Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina--Part Three: More Ways to Help

I've been reading weblogs this morning. I have a few more ways you can help the victims of Katrina.

From Jennifer Jackson's weblog:

Jennifer challenges people to donate $25.00 to the Red Cross. You can donate to the Red Cross online here: Red Cross Donations They're really busy, so it may take several attempts to get the page to load.

A commenter on Jennifer's site noted that Coinstar has machines that allow you to donate to the Red Cross when you bring in your change. There's a list of locations on their website.

Alison Kent has a story about one of her critique partners on her weblog. It includes information about how you can help her, if you'd prefer to help a specific person, rather than make a general donation.

I wish I could do more than get the word out and pray, but it's all I can do with our family having no income and no idea how long this job hunt will be.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina--Part Two

Sheila posts about a way that anyone can help the victims, even if you don't have money or stuff to donate. Here's a link to her post: How to Help. I hope people who can donate, whether you're donating blood, money, or stuff, won't let time slip by without them getting around to it.

I have a correction from yesterday. My more science savvy husband pointed out that satellite cameras could only show the tops of the clouds. But they could put remote cameras in storm areas so they could get their video without needing to risk the lives of reporters.

Feeling Frustrated

So, why are we putting manpower and money to save dolphins when there are people who could have been saved, if someone had taken the time to find out who they were and get transportation to them? I get saddened by the people I wrote about yesterday. But I get sickened by the callousness of a culture that can't be bothered to create a database of people who are too poor to have transportation or too old, sick, or frail to be able to get themselves out. And can't be bothered to set up a system of minivans, buses, or other multiple-person vehicles to go around when evacuation is necessary and get these people to safety. I get frustrated by the sympathetic faces on the reporters when they report those deaths. If the people who are in a position to set up a system would stop overthinking the reasons against it and just do it, the death toll could be reduced.

I think my frustration comes from living in earthquake country. We're lucky in that we don't get them very frequently and they're rarely big enough to cause damage, hurt, or kill people. But we're unlucky in that we can't predict when an earthquake will hit. You can keep the necessary stuff for an emergency around all the time. And you hope that if there's a devastating earthquake, it doesn't make it impossible to get to your emergency kit. That's all we can do.

But the folks in storm country do get advance warning, and it just seems to me that they should do whatever it takes to make the most of that warning period. I think if they ever get to the point where they can predict earthquakes, I'd take the warnings seriously and do whatever I could to make sure as many people as I could help would survive. And I don't understand why the people in storm country don't do that. Maybe they do and I'm just uninformed, being several thousand miles away. I'd sure like to hear that I'm wrong.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina

Like most people, I'm praying for the safety of people living in Katrina's path. But, I gotta say, it saddens me when people refuse to head to safety. Last night one of the local radio talk show hosts got a phone call from a man whose brother lives in New Orleans. He refused to leave. The talk show host called him and he and the man's brother tried to talk him into leaving. I don't know the final outcome, because they were planning to keep talking with him after they went off the air.

What struck me was the guy's reason. He wanted to see the show. He seemed to view the hurricane as a once-in-a-lifetime bit of entertainment. His attitude was that he was somehow immune from the potential effects of riding out a hurricane. He never seemed to have considered the possibility that he could die. It was almost like it was some giant amusement park ride. I can't see where that's worth risking your life over. It seems ultimately an extremely selfish act, considering the grief your family and friends might be put through because you wanted your "fun" over protecting yourself.

Most of those stories are about people not wanting to leave their homes or their stuff. Do they think that staying there will act as a magical talisman to keep the hurricane from doing any damage to them and their stuff? Or maybe they can't stand to be gone and have to come back not knowing what will be there. But if they die, it won't matter what happened to their stuff. Better, I think, to save yourselves and deal with whatever happened to your stuff after it's over.

Then there's the reporters. They send reporters off to report disasters as if the fact that they're "doing their job" makes them immune to death. And they and the crew stand in the weather and report the same stuff the folks back at the studio are saying, but with a more exciting backdrop. By the time the hurricane really hits, the on-the-spot reporters can't interview people or even send a live feed. They're lucky to get a cranky cell phone transmission once the storm really gets going. How about taking pics from the satellites and putting them up as videos behind the people in the studio? Again, I don't think reporting the weather, no matter how bad the weather is, is worth risking your life over. Is it worth the possibility of causing all that pain to loved ones just to get a bad cell phone report from the middle of the "action", if you're lucky?

I hope and pray that people get saved from themselves and their own poor decisions. I hope their guardian angels are working overtime. I hope and pray that everyone affected gets what they need to start over, repair what's broken, and that another one doesn't hit this year.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Friday

It's Friday. You know--the TGIF, kind of "take it easy" day? In the Sprinkle household? Nah!

We got up this morning planning to go to breakfast and get clothes for Chris's new job. Two errands. Simple. The restaurant was across the street from the store, so an hour and a half, two hours tops, and we're done.

That was before the tribbles started to spawn. We realized we had to go to a different store for his shoes. A small check came yesterday, which added a trip to the bank. We now have four tribbles--um-- errands. Do tribbles multiply exponentially?

Just as we were headed out the door, David called. He needed a ride to the computer store to get more RAM and a video card. Of course, they only had the RAM. So it was off to computer store number two to locate a good video card. That makes six tribbles. We came home to pick up some stuff Chris forgot to bring to David's and sodas. Oops! Seven.

We went to David's to have a sandwich and take a break. We watched some of the documentary about Lucas' making the original Star Wars. The part where they show the actor who played Darth Vader speaking the lines was hilarious. The guy moved perfectly, but just didn't have that menacing voice Vader needs. Good thing they hired James Earl Jones.

While we were eating, David installed his video card. Works perfectly. He opened up the RAM package and discovered that--yes, the numbers on the paper and the box were correct. He'd signed the paper saying so in the store. But the clerk had given him a RAM chip for a notebook, not a desktop. Off to computer store number three. And tribble number eight.

The shoes for Chris? They got added to the regular tribbles--groceries, etc.--we do every Saturday. And that's what the Sprinkle house has been like the past two weeks. Tribbles anyone?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Been Reading a Lot

I've been reading a lot lately. I've read three books I want to comment on. They're really different from each other. I know a lot of people who read the same type of book over and over. They read only Regency Romance. Or only Romantic Suspense. Or only Cozy Mysteries. Or . . . . I can't do that. I get bored. The last three books I read are a fantasy, a mystery, and a Regency romance.

Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy

This urban fantasy is a wild roller coaster ride. Don't expect to put it down once you start it. You just have to find out what's next. Joanne Walker's whole life changes just because she had to help. There's magic and mystery in this book. If you like strong heroines and urban settings, you'll like this one. This is also one where I can't think of anything to say that doesn't give away too much, since this book's surprises are part of it's appeal.

Cat in an Orange Twist by Carole Nelson Douglas

I've been a fan of the Midnight Louie mysteries from the first book, Catnap, which apparently is no longer available new. This book is the 17th book in the series and I'm not bored yet. You don't have to read all of the books or read them in order to keep up with the series. She does a great job of sneaking in what you need to know to follow the ongoing mystery that she started in the first book. Each book is a part of that overall mystery, plus she has shorter stories that cover several books, and each book has it's own mystery. It's a complex project that the writer in me admires a lot.

This book twists and turns as any good mystery should. I didn't figure out whodunnit and it wasn't the author's fault. She gives us the information we need to figure it out. I just didn't make the connection. Carole Nelson Douglas has a clever way with words and a wit that sometimes has me laughing out loud, but the books are not comedies. Her characters run the gamut of human emotions, as all good characters should. Traditionally in series books, the main characters don't change. This isn't a traditional series. The characters do change, but slowly, the way people do. Worth a read. Worth picking up the older books and getting the whole story. She has 8-10 more books planned, I believe. It's going to be interesting to see how she keeps it going.

The Rogue by Celeste Bradley

This is the latest in her Liar's Club series. You don't have to read the series from the beginning because each book is a separate story. However, since she carries the characters from book to book, if you do read the whole series, it's fun to meet old favorites again. The Liar's Club is a spy organization in Great Britain at the time of the war between Britain and Napoleon. The stories are pretty complex because there are the personal tales of the hero and heroine mixed in with the spying and saving England from the French. This is fun, light reading. Take it to the beach or read it on your lunch hour.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Side Dishes

It's getting close to dinnertime here, which may be why posting a couple more recipes seems like a good idea today. Remember the Oven-Fried Mustard Chicken? Well, today I thought I'd give you a couple of recipes that go well with it.

Sauteed Green Beans w/Bacon & Onion

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound green beans -- snapped or 1 package frozen green beans, thawed and drained
2 slices bacon -- cut in 1/4" pieces
1/2 medium red onion -- sliced
1 ounce sliced almonds

Instructions:
1. Toast almonds in a dry nonstick skillet.

2. Heat a large skillet. Saute bacon and onion until onion is soft. Add beans and saute until done. Serve. Sprinkle 1/4 of the almonds over each serving.

Note:
You don't want the onion slices to be too unwieldy to eat, so if the onion is large, cut the slices into smaller pieces.

Broiled Oregano Tomatoes

Serving Size : 4

Ingredients:
2 large tomatoes or 4 medium tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic -- minced
2 tablespoons scallions -- sliced thin
2 tablespoons Italian parsley -- minced
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pinch salt and pepper -- to taste
2 tablespoons Feta cheese -- crumbled
4 whole, pitted Kalamata olives -- sliced

Instructions:

1. Preheat the over to 350º.

2. Put the bread, garlic, Italian parsley, oregano, salt and pepper in the blender and grind it up.

3. Cut large tomatoes in half or cut the top off of small ones. If necessary, cut a tiny slice from the bottom to make it stand up. Scoop out most of the pulp and place in a bowl. Add the bread mixture and mix well.

4. Divide up the tomato mixture among the tomatoes. Pile it up by pressing it together. Bake until the tomatoes are cooked, about 10 minutes.

5. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Press the slices from one olive into each tomato. Broil until the cheese melts.

Notes:
1. You can prep the tomatoes in advance, except for the cheese and olives. Cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake them.

2. You can use fresh oregano, if you want. Use 1-1/2 tablespoons of fresh oregano leaves.

3. If you don't want to fuss with making it "look pretty', dice the olives and mix them into the tomato pulp along with the bread crumb mixture.




Mangia!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More Fun Stuff

It's late today. I'm kind of tired. We've been running errands almost every day for over a week, what with getting the computer fixed, the car fixed, taking Chris for job interviews (he got the job. YAY!), etc. So, I'm going to post another of those fun quiz things.

Which LOTR character are you?


You scored as Gandalf. You are Gandalf! This wise, old mage is loyal and brave. He is known for his counsel and advice to his friends and allies during tough times.

"All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you."

Which LOTR character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Ok. So, being a good little writer and web lady, I don't want blatant spelling errors caused by my bad typing to punctuate my weblog. I spellchecked. I hit "replace" instead of "ignore". And the computer obediently changed "You are Gandalf!" to "You are candelabra!" Maybe it's a reference to Gandalf's penchant for magical fireworks?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Not Plot Challenged After All

I'm a member of a small online support group for writers. We've been discussing plotting a lot lately. I used to think I was plot challenged because I couldn't take my characters and figure out what was supposed to happen in the story. You know, figure out the story arcs? Or the beginning, middle, and end? I tried Holly's index card method*. I tried Sheila's plotting template**. I managed it twice. Once was when I was doing an exercise in the cause and effect aspect of plotting. But it was a horrible plot and I never was able to write the story. The second time was when I was working on a novel for the Wizards of the Coast challenge. The characters really didn't matter that much. WOTC novels are essentially an RPG in a book. Doing an outline of the external plot was fairly easy because the point of the book is external plot.

This past week we've had the week from hell. After Paul was laid off, our computer died, as I posted earlier. Then the car needed a repair. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So, my novelist's brain has been creating scenarios for a better ending. Some are realistic. Some are total fantasy. Some would work as fiction, with some changes to protect the guilty. I started to think about book I'd read, The Perfect Rake. The author could have changed the external events and still told the same story. The plot was the reaction of the characters to the events and to each other. The external events were a catalyst for the plot, not the plot itself. My personal life was the catalyst for the endings I was imagining. Without the specific people involved, the "story" wouldn't have worked.

AHA!! I get it. I'm not plot challenged, after all. I just approach plot from a different path. I start with the basic characters. I know the main conflict. I know the general ending. But, instead of figuring out the three-act structure or main complications or story arcs, I created a list of possible events, things the characters cared about I could create events from, potential general complications, possible clues, etc. Some of them must happen in order for the story to work. The rest I can pick from or use to springboard solutions to problems that come up as I write the book. I figured out the beginning. Then I looked at how the characters reacted and what their responses were to what I'd written. Then I figured out what needs to happen next. I'm using the list to keep the plot from meandering aimlessly. So far, it seems to be working.

To me, the important thing is to have a whole story when I'm done, not that I follow a particular process. I recommend that all writers try different things until they find what allows them to get their stories on the page. We can't assume that so-and-so's process is the only way to do it, even if so-and-so is a bestselling author. We can only try and see which, if any, of his processes work for us. The more I write, the more I think every writer has some things in common with every other writer, but no one is exactly the same as anyone else. We all have to find our own way in our writing, just like we do in life.

*Holly's Index Card Workshop

**Sheila's Plotting Template

Note: You have to be a registered member of Forward Motion to see Sheila's template. It's on a public board, but it's old so you need to be able to change the date limit in the member's preferences menu to maximum in order to access the template.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Talyn by Holly Lisle

Holly writes: "For Sheila Kelly, who liked this one best." I agree with Sheila, who said the same thing to me in an email way before the book came out. Talyn is the best book I've read in a long time. I couldn't read it straight through without stopping, no matter how much I wanted to. I kept stopping to think about what I read. And to deal with the emotions the book brought out. It deals with hard themes. What's good? What's bad? Who's right? How perspective matters. Is love enough? What is love? But it's not a preachy book because Holly lets her characters wrestle with the questions and figure out the answers that are right for them. I think it deserves to be a huge book, so go--read. Tell your friends. Post on your blogs. Spread the word about this book. It may be the best book I read this year, even with the new Harry Potter having come out and I'm a huge HP fan.

You can read an excerpt on Holly's website. Click on the link to the chapter you want to read. She has posted chapters 1-3 and some "extras" like a map and the Tonk calendar.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I'm Back with a Nearly New Cool Computer

Well, I didn't keep my promise, but I didn't break it, either. I'm writing at the first opportunity I've had this week. We've been troubleshooting and swapping parts and swearing a lot at the box that allows us to go online.

Turns out we must have had a destructive power surge. We had three major parts get fried--the CPU, the video card, and the RAM. We'd swapped out the motherboard and power supply, too, so we ended up keeping them. It was very frustrating to keep changing parts with the result being sometimes it beeped before it died and sometimes it didn't. Everything we thought of that could have gone wrong should have been fixed by changing the part. But, eventually, my hardware techie, troubleshooting genius husband, figured out we'd lost more than one part. Then he and I worked out a system to find the right combination of parts to get it running again. It was one of the toughest computer problems we'd worked out since we built our first computer together. (Yep, I'm a geek.)

While we were at it, we replaced the case fans because we'd filched them from an old case and they were the wrong size. Their rattling was getting annoying. We wanted quiet fans. So, we got some that were designed for gamers. Not only are they quiet, but they have LEDs on them. They light up with lots of pretty colors. The case has a design on the side that resembles a daisy. The petals and center are transparent. My computer now looks like a cross between a 60s flower power T-shirt and Las Vegas. When we told Chris to boot it up last night after dark, he shook his head and said, "Parents aren't allowed to have things that cool."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Posting to Keep a Promise to Myself

I promised myself that if I started a blog, I'd post every weekday. Today, I don't feel like posting. That great job Paul had ended today. His contract was up. Monday we revise the resume and start the job hunt process all over again. Anyone who might be reading this, wish us luck, please. Say prayers, light candles, cross fingers, send good vibes, do whatever you do to wish good for people. Thanks!!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wanna Be in a Book?

And support First Amendment Project? The following sixteen bestselling authors are auctioning on eBay a chance to have your name in one of their books.

  • Stephen King
  • John Grisham
  • Amy Tan
  • LemonySnicket
  • Michael Chabon
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Dave Eggers
  • Nora Roberts
  • Dorothy Allison
  • Peter Straub
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Rick Moody
  • Ayelet Waldman
  • ZZ Packer
  • Andrew Sean Greer
  • Karen Joy Fowler

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hidden Talent Quiz

I wanted something fun to cheer me up so I looked at my notes for possible weblog topics and found this:

Your Hidden Talent
You are both very knowledgeable and creative.
You tend to be full of new ideas and potential - big potential.
Ideas like yours could change the world, if you build them.
As long as you don't stop working on your dreams, you'll get there.



I thought that result was pretty cool for where I am in my life right now.

Electric Skillets and DVD-ROM Drives

I'm not replacing my electric skillet until at least September. I discovered that someone else had the same problem with her Circulon skillet that I had with my old one. I thought it was the old wiring in the apartment we were living in, but, apparently, the temperature control burning up is not an unusual circumstance. So, that one's off the list. I looked for 20 minutes to a half hour and couldn't find a bad review of the Cuisinart skillet. So, that's the one I decided to buy. I'll let you all know how I like it sometime in September or October, after I've had a chance to use it well.

As for why I'm not replacing my skillet until September, well, that's a budgetary matter. Our housemate is moving tomorrow. His friends found a place on Monday and got a Thursday move-in date. The DVD-ROM drive in our computer is his. Since he and my son were using our DVD player and TV, he lent us his drive so we could watch movies in our room. So, we got used to having one and are going to buy one of our own. Add that to our other expenses for the rest of August, and I cannot afford my skillet before September. No problem--we're cooking almost everything on Paul's new grill. Last night I did the simplest thing you can do--sprayed the chicken with olive oil, sprinkled a little salt and pepper, and grilled them. Yummy!

I'm really enjoying my reading jag. I think not writing is allowing me to read the way a nonwriting reader does again. And I'm enjoying books on a different level. I think it's important for a writer to be able to just read a book without analyzing the writing. Just read and enjoy. Which is what I'm going to do after I post this blog entry.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Difficult Day

I'm not going into details, but today is a difficult day for a lot of my friends. All of you know who you are and what your difficulties are. I send you all lots of {{{hugs}}}. I'm thinking of you. I'm praying for you and your loved ones who share the things you're struggling to deal with. If there's anything I can do to help any of you, you all know my email. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel more like posting my normal stuff. Meantime, anyone who pops in, send good vibes, prayers, etc. to my buddies. They need it today.

Oh, But

I nearly forgot there is one good thing I must say today:

Happy Birthday, Donna and Sylvia!!

(I don't know if they read my blog, but I want to wish them both the best of birthdays.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

"Afterburn"

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAUL!!! (who won't see this because he doesn't read weblogs)

Afterburn By S. L. Viehl

This book takes place on K-2, an aquatic world. There's a peace summit. The whole cast has its own agenda, including those who want the peace summit to fail. And that's all I'm saying about the story. The characters in Sheila's books are always unique. They don't agree with each other and they don't play nice. That allows her to explore deeper themes than people expect in a space opera-style science fiction novel. She deals with racism and prejudice. She asks the question, "Is it really so easy to tell who the good guys are?" She explores the nature of friendship and romance. The plot twists and turns and keeps you guessing all the way through. She lays the clues out, and you don't put them together until she's ready for you to know what they mean. As usual, I'm going to let you find out who, what, where, when, why, how, and the answers to all the other questions by reading the book yourself. Go, buy, read!!

Talyn

Next up will be Talyn by Holly Lisle. It's going to be a while before I finish this lush fantasy. It's 500+ pages of small text. Or maybe the text just seems small because my eyes are no longer so young. I'm enjoying it so far, which I expected. Holly is a master of creating complex, deep fantasy worlds and the complex, deep stories that fit those worlds.

The Weekend

I love my family. They're smart, funny, and a joy to be with. I adore opportunities to get the whole gang together. So, we went to The Country Gourmet for breakfast to celebrate Paul's birthday. We had a great time. It was a nice break between all the errands and chores that fill up our weekends.

I found, but decided not to buy, the electric skillet. It was a good price at Costco, back when I bought my original one. But it wasn't made well enough to justify spending $20.00 more just to get the same brand. I can get a higher-quality skillet for the same price. But I may spring for the Cuisinart. It's more expensive, but it's also bigger and has a higher wattage, which means it gets hotter. That's a plus for browning meat and Paul's great breakfast potatoes. I'm going to see if I can find some magazine articles or reviews on the pans before I make up my mind.

On the writing front, I had a couple of revelations over the weekend that will make my story better. I keep reminding myself that we will get moved and I will get back to a regular writing schedule again. Meantime, I'm doing a lot of reading. Studying the craft of writing. Doing some exercises to practice things I want to improve in my writing. All in all, I'm making progress, even if it's not actual words on this specific draft.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Help for Rebuilding a Life after a Fire

Marianne Mancusi was off at the Romance Writer's Conference. She came home to discover her house had burned to the ground. She lost everything. Here's a link to the Literary Chicks website. They're friends of Marianne who are spearheading a drive to help her rebuild her life. There are several relevant posts, so I linked to their main page and you can scroll through to get the story and find out what you can do to help.

Other things

I googled. Kohl's online has what looks like the same pan I used to own. I'm going to check out their local store this weekend. I want to check it out in person because it might not be the same pan. The company makes another one that looks the same in a picture, but is actually smaller and with shorter sides. If I can't find the same pan, I did find two others that have the features I want. The Cuisinart is a bit pricier than the Circulon. The Cuisinart is oval-shaped, which means it holds more than the round Circulon pan. So, I have some decisions to make about what to get. Being a cook means I'm extremely picky about what goes into my kitchen.

I'm almost finished reading Afterburn and Talyn came yesterday. My friend's publishers release their books all at the same time, so I can't keep up. I'll probably have a recommendation for you tomorrow.

I need to get Chris to pull out his chess set today. I like playing chess, even if I almost always lose. When we move, we're going to find a way to display the chess set. It's gorgeous. The board looks kind of like a castle. If I had the money and the space to display them, I'd collect chess sets. There are so many beautiful sets that are works of art.

We're going to take the family to breakfast to celebrate Paul's birthday. We didn't want to plan dinner and then have our friends call wanting to do their celebration on the same night. My family loves going out to breakfast, so it works out fine. There's a local restaurant, The Country Gourmet, that makes the best Eggs Benedict. They put it on their homemade biscuits instead of on an English muffin and they make the hollandaise themselves. All of their food is fresh, so whatever you order, it's always excellent. If you're ever in the San Jose area and are looking for a superb breakfast, I recommend this place highly.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Nothing in Particular & Another Recipe

I've been reading some good books this week, but I need to finish before I write a recommendation. No wallbangers in this bunch, though.

I'm looking forward to next week. We have more birthdays to celebrate. I need to find out what my family wants to do for Paul's birthday. And my friends need to get their schedules worked out so they can tell me what we're doing for the three people whose birthdays are in August. Paul's is on the 8th. Two of my friends were born the same year on the same day, the 9th.

We're due for another heat wave. I think it's time for some different sandwiches besides the deli meat ones we've been eating this summer. I also think I should do a potato or pasta salad because I'm getting tired of chips. My husband dropped my electric skillet and broke the plastic leg. That means I can't do fries or one-skillet meals because using the stove or oven heats up the kitchen too much.

I'm looking for a new skillet, but not having a lot of luck. I loved this one because it had 3"-deep sides and a glass lid. Most of them have 1-1/2"-2" sides and these high dome lids. I don't need a high dome lid. I need the bottom to be deep enough to put the stuff in and not have it splash all over the counter when you stir it. It figures that replacements for mine seem to have disappeared about the time I need one. (sigh) Hmmm . . . here I am using the internet to talk about this irritant in my life and I didn't use it to look for a new skillet. I guess it's time to google.

Meanwhile, I'm going to share one of my favorite summer desserts. It goes really well as a finish for a spicy meal. It's from the book Chocolate and the Art of Lowfat Desserts by Alice Medrich. I love this cookbook. She has lots of excellent lowfat treats. But she also includes the building blocks so you can experiment and make up your own treats. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but you might be able to find a copy used.


Lemon Bars

Makes 16 bars

Ingredients:

Crust:
3/4 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsalted butter -- at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the topping)
1 tablespoon nonfat yogurt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
2 large eggs (+ reserved white)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice -- strained
zest of 1 large lemon, grated
1/4 cup unbleached flour
powdered sugar for dusting

1. Position the rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350º F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in an 8" baking pan, leaving the edges hanging over the edge of the pan. Butter the foil or spray it with vegetable spray.

2. Crust: Stir the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda with a whisk to combine. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at high speed for about 1 minute, or until mixture begins to form a mass. Beat in the egg yolk, yogurt, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low speed just until combined. Scrape bowl and beater. Knead the mixture briefly with your hands to mix thoroughly.

3. Press the dough evenly into the pan and prick all over with a skewer or fork. If pan is lightweight, place on baking sheet. Bake until brown on top, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn oven temperature down to 300º F.

4. Topping: Whisk eggs and the egg white with the remaining sugar until combined. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. Whisk in the flour. Pour topping mixture over hot, baked crust. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until topping barely jiggles in the center when you shake the pan gently back and forth. Cool on a rack. Chill before cutting into 16 pieces. When you're ready to cut it, use the foil edges to take the bars out of the pan and place on a cutting board. This makes it easier to cut and to separate the slices.

5. Serve cold or at room temperature. Dust them with powdered sugar immediately before eating. The sugar gets absorbed into the topping when they sit overnight. Can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. Do not freeze.

Mangia!


Source: Chocolate and the Art of Lowfat Desserts
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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Book Recommendation & Something Fun

The Ghost Writer

I just finished a totally amazing book. It's The Ghost Writer by John Harwood. It's creepy. Nothing is what you think it is. The writer carries you along, deeper and deeper into a morass of lies and secrets. Just when you think you know where it's going, it goes somewhere else. You can't stop reading because you just have to know what's next. This one's going on my reread shelf. I know I missed nuances and little details that will enrich the story when I give it a second read. If you like ghost stories, especially ghost stories that aren't exactly like any ghost story you've ever read, give this one a read.

Another "just for fun". My friend Andi, a romance writer, found it. The interesting thing is how accurate it is. Not perfect, but accurate. (Scroll down a bit. I tried everything I know and I can't get the extra blank space to go away. Any suggestions?)

The Keys to Your Heart










You are attracted to those who are unbridled, untrammeled, and free.

In love, you feel the most alive when things are straight-forward, and you're told that you're loved.

You'd like to your lover to think you are stylish and alluring.

You would be forced to break up with someone who was emotional, moody, and difficult to please.

Your ideal relationship is open. Both of you can talk about everything... no secrets.

Your risk of cheating is zero. You care about society and morality. You would never break a commitment.

You think of marriage as something precious. You'll treasure marriage and treat it as sacred.

In this moment, you think of love as something you can get or discard anytime. You're feeling self centered.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Who is Your Audience, Anyway?

Recently, I've been thinking about books and audiences. There's not a writer on the planet who doesn't want his words to be as popular as J.K. Rowling's. Even though it may seem like absolutely everyone is mad about Harry Potter, I know they're not. I know people who have given the books a chance or seen at least one of the films, but aren't enthralled. They're not her audience. Ditto for all of the other best-selling authors. Their audiences may be huge, but no one has an audience that encompasses every reader.

It seems like I'm needlessly stating the obvious. But if it's so obvious, why do so many writers, particularly writers who haven't yet been published seem not to know it? People make themselves crazy trying to figure out what "readers" want and trying to write their story for that mythical audience. So, they get critiques and try to please all of the critiquers because they assume the critiquer knows what the reader wants. They sit in writer's chat rooms discussing whether readers will like this or that. They worry about whether it's realistic or logical enough. Sometimes I wonder if they've ever read a book.

Why do I wonder if they've ever read a book? Because the best books have unrealistic and illogical things in them. The best books have all the things they tell each other to leave out. For example, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum destroys at least one car per book. No one in real life destroys that many cars, but everyone reads those books and one question they want answered is, "How will she destroy a car in this one?" And, "What car will she end up replacing it with?" If Ms. Evanovich had asked a lot of the unpublished writers I know to crit that idea, they'd tell her not to do it. They'd say it was too unrealistic. But she's one of the top-selling writers today. This leads me to conclude that the book audience is not looking for the same thing the critiquers and unpublished writers think they're looking for.

I think anyone who wants to find an audience needs to read what's selling right now. Ask why it's selling? What's appealing about it? Think about what you're reading. Read books more than once. You learn more from a book the second or third or fourth time through. Read more than just your favorite genre. Reading can give you clues to what's selling, but copying what you've read won't make you sell the way the top sellers do.

The biggest thing I've noticed is that the top-selling writers stick to their stories. They have a vision of what they want to say. They have stories that they're passionate about. They've studied the writing craft and learned to use its tools to polish up that story until it shone. But the main thing they have that most of the people I know who haven't published yet have is a clear image of the story they're telling. Everything else is subordinate to that image. Everything is judged against that image. If it fits, it stays. If it doesn't, it goes. That clarity of vision is one of the keys to writing a story people will want to read, one that resonates with a lot of people, a story that will find its audience.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Books, Books, Books

I have two huge bookcases full of books I haven't read. A lot of them are books people passed on to me because they liked them, but I know they're most likely not my taste. My plan was to go through the bookcases and pass those books on to the library before we move. I also intended to read as many of the ones that interested me, but wasn't going to keep to reread later. But I have a whole bunch of books written by friends I'm dying to read. And a bunch more my friends recommended I'm dying to read. Plus a few I picked up because they just looked so interesting. It would have been a good plan, if I had a definite date for when we're going to move. We still don't know when we're moving and I don't have enough discipline when it comes to reading to wait indefinitely for the treat of reading books my friends wrote, so I caved and started reading that pile. My published friends are an awesome bunch of writers. Give them a chance and see if I'm not right.

Last fall, Tamara Siler Jones, invented her own genre. Ghosts in the Snow is "a forensic procedural in a medievalist fantasy setting". This book will appeal if you're a fantasy fan or a mystery fan. She deftly weaves the strengths of both into a wonderful story about Dubric's efforts to get rid of the ghosts that haunt him by finding their killer. Tamara plays fair with us, planting the clues we needed to solve the puzzle, but I got so caught up reading the story that I forgot to play the game. Usually I figure it out by halfway through the book, but not this one. She kept me guessing all the way to the end. The next book, Threads of Malice, will be out in November. I'm looking forward to it. I know some people who have read the manuscript and they all say it's awesome.

Sheila writes in five genres, with five pseudonyms. Today, I'm talking about two of them. The first is Lynn Viehl, the pseudonym she uses for her Darkyn series. The first book, If Angels Burn came out last April. I told Sheila I don't like vampire books, but I was going to read hers because I love her writing. This turned out to be no exception. It's a great twist on the vamp mythology. Sheila is a master of making you think the story is going one way, then sending you off in another direction. Yet, you never feel like it's random. It always makes sense and you're left with the feeling that you should have seen it coming. This book is marketed as a romance, and if you like romance, you'll like this one. If you're more of a dark fantasy fan and don't think romance is for you, give this book a chance. There's plenty for the dark fantasy fan to like. I'm really looking forward to Private Demon, the next installment in the series, which will be out in October.

The second book of Sheila's I wanted to mention is Afterburn, a sequel to Bio Rescue. Bio Rescue is due to be released in paperback this month. They're set in the same universe as her Star Doc series, but involve different characters and stories. These books are written under the pseudonym "S.L Viehl". I got a nice surprise because I was expecting Afterburn to get here tomorrow, but it got here this morning. I'm looking forward to it, but I haven't read it yet, so more to come after I'm done with it.

I enjoyed Holy Lisle's first paranormal romantic suspense, Midnight Rain. So, of course, I preordered Last Girl Dancing . I couldn't put it down, even though I'd read an early draft and knew the story. Holly does a great job of keeping you guessing, as the story twists this way and that way. If you like romance, you'll like this one. If you're more of a mystery fan, you'll like this one, too.

Holly has a fantasy coming out from Tor this month. I can't wait for my copy of Talyn, but I hope it doesn't get here before I finish Afterburn.

Two other books worth mentioning are Urban Shaman by C.E.Murphy, which I haven't read yet. And A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer. I've read a manuscript version of that, but haven't read the actual book yet. They're both on my TBR pile, near the top, but I can only read one at a time. I'm not one of those people who has books scattered all over the house--the bathroom book, the dining room book, the kitchen book. . . . So more on those after I read them.