On the other side of the table – Iowa State Fair

With every presentation I made as a 4-H member, getting to the Iowa State Fair was my goal. Each year, I did my best, yet it was never enough to go beyond the county level. The judges always chose someone else, and I was always disappointed. I spent some time railing against the unfairness of the judges, let me tell you.

Seventeen peanut brittle entries waiting for the judges.

Seventeen peanut brittle entries waiting for the judges.

As an adult living only four miles from the fairgrounds, the allure of the State Fair remains strong. I’m always eager to attend. A couple of years ago, I entered a quilt and earned a third place ribbon. For once, I was delighted.

It didn’t occur to join the judging ranks myself until this year when Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson announced on FaceBook that he was looking for judges to join him for the new peanut brittle competition.

Peanut brittle is one of my favorite candies. I make it every year. Seemed like those were qualifications enough to judge. I signed up.

When the day rolled around, I was ready. And excited. And hungry.

Seventeen entries greeted us. A respectable number for the first year, and a number we figured two judges could get through in the hour allotted. Volunteers supplied plates, napkins, and damp clothes, along with crackers and water to cleanse our palates. A writer sat beside each judge, to record our comments, tally scores, and keep things moving.

Spectators filled the chairs, leaning forward in anticipation, straining to hear our words, watching our faces as we sampled from each plate. Some hoping, no doubt, to be judged the winner. With their eyes on me, I felt the weight of responsibility.

The task was more challenging than I imagined it would be. Judging is a subjective task, maybe more so when it comes to food. The score sheet with it’s weighted percentages for Taste, Texture, and the nebulous Other Considerations gave some structure to the process. But even with that, there were so many reasons to have different opinions.

  • Was the best peanut brittle the one that was most like the recipe I make and love dearly?
  • Was it one of those with unexpected ingredients, like dried Kalamata olives or cayenne pepper and mustard or the perennial State Fair favorite bacon?
  • Or one of those stretched so thin with forks you could almost see through the brittle?

Judging at the State Fair level is serious business.

Judging at the State Fair level is serious business.

As it turns out, 17 entries is a lot to judge in only one hour. One little taste of an entry, savor the flavor, consider the texture, note whether it stuck to my teeth, take into account how it was presented. Make comments. Assign scores. Eat a soda cracker. Drink water. On to the next entry.

After we evaluated each salty/sweet brittle individually, Kyle and I went behind the curtain to discuss and decide on the final winners. We emerged with three ribbon winners and an honorable mention. The crowd applauded the results. The blue ribbon winners cheered.

Judging peanut brittle taught me a lot. Being a judge is tough. You want to be fair, you want to reward the best, but best is relative. I can be more empathetic with the judges that kept me out of the State Fair all those years ago. I still don’t like it, but I empathize with their challenge. And I empathize with those who entered full of anticipation and didn’t win. Judging can be as bitter sweet as entering.

In case you’re wondering, we awarded the blue ribbon to a wonderful peanut brittle that included a hint of coconut and was served up in a little red bucket with tissue paper. I’ll be trying that secret ingredient myself come the holidays.

Readers make novel launch possible

It’s launch day for the new edition of my novel GO AWAY HOME. If you haven’t read it yet, this is an excellent time to snag a copy. GO AWAY HOME is available on Amazon (at a very attractive introductory price) in print or Kindle versions and can be ordered anywhere books are sold.

Go Away Home, a novel

Go Away Home, a novel

If you’ve already read this story of independence, choices and love, set in pre-WWI Iowa, thank you.

Were it not for readers, my novel would not be here today. Here’s how readers played a role in my writing journey.

My writing partner patiently and thoughtfully critiqued each scene draft. Workshop leaders and participants read and encouraged me as I learned the craft of novel writing. Beta readers offered honest feedback as I fleshed out the manuscript. Editors read and helped me polish the final draft. Reader reviews of the first edition attracted the attention of Lake Union Publishing, leading to this second edition.

Readers mean the world to writers. I am grateful for each and every of you.

If you haven’t read GO AWAY HOME yet, now could be the time. Should you choose to read, I will be honored. Readers make my day.

Reviews matter – Here’s how to get them

Have you watched the big five trade book publishers launch a book? They always have an impressive list of reviews on Amazon the day a book launches. When I launched Go Away Home, I tried to have reviews ready to go, too.When a senior acquisition … [Continue reading]

Seven questions about publishing with Amazon

Ever since Lake Union Publishing acquired my novel Go Away Home (re-launch on July 7), I get questions. Lots of them. About how it works, the advantages, the disadvantages. Jane Friedman invited me to answer the top seven most frequently asked … [Continue reading]

Dressed up in a new cover – Go Away Home

Go Away Home, a novel

A drum roll, please ... When my novel Go Away Home re-launches on July 7, it will sport this brand new cover.As an indie author responsible for all aspects of publishing, I have to say cover design caused me the most anxiety. Still, I felt I found … [Continue reading]

Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing

I'm in Iowa City this week, sequestered at a bed & breakfast, doing a deep dive into writing my next novel. I write, I think, I walk, I write some more. All the while, I struggle with monkey brain. Monkey brain is the form my inner editor takes … [Continue reading]

The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing

The Chrysler Building

“What was it like working with Amazon Publishing?” “Did it bother you to lose control?” “Is it still the same story?” These are some of the questions I’ve received since my novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of … [Continue reading]

A “Marriage” of Fact and Fiction – Giveaway

Susan Weidener

Many authors write a memoir first and then turn to fiction, as I did. While those first works of fiction often have some basis in real people and events, the outcome is largely fictional as the author molds the story line, characters, and events to … [Continue reading]

A different kind of book review – Deeply Odd

Deeply-Odd-MM

Memoirs and historical fiction are my normal reading choices. But every so often, I enjoy trying something different. Recently I caught a Dean Koontz interview on the CBS Sunday Morning show. Though I’d seen his books on bookstore and library … [Continue reading]

Going deep inside – Perspective 3

Carlsbad Caverns - "Curtains"

Recently, I’ve considered perspective from high up in a hot air balloon and up close at Cadillac Ranch. I also had a chance to go deep with a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. I’ve been in caves before, but always in the company … [Continue reading]