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Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas, World!

We drank champagne, cooked all day (I made the cornbread dressing!), watched Die Hard, and played in the hot tub. Out lovely Palm Springs Christmas is almost at an end, and I'm looking forward to a day of fasting and abstention from alcohol tomorrow.

Oh, who am I kidding? We're having raspberry trifle and leftover dressing with fried eggs for breakfast! And probably mimosas or bloody mary's.

It's a rough life.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Name That Eyeliner-Wearing Hottie

If you can name the following ten hot eyeliner-sporting actors and musicians, you will win a prize! Maybe a cookie. Or my undying admiration. I don't know yet, but something good.

4 & 5)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Boys Wearing Eyeliner

I credited Jensen Ackles with my recent upswing of interest in boys wearing eyeliner, but that's not 100% accurate. The actual genesis was Lee Pace in The Fall, a seriously strange, visually stunning, utterly charming movie by Tarsem Singh. The movie also stars quite possibly the cutest, most real child actress I've ever seen, but that's another post. This one is all about Lee Pace.

Lee first came to my attention playing the brother of the main character in one of the Great Shows that No One Watches, Wonderfalls. He was an atheist studying for his PhD in Religion, and he totally cracked me up. And also kind of gave me the hots. Since then, he went on to star in another Great Show No One Watched, Pushing Daisies, and had a couple of movie roles. Including The Fall, where he plays an injured stuntman who bribes a little girl into getting him extra pain pills by weaving a fantastical story. The pictures below are of his story-within-a-story persona, The Blue Bandit.

I know, hot, right? He's the one who got me thinking, remembering all the times I've seen a guy in makeup, for whatever reason, and gone "Mmmmm." More to come later this week...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snowing Again!

That's okay, it's good weather for hunkering down and writing. Which I MUST do if I'm to turn in my proposal and synopsis on schedule! I didn't get as much done over the weekend as I'd hoped.

In the meantime, amuse yourselves with this scene from an upcoming movie I'm now super psyched to see.

Jensen Ackles + mohawk + kilt + eyeliner = HOT.

In fact, this clip is inspiring me to start a whole Boys In Makeup series. Why do I find that so goshdarned sexy? Check it out:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things I'm Thankful For: Part 4

New technologies. Okay, I love the smell and feel of a real book. I love turning the pages and getting lost in an unfolding story. I love fun, sexy, clever cover art and intriguing back cover copy. The whole experience works for me, in a big way.

A lot of those things may be missing from e-reads, but they make up for it with convenience and instant gratification. Never underestimate the pleasure of sitting in your own cozy house, browing through online titles, deciding what you want and getting it immediately. I don't have a Kindle or anything, although I'm hovering on the precipice--currently most of my story downloads are handled through Adobe Acrobat. And I download plenty! All those stories you hear about how well the m/m fiction is doing at Ellora's Cave and Samhain? Yeah, that's all me.

Even more exciting, however, is the chance to download a brand new Bullet Catcher novella by bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire! One click of a button and you can be engrossed in a fast-paced story of heart-pounding suspense and sizzling passion. Just go to Roxanne's website and hit the link in the upper right hand corner. One note of caution: E-reads are dangerously addictive!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I'm Thankful For: Part 3

What holiday would be complete (or bearable) without alcohol? New Year's means champagne; Christmas means punch (and bourbon balls, and whiskey cake, and more champagne--is it any wonder Christmas is my favorite holiday?) but for me, Thanksgiving is all about the wine. Specifically Beajolais Nouveau, a light, fruity red that comes out in the fall and is only good to drink for a few months. This is not the wine to buy a case of and stick in your cellar and wait for it to mature. It's ready to drink NOW. And come Thanksgiving? I'm usually ready, too. I've tried three so far this year, but my favorite is, for once, the most readily available.

Chill it a little, pop the cork, and enjoy. It's perfect with turkey (and turkey leftovers), chicken, meatier fish like salmon and sea bass, duck, and lamb. With anything, really. And it's usually pretty reasonably priced, too. I think my wine shop had the Duboeuf at around $12. Maybe I'll head back over there today and stock up...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What I'm Thankful For: Part 2

I'm a big believer in mindless entertainment. There's very little more soothing to the savaged psyche than dumb television. Which is probably why, after a week spent with the in-laws, I came home yesterday and gorged on DVRed episodes of General Hospital.

I've been watching GH off and on since high school, and until recently, was in a looong off phase. It had been years. I'm not even sure what prompted me to go back to it, other than the fact that I'm clearly an addict and can't help myself. But I'm not sorry I did--the show is pretty good at the moment! Sure, there are new characters I want to kill and old characters who are still thrashing out the same, tired plotlines they were when I last watched, but that's soap opera. And there are some surprises, too. Maxie Jones finally came into her own as a fun, funny vixen--even better, they seem to be pairing her with the much-discussed character of Spinelli, quintessential underdog geek extraordinaire, who is actually entertaining and affecting; a new character, Olivia Falconari, has tons of potential and sparks equally in flirty/confrontational scenes with men as she does in friendship scenes with women; Emily Quartermaine, possibly the most annoying character of recent years, is dead! Not that she's liable to stay that way, but it's a nice break for the moment.

Anyone else watch GH, or have other shameful television addictions to confess? I, for one, was thankful to turn off my brain yesterday and rot it with Sonny and Jason.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What I'm Thankful For: Part 1

I missed blogging on Thanksgiving; I was too busy stuffing myself with turkey and cranberries and fending off in-laws right and left. So I thought I'd spend this week in solemn contemplation of the many things in my life and the world at large that make me glad to be alive.

Up first: a commercial featuring superstar chef and infamous a$$hole Gordon Ramsay as an eight-year-old boy. That's right. I'm thankful for Gordon, TV, and laughter. If you like those things, too, watch the video.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet as an Omelette

Does anyone ever actually try to make the recipes that are included at the backs of novels? Mostly cozy mysteries, but even sometimes chick lit or women's fiction books will include recipes. My book, Can't Stand the Heat, for instance.

That's right, my editor wants recipes. Not unreasonable, considering the whole book is about food! Well, love, romance, sex, restaurants, chefs, and punk rockers, too, but mostly food. I've got some ideas for what should go in--a cocktail or two, something sweet, and a preparation of pork belly that's pivotal to the plot. But even as I plan, I wonder if those recipes will be purely decorative, a marketing tool, not actually useful to or desired by readers.

I'm not sure why I'm so suspicious--I've actually cooked from a novel. In fact, one of Stinger's and my favorite breakfasts came out of Dorothy Sayers's classic mystery, Strong Poison. The recipe isn't in the back of the book, but the procedure for making a sweet omelette is meticulously detailed in the text (it turns out to be pivotal to the plot, too!)

All you do is add a bit of sugar to the eggs when you beat them lightly before adding them to the skillet of hot, foaming butter. (Stinger says powdered sugar is best, but I haven't noticed any difference one way or the other.) Swirl the eggs in the pan, a la Julia Child, and when they're just coagulated, dollop a tablespoon and a half of hot jam, jelly, preserves, fruit compote, whatever, along the middle. Then fold the eggs over and serve! If you want to get fancy, you could dust the top of the omelette with sugar and run it under the broiler.

So what's your favorite recipe that came from a work of fiction? Or do you stick to recipes developed by actual chefs, not novelists?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Snow

Every winter we've been in Ohio, we've said, "Next year, we're buying a snow blower." And we never do. Why is that lesson so hard to learn? It's like the lesson of exercise. Every day, I don't want to work out, and every time I do, I'm so glad I did. And then the next day, same dance. Why? Why can't I keep in my head for longer than 24 hours that working out makes me think more clearly, sleep better, feel stronger and healthier?

It's a mystery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Snow Day!

Those words don't fill me with the same euphoric delight as when I was a kid in school. Now, I immediately translate them in my head to: Shovel Day! That's right, in the grand Ohio tradition, we got our first big snow before Thanksgiving. What a great state!

And okay, I'm exaggerating a little. It's like four inches, hardly even worth mentioning to someone in, say, Michigan or Wyoming or something. But for me, who grew up in Virginia and lived in Manhattan, snow that accumulates on the ground = BIG snow. VA just doesn't get that much, and in NYC, the snow mostly melts before it hits the pavement, because of the greenhouse effect of all those buildings. Stinger and I got out there and shoveled, like good little suburban bunnies, having learned our lesson last year. Last year we let it pile up, and then freeze over, and then pile up some more, until finally it was such a mess we actually couldn't do it. We had to call in professionals.

Such beautiful, chill, snowy weather calls for something special for breakfast. One of my favorite things to do is baked eggs (oeufs en cocotte for you francophiles out there). Baked eggs are very simple, old-fashioned enough to be unusual but not requiring anything more than I normally have on hand in my kitchen. The basic preparation is to heat a pan of water on the stovetop. Once the water is simmering, put your little buttered ramekins (they can be pyrex or ceramic) in the water with a tablespoon of cream in each. Heat up the cream, then add one egg to each ramekin, top with another tablespoon of cream, a dot of butter to keep the top from scorching, and stick the whole pan full of ramekins in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Baking them in the water bath allows for a more even distribution of heat and keep the eggs from sticking. Easy, deliciously decadent (yay, cream!), and infinitely variable. Julia Child, who introduced me to the recipe, recommends adding chopped chicken, ham, liver, crabmeat, or lobster to the eggs. You can also substitute bechamel or tomato sauce for the second tablespoon of cream. You can put in grated cheese like parmesan or swiss--really, anything you want.

I happened to have a bunch of fresh herbs languishing in my fridge, so I chopped up a mixture and added half a teaspoon to each ramekin along with the first tablespoon of cream. If you're curious, my fines herbes mixture consisted of flat leaf parsley, thyme, sage, and oregano. Delicious! Light and fresh, with good, noticable herb flavor.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Setup

I'm about to begin the second book in my culinary romance series, and I'm gaining a whole new appreciation for series writers. From Nora writing as J.D. Robb to the chick that wrote the Babysitters Club books--how the heck do you guys keep it all straight?

Not that I have nearly as many characters/storylines/settings going as those long-running series; I mean, I've only written one book! Right? Except, no. Looking at my notes, I've already set in motion a complicated tangle of men and women with differing relationships to each other and things to work out between them. Not to mention, all with different hair and eye colors!! I'm going to screw up some tertiary supporting character's description and get letters from readers about it.

So what's the answer? There's supposedly an Excel spreadsheet out there that helps you track things like this, but I can't seem to get my hands on a copy. Kresley Cole recommended Microsoft OneNote, which helps you to keep all your text and audio notes in one place, plus allowing for images and graphics. Sounds pretty cool, except I have a Mac. So I nosed around a little and asked Stinger for his opinion, and he pointed me toward OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle. Very pretty, in that Apple way, and could be very useful. Have any of you ever used it? Or is there another program I should be looking at? Or should I quit whining and write it all out by hand in a style sheet like everyone else?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rainy Day

Rain is pouring outside, which has prompted Stinger and me to curl up with steaming cups of coffee and the New York Times real estate section. That's right, we're looking at apartment porn.

Don't judge us.

My current favorite place is a 2-bedroom loft on Elizabeth St., on the east edge of SoHo. It's a great location, slightly off the beaten path of wild SoHo too-cool-for-you nightlife, but close enough to have access to everything fun. Steps from Vesuvius Bakery, Balthazar, Dean & Deluca, and of course, Cafe Habana, the best Cuban hole-in-the-wall in New York. On weekends, the line stretches around the block and people, even celebrities, wait hours to get into the tiny restaurant. This was the place where I saw a guy with the typical boho hair and dark aviators, dressed all slacker chic, totally hot in a scruffy way, and I thought, "Is that Johnny Knoxville? Oh, probably not, just a lookalike." Until he got up to pay and I saw his belt buckle: an enormous, ornate thing with 'Knoxville' engraved on it. So yeah!

I miss New York.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Top Chef: New York

Last night, I watched Top Chef for the first time. That's right, I was a virgin. It was a lot of fun, and now you all get to suffer through my observations about it--observations which have almost certainly been made countless times already, since the show's been on the air for years. But who knows? Maybe seeing it through fresh eyes gives me a fresh perspective.

First of all, a word about New York. My favorite city, the one I miss more than anything. It was fun to see all those different neighborhoods, and I thought it was cool that they sent the cooks to the outer boroughs. I did, however, have to laugh when the contestants checked into their apartment and nearly fell all over each other talking about how "this is the way to experience New York!" when they were clearly in New Jersey. A view of the Manhattan skyline from your balcony is not, actually, the best way to experience NY, in my opinion.

The show itself: I enjoyed the structure, with the many challenges and lots of people heading home right away. They start out with so many! It's hard to care much that first day, although I will say that most of those chefs are doing a great job of making me dislike them in thirty seconds of screen time or less. I was happy to see that first chick go, and I'm already rubbing my hands in glee for the day when that ridiculous surfer boy gets the boot. Pay more attention to the food and less to your hair! Also not a big fan of the European contingent; they give Europeans a bad name with all that exaggerated snottiness. And the woman who cooks by spirit guide? Uh, no. Out of all of them, I probably like Jamie, the tattooed exec chef at Absinthe in San Francisco the best. But second, I loved Patrick! (I know, big shocker.) Sad. Poor, sweet little gay boy, I knew he wasn't long for the competition, but I hoped we'd get him for at least another episode or two. Oh well.

I loved the judges. Jean Georges is one of my absolute favorite chefs ever. His food rocks my world and his persona on the show gave me the happy. So gentle and soft spoken! But quite firm and decisive. Stinger and I decided he's probably at the point in his career where he doesn't have to yell and scream; he whispers. In his kitchen, you can hear a carrot shaving drop. I like Tom, even if his food has never been as sublime, to me personally, as JGV's. And the Food & Wine chickie, thppbt. Whatever.

And then there's Padma. Seriously. What? Who is this woman? Leaving out the obvious jokes about a woman who clearly never eats being associated with a food show--watching the show for the first time, it was difficult to ascertain just what her role is. Eventually, Stinger and I decided that she's essentially Sigourney Weaver's character from Galaxy Quest: the gorgeous object of desire whose job is to talk to the computer and then repeat back exactly what the computer just said in full hearing of everyone.

Ariane stands nervously in front of the judge's table.
Padma: So what do you think about Ariane's dish, Tom?
Tom: I didn't like it.
Padma (gravely, to Ariane): Tom didn't like it.

It's as if Tom doesn't speak the same language as the chefs, so they need an interpreter. Hilarious.

Overall, I'd say that Hell's Kitchen is still by far my favorite guilty pleasure food show obsession. Gordon Ramsay is way more charismatic than anyone on Top Chef, and the smaller pool of starting contestants allows you to get invested in them quickly. Also, the graphics are way better. But Top Chef is in my DVR, and I'll definitely be tuning in next week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blank Page

I'm starting a new book today. I've been noodling it around in my head for weeks, even months, figuring out characters and what elements I needed to set up ahead of time in the first book, since the two are part of a series. But I still don't really know the plot, per se, so I'm struggling with how to go about eking out three chapters and a synopsis for my proposal.

Here's what I think. I think I need to write chapter one. Or at least scene one, get into the heads of the characters a little and see what that tells me. Then I need to look at my jumbled, jotted notes for this book and find any through lines that make sense, any places where the characters stories' intersect. And I need to read.

Does anyone else do this? To psyche myself up for a new book, I really like to read. In this case, since these are culinary romances set in the New York restaurant scene, I plan to read things like On the Line, Eric Ripert's new memoir of life at Le Bernardin, Roasting in Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay's memoir, and The Nasty Bits, a collection of essays and articles by Anthony Bourdain. I might reread Kitchen Confidential and Heat, the books that started my brain on the path that led to my first book getting sold.

It's partly research, partly steeping myself in these guys and their voices and their stories, hoping to skim a little authenticity off the top for my own personal use. Not that I want to cannibalize their stories; I've got plenty of ideas of my own! But the way they think and react? I'll take a crash course in that, please, with a side of kitchen lingo. Thanks.

What do you do when you're about to type 'Chapter One'? Any rituals that help you get going?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Okay, not Sidney Poitier. Close, though! Stinger's very charming boss and the boss's even more charming wife. We had them over on Saturday to repay a memorable (well, hazy, actually, but in the good way) evening of Manhattans, dinner at the country club, followed by homemade limoncello (I think, although this is where the memory goes fuzzy) and the comedy stylings of Ron 'Tater Salad' White in hi def on the projection screen in their basement.

Naturally, I felt that we had to return an equally fun evening. So we had Bourbon Sidecars and champagne (Very Charming Wife's only drawback is a dislike for cocktails, which normally would make me sad, but since it gave me the opportunity to be a stellar hostess by guzzling Schramsberg, I held it together), dinner prepared by yours truly, followed by shots of bourbon (that was all Charming Boss's idea--the man can drink. Stinger's rule when drinking with him is to follow a three-to-one ratio), followed by our favorite comedian, Eddie 'Executive Transvestite' Izzard.

Dinner, though! That was fun. It took all day to prepare, although there were many elements of it that could have been made days ahead if I'd done better planning. We had a salad with homemade vinaigrette, then Braised Short Ribs with Citrus on a bed of celery root puree. Stinger did the dessert, which I'll get to in a minute.

We bought the short ribs from a local butcher shop I've passed many times and meant to check out, but until this weekend, never managed to. It's skeevy on the outside, like many butcher shops, but inside is clean and perfectly nice, in a there's-lots-of-raw-meat-in-here kind of way. The recipe (from one of my favorite cookbooks, Jean Georges Vongerichten's Simple to Spectacular--seriously, one of the most dud-free cookbooks I've ever encountered) calls for 4 lbs. of short ribs to be browned on the stovetop and then braised for three hours with a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion, a bottle of fruity white wine, and a bunch of mixed citrus juice and zest.

It was great fun to cook, although I'm afraid with all the zesting, there may have been microscopic bits of me grated into the mix. And I wish I had pictures of how it all turned out, but we were too hungry and too busy serving our guests to bother with the camera at that point. You finish the dish with blanched white cabbage, to add a little bulk to the stew, and even more citrus flavor in the form of segments of limes, lemons, and oranges, to really bump up the tart juiciness of the sauce. It was delicious. Rather more trouble than I'm likely to take for just Stinger and me, but for a dinner party? Perfection. Because most of it was done in advance, so by the time our guests arrived, I could sit down and enjoy them rather than hopping around the kitchen in a frenzy of last minute tinkering.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Extreme Makeover Artist and General All Around Diva Goddess Kristen Painter has redesigned my blog! Is it not the most fabulous thing you ever saw? I actually, literally, gasped aloud the first time the page loaded up and I caught sight of those deliciously naughty figs.

Now, this talented lady is a wonderful writer, currently in the midst of a smashing hot urban fantasy type story which I'm desperate for her to finish so I can see how it turns out--but I think we can all agree that she has a second career waiting in the wings, just in case.

Thank you, dahling! My new, tasty blog look will inspire me to bigger and better things in the kitchen and on the page.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chicken Stock for the Soul

I love making stock. It's one of my favorite things, actually, because it's wicked easy, tastes astronomically better than anything you can buy in the store, and uses "trash" ingredients that I'd otherwise just toss. Our default winter dinner is roast chicken and root vegetables (usually parsnips, turnips, carrots, and potatoes), another super simple supper that basically involves tossed a whole chicken into a roasting pan on top of a layer of diced veg, and letting the oven do its thing. Okay, so there's a little more to it than that, but not much. And when you're done stripping succulent, juicy meat from the chicken bones, you can use those bones to make a wonderful, rich stock.

Which is what I did last week. Just threw the carcass in a pot, covered it with water, and added a few aromatics: carrot, celery, onion, and a handful of black tellicherry peppercorns. My bouquet garni was built in, since I roasted the chicken with half a head of garlic and about a dozen branches of fresh thyme inside. Those flavor boosters made it into the pot along with the chicken. Then let the whole thing simmer away! You can keep it on low heat for hours, teasing more and more chicken essence out of the bones. Keep the surface relatively skimmed of fat and the obvious stuff that floats to the top. You can tell it's done when it smells good and the broth is a beautiful dark gold color. It will be darker than the store-bought crap. Because it's better.

Cook's Illustrated, my new magazine obsession, recommends ice cube trays as a convenient method for storing stock. You end up with a ton of the stuff, and it keeps great frozen, but thawing it can be a real bother. But not if you freeze it into cubes! It's brilliant, just pop those suckers out and into a saucepan to heat up and you've got stock in seconds. Whenever I have homemade stock on hand, I'm inspired to take a whack at those recipes where stock is a major ingredient so the extra wonderful taste will shine through: soups, risottos, things like that. I made a mushroom risotto last week, a risotto with pancetta and peas this week, and I'm contemplating some butternut squash soup. It's the season, after all!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back to the Grind

It's hard, after the celebrations of last night, to contemplate just how much work still needs to be done to turn this country around. Similarly, it's hard for me, after the exhilarating moment of hitting 'send' and letting my editor take over obsessing about my manuscript for a while, to contemplate how much work is left to do once a book is finally finished. Which mine isn't, not by a long shot. There's every likelihood of at least one more round of revisions in my future, plus endless proofreading and answering of nitpicky copyeditor questions. But beyond the book itself, there's still more.

Marketing. The other half of the bestselling author coin--you have to be able to write a good book, sure, but what does that matter if no one reads it? Marketing is the means by which you connect readers who will love your book with the knowledge of and desire to actually purchase your book. Obviously, there are lots of ways to skin that cat. I plan to start with the basics: a website. A good portion of my advance money is earmarked for a webmaster, someone who will design a fun, flashy site that fits the tone of my books and draws potential readers into my world. I've spent hours poring over other author websites, sifting through the boring ones and trying to figure out what makes the good ones work. I like elements from many sites: the clean lines of Roxanne St. Clair's site, all the fun extras offered by Eloisa James and J.R. Ward, the cool navigation and slick style of Kresley Cole's site. But there's a lot out there, and no way I can get through it all. So I'm curious. Do any of you have favorite author sites? Things you wish your favorite authors would offer?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day!

And also, incidentally, my birthday. Yes! The world will either give me a fantastic or a horrific birthday gift today, depending on how the election turns out. All I want from YOU for my birthday is for you to vote! Vote your conscience. Vote your common sense. Vote vote vote for one of the two options below!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Stinger's Girlfriend

***WARNING: Do not read this post if making light of underage sex offends you!***

Stinger has a Lolita wannabe interning at his office! She's fifteen, into bands like Fallout Boy (which she considers 'punk'--oh, the misguided youth of today), and wears low-cut tops. She made him a rubber band stress ball. I had to be the one to break it to him that she was harboring a crush.

Now that he knows, he says he can see it for himself. For instance, he revealed that Lolita has recently been dropping hints about turning 16 soon. As in a daily countdown to the big day. He has wanted to point out to her that turning 16 will not actually make her legal, but has refrained. I think Stinger's favorite thing about this whole situation is how hilarious I find it. Apparently some wives would be upset. But seriously! She hasn't even lost all her baby teeth yet! I'm supposed to be threatened?

Stinger used to joke (during that frenzy over the Olsen twins turning 18, for instance) that girls should be considered fair game as soon as there was grass on the green. I know, ew. But he's learned the error of his ways and has a new standard now: all the adult teeth need to be in place before he'll consider you a woman.

Take that, jailbait! My man has standards.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! (Oh, and I finished The Book)

Yes! The Book is done. The very first, extra rough draft of Can't Stand the Heat clocked in at 397 pages, a cool 101, 186 words. Needless to say, I'll be looking for extraneous material to cut when I go back through to polish it up before sending it to The Editor. There are several things I already know need to be changed (for instance, the first half of the book is set in early fall, the second half in late spring) and some things I'm worried about (like, is the heroine an irretrievably unsympathetic meanie?) but overall I'm pretty happy with it. I think. I won't really know until I do my read through, today and tomorrow.

Anyway, now I can focus on my Halloween costume! Would it be a terrible cop out if I just wore a red dress I already own and a black witch hat? I'm not sure I have the energy for anything more elaborate. If anyone else has party plans, especially costume party plans, I'd love to hear about them.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yay, 90k!

90k means 90,000, right? I'm always getting confused. Anyway, yay, because I hit it today. 90,000 words and counting! I mean, the and counting part's not my fave, I'd rather be done, but it won't be long now.

I'm very hopeful I can finish in the next few days so I have at least a day or two to think about my Halloween costume. My friends and I are throwing a big party, costumes not optional. I really need to rack my brains for something good. Especially since Stinger is going to outclass us all. He'll be ringing in All Hallow's Eve as Chris Knight, Val Kilmer's immortal character from the movie Real Genius. If you haven't seen it, rent it immediately. It's the most fun you can have with a subatomic particle stretcher, or whatever the hell the gadget is that they design in the movie. Anyway, it's fun. Some memorable quotes:

Chris Knight: Have you ever seen a body like this before in your life?
David Decker: She happens to be my daughter.
Chris Knight: Oh. Then I guess you have.
Kent: Uh, I'll catch up with you guys. I have to go to the bathroom.
Chris Knight: Okay, Kent, but I don't think that's going to help your confidence any, do you?
Chris Knight: Kent puts his name on his license plate.
Mitch: My mom does the same thing to my underwear.
Chris Knight: Your mom puts license plates in your underwear? How do you sit?

All delivered in Val Kilmer's best charming deadpan monotone, to the accompaniment of a shit-eating grin. It's priceless. Stinger's got the whole ensemble, from I Heart Toxic Waste t-shirt to bunny slippers.

Obviously, I will be covered in shame if I can't come up with something at least as good. Any thoughts? I'm open to suggestion.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Slowly but Surely

The book is getting done. Which is a big relief to all of you, I'm sure, since you're probably all sick of hearing about it. Not as big a relief as it will be to me, though--the deadline is November 1st! As of this moment, I have 88,405 words. My contract stipulates 90,000, so I figure, worst comes to worst, I can always just hit 90,000 and then type "and they lived happily ever after." The End. You can picture it, can't you?

"Oh, Reginald! What are you doing with that meat cleaver? Surely you aren't going to--" and they lived happily ever after. The End

Brilliant, no? I'm sure my editor will love it. Almost as much as I loved this.When, oh, WHEN is Hell's Kitchen coming back on? I miss Gordon desperately.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Don't tell my editor! I ought to be writing, but it's just so beautiful outside. I love fall, it's always been my favorite season. My birthday season! And one of my favorite things about it is the precious, last few weekends of farmer's markets. Here in Ohio, they go through October, but not much beyond. My favorite local place, Kramer's Market, is jammed full of pumpkins, more squash in different sizes and colors than the eye can properly differentiate. It's a sight. My church, the sweet little Episcopal place downtown, hosts a mini-farmer's market on alternating Saturdays, just for local people to come and sell their garden produce, loaves of bread, homemade desserts, etc. It's less formal than a "real" farmer's market; no stalls, just folding tables and chairs and a lot of people chatting and having fun. On a recent trip, I bought a sack of lovely potatoes, some of the first, pretty fall apples (specifically, ones that are good for baking--I'm determined to perfect my tarte tatin this year), and a loaf of honey wheat bread. It was a good haul! We've already used some of the potatoes to make Julia Child's version of latkes, crazy French potato pancakes made with cream cheese, Gruyere, and cream (oh, those wacky, wonderful French!), and we've devoured the bread making fried egg sandwiches and cinnamon toast. Yum!

I'm still waiting for the right moment to make my tarte tatin. Maybe this weekend when my sister is here visiting...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Out of Commission

Many of you already know, but for those who don't, we had our ultrasound a few weeks ago. The test showed multiple serious complications with the pregnancy and we were told there was less than a 1% chance of making it to term. A week later, we lost the baby.

I'm physically fine, and coping emotionally by throwing myself into finishing my manuscript before its due date of November 1. Yikes! Still have about 18,000 words to go. Anyway, that's why I've been AWOL for the last few weeks, and deadline is why I'm about to be AWOL for a few more. I'll try to post the fun little blogs I've been piling up pictures for on my camera, but we'll see how it goes.

Ray of sunshine: None of the above means we won't be able to have kids later on, or that we have any increased risk of this crazy rare thing happening to us again. Obviously, huge relief there.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Comfort Me with Casseroles

Fall has technically been in play since September 21, but it's only recently started to feel like it here in Ohio. Almost overnight, it seems, the air turns brisk and bright, certain trees start to color up, and I start to crave comforting cold-weather food.

My mother was here last weekend, and we worked her fingers to the bone in the kitchen. She made my grandmother's beef vegetable soup, a tortellini soup, tortilla soup, and Mark Bittman's eggplant parmesan (in which he takes the name seriously; there's no mozzarella or ricotta or any of that junk--only fresh-grated parmesan.) As you can imagine, we're only now running out of leftovers. So last night I made a lamb pasticcio from one of my favorite chefs' cookbooks, Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals. It was pretty divine--ground lamb and sauteed onions browned in olive oil, mixed with roasted tomatoes, Italian parsley and oregano and then combined with the largest batch of bechamel sauce I've ever made. A full stick of butter! A whole quart of milk! Nearly a cup of flour! It was awesome. There's some pasta in there, too, and the whole thing gets topped with more becchamel mixed with a cup of parmesan cheese and browned in a casserole under the oven. It made a huge amount, so it's lucky that we enjoyed it last night, since we'll be eating it for days.

Comfort food for two is tricky. Most comfort food recipes feed six to eight (or, more reasonably, twelve.) Sometimes I halve the recipe, but it never seems to turn out quite the same. Meat and veg, okay, but sauces can be finicky. And anyway, we like leftovers.

What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

Monday, September 29, 2008


Kwana missed my blog sooo much, she tagged me to get me started again. Thanks, sweets!

Here are the rules:Link to the person who tagged you.

Post the rules on your blog.
List 6 unspectacular quirks you have.
Tag 6 bloggers by linking them.
Leave a comment on each person’s blog to let them know they’ve been tagged.

Even though I'm not 100% sure why anyone would want to know anyone else's UNspectacular quirks, or why we all slavishly obey when we've been tagged, here goes.

1.) I don't like to have hair in my face or on the back of my neck when I'm sleeping. It makes me nuts. It makes Stinger nuts that this occasionally means getting flipped in the face with a hank of hair, but I say all that means is he should stop encroaching on my pillow.

2.) Every two years or so, I get puppy obsessed. I'm going through it now. I have emailed multiple breeders and spend a good part of every morning sifting through their replies, happily looking at pictures of unshow-worthy but very possibly pet-worthy border terriers.

3.) When I make cinnamon toast, I butter the cold bread and sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar on before it goes in the toaster. Then when it comes out, the sugar is all crisp and crusty on top. Yum!

4.) I try to read the newspaper every morning, but I never read it from start to finish. I skip around, skim, and toss out any sections that don't appeal.

5.) I have a black thumb. My house plants shudder when they see me coming. There's a ban on me in three states to keep me from buying any more potted orchids.

6.) I stubbornly hang on to cookbooks that I've never cooked out of, because the fantasy that one day I might is too attractive to give up.

Also, I'm breaking the rules. I know! What a rebel. But I think this tag has made the rounds of a all my online friends already, so I'm going to refrain from doubling up. You can thank me later, Kristen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tip Sheets

I just a call from my editor that she's about the write the tip sheet for my book. Wow, does that make this all seem real. Tip sheets are for use by the publishing house only, written by the editor and shown to marketing types, salespeople, the art department--basically anyone who has anything to do with your manuscript becoming an actual book will see this thing. It has all the basic info like title, pub date, author bio, summary, etc. Plus, the item my editor was calling to ask me for: any important industry contacts.

Eep! I totally blanked. Not that I don't know anyone, but do I really truly know anyone in the industry that the marketing guys are going to care about?? Perhaps sensing the racing of my mind, the lovely editor hastened to assure me that she didn't need it right away. Maybe if I emailed her in the next few days? I said that I would, and hung up feeling grateful for the reprieve.

Now I have three days or so to make some important industry contacts!! Quick, any suggestions?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Big News

I'm not really sure how to bring this up. Stinger's strategy has been to wait until it comes up in conversation, then share. I'm more of an announcement maker, I think. Take the guesswork out of it. So here goes.

I'm pregnant!

That's right, sometime around the middle of February, Stinger and I will be welcoming a new little member of our family into the McStarter Castle of Love. Our next ultrasound is a week from today, and hell yes we're finding out the sex. I don't honestly understand people who say they want to wait and be surprised. It's a surprise either way! It's not like if you find out early you get to choose! Plus, I'm finding plenty to stress about without adding another question mark to the equation. Like, for instance, getting enough writing done now to be able to take some time off early next year. Actually, the pregnancy has been wicked motivation--my plan is to write the first two books on the contract before February, which would put me way ahead of deadline.

I promise this won't become The Pregnancy Blog, because seriously, I get tired of talking about it. But I'll give updates when something fun happens. So far, it hasn't been bad at all; I'm part of the teeny minority of women who didn't have any morning sickness during the first trimester, and now that I'm in the second, my biggest concern is my expanding waistline. Mostly, I'm enjoying the process, and very much enjoying talking with my friends who've been there about the whole experience. Feel free to share your story! I need all the advice I can get.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First things first: if you entered the contest to win a copy of Roxanne St. Claire's Now You Die, please check the comments section of the post below for the winners' names! Congratulations, guys. I know you'll enjoy this book! For those of you who didn't win, just run out to Borders and spring for a copy. It'll be worth every penny, I promise.

So I've been back from the beach for about two weeks now, and have yet to settle into any kind of groove, writing-wise. Not that I'm getting zilch accomplished, but there were some editing issues to take care of and, you know, bills to pay and trips to plan (yes, more traveling, someone please chain me to my desk!) and dinner to cook and what with one thing and another, I've only moved forward about ten pages in the last two weeks. Not a great total. When I'm really rocking, I can do ten pages a day, and even at my most moderate steady rate, I can rock out five or six. So what's my problem?

Fear. I've talked about this with several fellow authors lately, so I know it's a fairly universal authorial freakout. We get scared that whatever it was that drove us to start the story will suddenly up and quit on us, leaving us stranded in the middle of our plot with no way forward. And of course, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You're totally stranded for good and all if you let fear paralyze you into not writing. My current fear is tied to that, but is specifically related to the super important turning point scene I'm currently mired down in. I want everything about it to be perfect, to work, to catapult the characters into the second half of the book where everything has changed.

What I keep forgetting is that the only way forward is to write it. And it doesn't have to be perfect on this pass through, it just has to be SOMEthing. You can always tinker with it later, as long as there are words strung together to make a scene. But you can't revise an empty page.

With that in mind, I'm opening up the old doc and plunging in. If anyone has any other advice for me, tried and true methods for combating fear, please share!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My First Contest!

I've never run a contest on my blog before, but I'm lucky enough to be in possession of three brand new copies of bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire's smashing new release, Now You Die--and I just can't resist!

Now You Die is the final book in a connected trilogy set within her existing Bullet Catchers series, about a group of smokin' hot Alpha bodyguards. Now You Die spotlights Lucy Sharpe, the enigmatic, powerful woman who rules the Bullet Catchers with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Lucky girl that she is, she's forced to choose between disgraced ex-employee Jack Culver, the sexiest rogue bodyguard anyone's likely to meet, and her closest friend and confidant, the ever charming Dan Gallagher. Choices, choices...
A random drawing of names from this blog's comments will determine the three winners. Please feel free to forward the blog to your friends for a chance to win! If you haven't read Roxanne St. Claire yet (not that there are many of you out there) you're really missing a bet. She writes the kind of fast-paced, super fun, scorching hot romantic suspense that will keep you turning the pages in a blur. The whole series is great, the trilogy is awesome, but this book totally stands alone and can be deeply enjoyed by new reads.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Okay! I know I've been MIA for a while now, but you'll have to forgive me. I was on vacation with my writing buddies in Florida, and while I did manage to open my laptop for a few hours every day, I used those precious moments to write my book, not to blog. I've passed the halfway point in my book, though, so yay me! Of course, I also realized that there's a big pacing issue stretching back to like the fourth chapter, so I'm revision-bound for the next few days. Once I get through the current exceedingly fun scene I'm working on, because I just can't put it down. Don't you love that feeling, when you're so into what you're doing that it's not like work at all?

This scene is like that for me. It's the physical culmination (or as close to it as we're getting) of the secondary love story, which will lead into the big midpoint reversal for the heroine. I don't want to give too much away, so I won't say more, even though I'm dying to. What is it about secondary love interests that gets me so fired up? I just love them. I love to read them, love to write them. I don't know if I could ever write a book without one. Inevitably, the brother/best friend/mother/niece/business partner of the hero or heroine ends up being my favorite character. Some examples: FBI agent Jules Cassidy from Suzanne Brockmann's Navy SEALs books, as well as her ongoing saga with Sam Starret; Zsadist and Bella in Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward; Marquess Simon Bonnington in Eloisa James's A Wild Pursuit; Pilar, the heroine's mother, in The Villa by Nora Roberts. There are lots more, but Suz Brockmann's are probably my favorites. I love the way she lays the foundation for future novels as she goes along so that by the time Jules finally gets his man in Force of Nature, the reader is so heavily invested in his happiness and loves him so much as a character that the experience of reading that happy ending is nothing short of explosive. It's great setup for catharsis, and she delivers every time.

Can you tell I'm gearing up to read her new hardcover? Just out at the end of July (and I can't believe I missed it that first week, what kind of shoddy fangirl am I?) called Into the Fire, it brings back a character who's been MIA since the first or second book of the series, when the love of his life was gunned down in a firefight right beside him. It was tragic and heartbreaking enough that I remember it a dozen books later, and can't wait to find out what's happening with Vinh Murphy. And hopefully there will be a few little tidbits about my favorites, Jules and Robin, seeded throughout, just to keep her boylove readers happy...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Iowa Adventure

Last weekend marked my first ever visit to Iowa. A friend of ours from college and New York was marrying the woman of his dreams who happened to have been raised on an Iowa pig farm. (Josh gleefully told us he hadn't paid for bacon in two years. And he eats a lot of bacon. Her family is losing money on this deal, I guarantee it.) The wedding festivities involved an entire weekend of fun and friends; for us it was like a mini college reunion. Well, more for Nick than for me, since they were all his friends in college. But since then, I've become close to lots of them, and to their girlfriends, so we had a lovely time. There was an open mic night in a huge barn the first night we got there, and I admit I was a little skeptical. The bride is getting a PhD in poetry and participates in poetry slams in her spare time. I am not a huge fan of poetry. Slam poetry, especially, always smacks awkwardly of white girls rapping. But the open mic night was lots of fun, full of folk music and singing (does everyone in the world other than me play the acoustic guitar?) and even some poetry that didn't make me cringe. In fact, don't tell anyone, but I kind of liked it. I'm sure it was an anomaly.

The wedding itself was in a state park beside Lake Okoboji, a glorious setting for a unique ceremony. First of all, I should say, the bride looked gorgeous, glowing and happy in traditional white with a train and everything. The ceremony incorporated the Quaker meeting format of silent meditation interrupted by any guest who felt so moved by the spirit to get up and say something to the bride and groom. People really got into and it ended up being quite beautiful. The reception followed what I call the Haverfest template, resembling nothing so much as that day at the end of the school year when Haverford College students drag boxes of wine, six-packs, blankets, frisbies, etc. onto the campus green and just hang out all day drinking and enjoying the sun. We took a dip in the lake, played some cards on a picnic table, mercilessly mocked the friends among us who aren't yet hitched, and just generally had a smashing time.

Most importantly, the entire event perfectly suited the bride and groom, and they were able to enjoy their own wedding. Which doesn't always happen. I'm glad we went, even if the air travel gave me a slight cold. How do I always manage to sit in front of the kicking child and his sniffling, sneezing, hacking grandmother?

Just lucky, I guess.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cherry Update

So we had Sour Cherry Cobbler for dinner last night (and um, maybe again for breakfast this morning) and damn was it good! If I do say so who shouldn't. Veeery tart, since I skimped on the sugar, with nice buttermilk biscuits on top. The biscuits were baked separately first, which I'd never done for cobbler before, but it made them very crisp and delicious on the outside with enough structural integrity to keep the cherry juices from dissolving them. The cherry filling was augmented with a cup of dry red wine, and it deepened the flavor of the cherries without taking over the whole cobbler.

Anyway, it was a perfectly lovely dinner, and covered all the major food groups. Fruit, obviously. The biscuits contained accounted for both the grains and the dairy, and we're going to give them protein, too, because buttermilk is just multitalented like that. So there! Dessert for dinner is a totally viable option. Shut up.

Today is also a happy happy day because I got my Nordstrom "free" gift with my purchase of beauty supplies. Yay! I love free gifts I actually secretly paid for with the mark up on my make up! You have to hit a certain total to qualify and I, of course, ordered things I didn't need at all in my effort to hit that total. Because I wanted the gift! It's a pretty good one this time, a great big tote bag and lots of little goodies like Egyptian Face Cleanser and Bulgari Eau de Parfum.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sour Cherries

It's that time of the year again--sour cherry season in Ohio! Now what to do with a giant bucket of fresh sour cherries...

I'm starting with the basics, cherry cobbler. As it's served in most restaurants and diners, cherry cobbler is like cherry pie substituting a crumbly sugary topping for the crust. Traditionally, however, the topping is more like tender, craggy drop biscuits that soak up the cherry juices beautifully.

Cook's Illustrated, my new favorite cooking magazine, is providing the recipe for my first Sour Cherry Week recipe. It involves a cup of dry red wine in the cherry filling. I'll let you know how it goes! Anyone cooking anything interesting with all this gorgeous summer produce?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

RWA Nationals 2008: Before I Forget it All

As the parties quickly fade into hazy memories of wine, women, and song, I'm back in my own bed and my own house with Stinger and Hunter (it's a toss up who was happier to see me) and I'm thinking I'd better get some of this out of my head before it disappears completely.

Let's see, quick rundown. The Knight Agency party was fab--those ladies really know how to live it up! We went to First Crush Wine Bar, just a short hop from the Marriott, and had the wine cellar party room all to ourselves. There must have been 100 people there, rotating in and out, and with the low ceilings and uncarpeted floor, it got fairly loud. Are we noticing a theme? The Diva Dinner was cacophonous, and now we have to shout to make ourselves heard at First Crush. But it was all good; we got to meet lots of new people, since Lucienne Diver's clients were there and it was our first event all together since Lucienne joined TKA.

Daytime events: I moderated agent Elaine Spencer and YA author Marley Gibson's workshop on agent/author relations. It was a smashing success, very well attended by lots of good, engaged listeners with questions at the end. I did take pictures, but they were all actions shots of the girls talking, so I'm pretty sure Elaine and Marley would hurt me if I posted them here. The next day, Kristen, Laura, Jo Marie and I went down to Fisherman's Wharf for a little more sightseeing. I had my heart set on the sea lions, who I'd been told got down and dirty with each other on a daily basis, but we mostly saw Ghirardelli Square, a fabulous little cupcake place (is Kristen Painter not the most adorable thing you've ever seen in your life?), and a bunch of handmade jewelry stalls where I think we each bought something for the coming night of publisher parties.

Pub Party Night started with a flying visit to the Berkley/NAL party being held in the hotel. I said hi to all my friends and former coworkers, which was lovely, then we headed out to the St. Martins party. SMP took over the top floor of a shmancy asian restaurant and served adorable hors d'oeuvres like mini takeaway boxes of cold noodles, skewers of portabello mushrooms and yummy egg rolls, along with knock-you-on-your-behind "St. Martini" cocktails. They were fuschia and tasted like straight punch, but were evidently more like straight vodka infused with fruit juice. I met lots of wonderful people, from editors to execs to fellow St. Martins authors, and it was just great. Then we crashed the Harlequin party, and the evening quickly spun out of control.

In a good way! Harlequin gets crashed by half the conference every year, so they expect it by now. They'd reserved the entire enormous Four Seasons ballroom, put in a dj and dance floor surrounded by huge potted palm trees harboring spot lights. There was a double-sided mirrored bar serving so many women you couldn't hear yourself think, and at one point things got so rowdy that one of those giant potted spotlight trees crashed to the floor to accompaniment of a wild cheer from the dance floor. Did the dancing stop? Nope. Everyone was having too much fun. Kristen, Marley and I were there with Roxanne St. Claire and Jane from Dear Author, and Rocki immortalized many moments which I hope will never see the light of the internet.

And then we all stumbled home! I left the next day, missing the Ritas, so I can't give you the scoop on that but I heard it was lots of fun. I'm already looking forward to next year! Poor little Washington, D.C. isn't going to know what hit it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

RWA Nationals 2008 - First 2 Parties

Wednesday night was the RWAOnline Chapter party, which was Chinatown themed. We conned Jen Rementer into buying a silk dress to wear, which turned out to have a bit of corset-type action across the chest, but she looked stunning anyway. Even if she could barely breathe. And it didn't seem to stop her from having a good time--see her pictured left after stealing Feisty's crutches. Nic Montreuil had an amazing brainwave to increase guest participation at this year's party, and in a way that couldn't fail to be fun for everyone, considering who we are. We're all writers, yeah? Is what Nic thought. So why don't we write something? Taking a page from former RWAOL President Mel Francis' book, we came up with five words and ask party-goers to write something--anything--incorporating those words. The plan was to read them aloud anonymously and choose winners based on the applause-o-meter (for my money, Pamela Hathaway's hilarious short take on the See Dick Run books was a clear standout, or possibly Mike Myers' incredibly dirty short story, which was the only thing to come close to making Nic blush as she read it out to us), but in the end they were all so wonderful that we gave out book prizes to everyone who participated. Except me, because I had a mini attack of writer's block and only managed to doodle a drawing of the party table's centerpiece, a little red teddy bear with a Chinese hat on. I did give him a t-shirt sporting all five key words, but I just couldn't bring myself to receive a prize for it. Due to the generosity of our published author members, we had enough books to give away that everyone got something to read on the plane home! People seemed to enjoy themselves, the naughty fortune cookies were a big hit, and Theresa Bodwell announced a fun competition for a great cause, the Unleash Your Story contest to fight Cystic Fibrosis--what more could you wish for? Well, other than the longed-for presence of absent friends like Mel and Maria Geraci. *s-s-s-sniff*

On Thursday, we had the Diva Dinner, followed by the TKA Party, which is not going to make it into this already monstrous post. The Diva Dinner was much like the Romance Divas themselves: loud, raucous, fun and friendly. We went to Buca di Beppo, which is evidently a chain of Italian joints in some states, although I'd never heard of it. Even though the restaurant managed to screw up quite a few things (for instance, promising a private room and delivering a cavernous space filled to the brim with other parties, none of whom could compete with the Divas for sheer decibel level) the party was a huge success. Everyone had a blast, especially Kristen Painter. See photographic evidence below. I like to call this series of pictures Abondanza.
Barbara Vey, who blogs romance for Publishers Weekly, was there and telling fabulous stories about her recent trip to Comic-Con in San Diego--apparently Riker (from Star Trek) no longer fits into his onesie. Very sad. Proving that a good journalist is always prepared for anything, Barbara came to Buca with a Tide pen--and so did Mike Myers. Coincidence?
Naughty Kate and I had similar ideas about documenting the evening. A picture is worth a thousand words! I think these really say it all.

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