Thursday, October 8, 2015

Out of the Box

Hi friends!

I didn't mean for the blog to go dark through September, but that is (clearly) how it shook out. We made an offer on a house on my mom's birthday - August 5th, had it accepted on the 6th, and closed on the 11th of September. Danny and his older brother moved the heavy furniture over the weekend of the 18th, and we moved most everything else the weekend after.

We spent the next week making trips back and forth (about an hour each way, in traffic) to finish packing and some fairly intensive cleaning of our rental townhouse.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fresh Flavor Sunday - Blackberry Banana Cake

It's been a summer of mood swings here in Portland - we've had very hot, very cool, and very stormy weather, as well as smoke from recent wildfires blanketing the valley.

So I haven't been as on-top of my blackberry picking as I have been in past years. We live near some wonderful walking paths, a lot of them lined with blackberry bushes, so I've been anxious to go out. Well, I finally got to it yesterday with my niece. We were fairly certain we'd get rained on, but this was a rare Pacific Northwest moment where the dark clouds blew away from us!

We had a good time, but didn't find the kind of volume I would have hoped for. A lot of the berries were either unripe, out of reach, or shrivelled on the vine. We hiked through some tall grass in hopes of finding better berries, but only found dried ones - and wound up covered in burrs for our trouble.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fresh Flavor Friday: Adventures in Gardening with Katherine Reay + Book Giveaway!

Hillary here - so delighted to have guest Katherine Reay to chat about her adventures in gardening!

My family loves food. When we lived in Ireland, another family and ours would get together and share a huge Sunday dinner – one that took hours to cook and an equally long time to enjoy. Now that we're back in the states, Sunday dinner remains one of our favorite family traditions. The menu varies – barbeque one week, Coq au Vin another and some multi-course Italian extravaganza at least monthly. We love the time together, searching for the menu, and the cooking. We endure the clean-up. In fact, when writing Lizzy and Jane, I tapped into this passion. Most of Lizzy’s food comes from family favorites.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fresh Flavor Monday: Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

If you're looking for a satisfying dish with a lot of flavor but not a lot of effort, heirloom tomatoes are here for you! They're right in season at the moment, so check out your farmer's market and better-stocked grocery stores.

Heirloom tomatoes are varietals that have been passed down in a family for several generations. We're accustomed to tomatoes that are round and evenly colored. Heirlooms can be yellow, purple, red, and orange, They can be lumpy and asymmetrical - no two are identical.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Eat Clean. Eat Fresh. Eat Local.

To celebrate the month of August and the recent release of Reservations for Two, my publisher and I are spending the month celebrating local flavors.

How do you join in? Snap a picture of celebrating fresh, local food (could be a recipe or a particularly lovely radish…be creative!). Post your photo to social media using #mylocalflavor and #ReservationsForTwo and you’ll be entered to win a Kitchenaid Mixer as well as a shot at one of 5 kitchen gift baskets put together by me! The gift baskets will include my favorite kitchen items, one of my favorite cookbooks and a copy of the book Reservations for Two.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer Breeze

Does it feel like this summer is breezing by for you? It feels like it to me!

First, I'm working my way through book three of the Two Blue Doors series, Together at the Table. Not unlike it's predecessors, it's wiggly and squirmy and has thoughts. Yes, I do realize I described Shiloh as a puppy (really, Shiloh now).

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Table by the Window E-Book Sale!

For a limited time only, A Table by the Window is on e-book sale! This is a rare, rare thing, so if you've been wanting to start the Two Blue Doors Series, or if you want to get a friend hooked (yes, you can gift e-books!) this is the perfect time!

And the other three novels - can't say enough about them, either. It's a great way to stock up your e-reader for the summer! Click the graphic to purchase any of the four titles on the e-book platform of your choice.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What's Up, Melissa Tagg? A Q&A and Book Giveaway

Delighted to have one of my very favorite people on the blog today - Melissa Tagg!

Melissa's latest book, From the Start, is recently out, and it's one of my favorite recent contemporary romances. Melissa is so incredibly sharp and witty in her writing - her dialogue pops, and her scenes are perfectly paced.

And because I always want to know more about things I love, I invited Melissa over to give us the backstory.

Hillary: Let's get to it! Tell us about From the Start - what inspired the main concept?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fresh from the Oven Sweepstakes - with Katie Ganshert!

It's a day to celebrate! Katie Ganshert's The Art of Losing Yourself and my Reservations for Two are officially three weeks old today!

To celebrate, we're giving away a copy of each book, as well as a bag of cornbread mix and a handmade, hand-stamped necklace. The pendant on the necklace reads faithful, a word that Katie and I agreed fit both books.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tales from the Greenroom: Six Minutes on Television

Quite a lot of work can go into six minutes of TV.

I heard from my publicist on March 4th that I'd gotten a slot on AM Northwest, which is the local Portland morning show, aired on the ABC affiliate station. "That's going to be rough for you," Danny said when I told him about it. "You're going to have to be up early."

My publicist and I went back and forth discussing recipes - because I had a six-minute slot, I decided to play it safe and make the cherry crostini that first debuted on this blog. The one complication? No fresh cherries. I prayed for weeks that the grocery stores would have some early cherries in stock, flown in from somewhere in Argentina.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reservations for Two Release Day Tiramisu!

It's been such a wonderful release day! Reservations for Two is officially out in the world (see purchasing options here).  I got to swing by a nearby Barnes & Noble location (our closest bookstore) and see copies on the shelf! So wonderful.

It's been a busy few few days - yesterday I appeared on our local morning television show, AM Northwest, and did a short cooking demo.

I'll post more fully about that experience tomorrow, but until then you can see the clip of me cooking and putting-together-sentence-doing here.

But back to Reservations for Two - it's officially out and about in the world, and to celebrate, I'm sharing the Home-style Tiramisu that Juliette enjoys during a visit to family in Tuscany.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt: Stop #14 (Pink Team)

Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! I am a part of Team Pink, and this is Stop #14. The Hunt begins at Noon Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 34 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!

If you're just joining us, there are two loops—pink and purple—and they begin at Lisa Bergren's site and Robin Hatcher's site for stop #1 for either stream. If you complete either the pink loop or purple loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete both loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and all 34 autographed books.

Please be sure to keep track of the clues at the bottom of every post in the loop and the favorite number mentioned. You'll need those clues to enter for the loop prize and every number mentioned in order to enter for the grand prize.

(Also, please don't use Internet Explorer to navigate through the loops. Some web sites won't show up using IE. Chrome or Firefox are recommended.)

Hillary here - welcome to stop #14, Pink Loop, of the Great Scavenger Hunt of 2015! If you're just popping in, do start at stop #1 for the full dish. 

I'm delighted to be hosting my friend here today, the delightful Katie Ganshert. Katie writes with great sensitivity and lyricism on a number of topics, infertility included. Read on to find out how her own journey inspired her latest release, The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing April 21st. 

In the world of novel-writing, authors can usually be lumped into one of two groups—character-first and plot-first. The names are self-explanatory. A character-first writer starts with a character and builds the plot accordingly. A plot-first writer starts with a plot, and then creates characters to carry it out.

I don’t fit into either mold.

My novels don’t begin with a character or a plot. They almost always begin with a scene. They’ll come to me at random times. While I’m driving in the car or taking a shower or lying in bed or sitting in church. The scene will play out—so real and vivid and enticing that I need to write it. And once I’ve written it, I need to find a story to go with it.

For my upcoming novel—The Art of Losing Yourself, releasing in a few short days—it all began with a parking lot and my irritation with an Expectant Mother sign. As a woman who has walked the path of infertility, those signs can feel like a punch to the gut. In the midst of my inward musings, the scene that would birth this novel took shape.

Here’s a snippet:
I wasn’t sure at what point the air inside Toys R Us grew too thick to breathe. Mandy’s words had brought in a high tide of what-ifs. What if we were never chosen? What if we went through the same thing Mandy’s cousin’s church friend went through? What if Ben and I were doomed to forever be in this place we’d found ourselves in, with no hope of getting out? I tried my hardest to shut the questions off.

God had a plan…

It was something I believed once, a long time ago. But now?

My hand settled over the flatness of my stomach, even as I attempted to keep the memories away. But they were stubborn, intrusive things, dredging up handfuls of doubt I was so sick of holding. Once upon a time, I naively thought God would bless Ben and me for doing life His way. Yet there I sat in the driver’s seat, a bag of baby items resting in my lap, with nothing but aching arms and an empty house.

A ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and reflected off a parking sign straight ahead of me: For Expectant Mothers.

My composure snapped.

Without warning, without forethought, I shifted into drive and hit the gas, a wild scream tearing up my throat. My car lurched forward and rammed into the metal post. The sign remained standing. Its resiliency blistered all reason. I threw my car into reverse, backed up, and ran into it again, flooring the gas until a loud crunch rent the air.

I blinked several times with the steering wheel gripped in my hands. Then I rose up in my seat. A stork carrying a bundled baby was taking a nosedive toward the cement.

The Art of Losing Yourself Book Blurb:

Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.
Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.
Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

The Scavenger Hunt Skinny:
Thanks for stopping by on the hunt! Before you go, make sure you write down the clues.

Secret Word: your
Secret Number: 7, because Danny and I married on 7/7/07 (Yeah, we were one of those). 
Next Stop: Katie's hosting Stop #15! Click here to continue. And if you're turned around, a complete list of the stops with links will be on Robin Hatcher's website.

Before You Go:

You can find ordering information for The Art of Losing Yourself here, as well as the first chapter.

Reflections on my own journey with infertility can be found here and here.

Also, you can enter to win a copy of my latest - and not yet released - title, Reservations for Two below. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the rest of the Scavenger Hunt!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writer's Corner - Writing a Synopsis: a three-step process to getting it done

If you hate synopses, you know who you are. The word gives you the shudders. When you have to write one, you whinge about it on social media.

I get it. I do. But there are two reasons why being able to write one easily will really benefit you.

First - synopses are a reality of the publishing industry. If you're pitching a book to an agent, to an editor, they all want to see a synopsis. And with good reason, obviously - it's faster to read a synopsis than an entire book.

And second, a synopsis is a very useful tool for getting from beginning to end. A lot can happen in 85,000-95,000 words, and it can be easy to lose your way. A synopsis is a road map, a planning tool to work out plot kinks before you're in 60,000 words and realize you've lost your way.

Writing a synopsis can be difficult for many fiction writers. It's basically the opposite of writing a book. But if you break it down into three steps and shift you're writing perspective, it's very, very approachable.

1. Make a timeline. I take a sheet of 11x17" paper and create a timeline with three-act structure in mind. It's okay for this to be messy, with thought bubbles connected to the timeline with long pencil marks.

And do use a pencil, because this is a rough, rough stage.

2. Make a bulleted list of plot points. This is simple - in a document, transcribe the plot points on the paper, filling in any blank spots. This is just a list. For your personal use, you could probably just stop here. But for a proposal synopsis, the next stop is to connect everything together.

3. Write the synopsis. Stay with me on this one.

          Tip 1. Tell, don't Show. For instance, if you're writing a book you'd say -

"Penelope held the potted rosebush in the crook of her arm, stroking a soft bloom with her fingertips. Her heart squeezed. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The house had been in the family for generations. It had survived war, flood, and a pernicious case of mold.

But it couldn't survive her brother's financial decisions. After three hundred years, the legacy ended with a bad investment made by Bernie Seymour-Weston.

The furniture had sold, the artwork too. All she had left of the house was a cutting from her great-grandmother's rosebush."

And in a synopsis, you'd say -

"After her brother loses the family estate, Penelope has nothing but a rosebush to her name."

          Tip 2: Lean into the verbs and keep the sentences simple. Protagonist does this, later protagonist goes there. Protagonist feels hurt, protagonist decides to become a garden consultant. A week later, Protagonist travels to Upper Winbaugh to an estate willing to hire her - and so on.

          Tip 3: Look at is as a series of actions and reactions. In the Writer's Block blog, I talk about how a book is a series of chemical reactions. So look at the synopsis as a way to write out the actions and the subsequent reactions.

          Tip 4: Don't overthink it. If there's ever a time to not self-edit, it's synopsis writing. Take a deep breath and dive in, relaxing into the style.

          Tip 5: Practice. When I was pitching the Two Blue Doors series, I had 25 or so versions of the proposal - that's how many times I wrote and rewrote and pitched and re-pitched the concept. And after that? Tossing out a synopsis feels much more natural. So even if it still feels tricky, keep at it. It's the writing equivalent of riding a bike.

          Tip 6: Make it a reference point. Think of this document as a handy cheat sheet, not only for plot but also for names and places. As you develop your story, character and place names can change. Going through your synopsis and putting the names in bold (just the first time, you don't necessarily have to do it throughout) makes it easy to go back and remind yourself what your character's assistant's name is the name of the fictional cafe where she used to work. 

Those are my tips. What do you think? What synopsis tips work for you?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Pear Squares: A Story of Dealing With It

Some days, everything goes fine. Yesterday was not that day.

I set out to bake the caramelized pear & buckwheat cake from Amber Rose's Love Bake Nourish cookbook. I've enjoyed several of the recipes in the book - she bakes the way I've learned I need to bake - with fruits, whole grains, nuts, and no white sugar. And considering that I had a.) four crazy ripe pears and b.) women coming over for knitting group, yesterday became baking day.

Everything was going fine - I caramelized the pears in butter and maple syrup, and while the pears didn't brown the way the book though they might, the mixture smelled heavenly.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writer's Corner: The Hands-On Approach to Beating Writer's Block

Let’s talk writer’s block today.

To really break down writer’s block, you’d need a book’s worth of space – because what we call writer’s block is kinda like Biblical references to leprosy – it’s a catch-all term for, rather than a skin disease, the problem of not being able to write effectively.

But the tricky thing is that writer’s block has all kinds of causes and variations - none of which, I'm sorry to say, involve putting down a book and watching an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. I've written out the processes that help me to work out problem spots and keep going; they're geared for fiction, and based around an understanding of three act structure, but even if you're writing non-fiction you'll find some crossover. Let's get started!

Step 1 – Admitting it is the first step
Sometimes when you’re thinking “I’m not feeling the book today” that’s actually code in your head for “I don’t like it because it’s hard,” which is also code for “I’m stuck.” You can “not feel it” for days – or weeks, or months. Once you see it for what it is – block – you can move forward.

Other times, if you're like me, you can wind up in a panic spiral. What started as "It's a problem" can turn into "I can't figure it out and I'll never have any ideas ever again." Which - no. Look at it this way - a block is your brain's way of telling you that your book is hitting a dead end. It's an alert system. So take a deep breath, trust your brain, and dig in.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catchy is as Catchy Does

So I shared this on my Facebook wall the other day, and the delightful Rachel McMillan has been complaining ever since that she's had the song stuck in her head.

I mean...there are worse things, because it's a legitimately good song. But since she's suffering, you know, I'm offering up some likewise solid yet ear-worm-y songs -

The Oscars Are Coming, and Other Sundry Things

Shiloh, snoozing against my computer.

THE OSCARS ARE THIS WEEKEND. I'm not even remotely ready, and more than that, I don't think I'm going to be able to do my annual coverage. I haven't followed the guild awards, and while I've managed to put together the blog in previous years even while driving across the country, this year I have to make a difficult choice: blog about the Oscars or write the book I've been hired to write.

I gotta go with option b. Which is deeply disappointing, I know, for the fifteen of you who enjoy the Oscar coverage (bless you, one and all). Rest assured I'll be live-tweeting through the Oscarcast, and rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy to win for Best Makeup. 

Also coming up: wrap-ups of Project Runway All Stars (oy).  Feeling very behind on everything, mostly because I am. Last month I had a dental cleaning, which lead to having fillings replaced, which turned into two root canals, which lead to one crown, and another a week later when the non-crowned tooth began to crack. 

Because I have the pain tolerance of a baby puppy (it's true), all but the cleaning were done under some form of sedation, with prescription painkillers in-between (not my favorite, but it was that or give myself facial frostbite with an ice-pack), and now that everything's FINE I feel rather like Rip Van Winkle, with an excessively long to-do list.

In other news: I read Lena Dunham's book for a book club, and was not a fan (reading it with jaw pain added insult to injury). I've started collecting potential titles for my own future memoir (don't worry - it won't be for another 30 years). My current favorite is "That Is a Very Bad Idea," but my sister's vote has gone to "For the Love of Joshua Harris, Please Stop," in reference to this article.

So that's me. What would you name your memoir? How do you handle book club picks that you hate? Which film (nominated or not) would you gift with a Best Picture Award? And what strange places do your pets choose to fall asleep? Let's chat.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Table by the Window - the gorgeous new cover!

So a funny thing happened...

The original Reservations for Two cover used an image that the designers at WaterBrook love for a long time - it was in the running for book one, and when we went in a different for A Table by the Window, the team looped back to the first image for the second book.

So time passed, I wrote Reservations, heavily editing Reservations, we're chugging away, the book is about to go to print...

...and then it comes down the information pipeline that the photographer (who is French) never signed the release for that image, and then stopped returning calls. Because...*insert French shrug here*.

But I'm at peace with this. Why? Because a week before my baby went to print, the designer went and made this STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS new cover that I love even more than the first. Are ya ready?

Reservations for Two Hillary Manton Lodge A Table by the Window

In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. I want to step inside and read a book, paint a canvas, camp out forever in that cover (I'm sure there's room service). I want to take Danny and have a twirl on that cover, and then eat a croissant. With jam.

Read more about the book and pre-ordering options (truly, if you love an author, pre-order her books), as well as the Reservations for Two Pinterest board here!

What do you think? Where would you like to go this chilly Valentine's Day weekend? Leave a comment below!