Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tick Tick Tick

And the 15-minute clock of fame started ticking down. We had been working hard prior to this moment to start promoting the heck out of this book. Sadly, we had a teeny-tiny promotional budget, which was composed of limited free copies to various media outlets. So, needless to say, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but we were up for the challenge. I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't like to see Stud Muffins?

We quickly scheduled nearly a dozen book signings at all the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in a 50 mile radius. We also contacted all the local TV and radio stations in the greater LA area (more on these two topics soon), then waited with crossed fingers and muffins at the ready.

It didn't take long for our first foray into advertising to occur. We were invited to be early morning guests at KOLA 99 radio station in Redlands. And when I say early, I mean EARLY. Tammy, two Stud Muffins (Derek, our Farmer Stud, and Lee, our Secret Center Stud) had to be at the radio station at 7:00 AM. That meant getting up by 5:00 AM and on the road by 6:00 AM. Now, I'm usually a morning person, but not always a coherent morning person. In fact, I believe my tongue sleeps in until at least eight. So there I was, on the freeway at the literal crack of dawn, practicing enunciation in my car so I wouldn't sound like a slurring idiot at the station. Thank goodness for hands-free phones, because at least anyone driving beside me would think I was just talking to someone on the phone, not going "EEEEEEE OOOOOOOO AAAAAAAAHHHHHH" at the top of my lungs.

When we arrived, we were whisked to the second floor of the radio station. If you've never been inside where the on-air personalities work, it never looks like what you imagine. I always envisioned something big and lush, maybe granite countertops and plush chairs. Turns out most are pretty much like the one we visited: small, simple, and crowded with equipment and microphones. We truly had to squeeze our way in (but not a bad thing--remember we had our Studs with us!) and wait until the appropriate time for our interview. During that time, I kept going over in my head what I wanted to say and how I would say it concisely, cleverly and (please, God) coherently. The longer it took, the more nervous I was getting.

Finally, after several songs from the seventies, the weather report, and the traffic update, it was my turn. I got to stand in front of a huge round microphone that was suspended in front of my face. The morning show hosts, Brian Casey and Patti Banner, were wonderfully sweet and helpful in getting me to say something appropriate. And while I have no idea what finally came out of my mouth, they both assured me that what I did say was both acceptable and informative. Whew!

I called home from the car (so this time I really was talking to someone) and spoke to my kids. They were very excited that I was now a radio star. My husband said that I made complete sense and that I sounded very professional. Double-whew!

Looking back, I think I kind of amazed myself. Little ol' writer me, on the radio. I was just so thankful for the opportunity to promote my crazy project. And even more thankful that listeners couldn't see the total collapse of my antiperspirant protection.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drum roll, please...

So now I have the book, my book, in my hands. All that's left is to get the book, my book, into everybody else's hands. My publishing company was going to help with step one: distributing it to all the Barnes & Noble booksellers across the country.

This, in my eyes, was HUGE. I am a big B & N fan. I love going into one of their stores, even if I don't need a book. I love the look of the store, the smell of coffee from the adjacent Starbucks, the fact they put out cushy chairs and let you read stuff for free. I've been known to just wander aimlessly through the aisles, picking up random books, perusing the insides a bit, then putting them carefully back on the shelves. The thought that someone else might be doing the same with Stud Muffins was almost overwhelming.

They told me that the books would be shipped out and on store shelves by March 28h. Hoping that the book industry was prompt and even possibly overachievers, I was at my local store on the 27th, camera in hand. I breathlessly ran to the baking aisle and feverishly searched for my book. No sight. Then I had a crazy thought: What if they put it on the end of the shelves, the ones that face out? The ones reserved for Martha and Rachael? With pounding heart, I rushed to the end, but only Martha and Rachael's smiling faces met me. No hunk in an apron.

My frenetic behavior caught the attention of a store worker. (I guess they don't have that many hyperventilating customers in the baking aisle. Maybe the adult section, but not the baking.) When she asked if she could help me, I excitedly told her why I was there. Kindly, she joined in my excitement (or just played along to appease the crazed woman in front of her) and checked the computer. That's when I learned that book distribution was not an exact science. Yes, my book was on the docket, but it hadn't arrived yet.

Crestfallen, I started to leave. The store clerk suggested I call back the next day, to save myself a trip. I thanked her, but secretly wondered if I could hide out in the bathrooms overnight and then be there the second they received the book and placed it on the shelf.

March 28th arrived, and again I was at the store. And again, the book was not on the shelf. And again, a store clerk asked to help me. I quickly repeated my story from the day before, and like a well-trained drone (and I mean that in the most complimentary way) he looked it up on his computer. An update! There was a large delivery the night before, and all the boxes were in the back room, yet to be unpacked. He told me it was probably in that shipment. It was an oh-so-close-yet-so-far moment, and I was equally excited and disappointed. He also suggested I call back tomorrow to save me a trip down. He didn't know me, did he.

I awoke March 29th with a feeling of excitement. This HAD to be the day! So I drove, I searched, I asked, I received the same answer as the day before: it wasn't unpacked yet. What the fudge?! I offered to be a Volunteer Employee of the Day and help unpack books. They politely turned me down.

March 30th: See paragraph above.

March 31st: Ditto.

April 1st arrived, and as I drove to the B & N, I reflected on the significance of the day. Maybe this was all a big joke. Maybe there were really no books in unpacked boxes in the back room. Maybe this was all a big set-up, masterminded by the cruelest of pranksters, and when I got there, all the store clerks would jump out at me from the history section and the self-help section and yell, "April Fools!" Oh, how would I recover from such horror...

Tammy, our photographer joined me that day. I met her at the entrance and saw the look of excitement in her eyes. Poor, innocent child, I thought. She hasn't been in the trenches yet. We entered the store and walked directly to the baking aisle. Tammy started looking at one end, and I started at the other.

Now to be honest, I truly don't remember which of us found them first, but THERE THEY WERE--two copies of the most beautiful, shiny, and brand-new books with our name on the cover!!!!! And THEY WERE NEXT TO A MARTHA STEWART BOOK. I looked at Tammy, and she looked at me, and then I did what probably, in hindsight, is not the most professional thing: I screamed.

For future reference, should if you scream in the middle of a quiet Barnes & Noble at nine in the morning, you will get some attention. A different store clerk rushed to us and asked if everything was all right. Tammy and I both excitedly explained why we were there and why I screamed and why I was clutching a book to my chest and why I was now crying. To her credit, she didn't call security, but congratulated us and let us take her picture while holding the book. I wanted proof that it was official, and that I didn't just sneak the book into the store and shove it on the shelf.

I kept that copy with me to purchase (again as proof, as I can't forge a B & N register receipt) and thanked the clerk profusely. Tammy and I started to head to the registers, but then I pulled her back to the now-deserted (or should I say, desserted?--sorry) baking aisle. Looking around, as if watching for enemy fire, I pulled the remaining copy of Stud Muffins that was shelved with the spine facing out, and placed it cover out. This meant I had to switch places with Martha's book. It looked so pretty there, ready for the world to see. That moment in time is now burned deeply into my memory, and I think I could have stood there all day, just staring. But then they probably would have called security.

P.S. Martha, if you're reading this, I apologize for switching book positions. Please don't take it personally. I was compelled by the moment. And I'd like to think that maybe you did the same thing with your first book and the copy of Julia Childs' book next to it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I am George McFly

If you've seen "Back to the Future" you might remember the scene at the end of the movie where George McFly receives a box that contains the first copies of the book he wrote. The scene was intended to help solidify the moral of the story, as George says, "Like I've always told you, you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." But for me, it was always a moment of wistful envy. I really, really wanted to open a box of books with my name on the covers. Really, really.

So the day FINALLY came when the UPS truck slowed and then actually stopped at my house. I just happened to be getting into my car when I saw it approach, and instead of calmly waiting for the driver to bring the box to me, I literally ran to his open door, pretty much scaring the bejeebers out of him. I then squealed (loudly, shrilly) when he produced the large box from the publisher. I started babbling, "It's my book! My book!" as I tried to sign for it while still holding the box. Yep, I should have put the box down, but I didn't wanna. It was MY BOOK!

The driver didn't say a word as he looked at me sideways. I'd say he may have driven off as fast as he could, but that's hard to say with UPS. And if he glanced back in his rear-view mirror, he would have really given me an odd look as he watched a grown woman awkwardly trying to skip into the house with a heavy box.

I tore the box open as fast as I could. (A cautionary note: cardboard paper cuts are very unpleasant. I suggest the use of scissors.) There, in all its paperback glory, sat the culmination of all my hopes and dreams and energies: STUD MUFFINS: LUSCIOUS, DELECTABLE, YUMMY (AND GOOD MUFFIN RECIPES, TOO!) I picked up a copy, which turned out to be a hefty 200 pages, and I just stared at it for the longest time. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry, so I did both. Then I danced around with it, hugged it, and kissed it. Maybe it was a good thing I was home alone. I didn't need my family looking at me sidways, too.

I finally took a look inside. My reaction? It was a real book! I know that sounds stupid, but up until this moment all the writing, photos and recipes were just loose leaf parts and pieces. Here it all was, nicely bound, shiny, typeset and beautiful. And the photos were fabulous. I couldn't be happier without exploding.

So here's to you, George McFly and writers everywhere. May you often experience the unbelievable joy a box of books can bring. Sans cardboard paper cuts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

(Insert Theme to "Jeopardy" Here)

There were a few times during this project when I worried that I was caught in some freaky time-space continuum loop and I would be creating this book without end. (Not a bad way to spend eternity, if you think about it.) It was all-consuming, in both the time and energy categories. I often thought that if I had put that kind of energy into cleaning my house, you'd be able to see its shiny sparkle from space.

But the day finally came when all the work was absolutely, positively, and completely done. I could sleep again. I could breathe again. I could remember the faces of my children again. (Was that facial hair on my son? No, just chocolate pudding, thankfully.)

Now, all we had to do was wait for the final copy to become 15,000 copies of a new, fun, and sexy cookbook that would hopefully fly off bookstore shelves. If you've read my blog from the beginning (thanks to those who have!), you might remember that I am not a patient person. I want everything done NOW or sooner. I can't imagine if I had been born in a time when things moved slower. I'd probably explode. As it is now, I keep hoping someone invents a faster microwave. I mean, who has a minute and a half to wait for boiling water?

But wait, I did. Every day, I'd watch wistfully as the UPS truck sped past my home. I tried to will him to stop and bring me the author copies of our masterpiece, but to no avail. (By the way, I don't even think a spike strip across the road would stop these guys if you are not on their delivery docket. Save yourself and get out of their way!)

So, like Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit's tree, I waited, and waited, and waited...

My Gloves are Now Too Big

Remember when I said I would never complain about The Best Job Ever? Well, there was one small moment in time when I came close to being unhappy with the project. I'll share it here, as it qualifies as one of the experiences we had on the path to publication, but I promise it will be the one and only time I will even remotely say something negative about The Best Job Ever.

Due to a miscalculation on both my part and an executive at the publishing company (who, by the way, is no longer there), I received a phone call that went something like this:

Ex-exec: We have a slight problem.

Me: Uh-oh. What?

Ex-exec: We need more words to fill the book.

Me: How many more? (I'm thinking 200, 300 tops.)

Ex-exec: Forty-thousand.

Me: (dead air)

Ex-exec: Hello? Are you there?

Me: I'm sorry, I think someone just cut in and said 40,000. Ha, ha, wouldn't that have been hilarious if you really had said 40,000?!

Ex-exec: That was me, and that is what I said.

Me: (dead air, as I'm trying to calculate the following: If I can type 80 words a minute, and there are 60 minutes in an hour...)

Ex-exec: And I hate to tell you this, but we need them in a week.

Me: (uncontrolled hyperventilating)

My mind started reeling at this point. I wasn't sure I even knew 40,000 words, let alone how to put them in some kind of comprehensive order. Plus, we still had several photo shoots left to do by the end of the same week. At that moment, I was seriously worried that my brain might truly explode, Hollywood-style, and ooze out on my floor.

I'm not sure how I pulled it off, but I somehow calmly convinced the exec that we could do this--no problem. I think I even thanked him for the opportunity that allowed us to tackle such a great challenge. I hung up, and then crumpled to the ground in a quivering, gelatinous mass of fear and panic.

After taking a few minutes to coagulate, I called my co-workers with the horrific news. In a state of shock, we got to work writing more stories, expanding the existing stories, creating more muffin recipes, and oiling down the last of the men (the latter I had to do faster than I wanted to, darn it.) From that moment on, except for time it took for the photo shoots, my hands did not leave the keyboard for nearly seven days straight. I have never known such fatigue, and I hope to never experience it again. Honestly, I couldn't feel my fingertips. And my back kept going into convulsions so many times that I tried to type standing up, which is not ergonomically correct at all.

Two interesting things did happen, though. First, there were parts of a couple of stories I wrote that I honestly, truthfully, and sincerely do not remember writing. About two or three in the morning, I would go into a fuzzy haze, and I believe a kind writer from the Great Beyond became my muse, taking over the typing. Somehow, the stories came and came. I would catch a few minutes of sleep here and there, then proof what I (or someone) had just created. I kid you not, it was like I was reading it for the first time. As I read, I had no idea what was coming next. And as much as I hate to admit it, these sleep-written stories were pretty good. I was equally grateful and freaked out about the whole thing.

The second thing had to do with my eyes. I have reached that age where I need glasses to see the computer screen, the newspaper, or anything else around me that should be in focus, like oncoming traffic. But after the week of staring at the computer, my distance vision suddenly became crystal clear. I remember being in the car and crying, "I can SEEEEEE!" when I could make out the Quizno's sign at fifty yards. I was thrilled, but sadly, it was only temporary. Within two days, I went back to my blurry world.

I talked to my eye doctor about my brief miracle, and he actually had a name for it: a compensatory spasm. Since I used my eyes to focus so long and so hard, the muscles overcompensated and basically got stuck in the correct position. Once the spasm ceased, they returned to their old-eye position. Sigh. (And just for the record, I prefer "miracle" to "spasm". It sounds better, and doesn't remind me of my junior high nickname.)

Somehow, some way, we were able to complete our assignment, and we delivered 40,000 words on time to the publishing company. Oh, were we happy and proud. Just goes to show what you can do when you give a 150% to your dream. And a half-inch of the ends of your fingers.

About a week later, I receive the first set of galleys in an e-mail from the publisher for proofing. I was so excited. Not only was this the first chance to see how the book was going to look, but it would be the first time we could read all the new stories alongside the old ones. With great anticipation, I clicked on the file and started reading. Hmmm, the first story didn't seem to have much of the additional writing we had submitted. Hmmm, the second story had some, but not all. Hmmm, the third story looked untouched. I started clicking through frantically, and calculated in my head that only about 10-20% of the 40,000 words were there.

Quickly, I called the publishing company. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I don't seem to see all of the additional writing.

Ex-exec: (chuckling) Funny story! Know how the recipes and pictures take up a lot of space?

Me: (not chuckling) Yes.

Ex-exec: (still chuckling) Turns out I kinda, sorta didn't calculate for that, so we really didn't need all those words. But thanks, anyway.

Me: (dead air)

Muse: (soft weeping)

Dudes, Part Deux

Here are the rest of our "boys" who make up the hunks in the book:

John, our Boxer Stud: John was the model photographed by Tammy for a portrait that won her an international photography award. Congrats, Tammy! Our photo of John was shot at a boxing training facility, and we had him climbing in and out of boxing rings, dodging behind punching bags, and hanging from the ropes, all while trying to keep a muffin perched on his boxing glove. I hope "Muffin Balancing" comes in handy on his resume one day.

William, our Mardi Gras Stud: William was one of the models discovered at our open casting call. Actually, "run down" is an more accurate description, as I saw him walk by our booth without stopping. I chased after him and pretty much dragged him back to fill out the paperwork. Then we asked him to take off his sunglasses so we could take his picture. The second he did, we all went, "Whoa!" as we all went gaga over his gorgeous eyes. When you see his photo in the book, I dare you not to say, "Whoa!" too.

Joseph, our Cover Stud: We met Joseph when we were taking the preliminary shots for the book proposal a couple of years ago. He looked very good then, but he truly grew into his Studhood by the time he posed for the cover shot. I believe we have sold many a book on the strength of that picture alone. I can't tell you how many people we have got to smile after looking at the cover--even a tired old county clerk, who probably hasn't smiled at work in years. Ah, the power of the Stud Muffin!

Emmit, our Chocolate Muffin Stud: We truly enjoyed Emmit's photo shoot. He has a great smile and a even greater personality, so the session went smoothly and quickly. But we most enjoyed hearing about his absolutely adorable little boy--was he a proud papa! It was obvious to see genetics at work, because his little guy was a cutie-patootie! We might need to use him for a Mini-Muffin book.

Branden, our Wine Stud: We have been so fortunate to have found some really nice guys as our models, and Branden is no exception. He patiently stood out in that vineyard, wedged against a grapevine, holding that dazzling smile until we had the shot we needed. We did compensate him a bit better than some of our other models--he got the bottle of wine from the shot. Brandon also was great in our hilarious YouTube video as one of the Stud Muffins who help with the "baking" session ( I'm so glad that we used a voice-over in that video, because all you can hear in the background of the master is me cracking up at the antics.

Mark, our Muscle Stud: Mark was another of the kind men who agreed to be our first models used for selling the proposal. He was our original "Give Me S'more Muffin" man, but we recast him as our muscle guy. The biggest challenge during his photo shoot was keeping that little muffin balanced on his large bicep. I think we finally used double-faced tape, although as the evening wore on, we were considering hot glue or a staple gun, but we didn't want to damage the goods--I mean, kind man.

Christopher, our Tropical Lei Stud: He was another model we chased down at our casting call. It wasn't until he came to our table to fill out his application that we realized he was six-foot-five-inches of Hawaiian hunkiness. So we then got him out to the beach for his shot. Two memories remain: We put on a rub-on tattoo around his bicep with the word "stud" in it. After a five-plus hour shoot, Christopher tanned around the tattoo, so when it was removed, he had a negative image of his stud "branding" that he said stayed for many, many months. Also, we had him perch on the rocks as the tide was coming in. One rogue wave crashed over him, but he, in true Stud fashion, raised the muffin above the water, saving it for the next shot. He, on the other hand, got drenched.

Ryan, our Baseball Stud: He is Tammy's nephew and a professional NHRA driver who is on the fast track (excuse the pun) to stardom in his sport. Ryan was kind enough to help us out of a tight spot when we had to quickly get this shot to the publisher. While not in his normal racing uniform, he looked every bit the baseball player, as we had him pose in the outfield, infield, and dugout. We feel his shot will start many an engine--and we're not talking about the car kind.

Lee, our Secret Center Stud: Again, another ambush at our casting call. When I ask if he'd be interested, out came this wonderful Scottish accent. Turns out he and his family were here from Glasgow for his job in computers. The more he talked, the more we wanted him to continue talking. We just love his accent! (You can hear it at and clicking on Stud Videos. He's on the news feature video.) We chose him as our suave James Bond-type, and while we've learned that he looks really good in a tux, he looks even better in the kilt he wears to book signings. Step back, Sean Connery, you have serious competition!

Ah, what fond memories of the photography sessions. But, as great as these were, there was so much more to come....

A Really Tough Job

A book of this nature turned out to be a lot more work than I ever envisioned. Entire 12-plus hour days were dedicated to finding photo shoot locations, scheduling models, prop making, story writing, and muffin baking. I don't think I've ever been so tired in my life. Am I complaining? Oh, heck no!! It was the Best Job Ever! (Next to being a mom, of course, but now we're talking apples and oranges. Or would that be Beef Cakes and Baby Cakes?)

My previous work experience is as follows: I started in the snack bar at my high school at age 14, moved on to babysitting, gas station attendant (remember those people who actually pumped your gas and washed your windows?) Hickory Farms Beef Stick hawker ("'s 100% beef, no pork, garlic, or pepper..."), movie theater concession clerk, clothing store salesperson, bakery store salesperson, lace store salesperson, kennel attendant at a Humane Society (worst job ever, as I had to euthanize unwanted animals...sob!) and Catholic middle school science teacher. I can honestly, whole-heartily say that none of these employment opportunities gave me a fraction of the joy that this project did. I mean, c'mon: oiling down hunky guys, wiping off excess oil from hunky guys--how can this possibly be bad?

That said, my favorite part of the project had to have been the photo shoots. Each was special and enjoyable in its own way, and like children, I couldn't possibly choose my favorite model:

Jack (aka Sparky) our Breakfast in Bed Stud: He was our first, and you always remember your first anything, right? I just recall stepping back from all the flurry of setting up the shoot, with Jack looking incredible and Tammy working her magic, and I cried, once again. (Hmm, I wonder if I'm too emotional?) But this moment is etched in my brain, as it was the physical realization that I was living my motto of "Make a wish, then make it happen." Stud Muffins was actually happening, right there before my soggy eyes. Way too cool.

Catoris, our Optometrist Stud: He has a beautiful smile, but the shot that spoke to us was his slight, come hither grin. I hope you might one day see his pearly whites, as they are stunning. One other remembrance was that we paid him with socks. He liked the pair we used for his ensemble, so it was the very least we could give him. That, and some muffins, of course.

Ron, our Camper Stud: His sessions went very smoothly, as he's had some photo shoot experience as a pro-softball player. He was also very generous with his time, as we had to re-shoot at a better location. All this while he was waiting to hear the news about the arrival of his first grandchild. Go Grandpa Stud!

Anthony, our Butler Stud: What you can't see in the photo is his heavily bandaged leg. He was only several days out of knee surgery, and we had him limping up and down stairs to get the shot we needed. Then, at our cast party, he was only several days out of laser eye surgery, which found him blindly maneuvering around cake tables and bar maids. He's been a real trouper, but I've warned him that should we go on Oprah, he'd best stay healthy, as we can't have his pancreas (or any other vital internal organ) oozing out on camera.

John, our Coffee Stud: He's been with us since the beginning, helping us with the initial photos we took to sell the project. But in fact, we've known John for many years before that, as he was the PE teacher at the Catholic school where we all originally met. Yes, I have taken him from lowly coach to international supermodel. He owes me big. (John, that means a 10% finders fee. Paid in cash.)

Jeremy, our Pool Stud: He is our youngest model and a real sport as we made him float, tread water, and/or hang from the edge of the pool for hours to get his shot. Also, he allowed us to alter his "do", which was originally spiked up in the middle. And while he wasn't too crazy about the way his hair looked, I told him I thought he looked like a young Robert Redford. To which he replied, "Who?" I felt very old that day.

Stephen, our Golfer Stud: Actually, he is Dr. Stephen, a very well-respected orthodontist in our area. It was fun showing his audition shot to friends, who would exclaim, "He our orthodontist! He is so handsome! And so nice!" Yep, those are the two qualities we required for our models. (The handsome and nice part--not so much the dental experience, although my kids' teeth might need some work one day...) He was also kind enough to allow us to use his personal golf clubs for the shot. And, of course, his smile was just perfect, as one would expect!

Up next, the other half of our gaggle of guys. Or would that be herd of beef?

Bring Me Men! (Or I'll Chase 'Em Down)

First order of business: Call the school district, and while trying to keep the giddiness and sheer joy out of my voice, politely remove myself from the phone tree list for substitute teachers--forever. I don't know if I succeeded, but I have the feeling they were slightly relieved to take me off the list, as they probably thought I was a bit touched as I giggled my regrets.

Next order of business: Find men.

Now, to give you a very brief description of my experience finding men, it's rather pathetic. I was a shy, chubby, introverted teen who didn't have a first date until my senior year in high school. I then met my future husband at 18, when my mom brought him home for dinner, thus ending my experience finding men.

So there I was, on a glorious April day, at a casting call booth in the center parkway of Victoria Gardens, an upscale shopping venue, in search of hunky men. Wow, did I feel like a fish waaaaay out of water, like a grouper dumped in the middle of the Sahara, but that drive to become a published author trumped my pounding heart and shaking hands. Joining me that day of Trolling for Men were my two writing partners and Tammy, our amazing, wonderful, generous and creative photographer, who, by all rights should be in Los Angeles or New York or Paris shooting top supermodels, but by some incredible twist of fate or placement of the angels, was based in my little home town. Finding her was our second best thing that happened to this project.

At first, it was kind of slim pickings as the parade of men trickled in, but by late afternoon, we actually had a line for a brief time. Then, after a few hours of being emboldened by the whole experience , we began hunting them down ourselves. If a cute guy walked by but didn't stop, one of us would grab a business card and chase him down. We were on a Man Quest, and neither soggy grass nor sinking heels kept us from our destiny. Believe it or not, we found several of our great models this way (more on them later.) And the fact that they didn't get put off by sweaty, puffing women was a real plus on their application.

The day resulted in finding nearly 2/3 of the models we needed. At first, we kind of panicked, wondering where we were going to find the balance of boys. But we needed not to fear, because as word of our search got out, men started hunting us down, asking to be in the book. Ah, life was good.

When all was said and done, we had found our great models, and we made plans for principal photography to commence.

Next up: Lights, camera, baby oil.

Give Me Patience--NOW!

Book concept? Check. Find an agent? Check. Cash royalty check? No check. Turns out, the real work was just beginning. First thing up was to create a book proposal. Remember those book reports you wrote in the 4th grade? Well, it turns out that they were actually important, as a proposal is basically the same thing--just an expanded description of the book, without the diorama. And to be honest, this one was a lot more fun to write than the one I penned on Pippi Longstockings. In that one, I couldn't write combinations of double-entendre and cooking directions. Ooh-la-la!

Andrea and I tweaked it a few times before we were satisfied with a final copy, and then I gave her my blessings to send it off to publishers. Now, the scenario that formed in my brain played out something like this: Weary, jaded publishers, tired of the same old submissions would see this new and amazing idea leap on their computer screen. "Eureka!" they would all shout simultaneously, their excited voices echoing across the miles that separated them. With blurred fingers, they would write back to Andrea, "We must have this book! Money is no object!" Of course, Andrea, being the great agent she is, would announce, with accompanying fanfare, that the bidding war was now on. Within 24 hours, endless flurries of bidding and outbidding would almost crash Andrea's computer system until she would finally blurt out, "Enough!", accepting the multimillion dollar offer with options for film and music rights.

Yeah, I know. But it was such a wonderful dream.

In reality, days, weeks, then months crept by. Yes, we had some nibbles from several publishers and some very encouraging notes of praise, but no offers. With each rejection received, I began taking them a little too hard, as I am not the most patient person in the world. Once I get something in my head, I want it done yesterday. Plus, I was telling everybody that I had co-written a book that was being shopped around for a publisher, and it was very difficult to keep saying that we hadn't found one yet and to keep saying it in my perky, cheerleader tone. My Voice of Reason (aka Andrea) just kept calmly explaining that this was very common, and she was confident of a sale. I tried to believe her and stay patient. I really did.

Then I did the unthinkable: I let a sniggle of doubt eat away at my resolve to become a published author. This unfortunately coincided with the arrival of the holiday credit card bills. The result was me trudging, head hung low, to the nearest school district office to begin the application process for substitute teacher. Duh-duh-duhhhhhh. With a heavy heart, I forced myself to dig out my resume. I cringed as I had write an enthusiastic paragraph that explained my passion for becoming an overpaid babysitter. I forced on a happy face as I sat through an interview, where the nice lady explained that my phone would begin ringing around 5:00 each morning to see if I was available. I had fingerprints taken, background checks performed, and TB antibodies plunged into my arm. All I had left to do was sit through one more orientation on district policy, and I was officially in. I couldn't have been more depressed if I had been waiting in the express lane at the gallows.

Do you believe in fate? Karma? Un-fricken-believable luck? I'm not sure which qualifies for this next part of the story, but I will profess to believe in all of the above, just so that I don't tick off the responsible party. As I was getting dressed for that last orientation, feet literally feeling like lead as I got closer to the hour to leave, my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID screen and saw the name and number of an angel: Andrea. It was Andrea. Andrea was calling me. The only time we had talked on the phone was when we were just starting our relationship, and the rest was via e-mail. I've heard people say that their heart skipped a beat, and at that moment, I understood what they meant. Lub-dub----dub. It was Andrea.

But by the second ring, my mind spun into reverse. What if she was calling to say that she'd given up; that she had tried her best, but only the four of us thought the book was good? Could I bear to hear her say those words? (I told you before that we writers are a neurotic bunch!) A third ring, and I knew I had to answer it and seal my fate, one way or another.

If I had to take a test on what she said verbatim on that February morning, I'd outright flunk. All I know is that my brain processed the information somehow through my pounding heart and sobbing tears: WE FOUND A PUBLISHER! O-MI-GOSH! Even as I write this, I am tearing up again. This was so unbelievably incredible. It was like Christmas and birthdays and prom night and first kiss and wishing on a star all rolled into one. I'm surprised I didn't blow a fuse, because I believe that moment now qualifies as one of my very finest memories, along with my wedding day and the birth of my children, and one that I will take with me to the end of this lifetime, and possibly on to the next. If I sound overly melodramatic, I apologize, but I had never had a dream come true before, and it was a pretty heady feeling, to say the very least. I highly recommend it!

I'm not sure why, but after I finished gushing/crying/jumping, I chose to go to the orientation. It was a very bad decision, because if they had quizzed me on what was presented, they would have strongly recommended tutoring and possible attention deficit medication. I know I sat in a chair at a u-shaped desk with a dozen other people, I know that someone was always talking, and I know they let us go after about two hours. Beyond that, you got me. My mind was reeling with all the things still left to do with the book, how to spend the royalty checks, and what to wear on Oprah.

Up next, reversing a substitute teaching application and chasing men through an upscale shopping venue while wearing heels.

The Tao of Ellen DeGeneres

So, off went the queries to prospective agents, and almost immediately I began receiving the dreaded rejection letters. If you have never received one of these, they come in one of three flavors:

1. Xeroxed form letters explaining that your work, wonderful though it may be, doesn't quite match their publication needs at this time, but they are sure that you will find the perfect agent with a little diligence. These are usually on full 8 1/2 X 11-inch sheets of paper, but I have one that is about three inches square and cut from what must have been a sheet of mini-rejections. Maybe that agency was going green, and my rejection actually will help save the planet.

2. Personalized Xerox form letters with your name handwritten in the "Dear ___________" at the top, then followed by #1 above.

3. Your original letter returned with "no thanks" hastily scrawled somewhere in a margin, as if this task was the last thing they had to do before boarding the Space Shuttle that was readied for imminent launch.

I don't know why, but I have kept every rejection letter I have ever received. They reside in a very large folder in the back of the filing cabinet. I sometimes wonder why I've kept them. Are they to remind me to never give up? Do they serve as an impetus to try harder? Or maybe, just maybe, when I'm a rich and famous author, will I send each and every one of them a Xerox copy that says, "Your loss! Ha!"? I hope I'm not that petty, but I can't guarantee it.

As each new "no" letter arrived, I started getting a bit discouraged. What if my idea of Stud Muffins was really a stupid one? If you're a writer, you'll understand my feelings of uncertainty, because you never know if people are going to like you have to say. We writers definitely have self-esteem issues. And sometimes drinking issues.

One day, to divert my attention from the onslaught of rejections, I decided to do two of my favorite things: make the Wake Me Up muffins (a decadent blend of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon with a streusel topping) and watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I love watching her show. She always makes me laugh, and I’ve been known to bust a move around my kitchen, much to the horror of my children. As far as I'm concerned, Ellen is my electronic equivalent of Prozac. And as I baked and watched and laughed and danced on that particular day, little did I know that Ellen was just about to irrevocably change my life.

Like a fate that I believe is hovering over me like a helicopter, Ellen introduced her guests. For the life of me, I can't remember their names (sorry!) but they spoke about the power that positivity can have in your lives. Ellen then shared her philosophy: "Say it, and it happens." (I believe, at that moment, I also heard heavenly bodies singing, lightning striking, and bells ringing, but I could be wrong about this last part.) As the import of her words struck me, I froze where I stood, muffin scoop stopped in mid-air and batter dripping onto the counter. This was it. This was the missing piece of this project. I realized that, up to that very moment, I had wished/hoped/dreamed the book would get made, but I never allowed myself to fully believe it could really happen. I never one-hundred percent sold the idea to myself. So I put down the batter scoop, braced myself against the counter, and said the five words I had yet allowed to escape my lips: Stud Muffins will be published!

The words felt both foreign and exhilarating. For a split second, I felt like, "Who am I to make such a bold claim?" But I realized that if I didn't whole-heartedly believe in my dream, why would somebody else? It was at that moment that "Say it, and it happens" became my new mantra for my life, and not just for my book. From that point on, I knew that anything is possible if I put positive energy behind it.

I blissfully planted the "Say it and it happens" affirmation firmly in my mind and went on with my day-to-day life. Sure, the rejections kept coming, but now I laughed at them. They didn't know that my fate was already set. The book was going to be published. I just wasn't sure of of the details.

Then, one day I was mindlessly folding clothes when the phone rang. When I didn't recognize the bubbly voice on the other end, I just assumed it was yet another poor solicitor trying to convince me to buy something I neither needed nor wanted. As I basically tuned her out, verbalizing an occasional "uh-huh" here and there to be polite, I bided my time to kindly get rid of her. Then, all of a sudden, I thought I heard the words "Stud Muffins" from across the void. What?! What did she say?! Who is this on the phone?! I dropped the pair of chonies I was folding and held onto the phone with two hands. "I'm sorry," I said, sounding like a complete idiot, "could you start again?"

To my good fortune, Andrea Somberg was kind enough to repeat herself. But I almost had to make her repeat herself again because I started feeling lightheaded when I heard what she was saying: she was an agent from New York (New York!) and she wanted to represent us!! My brain started reeling, and I tried to sound professional and say something like, "Yes, this sounds promising. Please allow me to confer with my business partners, and we'll inform you of our decision in a prompt manner." But what came out was more like, "What? Really? Y'mean it?! No way! Are you sure?! Wait, I have to put my head between my knees for a sec." Yes, I'm one cool customer.

A quick call to the other writers and we agreed that Andrea was our new agent. Omigosh! It happened! I said it, and it really happened! We were on our way to publication! Thank you, thank you, thank you Ellen. You were so right!

To our great fortune, Andrea was no ordinary agent. Turns out she was also an angel in agent clothes. She was the kind of agent that gave undiscovered writers the chance of a lifetime. I learned this when I interviewed another first-time writer named Sarah Beth Durst, who had also signed with Andrea. She had just sold her first book, a middle-school fantasy called "Into the Wild", which has since won umpteen prestigious awards. (Find out more about "Into the Wild", her second book, "Out of the Wild" and her new book, "ICE" at When I asked Sarah if she was glad she chose Andrea as her agent, she gave me an emphatic and ecstatic YES! This made me feel better, as it turns out we writers need to have our decisions validated. (Hmmm, starting to wonder how many writers also need therapy?)

Choosing Andrea to be our agent/angel was one of THE BEST decisions we made on this project. She became our mentor, our cheerleader, our go-getter, my voice of sanity, and our best negotiator. We were so unbelievably lucky to have found her. And when I think that I came this close to telling her thank you, but I wasn't interested, I physically shudder. Andrea, if you're reading this, YOU ROCK!!

And dear Ellen, oh wise one, you equally rock! Thank you for allowing me to say it and then watch it happen. What an amazing gift of positivity! And if you ever want to have a fun, sexy baking segment with hunky guys on your show, just say it. After I stop hyperventilating, screaming and fainting, it will happen.

What Must the Neighbors Think?

So our book was coming along nicely. Recipe ideas were flowing, storyboards were melding. It then became time to flesh everything out, pun intended. Since the concept of the book was so visual, we decided to create six sample pictures to show agents and publishers exactly what we had in mind. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, it saved us from typing "hubba hubba hubba" nine hundred and ninety-seven more times. So, with the kind help of Gilda's husband, Ted, a former professional photographer, we turned my kitchen into a make-shift photo studio.

To make this transformation, we moved my kitchen table to the side, hooked the hanging lamp up higher, and secured a roll of background paper to the wall with painter's tape (luckily for us, Ted was now in painting and construction.) Since we had zero budget for lighting equipment, Ted came to the rescue again and let us use his industrial work lights. I can't thank him enough for helping us with this part of the project. He was our construction/painter/photographer angel. The first model up was my little brother (who is 6'2", but he'll always be my little brother.) We put him in role of Dirk, the boxer for our T-K-Oatmeal Muffin, and after a few awkward moments of me trying to get my little brother to look sexy for the camera, we got the shot we needed.

One down, and five to go. We rounded up relatives, friends, and friends of friends to pose with a muffin in varying stages of dress and undress. My little kitchen had never seen such activity, and since my house is situated at the bottom of a hill, I'll bet my neighbors hadn't either, if they happened to be looking out their back windows. And when all was said and done, we had six very hunky photos of the original Stud Muffins to send to prospective agents.

I packaged up nearly four dozen query letters and sample photos, took them to the post office, gave them a kiss for luck, and sent them on their way. In my heart, I knew there had to be at least one agent out there in the great unknown who would believe in our crazy dream. As our fantastic luck had it, we found the best, most incredible, most amazing agent on the planet.

Next up: Andrea the Fabulous.

And the Saga Continues

So, what we have learned so far is the following: 1. I am inspired by fat cats and hunky men. 2. My twisted brain can meld cooking and hunky men. 3. I excel at procrastination. Let's move on with the story, shall we?

I take you to the year 2005. This was a pivotal moment in this project. First, both my kids were in school full time, so I actually had several hours each day that didn't require me to be cooking for, feeding, dressing, bathing, or intellectually stimulating anyone but myself. Secondly, the Catholic school that had employed me as either a full-time teacher B.C. (before children) or as an occasional substitute and consultant had just closed its doors, so I was officially unemployed. Joining me in the ranks of the paycheck-deprived were two co-workers, Gilda and Shari. After commiserating a bit (okay, a lot), we met to brainstorm some ideas on how to get rich quick.

There we sat at Mimi's Cafe, throwing around ideas like opening a traffic school or developing home-school curricular programs. It was obvious from our less-than-enthusiastic faces that these all just sounded like work, and frankly, we'd been there, done that. As the ideas dwindled and dried up, I reluctantly and quite nervously brought up the idea for the cookbook series, starting with Stud Muffins. I don't think I looked up until I was done describing my concepts, afraid to see their faces of disgust or shame. We were, after all, Catholic school teachers, and here I was outlining how to combine flour, leavening ingredients, and butter with virile young men and possibly more butter (their skin did have to look supple for the photo.) To my shock and pleasant surprise, my co-workers were equally twisted and depraved. Within a few moments, we had shoved aside all the boring stuff and began the fun--I mean work.

Next installment: Industrial lights, half-naked men, and my kitchen.

Happy Stud Year!

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the adventure that has become Stud Muffins! Our new cookbook, "Stud Muffins: Luscious, Delectable, Yummy (and Good Muffin Recipes, too!) was released on April 1st, so while some calendars may claim that 2008 is the Year of the Rat, I will have to ask that you completely disregard that thought, and know that this is the Year of the Stud!

I have created this blog in the hopes of documenting the extraordinary experience I have had (and will continue to have, I'm positive) as a first-time author. I'm going to ask now that you excuse me for any future giddiness, immaturity, and/or downright goofiness as I record this trip to publication and beyond. It's just that I have been dreaming/scheming/obsessing about becoming an author since I was an eight-year-old in Mrs. Riddle's second grade class at El Camino Elementary School in Ontario, California. I had just completed my first a tome entitled, "My Fat Cat", and Mrs. Riddle presented me with the coveted Golden Key Award for Best Writer. Well, it turns out that accepting that award in front of the class, coupled with the heady feeling of hearing 32 pairs of grubby hands clapping wildly for little ol' me sealed my fate. I had to become a writer. I just had to.

Flashforward with me to a pivotal moment in the waning years of the last millennium, won't you? (Notice my outstanding ability to edit, as I just left out many years of my writing heartache, rejection, hand-wringing, wailing, and depression. You're welcome.) While having my hair cut at a little salon, I looked up and saw a Chippendale's calendar hanging on the wall. The moment is etched in my mind--partly from the revelation I will describe in a second, and partly because it was gorgeous Mr. November. In my pre-marriage days, I had visited the dance club where that actual gorgeous Mr. November put his actual gorgeous hands around my shoulder and they took an actual picture of us. (I still have the actual picture, tucked away somewhere. If I find it, I'll post it here.)

On to the revelation: I remember smiling and saying to myself, "Now, that's what I call a stud muffin!" By the time the last blast of hairspray hit my head that day, the seeds of a new kind of cookbook began to germinate in my fertile brain (and yes, I have been called a *@!% head before, and I take it as a compliment.) And not only Stud Muffins, but a whole series of cookbooks, with titles like, Beef Cakes, Cutie Pies, Eye Candy, and Hot Dishes.

For reasons I still can't explain, I didn't take the ideas past the idea phase for over a decade. Sure, I can blame a myriad of things, from kids to a real job to not knowing how to start, but the fact was that I allowed it to just ruminated in my imagination for over ten years. I can recall, lying in bed after a busy day of non-writing stuff, just thinking, visualizing, and dreaming of men and food, and knowing I HAD to do move forward with these ideas before someone else did.

This is where I'll leave this story right now. Tune in to the next post for more of the exciting adventures of Judi's Journey to Studdom and Beyond!