Deep Edits and Black Bean Soup

Cleveland Immersion Class, 2017

For the last several months, I’ve been looking forward to the first week in September. I hosted an immersion master class with the incomparable Margie Lawson and eight of my NEORWA friends. We followed the immersion with Margie presenting at NEORWA’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference. I learned how to use power words, have memorized rhetorical devices, and can deep edit like a boss.

Now that it’s over, I’m feeling energized and ready to take on the literary world by storm. Okay, maybe not–I’m still too tired and Margie would give me a frowny face for the cliche–but I certainly now have more tools to polish my manuscript.

If you’ve never done an immersion class or attended one of Margie’s workshops or online classes, I do hope you will. And in the meantime, here’s my recipe for vegan black bean soup (we ate a lot of soup), modified from Jonathan Waxman’s original meatier version (which is divine and which you can find in his book, A Great American Cook, on page 62):

Immersion Black Bean Soup
Serves about 8 hungry writers, or 10 less hungry ones

3 cups dried black beans
1 red onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 to 2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (remove seeds from chile if you prefer less heat)
3/4 cup fresh cilantro (including stems), chopped, reserving a couple tablespoons of the chopped leaves for garnish
8 cups vegetable broth
freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
Tortilla chips
Creme fraiche or sour cream, Greek yogurt, or coconut milk yogurt

Rinse beans and soak overnight in a large pot of cold water. (You can also use the quick soak method–boil beans in a large pot of water for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool for an hour.) Drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until onions are golden. Stir in the soaked beans, chipotle, cilantro, pepper (don’t add the salt yet!), and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until beans are very tender. If soup is too thin, simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes. If soup is too thick, add more broth or water.

Discard the bay leaf and add salt to taste. Use an immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you should get one, but in the meantime, you can puree the soup in small batches in a regular blender, then return to the pot). Reheat.

Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or creme and the reserved cilantro. (Unless you’re me, and you forget the cilantro.) Serve with a lime wedge and tortilla chips.

 

 

 

 

 

Strokes

Very often, writing is a thankless task. Hours slogging away at words that people may or may not like, that sometimes don’t even make any sense.  Once you’ve made all the edits you can stand to make, you submit your words to the gatekeepers of the publishing world–editors and agents who judge you, your writing style, your ‘voice,’ your marketability. Sometimes they like your words enough to request more of them. Sometimes–far more often than not–they say, “thanks but no thanks.” Every once in awhile, though, you get that ‘yes,’ or at least that ‘maybe,’ that gives you the boost you need to write more words.

In the romance world–and I do think this is more true in romance than in other genres–writers enter contests. Contests are easy, and fairly painless, ways to put your work in front of readers. You can test the waters for a new manuscript, try out new subgenres, take a chance on getting your book in front of the wonderful editors and agents who serve as final judges. Worst case scenario, you receive mediocre (or downright awful) scores, hopefully accompanied by constructive feedback and thoughts on what isn’t working in your manuscript and how to fix it.  Best case scenario, you final, and your words are read, and maybe even bought, by those final judges.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been working on words I absolutely adore. I’ve been submitting them to agents and editors, and have received mixed but overall encouraging feedback. I took some of the feedback to heart, made some significant revisions (namely lopping off the first three chapters–ouch), and submitted the book to a contest to see what people thought.  And just when I was beginning to think it was all a waste of time, this week I received the email telling me I was a finalist. I was literally dancing and fist-pumping around the kitchen while my husband looked at me as if I were a lunatic.

Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for the folks who put on and judge contests–it is an INSANE amount of work, and even less (more?) thankless than writing–the contest itself is not really the point. What finaling in a contest represents is validation: I don’t suck as a writer, and people like my stories, enjoy the tales I have to tell. And all of us–writers and non-writers alike–need to know that what we feel passionate about matters.

 

So all of that is my weird way of announcing that I am so pleased and proud to be named a finalist in the historical category of the 2017 Pages from the Heart Contest for my manuscript, Buying Max.

Those of you who are new writers, and even those of you who’ve been weaving words for awhile, consider entering a contest. You might just get the validation you crave–YOU are fabulous, and so is your story–just when you need it the most.

 

 

Cooking Up a Book

I’ve been slacking on the blog lately, as all my words have been going into a prequel novella I’m writing, featuring the parents of the hero in Stirring Up the Viscount. I’ve also been trying not to be a total slacker in my critique group, which is a bit easier said than done. And since Top Chef and Chopped are now on Hulu, I’ve been binge watching (and cooking) like a madwoman.

This weekend my in-laws are in town and we had friends over for dinner last night. I made an insanely good cherry pie bar thingy that I will probably never be able to duplicate because I veered so far from the original recipe (although I’m working on writing down the recipe so I can come close). I’d show you a picture, but I didn’t think to take one, and since the entire 9″x 13″ pan was consumed last night, there’s nothing left to photograph.

As I sit here reflecting on what to make for breakfast (this cinnamon scone bread is a distinct possibility), it occurs to me that cooking is a bit like writing. Some cooks use recipes, others do not, just as some writers plot and others fly by the seat of their pants. Even if you start with a recipe, sometimes, as with my cherry pie thingy, your imagination (or a desire not to use a full pound of butter) takes you on another course and you end up with a different product. Sometimes it’s better than the original, and sometimes not.

 

Things can go anywhere from slightly wrong (my baked beans last night were slightly undercooked because there wasn’t enough liquid in the pot) to disastrous (I made gluten free English muffins once–my son refers to them as “those hockey pucks Mom made”), like stories that veer off course. There are times when you can fix them, but other times you need to admit defeat and chuck the entire steaming mess into the trash.

Cooking involves tweaks along the way–a little more salt here, a splash of liquid there–just as a book does–a few lines of description here, tightening up language there. And the finished product, even if it looks luscious and is the most amazing thing you’ve ever created, won’t be loved by everyone.

I used to get pissed when my family didn’t like something I slaved over in the kitchen–usually at myself, but occasionally at them when they were so obviously wrong. 🙂 A critique partner’s negative comment or a bad review can get under my skin. As I’ve gotten older, I’m learning to accept this. Not everyone will love what you do. Sometimes even you hate what you create. It doesn’t mean that it’s not good, or that it won’t provide nourishment for body or soul.

But enough philosophizing. Time to make breakfast!

 

 

Historical Book Blast Friday: Romance on the High Seas

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book blast, so I am pleased to get back in the game with the new boxed set featuring my friend and NEORWA sister, Chloe Flowers. Just released, Romance on the High Seas is a fabulous collection of pirate stories by best-selling authors. Chloe will also give a pirate bandana and signed book to a randomly selected commenter. You can also win a Regal gift card so you can keep the pirate spirit alive with the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, which releases May 26.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS

The Pirate’s Debt by National Best-selling Author Katherine Bone: An earl-turned pirate is ordered by his benefactor to find an adventurous young runaway and return her home.To do so, he must retrieve her without being discovered by the most ruthless pirate hunter on the seas: her brother.

Dead Man’s Kiss by Award Winning Author Jennifer Bray-Weber: Eight weeks. That’s all pirate captain Valeryn Barone has to escort a tempting naturalist untouched across the Caribbean or face the gallows. Can he resist the beauty who’s fallen for him? Does a dead man walking even have a chance?

The Black Morass by USA Today Bestselling Author Barbara Devlin: In exchange for a chance at redemption and pardons for his crew, Jean Marc Cavalier accepts a pact that could result in liberty or death, if only he can survive the terms, but at least he will be free.

Pirate Heiress by Award Winning Author Chloe Flowers: Captain Conal O’Brien has already lost control of his ship to the most unlikely band of pirates sailing the seas. If he’s not careful, he’s going to lose his heart to a notorious lady pirate determined to destroy both.

My Lady Pirate by NY Times Bestselling Author Danelle Harmon: The sea delivers a handsome castaway to Pirate Queen Maeve Merrick’s island. But her handsome prisoner harbors secrets dark enough to change the fates of nations and threatens their new found love.

Captivated by the Captain by USA Today Bestselling Author Amanda Mariel: What happens when an American shipping company heiress crosses paths with a pirate? Can two people whose life paths are at odds find common ground?

Carried Away by Kamery Solomon: After falling through time and being forced to join a pirate crew, Mark Bell falls in love with his fellow time traveler, Samantha. She’s a woman he can’t have, though. Will their presence in the past alter the future they know and love?

To learn more about any of the authors and their stories, click on their names above or check out the High Seas Facebook page. And to buy Romance on the High Seas, visit these retailers:

Amazon * B&N * iBooks Kobo 

Although I’d love to post excerpts from all of them, this post would get crazy long. Since I know Chloe the best, I’ll post this delicious excerpt from Pirate Heiress:

Stevie swallowed and gripped the pistol handle more firmly. Her arm was beginning to tire from holding it for so long, but she didn’t dare lower it. The mountain of a man in the tub looked as if he could crush her head like a grape with one hand, and her young cousin’s with the other one. More often than not, she could look an average man straight in the eye. However, with this one, she doubted her head would reach his nose.

The man in the tub cocked his brows, then his eyes narrowed before sliding down to her soft doeskin boots and back up again. She should have stayed more in the shadows; she might have appeared a bit more intimidating that way.

“Relinquish your freedom and possessions,” she said, barely able to keep the tremor from her voice. Her gaze paused at the gold ring on the man’s finger. If they were going to become pirates, she might as well start acting like one. She took a deep breath and drew her shoulders back a little.

“Beginning with your ring,” she said, holding out her hand. The man’s jaw clenched and the knuckles gripping the tub’s edge whitened. What thoughts were flying around in his head? He was contemplating his chances of overpowering her and taking her pistol; she could see that in the way his gaze shifted back and forth between her and her cousin, Remi. If he had a weapon, and if it had been a one-on-one situation instead of one against two (with guns), he likely wouldn’t have paused to contemplate it this long. He would have defended himself by attacking them. And he’d have won. Even now, she sensed he was still calculating his odds.

She eased a step back, careful to keep her pistol well within a lethal range. “Please don’ t try it,” she said. “I’ d prefer to save my shot.” She was far from her cozy little room off the kitchens of her brother’s gaming house. Uncle Bernard had given her a brief lesson on managing a pistol, but it still terrified her to hold it.

His eyes widened and his brows raised in surprise. She’ d been right in her assumptions, then. She usually was. Her intuition annoyed her brothers no small amount, and they always avoided her when they wished their thoughts to remain…theirs. Only one of them could hide from her, but he was a gambler and so it was expected, otherwise he wouldn’t be a very good gambler, would he?

The man twisted the ring from his finger and tossed it to her. She caught it and placed it on the only finger it would fit—her thumb. “Get dressed,” she said, with as much authority as she could muster.

He slowly stood with the oily movement of a cat as he reached for a linen rag. Stevie felt her eyes widen. She was wrong. Very wrong. The top of her head would barely reach his chin, let alone his nose. Wide, thick shoulders took up most of the space in the galley. The muscles across his shoulders rippled as he moved. A long scar trailed from the top of his shoulder to the middle of his rib cage. A fighting man. A very strong, very muscular, very handsome, very naked, fighting man.

 

Trying New Things

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been querying literary agents for my new series. Although I’ve had some interest, I’ve racked up quite a few rejections. The most recent one, a kick in the teeth disguised as a pleasant form rejection, arrived Friday night. Although some writers prefer personalized rejections, I actually prefer the form ones. With them, you can preserve the illusion that they liked the book but it just isn’t right for them, instead of knowing for a fact that they hated it. I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, but I admit my enthusiasm for completing the second and third books in the series is waning the longer the process goes on. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to focus on other things to get the creative juices flowing again.

Ever since I was in England last fall, a new series has been percolating in my brain. It’s not a romance, although it will have romantic elements. It’s a cozy mystery set near Keswick in the northern Lake District, right about here:

When you write historicals, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding the time period. Victorian era is a given, but it did last a very long time. I like the middle of the era–1860s/70s. It still has vestiges of the Regency, when people dressed for dinner and wore elaborate gowns, but it’s also hurtling toward the 20th century. Railways are popping up–trains arrived in Keswick in 1865–and society is changing. 1869 saw the opening of the first residential women’s college in England, in 1870 married women gained the right to own property and elementary education was established, in 1871 trade unions were legalized.

I decided to set my series in 1870. The lakes are a popular tourist destination, and the new railway makes it easier to get there. Endless opportunities for new characters, which is essential for a cozy. I’ve uncovered maps and contemporary guidebooks (you may recall Mr. Black from my recent post about Skye, who also wrote a “Picturesque Guide” to the English Lakes in 1870) to get a feel for the area during the time period.

The next step, at least for me, is characters. I usually start with either a look, a name, or an occupation. My new heroine is Cassandra, and she closely resembles actress Emily Blunt. She’s a longtime widow with a teenage son, and runs a farm and a tea shop at the foot of Walla Crag. (It’s inspired by an actual place that offered salvation–in the form of tea, cake, and a bathroom, not necessarily in that order–after a long day of hiking. Should you ever be in the vicinity, do stop in!)

Anyway, her love interest is the local constable whose name I have yet to determine–feel free to offer suggestions–but he looks a bit like David Boreanz. Cassandra’s childhood friend, he’s back in Keswick after a stint as a policeman in Manchester, nursing the broken heart caused by the recent death of his wife.

Cozies have a reasonably large supporting cast of characters, so I am working on those. I also have the resident pet AND the dead body lined up, but you’ll have to wait for the book to meet them. 🙂

I’m going to get to work–I have quite a few characters to develop, after all, not to mention the plot–so I will leave you with a few questions I’m curious about:

Writers, how do you start a new book (or series of books)? Do you start with setting and move from there, or with characters? Or do you focus on plot first? How do you decide when and where to set your books?

Readers, do you like small town settings or cities? What kinds of characters do you like to see? Do you picture them in your head as you read, as I do when I write them, or is their appearance unimportant to you?

 

Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

A day on which I’m too lazy to write two blog posts

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today I’m over at Heart-Shaped Glasses, where I’m blogging about how I come up with settings for my novels.

Kendal Castle, Cumbria

I’ll be giving away an ecopy of one of my books to a randomly selected commenter, so stop by and say hey!

 

Winter Blog Hop – Merry Christmas!!

Wow–this Christmas season has been a bit of a whirlwind. Over the last 24 days of the Winter Blog Hop, we’ve seen new books and Christmas traditions, cat-butt coasters and ornaments, cookies and mince pies, buxom snow-women and silver bells. It’s been a blast and I thank all of my guests and my readers for joining me.

I’ll be taking the next week or two off of blogging but will (I hope) be rested and ready to start a fabulous 2017 full of new words and new challenges.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season full of love, laughter, food, and family, and a healthy, happy New Year.

 

Winter Blog Hop! Day 2 – Anni Fife

Welcome to day 2 of the Winter Blog Hop! Today’s guest is Anni Fife. Anni writes seriously steamy romance for The Wild Rose Press.

Hop on over to Anni’s blog, where she’s giving us Dani’s Inside Track on Online Shopping–For Fashionistas Everywhere!  A marvelously fun post about that time of year when she’s looking for life-saving shopping bargains so she can buy her holiday splurge outfits and fabulous party get-ups. Not to mention that must-have little black dress. 😉

Check out Anni’s latest sexy release, Luke’s Redemption, available now.

Visit Anni’s website and join Anni’s Posse to get regular updates and Bonus Treats, or find her on FacebookTwitter, Amazon, or Goodreads

It’s NaNovember so this will be short…

typewriter-801921_1920It’s NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–for many of us in the writing world, that crazy time of year when we are glued to our laptops for an entire month, even more antisocial than usual, vomiting at least 1667 words per day for a total of 50,000 by November 30. I’ve spent the latter part of this week catching up to the first part–Election Day put a wee hitch in my stride–but for the first time in several years I’m reasonably close to being on target to finish (knock on wood).

Although I was planning to write a futuristic dystopian I plotted during the RNC, it was far too depressing. So I’m writing a romantic historical mystery instead, and I am completely pantsing it. Other than knowing who killed the odious Clive in the very first scene, I’m playing everything by ear. This is usually a recipe for disaster for me, and trying to do it with a mystery is likely to be incredibly stupid. But I was trying to finish the last book before this one, so I didn’t have time to plot. We shall see if I still manage to get through the middle without flying off the rails, but so far the words are flowing with minimal obstruction. (Knocking again.)

Are you trying NaNo this year? How’s it going? Words flowing? Not so much? Take a little break and share!

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