Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Summer in a Bowl

Okay, this is completely off-topic (and I'll soon have a new Novel 101 post), but this is something I have to share. This is my new favorite, to-die-for recipe. One of those I-could-eat-this-everyday recipes. And, it's healthy, easy and versatile.

I found it by going to one of my favorite sites, The Food Network. And it's from one of my cooking idols, Ina Garten. Love, love, love her.

Here it is, PANZANELLA, with my changes in bold:


3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)--I used olive bread. Yum.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes--I used those little cherub cherry tomatoes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick--I didn't use a hothouse
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained--I left these guys out

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar--I used white wine vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

This rocks. It's even great the next day for lunch. I added diced pepperoni and salami one night to make it more of a meal all by itself. Another time I'll probably add some leftover grilled chicken.

Anyway, enjoy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words--GCC

I'm not sure what it says about us, but my husband and I have become quite addicted to what we refer to as "Dead Wife Shows"--you know the kind of quasi-news show that's on at 9 p.m. (CST) on a Friday or Saturday night (when folks with real lives are out) that's billed as a TRUE-LIFE MYSTERY. It seems to usually center around some poor woman who ends up dead and then they try to solve the crime. It's fun, in a middle-aged couple sort of way, to sit on the sofa and follow the clues. Then we go to bed. We are Cuh-raz-ee!

So, you can imagien my excitement when I got to chat with April Henry co-author of Face of Betrayal. April knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. She had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children's author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children's magazine.

By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers.

Publishers Weekly said Face of Betrayal is “A sizzling political thriller… The seamless plot offers a plethora of twists and turns.”

Tell me this doesn't sound great: When 17-year-old Senate page Katie Converse goes missing on her Christmas break near her parents' white Victorian home in Portland, Ore., law enforcement and the media go into overdrive in a search for clues. Three friends at the pinnacle of their respective careers--Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor; Cassidy Shaw, a crime reporter; and Nicole Hedges, an FBI special agent--soon discover that Katie wasn't the picture of innocence painted by her parents. Did Katie run away to escape their stifling demands? Was she having an affair with the senator who sponsored her as a page? Has she been kidnapped? Is she the victim of a serial killer?

Let's hear from April in her own words . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
Lis Wiehl, my co-author and FOX-TV’s legal analyst, wanted to write a book with three main characters: a federal prosecutor (as she was), a TV reporter (as she is), and an FBI agent (as her dad was). When we decided to work together, we batted around a bunch of ideas that had their roots in true crimes. Face of Betrayal has echoes from a number of real-life cases, most notably Chandra Levy’s.

As a mystery and thriller writer, I’m all about plot

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I like Cassidy because she is kind of venial and vain, but honest.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write in my home office, on my couch, at the library, at my gym. At first I couldn’t write at home because I would find myself doing something else. Now I’m better at getting my butt in the chair and away from loading the dishes. Lis and I will email each other back and forth a half-dozen times a day. When we have the basic idea, I’ll start working on the first draft. Then together we fine tune it.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
When the characters and situations take on a life of their own and start going in directions that are perfect – and that I didn’t forsee!

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Let it sit. The longer you can stay away from a manuscript, the more easily you can see the flaws. Months are better. Weeks are okay. Even days, in a pinch. But hours? Hours doesn’t give you enough distance.

I love April's advice about letting your writing sit to give yourself some distance. And of course, one great way to get away from your own writing is to lose yourself in a fabulous thriller. So, go read, kids, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fun for Spring . . .

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the smart women behind this website, are the co-authors of the new book seen here. And it's a fabulous, funny, SMART, guide for all of us when we're looking something fun (and maybe beach-y) to read. I asked Sarah my regular "In Their Own Words" questions and here are her answers . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

The idea was originally suggested to us by Rose Hilliard at St. Martin's, who asked, "Have you ever thought about writing a book on romance novels?" To which we said, "Hahahahha! What?"

As a reader - I love looking at questions like this. Am I driven by plot or character? Both equally, demanding whore that I am! I love characters who are nuanced, who aren't what I expect, who do or say things that I wasn't ready for but fully respect and want to follow onward from that page. And I love plots that carry those characters to places that neither they nor I are prepared for, that don't follow the expected progression through courtship and tribulation and resolution.

BUT - if I have to pick one, I'm a character reader. A very standard plot trope between two incredible characters will rock my world every time in the hands of a skilled writer. Characters, especially truly realistic ones, are definitely my preference.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Aside from me and Candy? Mavis! She's our stereotypical romance reader, as illustrated by Joanne Renaud, who looks like one might expect: fanny pack, slippers, baggy pants, kitten sweatshirt. But in the book, she has terribly insightful and clever things to say.

You can see her here.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

It depends. Sometimes it's "Butt in chair, hands on keyboard." And sometimes I go into what I think of as "word labor," when something I've been ruminating on starts to percolate and the words are coming NOW GRAB A PEN AND START TAKING NOTES FOOL. That happens every now and again and I'm always blown away when it does, and thankful for wherever that shot of awesome came from.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

You know that feeling when you write something that totally works for you, that ties everything together or makes you see another layer to what you're trying to say, and you're kinda blown away by the idea that came flying out of your own brain? That. Love that.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

From Laron's collection at BICHOK. Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard. This shit ain't gonna write itself.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Novel 101 (Starting Over)

I know I've been incommunicado for a few weeks now.

But, like spring, I do believe I too am emerging from winter and hibernation, tossing off some covers and turning my face towards the sun.

I've been doing lots of reading, a little traveling, and am in the process of wrapping my head around a new way of looking at things, particularly my WIP.

I think one of my strengths as a writer is how I capture the quiet moments of my characters, their introspection, their "resting." And that's all well and good, but in and of itself it isn't enough. As one of my most trusted readers/editors put it, I need to "earn the resting" and I need to earn it through action.

I know this, I really do, but I don't always do it. I can fall in love with my own paragraphs, sometimes, to the detriment of the whole. Last week I was talking to high school writers (one of my favorite things to do) and I found myself saying, over and over, "No matter how beautifully written a scene is, if it doesn't move the plot forward it has to go." They'd nod at me and jot down my words (almost like they thought I knew what the heck I was talking about) and it made me feel all professional (which is nice) but when I was driving home and thinking about it I realized that I needed to hear that advice more than those kids did. I need to listen to my own pearls of wisdom. And put them into action.

Next week (or maybe sooner, depending on how the week plays out), I'll be opening up a brand new document. And I'm going to allow the "what if's" to fly across the page. I'm going to earn my resting. I'm going to be open to the possibilities of magic in the world of my characters. I'm going to be prodding myself to know that it's in the characters' doing that emotions are elicited and honest and true. I'm going to be relentless that every scene--action and quiet--has to move the plot forward.

Because while the resting is important, I need to remember that growth is an action.