April Reader Challenge

Writers start out as readers. We read tons of books and then one day we realize we could put our characters on the page, and BOOM, a writer is born. The problem is, once you start writing seriously, you get jaded about what you read. Eventually, going to a bookstore is work because you’re there to research covers, see what the market is buying, get ideas, buy research texts. And you have to be careful about what you’re reading while you’re writing your book because you don’t want to end up sounding like someone else instead of yourself.

I was at that point last month. I couldn’t tell you the last book I picked up. And I was pretty miserable. Nothing was piquing my interest. I’d walk into a bookstore and look at the section headers and think, “Nope. Too much work to find something.”

Then, paranormal romance author Regan Black stopped by for a chat, and she mentioned this romance challenge. No, it wasn’t about finding a guy, although I could use that challenge too. This was the Reading Romances monthly book challenge. It gave me the help I needed.

This month’s topic was alternate realities. Choices were: 1) a contemporary with something different (paranormal); 2) future/historical with an alternative reality; 3) a Rita/Golden Heart nominee; 4) a book with at least three of the seven colors of the rainbow on it’s cover or a title that included dream/wish/rainbow; or 4) a book with an accountant/book-keeper character or a borrowed book.

No pressure. You don’t have to read one from each option. Just one book. I could handle this.

I started out with Lothaire by Krelsey Cole. Here’s the excerpt:

In this thrilling tale of the Immortals After Dark, #1 New York Times bestselling author Kresley Cole reveals secrets of the Lore, fierce realm of the immortals.


Driven by his insatiable need for revenge, Lothaire, the Lore’s most ruthless vampire, plots to seize the Horde’s crown by offering up the soul of his lovely new captive, Elizabeth Peirce. Yet the young human soon tempts him beyond reason.


Ellie Peirce’s life was a living hell—even before an evil immortal abducted her. Though he plans to sacrifice her, the vampire seems to ache for her touch, showering her with sexual pleasure. In a bid to save her soul, she surrenders her body, while vowing to protect her heart.


In one month, Lothaire must choose between a millennia-old blood vendetta and his irresistible prisoner. Will he succumb to the miseries of his past . . . or risk everything for a future with her?

This turned out to be a double play for me. I sort of dole Kresley Cole out to myself because I adore this series, and I knew there was a new book out, but hadn’t gone to search it out because I knew what would happen. So when I went to figure out what I was missing, I realized she’d also released a novella over the holidays when I wasn’t looking.

Before I cracked open Lothaire, I dove into Warlord Wants Forever, the novella that tells the story that starts the series. It was fantastic, although I give a warning: this book has all the heat of a full-length novel packed into a small package. Cole handled it well, but given the shorter format, the sexual tension that normally carries her characters along while they get to know each other before they hop in to bed is minimal. It was a great read and I highly recommend it. If you’re new to the series, I’d start here (normally I read the books in the order written).

Back to Lothaire and Ellie. This is by far the darkest book in the series, so do not read it right after you’ve lost your job and you feel all alone. Or when you have a deadline looming. I was going to read for 30 minutes one morning and then get to work. Right. Eight hours later, the kids were home from school and I had done nothing.

And I’d do it again. In the early days of this series, I didn’t think you needed to read the books in order, but now that the paranormal war is in full swing, you really need to. If you haven’t discovered Cole yet, and you like the idea of vampires, werewolves, Valkyries and the like living among us, take a week off work and give her a try.

Needless to say, that broke the reading dry spell I had going on. I finished that, caught sight of Eloisa James on one of my shelves and realized that I’d stopped reading in the middle of one of her series. My daughter had bought the remaining books, so I ran upstairs and stole a couple of books off her shelf.

Luckily, Eloisa’s books can be read out of order, because I’d picked up another of series in the middle and wanted to try and complete it. So, the book that started my trek into borrowed book territory was Desperate Duchesses.  If you’re looking for a wild romp in the Georgian period, you’ve found your series. It follows six wild women of the time as they find the men that tame their hearts.

I love Roberta for looking at her life, realizing she needs something more and doing what’s necessary to get it. And I love Damon for ignoring the attitudes of the time when it comes to his son, and getting the duchess he’s fallen for.

At a time when many of us can’t find one man, it’s refreshing to have a woman having to choose between two: the bad boy Duke and the Earl, who’s a little tarnished himself. The story moves quickly and led to a couple of late nights reading.

I’m not a huge fan of historical, but Eloisa James is a fun read that makes me wish for corsets. How often can you say that?

Here’s the teaser:

Welcome to a world of reckless sensuality and glittering sophistication . . . of dangerously handsome gentlemen and young ladies longing to gain a title . . . of games played for high stakes, including—on occasion—a lady’s virtue.

A marquess’s sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded ballroom: a duke, a game player of consummate skill, a notorious rakehell who shows no interest in marriage—until he lays eyes on Roberta.

Yet the Earl of Gryffyn knows too well that the price required to gain a coronet is often too high. Damon Reeve, the earl, is determined to protect the exquisite Roberta from chasing after the wrong destiny.

Can Damon entice her into a high-stakes game of his own, even if his heart is likely to be lost in the venture?

You’d think after four books (I read two by Eloisa), I’d be done. But I hadn’t picked up the book I said I was going to read at the beginning of the challenge, Bet Me by Jenny Crusie.

I’ve read it before, but I love it. Min’s an actuary, not technically an accountant, but it was close enough in my mind. She’s reserved, except for her shoes. But only one person really gets her: Cal Morrisey, the man who’s left a string of broken hearts around town because he won’t let a woman in to his heart.

These two characters are awesome together and the back and forth banter between them is what makes Crusie a New York Times bestseller.

Here’s the blurb on this one, and like the others this month, it was well worth the time I spent not sleeping. Although I may need to break down and get this one on my Kindle because I’m wearing out the binding on another Crusie novel. Shocking. Not.

Minerva Dobbs knows all about risk management, which is why it’s such a shock when David, her extremely logical choice for a boyfriend, dumps her three weeks before her perfect sister’s wedding: David was not supposed to be a wild card. So when Min overhears David make a bet with his old nemesis—the gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey—that Cal can’t get Min into bed in a month, she decides that fate has just handed her a stacked deck: she can make Cal sweat his sex appeal and get a date to the wedding, if she plays along and doesn’t fold. What follows is a novel of destiny, chaos theory, Krispy Kreme donuts, the spirit of Elvis, Chicken Marsala, and a gamble for the highest stake of all: true love.

In honor of this book, my daughter and I are making Chicken Marsala tonight. We’ll let you know how it goes next week in the Kids in the Kitchen blog update!


Kids in the Kitchen: Pound Cake by the Pound

I’m not really sure how it happened. I signed up to donate two pound cakes for the annual Boy Scout BBQ Chicken Dinner sale. Two. I distinctly remember signing up for two. But then, while being pressed into service as a delivery organizer and money collector (hey, I like money), it was mentioned that we were low on pound cake.
Why yes, that is the word “sucker” you see there on my forehead. I wasn’t actually asked to do more, but as the emails got a little more frantic, I thought, what the heck? It’s cake. I like to bake. Besides, you put them in the oven and walk away for an hour, giving you plenty of time to do things like…write a book. Or a blog.
So, Wednesday morning I wake up and dive into cake baking. Did I mention I used a new recipe? It’s the High-Ratio Pound Cake from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and it’s really good. Unfortunately, without a hit of caffeine or common sense, I didn’t think to set the timer a little early for that first one to check for doneness. (Is that a word?) Anyway, out came the most beautiful, slightly crispy on the bottom because I should have pulled it out five minutes ago, cake.

Scout Son makes cake #3...or is it #4?
Scout Son makes cake #3…or is it #4?

I am not a fan of pound cake. In my mind, cake should always come with frosting. In fact, in my mind, the cake is optional and only there because apparently it’s uncivilized to just serve a bowl of frosting. Who knew?
I know. You’re wondering when the Kids are entering the Kitchen. Well, Scout Son was drafted for cake number three. Actually, it was cake number four because I was really worried about cake number one being edible. He came home from school and I said, “Drop your stuff, wash your hands, and make a cake.”
Scout Son: Uh…
Tired, Cranky Mom: Dude, I am not going on the trip that this dinner is funding. You are. But you won’t be if you don’t help me with these crazy cakes.
Scout Son, counting cakes on the counter: I thought you were only making two.
TCM: They’re short cakes. So I’m making two extra.
SS, still counting: But there are four…
TCM: Ignore that one.
SS: Does that mean I get to do quality control on it?
TCM: Nobody eats anything until you make the next cake!

Pound CakeAnd this is how Scout Son learned about high-ratio cakes and made a melt-in-your-mouth pound cake. High-ratio cakes have a higher amount of sugar. This one has the additional benefit of not having to cream the butter and sugar first. It’s painfully simple to make and the results are awesome. Because of all the eggs in it, it’s also a great recipe for kids needing egg-breaking practice.
What happened to the not-quite-perfect cake? I altered the glaze from page 51, made it an orange rum glaze, and fed it to the volunteers that night. Best not-quite-perfect cake I’ve ever made! The best perfect pound cake Scout Son made too.


Writing Wednesday…or Not

Yes, I know. Today is the day you all come to see what nuggets of writing wisdom I’m going to share. We are renaming today Migraine Wednesday. I got up long enough to make sure the kids got out the door (OK, I lifted my head and listened to the door close). Tried again an hour later and managed to take a shower and eat breakfast before I gave up and crashed on the couch for the day.

Lucky for me, it’s a comfy couch.

It’s allergy season, well everywhere, and I am allergic to everything. I was tested a few years ago and the doctor said, “What do you think you’re allergic to?” Everything green and leafy. Well, 20 minutes and a specialist co-pay later I found out I was allergic to…pretty much everything green and leafy. When I moved to the east coast I learned that I’m allergic to either chickens or all the dust and wood shavings they live in. This would have been a good thing to remember three weeks ago before I became the proud owner of six chicks.

Ah well. There are shots for that. In the meantime, there’s a migraine. Personally, I think the migraine would be helped by going to the beach because everything’s better at the beach. Did I mention there wouldn’t be French horn practice at the beach?

Tune in next week when I’ll come up with some writing gems. And you definitely want to be here on Friday for the weekly Kids in the Kitchen segment where Scout Son makes pound cake. I’m sure I’ll have come up with something funny about that by then. It’s an awesome recipe; you should stop by to find out where you can get that if nothing else.

In the meantime, check out some of the other stops on the blog hop this week. And don’t forget to enter the contests here by sharing where you run away to!

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Indie Giveaway Hop Stop #19

indie giveaway

Welcome to stop number 19 on the Indie Giveaway Hop! The week-long hop is hosted by A Daydreamers Thoughts and Booked Up Reviews and supported by Blogger Loving, Making Connections, and Shut Up & Read.

To celebrate Indie authors, I’m giving away some of my favorite indy books. Obsession is the first book in Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil series. If you enjoy thrillers, you’ll love this opening novel for a serial killer series. The Matchmaker’s Mark by Regan Black is a personal favorite, light paranormal romance. Also the first in a series, I can’t wait to see the next installment. My final giveaway is a fun contemporary romance, Deal with a Devil by Diana Duncan.

Photo of Heiress and Her Fake Fiance by Kimberly Hope book coverIn my book, The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé , when Jessica Heymore needs to figure out what to do with the mess her life has become, she runs home to the North Carolina beach town where she grew up. It’s hardly surprising. I’ve run back home when my life hit rock bottom. And when I was there, I ran to the beach. Now that I’m on the east coast, I run to the beach at least once a year, usually in the winter when the place is deserted and the weather is a lot like Northern California in May.

Which raises the question, where do you run when you need to get away? Answer the question as a comment on this blog and you’re immediately entered in the drawing for one of the books above.

Here’s an excerpt from Jessica’s story:

“It’ll go away,” she muttered. Her body hadn’t gotten the memo saying she was over him. With so little sleep, her body and her hormones were working on autopilot. Tomorrow everything would get back to normal.

 “Now, come on, you two, work with me. This isn’t a root canal. Matt, put your arm around the girl. You’re supposed to be in love.”

“What? We’re not –,” The words died in Jessica’s throat when Matt touched her.

He slipped his arm around her waist, and pulled her close, so they stood hip to hip.

“You mean like this?”

Fire ran up her side and she wanted to cry. Why didn’t Bill cause sensations like these?

“Or was this more what you had in mind, Vi?”

Jessica stopped thinking the minute he turned her so they were facing. He winked as he slowly pulled her closer, until she was pressed firmly against his hard body. Her hands reached for his shoulders, almost of their own volition.

Matt lowered her in a dip and their eyes met. Her laughter died in her throat. Eyes that had held humorous sparks just a moment before now darkened to near-black with an awareness she’d never seen. Anticipation licked up her spine but Jessica opened her mouth to protest.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Kiss her, for goodness sake.”

He whispered an oath as he lowered his head.

You can read the whole story The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé . And don’t forget to visit all the stops on the blog hop.
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Writing Wednesday: Editing Matters

As any reader with a Kindle, Nook or iPad will tell you, publishing is at a crossroads. Readers are changing the way they get their books, and paper isn’t that important any more. Being attached to a publisher isn’t as important anymore. What remains important – in fact, may be even more important now – is editing. And all too often, it’s being overlooked by indie and traditional publishers alike. The problem is, readers won’t be repeat buyers if the quality of the book is garbage.

I have a friend who recently bought her favorite author’s book electronically. She was mildly irritated over the price, but she didn’t complain about the Might As Well Have Bought It Hardcover Price until… she started counting the typos. Now she’s vowed never to spend money on the author again.

Before you say something like that’s what happens when you buy an unknown, it was a big name author from a big name publisher.

Today, anyone can publish a book. The playing field has been leveled. Which means each of us needs to do everything we can to ensure the books we write are as clean as possible. Yes, even if you’re sending it to a publisher and you have an editor because it’s your name that appears on the cover. Readers don’t hold publishers responsible.

I have three people I hand my books over to for editing. Each one catches different things. One is great at punctuation, one catches plotting issues and one catches crazy things that I have to look up to understand what he’s talking about like past perfect contractions (which I’m horrible about).

The good news is every manuscript I write is cleaner than the previous one because I know what my big issues are so I’m more aware of them as I write. But that doesn’t mean I get to stop editing or proofreading. Spellcheck only catches things that are misspelled, so it’s not going to notice that the heroine’s cat from chapter one became a dog in chapter two.

Only proofreaders catch things like that, and as authors, we’re too close to the story. I once read that you have to wait eight weeks between editing rounds for your own work to be “new” to your eyes. In today’s market, writers don’t have that kind of time. But with more books available than ever before, we also can’t afford to alienate readers because we rushed a book out the door.

So whatever else you do, make sure you’re sending your book out the door as clean as possible.  Readers are always looking for a reason to read one book over another. Don’t send them away from an otherwise great story simply because your manuscript isn’t typo-free. If it’s work for the reader to make it through the typos, it’s not worth the effort. Or the money. While you may have gotten the sale today, you’ll lose the future sales on your next release because readers remember.


Kids in the Kitchen: Linguine with Aspragus and Pine Nuts

I am blessed. My kids will eat weird stuff. Dim Sum. Curry. Asparagus. No, they weren’t born this way. I’m one of those uptight parents who thinks if you take a kid to an ethnic restaurant, they should eat ethnic food. That does not mean chicken nuggets.

Linguine with Asparagus and Pine Nuts
Linguine with Asparagus and Pine Nuts

So this week I reminded them they liked weird food. Specifically asparagus. Yes, I know it looks like trees. I don’t care. I wanted real food. Tasty food. Cooked by someone else food. I tasked the kids with making Linguine with Asparagus and Pine Nuts from Real Simple Magazine.

This came in part from Scout Son announcing a few weeks ago that he couldn’t make mac and cheese from a box. Sadly, he’s right. What he makes is a congealed, starchy mess. So, pasta training was necessary, but I’m not eating mac and cheese with powdered cheese. Unless I’m exhausted or hormonal and it’s the only thing in the house. But nobody’s judged by what they eat on those days.

Armed with a paring knife, Snarky Daughter began cutting 1-inch pieces of asparagus, and Scout Son and I discussed the proper way to cook pasta. Problem number one: don’t add the pasta until the water is boiling. Somebody likes to add the pasta when the first thought of a bubble appears on the bottom of the pan. Problem number two: add some salt to the water and, problem number three, stir the pasta when you toss it in the pot so it doesn’t stick.

With some awesome al dente pasta (not a congealed mess), garlic, pine nuts and asparagus, we sat down thirty minutes later to a fantastic meal, and the knowledge that I will be sending two kids out into the world with cooking skills. The only question now is who’s going to cook one night a week when they both move out?


Writing Wednesday: Creating Characters

So last week I said that books tend to come to me with a scene. But that “scene” may only be a few lines of dialogue. There are people who have fully-formed characters that enter their world. I’m not that lucky. My characters kind of dare me to get to know them. “We gave you that little taste. You want more? Figure us out!”

It’s cruel, but it’s the way they play. Over the years I’ve had to find a lot of tools to help me figure out who they are. If I’m lucky that little bit of dialogue gives me a hit about their internal or external conflicts, their goals and motivations. I start trying to figure out who they are by looking at what I learned about them from that scene.

When The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge came to me, I got the first line of the book: Meg looked up at the man who hated her almost as much as her father did, and said the four words that would change her life forever. “I need your help.”

She’s standing out in the rain and has to beg the hero for help. A man she’d hoped to never see again. And he’s not budging, not happy about letting her in. So why does she turn to him? And why does he finally let her in the house? Then there’s that whole comment about him hating her almost as much as her father? There’s some baggage to unpack. Why does he hate her?

Why, why why?

It all comes down to why. That’s where the conflict is, and conflict is what makes readers turn the page. The fact is the story ends with happily ever after because that’s where the conflict ends. We’ve gotten our happy ending. How many pages would you keep reading after that if there wasn’t conflict? The beauty of Once Upon A Time is that Snow and Charming got their happily ever after, but it only lasted about five minutes. Then the Evil Queen showed up, cursed everyone, and now they’re all stuck in Maine with amnesia. Five minutes is about all we can handle of happy.

For romance novels, we need two conflicts, internal and external. We need them because our readers know how the story ends. The internal conflict is the emotional issue, and each character in your story has one. The external conflict is what moves the story along, what the characters are trying to get, be it a house, a business, a client. We might not know the conflicts of the waiter in the restaurant where your leading couple is eating dinner, but he has them.

In The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé, Matt’s internal conflict is tied to his mother leaving him as a child. He wants to be loved, wants a family, but he wants a woman who won’t leave Blakely. Because he fears being left again. So the last person he should fall in love with is the woman who admits she’s come back home to lick her wounds before she leaves town again to escape her father.

You’ll notice I threw in the because statement there. When we look at conflict whether it’s internal or external, we also need to look at the character’s backstory. We need their goal (I want), motivation (because) and conflict (but). I want a bowl of ice cream because it’s heaven on a spoon and reminds me of my favorite times with my dad, but if I eat it my butt will get larger than it already is. Hey, it’s an external conflict, and it was easy. Will she or won’t she eat the ice cream? Tune in tomorrow…

The because makes it interesting. What memories does ice cream bring? And the conflict: do I want the walk down memory lane or the fat thighs and butt? You have to have all three to have believable characters because everyone has goals. And we all have backstory. That’s where I start with my characters. My backstory includes ice cream. What about yours?


April Reading Challenge, Easter Chocolate and Monday Chaos

Hard to believe it’s Monday again. As usual, I start Monday with the list of stuff I was supposed to finish over the weekend but didn’t, like write this blog. The list is really long today because it’s really a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do last week. But I did finally find decent chocolate bunnies, so Easter was good. And I introduced Snarky Daughter to Cadbury Crème Eggs, which means I have to share, but they’re so good!

So the list is long this week because I finally had an aha! moment with one of my prescriptions. I take it one week a month and this is the first time I’ve taken it since the day job went away. About halfway through the week, fighting all sorts of signs of depression except being depressed — just tired but can’t sleep, no energy, etc — it occurred to me to check the side effects of the medication. Bingo! Of course, I thought of that on Saturday, the last day I had to take it. But now I know, so maybe coffee is allowed the week I take it.

Sunday came along and BOOM I was back to my crazy, how many things other than writing this blog and paying the bills can I get done today? Well, turns out I can do 4 hours of yard work, including cutting down a 10′ dead limb from a tree. OK, halfway through Scout Son wanted a crack at it, so he finished it up. I can burn all the dead leaves that had the audacity to fall after we burned the leaves in December. I can weed a small part of the garden for fifteen minutes (hunger and teenager mutiny ended that one), strip wallpaper for two hours, do four loads of laundry, change the sheets, watch Iron Man 2 and Tangled with the kids (hey, the Easter Bunny brought them), and finish up the Boy Scout reports for the upcoming Court of Honor.

I probably could have done more, but if you read through that list again, you’ll see a bunch of stuff that probably isn’t so good for back/hip injuries. But that’s the way I get on weekends. Did I mention I got rid of a 2′ stack of old bank and insurance statements? Well, I needed to start the fire somehow!

So, I’m writing this blog about the cool Reading Romance challenge a friend put me onto last weekend. You got that from the first four paragraphs, right? Not seeing it? Well, it’s Monday and I can’t have coffee so it’s sort of free-range blogging today. Which reminds me, I might need a couple of goats… Anyway, when she first mentioned it, I thought, it’s not a challenge for me to read, it’s a challenge for me to put the book down. See Thursday when I read all day. Yes, really.

But the deal with this challenge is that each month there’s a different theme. The rules are at the Reading Romances Challenge site, and you can sign up for April’s challenge here.

The best part is that she gives you choices, so if you can’t find something you like in the first option, no problem, move on to #2. But here they are for April:

TOPICS: Alternate Realities Month!

1) Read a contemporary book where something is different in the world than what reality reflects. (vampires, magic etc)

2) Read a book set in the future or  a historical with an alternative reality (i.e. steampunk).


3) Read one book that was nominated for the RITA or Golden Heart award!


4) Read an LGBT book, a book with at least 3 of the 7 colours of a rainbow (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red) on it’s cover, or a book with a title that includes the word: dream/s, wish/es, or rainbow.

5) Read a book with an accountant/book-keeper character, or due to a shortage of funds, read a free or borrowed (library, friend etc) book.

You can read as many as you want. So, I’m tackling Lothaire by Kresley Cole. It’s part of a series and I’d been holding off on reading this one because, well, once you start Kresley’s books, you might as well call in sick for the day. I may also tackle a book that was nominated for the RITA, although to be honest, I forgot to check out the list when the nominees were announced. But you can find them on the Romance Writer’s of America website. Reading a Golden Heart finalist is a little harder since they’re unpublished manuscripts.

I may also tackle one of the special events because Snarky Daughter keeps talking about the Jenny Crusie books she’s stealing from my shelf, and Bet Me is about an actuary, which in my mind is an accountant of sorts.

We’ll see what shakes out since it’s April and I’m being called to work in the yard. It sounds like I’ll be too busy to read, but usually I end up getting hurt working in the yard by, you know, walking or something equally taxing, and then I’m laid up for a week reading and writing.

Happy Spring! Go out and plant something heavenly, and then sit by and watch it grow, while you read a good book, of course!


Kids in the Kitchen: White Pizza with Tomato and Basil

Kids Making PizzaI’m a big believer in kids being able to cook. In my world that means more than toast. Last year during end of the year exams, Scout Son suggested that he and Snarky Daughter should have eggs for breakfast.

I burst out laughing.

It’s not that I don’t agree, it’s that I wake up at the last possible second to get everything done, and at the time, that second was at 5:45. AM. So, get up even earlier to make breakfast? Not happening.

I pointed to Snarky Daughter, who is like me except that she wakes up about 10 minutes after the last possible second, and said, “Right. You getting up early to make breakfast?”

We all choked on dinner. Then Scout Son offered to make it for them.

OK then.

Being my kids, they know how to make scrambled eggs of a sort. Imagine an omelet that you scrambled because the idea of trying to get it out of the pan without it falling apart was too much to handle and you’ve got eggs at our house.

“Hey, you’re the only one who has time to make them. If you want to, go for it. Just don’t miss the bus.”

So, the next morning, I’m drying my hair, when I start smelling heaven: eggs with Tabasco, oregano, basil, and cheese cooking. Yum! I got to have a Luna Bar for breakfast. Hey, I didn’t have time to eat, and I didn’t have exams.

Scout Son rocks.

So my goal is for both of my kids to go off into their lives being able to read a recipe and make anything. I’m not sure if they share this goal or not. Hence, Kids in the Kitchen, a.k.a. I Don’t Feel Like Cooking Today; Your Turn!

Scout Son and Snarky Daughter dollop cheese onto the pizza
Scout Son and Snarky Daughter dollop cheese onto the pizza

Sometimes the kids get to choose the recipes. Sometimes it’s up to me, and sometimes it’s up to the miscellaneous ingredients in the pantry. This week I grabbed a recipe that had been kicking around the house for a year waiting to be tried: White Pizza with Tomato and Basil from the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light.

This is an awesome recipe for the kids because they could easily make it if I was running late, primarily because you make it on a Boboli crust. We ran into a few problems while we were shopping. 1) It’s early April; no fresh basil. 2) For no reason I can understand (except there was no fresh basil), the grocery store was also out of prepared pesto. Undaunted, we pressed on, forgoing the fresh basil and making our own pesto using olive oil, garlic and chopped basil from a tube. Do not start with me. I seem to want basil this week.

The kids did a great job! I’d cut down on the amount of ricotta a little, maybe 1/3 cup instead of 1/2. Of course, if you had the fresh basil and the premade pesto, the basil flavors would probably balance things out a bit better. The recipe also calls for putting the tomatoes on the pizza after it comes out of the oven. We chose to put them on before we cooked the pizza so they’d be warm and tasty.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

The kids took the news that they were making dinner really well. Translation: Snarky Daughter only gave me one heartfelt sigh before giving in. Scout Son is usually all about the baking, but I’m adamant that I send him to his future wife with skills. To that end, he can make homemade cookies but can’t make Kraft Mac and Cheese without it becoming a starchy, gloppy mess. I don’t understand, but whatever.


The kids loved this pizza, even without a red sauce base. Snarky Daughter took some to school for lunch the next day. Best part? It took about ten minutes to pull it together (Scout Son does not like dolloping cheese with his finger) and another five under the broiler. The tomatoes were gorgeous and the mozzarella golden brown and gooey.

I think I may give up cooking more often!


Writing Wednesday: Plotting or Pantsing

A book usually starts in my head with a scene. One minute I’ll be minding my own business, doing whatever it is the day job requires, or listening to the kids take over the known monkey universe on some game system, and the next minute, I’m seeing two people I’ve never met in some scene.

And presto, I’m going to write a book.

If only the rest of the book was as easy as that first scene.

I have a confession. I used to be a Pantser. They say you’re either a Plotter or a Seat of Your Pants writer. I’m a living breathing example of someone who made the switch. When I started writing, I was a seat of your pants writer. I sat down each day at the keys and I had no idea what was going to happen next. Which was great, unless I sat down and really had no idea what to type. Every day was an adventure, although it could be terrifying if the words weren’t flowing.

I joined Romance Writers of America and went to a conference, where by chance (I didn’t know anybody in RWA), I sat down for breakfast with a woman who turned out to be Cait London. Yeah, I know. Too cool. That’s conference.

We were talking and we got on to the subject of query letters. Those joyous letters that you have to send to pitch your book in order for an editor to buy your book.

“Why would you write a book before you knew if it was going to sell? I mean once you’re published, wouldn’t you like to know the editor liked your book before you spent months writing it?”

“Well, yes. But I have to write the book before I write the proposal. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

I think I missed the first workshop session as Ms. London kindly explained how she plotted out a book so she could write a proposal for her editor before she wrote a word. The way she explained it made complete sense, and it’s the method I still use today. I don’t know if she actually suggested index cards, but it’s what works for me.

That doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Snarky Daughter was working on her Novelist Girl Scout badge recently and interviewed Regan Black about how she plotted her books. I think I heard Regan burst out laughing before asking, “Can you define ‘plot’ please?”

Right. She recently told me about a scene in her current book where the heroine screams. So, she screams and Regan realizes she has to go to a meeting. Which was apparently good because she didn’t know why the heroine screamed. Came back from the meeting, sat down and found out why (and it’s really good!).

I used to write that way, but I can’t now. Well, I can, but not to the level she does. My index cards aren’t really detailed, just enough to know what I need to sit down and work on each day.

And that’s key because otherwise I’ll go strip wallpaper instead of writing. Actually, I need to do that today anyway, but not before I get one of my index cards worked out.

The nice thing about index cards? I can take one with me when I’m waiting for Snarky Daughter or Scout Son somewhere and work on the scene for the day.

Given the fact that I was once a Pantser, you’d think I’d be able to write the scenes out of order, but I don’t work that way. I can, but it’s harder because I have to make things line up. If a bit of dialog comes to me, I’ll add it at the end of the file to write towards, but overall, I write the timeline of the book as it happens.

I guess what I’m saying here is, it doesn’t matter how you get the words on the page. It only matters that you get them there. It’s easy to go to conferences and hear professional writers share their process and think, “that’s the way it has to be done. I’m a hack.”

But that’s not the way it has to be done. It’s one way it can be done.

Process and muse go hand in hand. We can give them different tools to play with, but at the end of the day, you have to do what works for you. Even if it involves colored pencils, a pack of index cards, a bottle of wine, and a deck of Tarot cards. Don’t fight the process.