Mary: Before we move on to the auction, please tell us a bit about Anna. Where did you grow up, when you’re not assisting with the auction, what do you do?
Anna: First, thank you for having me! I grew up in San Francisco, but moved to Sacramento shortly after high school. Unlike most people who make that move, I don't miss the city at all. I go back occasionally with friends, but I really love the Sacramento.
When I'm not working on the auction (which during this time of the year, isn't often), I'm an aspiring writer. My main hobby for about ten years has been dollhouse miniatures. I'm also an avid movie and TV junkie, voracious reader, and collect dolls. Oh, and I'm addicted to the Food Network. There's never any bad news on that channel.
Mary: I met you when I first donated something to Brenda Novak’s Diabetes’s Auction. How did you meet Brenda? Please tell us how you became involved with her auction. Do you assist with other things, or only the auction?
Anna: I've known Brenda for about ten years--she was one of the first people I met when I joined the Sacramento Chapter of RWA. We were casual acquaintances until a few years ago when, after serving my first term as chapter president, Brenda asked if I'd be interested in working as her assistant. Of course I jumped at the chance...the best of both worlds. That was about four years ago. My main job is maintaining the auction site (contacting donors, listing donations, coding all the information, etc), but I also assist her in some of the "busy work" of writing (entering contests, mailings, etc). As I heard another author's assistant call herself, I'm a "gal Friday". Whatever she needs me to do. It's truly
the best job I could have ever hoped for--I'm working in the industry I'm hoping to break into and helping to raise money for a cause. Plus, Brenda understands I'm striving for publication, so she lets me set my own hours, which gives me writing time. Doesn't get much better than that.
Mary: How long does it take to set up each yearly auction? Do you solicit donations, or is it so well known that people come to you?
Anna: In the last year or so, the auction has become a year-round task, but the first six months of the year is our super busy time, with June being what I call "hell month". That's when we're contacting all the donors to let them know where to send things and how to contact their winners.
We start gathering items officially in January although we are always on the lookout for new offerings. We have an extensive list of our previous donors, but when it comes to raising money for research, that list can never be too long. Every dollar we raise brings us that much closer to a cure for this disease which affects millions of people, including some in my own family. Fortunately, some come to us as well, and a lot of times that opens up new venues. So yes, we definitely solicit donations. Constantly.
Anyone need a refill? Let’s take a stretch break grab some more appetizers and settle back.
Mary: All set, everyone? Anna, how can someone help raise money for Brenda’s Auction?
Anna: In so many ways! We eagerly welcome items we can auction off online between May 1st and May 31st. We'll accept pretty much anything and everything, given it's all brand new. We've had people donate autographed books, gift baskets, designer purses, and some have donated stays in their time shares or vacation properties. This year, I've seen a recent influx of hand-crafted items--photographs, knitted scarves and hats, jewelry...the list goes on and on. We have items geared toward writers, readers, for everyone. We try to offer a wide selection to appeal to the biggest shopper base.
Some donors really get involved by hosting their own categories. Dianna Love (along with Sherrilyn Kenyon and Mary Buckham) was one of the first to do this, and now we have a whole list of captains who help us fill up our auction, including literary agent Kristen Nelson, NYTimes Bestselling author Cherry Adair, and Bestselling author Anna DeStefano (who offers a selection of COACH purses every year). And that's only a few!
Of course we're always thrilled to receive cash donations, but people don't have to actually donate money or items to make a difference--getting the word out about the auction through social media sites like Facebook (@Brenda Novak Online Auction for Diabetes) or Twitter (@bnovakauction and the hashtag is #bnda) is a huge help! The more word spreads about the auction, the more people we hope to entice to either donate or drop by and maybe even register as a shopper. There's no obligation to bid, but once you see all the fabulous stuff we have up for auction, I dare anyone not to! Every year there are some amazing deals to be found.
Oh, and we also have flyers people can print out and post at their local Starbucks or favorite bookstores (brendanovak.com/auction). There are also widgets and banners for people to post on their websites. We try to make advertising the auction as easy as possible.
Mary: Anna, you may have answered this already, but do you write? If so, what genre? Where can we find you? Do you have a web site or blog? Yes, I know 20 questions in one!
Anna: I do write and chose the name A.J. Stewart. My mom had always hoped my nickname would be AJ, so I thought it was a natural choice. Although I'm not published yet, I write paranormal romance, but I also have interest in writing romantic suspense. I recently launched my website www.AJStewart.net. I'd love for people to stop by and maybe even "friend" me on Facebook. An author can never have too many friends!
As far as a blog, my critique partners and I are actually in the process of creating one. Each of us will have our own topic--from historical research to what's going on in the industry, to keeping inspired. My focus will be on pop culture, mainly movies and television (I have to put my useless font of knowledge to work somewhere!). I'll have a link posted on my website once it goes live.
Mary: Now let’s get down to some good stuff. Do you like to travel? Where in the world would you like to go, and why?
Anna: I do like to travel...once I get there. I'm a terrible flyer and that seems to be getting worse as I get older. I've been fortunate enough to travel pretty extensively as my grandmother, who helped raise me, was an avid traveler. I've been to England, Scotland (land of my ancestors), Ireland, and Wales. I've also been to the Middle East--Turkey, Egypt and Israel (in the mid 80's--well before so many beautiful places were destroyed), but my favorite place on earth (so far) has to be Greece. I was only 15 at the time but to this day, Santorini is by far the most gorgeous place I've ever seen. A close second is the Highlands in Scotland and the Isle of Skye. I've also been to Hawaii a number of times and a few years ago I hit Alaska. And I can never go to Disneyland enough. I go at least every other year. It's funny--I think I've been more places outside the US than inside. I should think about fixing that.
I have yet to take my dream trip...Australia and New Zealand. Someday. After I sell a couple of books.
Mary: If any of us were to visit your neck of the woods, do you have a favorite restaurant you’d recommend? Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share with us?
Anna: My friends and I do a lot of restaurant exploring here in Sacramento. Depending on what you're looking for, I'd suggest the following: For Italian, Michaelangelo's on I Street (nice little hole in the wall with fabulous risotto); The best Thai food in Sac is at A Taste of Thai on Broadway. For burgers? Hands down, GATSBY's on Alta Arden (they were recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri).
As far as recipes, I have one that I share a lot and it's my go to favorite for holiday gifts. It's a 5-minute rocky road fudge. Seriously, 5 minutes. All you need is a package of melting chocolate (like almond bark or KandiQuik--it's usually in the baking aisle), 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of peanuts and 1 bag of mini marshmallows. Melt the chocolate and peanut butter in the microwave according to package directions, stir in peanuts, stir in marshmallows, then spread over a parchment paper lined baking sheet (cookie sheet is good for thin fudge, brownie pan for thicker). Stick it in the fridge for about a 1/2 hour, cut and serve. So easy and SO yummy! Plus it freezes great--like it ever makes it that far.
Mary: I think I gained ten pounds just reading that recipe, but I can't wait to try it! Maybe for Easter. Is there anything you’d like to share with us, that I haven’t asked?
Anna: I think you've covered just about everything. Thank you again for asking me to do this. This was my first blog...what a fun place to start. And thank you for your donations (this year and in the past) to Brenda's auction. Every donor, every dollar, brings us that much closer to a cure. Cheers!
Thank you, Anna, for joining us today. I’ve had a blast getting to know you better.
Just an FYI everyone, I have donated a Classic Movie Basket for Brenda's auction. Check it out here.
4 DVD’s Classic Movies starring Cary Grant:
TO CATCH A THIEF
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (50th Anniversary Edition)
ARSENIC & OLD LACE
and some yummy treats for movie watching, including popcorn, licorice, Hot Tamales, Boston Baked Beans, and Junior Mints.