Thank you for your submissions

Thank you for your submissions to the American Fork Arts Council literary annual. We had more than 100 entries! I hope to have responded to all the entries before Christmas. In the meantime, it will be at least January or February before we have details about getting copies of the book. As soon as I know more, I'll post the details here. -Caleb

Snow Lettuce

We got four inches of snow at our house last night, and I'm pleased to report that this morning my winter lettuce is not frozen, not dead, and is in fact as happy as a clam. Good eating this winter! And I mean for our family, not for the deer -- notice that I've put inexpensive fencing around the lettuce patch. I've learned the hard way that deer are also big fans of fresh winter lettuce!

Interestingly, the colder it has gotten, the more beautiful the colors have gotten in the lettuce too. And the tender varieties in the cold frame are thriving too. This morning I used a soil thermometer to measure the heat (the cold frame is compost-heated three feet under ground, using chicken manure compost). Here are the results:

  • Temp. inside the cold frame, six inches deep in soil: a balmy 46 degrees.
  • Temp. outside the coldframe, six inches deep in soil: a chilly 36 degrees.
  • Ambient air temp. outside the cold frame: 48 degrees.
So the cold frame, naturally heated, is working exactly as hoped. No electricity, and much warmer than the surrounding land. Now that is smart, self-sufficient winter gardening!

Author Bio Photo Shoot

A few days ago I had my first professional photo shoot, taking my author biography photos for the forthcoming book. Over an hour, the photographer took hundreds of photos of me, posing in my well-stocked root cellar, in the garden, and close-ups in front of the barn. When I saw the photos, the book started to feel real.

Xander was with me the whole time, of course -- he's my right-hand man in the garden. The photographer kindly took some extra shots of me and Xander, which I'll share here. As for the photos for the actual book, I don't think I have permission to publish on this blog -- I don't dare put them on the Internet without speaking to my editors first. Besides, the photos of Xander are the best and cutest!

It's been a very busy week. The editors (I'm working with two!) wanted a final copy of the book, both in hard copy and electronically, about 500 photos of my garden taken by me over the years (we'll see how many actually end up in the book) and hard copies of all of my source material. Whew. On the way to deliver all this, I realized I had forgotten to write a dedication page and a thank you page. I just finished those a few minutes ago. Tomorrow I'll re-read them before sending them to the editors via email. If I forgot anyone, please forgive me. The more I've thought about this book coming together, the more I've realized how large my debt of gratitude is.

Who can believe this is actually happening!

Book Deal Signed

Yes, it's true. At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, just before the launch party of the new American Fork Arts Council Press, I signed a three-book deal with Cedar Fort Publishers.

O happy day!

The title of the first book has officially been changed to "The Forgotten Self-Sufficiency Skills of the Mormon Pioneers". The book debuts in April 2011, if everyone can get all the necessary work done in time. They will be considering hundreds of my photos to put in the book. The manuscript is complete, and in the next couple of days I will be sending them a final (polished once more) copy.

I don't know yet what the second and third books will be. The publishers want to see all my existing fiction and nonfiction projects, which includes two finished novels and a compilation of my classroom lessons called "Avoiding the Collapsing Story" or something near that. I also have an idea for an unwritten sequel to the "Forgotten Skills" book, so we'll see what happens.

After two offers (one from Cedar Fort, one tentative from Covenant) I sent the manuscript to 31 national agents and got 9 requests for the manuscript. Cedar Fort had given me a 30 day window to accept or decline the contract they sent me, and at the end of that time, they granted me a one-week extension (very kindly). One agent made me an offer, which I ultimately turned down (long story short, I didn't think it was good enough) and two agents turned me down. Another agent, Julia Lord Literary, has asked me to please not sign a contract before she could find time to read my full manuscript, but in the end my deadline extension ran out and Julia and the other agents knew that I had two contracts on the line. I had said I had until noon on Thursday to hear from the agents, and when I didn't, I signed the Cedar Fort contract. So that is the story about the agents.

How wonderful was it, at the third Conference for Writers that I have directed, to finally be able to announce I had signed a book deal. Humbling and happy. A wild, wonderful week indeed.

One last thought: I have to say I was mightily heartened during the nonfiction breakout session that Annette Lyon and I taught together on Saturday when Annette said that her editor said that her new "Chocolate Never Faileth" cookbook, which is her first nonfiction book, will outsell all of her seven fiction books combined. Annette said she questioned why she'd slaved for years over those fiction books when her bestselling book will be a nonfiction that took five months of testing chocolate recipes. I thought hey, all these years I've been focused on fiction, maybe nonfiction is really the place to focus, with fiction as a secondary focus. After all, we all must pay our bills. Annette's comments just made me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

Best. Conference. Ever.

Thank you to all the volunteers who made this possible.
Thank you to all the speakers who made it useful.
Thank you to the American Fork Arts Council for supporting writers.
Thank you to everyone who pitched to the new press.
Thank you!
Our city has the shortest growing season in Utah Valley, and it is rapidly coming to a close. A second frost has ended the melon season completely, and so this weekend I gathered the last ten cantaloupes and made two more batches of cantaloupe-peach jam.

Thinking of the garden has just reminded me that I left our rabbit, Puck, in the pasture grazing. And it's past midnight by a stretch. Sorry Puck, I'm on my way.

With frost comes fall leaves. :)

The Greatest Jam Ever Made

I did it. I invented the greatest jam ever made.

Okay, maybe. I combined fresh ripe cantaloupe and muskmelon out of my garden with equal amounts of local Red Haven peaches and made a baked freezer jam with no pectin and only 2/3 cup sugar per batch -- and its freakin' delicious.

Here's the real kicker. I buy four loaves each week of the best -- BEST -- 100 percent whole wheat bread from a neighbor. And out of the blue, just as I was pulling the jam from the oven, here is the neighbor on my doorstep with this week's bread -- and get this -- it is still hot. So I got to have fresh "Nectar of the Gods" Jam -- that's what I've decided to call it -- on fresh homemade wheat bread with butter.

It's good to be alive. What can I say. And I photographed the whole thing and documented the recipe for my second book -- so look for my Nectar of the Gods Jam recipe in the future!

Cantaloupe Jelly

Lots of cantaloupe ripe in the garden today -- I've been looking at cantaloupe jelly and jam recipes and I found a great one called Ambrosia Jam which combines fresh peaches and fresh garden cantaloupe. So I will try that out today and let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, here is a view of Scout Falls just because I like it, and autumn has arrived.

Can it be grape season already again?
Time for a day of rest.

The Rich, Famous Writer & Me

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
A rich, famous writer.
Oh, I thought you were Caleb.

I've been asked several times about the money part of my book deal. One family member in particular has been keyed in on this part of the deal.

 During the whole process of querying the manuscript, writing it, and finally getting a contract, I can will all honesty say I never once thought about the cash. I've been a professional writer for more than a decade now, so I know exactly what writers get paid -- it's why I started teaching. If you think teachers are underpaid, try being a professional writer. I've had to cobble together two meager jobs to equal one income!

So no, I never thought about the cash. Will I be getting paid? Yes -- the more copies of the book that sell, the more I will make. Will I be getting an advance? I never thought to ask. I'll have to go look at the contract and see, but I doubt it. When I read the contract I was more concerned about my legal rights (more on that another day).

During my hour-long meeting with my publisher, never once did we discuss money. Not once. What we did discuss is my future -- I was very clear that I want to publish a book a year with my publisher, and I want to be their best-selling author. But not for the money. For the obituary.

I'll be most pleased if, when I die, my obituary says "Caleb was the author of 20 books." I'll be even more pleased if it says "Caleb was a New York Times bestselling author". But I'll be best-pleased if it says "Caleb's books were considered useful by his readers."

The Best Day -- News on My Book

Happy news!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The best day. The publisher showed me what my book will look like - full color inside and out, tons of gorgeous photos, many of them taken by me in my garden, very readable, fantastic design. My book will be in Wal-mart and stocked at Costco (both in Utah only) they are going to fight to get it featured in both the Deseret Book and Seagull catalogs. Even better, they want to read my fiction, and they are interested in publishing my book of writing advice, "Avoiding the Collapsing Story" pending actually reading it of course. They are working to schedule me on a national TV show and several local shows, lots of signings. They want the book in stores no later than April 2011 - a busy winter! We'll know for sure next week if the title is going to remain "The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency of the Mormon Pioneers" but it is likely to stay as is. 

Meeting my publisher today

I am meeting with my publisher for the first time in one hour. Didn't sleep much. I dreamed that I spent the night at my (RIP) grandparents house in Sigurd, and my grandfather gave me a baby barn owl and a baby goose to take with me to the publishers meeting. They were so excited for me in my dream. And holding a baby barn owl -- wow. Now I feel calm, ready to be useful. 

Yesterday I planted my cold frame with seven varieties of winter vegetables -- two lettuces, a spinach, mache, kale, bok choi, and tai sai chinese cabbage. An experiment in growing food even when the ground is covered with snow. I also have another open-air bed that was planted a month ago, part of my winter experiment. 

Wish me luck at my meeting with my publishers.... :)

I'll be meeting with my publisher on Thursday. I've been waiting so long to write that sentence. I'm nervous, and trying not to be. I also built a compost-heated cold-frame today for the winter garden. More on that, with pics, another day.

Ruin Before Winter

Ruin: to run headlong before collapse (from the Middle English, Old French, and Latin).

Today my step-daughter's visiting dog killed two of our six baby chicks.

Half our garden froze last night. The watermelons are dead, as are half the potatoes, half the Noir de Carmes canteloupes, pumpkins, winter squash, and summer squash. Untouched were the beets, the hardy lettuces, onions, carrots, turnips, beans, broccoli and cabbage.

The ruin of the fruit of summer is winter's boding.

I first took notice of the beautiful origins of the word ruin from a book on poetry by Harold Bloom. Blooms teaches us how Emerson's poem "The Rhodora" examines the concept of ruin in the natural world -- if beauty is fleeting, fragile, and exists only for a moment in time, does it matter? Do two chicks matter? Watermelons that never had a chance to mature? Emerson gives us the answer, haunting and sweet:

The Rhodora: Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Being Asked Whence Is The Flower
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the redbird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you

Our waterlilies in bloom. And a day of rest from garden labors.

Melons & Low-Sugar Jelly

Today's garden harvest and chores:
  • Brought in three cantaloupes from the garden. Still about 30 more out there.
  • Filled with large rocks the escape hole the rabbit, Puck, dug under his pen. Hopefully he is still there in the morning and hasn't just dug out again.
  • Three eggs today -- a sure sign the days are getting shorter.
  • Made seven half-pints of razzleberry jelly -- half blackberry, half razzleberry. I bought the berries and a bushel of peaches at a road-side stand in Orem on the way home from the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Made two batches of peach jam. I actually made all the jelly and jam at the same time -- low-sugar multi-tasking.
  • Finished the new border of Charmayne's Four Cardinal Directions flower bed (long story).

Pollinating Squash By Hand

Today's garden work:
  • I hand-pollinated yellow squash, grey zucchini, and rampicante zucchini, which is a type of vining Italian zucchini. This was necessary because the chickens broke into the garden two months ago and ate all the mature squash I'd hand-pollinated, destroying them all. Until now I hadn't gotten around to a second try. But time was running out -- nothing like a deadline to motivate me!
  • Me and the boys also played with the baby chicks, and our Japanese Harlequin hare, Puck.
  • Oh, and did I mention that I had a publication offer for my book, "The Forgotten Skills of Self-sufficiency of the Mormon Pioneers." (!)