her shell-shocked brother returns from World War II. The neighbor she hopes to marry chooses a town girl for his new wife.The Potato King listens to the radio preacher and prays for a miracle. Eddy Root fears a return to the asylum. A German war bride struggles to find acceptance in this tight-knit Scandinavian community. Woven throughout is the man who walks lizards, a grieving father, a disillusioned pastor, and the neighborhood gossipmonger. Shelterbelts chronicles the life of a community struggling to return to normal after war. This is a story true to history of those difficult times while rich in the complications of the human spirit.

Candace is one of those authors whose characters take hold of you and don’t let go. I am really enjoying the novel, and learning a ton about the time period and Norwegian culture (being Irish and Scottish in Northern Minnesota is a bit of an oddity. I’d never even heard of lefsa before we moved up here 😉 ).

Even more exciting: Candace has graciously accepted an invitation to be interviewed right here on The Open Book! Stay tuned for the first-ever guest star on my blog! 🙂

 

Word Count

Drum roll please…979. Poop. I was shooting for 2,000. While I didn’t reach my word count goal, I do feel like all 979 of those words are keepers. I feel pretty good about what I wrote, and spent a lot of time reworking the chapter I scrapped last week. So, by next week, I should have two new chapters. Yay!

I’m going to keep my word goal at 2,000 words for next week. I am NOT one of those super-fast writers like my friend, Katie. She can whiz through chapters at lighting speed. I’m more like George R. R. Martin. It’s gonna take a while. But that’s the point of my keeping count of my words: to increase how much I write every week. Wish me luck!

Happy Friday!