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Queries

I’ve been sending out queries to agents this week, lots of them. It’s a heart-wrenching time, sending something out that you have been working on for SO LONG, that you’ve poured your soul into, and bracing yourself for the rejections that will come. And they will come. Most agents are very upfront about their acceptance rates, usually less that 5% of thousands of queries every year, so even just statistically, the rejections will arrive, one after the other. These agents are busy, filtering through all of the email they get every day. There are a lot of people who want to be the next J.K.Rowling and they have to make quick decisions based on a tiny piece of work, hoping to get it right. Not an easy task, to be sure.

But there’s always that one possibility, that one chance, that that ONE agent will see your first ten pages, or five pages, of first three chapters and think, Yes, I could totally represent this person! That agent could have been looking for that very thing that you just sent them, in that very genre, with the voice that you wrote it in and it will happen. It will be a glorious, delirious, day when that email or phone call arrives. Believe me, I’ll be writing about it right away if that ever happens. You’ll be the first to know.

I was spoiled the first time I ever queried a publisher for my book, Put Up Your Hair. I got an offer from the first publisher I sent it to. It was exhilarating; I framed the contract and everything. Foolishly, I expected the same kind of thing to happen when I sent out my first novel, but I soon learned that querying a small publishing house for a specialized piece of work and querying an agency with thousands of other people trying to do just that are two very different things. With my first book, however, I heard lots of very good things about my writing, with many questions about when I would write another book, leading me to think that my writing was at least readable.

So there was that hope, and I kept writing. Writers who are trying to get published write, edit, second guess, edit again, and even again, to make their writing clean, concise, but yet descriptive enough to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. The waiting to see if someone likes all of that hard work can be unbearable; I’ve been checking my email all week waiting for a response, any kind of little answer. I did get a very nice email from an agent who rejected the project I sent due to time, but added that she hoped that I would keep her in mind in the future, so there is that. It’s amazing what a little spark of encouragement can do.

What is my point in all of this? Working off nervous energy, for one, but also to put my feelings into words. I’m better at writing them down than I am trying to say them out loud. I really, really want this. It’s worse than being a kid at Christmas, and there’s always that thought in the back of my mind that it’s not meant to be, that it’s never going to happen. Besides telling that little voice to bugger off in the rudest way possible, I’m keeping my hope alive by thinking positively and putting it out to God and into the universe.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on the next project, the next book of Traveler (no title yet), my essay for a writing contest, and trying to not obsessively check my email. If you’d like, check me out on Facebook: Julie Ballantyne Brown- Author or on Twitter: @23italiana (I only have, like, 16 followers; I really need to get better at Twitter). You could even take a look at the first Traveler, available on Amazon Kindle or in paperback, if you really wanted to.

A presto.

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Today, on Facebook, I saw a picture from a wedding. The two who got married are wonderful people and they work for The Henry Ford, one couple of many who met their spouse there. The picture was lovely; it was of all of the people at the wedding who had worked on Firestone Farm, a place near and dear to my heart. It got me thinking about my own wedding, and all of the Firestone Farm people who were there to celebrate that day with us.

When Marty and I got married, twenty-two years ago, I was still a “chicken” on the farm, one of the younger girls. The older ladies adopted us, many of us had “mamas”, and they taught us all that they knew. I hardly knew anything about cooking at all back then, much less cooking on a coal stove, and I definitely made some mistakes. (Helpful tip: Just frying a piece of chicken doesn’t cook it all the way through. You have to put it in the oven, too, or you end up with lovely, crispy skin and raw chicken on the inside.) But I did learn, enough to be a competent cook not only at work, but at home.

For our wedding, one of the gifts we got was a journal, pictured above. The farm folk, both women and men, had passed it around and everyone contributed their favorite recipes.

002.jpgMost of them were favorite recipes that we used on the farm, since we used a variety of cookbooks that were period to the year 1885. Some examples are baking powder biscuits, lemon tarts, and pumpkin jumbles. There were also more modern recipes, too, such as Italian macaroni, sausage and egg brunch, and carrot curry soup. There’s even one page with the phone number to Little Caesar’s!

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I love looking through this book, I always have. Some of the people who contributed have passed away, some I’ve lost contact with, and some I still “see” on social media quite regularly. This cookbook, though, brings those farm days back. It was such a special, happy time in my life. There was a lot of work, a lot of coal smoke, a lot of, well, manure and mud, but we were a family. We danced at each other’s weddings, celebrated new babies, and attended funerals together. For several, wonderful years, it felt like it would always be so. We even joked about making the farm our own country. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and we could never recreate that time if we tried.

But I have this book, this wonderful, precious book. It’s worn out from use, the spine is gone, I’ve scribbled my own subsequent recipes into it, and it will eventually begin to fall apart, but I love it. One day, I’ll pass it on to whoever shows the most interest in it. Until then, I’ll continue to add more to it, taping it together if necessary, when the cover begins to fall off.

And, of course, I can’t just look through it without making something. A loaf of farm bread is baking in my oven right now, just in time for dinner. I may just use the leftovers to make cheese toast (a Firestone staple) in the morning.

May you remember your own happy times tonight.10398512_1104025886075_7984395_n

 

Remembering

Nine years ago, I left a class at college, not knowing that my phone had been going off. I had it on silent so that it wouldn’t ring during class. Marty had been calling to let me know that my Grandma Ruth had been taken to the hospital from her assisted living facility and that things didn’t look good.

I raced home and hurriedly made sub plans for the next day to email to my principal, along with an explanation and then went straight to the hospital. She had been unconscious since the staff had found her a few hours before and she never woke up. My family and I stood around her bed and made quiet conversation until she quietly slipped away, around 11:00 pm. It was characteristic of her, to go quietly, not wanting to make a fuss.

My Grandma Ruth was a beautiful lady, a strong soul. A Grandma who, after my mom married out of Catholicism, made sure that I knew where my bottle of holy water was on her dresser. A Grandma who kissed boo-boos, who made Christmas cookies, who, when I had my wisdom teeth out, brought over Jello. She wasn’t a gushy grandma, but she loved me. I knew it.

I always knew it.

Rest well, Grandma. I miss you terribly.

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Do Over

I love the show, Mysteries At the Museum, on the Travel Channel. If you haven’t seen it, the show features odd and interesting pieces from museum collections all over the world and the stories behind them. Some of the stories are inspiring, such as the cat who assists the NYC Fire Department, and some are sad or creepy, like haunted houses or lost loves. They’ve even featured items from The Henry Ford, like Thomas Edison’s last breath. (Check it out.)

They’ve branched out a little, too, to focus on historical sites or people. Last night’s episode was all about Pompeii.

To refresh your memory, Pompeii was a city during the Roman Empire near modern day Naples that was completely wiped out by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Because Vesuvius buried the city in layers of volcanic ash, archaeologists are able to understand life back then in a much more complete way. There are actually homes preserved with their original painted walls and mosaics, body casts of the people as they tried to flee, and even bread that had been baking in the oven at the time. There’s also at least one brothel, a very popular tourist attraction. There’s a very long line to get into the brothel these days. I wonder if it was the same 2,000 years ago.

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Pompeii fascinates me, I had the opportunity to actually go there a few years ago, and I was absolutely glued to the television set last night. (Well, I was also running in place in my living room because it’s too freaking cold to go outside, but I was still glued.) When the show was over, it made me think (again) of how much I love anything like Pompeii: old historic sites, and why I took the path I did instead of follow my passion.

I didn’t have a lot of guidance, as a teenager, about what I wanted to do. I loved acting, but it was made clear to me that I would have no support if I went that way and that scared me. History hadn’t come “alive” for me just yet, it was mostly names and dates that I had to memorize, which is a complete shame. Kids hate history because of that and there’s no reason that it can’t be taught in a much better, relatable, way, but I digress.

Beginning with modeling for a dear friend’s period clothing company and through my job at The Henry Ford, I discovered just how much I loved working with the stories and objects of the past, but by then I had been putting myself through community college a class or two at a time for teaching and felt that I would be wasting my money if I switched majors, especially to a field where full-time jobs are scarce and money is uncertain. I stayed on the teaching track because it was safe and predictable. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would become a historian, hands down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful and happy to have a job in teaching. I worked hard for my degree and will be paying off my student loans for the next thirty years, unless I win the Megamillions or become a best-selling author. That is not an exaggeration; my student loan calculator says so. Teaching pays my bills and it’s (mostly) enjoyable working with kids, but it’s not my passion. History is my passion.

I drool over Dr. Lucy Worsley documentaries. During my prep hour, I turn on some sort of documentary on YouTube while I grade, plan, file, clean, or whatever, to listen to in the background. I read detailed, well-researched biographies and other historical nonfiction whenever I can. My writing is all historically based. I’m obsessed with getting the details right, with giving the people from the past the respect that they deserve. I can get lost in an antique store for hours with the most mundane objects because it belonged to someone. Visiting historic sites, especially really old ones in Europe, put me into a state of euphoria. I love decoding, the hows and whys and motivations of people in the past. Ancestry.com is one of my drugs of choice. A theatre friend of mine, who also loves the past, brought in some of his collection for me to see (and hold!) and couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing that a few coins from the Tudor period, a printed piece of vellum from a German psalter, and an eighteenth century periodical could keep me floating for days. Actually, I’m still floating about it all. I would rather roam around a drafty castle in Scotland in the rain than spend a week on a tropical beach. I am, in short, a lost cause.

That also got me to wondering about all of you. Did you follow your passion or did you take the safe route, like I did? How did you decide on your career, your path? I’d love to hear your stories, your reasons why you did what you did to get where you are today. If your career isn’t your passion, what do you do to satisfy that craving?

Life is funny. Sharing is good. Leave your comments here or on FB, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of this polar vortex, like those of us in Michigan, stay warm.

Author-y Stuff

Hey! I set up an author page!!! Please visit me on Facebook at Julie Ballantyne Brown-Author.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Traveler yet, please give it a try. You can find it at: https://smile.amazon.com/Traveler-Julie-Ballantyne-Brown/dp/198333166X/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?crid=2CA9P79MNU1NQ&keywords=julie+ballantyne+brown&qid=1547933115&sprefix=julie+ball%2Caps%2C161&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Special Stuff

I’m a sappy kind of person. I can get rid of tons of “stuff” with no problem at all, especially after watching Hoarders, but there are a few certain things that I have which hold special meaning to me. Things like the necklace that my godmother gave me as a baby, the lens to my father’s last pair of eyeglasses, which has traveled with me around the world, and the outfits my babies wore home from the hospital.

Several Christmas decorations hold that same nostalgic feeling. In the spirit of the season, I’ll share a few here.

The tiny stocking Great-Grandma B crocheted for me when I was little.

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Grandma B has been gone for a long time now, since 1995, but this stocking always goes on my tree. She was Grandpa Ballantyne’s mother and although we didn’t see her all that often, she would always write letters, mail cards at birthdays, and send presents at Christmas time. My mother gave me this to have when I moved out.

The ornament my Great-Aunt Stella made.

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Aunt Stella was a feisty, wonderful lady. My Grandma Ruth, her sister, adored her. She canned the most amazing peaches and pears, among lots of other things, sewed, farmed, and was involved in many small-town community organizations throughout her life. We usually only saw her once a year at family reunion time, but the fact that she took the time to make this little bell for me when she had dozens of great-nieces and nephews (literally; they were a family of ten kids) makes it special.

My skater ornaments that Marty gave me.

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He gave me these the first Christmas that we were married and I love them. As tradition holds, the fancy ornaments go near the top of the tree. Originally, it was to keep the babies from playing with them (you should have seen what Oldest Child did to a satin-wrapped ball ornament. They unravel quite nicely.) but now it’s just habit. Anyway, the beautiful skaters stay safely at the top.

The Nativity set.

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My mom gave me this when Marty and I got married. I think it’s beautiful. While playful Nativity sets like Little People and ducks are cute, I prefer sets like this. It reminds me of the one my Grandma Ruth had. She would set it up under the tree every year, but ours goes on top of the piano. Of course, Baby Jesus doesn’t enter the scene util Christmas morning. The boys take turns putting Him in the manger.

The tree skirt.

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My dear friend and farm mama Jackie made this for us when we got married. To say that she is a talented seamstress is a gross understatement. She has her own company and designed and made my wedding dress and veil. In short, she’s bloody incredible. The tree skirt is double-sided and we change it up from year to year, but this will always be the only tree skirt I use.

Ornaments that my boys made, or that have their pictures in them.

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My babies are precious to me and hanging their sweet little faces on the tree year after year makes me tear up.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” bells.

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I remember when Grandma Ballantyne gave these to “the girls” at Christmas one year, meaning my mom and the aunts. They were sets sold by J.C. Penney: twelve porcelain bells, each with a scene from the song. When she gave me my very own set the Christmas before I got married, I felt like I had finally grown-up, like I was one of “the girls”. It was special. Sadly, about eight years ago, a crazy squirrel broke into our house the week before Christmas and caused a bunch of damage, including a few broken bells. My mom graciously gave her set to me in order to replace the broken ones and the display was whole again.

And last, but not least…

Our name ornaments.

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Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne started the tradition of giving all of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a name ornament from Frankenmuth every year. In case you’re not from Michigan, Frankenmuth is a small town that boasts the biggest Christmas store in the world, Bronner’s. One could, quite literally, get lost inside. When my original gold name ornament broke, I was just sick about it. Grandpa had passed by then and Grandma wasn’t in any shape to go to Frankenmuth anymore, so Marty and I went to pick one out. They didn’t have my name in gold, so I got this deep blue one to replace it. Our name ornaments line up all the way down the front of the Christmas tree every year and are the first ones to be hung.

These are just some of the decorations that make the season special, things that I plan on passing down one day. There are more included in that group, but it would take a much longer blog post to catalog them all and I have to start Christmas cleaning.

I would, however, love to hear about special items that you celebrate with and the stories behind them. Feel free to post about your cherished items in the comments.

However you celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a joyous holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Cyber Monday Sale

Hey! Good news! I’m running a Cyber Monday sale on the ebook version of Traveler. Now through Friday, you can purchase and download Traveler on any device for $0.99. That’s a 67% savings! Of course, the paperback version is also available for $15.99 and if you have Prime, the shipping is free. Shop local authors.