Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Greetings from Oregon

I'm on vacation in Oregon at the moment…as I said before, don't bother trying to burglarize my house—it's very difficult to get past two stories of neighbors and two deadbolts. This morning marks the start of day three, and because tomorrow we're off to see the redwoods and visit some friends-of-manfriend, today we have very little scheduled. Ahhhh.

Day one was relaxed, a short hike in Cascadia Park with my mom-in-law (PNW, I love your spongy trails and mossy trees) and a visit down the road to see my dad-in-law and stepmom-in-law, where we were plied with much authentic Mexican food (and watched my stepmom-in-law make tamales we weren't yet allowed to eat). Also got visited by a very fat baby, my…um…step-nephew-in-law? The nomenclature in these blended families is complicated.

Yesterday, day two, was a trip to the coast. Coffee, rainy roadtrip eventually turning sunny, a treacherous-but-totally-worth-it walk down a craggy jetty where this bird-nerd spotted some common murres and red-necked phalaropes. Excellent, though I'd been hoping for some guillemots as well. We had lunch at the Rogue brewhouse—very ambitiously sized burgers and some good beer. Then more driving and beach nosing-around, then dinner with the in-laws in Corvallis. Afterward we stopped at a Borders and I made it a point to check out the Harlequin end-caps in the romance section. My mom-in-law got all excited when I showed her the Blaze section where my books will be living in April. And yeah, I got excited too.

That's about it for now—I'm hoping to get some writing done after we finish watching this episode of James May's Toy Stories. And did everybody solve the Sunday Puzzle yet? Shouldn't be too tough for my fellow book nerds. Enjoy your Tuesdays!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Recipe: Lazy Lasagna

Photo yoinked from Best Recipe.
Another cheap and easy recipe, name courtesy of my friend Colene's mom. I make this casserole every couple of weeks and it serves me and the manfriend for three generous meals apiece, at only about $2.50 a pop. You'll need:

1 lb. ground beef (grass fed, I beg you) or ground buffalo
red pepper flakes
24 oz. (1½ bags) whole wheat penne, ziti, rigatoni, etc., whatever casserole-friendly pasta you like
2 jars pasta sauce (I like Trader Joe's tomato basil marinara)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Makes 6–8 servings.

This recipe works great split between two casserole dishes—one for now, one to freeze for an easy dinner at a later date. I use two different-sized dishes, but two 9"x9" dishes or one very large lasagna dish will work just as well.

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Brown beef in a sauce pan and drain excess fat. Season with red pepper flakes and salt.

3. Parboil pasta—it will soften the rest of the way as it bakes.

4. Mix beef, pasta, and sauce together. Dole half of it into the dishes.

5. Add ricotta one spoonful at a time, spacing blobs of it on top of the pasta / sauce / beef mix in each dish.

6. Dole the rest of the beef / pasta / sauce mix into dishes, covering the ricotta.

7. Add a layer of mozzarella to each dish. Cover each with foil, putting one in the freezer for later.

8. Bake for about 35 minutes with foil on (if cooking the second dish straight from the freezer without thawing, it will take far longer.) Remove foil and bake until cheese browns, about 15–20 minutes.

9. Om nom nom.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Take the word "bookman." Change one letter and rearrange the others to name a famous writer. Who is it?

If you'd like to see the original puzzle posting, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer, click here. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mike Myers presents…

No, not that Mike Myers, and not the one in the hockey mask. This Mike Myers is far more illustrious than those nobodys. To start with, he's the only member of my regional RWA chapter with boy parts. Oh and incidentally, single ladies, Mike [along with his boy parts, I can only assume] is available! Please inquire within.

I edit my chapter's newsletter, and Mike recently offered to write a monthly column on the topic of the yet-to-published writer's journey, as told by someone currently mired in its gnarly undergrowth. I gratefully accepted the article and wasted no time in strong-arming him [note to the aforementioned single ladies: he put up very little resistance] into letting me serialize his ongoing experiences here on the Super Lucky #1 Fun Blog as well. So without further ado, I'll turn it over to Mike.

I received flak at a recent NEC-RWA meeting for using a childbirth analogy to discuss writing my first book. The premise being that much the same as nature smooths out the vivid edges of just how painful, stressful and frightening giving birth to a first child can be, most writers don’t accurately remember how helpless and riddled with self doubt they were before they finished their first manuscript. Of course they remember the events along the way, and that much of it was unpleasant, but those are memories viewed through the filter of time and the distraction of holding their baby (or manuscript) in their arms.

That I’m obviously not an expert on either subject (I have yet to finish a manuscript and my baby making parts are of the male variety) played a small part in any backlash, but the larger issue voiced was how no one is immune to writing’s ability to humble and terrify. We’re in agreement on that, and it’s not my intention to belittle anyone else’s struggles. My point was that, regardless of what emotions a published writer goes through, the wannabe doesn’t have that “I did it once, I can do it again” mental safety net. Published writers have their own level of hell to face that’s neither better nor worse than the one inhabited by the newbie writer, but it is different.

Hopefully, beyond serving as a trip down Nostalgia Lane for those who have already traveled this path, this exercise can serve as a hand holding step-by-step journey down one writer’s pursuit to finish his first manuscript. I’m guessing the same doubts, questions and fears I face will be familiar to you.

For some background on my journey thus far we go in the way-back machine to January of 2005, when I decided to pursue my dream. I devoured books on writing and joined several online discussion groups. Later that summer, I attended my first writing conference. Since then I’ve read countless how-to books, attended more than fifteen writing conferences from Kingston, RI, to Salt Lake City, UT, to San Francisco, CA. I’ve had 3 a.m. drinks with NY Times bestselling authors, talked books with Stephen King, crashed publisher parties to sit beside Nora Roberts, switched genres from horror to romance, made some of the best friends anyone could ask for, and I talked.

Ah yes, the sign of the true procrastinator. We can talk the talk like nobody’s business. I’ve talked my way through pitches with publishers and agents, getting requests my friends would kill for. I’ve talked my way through an entire book, talking so much that by the time it was all plotted I was so sick of it I moved on to another book without ever writing the first.

I talked so much that soon my friends and family couldn’t ask “How’s that book coming?” without an accompanying eye roll. It happened so often I started checking the ceiling to try and find what everyone kept looking at. I fully admit that I’m a borderline idiot, but eventually even I realized what was happening. My friends and family had lost all faith that I’d ever do more than just “talk” about the book. That was okay because I had no faith in myself. Zero. Nada. And why? Was it because I couldn’t write? I’d like to think not. In five years I was able to produce a handful of chapters I’m proud of.

Okay, maybe the issue was that my story ideas sucked eggs. I’d like to think that wasn’t the case. Agents and publishers have appeared enthusiastic with my pitches, commenting on the mix of conflict and humor in my plot. My published friends get frustrated because they want to read my story, if I’d only write it.

So what’s the problem? I’m lazy. I have zero willpower. I’m a procrastinator. I knew I’d never finish a book because I can always find something else requiring my attention—usually something superficial and therefore less painful. I had zero hope I could change, but kept talking, hoping something would shake me out of my rut and force a change.

That time for change has arrived.

It’s easy to not write. Maybe the kids need my attention, or that new television show I recorded needs to be watched. And there’s always the job, right? Yes, I know all the tricks. In the end I’m only using them for one reason—because I am afraid. I’m afraid I’m not good enough, that the finished book won’t be good enough, that if by some miracle the first book is a hit the second will flop and I’ll be proved a fraud.

The “I’ll start my book as soon as…” scenario is a slippery slope for us newbies. For me it started that first day with “All I need is the right book to get the basics down and then I’ll write my bestseller.” So off I went to the bookstore, returning with my armful of self-help books. Unfortunately, they were most helpful at giving me my first excuse to not write…yet.

Next I wasn’t inspired. Surely I couldn’t write my masterpiece if I was tired, or grouchy, or had a rumbly tummy. I’m sure Nora doesn’t work on a rumbly tummy, right? (Actually I think she does.) So I waited for Miss Muse to come settle on my shoulder, whisper in my ear and words would pour onto my screen as smoothly as hot butter over popcorn. That thought would start a popcorn craving so I’d head to the movies because everyone knows movie popcorn is the best. And if by the time I returned home I was too tired to write that was okay because there was always tomorrow.

That’s the biggie. There’s always a tomorrow to work on your book. The problem is, string too many tomorrows together and you’re left with countless yesterdays spent chasing pursuits less important to you than writing. How crazy is that?

A fair question would be whether this series of articles is my latest form of procrastination. To make sure that’s not the case, my writing mentors have me on a strict daily word count. Any time spent on this project will be above and beyond that total.

Now let’s get started. If I can do this, then so can you. I work fifty hours a week at the day job with a second job as well. I share joint custody of my eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, each with full social and sports calendars. Don’t tell me you’re not ready. I have no more insight or inspiration to start than any of you. Remember we’re both going into this together and if, as writers, we do our jobs we’ll both make it to our destination. I believe that.

From now on there’s no more talking unless there are words written to talk about. To paraphrase pieces of advice given by Nora Roberts as well as super friend Marie Force, it’s time to put our butts in the chair, our fingers on the keyboard and make the magic happen. No excuses. Are you with me?

I'm with you, Mike! Can't wait to have you back next month and hear how it's going. I must say, for a self-proclaimed newbie, you've certainly got plenty of experience under your belt. You're the yet-to-be-published-writer all aspiring yet-to-be-published-writers should be taking notes from. Also, everyone be sure to follow and harass Mike on Twitter @MikeMyersWriter. Then when he's the next big thing you can say, "I stalked him way back when…"

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do we need language to think?

A couple of weeks ago WNYC's outstanding Radio Lab program did a show roughly on this topic, called "Words", which I finally caught via the podcast today during my afternoon walk. I've always wondered this myself…if we didn't have language and words, how would thought work? When I form thoughts, such as, "What should I have for lunch?" am I really thinking those words, or is the thought just a flash of concepts, translated into words if I'm feeling especially aware of what's happening up in my brain folds at that moment? Thoughts feel, or perhaps sound, like strings of words in my head—sentences, whole or fragmented or interrupted, but recognizable as sentences. And according to the stories on the "Words" episode of Radio Lab, science seems to agree. The episode also talks about something that strikes fear in the hearts of myself and my fellow writers—what would happen if we lost our words? One segment of the show features a woman to whom that actually happens, thanks to a freak medical crisis. I won't spoil the details for you… Roughly though, it turns out that without language, we're all just rats in a white rectangular room with one blue wall, searching for biscuits. Yeah…you'll have to listen if you want that analogy to make sense. And I urge you to listen right here if you haven't heard it yet:

Also, check out the Radio Lab website for more info about his episode and tons of others, all fascinating, all available to stream or download for free. You can also subscribe to the Radio Lab podcast via iTunes.

Thrusty Thursday: Les Stroud

It's Thursday again! But whom to thrust against? Why not my back-up husband, foxy survival show host Les Stroud? Ooh, those tired eyes! That Canadian accent! That manful lack of hygeine! Your beard looks so achy, Les, bring it on over here and I'll give it a good massage.

Les Stroud is the man behind the vastly-superior-to-Man-vs-Wild reality show, Survivorman. I watched every single episode back when I was researching what would end up being my first Blaze book…though my hero and his program bear little resemblance to Survivorman. Les is way more bad-ass. He treks out into the wilderness for seven days at a time with no crew, and since he's alone (and already happily married), he doesn't wind up falling in love with his production assistant. Doesn't make for the most scintillating romance novel ever, but it's damn fine TV!

Now if you've never seen the show, here's the opening segment to the episode filmed in Papua New Guinea. If you skip to about the 4:15 mark you can watch Les attempting to gnaw through a small tree. Bonus for Netflix subscribers—all the seasons are available to stream on Instant Watcher. Les also has a brand new show, premiering tomorrow night on Discovery! Details here, preview here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recipe: Corn Chowder

No, this is not a repeat! How dare you! That other post was about corn soup. I like corn. Want to make something of it?

Image courtesy of Bon Appetit…but I swear,
my chowder looks very much like this.
It's a dreary day here in AvoidingRevisionsLandia, so I thought I'd share another unseasonable recipe, but a fine one for a rainy gray day like this. It's a bit labor intensive, but worth it if you dig corn as much as I do. You'll need:

½ stick butter
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic
2 red bell peppers
3 spicy sausages links (I like Trader Joe's Jalapeño chicken sausage)
½ gallon whole milk
7–8 cups (4 bags) frozen corn, thawed
much salt and pepper
optional: 2 large potatoes, cornstarch, red pepper flakes

1. Get a big old stew pot—this recipe makes a buttload of chowder. Turn heat to medium and melt butter. Finely chop onion and garlic, and less-finely chop peppers and sausages, and add them to the melted butter. Let all that simmer, stirring occasonally, while you do the next step.

2. I use a blender for this because I don't own a food processor (which may work better). Combine a cup or two of corn and a cup of milk in the blender (note to self: put the lid on, genius) and blend until you've got a nice paste. If the corn is still frozen, this can be annoying and laborious—you've been warned. Dump the paste into the pot (which now contains pure melted buttery liquid heart attack) and repeat this step until all of the milk and all but three cups of the corn are blended. Dump the last three cups of unblended corn into the pot and stir it all together.

3. Put the pot back on the burner on medium heat. If you like potatoes in your chowder, chop them (don't be a wuss, leave the skins on) into small chunks and dump them in the pot. They will probably add a good half hour to your cooking time.

4. Simmer and stir, add plenty of salt and pepper (and red pepper flakes, if you like) to taste. Without potatoes, this chowder will probably need to simmer on medium heat (stirring every couple minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot) for a half hour, until it's nice and hot. Closer to an hour with the potatoes—simmer until they're soft.

5. If you like your chowder extra thick, once it's hot and the optional potatoes are soft, sprinkle in a tablespoon of cornstarch, stir, and repeat every couple minutes until the viscosity's to your liking.

6. Om nom nom.

7. Freeze the leftovers—they reheat like a dream.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

iPad as Netbook

I promised on Twitter I'd post about this—my verdict after attempting to use my iPad as a travel writing computer. Well, I auditioned the set-up while I was in Maine last week, and I have results to share!

Let me say first, I used to have a netbook, purchased for this very use. I hated it for a few reasons: it didn't do much aside from word processing and internet browsing; it was Windows (I know, I'm a snob, but I'm a graphic designer and the vast majority of us are unapologetic Apple whores); it was slow when running off its battery; the keyboard was horrid. The keyboard was small even for my dinky fingers, and the keys themselves weren't where I ergonomically expect them to be. Suffice it to say, I couldn't get into a writing groove on that thing.

So earlier this year I told myself wistfully (wistful over the idea of both the iPad and the contract) "If I ever sell to Harlequin, I'm buying an iPad to celebrate." I hadn't expected to sell until the twelfth generation iPad was out, but trust me, that's not a complaint. So I got my Pad about a month ago, and it's soooo handsome. Best app so far—Boggle. But could I justify the purchase as more than a travel Boggle set and a very pretty celebration gift to myself? My hope had been that it could replace my netbook as my on-the-go writing device. Well, long fed up with the netbook, I'd already replaced it with a steno pad and a Bic, and figured the new shiny couldn't do much worse.

The iPad has a built-in digital keyboard, as you probably know. It pops up when you're doing something that requires you to type, and it's pretty nifty and an okay size for my girly hands…but it's just not natural to type on. You're typing, and because no keys actually depress when you hit them, it feels sort of odd and rough on the wrists. The keys are pretty much where I want them, unless I need special punctuation or numerals, which you access by tapping a button that brings up a second (and third if you need something really exotic) keyboard screen. But overall, it's okay—good for banging out an e-mail on the train. But luckily my husband had talked me into investing in a bluetooth keyboard before we left the Apple Store.

There are a number of different portable keyboards and I bought one of the Apple ones. The picture above shows the dock version, which you can mount your iPad right onto. I didn't want that—I like to work sitting on a couch with a big pillow on my lap, and that set-up would have tipped right over. Plus, you're stuck using the iPad in portrait mode only, and I like tilting it on its side in landscape mode, using its case as an easel to tilt the screen in my direction. So instead I got the bluetooth Apple keyboard that just sits on its own, and it is faaaantastic. The best thing about it, which won't be amazing news to everyone, is that it's nearly identical to the keyboard I type on in my office, minus the right-hand third—calculator-style numerals and some extra function keys. Thus, I don't need to retrain my fingers every time I sit down to write. That was the worst thing with the netbook—every time I hit a colon instead of a comma on its wonky little keyboard, it pulled me out of the story flow.

For a word processor, I bought the Pages app for ten bucks through iTunes. It plays nice with Word docs and has most of the features I want in a WP…the only things really missing for me are a comments tool and a wordcount tool, and fingers crossed those'll get added in a future update. With the external keyboard, typing and cutting and pasting is really quite breezy. It's not as quick as a desktop computer with a mouse, but it's highly tolerable. And after I got home and rerieved my edited document and opened it up in Word, the styling didn't look too much worse for wear after the Pages conversion.

Other random pluses for the iPad: doesn't get hot like a laptop, it's very transportable, it's a faboo e-reader, and the interface is all familiar to me from using my iPod Touch. Also, the battery lasts quite a while and charges reasonably quick. Oh also, because it doesn't get warm and hum soothingly like a laptop or netbook, your parents' sociopathic pet cockatiel won't try to sleep on it, then bite you when you attempt to remove him.

Okay, downsides to Padsy… Well, it's an Apple toy, so that means no Flash. Yet. That's annoying for small things, such as checking my Google Analytics each morning (Analytics's graphs and maps and some other interfaces are Flash-driven). And although the Pad is super pretty and shiny, that shininess can be annoying if you're trying to work in a sunny room. Plus you get finger smudges all over the glass screen…still, I maintain that buffing it and tilting it strategically to avoid glare is a small price to pay for how pretty it is. Another so-called downside people complain about with the Pad and the iPhone is their inability to run multiple apps at once. To me, this is a plus. Checking Twitter and e-mail demands that you close your document and make a concerted effort, and that keeps me from multitasking as much as I normally might, meaning I ultimately get more work done.

So that's my wrap-up. I'm leaving for a three-week vacation soon and I'll be doing plenty of writing and revising while I'm away, so if I have any new revelations or insights or tips, I'll come back and reprise my findings next month.

Monday, August 23, 2010

WIP crack!

So, did everybody solve the Sunday Puzzle from yesterday's post? I did! In bed, late at night, though after I got the answers I did have to check the periodic table to be sure—I was a bit rusty with elemental abbreviations. I spent a lot of time assuming one of the solutions was Ireland / Iceland, but wouldn't you know it, there's no element with the initial R. Wasted some smug hope on Nigeria / Algeria as well.*

Can you tell there's not much point to today's post? Can you tell I'm procrastinating? Today is one of just a couple I have left to put the polish on Caught on Camera before it goes off to line edits. My super-sharp Blaze editor Laura Barth's revision notes are great and I think the characters are more real now because of her insights. It's amazing the stuff you overlook when you're busy writing the damn story. You forget that although the book is like a vivid movie playing in your head and you know everything about your character's past and motivations, the reader has to like, be told about all the stuff. But don't infodump! That is a damn narrow tightrope to walk.

Anyhow, today goes like this: make a French press of coffee (Trader Joe's French Roast decaf, which I'm convinced isn't especially decaffeinated—seems to make me just as punchy as the hard stuff), sit down on the couch with Padsy and my little bluetooth keyboard and plug through the final day of a three-day screen-read, doing all my niggly little rewordings and making sure the revisions' seams don't show. At some point I slog through the rain to the post office to mail my pen pal in New Zealand his woefully overdue birthday cookies and mix CD. Then home for more self-editing. If my brain's relatively anxiety-free, it could be a relaxing day—rain pitter-pattering on the skylight above my head, endless cups of coffee, NPR droning softly from the kitchen. If the brain forecast is anxious with a chance of distraction, add to that a lot of tugging on my hair and the temptation to escape the drudgery by checking in on Twitter every five minutes. Actually, if you see me on Twitter today, yell at me. Use all caps.

Okay, time to work. Enjoy your Mondays!

*Addendum / retraction: without giving too much away, I jumped to a false conclusion in this paragraph.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

I'm thinking about making this a weekly feature—ripping off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.

I've been a riddle and word game enthusiast my entire life, and I look forward to the puzzle every week. Where else do spoonerisms come up with such delightful frequency?! I have to imagine many of the folks stumbling upon this blog are my fellow word-nerds. If you're one of them but you're not an NPR nerd as well (or if your Sunday mornings are dedicated to church or brunch or sleeping in) I want to get your priorities straightened out, and get you hooked. Starting today.

Mustachioed enigmatologist 
extraordinaire, Will Shortz 
Each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon if you want a chance to play on the air).

Without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From Sandy Weisz: Take a country whose name contains a symbol for a chemical element, and change it to a different chemical element to get another country. For example, if Aruba were an independent country, you could take the "AR," which is the chemical symbol for argon, and change it to "C," which is the chemical symbol for carbon, to come up with Cuba. There are two answers to this puzzle, and both must be found.

Awesome! I love you, Big Willy Shortz! I'm all over this like a rash.

Now, if you're a stickler like me, you won't cheat by consulting a map or the periodic table, at least not until after you're sure you've solved it.

If you'd like to see the original puzzle posting, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer, click here. And if you consider yourself a word-nerd but you've never seen Wordplay, click here, for the love of Shortz.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reset Button

I'm in Maine for a few days, hanging out with my kick-ass parents (and before you run off to burgle my house, it's only fair to tell you my husband's home). I come from a very calm and low-maintenance family, and going home for me just means a two-hour drive, some vigorous hugging, and a flurry of catching-up chit-chat over a) Gennessee or b) Reuinite. The rest of the time we're very laissez-faire. We have a few rituals, including the dinnertime viewing of an hour's worth of taped court TV shows, sometimes Jeopardy! if I nag loud enough.

Whoa, Rambles McNoPoint! Can you tell I'm in vacation mode? I did have a point, though, and it's about the value of the Reset Button. I've got a lot of things on my plate, leading up to an actual vacation (don't bother burgling my house then, either—it's a third story walk-up on a lively street with plenty of neighbors and locked doors. Plus we don't own anything. So not worth your trouble.) Some of the items on my to-do-before-vaca list are big—second revisions for my first Blaze book, Caught on Camera (COC—snicker snicker snicker) and a new proposal to submit [check]. Other items are small, such as my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin's blogging and promo obligations, finishing my RWA chapter's newsletter, calling to demand some explanations for the new monthly fee that's appeared on my checking account…

[Unrelated aside, my parents' sociopathic cockatiel is trying to burrow into the wedge-shaped cavern created by my folded-over iPad case as I type this.]

So all these deadlines, big and small, have been swirling around in my head for the past couple weeks, and it's put me in a state of scattered distraction, a state I do not thrive in. For the first time ever, I found myself putting off fairly simple edits because they seemed utterly daunting. My head was cluttered and I passed a whole week during which writing felt like pulling teeth, and I was starting to despair. Luckily I've been mired in plenty of similar funks before over the course of my moody thirty-one years, so I knew a change of scenery might snap me back into productivity mode. Hence the three days in Maine, virtually a no-charge, no-frills writers retreat for one. Just being in a different environment, away from my desk and my housewifely duties, I feel reset. I'm typing on a different bit of hardware, in a different room, drinking slightly different coffee, surrounded by different ambient noises (and a screeching, sociopathic cockatiel). I'm reading my manuscript on a different platform, so the words seem fresher than before, and the rewrites feel easy and insightful—and exciting! I feel like a TV that was on the fritz until someone gave me a good thump and all the static went away.

That's all I really wanted to say. No grand revelations, just wanted to share that I kicked the writing-day-job blues with a quickie trip. No fancy spa weekend required, and no time off required either, really. I'm working as hard here as I would be back in Boston, but it doesn't feel like a slog. It feels new again and pleasurable, thanks to a firm poke of the old reset button. Okay, back I go to put the polish on COC. Snicker snicker snicker.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: James May vs. Richard Hammond

It's Thrusty Thursday number two, and fittingly there are two candidates this week. I've been torn on this issue for a while now…

Who is the foxiest Top Gear presenter?

It's not Jeremy Clarkson, though he is tall and has the most manful voice. Jeremy's clearly the Top Gear alpha male—the silverback. Er, silver-fro. But when it comes to overall dreaminess it's definitely James May and Richard Hammond battling it out…but how to pick?

Let's examine them in turn. If you're a Top Gear fan, you'll know that Richard (left) leads in the style and hip-ness race, and though he's short, he's clearly the fittest of the three. Hammo also has that certain indefinable, Davy Jones-esque boyish charm thing going on, plus I'm a sucker for dark eyes.

James (right), on the other hand, is taller, a more adventurous dresser, and perhaps most importantly, he's a dork. You'd have to be, to earn nicknames like Captain Slow and Captain Maths. He's also the sort of man you just want to pat on the head… He's also single. Though one naturally wonders if there might not be a reason for that…

Perhaps this debate demands more evidence. Video evidence! Here's the conclusion of Top Gear's speedboat vs. classic Ferrari race along the Riviera:

Well dammit, I can't choose. Until scientists manage to meld them together into one über dreamboat (or a horribly disfigured mutant), I'll just have to continue to split my thrusty love between them both.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recipe: My Unbeatable Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Preheat oven to 325°.

Use a mixer or a strong hand with a fork in it to thoroughly blend:
2 sticks softened butter (definitely not margarine)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar

Then thoroughly stir in:
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or facsimile)
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
1 rounded tsp. baking soda

Then stir in by hand:
3 or 4 good quality dark chocolate bars chopped up with a cleaver into small chunks, about 14 oz. (personally I like using ¾ of a Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% dark chocolate bar, in the red wrapper)
2¾ cups white flour

Drop onto cookie sheet in cotton ball-sized blobs…I usually get about a dozen on a standard sheet. Bake for about 6–8 minutes, or until just golden brown. Remove from sheet once cool and store in an air-tight container. Any unused dough can be frozen for later, or used to bribe loved ones into demeaning themselves for your amusement.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Easy Lunch on the Cheap

If you're lucky enough to live close to a Trader Joe's, I've got a quick and easy, low-calorie lunch suggestion for you. Provided I have the three simple components stocked, I eat this for lunch every damn day:

1 box Trader Joe's Creamy Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
1 TJ's Spicy Jalapeño Chicken Sausage, chopped into tiny pieces
¾ cup TJ's frozen organic sweet corn

The chicken sausage is already cooked, so just toss all that in a saucepan, grind some black pepper in, warm it up, and you've got two meals' worth of healthy, filling soup—and for only about 300 calories and less than two bucks per serving. It also freezes and reheats beautifully.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Away She Runs

It's just after seven in the morning. Toast has been consumed and coffee is about to fall victim to the same fate. In less than an hour I'll be puffing away down the roads and walking trails that run along my town's coastline, praying those dark clouds outside have already shed their load.

I'm not a natural runner. I'm sort of decent at most amateur athletics, as long as they don't require too much upper body strength, but I really enjoy walking and cycling and running. Walking is the one that churns up the most new writing ideas, but running is the best calorie burner…plus I've come to really love sweating, and when I'm finished I feel high from the endorphins and my stress levels are reset. That's a boon to writing as well.

I try to run four to six days a week. Before anyone decides to be impressed, I don't run especially far, typically only two and a half to three miles. That's 20 to 30 minutes, which is good amount of time for me. It gets my blood pumping without risking injury to my sometimes fussy knees. On a good day I run an average of nine minutes a mile, closer to ten if I'm groggy or if it's reeeaaallly humid. I know this because I invested in some good Nikes with a sensor that sends info to my iPod—that thing's cool enough to warrant its own post some other day.

Right now I've got a goal. I ran my first charity 5K (3.1 miles) a couple weekends ago. I didn't do quite as well as I'd hoped…nerves made my mouth incredibly dry and my bladder antsy. Charming. Plus I'd never run in a race before, and I assumed listening to music wasn't kosher. Well half the other runners had their headphones on, and I could have used some music to block out the sound of my own raspy breathing. Next time, I'm bringing entertainment. But I did finish the 5K and only a minute or so later than I'd hoped, somewhere in the top 40% of the racers. Now I'm "training" to run the Devil's Chase on Halloween in Salem—that's 6.66 miles. Twice as far as the 5K and then some. I have a marathon-running brother so when I first got back into running I thought a 5K wasn't long enough to count as "real running". Well, I've come to accept that I'm not my brother, and 5K is plenty long. And 6.66 miles will be tough for a morning jogger like me, even if my big brother runs eight miles before breakfast in under an hour.

My training regimen's super simple. I started last week with a "long run" goal of 3.25 miles. This week—today—the goal is 3.5. If I add a quarter mile to my "long run" each week between now and Halloween, I'll be up to 6.25, and then there's just that extra push on race day to hit 6.66. And thank goodness, the humidity and temperatures will be far better for running in late October than they are at the height of summer. And the only goal I'm setting myself for the race is to show up and to finish—no time pressure.

Damn, it's starting to rain now…I hate putting my run off so late that my caffeine runs out. In the meantime I'll get my iPod loaded up…two episodes of the BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers, plus a few songs inbetween should be enough to fill up those 3.5 miles. And when I get back, rain- and sweat-soaked and beet-red in my freckly Irish face, I'll feel fantastic.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Romance Writer's Best Friend

A few contentious souls will beg to differ, but I can't tell you how much the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has helped me on my journey from writing virgin to published romance novelist. And it's been a pretty quick journey…but I have no doubt that any efficiency of accomplishment I've enjoyed can be directly traced back to finding the RWA early on.

Oh, I'm ahead of myself. I'm posting about this because my regional chapter's monthly meeting is this afternoon, and after the business portion we're doing a sort of meet-and-greet party in lieu of our usual writing workshop. Let me say, my chapter rocks. But how did I find them?

When I started drafting my first novel in July of 2008, I knew nothing about writing, really, only that I liked it, I suspected I was good at it, and that the story playing like a movie in my head wouldn't let me rest until I put it into words. I knew even less about the romance publishing industry. Lucky for me, I'm an NPR nerd and I stumbled upon an older episode of This American Life at a very opportune moment. It was a Valentine's episode called What Is This Thing? [click the link to listen for free] in which Robin Epstein visits the 2002 RWA National conference for one of the segments. I thought, "There's such a thing as the Romance Writers of America?" By August I'd joined and suddenly had access to a treasure trove of useful and genre-specific information. I also found out about the Golden Heart contest, which ushered in my very first deadline. By November I'd finished my first manuscript in time to enter and knew all about standard formatting and synopses and submission protocol. I was on my way!

The next March I discovered there was a New England Chapter of the RWA and I nervously attended my first meeting as a guest. I found out that just a couple weeks later they were putting on their annual conference, and as my day job was ending that same week I thought, what a perfect way to kick off what I'd then assumed would be a blissful six months of severance pay funded heaven, a time when I could do tons of what I'd come to love since the previous summer—writing romance. So my job ended and the next day the conference started. It was at that conference that I did my first pitch, attended my first and oh-so-thrilling workshops, and, little did I know, got my first break. I attended a Harlequin panel chaired by Brenda Chin, senior Blaze editor, and I took part in an informal hook contest, scribbling down a two sentence hook for a potential Blaze book. The prize was a chance to submit a full manuscript of that story to Brenda. I misunderstood the contest a bit, and was subsequently a) thrilled to find out I won but b) terrified because I hadn't actually written the book. I'd thought of the idea right then, sitting in the panel. But luckily I was unemployed and had the luxury of dedicating the next six weeks to hammering out the story—my second completed manuscript and my second experience writing to a deadline. Fast forward fourteen months and I got the call to revise. Another month and Harlequin offered a contract. All thanks to the RWA.

In the meantime I attended the Connecticut, National and New Jersey conventions and became involved in my own chapter. I offer up my design background for branding and conference programs and other projects, and I edit the monthly newsletter. In return I've made great friends and contacts—all so incredibly generous with their time and wisdom and advice—which is vital when you work in a profession that's so otherwise solitary. And it's true what they say: it's who you know. I've yet to begin seriously looking for an agent, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if I eventually find one through a chaptermate's tip. So as I prepare to cut the brownies for this afternoon's meeting, I urge anyone who's considering a career in romance writing: if you haven't joined RWA yet, do. Ignore the naysayers. RWA has tons to offer the aspiring author, not least of which is the comfort of knowing you're not alone.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What's that smell?

For me, right now, it's brownies baking—I have a Romance Writers of America regional chapter meeting tomorrow and I need to bring treats. It got me thinking about what a fabulous sense smell is for authors and readers. Let me paint a picture using just that one sense… What have I been smelling in the last couple hours? Chicken stew, the new leather of handbags and the plastic of toys in a museum gift shop, the ocean, red wine. My afternoon, in an olfactory snapshot!

Smell is probably my favorite sense to exploit when I'm writing. I've heard it said that many people first childhood memories come to them through smell. It's an incredibly strong and evocative sense, and so naturally it's a great tool for bringing readers into a scene and giving them that sense that they're right inside the characters' skin. In the book Blaze has just officially titled Caught on Camera (love that acronym, snicker) it's all about winter. Spruce, wood smoke, damp and musty lumber, hot, grasping bodies in the firelit darkness— Oh, sorry. Got distracted there.

For the book I'm hoping Blaze will decide to buy next, it's all about Montana ranch country from a wrong-side-of-the-tracks city girl's perspective. For that story I did some research, volunteering for a day at a horseback riding facility. Like my heroine, this non-horse-sensical girl needed a crash course in just what it smells like in such settings. Pungent, earthy…fertile is the best word for it, I think. Horse crap, hay, old leather, yet more wood smokes, yet more hot, grasping bodies in the… There I go again.

Any other authors out there working on a story with some intriguing scent details? We all know the classics—fire, perfume, sweat, fresh bread. Any nonstandard favorites to share? Details unique to your setting and your characters?

Speaking of smells, the brownies are calling to me. I like them undercooked and fudgy, so pardon me while I go tend to my domestic duties. Hope whatever you're sniffing right now is a happy smell. Especially if it's hot, grasping bod—

Unseasonable Recipe: Chicken Stew

Nothing says August in the Northern Hemisphere like a steaming bowl of homemade chicken stew! Perhaps not, but times are tough and belts are tight, and chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts, so stew happens. So why not cool off on a hot summer's evening with a heaping helping of my personal recipe? Forgive the less than gorgeous photo, but I'm so not a cookbook photographer.

4 chicken thighs (cage-free organic if you want to go to heaven)
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup potatoes, chopped into dice-sized blocks
½ cup carrots, chopped
½ cup onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
fistful of frozen peas
fistful of frozen corn
1 bell pepper (I like red) chopped
optional extras: chopped mushrooms, zucchini, squash, cauliflower, etc.
½ cup flour, white or whole wheat
1–5 tbsp cornstarch (depends on how thick you like your stew)
salt and pepper

1. Cut chicken in to bite-sized chunks. In a large pot, simmer chicken in stock until the meat is cooked. You can also cook the bones down…I hear it's very tasty but I buy boneless so I have no advice about how to go about that.

2. Add all the veggies except the peppers and optional zucchini or squash (they'll get overly soft if they stew too long). Turn burner to low and cover.

3. Simmer 30–45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots and potatoes are soft.

4. Add final veggies and sift in flour. Stir.

5. Sprinkle cornstarch in one tablespoon at a time, to avoid homely white lumps. Stir between sprinklings, to give stew time to thicken to your liking. Once you've reached this step, be sure to stir regularly, scraping the bottom of the pot. If it thickens too much, just add some water or broth.

6. Add salt, pepper and other spices (I like adding pakrika) to taste.

7. Stir and taste until final veggies are softened.

This stew goes great with crusty bread, or dished over rice or mashed potatoes. It also makes a great chicken pot pie filling, perhaps with a bit more cornstarch added for thickness.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Champs on the Cheap

Anyone who's known me for ten minutes knows I'm exceedingly cagey about advertising and product placement, so rest assured, any merchandise you see on this blog is stuff I stumbled upon myself and paid for.

Anyhow, given my new resolution to post short and often, I thought it might be fun to share affordable food and drink gems I come across as I go about my thrifty business. The other day I had a hankering for white wine, and I usually buy Barefoot, as it's the most potable, wallet-friendly brand my corner bodega sells.

It was a particularly steamy afternoon and I didn't want to wait around for a bottle to cool in the fridge, so I headed for the store's chilled bottles. At first—defeat! None of the Barefoot whites were stocked in the cooler. Oh but wait, there were some…but these were fancier bottles! Brut Champagne, and bubbling whites and a rosé. For nine measley bucks, I'd happily take my white with fizz. Bonus—I'd just finished rereading Valley of the Dolls for the millionth time, and a chance to play Neely (minus the pills and self-destruction) was welcome. I bought the pinot grigio variety, and though my palate is less than expert, I loved it. As good as twenty-dollar Champagne to my happily ignorant tastebuds. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Julian Barratt

Man-candy day! Why, it's almost a requisite for us blogging romance and erotica authors nowadays, don't you think? I shall endeavor to buck the tradition somewhat by featuring my own nonstandard breed of thrust-upon-able men, starting with actor / comedian / musician / jazz maverick Julian Barratt. Most famous for his role as genre-spanner Howard Moon on The Mighty Boosh (BBC Radio, BBC TV, stage, allegedly soon to be film) Barratt is six feet four inches of mustachioed machismo. Well, perhaps not, but like my forebears he's a fine Yorkshire man, and that plus his willingness to dress and act a complete and total pillock for the amusement of millions of fans makes him the perfect candidate for the first ever Thrusty Thursday title-holder.

For the uninitiated, I won't spring a clip from the Boosh on you—such staggering surreality must be eased into like a kiddie pool full of shaved kittens. But here's a tame short:

Have an off-beat candidate you'd like to put forth for a future installment of Thrusty Thursday? Send me an email about him.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Well hello there. Welcome to my first post here at the Super Lucky #1 Fun Blog*.

By the time I decided to become a more frequent poster [read: this morning], I had earlier blogging experiences under my belt to draw upon. Before I was a published I blogged weekly-ish on the topic of my experiences as an aspiring writer. I wrote very long and exhausting and largely informative posts, and invested much time in editing them to perceived perfection. After I became published in erotic romance early this year, I was invited to join a group of like-minded and saucy gals, where my conjoined erotica-writing evil twin still blogs every other Thursday on the topic of writing, erotica, and other [mostly] related topics. She, too, writes incredibly long-winded posts, which she spends considerable time editing, posts which if she were required to pen more than twice a month would eat up all of her fiction-writing time and energy.

What I've taken away from these two earlier blogging experiences is that a) it seems wise to post on a set topic, as consistency is desirable and doing so would hopefully attract people with similar interests and needs, and b) I can't help but write too much.

That's all about to change. For this blog, I have three objectives: post often, post short, and post about whatever. Much of it will likely revolve around the so-called writer's life, and come spring 2011 when my first two romances are due to come out, some title-dropping of my books may get folded into the mix. Self-promo makes me feel dirty (the bad kind of dirty), but I'd be lying if I said I shan't stoop to it…though I promise to try to keep it to a minimum.

Where was I? Right—post frequent. And that means short, otherwise I'll burn out or use up all the creativity I need to keep the paltry paychecks coming in. And short means not spouting out thesis-driven posts that go on for days. That brings us to the third item—post whatever. Whatever happened to me today. For example, this morning I ran three and a half miles and my playlist consisted of two episodes of The Archers separated by Skee-Lo's "I Wish". That's the sort of bull you're in for. Recipes. Rants. Pictures of stuff I saw (or perhaps more likely, pictures off the net of little round birds, as I'm a bit obsessed with little round birds).

So starting tomorrow (as this post is already verging on the long-winded) I shall post about whatever comes to mind. Hope to see you there.

* Please note, blog may not live up to its illustrious name.