Friday, July 29, 2016

Swedish Meatballs

On many occasions, I have promised to bring meatballs to my book openings. I’ve had my Swedish mother-in-law’s recipe for some time now but hadn’t gotten around to actually making it.

My sister-in-law told me how those meatballs were a favorite treat and something she always requested for special occasions when she was growing up. They fell out of favor later in her life. Maybe when she realized what the secret ingredient was. The comment from her husband was along the line of “it’s not natural.”

I should have cooked up a batch before now, but I didn’t have all the spices and I couldn’t decide what meats to use for the actual meatball. I wanted something other than 100% beef. All this indecision and procrastination meant no meatballs … until now.

Last week I had to have something for a neighborhood party. So, now was the time for meatballs.

I do have to make a confession—I purchased frozen, ready-made Swedish meatballs. Yes, there are such things, but not as easily found as you might think. Fareway came through for me.

It was all good because I wanted to concentrate on the sauce anyway.

I gathered all the spices I would need and lined them up on my counter. It was so impressive that I had to take a photo.

All went well enough and most of my meatballs disappeared. I have made a start and have ideas of what to do next.

There will be meatballs!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Setting the Stage

I love it when a serendipitous moment comes along and I can say, “I got that right.”
One of those moments came along this past week when I was sorting through emails. I gave a quick glance to an article entitled Preface your book! Bookbaby sends me stuff all the time, usually short articles pertaining to writing, publishing, and marketing. I can glean a useful tidbit every now and then.

This one really hit the spot.

According to this article:
“A preface could be an introduction. Or it could be a prologue. It is whatever you need to set the stage so that the reader can hit the ground running from Chapter 1.”

This idea of setting the stage caught my attention, because I’ve started my book out with an augmented disclaimer. You know the standard blurb found in all works of fiction that state what follows comes from the author’s imagination. The confusing part that I wanted to explain in more detail comes from using some real names: Bishop Hill, a real place I lived in for over twenty years, and Olof Krans, an historical figure and painter. Both of these are key characters that I’ve taken liberties with for the sake of my novel and mustn’t be held to the same standards as non-fiction.

As a preface I’d consider what I’ve written as an introduction and an invitation.

        This is a work of fiction. Bishop Hill, Illinois is a state historic site and a national historic landmark with innumerable real-life stories to tell. I chose the avenue of fiction to tell mine. I used my author’s imagination to create names, characters, businesses, organizations, and institutions wherever I could or otherwise used them fictitiously. Historical figures and events, past and present, along with geography were likewise subjected to my imagination and altered for this work of fiction. Any resemblance to real-life is wholly coincidental.
        A young Olof Krans did join the Bishop Hill Colony and later used his self-taught painting skills to document the Colony’s early prairie years. Those who want to learn more are encouraged to continue their journey by reading further or visiting the real Bishop Hill in Henry County, Illinois. There’s a wealth of information out there and many knowledgeable people to help you on your way.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Bio

I’m not by nature a fast writer. I’m slow at picking out the right words and spend too much time rearranging them. Not a good thing for a first draft of anything. It makes editing time consuming as well. But this slowness allows me to measure when I’m improving. The one sure sign that I’ve gotten better at trying to write in some new area or style is when I notice I’m writing faster than my usual pace.

There’s only one thing that I’ll never be fast at … writing about myself.

I must have an author’s bio for the novel. So I will start out by turning to the source of info I already have: my writing resume.

I had to put one together for my application for The Great River Writer’s Retreat in 2013. It has been a valuable tool ever since.

By digging up and listing when and where I wrote feature articles and news items—I proved I had a history of writing and publishing. By listing all the organizations I’d written press releases for—I proved I could do an important step in marketing. By listing my awards—I proved that I had been recognized.

So even though I’ve moved to a new city and have been very single-minded in the pursuit of my novel, I do have a background as a writer that I can fall back on.

Having said that, I went in a different direction for this bio.

I wanted this one to be personal and a reflection on my life choices. More about family and how I got here than a list of what I did here and there along the way. 

This is what I came up with to introduce myself to the new readers of my novel:

Mary Davidsaver was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. She had no choice but to attend school in Iowa City because generations of family craftsmen helped build the county courthouse, the dormitories, and the student union.
That tradition of craftsmanship had her living in Bishop Hill, an Illinois state historic site and a national historic landmark, first as a silversmith and then as a writer, for twenty-four years. She and her husband have returned to Iowa.

I could have added a little something about crossing the Mississippi River to find better sweetcorn … but I didn’t.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Students graduating from Knox College, Galesburg, in 2008 were addressed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Across the country, Harvard’s graduating seniors were addressed by J. K. Rowling.

Both speakers talked about the victims of torture. Albright’s brief comments seemed to come from a report. Rowling, who worked for Amnesty International in her early twenties, conveyed the pain, suffering, and horror—the stuff of nightmares. There’s no doubt about who was the better writer.  

I knew about Albright’s speech from the first-hand experience of living in the area when Knox was well into a string of notable commencement speakers: Senator Barak Obama, 2005; Stephen Colbert, 2006; and former President Bill Clinton, 2007.

I didn’t know anything about Rowling’s speech until very recently when someone posted an excerpt on Facebook. It got my attention. Aside from explaining how our uniquely human imagination makes it possible to understand the pain of others, she spoke about failure.

I know something of failure.

I made two attempts at a craft-based business in Bishop Hill. One did better than the other. Neither lasted more than five years.

I never hit as close to rock bottom as Rowling did as a single parent, but I can identify with trying to finish the only work that mattered to me.

I have been determined to write my novel to the best of my ability. To grow and stretch in every way possible. My discipline may seem a little shaky, but I’ve kept at it because I had no other distraction and no other option.

Now that I’m on the homestretch to being published, I have to admit that it’s a bit scary. The old ghost of failure still lingers close by. But I know more and I have more control. Plus, I have the bonus of having already failed. There’s no place to go but up.

Friday, July 1, 2016


I’ve added Misty Urban to my list of talented writers who have given me much needed editorial feedback for my book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

We sat across the room from each other last fall at a workshop for marketing. Her book of short stories was much further along than my novel.

I caught up with her this spring at the Bettendorf library for a Read Local event and bought her finished book, A Lesson in Manners.

By the time I attended Misty’s Muscatine book launch party I’d only just begun to read her collection of short stories. I didn’t feel prepared for any truly insightful comments. I had to say something and I went with my brief first impression of the title story: commas. She had created a lot of complex sentences loaded with commas. I have been sensitive about my use and misuse of commas for quite a while, so that’s what I noticed first. I was impressed and had to say so. Misty deferred to her own editor.

I changed my opinion after looking over that story again, I should have marveled at her writing it with a second person POV. A far more impressive feat than using a lot of commas.

After finishing the book, I noticed her darker take on life. Misty tackled the major themes of illness, grief, and the search for personal freedom with powerful, insightful prose. The ambitious core of serious literature. It’s no wonder that she can post an impressive list of awards.

My novel is not literature. I have a cozy mystery set in the place I’m most familiar with, Bishop Hill. I’ve said before that what I wanted most was to give people a good read.

I think Misty’s turn as a line editor will have done me a lot of good.

My last editor reviewed for content and had me clear up some character and plot points that truly needed fixing. But I left a few things I knew she would have thought too murky and indistinct. I couldn’t bring myself to have a traditional villain who would be cleanly and clearly punished in the end. Life isn’t always like that. I know this isn’t life, this is a story. Still, I wanted to pursue my theme of preservation.

After reading Misty’s stories in A Lesson in Manners, I feel better about exploring the complex motives behind my different bad guys, some of whom weren’t so bad. Their motives represented different takes on how to deal with preservation: selfish, unselfish, for profit, not for profit, for pride, or for honor.

An additional theme I wanted to explore was forgiveness. I tried to use forgiveness as a way to improve my protagonist’s personal relationships with families, friends, and, in one case, professionally.

It’s been a pleasure to work with Misty. I’ve paid careful attention to her editing. Hopefully, some of the details of comma and hyphen usage will have sunk in and might actually stay with me for a while.