Peppers – vegetable or fruit?

Vegetables or fruits?

Vegetables or fruits?

There are NO vegetables. Everything we call a vegetable is actually a fruit. So said the host of the TV show On The Spot this past weekend.

What? I’m a farm kid. I grew up around agriculture and spent most of my professional career in public relations working with clients who served the ag industry. I had never heard this before.

This was such a provocative statement, stated so definitively, that I had to do the research. First stop: Wikipedia. The answer was fascinating, taking into account botany, the culinary arts, and the law.

Botanically – (upon which On The Spot must have made its pronouncement) – the ovary of a flowering plant is the fruit. Since both fruits (peaches, plums, oranges) and vegetables (eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes) come from the flowering part of the plant, they are botanically speaking all really fruits. 

Culinary – In the grocery story and kitchen, fruits and vegetables are mutually exclusive. Fruits are the edible part of the plant with a sweet flavor. Vegetables are the edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.

Legally – When in doubt, the law may intervene as it did with the tomato in Nix v Hedden, a case argued before the Supreme Court in 1893. The outcome? The tomato is a vegetable. The case had such import because commodities are taxed as vegetables in particular jurisdictions and pocketbooks would hurt depending on where the tomato came down.

To be fair to the Supreme Court justices, while they declared the tomato a vegetable for tax purposes, they acknowledged it was botanically a fruit. How’s that for standing firmly on both sides of the debate?

My research didn’t stop with Wikipedia (a cautionary tale for all). The Mayo Clinic points out there really are vegetables – those foods that come from parts of the plant other than the flower, e.g. celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots.)

All this may be a bit of a diversion, but we writers like to be precise in our use of language. And as one speaker arguing for a classical education opined, It’s important to know the rules before you break them.

Offering another, particularly timely, perspective on the topic, a Facebook post weighed in on the topic today: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

I know all this new-found knowledge/wisdom will come into play in my writing at some point. I can hardly wait.

A prairie reminder: Patience

Six years ago, I prepared the soil and sowed the seeds for a native Iowa prairie. The seed mix I chose from Ion Exchange contained 37 different varieties of prairie wildflowers and grasses. I was so eager for my new prairie to take root and grow, I called Ion Exchange repeatedly to question one thing and another. Each time, I asked, “When? When will I see the flowers?”

Patience rewarded - Butterfly milkweed, 2014

Patience rewarded – Butterfly milkweed, 2014

Their counsel was that prairies take time. The man actually told me to go away for a couple of years. When I came back, the prairie would be there. I laughed, got the point, and stopped calling him.

As the years passed, I learned he was right. Prairies take time – and patience – something I’m remarkably short on. Each year, I identified the plants as they bloomed, marveling over each flower I hadn’t seen before and marking it off the master list. From Canada milkvetch to anise hyssop, dotted mint to rattlesnake master, New England aster to stiff goldenrod, the prairie flowers appeared. All except one. Butterfly milkweed.

I was so eager to spot butterfly milkweed. It’s the only prairie plant I know with an orange blossom. But it didn’t come. I speculated that the seed was not viable. Or maybe the prescribed burn we did at year four killed the seed. Or maybe it hadn’t been part of the mix at all.

Last year, I began to think about taking matters into my own hands and getting more of this particular seed to sow into the prairie. Time passed and I didn’t make the order. As winter turned toward spring, I thought of ordering  plant sets. I really wanted to see those orange blooms. But I didn’t get them ordered.

Then recently, as I walked by the prairie, a flash of orange caught my eye. I waded into the grass and there it was – butterfly milkweed! After all this time. As beautiful as I had thought it would be. And even more precious for the long wait.

Readers who have followed my journey with the prairie (search this blog for “prairie”) know I’ve taken many lessons from the prairie. One of them I apparently need to keep learning is to be patient. I may want what I want, when I want it, but if I am patient, the prairie offers up its beauty in its own time. 

What’s the life lesson you need to learn? And what reminds you?

The value of a blog tour?

RunningWhile I was running fast on the ground to launch my historical novel Go Away Home in Iowa, I was also zipping through cyberspace on a virtual book tour that included 15 blog visits.

In the course of the tour, I participated in two author interviews, shared my thoughts on efficient “just in time” historical research and my inspiration for writing the book, offered my ideas for networking online to promote a book, and made copies of Go Away Home available for giveaways.

A virtual book tour was a new marketing approach for me. My goals were to share my book more broadly and to garner reviews.

Here’s what the reviewers had to say:

Patty @ Broken Teepee: (4.5 stars) “This is a well written story about a young woman, Liddie, who was born on a farm in Iowa at the turn of the 20th century. I felt myself quite engrossed in the story and found it very hard to put down. It wasn’t all sweetness and light and Liddie learns some hard lessons as she grows up. Ms. Bodensteiner has a very strong feel for the era and its mores and I would love to follow the characters further.”

Kathryn @ A Bibliotaph’s Reviews (4 stars): “Bodensteiner draws on familial history within this tale, and her writing leaves the reader with a sense of homesickness for one’s family. Her writing style is detailed but not in a manner that overloads the reader with information. She often leaves them guessing as to what will come next. I highly recommend this book.”

PC @ Writing Whims (5 stars): “The research is impeccable in this novel. Ms. Brodensteiner has proven herself as an exceptional storyteller in her first novel. If you enjoy rich characters and historical fiction, you won’t be disappointed in Go Away Home.

Lauralee @ History from a Woman’s Perspective (4 stars): “Overall, the book is about family, friendship, love, loss, sacrifice, choices, and hope. It is also about a person’s quest for home. The pace of the novel is easygoing, reminiscent of a leisurely Sunday morning. However, it is pleasing and you care what happens to Liddie. I recommend this book to anyone interested in early 20th century America, life in the rural Midwest, and those who face tough choices in their own lives.”

Kathleen @ CelticLady’s Reviews (5 stars): “Go Away Home is written about the daily struggles within a family during a tough time in our American history. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am not sure if there is to be a sequel, but I think it would be interesting to see what happens to Liddie in the future. I highly recommend this book!”

Jorie @ Jorie Loves a Story: “Bodensteiner reaches back into the classical story-telling grace of giving her characters an encouragement of innocence and an appreciation for learning through their choices. She … fills … the novel with realistic truths and a backdrop of honesty that is refreshing to find in the historical fiction genre. This is a story that knits into your heart as you soak inside its core, giving you a firm realisation that you’ve found a family you’re emotionally connected too. I shall not soon forget this novel and I cannot wait to read more by the author.

Ashley @ Closed The Cover (4 stars): “Liddie is an incredible character, which is essential in a book like this as she is the primary focus of the novel. The book centers around her; her hopes, goals, dreams, passions and eventual understanding. She is everything a reader would expect from a young girl as she is naive, hopeful and passionate yet as the story progresses she grows and understands. Readers will find themselves quickly and fully engrossed in her story. Liddie’s coming-of-age story is remarkable and will take readers on a very emotional journey. In the end Liddie must choose that which is the most important to her and decide on what it is that makes life worth living. This is a beautiful book. Wonderful, lovely and a great read!

There’s no question a blog tour is a lot of work for the author. Posts to write, staying in touch with comments, sharing the posts across social media. I arrived at the end of the month as winded as if I’d run to all those places in real time. I also conclude the month satisfied that the investment in a professional tour company was well made. Kudos to Amy Bruno at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for setting up the tour and managing it so well.

I couldn’t have asked for more in the reviews. Some of these reviewers expressed interest in a sequel; other readers have, too. A sequel wasn’t in my head when I wrote this novel, but not the seed has been planted. We’ll have to see if it grows. Overall,  the success of the tour was summed up for me in the comment a reader left: “I’m seeing this book everywhere.”

Have you picked up a copy of Go Away Home yet? If these reviews spark your interest, here are links: Print – Createspace           Kindle – ebook

Feeling the love – Making the most of local book launch events

As I prepared for the launch of my historical novel Go Away Home, I wondered how much the world had changed. Since publishing my memoir as a paperback in 2008, ebooks have proliferated, social media connects the world. Would local launches even be relevant?

Now that the local events are over, I can say the basic strategies of “events, placement and promotion” I blogged about a couple of years ago for doing local launch events are still sound. I’ve refined a few things, and I’m basking in the glow of a successful launch.

I scheduled four events – three in eastern Iowa where I grew up, an area that serves as the setting for much of the novel, and one in Des Moines where I live now.

Libraries, Bookstores & the Historical Society

Preston book Launch 1

Sharing the history of memoir and fiction at the Preston Public Library.

The library in my hometown hosted a large event where I reconnected with friends who enjoyed my memoir and remembered our family fondly. This was my first change to try out my “Writing History” talk. The book talk and Q&A lasted an hour and a half. Another library event in the next county allowed me to connect with more people and maximize my time in the area.

The Jackson County Historical Society – one of my research resources – invited me to speak at their annual meeting. I refined the talk, read a couple of short sections from the book, and shared tidbits of Iowa history I’d learned in doing research for the novel.

Connecting with friends at a launch party for "Go Away Home"

Connecting with friends at a launch party for “Go Away Home”

In Des Moines, my event was at Beaverdale Books, an independent bookstore that was the first to carry my memoir. This event drew a wonderful cross section of people from my life: neighborhood, church, public relations, reading and writing, plus people I didn’t know who’d come to the event because they’d heard about it in the media. For this event, I pared the book talk to 15-20 minutes. Talking with friends old and new, signing books, enjoying a glass of wine. Wonderful!

Where to buy books?

In addition to having books at the events, I made sure books were available in advance of the events and the media promotion.

My home counties are largely rural, so I placed books with the local pharmacies and the historical society, in addition to the one small bookstore. Many people came to the events having already read the book. In Des Moines, I made sure both independent bookstores had copies on their shelves.

Unlike when my memoir was published, with the launch of Go Away Home, I was already live on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble was able to order.

Getting the word out

My marketing background kicks into overdrive for things like this. I created a media kit and made it available on my website. I started contacting media more than a month in advance of the events. This was important for two reasons. In the rural counties, some of the newspapers are weeklies so the deadlines are further out. In a large city like Des Moines, the competition for space is great and the media book time weeks in advance.

The overall news hook of a woman following her dream is a theme from the novel that is playing out in my life as I write and publish my books. I also added other hooks I hoped would appeal to the media: local author, historical fiction set in Iowa, centenary of WWI, successful memoir.  The scheduled events gave the news urgency – a reason to run the story NOW.

I also increased the sophistication of my email marketing. I segmented my email list, sending out “save the date” and reminder emails to people in each market.

The results?

  • The combined events drew in close to 200 people
  • The major newspapers in Jackson and Clinton Counties carried features in print and online editions. I was interviewed live on radio.
  • In Des Moines, the Des Moines Register included my event in the Sunday Arts & Entertainment section “Pick 6″ column; I was interviewed on KCCI-TV at noon, and the Business Record focused on me in their e-newsletter and online editions.
  • Momentum. The buzz around these events has led to scheduling other events. People are reading the book and talking about it on social media. Reviews are getting posted.
  • Best of all? I connected with so many people. After working so hard for so long to bring Go Away Home to fruition, the reward is putting it into peoples’ hands.

Soon I’ll blog about the virtual book launch that’s been going on in cyberspace this month. For now, I’m happy feeling the local love.