Hi everyone, I hope you all are staying safe and getting by okay this spring. I wanted to post because I finally uploaded some bread-making videos.
About the Videos
I had the idea to record some of the lessons from my bread-making class, if the class was canceled. I don’t particularly like being recorded, and also I don’t have a terribly nice kitchen. But I started seeing more and more bread-making on Twitter, and friends started texting for help, so making videos seemed worthwhile.
I finally was able to take a week off last week, and I finished six videos: some basic information about ingredients and recipes, two science lessons, and a discussion of preferments. There is also a tutorial of me making English muffins. (This was my “test run” video, where I learned to use iMovie.)
I also have a bunch more footage and hope to post videos soon about kneading by hand and in a machine, followed by shaping, baking, and sourdough starter. (But, I’m back at work now, so it might take a little longer. But I have some momentum!)
I’ve embedded the playlist below, so if you want to watch the whole series, press play.
I’ve been lucky to have editing work (which I do at home anyway), so the stay-at-home rules have not been a burden on me. I did start a new fiction novel in April, and have been trying to do a little each day with a goal of finishing 50,000 words by the end of May. I’m using a Nanowrimo project to track my progress (see curve). The flat places are where I took a few days off to revise a different novel, in order to enter a contest with it, and where I made the videos.
As always, if you’d like to read more about my fiction (i.e., romance novels), please visit https://janebuehler.com.
As always, feel free to send me an email and say hello. Stay well and please take care of yourself.
It’s a weird time right now with the coronavirus spreading in America. While I’ve been lucky to have work, being more isolated has given me some extra time, so I wanted to share some plans.
The Asheville Bread Festival has been cancelled. I’m waiting to hear about my upcoming Folk School class, but it seems likely to be cancelled as well.
In anticipation of not being able to teach this spring, I thought of trying to make some videos of bread-making lessons, like basic kneading or oven tips. So stay tuned for that.
Two friends texted this week to ask about sourdough starter. Making a starter and bread is a great activity to do at home with kids! So after texting instructions twice, I posted instructions online here: https://www.twobluebooks.com/simple-sourdough-starter/. I’m hoping to write a few more basic guides that might be useful to people stuck at home; I’ll write again if/when I do.
I’m not sure if there is space left in my fall bread class; there were a few spots last time I checked, but it has been a while (and a lot has happened). I have two classes scheduled in 2021: Baking Traditional Bread, April 4–10, 2021, and The Science of Bread, October 10–16, 2021. (Registration should open this summer.)
Fiction Writing News
I’ve been querying agents with story #1 of my romance series, and revising story #2. I just started drafting story #3 this week. Realistically, I don’t think the series has much chance of being traditionally published, because it does not fit neatly into any of the genres that already exist. But, I wanted to follow through with trying the agent route.
I’m actually excited to self-publish for many reasons. One reason is a recent idea I had to produce two versions of each book: regular and PG rated. That way, readers who don’t like reading love scenes could still read the books. The freedom of self-publishing would enable me to do this.
For more details about my fiction, please visit https://janebuehler.com and subscribe for updates (I don’t send them often so I won’t fill your inbox).
Here’s a quick update on the bread-making classes I’ll be teaching, 2020 plans for writing and publishing, and how my freelance life is going.
The Asheville Bread Festival is May 2, 2020. I will be there as an outdoor vendor, so please stop by and say hello if you attend. Tickets for classes are not yet available but you can sign up for updates at https://www.ashevillebreadfestival.com.
I’ll be teaching two classes at the Folk School this year:
Registration should open for April 2021 around mid-year 2020.
Gratuitous cat photo 1 (Blackwell)
This month I finally corrected the book description for Bread Science on Amazon, which required that I create a print-on-demand version. This was the only way Amazon would let me control the text (which until now read something like “250 pages, charts, pictures” with no real description).
Plans for later in the year include a new cover and re-doing the ebook to try to reduce its gargantuan file size. I don’t plan to do a new edition, but I want to update a few sections I can better explain now (I will share the updates on my website, for people who already have the book).
Gratuitous cat photo 2 (Scruffy)
I’ve been revising book two of my fiction series while querying agents about book one. I’ve thought a lot about where my book fits in to what is currently being published, and concluded that basically it doesn’t fit in. This means I’ll probably end up publishing it myself, but I’m okay with that, and even excited about it.
I won’t write more here as I know fantasy romance novels are not for everyone, but if you’re interested, I have a mailing list for future readers at https://janebuehler.com. I don’t email regularly, only when there is news to share.
Florida versus North Carolina in February
I love working from home! I’ve been editing three or four science papers each week, and using the rest of my time for writing or for the writing-related tasks that never got done when I had a day job.
Due to my new situation, I was able to “work-cation” in Florida in January and attend a writer’s conference while still working from my laptop. I’m hoping to do more of this, although it is hard to be away from Scruffy.
One thing I learned at the conference is that if I want to use Facebook as an author, I need to use a business “page” instead of a personal “profile.” I’ve set up the new page here, using my fiction pen name, Jane Buehler: https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Buehler-107338764179116/
As always, feel free to comment or send me an email.
Here’s a compilation of resources I recommend when revising your own writing.
For the Opening
Book: The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.
First page reads: You can often find these sessions at writer’s conferences. Authors submit a first page, which is read aloud and critiqued by an editor or agent. Even if you don’t submit a page, hearing feedback about others’ first pages is helpful.
First paragraph/page/chapter classes: Last fall I took “Killer Openings” by Alexa Bourne. It’s great to learn what makes a strong opening while getting feedback on yours from fellow students and the teacher. And, these classes are often taught online via a forum, so you can take them wherever you are.
More Books on Revising Your Work
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark (read my review, here) The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Jack M. Bickham
Story Geniusby Lisa Cron: There are a lot of writing craft books, and no one book fits all writers. I gained a few very useful ideas out of this one, which focuses on how the human brain relates to storytelling and how to use that relationship to craft more-powerful stories.
Save the Cat Writes a Novelby Jessica Brody and Romancing the Beatby Gwen Hayes: I’m not totally sold on these two. The idea is that using certain story “beats” (a pattern of the plot) will increase your chance of success because the pattern is a winning pattern, but some perfectly good books DON’T fit this pattern. Even if you don’t want to conform, though, it is worth thinking about the beats of your plot and how to use them for maximum impact on readers.
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi: This is a reference book of emotions that lists “symptoms” of each emotion, to help writers show an emotion instead of telling the reader about it. For example, if you had written “He looked angry” you could look up “Anger” and find a list of items like “face turns red” and “fists clench.”
Book maps: I learned about these in a class by Heidi Fiedler (https://www.helloheidifiedler.com/workshopsforeditors) and I cannot say enough good things about them. Making a book map is the first thing I do after writing a story draft. I use it to keep track of the plot, the character arcs, the relationships, and tidbits (like what phase the moon is in; you don’t want a full moon rising night after night!). I blogged about book maps here: https://emilybuehler.com/2018/book-mapping/
Classes: I mentioned some online classes about the story opening above. Other classes focus on different parts of revisions. Recently, I took “Character Torture” by Linnea Sinclair. The class looked at the goal, motivation, and conflict that drive a story along. These concepts are now the first thing I chart in my book map when I begin revising.
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward: This book is not about revising, but it’s so important that I wanted to include it. It is the go-to resource for authors who want to write characters who are different from themselves, in an authentic way. There are also courses taught and online resources at https://writingtheother.com.
Happy winter! I’ve had a busy few months and wanted to check in before the end of 2019. I’m now 99% working from home as a freelance editor and writer—yay!
New Novel: The Village Maid
In November I completed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the fourth time. So I now have FOUR fiction novel drafts to figure out what to do with. The new story is called The Village Maid and is the sequel to The Forest Bride, my fantasy romance. While writing, I made progress with understanding where my stories fit in; they are light-hearted (like the so-called chick lit genre) but set in a fantasy world with magic. So my new “comparable title” description is, “If you like Sophie Kinsella but wish her books had fairies and magic, my stories are for you.”
I also took two classes this fall (one on conflict and one on “killer openings”) and what I learned helped a lot with the new novel. For example, sometimes “writer’s block” is simply a lack of conflict; if a writer is stuck and it feels like nothing is happening, adding conflict to the scene can save the day. (Conflict doesn’t have to mean fighting or adversaries; it can also mean change.) I plan to revise The Forest Bride over the next month, using what I learned, and then query the agents I met at the romance writers conference last summer.
One project I was super excited to finish was a slight overhaul of Somewhere and Nowhere. I learned the importance of having a professional cover that “fits in” in a book’s genre (see diagram), so I had Tugboat Designs create a cover. It was easy to make the new cover available on the ebook version. The past month, I set up the book with the new cover using “print on demand” at both Kindle Direct Publishing (aka Amazon) and IngramSpark. So, print versions are now available! The old cover is still available at a discount. More info here: https://www.twobluebooks.com/somewhere-and-nowhere/
September 20-26, 2020, “Science of Bread”
(register starting ~January 2020)
I’m also excited to finally have time to TAKE a class and am registered for an illuminated lettering/calligraphy class. I figured it might be a useful skill for a fairy tale–inspired romance author to have.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that 2020 gets off to a great start.
So I have some big news: I quit my day job. For years, I’ve dreamed of having more time for my writing, editing, and self-publishing tasks. Ideas have piled up on Post-it notes on the wall by my desk. This month, I finally did it. Soon I’ll be 100% self-employed and plan to spend time on building my editing business, pursuing my romance writing, updating my bike trip memoir, and renewing my involvement in the bread community.
Freelance editing is one way I plan to pay the bills without a day job. I’ve been editing academic papers (mostly in science) since 2013. Many of the papers are for authors whose primary language is not English, and I’m able to help them transform their writing to be understood by English speakers. I love this work as it’s a way for me to contribute to science without being in a lab.
In addition to research papers, I’ve written and edited all kinds of materials, from test passages to medical brochures to fiction novels. I hope to keep expanding the types of materials I edit and the levels of editing I provide. My editing website is http://www.emilyeditorial.com.
I’ve written three drafts of novels since 2014 and learned a lot about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. My novels had three different genres, so I decided to focus on the fantasy romance genre first, using my middle name, Jane. For me, writing in this genre is a chance to write heroines who learn to believe in and value themselves; I can share with readers lessons I’ve learned and explore issues I still struggle with. I also decided to try a traditional publishing path, knowing that my debut novel might not “fit in” enough for any traditional publisher to take it on. In that case, self-publishing is an option.
In July I attended the national Romance Writers of America conference, where I met other authors and pitched my novel to agents and editors. I was excited to find that people in the business are excited for fantasy romances with less violence and less aggressive heroines. I’m currently following up with contacts I made. I’m also looking for ways to connect with other fantasy romance readers and writers. And, I’m planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November to draft the sequel. My romance author website is https://janebuehler.com.
Somewhere and Nowhere Update
In 2017 I self-published a memoir of my cross-country bicycle trip, Somewhere and Nowhere. I regretted some of the decisions I made in the process, mainly not having a cover designed by a professional. This summer I had a new cover designed, which I plan to use on the ebook as soon as I have time. I also rewrote the book’s blurb, hoping to better convey the contents to potential readers.
At the conference in July, I met the owner of Draft2Digital (D2D), one of the many companies that work with authors to self-publish ebooks. I’d meant to look into D2D as a way to expand my ebooks’ availability to more platforms, and talking to the owner made me feel positive about using that company. So I have an “ebook overhaul” on my to-do list as I upload the updated versions and try out D2D.
A future step is to explore print-on-demand options as a way to have print books available with the new cover, while still selling my stockpile of traditionally printed books with the original cover. I’d like to do this if only to learn about print-on-demand, which I have not yet used.
More Bread Science
Since publishing Bread Science in 2006, I’ve managed to keep teaching a handful of bread classes each year, but otherwise I have not been as involved as I’d like in the bread-baking community. I miss keeping up with news, researching bread topics, and presenting science material in simple language on my blog. Once I get some of the above items done, I hope to spend some time getting back into bread. I’d like to learn more about topics like what current research is saying about gluten or sprouted grains, and as always, to share what I learn. I’d like to attend more bread and fermentation events, as a teacher or vendor. I know opportunities exist to network with other bakers online. (I also hope to have time to actually make bread again!)
This might be a longer ways off but it is on my planner. My currently inactive food blog is here: https://foodchemblog.com.
The book is set in a made-up fairytale-like land that has hints of eastern Europe. (It also contains really amazing magic, numerous awesome female characters, intelligent solutions to conflict where more killing isn’t the answer, and a subtle love story that has you holding your breath until the final page.) The author writes in the notes that she drew bits from the tales her family shared when she was growing up.
While I loved and admired the book, I felt a little sad thinking about my own lack of connection with a culture somewhere in the world.
I’m working on my first fantasy novel, and it came out as some sort of fairytale. This made sense: I’ve always loved fairy tales. I used to check out the giant books of fairytales from the grade school library, books so big they barely fit in my book bag and were a challenge for little me to carry home. But reading Uprooted made me look for any hints of my family’s background in my novel, and I didn’t find any.
This reminded me of something I learned a few years ago, when I participated in a workshop put on by the Racial Equity Institute, located in Greensboro, NC: The workshop leaders had the participants write down a few things that each of us liked about being a member of our racial group. The white people wrote things like, “The police don’t assume I’m guilty” or “I’m given a fair chance when I interview for jobs.” The people of color wrote things like, “Our food” or “Our music.” The workshop leaders explained that becoming part of the majority group often involves giving up one’s own culture.*
This idea rang true to me. I tried to think of instances of a family culture in my own life. I remember some large Italian meals on a big birthday, wedding day, or funeral day. I remember homemade pierogi made by the women at my gramma’s church, and a Slavic lullaby that I can hum, if not sing. Once my aunt and I hunted down information on the German side of our family in the local history room at the public library in Wilmington, NC, where they had once run a fishery. But all I seem to have are bits and pieces.
I wanted my story to have more depth, and I didn’t seem to have folk tales or a culture from my ancestors that I could use. This made me think, what do I have? What do I believe in one hundred percent, that I could use? Here’s what I came up with.
Religion. When I was about 30, I spent a few years thinking a lot about religion. I read a book about the world’s major religions that illustrated (at least to me) that the common thread is a higher power that we leave to come to earth and then return to. Different religions have different paths for this to occur: In many forms of Christianity, you get one chance to live a good life, and either you succeed and go back to the higher power, or you fail and don’t. In Hinduism (as far as I understand it), you are reincarnated over and over, slowly working your way up until you are ready to go back. In Buddhism, you can “skip ahead” of the cycles of reincarnation by altering your behavior to reach enlightenment ASAP.** Different religions also include or exclude the souls of animals as part of this higher power.
I decided this common thread would be the religion in my fantasy world, called the “old ways.” The fairies are still in touch with the old ways, the villagers are starting to forget, and the evil king has corrupted them with his own ideas.
Nonviolence. I eventually began attending Quaker meetings, where I learned about things like nonviolence and the power of sitting quietly and of listening. I had planned a revolt in my story, but hadn’t wanted to write a bunch of characters killing each other. I ended up with (spoiler) a successful nonviolent revolt. (I immediately connected with the unusual treatment of battles in Uprooted, although it is different than my own.)
The role of women. From the beginning I intended to write empowered female characters. It was harder than I thought; I kept catching myself making all the leaders men! But coming up with a religious philosophy for my world made me consider the role of women, and how it would get to be what it is; what would cause women to be respected or seen as equals, that is lacking in our world? It seemed like religion has played a big part in determining the roles women have in the real world.
But also, back when the main tasks people did were finding food and shelter, women’s role as mothers probably affected their roles in the community. I don’t know enough about the history of women’s roles in societies, and details about matriarchal cultures of the past are not easy to come by. So in this case, I’m glad not to be drawing from the recorded history of the real world, but instead inventing a history.
Miscellaneous stuff. I’ve noticed that my characters (at least the good ones) seem to eat kind of healthily. They do things like garden or make useful crafts. These activities come from communities I’m part of. I’ve worked for years at a natural food co-op, and I know a lot of farmers and value homegrown and homemade foods. I teach at the Campbell Folk School, which has taught me about traditional crafts like basketry and pottery. I’m also involved in a community of musicians and dancers who play old-time Appalachian music.
So while I might have lost the culture my ancestors knew, I’m able to find new communities to learn from and participate in. Maybe I am growing new roots.
*This idea is part of a much longer discussion, covering the history of race in America. A balance is maintained of having enough of a working class for the people in power to use them to make money, without having the numbers of the working class swell such that they might be able to revolt. The result is that subsets of people in the working class are periodically subsumed into the majority, or given some privileges to dissuade them from banding together with the rest of the working class to rebel. Not being very knowledgeable in this area, I hope I’m presenting the idea properly.
**These were my takeaways from reading this book, and are extremely simplified. I’m sure there is plenty of room for people to argue that I have it all wrong.
Novels need a first page that hooks the reader—whether it’s the agent you’re querying or the potential buyer browsing your book. Last week at the RWA conference I attended a panel of agents and editors assessing first pages of novels, as well as a session on submitting your novel that included tips for an effective first page. The first pages read aloud were all well written, but a few suggestions kept popping up.
Set the Scene, with Balance
Many of the first pages leapt into a scene, starting mid-fight or mid-dialogue. Over and over, the agents and editors commented, “We need to be grounded in the location” or “I need to know what genre this novel is.” Interestingly, no pages began with a long-winded description of the setting. I figured that all the writers had been told to start mid-scene and warned away from the long description, and gone to the opposite extreme, starting so mid-scene that readers could not understand the action, and providing no setting at all. One of the agents said, “Don’t throw the reader into the middle of the action if it is confusing. Start a breath before the action.”
In addition to providing a basic setting (time period and location, real or imaginary), the setting should be special to the book—not a travel guide–like description but a place that resonates with the story and couldn’t be swapped for any other location.
Make It Easy on the Reader
Getting into the story should be as easy for the reader as possible. Don’t take too long to get to the point (the interesting point, that makes the reader want more). Convey the story’s genre as soon as possible so the reader knows what to expect. Don’t introduce too many names all at once, or try to describe an entire family history or the entire setup of a fantasy world. Give enough interesting details that the reader wants to keep going, but don’t cram everything in at once.
Make sure the beginning is clear and understandable. In particular, don’t have too many “layers of remove”—for example, the character starts daydreaming of a different scene, or we enter a flashback. Make it easy for the reader to follow along.
Propel the Reader Forward
The first page should not be an average day in the main character’s life, or a mundane scenario that the reader has seen time and again. Something should make the day special. The reader should also have a reason to root for the main character. A glimpse of “regular life” is needed, too, so that the reader can see why the day is different than usual. Just don’t get bogged down. For example, don’t include mundane dialogue (even if in real life, people might have such a dialogue).
The first page should create some sort of tension, by presenting the conflict that the main character faces or hinting at the coming conflict. But then this tension must be maintained—don’t drop it after the first paragraph to set the scene or give background. Those setting and background details should be woven into the story in bits so that the main focus is the tension-filled story that maintains the reader’s interest.
In a week I’ll be at the Romance Writers of America’s national conference. I was feeling nervous about it at work yesterday, and I told my coworker that I imagined arriving, and how I’d be surrounded by confident people talking assertively, for hours. My coworker pointed out that other people might like talking to someone more quiet. I’d been assuming that, because I’m not assertive, I was somehow less than.
It’s not true, and I’ve learned this lesson before!
Example #1: One time, my friend Loren and I took our dinner out behind our apartment building to eat on a hillside overlooking the park. Two guys were playing baseball, and after a while they came over to talk to us. One of them did all the talking, was loud, and made jokes, while the other one didn’t say a word. And I liked the quiet guy better!
Example #2: One time when I was at the Campbell Folk School, an Australian blacksmith was on campus the same week. I wanted to talk to him but was too scared to sit near him at meals. I assumed he would not want to talk to me; plus another woman who was boisterous was always hanging around him. On Friday night after the bonfire, when I got up to leave, he got up, too, and said he’d walk back to the dorms with me. On the walk, we totally hit it off! Why had I assumed he would not be interested in talking to me? We sat together at Saturday breakfast, the final meal of the week.
I don’t need to have the most conversations or impress everyone I talk to. All I have to do at the conference is be authentic and open to conversations happening, and I’ll find people to connect with.
I’ve been preparing for the RWA 2019 conference, where I plan to pitch my fantasy romance novel, The Forest Bride,to agents and editors. After much reading and study, I finally (I think) have a grasp on the differences between a blurb, a tagline, a pitch, and a query.
Since I struggled with understanding these differences, I thought I’d share them.*
This is a catchy few sentences that aims to hook potential readers into wanting more. It is used in various ways (see more below), and you can have different versions of it to use in different places. It often ends up as the back cover copy when your book is published. As an example, here is mine for The Forest Bride:
When Princess Rose is sold in marriage to a repulsive brute, only one person can save her: Prince Dustan, the suitor she hoped for, and the one her father didn’t choose. But Rose learns that Dustan harbors a secret: he may not be a prince… or human. Can Rose trust Dustan? Or will his hidden agenda prove even more perilous than the marriage he helped her escape?
This is a brief one or two sentences to catch someone’s attention. You can have more than one. One often appears on the back cover of the book, before the blurb. When they make a movie of your story, this might appear on the poster. Here’s mine:
Her fiancé was a monster. Her rescuer may be worse.
The pitch is what you say when telling someone about your book. It varies depending on the circumstances. For example, a shorter pitch is needed if you meet an agent in the elevator and she asks what you are writing, or if you attend a pitch event with short time slots. A longer pitch might be okay if, over dinner, another writer asks what you are writing, or if you attend a pitch event with longer time slots.
The pitch includes some basic information, some variation of your blurb, and comparable titles. It should balance using precise wording with being natural (i.e., don’t memorize and read it). I’m participating in four-minute pitch sessions, so I planned a “one-sentence pitch.” (Run-on sentences seem to be allowed.) Here’s what I plan to say (note, I’ve never done this, so post-conference I might have a different view of this):
The Forest Bride is a 70,000-word fantasy romance set in the agrarian kingdom of Sarland.
It follows a princess, Rose, who’s sold in marriage to a repulsive brute, and the only one who can save her is Prince Dustan, who’s the suitor her father didn’t choose; but Dustan has secrets: he may not be a prince… or even human.
The Forest Bride is Ella Enchanted, written by Sarah J. Maas. My target audience includes readers who enjoyed Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala or Miranda Honfleur’s No Man Can Tame.
The query is a letter you send to agents (or editors) to ask them to consider your novel. This could be a first attempt at contact, or a follow-up to an invitation from an agent you pitched to. (If the latter, you begin the query by reminding the agent how you met.) The query letter includes basic information about your novel, some form of the blurb, comparable titles, plus some other possibilities. There are many articles online about how to write an effective query letter, plus some about what NOT to do.
I hope this helps clear up any confusion about the differences between these items. If you have a different understanding of how they work, please share it.
*I’m not giving advice here on how to write effective blurbs, etc., because I’d only be copying the advice of others. Many articles online give good pointers for pitching and/or querying. What really helped me understand the different was an online class with Linnea Sinclair, “Pitches, Blurbs, and Taglines, Oh My,” which I highly recommend. The class is also a great way to get the items written, while getting excellent feedback.