Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why You Should Go See Dawn Treader

1.) It's far, far, far, far, far and away the best of the Narnia adaptations. Now firmly in the hands of Brit Michael Apted, it's breathtakingly beautiful and...

2.) ...well translated to film. I was worried when I read that they'd made plot changes, and part of me wonders if that bit of press didn't hurt the release. But you know what? The changes were subtle and they worked.

3.) More than that, they set things up nicely for The Silver Chair.

4.) Will Poulter makes the best Eustace Scrubb EVER. Which I knew he would, because he was fantastically wonderful as Lee Carter in Son of Rambow. That was a bit of casting I was excited about when it released, and it was just as good as I expected.

5.) Dawn Treader had a lousy opening weekend. Lousy to the point that it's the end of the franchise if people don't head out to the theater and bring the numbers up.

5.) It would be really sad if the franchise ended here, because The Silver Chair is probably the most filmable of all of the books, with the exception of The Horse and His Boy, which is my absolute favorite. I really, reeeeeaaally want to see The Horse and His Boy. And I want to see Michael Apted do Silver Chair (which he will if the franchise continues).

6.) So bundle up your children, sweet-talk your husband (not that mine needed any), coerce a friend, do what you have to do, just go see the movie. You'll like it. It's lovely, and it shouldn't be the last.

Note: See it in 2D. We saw it in 3D, and it really wasn't worth it. The colors will be brighter, the image sharper in 2D.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Once Upon a Time, or, How to Begin a Novel

When I start a book, I always think it's going to be easier than it really is.

Beginning a story is tricky. Some people start their book before they start their story. They begin with prologues and opening scenes and lay out their groundwork very carefully, like chefs who set out their ingredients ahead of time.

The thing is that, realistically, as writers we don't really have that luxury. Those opening scenes are only good for you, as information about who your characters are. Think about this - if your book doesn't really get going until the fifth chapter, a.) you're banking on a fairly patient reader, and (more importantly) b.) you haven't showcased the best part of your book when it's being looked at by the Powers that Be. Whether it's agents, editors, or a Publishing Committee, remember that even if your readers are willing to settle slowly into a story, it's not likely that anyone in publishing will.

Your first three chapters become more than the beginning of the book - they're your resumé, your proof that you know how to take your readers out for a spin and show them the sights.
Think about your first three chapters as being the pilot episode for a TV series (The pilot for Gilmore Girls is a great example, fyi). You need to give an idea of where you're going and who your principle characters are within those first three chapters. Specifically, introduce the main character, explain her world, set up the main conflict, and introduce the love-interest in the three-chapter time frame.

Bada-bing, bada- boom. You're now ready to write the rest of your novel.

For example: in Nicole Mones The Last Chinese Chef, the main character, Maggie, is an food-writing American widow who goes to China to settle a claim against her late husband's estate. While she's there, she discovers a.) her husband had secrets and b.) the mysterious world of Chinese haute cuisine while writing about chef Sam Liang.

Mones works fast - in the first chapter, she manages to get her protagonist out of her houseboat, onto a plane, in China, and introduced to Sam. All in 17 pages.

The second chapter better establishes Sam as a character and introduces some of the principle supporting cast, Sam's Chinese uncles.

The third chapter showcases Sam's cooking and Maggie's writing. We learn the history of Sam's father, grandfather, and Chinese uncles, as well as several of the tenants of traditional Chinese cuisine.

Likewise, in Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, Allen has entirely set up the main characters, the love-interest, and the world of magical realism.

In contrast, in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson didn't introduce Mikael Blomkvist to Lisbeth Salander for 18 chapters. EIGHTEEN CHAPTERS. Lisbeth doesn't even make an appearance for the first 38 pages, which would be forgivable (it's still in the second chapter) if she weren't the driving force of the book. Mikael, as a character, is fairly bland. Lisbeth is one of the most interesting characters to be written in the last ten years, at least. When you've got someone that good, putting her in the background is a bad idea.

Yes, I know Girl has been an international success. I know, I know. Just because a book is successful doesn't mean it couldn't have been better written.

I mean, Dan Brown, folks.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Travels, Part II

So we arrived in Memphis, and we pulled up at the place where we were to stay for the next three months.

The lobby smelled of stale cigarette smoke. I was worried but didn't say anything. We accepted our keys and walked down the musty hallway to our assigned room.

It didn't smell of stale cigarettes, but it did smell like slightly rancid fried potatoes. The furniture was dated and chipped. The carpet was stained. There were wires where the smoke detector used to be.

I plugged in one of my Febreeze scented-plug-ins, but had difficulty because all of the outlets were either upside-down or sideways. (Note: it wasn't until yesterday that I discovered that the Febreeze pluggy-thingy is actually rotatable. So keep that under your hat). Danny pulled out one of our power-strips and tied it around the chair in a slip-knot we could try to replace our room's greasy fryer scent. the time we found hairs of a concerning nature in various places in the was time to decamp.

Calls were made. Opinions asked. It was a tricky situation to be in, considering that Memphis, Tennessee is not anything like anywhere in Oregon, or anything like anywhere bordering Oregon. I don't wish to insult any from the south, but here's the thing - the Pacific Northwest and the Mid South are not like apples and oranges. They're like apples and dental floss.

Eventually, one of Danny's co-workers from Portland who was familiar(ish) with the area advised Danny to go to one of the Marriotts in Southaven, Mississippi, about 15 minutes away.

We did. We packed up, checked out, and fled.

The room at the Marriott was magical. By magical, I mean clean.

We spent the weekend looking at other extended-stay hotels. We made preliminary efforts to move to one on Monday that appeared to be safe and clean (better smell, no garbage or syringes to be seen), but were dissuaded from that when we learned that the company had sent employees to that one before, who had reported that there were prostitutes roaming the hallways. In what capacity, we didn't know, but just the same we elected to move to another hotel farther east, bordering Germantown.

It's been better. The hallways are still stale and the toilet burps sometimes when others flush, which apparently means something's wrong with the plumbing somewhere in a very bad way...but nothing bad's happened yet, so here's hoping. Visited Target and TJ Maxx and picked up things to make it a bit homier.

So far? Memphis is very different from Oregon. Everyone sounds like Paula Dean. I've yet to be able to get a spring greens salad at a restaurant (though the Macaroni Grill had a romaine salad with a bit of frisee on top), but we've been able to find things we were expecting to do without, such as Oregon Chai tea concentrate and Odwalla juices. We had wonderful Thai Iced Teas at dinner the other night (though the Pad Thai was not the best. Danny's dish was good, though). There's a Whole Foods close by with lots of options - I'm hoping (hoping!!) that I might be able to find Tillamook cheese...

Recycling? Not so much.

Oh, and another thing? In Oregon, if the speed limit is 55 - especially if it's in-town driving - at most people are traveling at 62 or so. Memphis? It averages around 70 to 75, with some people in the end lanes traveling around 85-90.

On our drive from the Marriott to our extended stay hotel, my hands were so tight on the steering wheel I had wrist pain afterwards.

Our plans? Find good barbeque. Our first venture out sent us to a well-recommended and much-loved restaurant that no longer existed, and in its place was okay barbeque and depressing sides (green beans from a can. An old can). But everyone's telling Danny to go to Central Barbeque, so that's our destination after we see Dawn Treader. Looking forward to a night out together!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Travels, Part I

I'm frankly a little appalled at how infrequently I've blogged in the last year. All I can say is that it's been quite a year.

Since the last blog, we've traveled from Portland to Eugene for Thanksgiving; we had a wonderful holiday with family. That night, however, while we were staying at my grandmother's, Danny heard her call for me. Thinking I'd left a dish in the wrong place (it's happened before), I got up to see what she needed.

Well, she'd fallen and (we later discovered) broken her hip. We didn't know that at the time. She wanted us to help her to bed so she could sleep it off. At one point she asked Danny if he could just grab her foot and drag her down the kitchen floor (he declined). Instead, he called an ambulance and she was whisked away for painkillers, x-rays, and ultimately surgery to repair the hip.

I'm happy to report that she's doing quite well. She's in a rehab facility (though looking forward to being out) and has her spunk back (not that it was ever far away).

The Monday after Thanksgiving, we packed up (again) and began our journey to Memphis. We drove to Fresno, CA, first, where we got to see some of Danny's cousins and their kids. From Fresno we continued to Bakersfield and hung a left to Arizona.

1.) Parts of the desert are incredibly beautiful. I find this comforting since we will eventually be moving to the desert.

2.) The freeway, eastbound, in Arizona is weird. I'm still astounded that we didn't see any hippies out there with their tambourines, but they may have been on their smoke breaks. There were plenty of places to stop and see fake dinosaurs, though, if we were so inclined.

3. The streets roll up early in Williams, AZ, where we spent our second night. Very glad for Safeway, bearer of food.

4. Flagstaff, AZ could be Bend if you added a couple mountains. Same type of people - they all look like they were just out surfing/snowboarding. Deeply grateful to Starbucks, from whom we searching out breakfast every morning.

5. New Mexico is a dull place to drive through. Just sayin'.

6. Amarillo, TX is a good place to order in pizza if you've been driving all day and the thought of going back into the car and walking around in public makes you want to cry.

7. Van Buren, AK has my favorite Holiday Inn Express.

And then...

...we got to Memphis.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

He Said She Said: Finer Points of How to Write Dialogue

At least my life is following the script - true to form, now that I'm done with the main business of moving (though in the upcoming days we need to pare down our belongings yet again, and put enough in storage so that what we're taking to Memphis actually fits in our car), I'm sick.

Sick enough with a potpourri of ailments that, while none of them are all that bad individually, the combination provides a potent cocktail of misery that's had me in bed the last few days.

It's just as well, because I hardly managed 10,000 words during last year's NaNoWriMo, and between the move and the illness...well...I'm just glad I'm not under deadline at the moment. Being sick while under deadline is the pits.

So rather than talk about being sick, I thought I'd write about writing dialogue.

I love dialogue. It's one of the parts of writing that's the easiest for me, that's the most fun, the most gratifying. Here are some things I've found to be true and helpful about writing dialogue:

1.) Think about how and where you're staging the conversation. Consider the photo above (yes, it is from Gilmore Girls. Yes, I do think you should watch Gilmore Girls if you want to learn about dialogue. Thanks for asking) - Luke, bless his heart, is going to teach Lorelei how to fish before her date with another man (incidentally, her date is Billy Burke, the future father of Bella Swan). You can watch the scene here.

That's the basic scenario. It's fantastic because you've got all sorts of things to work with - wading pools, strange clothes, fishing equipment. Giving your characters things to do and interact with will make your action beats and dialogue tags a lot easier. The fact of the matter is that when we talk, we don't tend to stand still and speak. Rather, we fidget. We interact with our space.

2.) Dialogue written in an active sequence (practice fishing in a wading pool) will often create more momentum than dialogue written in a passive sequence (sitting at a coffee shop). If you're trying to get your characters to move, make them talk and walk. If they need to sit and figure things out, let them sit. Just sit them somewhere interesting. (There's that episode of House in Season Four when House tells the TV crew that they talk while walking, it gives the illusion of the story moving forward... :-)

3.) What's not being said is just as important as what is being said. Consider what your characters want, and how they express it verbally. Consider what they're afraid of, and how that shades what they say. Be aware of subtext. In the fishing scene, there's a lot of silly with the fishing equipment before Luke gets down to business and asks enough questions to find out why exactly Lorelei's going fishing, though he's already got an idea. Notice how Lorelei hedges and Luke keeps probing, and when he finds out, things get quieter. When Lorelei says "You don't want to hear about my personal life," Luke stays quiet for a while, before asking "So this will be your first date or second date?"

He answers indirectly. He doesn't say "Why, yes, I do want to hear about your personal life," his evasion shows that he wants to know, but he doesn't want to be obvious about it. That he's hurt that she doesn't think he'd be interested. But he also wants to stay in the picture - he shows that by offering his pole and tackle box - which is a whole lot more interesting than Luke saying "Hey, when you're done with Charlie Swan, do you want to go out?"

4.) Dialogue tags and action beats. Dialogue tags are the "He said" bits that we stick around the dialogue so we know who's talking.

Now, it's okay to use certain amounts of "he said, she said" for tagging purposes. Readers will notice them less than if you try to get creative and use "he articulated" or "she uttered." However, you can also use action beats instead of tags.


"I don't know why, but I like the other one better," she said.

"I don't know why, but I like the other one better," she said, wrinkling her nose.

The action beat attached to the tag is pretty straightforward, but gives a bit more detail visually.

"I don't know why," she tilted her head to the side. "But I like the other one better."

Throwing the beat into the middle puts a longer pause in the the center than you'd get from just a comma. This helps if you want to give your characters time to think and have it show up on the page. Depending on how you use the beats, you can mix up your pacing quite easily.

That's it for now...thinking about taking a pre-dinner nap. Hoping tomorrow is the magic day that I'll feel well enough to leave the house...also hoping this blog is coherent. I trust you to tell me if it's not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ECPA Happiness...and Moving

Big, big news in the life of this writer - Simply Sara hit #13 on the prestigious ECPA list. This was sometime last week, or possibly the week before. If I think about it long enough, I remember that it was November 1st, because that's when the list released...but the last couple weeks are a blur. So here's the pertinent information.

1. Simply Sara is #13.

2. You can see it here.

3. It is good. There was rejoicing.

4. We celebrated by packing.

I'd share a picture here, one of Danny lining up all of our DVD cases, except that I don't know where that particular camera is, and I don't know where the connection cord for it is, and I'm not at all motivated to go look.

Just know that it's funny, and it was a lot of DVDs.

Part one of our moving process is over. We've left our apartment for good, the one we moved into after being married for about two weeks. When all of our things were packed up and strewn on the sidewalk outside, I walked to our bedroom, leaned against the door frame and cried. Not that I have a deep affection for that apartment, with its Berber carpet that chewed up the bottoms of my feet, cobweb-prone entryway, and inability to stay heated, but it was our home, and life was changing, and it was changing quickly, and I hadn't quite settled myself out for how I felt about all of the life alterations that were coming at us so quickly.

We moved the bulk of our belongings (and I do mean bulk, and the wonderful people who helped us move would agree) into a storage unit in Portland. The rest of the things are with us, at my cousin's home in Northeast Portland, just a mile from where (conveniently) Danny's job is for the time being.

Things that I thought would fit into our car didn't. Spacial reasoning, I've discovered, is not my thing. We have more packing ahead of us. I'm living pleasantly in denial about it until then.

Memphis is in our future; at this point, it looks like we'll be in Tri-Cities by March-ish, though, which is nice because I wasn't looking forward to trying to pack for a shifty Tennessee springtime.

Until we leave for Memphis, I'm looking forward to exploring Portland for Gemma's sake and tracking down places she'd like. Cacao, Powell's (naturally), Saint Cupcake...all good things, though I'm waiting until tomorrow when I have more energy and don't have to fight the weather quite as much.

Feeling the need to bake something, though I'm not sure what. I've got the Rustic Fruit Desserts book, which has much deliciousness between its pages. The one trickiness is that my cousin's oven is a gas model that requires lighting before use. Now, I'm afraid of ovens as it is, so throw in matches and the manual lighting of gas and it's kind of the trifecta of terror.

That said, I've been lighting the stove successfully (though I tend to jump a foot back once the gas lights) for 24 hours (the lure of tea. You know how it goes) and have yet to die. So logic would hold that I'll be able to conquer the oven soon :-)

Let's see what else...if you're a Portland reader, know that there's a signed copy of Plain Jayne at the Lloyd Center Barnes & Noble.

I'm hoping to be back on track (or, really, on a track at all) for NaNoWriMo. Until then, here's my question for you - how do you pronounce NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Plot Twist

One of the reasons I haven't blogged much is that I've had to be careful. Very careful. Because things have been very much up in the air.

The big news? Danny got a wonderful job as a Project Engineer in Richland, Washington. It's with Barnhart Crane and Rigging, the company you call if you need a nuclear reactor moved. And yes, there are nuclear reactors in Richland. Hence the job placement.

It wasn't what we expected, though. Danny's been pursued by this company for several months now, for the last bit of it we were looking at a move to Memphis, Tennessee, where the company is headquartered. It was all Memphis, Memphis, Memphis, we love you in Memphis, until we got the offer letter for...Richland. Which was a surprise, but a good one.

Things I like about Richland/Tri-Cities:

1. It's still in the Pacific Northwest. No gigantic culture or time-zone changes.

2. It's within driving distance for family. This has the parents kicking up their heels like it's 1999.

3. The weather is dryer (it's the desert side of Washington), so I won't be as susceptible to barometric-pressure-caused headaches and creakiness of the knees.

4. Nearness of Tillamook Cheese.

5. Nearness of Oregon Chai.

6. Nearness of Odwalla Juice.

7. Availability of Topography (I don't do flat. I equate flat with post-apocalyptic.)

8. The Columbia river flows nearby. I like that river.

We will still be in Memphis, Tennessee for 4-6 months while Danny does the mandatory company engineer training, where he'll get to learn to weld and do all sorts of fun man activities.

I, on the other hand, will be writing a book.

Likely at Panera.

The story about the photo above? Not knowing when/if we would be leaving, I went out and took pictures of some of my favorite trees near our apartment complex a couple weeks ago. This shot was my absolute favorite :-)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wool Weather and Kindle Reading

So. It's October. And it's crazy cold in the mornings. I like this post by Stephanie Pearl McPhee, The Yarn Harlot, about fall and the waiting game before turning on the heat, and the things you do before you get there.

I find, for cold mornings, that running laundry and the dishwasher will heat our little apartment just as effectively as turning on the heater, if not more so. Tea is also good. And socks (as much as I dislike them). And knitting (it's like a lap blanket that turns into a sweater). And wool.

There's something about my brain that, once the temp drops below, say, 45 degrees, all I want to wear is wool. Wool wool wool. Wool and mohair. And cashmere. My subconsciousness doesn't mess about with sweater weather; it's straight and to the point. Since I have several cute tops I've picked up over the summer months that I'd like to continue wearing, I took a little trip to Loft. Not only are there reasonably priced wool-blend cardigans that are a.) long but b.) femininely fitted (I don't do boxy), but they're on sale when you by two.

I was very good. I didn't buy a scarf. I might when they go on sale, though.

Moving on. Simply Sara is now available here on Kindle! You can read about Sara's adventures in technicolor, fashion, and confusing managers from your Kindle or smart phone.

In further news, we're in the market for a new car. A new to us car, at least. Our current car, Sally, bless her little 2-door heart is at a point where she needs new wheels, tires, brakes, paint, a proper is not a short list.

Also, since the "incident of the mouse," our affection for her has waned somewhat. I apologize for not bringing up said incident earlier. It went like this:

1.) One sunny summer morning, I smell a smell. This is not a good smell. This is a "someone stuck cat food into our air vents" smell.

2.) I remember that there has been a thunking sound when we turn the A/C fan on.

3.) I also consider that we live in the middle of a wetland.

4.) I conclude that, in all likelihood, something small and rodenty has crawled into our car and died. Which, depending on how you look at it, could be a romantic way to perish.

For a mouse.

(That was for all the Anne fans out there. You know who you are)

5.) The nice man at the auto fix-it shop took out the mouse. I say nice man because really, he was very sweet, and that's a job I really, really wouldn't want. Ick.

6.) I filled the car with dryer sheets to cover the residual eau de dead mouse smell. The dryer sheets turned out to be almost worse.

All that to say...we're car shopping. And my husband, being an engineering genius (I'm the wife, I get to brag) is spending an increased amount of time looking at cars. He has been tasked to come up with a spreadsheet of the cars of interest, their makes, models, years, mileage, price, etc.

I feel this is very efficient. I also feel that this is a side-effect of being an engineer's wife.

The sweater knitting is going well. I've ripped out the sleeves and yoke a few times, and I need to finish the second sleeve start and begin again. But it's l-o-v-e-l-y, so it's worth it :-)

How about you? How long do you wait to turn on the heat? Any little heating tips in the meantime?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Knitting and Cookies

I'm knitting this sweater from Kristeen Griffin-Grimes' French Girl Knits book with this yarn (best picture I could find, I bought it a while ago) and it's really quite lovely. I love the yarn - it's like knitting a fairytale.

That said, I've been waiting to post because I keep hoping I'll have stuff to post about...

...but life's pretty slow right now. Well, not slow-slow. But there's not a lot of change as yet.

Until then...

1.) If you're anywhere near Eugene, don't miss the Simply Sara book signing even at Barnes & Noble this Sunday, October 3rd, 4pm.

2.) I've been on a chocolate chip cookie making kick. I have the best chocolate chip cookie recipe in the world - that is, if brown sugary, chewing chocolate chip cookies are your thing. The recipe goes like this:


1/3 c. butter, softened (I use salted, and don't even think about using margarine. And if you do, stop it.)
1/3 c. Crisco (and I do use butter flavor. So help me.)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar (don't even think about using light. It will affect the consistency of the cookie)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together separately...

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients. Stir in a heaping cup of chocolate chips. Bake at 375 degrees (preheated oven, naturally) for 8 or so minutes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, until they've just just browned on top but still look pretty doughy. They'll collapse, finish baking, and look perfect later.

Most baking people use wire racks to cool. For cookies, I don't. This is partly because I don't own a wire rack. But if you cool cookies on newsprint or some other kind of paper product, the paper absorbs some of the grease (read: fat), giving you a somewhat healthier cookie.

Everyone wins.

3.) I'm crazy mad at Glee right now. The first episode was lame, the second was a mess. The characters, whom I love much, have been reduced to caricatures. The plot...there really isn't one yet, and we're two weeks in.

The way I see it, TV episodes are like chapters. And in the first three chapters of your book, you want to come in with guns blazing. Great characters. Lots of plot. Those chapters are your springboard.

With Glee, not only did they use the cheap voice-over "what everyone did this summer" bit, but instead of working any of the Britney numbers into the plot, they were thrown into a dream sequence. A dream sequence.

The way it's going, we'll have flashback sequences and people falling into pools, just so we can hit as many writing clichés as possible. We're supposed to believe that Mr. Schuester is uptight, but hey, this is the guy who started a boy band with Ken Tenaka. Sang Aerosmith. How uptight can he be? He doesn't think Britney is appropriate but he has no issues with Lady Gaga? Really? I don't like when shows tweak characters (or in this case, flat out maul) to suit a flimsy plot twist. They think viewers won't notice. They think wrong.

4.) I'm also crazy mad at Fringe, though for different reasons. I'm sooooo mad that Walter and Peter haven't figured out that the Olivia sitting next to them is Alternate Olivia. I mean, they're both geniuses. And I'm deeply concerned that the real Olivia has truly been brainwashed by Walternate...

...But I realize this feeling of discontent is the result of things going well in the writing room. So for now, I'm letting it slide.

For now.

Don't watch Fringe? You should start. Really, you should. Because it's better than Glee right now.

5.) Also? The Good Wife? Very good season premier. There was plot. There was character. Makes me want to clap my hands.

6.) If you have a spare minute, watch this bit of ye olde Hollywood joy. Do. It's grand.

7.) Just finished Sophie Kinsella's Mini Shopaholic. Love!

I think that's it by now. In case you were wondering, no I haven't unpacked from ACFW yet. Because that's how we roll...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On returning from ACFW

As you can see, there was fun to be had at ACFW. At that particular time, I was goofing off with my handbag, vaguely registering that Carla's camera was locked, loaded, and firing.

So now you know. I have issues.

At least my husband thinks I'm funny.

ACFW was a lot of fun. I loved getting to meet my publicist Jeane Wynn, and authors Carla Stewart, Mary Ellis, Kathi Lipp, Susan Meissner, Susan May Warren, Rachel Hauck, Julie Garmon, Lynette Sowell, Kellie Coates Gilbert, Brandt Dodson, Jerry Eicher, Cara Putnam, and many others.

I watched my agent win the coveted ACFW Agent of the Year award. That was fun.

A fun experience all the way around, but there are things I would do differently. Thing, singular, actually - I would fly in earlier. I'm an introvert, and dealing with 620 other conferees when I'm crazy exhausted from a long red-eye flight is difficult for me.

But it was great. And it was great having Danny with me. We also visited the Panera across the street - amazing! I didn't have time to hit the TJMaxx that was near by, but I sent it happy thoughts.

We also got to see Danny's aunt and grandmother from Ohio before we flew out, which was a really nice way to wrap up the trip.

...And yes, we did watch House immediately after arriving home (at 10pm), though we did save Castle for later. Loved House, loved Castle, felt like last night's Glee was not quite up to snuff. I'm actually looking forward to the Brittany Spears episode, which I would not have thought possible before, but the season premiere was sorely lacking in the area of character development and grand-scale musical productions.

Fringe is tonight! I'm starting to love autumn. And I'm not just saying that because I had a Pumpkin Spice Latte yesterday...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simply Sara and Magic Red Pepper Sauce

Not sure where to start.

I'll start with the book. Simply Sara arrived via FedEx this morning. She's lovely. And Shiny.

There are some things you should know about this book.

1.) Simply Sara is a slimmer volume than Plain Jayne. Don't think that you're getting less book, though. Sara is actually about 5,000 words longer. She's just formatted for print in such a way that she uses less paper.

2.) Ergo, Sara is quite eco-friendly. Which will make Sonnet's parents happy. You'll find out why when you read the book.

3.) Do me a favor. Please. Pretty please. Do not flip to the back to read the ending. Please. Don't do it. You know who you are. I've done this myself - things get dicey and you want to know that the author is going to land this plane on the tarmac, not the middle of the Indian ocean.

You have to trust me. The plane lands. It's a surprise. It's a good surprise. This is not Hamlet. There are no bodies being dragged off the stage. I'm just as invested in the happiness of my characters as you are. Probably more. One night Danny came home to find me having an absolute meltdown because of what Sara (who technically is not a real person) was going through.

But you know what? A week later in the writing game, things turned around. Sara winds up very happy, and she does so in a manner that completely surprised me. I wish that same surprise for you. So keep your fingers from flipping back there. Nothing good can come of it. And the witty acknowledgements are in the front, so you really have no excuse.

4. You can download the first chapter here.

5. You can view the super cute book trailer here.

6. You can also mark your calender for the first official book signing at Barnes & Noble in Eugene, which is October 3rd at 4pm.

Moving on.

I'm now working on a book about Jayne and Sara's dear friend, Gemma. Ah, Gemma, who cooks like an angel and accessorizes in a way that Michael Kors would approve of. Gemma who has a job many would dream of. Gemma who cannot, it seems, get a decent date.

There's more to the story than that, and my agent and I are shaping and discoursing over it, but I think it's going to be amazing.

And not just because, well, it's Gemma, and we get to hang out in the kitchen with her. Though that is one very good reason.

In the chapter I'm working on, she makes herself dinner. I want to sit at her feet in the kitchen, sneaking bites whenever she gets distracted. The first item I included was a red pepper sauce.

The sauce is inspired by the Pioneer Woman's Red Pepper sauce. Now, I love her, and I loved the sauce, but I had a hunch it could go places. Yummy places.

So I experimented,

You want this sauce. Trust me.

What you need:

Pasta of choice (I like campanelle and farfalle at the moment)
4 large red peppers
1/2 an onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
Creme Fraiche
Heavy Cream
Red pepper flakes
Some sugar
Some salt
Some milk
Grated Parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano works too)

Note: This recipe is not particularly...precise. But we're not baking here. It's okay to make things the way you want them in a sauce like this.

1. Roast the peppers. This can take a bit, so bring a book, or your phone, or your child, or something. I stick mine on a baking sheet covered with foil and place them under the broiler, top rack of my oven. Once the tops get nice and blackened, pull out the sheet and turn them. Keep doing this until they're completely black and blistered. Stick them (using tongs), into a plastic ziplock bag and let them sweat for a while.

2. While they're sweating, chop the onion and garlic. Saute them in a medium saucepan in some olive oil, over medium-ish heat. Throw in some red pepper flakes. I just shook it a couple times - if you like things spicier, go for it. You're eating it. Cook until the onions are golden but not dry. Remove from heat.

3. Pull out your blender. Hopefully, your peppers are cool enough to handle by now. If not, you can work on the first one while you stick the others in the fridge to take the edge off. Remove the blackened skin and inside seeds, but don't worry about having little tiny bits of burn in there. It's okay. Stick your finished peppers in your blender. Add the onion mixture and puree.

4. When the pepper and onion mixture is quite smooth, transfer it back to the sauce pan. Add a couple dollops of creme fraiche (so good!). Oh, and if your blender is like mine and it's hard to get every last bit out, pour in a bit of milk. Like, 1/4 cup or so. Swish it around, pour it into your pot. Add some heavy cream. Stir. Reheat it.

5. Taste it. At this point, I added some salt and about 1/2 tsp or so of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the peppers. Maybe even a whole teaspoon. Not a lot, but enough.

6. Let it sit on the burner on low while you cook the pasta. Serve with grated cheese and snipped arugula over the top. You could also put some extra creme fraiche on the top, if you were feeling a bit underweight.

7. Now, if you're eating this with a man, I totally recommend a pork & portobello mushroom sausage that's at Costco. I'm sorry, I can't tell you want kind it is, specifically. There's also provolone in it too, I think. It's good. You can fry it up (don't need oil, it has plenty of its own fat) while the pasta is cooking, cut into half-rounds. Give it a good rinse when it's done, though. It's not low-fat, but rinsing it will take the edge off. Once you've drained and rinsed the pasta, throw in the sausage and pour the sauce over it.

Seriously. It's magical, and very very flavorful.

Getting sleepy. If you make the pasta, let me know, k?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's my Birff-day

...Though I have a hard time believing it. Really. There's been so much crazy going on, on so many different levels. I haven't blogged much lately. Haven't used Twitter, either, but if you've been following the "news," you'll know that Twitter kills.


I got up this morning and checked my facebook page.

And realized that over the last year, my life has changed.

I discovered Greek yogurt. I got hooked on green tea. I found the perfect mascara. I learned to drive a car with cruise control. I got back on the sewing wagon. I figured out how to sift powdered sugar. I rediscovered the color yellow. I cut my hair short, as short (if not shorter) than it was in college. I watched my husband graduate with a masters degree. I made my first roux. I sang along with Glee.

I published a book. I can't tell you how many years I blew out my candles, wishing for a contract, wishing to publish a novel.

Plain Jayne came out in January. Sara will be out shortly. Over the last year, I've experienced my first release, first review in Publishers Weekly, first booksignings, first radio interview...

Because of the book, I've gotten to meet wonderful readers online, women who I'd never be able to connect with otherwise. It's crazy. It's humbling.

And I have no idea what next year will bring. But if there's something better than Greek yogurt out there, I'm ready.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Passing Through

I need a better blogging system. By that, I mean that having a blogging system at all wouldn't be the worst idea. Life is unstructured right now; I'm between projects. Rather than spend long days trying desperately to get 1,200 words out, I'm working on everything else I put off until I hit one of the many deadlines that lead up to a print date.

So here's everything that's been going on in the Lodge camp:

1. Our grandpas passed away this last week. Two of them, opposite sides of the country, within 24 hours of each other. One was expected. We had no idea about the other until we got the call. Danny and I each have our own roller-coaster moments, but we're hanging in there. Can I just say that if you want to rack up treasure in heaven, grocery shop for those who have experienced loss. A precious friend brought us dinner (and then some!). It's amazing how something so simple can be so profound.

2. In other news, the Oregon Christian Writers' Conference went down beautifully. A herd of writers came out. It was fantastic. My classes went well, meetings with conferees over manuscripts went well, copies of Plain Jayne graduated from the back of my car to the loving homes of several readers. I am a bit exhausted, though. While I do a pretty good impersonation of an extrovert when necessary, it's nice to be home in the quiet.

3. I started work on the next book! It's about Gemma (friend to Jayne and Sara, feeder of many), and I have to say, It's going to be delicious. If you have any amazing recipes to pass on, let me know (and by amazing, I mean "something you'd feed to a food critic" good. Gemma doesn't mess around. Unless it's Oreos. She has a secret weakness for them...)

4. I'm officially all registered to attend the ACFW conference in September. This will be my first ACFW conference, as well as my first venture into the state of Indiana.

5. I bought yarn last night. Haven't knitted anything in about a year (I know; the mind reels). I have a bunch of Louisa Harding's Ca'D'Oro but it's not particularly seasonal - I just can't work with wool in the heat of the summer. So I bought a sweater's worth of this last night - it's the grey color shown at the top (though I really liked the Apple Blossom, I thought the grey would be be more multi-seasonal).

Sorry. This isn't my funniest or most insightful blog. Not for lack of material - I probably ought to write a whole blog about my new smart phone (in particular my intelligence-challenged so-called "genius button"), but I'm not there yet. Hopefully soon, though. It's an unusual season to be passing through; the trick is to remember we're just passing through.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Affair of the Vanilla Bean

So, if you've been following things on Facebook or Twitter, you know we've been on an ice cream making kick.

I made lavender ice cream. Danny made vanilla. Actually, he was intending to make cookies and cream, but this was the kind of seriously eggy, custardy, vanilla beany ice cream that we were loathe to put Oreos in to, so we didn't.

I ate it over nectarines. Danny ate it with chocolate sauce. It was perfection either way.

My lavender ice tasted like plant. Strongly like plant. I knew I was kind of generous with the tablespoon of dried petals I used to infuse the cream, but when your ice cream tastes of sweetened soap, there's a problem.

(Side note: I still like idea of lavender ice cream, but I think the addition of 1/2 of a vanilla bean and a serious decrease of petals, and a scant pinch of salt will give it a more rounded flavor. I'll letcha know how that goes.)

Anyway, we ate all the vanilla ice cream. I wanted more. I scraped away at our remaining vanilla bean (left over from infusing the sugar for my sister-in-law's bridal shower last year), stirred the cream over the stove, beat the eggs and superfine sugar, tempered the eggs, and returned everything to the pot, over medium heat, so the thing would simmer until "thick enough to coat a spoon."

I hate the phrase "thick enough to coat a spoon." Coat for how long? How thick? Winter coat? Spring jacket?

And then the thing separated on me. Suddenly, it looked like the illegitimate offspring of tapioca pudding and corn grits. I don't know why (I have my theories), but there is nothing in the recipe that told me to do anything differently.

Feeling like I'd just ruined the batch, I began to make plans to start over. This is a labor of love as well as the action born from desperation, because it was 90 degrees outside and standing over a hot stove, even with our freestanding A/C on, still isn't my idea of perfection.

I'd made a trip to Wal-Mart earlier in the day to restock on cream and whole milk. I'd looked for vanilla beans. There were none.

So I went to Albertsons, where I found a bottle with a single vanilla bean. It was $12.34. One bean.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't take it home and make the most expensive ice cream on the planet, especially since I had designs on two other batches, and I really didn't want to spend $37.02 on three batches of ice cream.

I went to Win-Co, to see if they had cheaper beans. They didn't. They had no beans.

I called Trader Joe's - no beans.

I drove up Beltline to Delta Highway to Market of Choice. In the spice aisle - one bean, $8.83(ish). Better. Kind of.

In bulk?

$2.25. Each.

I bought four.

They're not Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. They were not cultivated by monks. They were not fertilized by fire berries. They were not shipped to the country cradled in a bed of silk.

But they're $2.25 each. I. Don't. Care.

P.S. I churned up the lumpy custard. It came out perfectly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Us - Part III

Three years ago today, I married my best friend.

You'd think tickling his feet has gotten old by now, but it hasn't.

This year has been a wild ride. Danny worked overtime hours while completing a master's degree. I published and promoted one book while writing 92,000 of the most difficult words I've ever written.

Danny celebrated with me when my first book arrived, and a few days later, when a whole box of books followed. He made me laugh at the cover of the Large Print Edition, came to every book signing and event, helped set up and take down the books, poster, postcards, and punch bowl full of chocolates.

He was very, very angry when he read my worst book review. He beamed over my Publishers Weekly and Booklist reviews.

I got to go to Vermont with Danny and watch as he gained the respect of his classmates and professors during his masters residency. I pinned his masters hood in place, and saw him shake the dean's hand as he received his diploma.

I like the quiet moments best, though. Tea on Saturday mornings. Walks we take, hand in hand. Sitting on the couch, reading books with the windows open.

I like the funny bits that have become our own - the way grass makes us laugh, the way Danny eats cheese, the way I giggle over the phrase some say.

I like how Danny brings adventure into my life in ways I never thought would happen.

It hasn't been an easy year, but it's been a good one. I can't imagine what the next will hold.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Writing lessons from Eclipse

Writing Lessons Inspired by the Undead and the Furry:

1.) Show, Don't Tell.

Yeah, Jacob says he's in love with Bella. We heard him. Several times, actually, the kid was a broken record. (And honestly, saying you'll love someone until their heart stops beating is...awkward.) does he show it? Actively show it, not just repeat it over and over while inserting insults regarding her boyfriend?

Aside from a bracelet with a wolf charm, there's not much evidence. Dude, buy a vowel. Maybe the reason she's with him and not you is because you won't stop yapping about how you're right and he's wrong. Just saying.

2.) Unless your villain is really, really, interesting, we don't need to spend much time with him/her.

Pretty much, unless your villain is whomever Christophe Waltz is playing or Cruella DeVille - i.e., really, really interesting. 

...just assume we're not all that emotionally or intellectually invested in this person. Sure, we respect that he/she needs to be there as a plot device, but given the choice we'd rather be hanging out with the main characters than with the army of baby vampires and their problems that mean less to us than what Alice picks to wear on any given occasion.

3. Be aware of your pacing.

Pretty much, you want lots of rising action, no matter what genre you're writing in. And when you reach your climax, the amount of time you spend in it should be directly proportionate to the amount of time you've spent building it up. So, if (for instance) you've been having issues with a certain redhead for three books/film installations, maybe dispatching her three minutes after she and the protagonist share the same screen is a bit quick. Just a little.

4. Establish your universe perimeters early and stick to them.

I may be missing something, but I don't remember Jasper having a southern accent in either of the two previous films. I don't remember references to a drawl in any of the books. But suddenly, he's so southern he sounds like he's auditioning for a role in True Blood.

Also - when Vampires die they shatter? I don't remember this. Did this happen earlier? Do they splinter? Are there shards?

Are they extra-flammable? Because Victoria seemed to catch fire real quick. The whole thing reminded me a little of the second Hellboy film, the way the Elves turned to ivory or alabaster or something after they died (I couldn't tell which, but it looked cool).

That's what I thought about when I watched Eclipse. What did you think?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Christians, Spec-Fic, and the Amish Issue

A good friend of mine sent me this link the other day, about why there isn't more Christian Speculative Fiction on the market, and why the Amish seem to be taking over the world.

Well, Christian bookstores, at least.

I thought it would be fun to blog about.

So let's take a look.

1.) Christian Bookstores don't carry much spec-fic/sci-fi/fantasy.

Sure, we know that the bookstores skew towards a female, and often older, demographic (hence the Precious Moments population). We know that spec-fic readers tend to be male. The two don't meet well. But even if you could get the spec-fic reading men into the bookstores, past the Testamints, and into the bookshelves, you still have a person standing in your way.

The person who buys the store's stock.

We're in a recession. We have been for a while. Though there are sure-bet spec-fic authors like Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, stores are going to be less likely to pick up books by lesser known authors in a genre that doesn't sell much.

And it's not just Christian bookstores. Mainstreams booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart are going to buy what they think will sell well in their stores.

2.) "Everyone" is asking for more Spec-fic, though.

Keep in mind that, yes, spec-fic readers are very vocal, but one more thing - they know how to use their computers (this is not necessarily true of Amish Fiction readers. Just sayin'). Mike Duran's inside source (and if my hunch regarding the identity of that source is right, is a solid person to listen to) made the point that if Spec-fic really truly sold like gangbusters, publishers and book store buyers would sit up and pay attention. Really. But they're not. So my guess is that "everyone" isn't as many people as you'd think.

3.) Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker are the big fish in the spec-fic world.

True. BUT there are tons of other writers out there. Bill Myers is one of them; he'll also be keynoting this summer at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Canby. Jill Williamson's By Darkness Hid was not only Marcher Lord Press's biggest seller, but won the 2010 Christy Award in their Visionary category. Randy Ingermanson has several books out, Eric Wilson did a Vampire trilogy with Thomas Nelson Publishers, Stephen Lawhead released several fantasy books. The books are out there. You might have to order them, but they are in existence.

That said...

I have to be honest here. My husband has read a lot of spec-fic of the Michael Crighton, James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler type. (By the way, how much should Clive Cussler be on Dancing With the Stars? Tons, that's how much. He can drive to the lot in his pink car. Sorry. Tangent.) He's also read some of the Christian releases.

And honestly? He usually likes the general market ones better.

There have been some exceptions, but he prefers the plotting in the general market releases. And rather than ignore the elephant in the room, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and accept that I may receive angry letters - there is some really, really good Christian Fiction out there, of many genres. But some of it is not so great. Just because a book is written from a Christian world-view doesn't mean that it's a worthy piece of art or entertainment. I'm sorry. it doesn't.

So. There you have it. I'm not pointing fingers or naming names, I'm just putting it out there.

4.) Historical Romance and Amish are what's selling.

The economy is bad. CBA readers, by and large, are looking for love stories, and they want them in long skirts. Gloves optional. Why Amish? Because it's safe. Because it's cozy. Because their world is simplified. Because our world isn't. Our world is scary and war-ridden and filled with gray areas that are difficult to wade through.

Also,the rest of us look impossibly hip next to the Amish. There are loads of reasons. I did find out recently that the Amish boom is plateauing, at least. Most publishing houses have filled their Amish Writer Quotas, and in an industry where platform is the new black, that means that either you're already in, or you get to do something else. A new sub-genre will get its turn in the spotlight shortly. In the past we've seen Chick-Lit, suspense, and Prairie Fiction do really well. We'll see what comes next.

5.) The popularity of Amish Fiction represents a Christian world-view shift.

This is an interesting idea. In this blog, Mike Duran posits (sorry, watching lots of Fringe these days) that Christians are veering away from material that contains elements of the supernatural, that they avoid the mysterious. Duran argues that the Bible, what with the fish taxi and the speaking snake (oh, and the speaking mule), and the angels and the prince of the air and the curses and the locusts and the food appearing on the ground and the visions and the prophecies food multiplying and the dead being raised (reanimation? Sorry, like I said, watching Fringe) and the RESURRECTION, scripture alone includes a lot of weird. We won't even talk about end-times prophecy.

My theory on the subject is that Christians, by and large, like their spiritually-oriented paranormal material to be served straight-up. By that, I mean they want it to stay within the covers of their Bible. Because outside of that, you've got a lot of tricky theological decisions about what kinds of weird are okay, and which are twisting spiritual truths incorrectly and not okay, or downright occultic.

It's true, though, that many believers like to skip over the weirder passages of Scripture. Other believers prefer to believe a lot of the stranger bits are literary devices. We live is a post-modern world that clings to science and reason and avoids or negates the inexplicable. To think that post-modernism hasn't crept into the church is unrealistic.

Now, to say that non-paranormal stories are bland and avoid mystery is unfair. To quote Proverbs 30:18-19, "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden." Life is mysterious. Romance is mysterious.

There's a lot of thoughts there, not necessarily a lot of conclusions.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Spies and Shower Tools

It's not like I'm stuck on the Russian Spy issue...except that I am, and it just keeps getting better. My mom pointed out to me this afternoon that the article I read yesterday (and included in the blog post earlier) and the one in the newspaper were not the same, and the second included a wonderful quote.

"Jessie Gugigi, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Cynthia Murphy, who was an accomplished gardener.

'They couldn't have been spies,' Gugigi said. 'Look what she did with the hydrangeas.'"

The second bit of happiness for the day was the discovery of this at Target.

Some call it a loofah. Others - a "Shower Tool." I call it "marketing." What do you think?

Russian Spies, Conservative Baptists, and John Corbett

So, yesterday news broke that ten people had been arrested as Russian agents. If you want something to take the edge off your Monday morning, that's it.

I mean, I had no idea how depressing current news had been until this story broke. Life without Russian spies - bleak. Very bleak.
To make things even more fun, today we find out that some of the alleged agents had Facebook pages! True, that may not have been the purpose of the article - it's not my fault they buried the true lead.

Who knows. There could be a Russian agent in your friend list. This is the best week ever.

In other news, I spent some time mulling after my last post over why the presence of John Corbett gives me an overall sense of well-being. I got it figured out. Having spent my youth in a Conservative Baptist church back in the eighties, I saw many images of, what I like to refer to, as "Classic Jesus."

One of the side-effects of this is that I (and others like me) have been conditioned to trust and feel a general sense of well-being around lightly tanned men with shoulder-length light brown hair.

Such as John Corbett.

Case solved.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back from Hiatus

I know. I'm sorry. It's been a month.

But I have pictures!

Look at Danny, he's all cute and graduated! After a week of residency, presenting his project and hearing about others, they handed him a diploma, one with his name on it and everything.

After that, we drove through seven states to see this:

It's the National Cathedral, and it's breathtaking.

After a whirlwind trip through DC, we went to Roanoke, Va, before backtracking to Monticello, before driving to Pfafftown, NC, before driving to Spartanburg, SC to see this:

A BMW Airplane engine at the BMW museum, which is adjacent to where they keep the big giant robots.

I'm very sorry that I don't have big giant robot pictures to post. Truly. They took my camera(s). Just know that they were huge, they twirled pieces of BMW X5 undercarriage like a q-tip, and sparks flew when they welded the pieces together.

I came to two conclusions very quickly:

1. If there was a tornado, the BMW factory is not where you'd want to be.
2. If the robots suddenly developed independent wills, these are the ones that would take over the world.

In other news...

1. Simply Sara is 100% done, edits, galleys, acknowledgements, discussion questions, dedication, back cover copy, author bio and all.

2. Danny's hooding ceremony was the night of the Glee finale, but we got to watch it a week later when we had access to reliable internet again. Oh. My. Goodness. It ended just right, I loved "To Sir, With Love,"and I can't wait till next season. Congrats to their writing team for landing the plane! I just hope we see more of Idina Menzel...

3. I picked up Elizabeth Aston's Writing Jane Austen from the library today. It looks like fun.

4. I discovered this in North Carolina -

It's a chocolate-dipped waffle bowl. An innovative concept if I've ever seen one. While it is messy to eat, it does eliminate the drip-through-the-bottom problem.

Well, the bowl at the bottom does that. But it's the functionality of the bowl with the deliciousness (and carbs) of the cone. So everyone wins, if you're willing to get your fingers chocolately.

There are worse things.

5. It's funny being back. When we left, the kids were still in school and it was dark and drizzly. Now school's out and the skies are blue and sunny. I'm not complaining, just stating that it's weird. We were only gone two weeks, but it feels more like a month!

6. We have groceries again, though. My new favorite thing that I discovered at an airport Starbucks, and I don't remember which, is Greek Yogurt. It is thick, creamy, rich in taste while being the same calorie count as fat free Nancy's (if you don't have Nancy's yogurt in your neck of the woods, it's the local premium organic yogurt).

I think I need to go stretch my legs soon, so more later. I promise it won't be a month later! I've got a pizza I need, desperately, to recreate, so if there's success, there will be a recipe to follow...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Magic in a muffin tin

Meet my new friend. This is the Bread Pudding Muffin from this book. Kind of. I tweaked it a little. It's really, really good (incidentally, so is the book.

I love this recipe for several reasons:

1. I'm a sucker for anything that comes in a miniature serving.
2. Sifted powdered sugar on top makes me giddy.
3. I heart bread pudding. Really, anything that combines dairy with eggs and carbs (see also: tapioca pudding, macaroni and cheese, et al)
4. I love make-ahead recipes, and this certainly qualifies.

And another reason I love this recipe - it's a bit of a blank slate. Sure, it's good as is. But there are endless possibilities.

The basic recipe:

1 loaf Artisan Bread
3/4 tsp Cinnamon

6 Eggs
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. cream (or, if you're feeling appropriately stingy, 1/2 c. half n' half and 1 c. cream.)
2 tsp vanilla
Scant 1/4 tsp salt

Powdered sugar for sprinkling.

1. Cut the ends off the bread, save for another use. Slice rest of bread into 1" (or so, maybe a bit smaller) squares; place in a large bowl.

2. Toss with cinnamon.

3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cream, vanilla, and salt. Pour mixture over the spiced bread. Give it a brief stir so everything's properly damp. Cover and let stand refrigerated overnight, or up to 24 hours.

4. Line two muffin tins with paper cups. Spoon mixture into the cups, about 1/2 c. each. Depending on how long your bread soaked, you may find it's easier to kind of place some of the bread chunks into the liners to make sure each space gets filled. Spoon remaining custard (it'll be hanging out in the bottom of the bowl) over the tops. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. When they're done, you want the tops nice and golden and the bottoms to be squashy. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, serve warm. Refrigerate the leftovers.

So that's the gist of it. The fun thing is, you could go a bit wild with it by adding:

1. Cardamom
2. Candied hazelnuts
3. Almond extract and slivered almonds
4. Blueberries
5. Diced apples.
6. Finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
7. Vanilla Bean
8. Orange zest
9. Lemon zest

I'm definitely making these again. And again, and again, starting most likely with a Bible Study brunch next week. If you experiment, let me know!

In other news...

1. I bought a new camera, another digital SLR, and the photo above is the first publicly released photo I've taken with it :-) I'm very pleased with it, though I haven't used it much yet. We'll be in Vermont for Danny's graduation shortly, and I expect to take it for an extended spin during that time.

2. I'm still crazy excited about the season finale of House, in which the the heavens open and the world is righted, at least where my favorite ascetic doctor is concerned.

3. If you watched the season finale of Castle and wondered what that song was, it's this one.

4. I have to say, Glee made me sad last night. I hurt for Rachel as she and her birth mother try to eke out a relationship without the benefit of a shared past. I was frustrated on Finn's behalf because, as much as he shouldn't have used the terminology he did, his basic reaction was not unwarranted. His not wanting to share a bedroom with an openly gay young man is as understandable as a teen girl not wanting to share a bedroom with a teen boy. While I appreciate Kurt's dad's reaction, the onus was on him and Finn's mother for putting Finn in that position in the first place. They are the adults. They need to buy a vowel.

But Rachel's mom-ed over Lady Gaga outfit? Adorable.

4. I picked this up at the library and have had a ton of fun flipping through it. The recipes are inventive and fun, the ideas are clever and sophisticated, and the photos are frankly quite impressive. If I turn my artistic attentions to photographing teacups, you'll know why.

5. If you haven't seen Invictus yet, do. Go. Rent. Now.

6. It's 75 degrees in Vermont right now. Just saying. I wonder how the mini bread puddings would be with warm maple syrup.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Dead

Sorry. I know, it's been a while. Turning in the book sucked out my will to blog. Or write, really, much of anything.

To catch up:

1. Robin Hood. Thumbs-down, sadly. Honestly, you don't know how much that breaks my heart. I wanted to love this movie, but it wasn't meant to be. You really do have to have characters to make a story work. More on that later.

2. The Losers. Thumbs-up. Honestly, the trailer made it look like the poorer, potato-sack wearing cousin of this summer's The A-Team. Which I haven't seen yet. But The Losers does, it does well. The characters are drawn broadly with much love and affection. The action sequences are fun. The villain is pitch-perfect. If she could sound feasibly British, I'd nominate Zoe Saldana for the Tomb Raider reboot. I recommend much.

3. Letters to Juliet. Thumbs-up. It's swoony and unapologetically romantic in a take-no-prisoners sort of way. When I am old, I want to look like Vanessa Redgrave.

4. Crazy Heart. The scriptwriter really did go with the "less talk more rock" approach. Literally. And while I won't begrudge Jeff Bridges his Oscar in the slightest, I found the story itself to be lacking. My engineer husband (who spends a lot of time these days with a novelist) summed it up this way: "It's like it was an act and a half, rather than three acts. There was a lot of setup, the climax, some plot, and then it was over. I didn't like it.)

*Note* He'll come home from work and tell me I didn't quote him right. But it's pretty close and true to the intended message.

That's it for movies. We've been watching a lot of Top Gear lately. So much that the phrase "Some Say" followed by a pause will now cause a Pavlovian-type giggle reaction. (This is inconvenient for Ridley Scott, since it happened during Robin Hood while one of the actors was trying to be profound. I don't remember who. I was giggling at the time). But it's really delightful and is the only media-related item I've ever found that can make my frequently stoic husband weep with laughter. WEEP.

And honestly, I can't blame him.

One of the reasons I heart it much is that the three hosts - Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, are all very good at being characters. And I'm all about characters.

So maybe Ridley Scott needed to watch a little more Top Gear, because the sense of character was missing from a film about one of the most famous literary characters.

Lessons We Can Glean From Robin Hood (2010)

1.) It's important to give the audience a reason to like the main character. If we like the character, we will care about his story. If we don't like him, we won't give a cockroach's tush. The late Blake Snyder wrote about this in his seminal screenwriting book, Save the Cat. Basically, give your protagonist an opportunity to save a cat, or something - anything - that makes us like him. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be a cat. Russell Crowe could have saved a horse, and it would have helped. This is true for anti-heroes as well. Even if they have issues, the likability has to be there.

2.) Characters have to be consistent. When characters are consistent, we believe they're real people. When they're not, we struggle with the suspension of disbelief. So if you give us a smart, gutsy woman like, say, Marian, and especially if you cast a smart, gutsy woman like Cate Blanchett to play her, do not have this character threaten to remove a man's manhood at knifepoint and then have her light a lamp so she can undress behind a thin curtain, giving the aforementioned man a lengthy opportunity to observe and admire the silhouette of her feminine form.

I mean, really.

3.) No plot development is going to be interesting enough to save your story if your characters are flimsy. In fact, if you don't have characters, it's not a story. It's not. It's a recitation of events. Character make story. Stories make character. You can't have one and not the other, if it's going to work. A lot of plot-driven writers struggle with this, particularly sci-fi/fantasy writers. I've seen it in both published and unpublished work. Political machinations don't mean a thing if we don't care about the characters. The reason why is that if we have nothing invested, the stakes will never be high enough to create the tension necessary for a moving plot. And you need high stakes. You need tension. As Lauri Deason once said, "The original Star Wars movies were about saving the universe. The new ones were about tax reform."

And we all know which ones were the most successful.

4.) Pick your tone. Own it. Films like The Losers, Clash of the Titans, and Letters to Juliet work because they know what they are and they're good with that. They're not trying too hard to be too much. Robin Hood swung around from battle epic to comedy to drama to romance in such an awkward way that it didn't work at any of those. (Note: kissing someone in the midst of battle while blood drips onto that person's face...gross. Not romantic. Not sexy. Gross and awkward. No one wants to kiss a bio-hazard.)

So there you go. I've been reading a lot of British Chick-lit lately. I can't wait for this book to arrive at the library (it's currently out). I have a thing for books in which a woman inherits or manages to land into a large, old, decrepit house and has to make it a home of some sort. I don't know why, but I've had this thing for a long time. It's a big plus if the house has a secret history, or if the heroine makes curtains for it. Books like this, this, and this, and obviously this. I just finished Harriet Evans' A Hopeless Romantic, and that was a lot of fun :-)

Speaking of books, need to get back to Simply Sara edits. More less than two weeks :-)

P.S. The frog pic at the top is one of the ones I shot at the Oregon Garden during out getaway weekend. The rest are in the slideshow - go take a peek.