Celebrating Oktoberfest with my Book Launch!

Check this out! It’s a #1 New Release!!

It’s here! Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures is now out and released into the world.

It’s been a bittersweet launch for several reasons: the first is that the book is (once again) centered around Marcus. I wrote it while we were living in Germany and later in Portland, and, as you all know, he’s not here to see its publication. I’ve been pretty weepy about that.

The other reason is that, as I said before, self-publishing has introduced me to a new form of terror and raw vulnerability. While I expose the private details of my life in my other books, it’s different this time because I don’t have a publisher or agent to hide behind. It’s just me on the front lines, and every marketing effort I make feels like pure self-promotion. Ugh! I could choose not to promote it, but an author doesn’t pour herself into a project only to launch it and ignore it afterward. So I’m going to get out there, do some bookstore and library events, some media interviews, and more. I’ll post my appearances soon.

Our wedding invitation. I know…smoldering.

Hausfrau Honeymoon has already received praise. The Pulpwood Queens Book Club has named it an official selection and gave it Five Diamonds in the Tiara! Its founder Kathy Murphy said, “It’s good, really, really good! You truly had me from the get-go!

And John Busbee of The Culture Buzz said, “Beth Howard writes like Erma Bombeck on steroids. But more emotional and more sensitive. She is a reincarnation of writers in that genre.” (Though I would say more like Erma Bombeck with a potty mouth and an attitude.)

I hope this book makes people want to travel more, to explore places like Germany, to be more open to other cultures (even ones that we don’t fully understand or relate to), and to take a chance on life — to dive into a new experience even when you have no idea how it’s going to turn out. That seems to be a regular theme in my life — some people (ahem, my mother) didn’t think I should move to Germany. She didn’t think I should move into the American Gothic House either. But I followed my own instincts and did both. I am forever grateful for the experiences, even when faced with such big challenges — like 7-foot snakes in the American Gothic House!  Or like in Germany, trying to learn “that awful German language” and get Marcus to do the dishes!

Marcus and me in our favorite Munich Biergarten.

I consider my book launch to be good timing, not just for Oktoberfest, but for its feminist bent, because throughout it I am striving for equality in my marriage. So in that vein, I also hope this book serves as a message to women that they matter, their well being matters, that it can be unhealthy to sacrifice too much for another person, and that no matter how much you love someone and want to spend your life with them, you have to still be true to who YOU are and honor your own needs.

Hausfrau Honeymoon is as much a travel memoir as it is a love story — a modern-day fairy tale that’s striving for the happily ever after. I hope you like it.

Oh, and I hope you’ll buy it too.

It’s available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and from your local bookstore and library. If they don’t have it, ask them to order it! If you want me to do a reading or event, or have me Skype with your book club, or whatever, just get in touch. And if you want a signed book plate to put inside your copy, email me and I’ll send you one.

Now go have a beer (er, Bier) and a pretzel and enjoy it with my book.

Thanks, everyone!!


My Next Book, HAUSFRAU HONEYMOON, is Coming Soon

In June, after logging several months of marathon hours at my computer, I finished my manuscript for my American Gothic House memoir. (It really was like running a marathon!) I submitted it to a big-five publisher who had asked to see it, which in itself was a kind of thrill. Once I hit the send button I looked around my office and asked myself, “Now what?”

I had read a few articles by other writers about what to do during the submission process, a period of waiting that can take several months. The answer was “Start your next book.”

What? No! I was still tired from crossing the 350-page finish line and couldn’t fathom starting that long journey again, and certainly not so soon. But then I remembered that I already have another book — one that’s already written!

Hello, Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures.

I wrote this memoir 12 years ago, when Marcus and I were first married and living in Germany. Writing the book was my way of coping with the difficulties of adjusting, both to a new culture and to marriage. I still don’t know which was harder! I had to learn the language. I had to learn new customs and rules. So. Many. Rules. I had to learn how to balance my previously independent life with supporting my husband in his career, as he was on track for a promotion. After he got his Golden Ticket, we would be free to choose another place to live where we could both be happy. So I thought. Instead, I signed up for more German classes, and the misadventures continued.

I printed out my old manuscript and read it again after not having looked at it for 10 years. I had fun turning the pages, laughing a little, wincing a little, crying a little, as I relived the experiences, the excitement, the frustrations, the determination, the love. It made me miss Marcus. It made me remember why I loved him. It even made me want to go back to Germany! (But just to visit.)

Given that I dusted this off to fill the time during the submission process, the thought of submitting this to a publisher only to endure another waiting period did not appeal to me. Which is why I decided to self-publish Hausfrau Honeymoon.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1.  You will love having creative control.
I get to choose my own cover, choose my own interior font, decide on the styles for chapter headings and section breaks. I even get to choose the paper and the book’s dimensions. I get to own the whole look and feel. This is important to me because a book is more than just the words. This book in its entirely represents me and my personal story. If you have a traditional publisher, you have to be really famous or a NYT-bestselling author to have any say in the creative process, and even then you have to have it spelled out in your contract. And even then you may have to fight for creative control.

2.  The learning process is laborious but fun and fascinating.
I’ve spent hours and hours reading articles about self-publishing: the dos, the don’ts, the pros, the cons, the timelines, the checklists, the most common mistakes to avoid, which indie publishing companies to use, and more. There’s a lot of information out there, and thanks to the Internet most of it is free. I highly recommend Jane Friedman’s blog. (Her blog links to many other great resources.) If Hausfrau Honeymoon succeeds as a self-published title, I will have Jane to thank. (That said, I’m not even sure how I would define “succeeds.” Selling 10,000? 100,000? Holding just one printed copy in my hand will be enough!)

3.  You can’t do this alone.  
Having already been through the publishing process the traditional way twice, I understand and appreciate just how much work goes into getting a book into print. Publishing houses have teams of people for each stage of a book: the editor, copy editor, proofreader, sales and marketing, designers, distributors, publicists, etc. When you self-publish, you will need each of these, and while you may have the superhuman powers to do all of these jobs yourself, you will want to hire some outside help. So far I’ve been working with a book designer and a copy editor — and a slew of writer friends who are giving me feedback, guidance, and support.

4.  Amazon isn’t the only place to self-publish.
Where and how do you get your book out there? Again, I have Jane Friedman to thank for her advice.  She suggests publishing on two platforms. One is Amazon, which covers all sales for Kindle ebooks and all print sales on Amazon only. Amazon is a closed system, much the way Apple’s Mac and iPhones talk to each other but not to PCs or Androids, so you need to have a second supplier to cover book sales to the rest of the non-Amazon world. (Yes, a world beyond Amazon still exists!) Jane recommends IngramSpark to make your ebook available on Nook, Kobo, iBook, and all the other versions of ebook reader devices — also so your print book can be distributed to book stores and libraries. (As you can imagine, Amazon would rather you didn’t buy your books from other stores.) So I am using both Amazon and IngramSpark to give my book a bigger life — and give you, the reader, broader access ensuring you will be able to find it in the vast and growing sea of indie titles.

5.  You can save trees.
In traditional publishing, thousands of books are printed at once. When self-publishing, if you have the funds, the fan base, what have you, you can choose this option. Or you can have books printed on demand (POD). I like the idea of POD, creating books only on an as-needed basis. That means less paper wasted (more trees saved!) and no need for a warehouse or a garage (or in my case here on the farm, a grain bin) for storing books that may or may not ever get sold. I remember seeing a bookstore in New York City where they had a POD printer right in the store. I’d like to think we will see more of an in-store POD business model in the future — and that there will still be bookstores to accommodate this!

6.  You will be terrified. (I am anyway!)
The one thing I did not expect in this exciting, entrepreneurial endeavor is how terrified I would be to put my work out there. I have never been this scared to expose myself! By self-publishing I don’t have an agent or publishing company to blame if my book doesn’t sell, and I don’t have them to hide behind when the criticism comes pouring in. And it will.

Hausfrau Honeymoon isn’t exactly a love letter to Germany. This book likely won’t be well received by Germans at all. They might not even let me back into their country! Out of the 10 readers I’ve had, half of them loved it. The other half have given me notes that start off with “I don’t want to offend you, but…” before launching into their one- or two-star reviews. But it’s my story, my own personal and unique experience, my own perspective, and in spite of knowing the risks, I still have a desire to share it. Because… to quote Sean Thomas Dougherty’s poem: “Because right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”

When I tried to get Hausfrau Honeymoon published right after I wrote it 12 years ago, publishers said, “If it were about France or Italy, we would buy it. But Germany isn’t romantic enough.” I know! That is EXACTLY the point of my story! In fact, the title could have been Why Couldn’t I have Fallen in Love with a Frenchman or an Italian?

Germany may not be “romantic enough,” but my book is full of romance. And though it may not make you want to move to Germany, you will learn a lot about the country, both the good and the frustrating parts. Hopefully the story will make you want to at least visit. As I said above, even after reliving the hard stuff, it had that effect on me. And if the ultimate outcome of my marriage to Marcus is already known to readers, I hope the story will still resonate as it is ultimately a love story about two people and their dogged determination to merge their disparate lives. Love may not conquer all, but there is nobility in the effort. I’d like to think that is worth something — at least the $14.99 cover price.

Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and Other Misadventures will be launched into the world on October 1st.  Pre-order for Kindle now.  Print and other ebook formats ordering info coming soon.

Related Posts:

The Book That Doesn’t Want to be Born Yet

The Birthing Process of a Book

World Piece: Aachen, Germany

Two months ago today I was in Aachen, Germany. Two months ago today was the six-year anniversary of Marcus’s death. I was in the town of his cousin, Claudia, staying in her home with her husband Edgar and 2 of their 3 kids. I borrowed Claudia’s bicycle and spent August 19 alone, riding on the old railway line-turned long-distance bike path. A sunny but cool summer day, I rode several hours, crisscrossing the Beligium-Germany border as I pedaled along the meandering path. I rode to the town of Monschau where I stopped for an indulgent lunch of spaghetti carbonara, insalata caprese, and a cappuccino. Marcus would have liked that.

I ate in the courtyard of the town square, surrounded by Germany’s signature timber-frame “Fachwerk” buildings. He would have liked that I remembered the word “Fachwerk.”

You have seen this style of architecture, but you may not have
known the word for it is “Fachwerk.” 

Be fearless — like a lion.
Inside the Aachen Cathedral

He would have liked that Claudia and I went to the Aachen Cathedral the day before and lit candles for him, admiring the mosaic ceiling with the symbol of the lion, the symbol of courage. He would have liked that I went to the thermal baths in Roetgen where I floated for hours in the warm saltwater pool and sweated in the different saunas and steam rooms there. He would have liked that Claudia and her sister Martina and I drank champagne the night of the 19th. We made a silent toast, but you could hear the collective unspoken words in the clink of the glasses: “To Marcus. Who left us way too soon. The world is a dimmer place without you in it, but here we are, carrying on. Here’s to you, our beloved man.”

Me and Claudia…lighting candles for Marcus

He would have liked that I treated Claudia and the family to lunch a few days earlier at Vaipiano, our favorite place when they opened their first location in Frankfurt and the last place we ate together in Stuttgart.

He would have liked that I used his frequent flyer miles to travel around the world in the first place, to make pie, to spread a message of peace and love and community building. He would have liked that my last stop was Germany, that I was channeling lion-like fearlessness and immersing myself in his country, spending time with his family, teaching his cousins and their kids how to make apple pie, looking through our old photos of our wedding and the other German family gatherings. He would have liked that we were there because of him — and to know how deeply he was missed.

“The Cousins” as we call them. Making pie in Aachen.
It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday together.
Family photo. And what a beautiful family it is.
I’m so happy I can still be part of it.

When I set off on my World Piece journey, I was determined to dive headfirst into my fears, to go to Germany, teach a pie class in the Black Forest village where we got married, make pie in Stuttgart where we lived, stay with his cousins in Aachen, and last but not least, visit his grave. But I realized that most of those things were too ambitious for a barely healed heart. “Don’t open the wound,” friends cautioned. So my modified version of this — the way the trip actually unfolded — is that I went to the Black Forest, but I stayed in a cabin a few valleys away from where we got married. I did teach pie classes in the Black Forest, but to the kids of our friends instead of the people from our wedding, embracing a new generation, acknowledging the circle of life. I did visit the cousins in Aachen, but I skipped Stuttgart and I did not go to the grave. I have no regrets about taking those last two off the list. As I have always believed, Marcus is not at that grave. He is in the stars, he is in the candlelight inside the church, he is in the sun and wind on the bike path, he is in the beauty of the Fachwerk village, he is in the flavor of the carbonara and the froth of the cappuccino, the bubbles of the champagne, he is in the heat and saltwater of the spa. He is in my heart, all our hearts.

Belgian-style pie in Aachen. Does it get any better than this?

A fine place to eat a place of pasta…
Coffee and Cake (or pie) — my 2 favorite German words

I could have ended my trip after Aachen. It felt like my journey was complete after that. I thought my mission was about pie. But I was wrong. It was about Marcus, about getting closure. It was about going to the place that still held so many memories, the place I hadn’t been since his funeral six years ago. It was about realizing how far I have come since he died, how much he taught me, how much he has supported me even after his death, how the connections to the friends and family we loved together have endured the time and distance and loss, how he is still remembered and admired by those friends and family even after he is gone.

In short, my time in Germany did not open the wound. Instead it was a salve, a true healing potion. I will always carry a scar of losing Marcus, but it’s the scars that make us who we are. The scars are reminders of how fully, how courageously we have lived. You’d be hard pressed to find a lion without scars.

After Germany I went to Budapest — that story will be my next post — before flying back to Los Angeles where I was reunited with my parents. And finally, on September 1, I flew back to Iowa to be reunited with my dog, Jack.

Jack had been staying all summer on the farm of my friend Doug — or at “Camp Doug” as it has now beed dubbed after I started telling everyone my dog was at “summer camp.” And now for the big plot twist in the story. Instead of picking up the dog and moving on, I have stayed. I have come to a rest in the tranquility of the Iowa countryside, living in a farmhouse—with the farmer who owns it. My life has taken a big turn, my heart has opened back up, and I’m spending my days—and nights—with Doug. I could not have guessed two months ago, while riding Claudia’s bike through the German countryside, that my World Piece trip—and my tribute to Marcus—was really just the process of making room for this new beginning. I think Marcus would like that.

World Piece: Germany’s Black Forest

I had had talks with several friends over the course of my travels about Marcus, about how I was going to teach a pie class in the Black Forest village of Alpirsbach where we got married (in 2003). I was going to stay at the same hotel where we had our reception and spent our wedding night. I was going to light a candle in the church where we had our ceremony. But the conversations cast a darker shadow onto this plan. “You don’t need to open up the wound,” friends cautioned me. It was true. I didn’t need that. I needed to move forward. And as much as this trip was about revisiting my past, it was about letting go of it to make room for a future. (You didn’t really think this trip was all about pie, did you?)

My Europe leg was the last and the longest—a full month instead of the 10-day increments I had been doing—and yet I had not committed to any specific places or dates for it. It was a lesson in staying open. Had I not been so flexible I might have missed out on one of the highlights of my journey: four days in the Black Forest.

Left to right: Me, Marc, Bibiana, and Marcus in 2004
So yeah, I did go to the Black Forest, but not to Alpirsbach. A last minute invitation steered me to my friends’ cabin a few mountains and valleys away. So instead of indulging in memories of what was lost I chose the path to something new. And that choice led to what were some of the most fun, most joyful, most magical pie-filled days of my entire three-month journey.

I met up with Bibiana and Marc (and their 2 kids) and our mutual friend Silke (and her 2 kids) at Marc’s family’s cabin to join their short holiday. They were all friends of Marcus and mine when we lived in Stuttgart. I hadn’t seen Bibiana and Marc since 2005, when they moved to Berlin. I hadn’t seen Silke since 2009, at Marcus’s funeral.

(NOTE: This would have been a better blog post if the internet hadn’t crashed in the middle of writing it. So from here you get the abbreviated version so I can move on to the next updates. I am already 2 months behind.)

We quickly settled into a routine: pick wild blueberries before breakfast. Gather enough for both eating and for making pie. Hike down the creek every afternoon, bushwhacking through the branches and climbing over the rocks in the freezing cold water to get to the lake below for a swim. Come back to the cabin and drink Tannen Zapfle, a local Black Forest beer, which happened to be Marcus’s favorite. Teach a pie class to the kids–yes, every day we had a pie class. Besides the blueberry, we made peach, banana cream, and apple. Make dinner and serve it at the big outdoor table, and eat pie for dessert. Light candles and watch the stars. We even timed it perfectly for one of the year’s biggest meteor showers. Sleep in the loft like we were Goldie Locks and the bears. Laugh, talk, reminisce, tease, explore, read, brush teeth. Wake up and repeat.

Instead of feeling sad in the place where I had so many memories of my late husband, I made new ones. Happy ones. With a new generation. And those young kids added so much joy. Their wonder, exuberance, innocence add up to the promise of a bright future, of making the world a better place. To be around them in this enchanted forest of a setting was a surprising and huge help in moving forward, in honoring my past but also letting go of it.  I had such a great time I wish the stay had been longer. I am already reserving my bed in the loft for next summer.

Next post:  Germany continued….On to Aachen

Blueberry Boot Camp

Like bears foraging in the forest

Rinsing our berries in the outdoor fountain

Ace pie maker. Bibiana & Marc’s daughter Kim, age 10

Papa Bear (Marc). He’s been coming to this cabin
since he was his own kids’ age.

Best pie classroom ever.
Me, Silke and Bibiana….After eating blueberry pie

Kim learns to make a lattice top

This melts my heart. Kim & her brother Luc made welcome signs
for Silke & her kids’ arrival. What better way to say welcome than
with a warm blueberry pie — made from hand-picked wild blueberries!
Talk about good for the soul….

Silke’s girls got creative during the apple peeling session

If you’re ever in the Black Forest, you have to try this beer!

Did I mention we were staying in a cabin?  

This is the cabin….in a private forest. What a rare treat this is in Germany.
Instead of lighting candles at the Black Forest church where Marcus
and I got married, we lit them at the cabin in the forest.
Which was even better. Way better.

What I Love About Germany: Kaffee und Kuchen

There aren’t a lot of things I love about Germany, but there is one thing that I do enjoy. It’s the afternoon tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen. Around 3:00 PM all business stops and people gather around a table for a slice of cake (or pie!), a cup of coffee, and conversation. I was able to participate in the high-caloric relaxing ritual this past Sunday in Stuttgart when I was visiting my friend Foong (I know Foong from an intensive German class I took four years ago).

Now remember, this is Germany and NOTHING — except for gas stations — is open on Sundays. Gas stations and bakeries, that is. The bakeries are allowed to be open for a few hours on Sundays, but this is only after successfully arguing that since the gas stations were selling fresh bread on Sunday mornings bakeries were losing their Saturday business.

So on Sunday, after arriving at Foong’s, we jumped in the car and drove to the neighborhood Konditorei before it closed at three.

Arriving at Rosenstoeckle, we saw cars coming and going, and a line of customers that stretched out the door. This gave me plenty of time to inspect the assortment of tarts and cakes filled with creamy layers and luscious fruits. I was so taken by the colors and textures, imagining each of the delicious flavors on my tongue, I told Foong I wanted take a picture.

“You should ask first,” warned Foong. Yes, she was right. I had been reprimanded many times during the three years I lived in Germany for (inadvertently) doing something wrong – like not laying my wine bottles down on the conveyor belt in the grocery store or bringing my wedding dress to the dry cleaners with Champagne stains – so I knew asking was the right thing to do in order to avoid the predictable public humiliation.

Darf ich ein Foto machen?” I asked the woman behind the counter. To subdue her shock (or was it horror?), I explained that everything looked so delicious, especially to an American. To my great relief, her face relaxed and then she turned toward me holding two plates of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, known in English as Black Forest Cake. I had meant that I wanted to take a picture of the bakery display, but to see her standing there offering such a generous smile, posing with the plates, I snapped the shot and smiled back.

We took our four pieces of cake home – though what we chose was more pie than cake (rhubarb, apple, and plum each nestled in a bed of vanilla custard) – and devoured them around Foong’s dining room table. Her husband Karl and son Oscar joined us, and we chatted about their upcoming travels to Asia, Oscar’s school, and Obama’s win as the cold rain fell outside. As we laughed and ate and finished our coffee I relaxed, reminded that there’s something good in everybody and in every place. And that includes Germany.

A Mother-Daughter Pie Lesson in Germany

What else does one do when in Germany but teach their hosts how to make American apple pie? As Stuttgart, Germany was where my month in Europe began and ended — due to the non-stop Delta flight I booked round-trip to Atlanta — I found myself making a promise when I first arrived at my friend Julia’s house in mid-October and fulfilling that promise before departing in mid-November. If it hadn’t been for that apple tree beckoning with its ripe fruit right outside the kitchen window the topic might not have come up. Then again, I know there’s no avoiding the pie subject. Julia had come to my first pie-baking party in Portland, Oregon more than one year earlier when we were both living there. (She got a big promotion and transferred back to Daimler headquarters, while my husband got transferred to the hinterlands of high-altitude Mexico.) Julia was determined that I give her a refresher course. (Which, by the way, was a completely fair exchange for the beautiful guest room she was letting me stay in.) Her mother was equally determined. Like mother, like daughter, as they say.
All business: Julia approaches her apple peeling the way she does her job a Mercedes Benz — fast and efficient.

Many hands make little work, or Viele Hände machen bald ein Ende, as they say in Germany.

Frau Beck knows what she’s doing. She’s clearly made a number of Apfel Kuchens in her day!

Apples — and the pies they end up in — know no cultural boundaries. Whether Germany or the USA or some other country, apple pie is always delicious, the deliverer of happiness, and something that brings people together — and this one was no exception. Neither do apples and pie care about age differences. Not only two countries, but two generations came together to create something so sweet and satisfying, so delicate and mouth-watering.
Frau Beck and Frau Beck Jr. earned an A-plus in teamwork and final outcome of their mother-daughter pie. We ate the pie for dessert that night and had more for breakfast before I flew off. I look forward to hearing their stories next fall when the apples on their tree ripen again. And for all that I have complained about Germany (for which I apologize!), I hope I can return next November, stay in that beautiful guest room overlooking the autumn-colored hills of Stuttgart, and bake pie — be it American-style or some European recipe– with these gorgeous and generous German women.

A Month of Contrasts, A Month of Pie

(PHOTO: View out of my Monte-Carlo hotel room)

It is my last day in Europe after a five-week journey. I was in five countries, spoke five languages, spent money in four currencies, and baked eight pies. My travels started in Mexico and took me to Germany, Switzerland, England, Monaco, and back to Germany. It’s a fascinating thing to move between so many cultures, landscapes, and languages. During this month I have perused the halls of the Frankfurt Book Fair, hiked in the Swiss Alps, driven through The Cotswalds in England’s countryside, walked the length of Kings’ Road in Chelsea, and dined with Prince Albert (OK, so it was along with 300 other people) in Monaco. Tomorrow I return to Saltillo, Mexico.

(PHOTO: Close encouters with cows during a hike in the Swiss Emmental)

I feel very privileged to be able to live a life as rich and varied as this. “Varied,” however, may be the wrong word. “Schizophrenic” may be more like it. To underscore this, just yesterday I was working on the publicity for a conference in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Today I was baking apple pie in Stuttgart, Germany. Yesterday I was dressed in my pin-striped Armani suit. Today I wore my ratty jeans and running shoes. Yesterday I was elbow to elbow with high-ranking media executives. Today I was up to my elbows in pie dough with my friend Julia and her mother. Yesterday I was asked, “Voulez-vous aller à l’aéroport dans la Bentley ou la Masarati?” Today I was asking, “Haben Sie noch mehr Äpfel für den Pie?” Tomorrow I will be saying decidedly less interesting things like, “Tengo que lavar mi ropa.” (I have to do my laundry.)
(PHOTO: Looking toward the Battersea Bridge in London)

What continues to amaze me through all this international travel is the common language of pie. No matter what country, I would always find that people love pie. I discovered so many kinds of pie and pie-lovers this month – from the British palm reader who told me of the Stargazy Pie to the French CEO who reminisced about his grandmother’s Pear Tatin to the waiter in the Chelsea pub who recommended the Steak & Mushroom Pie over the Fish & Chips. No matter whether a pie was filled with fruit or fish, cheese or chocolate, people were always eager to share recipes, stories, bites, and a smile.

Though I have no idea where the journey will take me next, clearly, I will continue to find pie. Or, as is more often the case, pie will find me.