Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas traditions and I love how every family has different ones. Growing up, there are a few key traditions I cherished the most: opening our very awesome Advent calendar everyday, sleeping by the lighted Christmas tree at least one night in December, occasionally going to see the tree in NYC (moreso when I was a teenager with friends), participating in the church pageant, opening up a new pair of pajamas to wear Christmas Eve and waking up Christmas morning to one single present by our beds from Santa that we could open right away. 
Throwback: 1989 NYC Trip with my family

When Justin and I built our life together, we created our own Christmas traditions. We've had to abandon a few of them due to our nomadic life (i.e., decorating--I have four boxes of Christmas decorations sitting in storage in Virginia and it makes me very sad, but I did steal a set of Christmas lights--circa 1980--from my mom to decorate our cabin in New Mexico this year). 
Throwback: Our heavily decorated New Hampshire apartment in 2007.

Still, there are a few traditions we've kept, mainly involving our nephews and niece. For years and years, Justin called Ryan (now 14) and Sarah (now 11) pretending to be Santa. Then our friends had kids and upon request, he calls them. On this year's phone call, our goddaughter Anna (4) said, "I love you Santa!!" and it just about brought tears to all our eyes. This year, he started calling our nephews, Everett (4) and Owen (2+). J's "Santa Calling Program" stemmed from his time as assistant director of parks and recreation in Danville, VA. If you want the full story of it and hear about the funniest phone call ever, check out this post from 2009
Everett says: "Well Santa, don't make your sled too heavy cause the reindeer can't pull it."

When J's mom lived in New Jersey, we used to be able to easily shuffle around and split our holiday time with both families. But now with all of J's family in Colorado and mine still on the East Coast, we have to choose one side! I mentioned in last year's post that we've switched to spending Christmas with J's family, given the young age of our nephews on that side. Christmas with youngins' draws in the true spirit, although I may have to throw my family a bone one of these years, as sister and niece really miss having us there ... But for now, Colorado it is.

A tradition we've kept over the years--even as nomads--has been the Eve reading of "The Night Before Christmas" to the kiddos. Everett and Owen love it just as much as Ryan and Sarah did all those years. 
New traditions are being kept with J's sisters and Mom. Just like last year, we attended the children's mass on the Eve, followed by dinner hosted by my MIL. Christmas morning, we all convene at my SIL's house as early as we can get our butts over there (the kids are up at 7am, ready to open presents). The 15-minute kid-present-opening is followed by a big brunch. We all disperse for afternoon naps and whatnot, then come back to Russ and Julie's to stuff ourselves with more delicious foods. The adults also participate in a "grab bag" gift exchange. J & I stopped exchanging in our nomadic life, so it's kind of fun to have that to look forward to! 

Hope your holiday season was merry and bright. What traditions have been your favorites? 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress Volume 3: Book Proposal

As I type this, I'm eating Cheerios for breakfast, it is 4 degrees out, and oh, I sent off my book proposal for my Te Araroa travel memoir to the first publisher I am targeting.
Book proposal. Oh boy. If I poured my heart and soul into my book, then I poured someone else's heart and soul into the book proposal.

When I finished writing the book on Dec. 1, I had no idea what I was getting into for this next step.

There is a format for this thing, but it's not as much a paint-by-numbers type of instruction. So of course I overanalyzed every piece of it. Bullets in this section? No bullets? Should this sentence go before this one? Or this one?

Now, 21 pages later, I have a synopsis, competitive market analysis, a marketing platform and chapter outlines.

Along with the book proposal, I sent sample chapters carefully plucked from the book. I read, reread, revised and rewrote these chapters at least 170,000 times. Writer friends (and Justin!) read and gave me feedback--invaluable feedback. I was prepared for a sea of track marks across my pages. But nothing they said stung. In fact, they merely suggested things that I couldn't believe I didn't think of myself.

Writing is such a personal act, especially in works of nonfiction drawn from your own experiences.  During this past month of November, I spent more hours with it than I did with any living soul (unless cats have souls?). And now I've sent my baby off into the publishing world.

Well, only to one publisher so far. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I'm taking a holiday break from my book to be with my husband (yeah!!) and his family. Post-holiday, I have a list of 25 other publishers who will be so excited to receive my book proposal (amiright???). There's still more work to be done, but another step down.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fenton Ranch Visitors

It used to be, no matter where we lived, we would have a revolving door of visitors.

Nowadays, we live even more in the boondocks than ever, and only a few brave souls follow us where we go.

I'm happy to say, we hosted our first Fenton Ranch visitor: Justin's mom!

This visit was extra special, as J is still recovering in the big city of Denver, so he and his mom took a road trip to visit me at Fenton Ranch!
It's been brrrrr cold up in the mountains of New Mexico, so we mainly hung by the fire. We didn't have our go-to board game of Scrabble, but we did have Risk! I was so, so excited to play the game of world domination. I spent the better part of my freshman year of high school playing with my two best friends every weekend (I already admitted I was a nerd in high school!). I thought for sure this was a game I could beat J and his mom ...
But after three full days of playing, Justin proved himself once again as the champion of all games.

We did get outside and go exploring locally! We took J's mom on our snowy trails, down to the famous Jemez Springs Bath House for a soak and out for grub at the eclectic Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon.

We also took a day to explore Santa Fe, which is really quite beautiful in the evenings with all the luminaries and Christmas lights draped on the abode buildings. Mostly this was a walk-around-the-shops trip, but we made sure to enjoy cuisine at the top-rated restaurants--The Shed and Cafe Pasquals--both excellent!
For everyone else, the invite to Fenton Ranch exists! This is not meant to deter you, just meant to be a warning: we are 2 hours from the Albuquerque airport on a mountainous road with no cell service (although my sister likes to remind me this is no different than the last several places we've lived). We already have two friends with their tickets booked in January, so let's see how many others dare to venture into the unplugged territory ...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress Volume 2: Writing Complete!

The last time I worked on my travel memoir was May 30, 2016 and when I left off, I had a grand total of 33,620 words.

Drumroll please ...

I have finished!!!!

But wait! Stop the cheering! While it is certainly a big deal that I finished writing the story of our thru hike on New Zealand's Te Araroa, I am actually FAR from done.

So let's start with what being "finished" means.

*I've spent the last month living in a cabin in the woods on my own. No people, no Justin (sadly), just the cats and myself. Here's the thing I discovered though. As much as I miss my husband terribly, I write better in solitude. There's NO way I could have cranked out 20,000 more words in less than 30 days if Justin were here bugging me to play the Bean Game. (I'd like to point out that there is a writer initiative in November called NaNoWriMo, which basically is a challenge to write 50K words in the month of November. After accomplishing only 20K, I find this cra-cra, but more power to them).
*Further, our cabin in the New Mexico mountains could not have been a more perfect setting for writing a book. Studies show that nature stimulates creativity in the brain. Pretty sure I can vouge for that. My creative juices were flowing like the creek in our backyard. 
This is not the same picture as the one below ... 
My view changed from fall to winter last week!
Closeup of my view ... I spy a deer!

*Every time I read a portion of my book, I find a flaw. I believe this is a good thing, because there's usually a sentence missing comma or a word I know I've used 17,000 times. No matter how many times I've read the first chapter of my book (roughly 20 times), I can always find something to fix! Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
*Revisions are also coming from others, too. Justin read my whole book in one day!! Now of course he is biased, but he still has some surprisingly good feedback! I have a few other writer friends reading specific chapters I plan to submit to publishers. While they will also have the story's best interests at heart, they will be less gentle and complimentary (that's actually what I need).

*The dreaded—yet inevitable—self doubt that comes with the territory of book writing has already begun for me. I've already used that overdramatic adjective 17,000 times. Will readers really know what I mean when I write "flamingo-colored alpenglow" and "mountains looming menacingly like a prehistoric monster?" Or is that overkill? Can someone remind me of the difference between dashes and commas in writing? 

*My book is about 54K words, and I'm aiming for 60K. My writing process was chronological (big surprise given my Type A personality) and I just wanted to get the story down on paper. Now, I'm going back and enhancing certain scenes and details. I am in love with writing this story, so this part is fun.

*You know what's not fun? Putting together a book proposal.

Book Proposal 101
I've said this before, but selling myself makes me break into hives. Justin and I have worked together to create our "brand," at least in that we have been sharing our stories and expertise in the outdoor world and thus building trust. This has taken time and consistency. We continue to partner with several gear companies and Backpacker Magazine because of this. But really, Justin deserves all the credit on this. He's the persistent one who isn't afraid to ask. Don't mind me, I'll just be cowering in the corner while he does that.

Now it's my turn to take the reigns and own my awesomeness (I just cringed writing that phrase).

Back in the day, all a writer really had to worry about was writing a book and writing a query letter to a publisher. Like a cover letter, the query letter brags about you and summarizes your book in the most polished 3-4-sentence elevator pitch you can create.

Nowadays, it is a whole lot more. Querying a publisher (or an agent, who will then find you a publisher) involves research on the book's potential competition, market, and publicity ideas. I've really minimized it, but trust me when I say it's laborious and tedious. I'm writing this blog post as a way to procrastinate working on my book proposal ...

After you pour your blood, sweat and tears into your book, query letter and book proposal, then you can send it out into the big bad world of publishing.

But guess what? It's a long shot. Did you know publishers pursue less than 1% of submitted work.

Also, fun fact: anyone remember the NY Times best-selling book, Chicken Soup for the Soul? The authors of the original book endured 140 submissions before getting picked up by a publisher.

Totally reassuring. I have my work cut out for me!

So that's where I'm at. Hoping to finish the book proposal and revisions by the holidays, then it's send, send, send. And wait, wait, wait.