Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm guest blogging at Michael Hyatt today!

12 Strategies for Leadership Success

My father, the late Dr. Claude H. Rhea, Jr., executed and exemplified lessons on leadership throughout his short life of sixty-two years. He was a strategic visionary, a 32-year colon cancer survivor, a member of the prestigious Royal Society of the Arts, an accomplished international lyric tenor who recorded five albums (one with the Concert Orchestra of London), a published author (including his autobiography, a cook book and two song books for children), a Dean of a Music School and a President of a College.

These are his life lessons for leadership:

1. Creed. Create a mission statement for your life and your job. Each professional and personal project you undertake should fall under the tenets of your creed and belief system. An important part of my dad’s creed was to make faith an action verb and to honor God in all that he did.

2. Heed. Surround yourself with people that can provide insight and wisdom, even if you disagree with them. You should always understand all sides of an issue before making key decisions. Connect with others and network.


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Significance of Insignificant Details

It’s the smallest of details that can make our stories seem real. As a reader, I want the details to blend with the story, not stand out in a glaring way that will disrupt or contradict my knowledge of a time period or venue. As a writer, I want to cultivate the trust of my readers so they will not get tangled in a web of details, but rather relax in the backdrop of factual fiction.

Research is the key ingredient for preparing a delicious tale – whether it’s contemporary or historical. Research is not dull or dry, it’s vibrant and versatile! While writing and rewriting my first novel, a contemporary women’s fiction piece, I have applied what I learned in banking: Gather the facts!

Before closing a deal, bankers have the opportunity to conduct what is called due diligence on a company and the transaction. This can involve visiting the factories or distribution points, meeting with management, speaking with their clients and reviewing even more financial statements. I always loved this part of the process and even walked through numerous industrial factories wearing a hard hat. There is something invigorating about seeing in person what you have studied on paper. That is the experience we as writers need to deliver to our readers.

But what if my novel is set in a different country, and I can’t travel there? That’s okay. It’s still doable. Google. Email. Telephone. I’ve done it all. Today, for example, I am rewriting a section in my novel in which my main character visits London and dines at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a traditional British restaurant. I remember dining there with my parents as a young girl, but of course much has changed since then. After researching online, I telephoned the maitre d’ and asked him specific questions. “What does the menu look like? Is it laminated or paper?” And the list goes on.

There is also another wonderful resource that a lot of people are not aware of: The New York Public Library. Here is a link to that website: Look under the heading Ask NYPL. The library provides online chat services to answer your question in addition to email and telephone inquiries. Some research is fee based so you will need to discuss this with one of the helpful librarians as to the scope of your project.

Tricia Goyer, a dear friend and author of many historical and contemporary novels is one of the real experts I know on research. I will feature her expertise on research in an upcoming blog. Meanwhile, enjoy a recipe from Amy Lathrop as you get ready for the holidays.

Take-away Tidbit:

Crescent Rolls

1 T. yeast
¾ c. warm water
1 t. sugar
Set aside for action –
Meanwhile, beat:
2 eggs

1 c. warm milk
1 c. warm water
1 t. salt
¼ c. sugar
½ c. oil

Add yeast mixture. Stir in flour. Knead on floured board. Place in greased bowl. Cover. Let rise for 1 hour. Divide into 2. Roll to about ¼ - ½ inch thick, about 15 inch circle. Butter heavily with nearly melted butter and cut like pizza. Roll up from large end to small end, let rise for 1 hour.

CAN BURN EASILY!!! Bake at 400 for 15 min. Enjoy!

“The failure of incomplete success of a recipe oftentimes depends upon some little detail that has been misunderstood or overlooked in the preparation.”
A Book for A Cook, The Pillsbury Co. (1905)

(photo courtesy of Warwick)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And the winner is ...

Sara J Henry!

Congrats Sara - you won Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel. Look for an email in your in-box!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thomas Nelson's Appetite for Fiction

I will forever be grateful to Thomas Nelson for publishing my first book, A Mother’s Heart Knows in 2005.

As a former banker, I have been impressed with the management and business performance of this company. Under the leadership of Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson continues to succeed and meet consumer demands in this changing industry. “Thomas Nelson reports that it has claimed the largest market share percentage of fiction in the Christian retail channel through June--more than 20%, according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's Pubtrack data.” (Christian Retailing, August 27, 2009).

Allen Arnold, SVP and Publisher of Fiction at Thomas Nelson, actually takes the time to meet with writers at the ACFW conference to provide professional insight into this challenging business. I admire that. Ami McConnell, Senior Acquisitions Editor, is part of the Thomas Nelson Fiction team. My literary agent, Janet Kobobel Grant, founder of Books & Such, said the following: “Ami is one of the finest fiction editors I know. She makes authors dig deeper to find rich veins of writing. One of my clients, after receiving a critique on her contracted manuscript from Ami phoned me and said, ‘Do I have to do any of this?’ I replied, ‘No. But if you want to be a better writer, what Ami has laid out for you will make an immense difference. If you don't want to grow, don't follow her suggestions.’ The author took the challenge and wrote one of her very best books as a result.

In a previous email, Ami recommended two excellent writing sources:
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

The Hero's 2 Journeys

Here is my recent Q & A with Ami:

Q: First of all, congratulations on your success in being a key leader in the Christian fiction publishing industry. What is Thomas Nelson interested in acquiring for its fiction line in the upcoming years?

A: Thanks! We are thrilled with what we’ve been able to achieve in the past few years. We’re always looking for a GREAT story, but in terms of genres, we’re looking to acquire more romance titles (including historical and contemporary) and general Christian fiction titles.

Q: If you cook, what is your favorite recipe? If you don't cook, what is your favorite take out?

A: I’m a terrible cook, but I’m gradually becoming a pretty good baker. My family raves about my chocolate chip pumpkin bread.

Take Away Tidbit:

Here is the recipe from Ami McConnell:

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 16 oz. can pumpkin
2 ½ cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cloves
Bag chocolate chips

Combine oil, eggs, pumpkin, mixing well. Add remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Bake in 2 large loaf pans or several small loaf pans at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Bread should slightly pull away from sides of pan when done. Let cool completely in pans before removing.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Just Write! (and I found it!)

Although you might be solely working on writing fiction, keep an open mind to opportunities that come your way for other writing projects. I’ve discovered that writing is like exercising (if only typing on a keyboard could burn as many calories as running on a tread mill). When you cross train (weight lifting, cardio, stretching) your body optimizes the metabolism. When you “cross write” your mind sharpens its focus on writing fiction with well researched facts and writing non-fiction with the flowing prose of a novel.

This past week, my dear friend Vicky Wauterlek, founder of Hands of Hope asked me to write an article for the newsletter to share the story of Ariik, a Lost Boy of Sudan. First of all, I must say this was an incredible blessing in my life to actually have the opportunity to interview Ariik and hear firsthand his heartwarming and heart wrenching story. Mere words on a page can never accurately capture the life experiences of such a brave young man. However, I hope that my article can at least provide a peephole into what Ariik’s life was like as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Read the article here.

Take-away Tidbit
This week, as we step deeper into the forest of fall, perhaps you might wish to sample the harvest. You might remember that in my last post I lamented the loss of Waterbrook/Multnomah's (a division of Random House) Ken Petersen's Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe ... well, I'm happy to report that I found it!


(Oh, and I'll be announcing the winner of the signed Donald Maass book, Writing the Breakout Novel on Monday, October 12! You still have time to enter to win!)

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake



18 whole graham crackers, broken into large pieces

6 Tbs sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

12 Tbs unsalted butter, melted


1 1/3 cups sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp salt

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin, (see prep below)

1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, three 8 oz. packages, cut into 1-inch chunks, softened

1 Tbs vanilla extract

1 Tbs lemon juice, fresh squeezed

5 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup heavy cream

Cream Topping

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp rum extract, (or to taste)



(Note: This crumb crust recipe below is likely more than you will need, but this amount makes it easier to work with along the sides.)

1. Adjust oven to middle rack, preheat to 325 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan with non-stick (butter) cooking spray.

2. In food processor, pulse crackers, sugar, and spices until finely ground. Transfer to medium bowl and drizzle butter over. Mix with spatula, until evenly moistened.

3. Turn crumbs into spring form pan, and press evenly into bottom and sides. TIP: Use slightly smaller bowl or ramekin, inverted, to press crumb crust evenly and firmly.

4. Pre-bake until fragrant and browned, about 10 minutes. Caution: Watch this carefully so it does not brown too much or burn. Cool on wire rack.


(Note: It's important to remove as much excess moisture from the pumpkin as possible. This procedure prevents the cheesecake from becoming soggy):

1. Line baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Spread pumpkin on paper towels in even layer. Cover pumpkin layer with a second triple-layer of towels. Press firmly until towels are saturated. Peel back top layer of towels and discard. Grasp bottom layer of towels on one side and fold pumpkin in half. Peel back towels.

2. Repeat.

3. Flip pumpkin onto baking sheet, discarding towels.


(Note: Using a bath keeps the top crust of a cheesecake from cracking, adding moisture into the oven during baking):

1. Boil 4 quarts of water as you make the filling (below).

2. Set spring form pan on double-layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. Wrap bottom and sides with foil. Make sure the wrap is tight and won't leak water into the pan. Set wrapped spring form pan in roasting pan.

3. After filling is prepared (see below), pour into spring form pan.

4. CAREFULLY pour boiling water into the roasting pan, filling it until water comes halfway up the sides of the spring form pan. CAUTION: Be careful not to splash water into the filling in the spring form pan. (I've done it!)


1. Whisk sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl.

2. In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until softened. NOTE: You can do this in a mixer, but the danger is to over-beat throughout this process, which can curdle and lump the cheese. I prefer hand mixing. You don't need to mix much.

3. Add about one-third of sugar mixture. Mix until combined, about 1 minute. Repeat twice until all of sugar mixtures in combined. Scrape sides of bowl.

4. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and lemon juice. Mix until combined, about 45 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl.

5. Add 3 eggs and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.

6. Add remaining 2 eggs and beat until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl.

7. Add heavy cream and beat until smooth, about 45 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides and give a final stir.


1. Pour filling into spring form pan, and prepare the bath (above).

2. Set roasting pan containing the spring form pan and bath in center of oven. CAUTION: The pan is heavy and the water is hot. Bake about 1 and 1/2 hours. Cake should be slightly wobbly in center when you remove it from oven--145-150 degrees temp in center of cake.

3. Run paring knife around sides of pan.

4. Allow spring form pan to rest in roasting pan and cool until water is warm, about 45 minutes. Remove spring form pan from water bath. Discard foil. Set on wire rack. Cool until barely warm--2 to 3 hours. Wrap with plastic wrap, refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.


(Optional, but good)

1. In bowl of standing mixer, whisk heavy cream, sour cream, brown sugar, and salt until combined. Add rum extract, whip until fluffy and doubled in volume.

2. Spoon generously onto servings of the pumpkin cheesecake.


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