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Archive for December, 2010

Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.
–Kurt Vonnegut

In my list of favorite writing advice from the masters, I would say this tip is up there in the top ten. It’s true. Someone, in every scene, has to want something for the reader to care.

There are the big wants, the ones that are the spine of the story, be it love, family, justice, revenge, etc.–and there are the smaller ones (ie, the drink of water) that drive the scenes and the characters toward the big want. Which is why when one of my scenes stalls (or my plot as a whole) I will very often look at what my characters want*–only to discover they either don’t know or don’t want anything!Huh?

Now, let’s be honest: everybody wants something. Even the most indecisive, weak characters have to want something. Otherwise, there is no journey for the reader. Why should we follow a character if they want for nothing? There’s nowhere to go, nowhere for them to take us. Even if all your character wants is to buy a stamp, we can care and we can follow. But without a mission, a desire, however small, your reader will surely get off at the next stop and search out a train that has an actual destination. Who wouldn’t, right?

So does your character know what he or she wants for Christmas?

*Sometimes I will go through my whole manuscript and identify the wants in every scene and make sure there is one (of course, there will usually be as many wants as you have characters in that scene, even if some of the wants aren’t on display…)

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‘Tis the season for some of my very favorite favorites: egg nog and spiced pecans. Now for those of you who’ve never had homemade egg nog, it’s well worth the effort (and the calories). Ditto for the spiced pecans.

Both are family recipes and reside in the well-worn, flour-dusted, sauce-stained pages of my precious homemade cookbook, so allow me to brush off the flour and wipe off the tomato chunks and share them.

Egg Nog:

1. Separate 6 eggs (save the egg whites for later) and beat the yolks
2. Gradually beat in 1 cup of sugar
3. Gradually beat in: 3 cups of milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 cup of brandy and 3/4 ts salt


4. Beat egg whites until stiff; serve egg nog and top with a scoop of the egg whites, sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

Spiced Pecans:

1. Melt 8 tbs butter in a bowl
2. Add to melted butter: 8 tsps soy sauce, 10 shakes of Tabasco
3. Add 1 lb of pecans to mixture, stir to coat, then spread on a cookie sheet

4. Roast at 325 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes
5. Let cool thoroughly and sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt

What recipes come out of your cookbook this time of year and this time of year only?

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Author blurbs.

We’ve all seen them on books, and maybe once or twice we’ve even been inspired to buy from a debut author because someone we love loved what they wrote.

Well, I’m about to become one of those debut authors looking for love.

Since LITTLE GALE GUMBO is on its way to production and talk of cover art is in the works, the next step in this journey is getting author blurbs, and I will admit, the prospect has me excited and nervous and, well, mulling over some inappropriate thoughts.

Two words: banana bread.

I’ll confess I’ve never considered the inclusion of gifts before on this road to publication–but how could I not now? When I already feel so fortunate to be on this journey, and then I get to hope that one of the authors I have loved for so long, who have been inspiration for me for the last 20+ years of my writing and submitting, that one of those authors will not only be willing to READ my book but also say something nice about it!? Tell me, how can I just ASK for that, empty-handed? How can I not deliver that request with a lifetime supply of banana bread? A sampler box of Zapp’s? A keg of egg nog? (Note to self: ask homebrewing hubby if such a thing is possible and get busy.)

OR…I suppose, I could just ask, with the utmost courtesy and professionalism, with humility, with gratitude, and maybe even a few loaves of reverence, like lots of debuting authors have done before me, and hope that maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be fortunate enough to return the favor to someone else.

In the meantime, I can learn from others who’ve been doing it much longer and who have lots of great advice on the subject. This guest post from Nathan Bransford’s blog is tops. Thank you, Lauren Baratz-Logsted.

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It was so great to open the big blogosphere envelope this morning and read the fabulous news of a fellow blogger’s book deal–congratulations, Teresa!

My own publishing journey is likely gearing up for another burst of activity in the next few weeks as LITTLE GALE GUMBO is now on its way to production and I will see it again only to make any small needed changes (Thanks for asking, Karen!).

In the meantime, I am, as my posts have indicated, busy writing/editing/hoarding words on book number 2, all the while knowing that LGG’s release date of October 2011 SEEMS like a long way away, but there is much to be done to fill in the weeks between now and then (most of which will not involve copious amounts of homemade egg nog, surprisingly).

What always amazes me in the process of writing is how utterly dualistic the experience can be–like a love affair, it seems to know only extremes in the beginning–some days are: Weeee! I was BORN to write this book–we were made for each other! Then just as quickly, the next day comes: I don’t know who this book is! I can’t believe I ever loved this book–what was I THINKING?! Then the next day, you’re back in crazy mad love, the earlier hour’s crushing doubt washed blissfully away…

Exhausting, isn’t it? And then, oh and then…one day, the two ends of the spectrum seem to move closer together and there’s less of the doubt, less of the angst, and more of the joy, the confidence, the delight in the flow of your work, and that delight grows and grows and…Yeah, it’s awesome.

So—where are all of you in your literary love affairs at the moment?

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Who says you need a Thanksgiving turkey to have leftovers?

We roasted a wee chicken (thank you, dear bird) and enjoyed both of the fixings that I’d been looking forward to. Cranberry-pear salsa…

…and mirliton dressing…

which is easy enough to make for any meal:

1. Shell 1/2 lb. uncooked, large domestic shrimp (the Gulf fishermen and the environment will thank you!), save shells and make a stock with them.

2. Boil 2 mirliton in water until tender (you can poke a knife through them), then remove center and cut into cubes.

3. When stock is done, drain and remove from heat, then put uncooked shrimp in stock to semi-cook as the stock cools.

4. Sautee a chopped onion, one bell pepper, three cloves of garlic (minced), a bag of frozen artichoke hearts, salt and pepper, and a cup of chopped celery–when everything is finished cooking, add shrimp and a splash of the stock (so shrimp won’t burn) to allow shrimp to finish cooking (you may want to halve the shrimp since they are the large ones–or just buy medium-sized shrimp).

5. Blend the sautee mix into a casserole dish with remainder of stock (about a cup) then add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs until all the liquid is absorbed. Once it’s at the consistency you want, drizzle olive oil over the top (2 tables.).

6. Bake uncovered at 350 for at least a 1/2 hour until it’s hot all the way through.

Enjoy!

But this post isn’t only about food leftovers…

 Lately, I’ve been collecting leftover words, too. In fact, I am becoming an official word-hoarder. When I am editing my WIP, I cut my words (I know they need to go, I do) but I can’t seem to bring myself to erase them FOREVER, so I store them in an ever-growing ADD file, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t have a serious problem.

How is it that I can be the queen of the throw-out, avoiding closet clutter and feeling great relief when possessions are whittled down from four boxes into one? No “Hoarders” here. Or so I thought.

So why not let go of the words, Erika? What are you so afraid of? Sure there are some very special lines, ones for the books (yes, pun intended), lines to tell the grandkids about! But if they don’t work (much like the shoes that don’t fit anymore) then WHY KEEP THEM?

Leftovers: Use ’em or lose ’em.

Yay or nay, friends?

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