Sunday, January 25, 2015

When I'm Not Writing, I'm Cooking

One of my absolute favorite cookbooks available from Amazon.

My Facebook page is literally overflowing with pictures of culinary conquests. Yes, I'm that person. I I have learned how easy it is to make food I thought could only come from a package and how much more delicious food is when it's made from quality ingredients. Last night (despite our flu bug) I whipped up my first batch of scratch made brownies and while my husband heckled me because the spatula literally stood up on its own in the batter, they were the most delicious brownies I've had in a long time. They were less greasy than the oily from-the-box brownies and they didn't give me the upset stomach I so often get from the other kind. 

The BEST homemade stuffing.

Panko and parmesan crusted chicken.

Pork roulade and salad.

Hot ham and cheese on Texas toast (with a delicious mustard crust on the bottom) and homemade loaded baked potato soup.

Chicken Marsala.

Cooking has become one of our favorite things to do as a couple. There's a place nearby that offers cooking classes. You bring a bottle of wine and spend the night cooking and eating with other couples. The last time we made salad with homemade dressing and candied walnuts, pastry-wrapped brie with a blueberry compote, filet mignon medallions with tarragon sauce, asparagus, and bananas foster for dessert. The classes are taught by local chefs who cover everything from the basics on up, but cooking really isn't that hard. 

This restaurant recipes book is one of my favorite (I have all three in the series) and if you're looking to have an at-home date night with delicious food, grab it. The techniques are easy and I've yet to have a bad meal from it. Eating out can be expensive, but when the food isn't very good it's a double disappointment. Making a knock out meal at home might be one of my biggest guilty pleasures. What is yours?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Multitasking and Netflix

It's day six at flu house. We have officially exhausted all of our usual entertainment and even burned through seasons of new shows. We picked up Helix and How to Get Away with Murder and watched a gem of a horromedy (horror-comedy) called Hell Baby based solely on the cast. The movie had a 4-star rating on IMDB. Someone was feeling generous. We've watched all available episodes of Tiny House Nation and have decided we are not the people to live in four hundred square feet or less. Fortunately, we had just gone grocery shopping prior to the plague hitting, but we're going to have to venture out because the cupboards are getting kind of bare.

Writing is a solitary venture. I enjoy peace and quiet while I work so not a lot has happened on Fatal Intention this week with the husband home. I'm back at it on Monday. I'm over sixty thousand words into the story and wrapping it up. There's a higher body count than in Fatal Reaction and everyone's happily ever after is being tested as some of our favorite characters come into the crosshairs of a killer with questionable motives. 

Cure  has been my pet project for the week. Revisions are coming along nicely and while the changes aren't substantial, what has been done makes a remarkable difference. A few minor points have been addressed (police presence in Strandville for one), prose has been improved, and transitions have been smoothed between chapters. Relationships have been solidified (especially between Allison and Zach because I know after Afterbirth how deep their love runs for each other). The bit of twang my former editor had talked me into never sat right with me because it's not really my style to write southern dialect and that has been more or less removed. Character motivations are clearer, I've given more of a voice to the other captive women, and Nixon's interactions with Allison during her treatment are now written in such a way as to appear more benign with her more trusting of his medical decision making. I think this is a much stronger version with only minor changes. I am eager to wrap this up so that I can get it to Red Adept for professional editing and move on. I've now revisited both my novels from 2011 and 2012 to have a much more solid backlist as I move forward along the indie learning curve. 

As I near the end of Fatal Intention while simultaneously reworking Cure I realize that it is possible for me to work on two projects at once, though I'm not sure I want to do that from the outset. Two from scratch might get too busy in my head. I'm kicking around tentative plots, titles, and locations for the third Strandville novel and thinking about a thriller I plan to write but haven't figured out the hows and whys of yet. Even sick, all I do is work. 

Still, things could be worse. 

My work is a labor of love and I'm grateful to be able to do it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mutations, Strains, and Viruses

Today is an interesting day of hanging out, watching Helix on Netflix, and guessing the scientists' next moves. I'm a junkie for medicine. Outbreak, The Strain, Contagion, I am Legend, the 28 Days movies, and The Stand ... even The Walking Dead all have things in common with Strandville fiction, at least on the fundamental level. All great outbreak stories start from the single grain of truth: epidemics start somewhere and as humans we can't know and be able to treat every possible mutation.

I had a bit of fun with researching flu strains last night because while I should be working on my next book, my dear husband got a startling bit of medical news: he tested positive on a rapid flu test for both A and B strains. That's rare enough for me to have poured over the CDC literature about rapid flu testing. Our doctor has never seen a dual-positive result and my doctor friend hadn't either. I'm guessing it's a fluke since this year's flu includes a divergent enough strain that the flu shot is currently only twenty-three percent effective. If our doctor's office follows protocol, most likely the test will be lab-confirmed and we'll have a better answer. We joke there may be white suited folks descending on our house at any minute, but lets face it. Flu is flu and all strains come with the possibility of complications. He has his Tamiflu, orange juice, and me and we're staying away from any and all other people until this blows over. I'm sleeping in the guest room, washing my hands like crazy, and wiping everything down with Clorox wipes. He's playing Words with Friends, no worse than when he got the flu two years ago. Welcome to Frisch quarantine.

It's no mystery how I ended up writing medical-based fiction. The best thing about working at the hospital for so many years was the opportunity if afforded me to be able to participate in so many things I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. I've seen autopsies, pronouncements of death, worked with infections diseases departments, and risk assessment groups. I've attended weekly medical grand rounds and neuropathology conferences complete with brain cuttings (they were, of course, dead brains that had been disembodied). I read medical journals for fun. Forensic has been a sideline interest for years and began working its way into my stories starting with Fatal Reaction. They say write what you love, right? That's why Strandville 3 is quickly working its way up my mental checklist. Unlike Cure and Afterbirth, the third novel in the series will be written more as a serial than a sequel. Same cast, new story. By the time Afterbirth hit, readers were looking forward to a new location. The Nixon center wore out its welcome so I tried thinking what would be the ideal location for a group of survivors to thrive. Jails have been done and aren't exactly my idea of utopia. I have some idea where folks are headed, but where would you want to live in a post-apocalyptic world and why? Lets talk survival in comments.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I Have Zombies in my Head

... and they're moving on from Strandville.

The Nixon Healing and Research Center stands as a reminder of an outbreak five years in the past that changed the survivors' lives forever. Resources are scarce, but those who remain have regrouped. Amelie is demonstrating the first signs of the innate abilities that are the result of her unusual parentage. Miranda has done everything in her power to keep her daughter safe, but what she doesn't realize is that it is the one she loves most who has everyone in danger. Amelie, the only person immune to the infection, is coveted by the medical community and those who seek to control her will do so at all costs. Amelie faces a fate worse than death. Miranda, Scott, Zach, and Allison are forced from their utopia and are on the run from a lethal group of undead trackers. Boundaries and loyalties will be tested as the group makes their way north in search of safety and salvation.

I've missed these folks. I'm about to hit sixty thousand words in Fatal Intention and am the closest to a third Strandville novel that I have ever been. Working on Cure has invigorated me and has my mind moving in the undead direction. I won't say its written in cement yet, but I think I know what my next novel is.

Might that be something you're interested in?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crazy Author Tricks: Coconut Oil Pulling

Have you ever had enough a health-related ailment? So much so you'd do anything to fix it? I found my breaking point after a root canal back in late July. Some people have the kind of teeth that no matter how diligently you care for them, they break down. I had fillings as a kid. Fillings turned into crowns. One of those crowns turned into the root canal from hell.

I know why these things get such a bad rap. The procedure itself wasn't pleasant. It was long and I kept getting breakthrough pain. Did you know if you get a root canal on an abscessed tooth the infection messes with the painkiller? You do now. The dentist pumped me full of a cornucopia of -cains and I still felt things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (well, maybe this one, but ...). Basically a root canal is the deepest, longest, most terrible filling you've ever had in your life with bleach. They call it something else, but sure enough the disinfectant is as much bleach as a langostino lobster is more or less a hermit crab (a fact we learned after my husband ate LJS's new 'lobster bites').

I came through the procedure relatively unscathed only to find that the real fun comes when the numbness wears off. Another interesting fact: Just because the roots are gone doesn't mean you can't still have pain. I had way more pain than the reason I had the root canal done in the first place. The literature says it's ligaments and this or that, but when you can't sleep or even chew you don't really care so much about the specifics.

It's a long-running joke between a close M.D. friend of mine and I that I am a qualified "internet doctor." I have enough medical knowledge to spot plausible explanations for alternative treatments and I know if I really make a mess of things, there's a licensed professional a phone call away. He's an unintentional enabler. This tooth had me researching everything from the ties of root canals to cancer to coconut oil pulling, an Ayurvedic trend with deep roots in the alternative medicine community.

Here's the deal: first thing in the morning swish with a tsp or two of unrefined coconut oil, pulling it through your teeth for twenty minutes. Spit it in the garbage at the end of the time and brush for all you're worth. The consistency is disgusting, your jaw gets tired, and the taste of the oil varies by brands. The stronger ones make me gag. But the process works (sort of).

If you read up on this technique there are some outlandish claims, but some of what oil pulling is said to do seemed to actually work. My main reason for doing it was to rid my mouth of excess bacteria while it healed. Did it do that? I can't say. I have a doc on speed dial, but not a lab. What I can tell you is that after twenty minutes of oil pulling, my mouth never felt cleaner. Some of the hurt abated and I found my teeth looked whiter (a superficial thing, I know). Supposedly oil pulling improves mouth health and reduces build-up between cleanings. Over time (also a contributing factor to me making peace with this tooth), I've come to terms with it. I still do the oil pulling when I want that fresh from the dentist clean feeling.

What's the craziest thing you ever did to feel better?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Author "Treats" (Not as Glamorous as it Sounds)

Today didn't start off feeling like a productive writing day but lo and behold, caffeine kicked in and saved me. I sat down to write like I always do--first thing in the morning, without a shower, cup of coffee in hand, and with a dog at my feet--only to discover that there's a new integration between Google and Blogger that would mean me having my own dedicated website with this blog attached. Huzzah!

I always wanted a Belinda

Authors are often egomaniacs and I'm probably not much of an exception. I am the inventor of worlds, master of fates, and I spend ninety percent of my life in my head. The people there love me.

All kidding aside, part of kicking 2015 into high gear involves doing those pro things like developing a website. Thank God for dummy options because I can customize a template like nobody's business, but I am not a computer programmer.

The past four years has required me to learn a lot about e-book publishing and formatting, has me fumbling through basic HTML, and figuring out the nuances of Blogger templates. The past two years has turned me into a hermit with the social skills of a cardboard box and the verbal filter of a Tourette's patient. That's another subject for another post. 

This morning, I took the plunge. I bought the domain from Google. Right now, there's a redirect. If you type into your browser, you'll land here. One day, most likely while my husband watches football, a miracle might occur that has an actual website in this blog's place. I have research to do on NYS sales tax collection and what I need to file locally to be able to be a vendor of my own books. I'd really like the website to also have a book store. Trying to figure out what I had done with Google Domains (because Blogger doesn't redirect itself, you know?) put my writing day off to a late start. I have a minimum two thousand words per day requirement with the added pressure of needing to also work on the reboot of Cure. Luckily I do this full-time, right? 

I am nearing fifty-four thousand words into Fatal Intention and have finally figured the rest of the story out. Chapters are coming fast and furious. The action is really happening now and I need to tread carefully so as to not inadvertently screw things up. Since I hit over two thousand new words today I thought I'd brave the cold and do some people watching. That's what passes for a "treat" around these parts. 

I'm typing this blog from a crowded cafe, eyeing up unsuspecting folks that may well be the basis for future character's physical descriptions (at least). The guy trying to bum rides two hours north might get his own storyline, though not a ride. I'd like to make it home after this adventure. Does everyone know I'm a reluctant socializer? I am. I watch so much Forensic Files and CSI that I've literally come to believe that my end will be tragic and that my body will be discovered years from now in a serial killer's freezer. When you read, write, and watch crime fiction as much as I do, it affects you. I'm working on ironing that out. This year has me attending a couple of writing conventions including Thrillerfest which I have already booked. When and if you meet me there, if I seem suspicious, now you know why. It's not you. It's me. I won't be signing books this time around because there are too many things I want to do and see to be tied to a table. Fatal Reaction will just be re-releasing and while I hear Thomas & Mercer are going to have a get together, I'm mostly on my own as far as I know.

I'm again kicking around the idea of the Stanley Writer's Retreat. Wouldn't it be awesome to stay in the infamous Stanley Hotel, basis of Stephen King's The Shining? I think so. I also know rooms are filling up fast. To make things extra creepy, Jack Ketchum is one of the guests of honor. I'm scared of a lot, but the dark places his mind goes is way high up on the list. 

Bouchercon might be the one place I actually request an author spot, but that's too tentative right now for me to say I'm fully committed. Stay tuned and if you're in the Raleigh, NC area in October, you might get the chance to check in with me. I'm new at this whole scene with the exception of NYCC (where I was by far the least important person in Autograph Alley) so be gentle. I look forward to meeting you and talking books.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Thinking Out Loud and Other Writerly Nonsense

An author friend of mine made a comment the other day that has me thinking, maybe it's time I come clean about my brain clutter. He remarked on my post about the Cure revision in progress and said something to the effect of that I run hot and cold on Strandville and should commit one way or the other lest I confuse my readers.

To be fair, I  am confused as to the series's fate most days because there are just too many things on my plate. 

I think about Strandville a lot and try to come up with new scenarios so I don't become one in the horde of The Walking Dead ripoffs. There are only so many possible plot lines for zombie fiction. The Strandville novels have stood out so far, but think about it: post-apocalyptic scenario, flesh-hungry mobs, and either everyone gets eaten OR the random survivors find a) utopia or b) a cure. Outside of those possibilities, it's only a matter of time before the entire world faces certain death (which is part of my discontent with the show that I once loved). I think about that line from Stand by Me when the kids are sharing their thoughts. Gordie says, "Wagon Train's a good show, but did you notice they never get anywhere?" Every time I watch The Walking Dead, Gordie's voice is saying that in the back of my head. Maybe it's the journey that makes the trek worthwhile? Until I come up with a worthwhile pilgrimage for my cast, I'll continue to think on it.

I am convinced Amelie is the key to making the third Strandville book different, like the two before it. I am not positive I know the extent of her skills yet and I probably won't until I start writing her. I'm thinking when the cast reappears, Amelie will be about five. Miranda, Scott, Zach, and Allison are integral parts of the next book. Michael, as so many brilliant folks do, goes a little mad with power. Reid, a conflicted minion with an insatiable blood lust is a force to be reckoned with, and there's mutation. I can't have a book about an experimental virus without that. It is the nature of the beast.

I have committed to a March date with Red Adept Editing for the new revision of Cure, a stronger, more powerful, and hopefully error-free genesis tale. Red Adept has been cited as a reputable and talented editing company so I have high hopes. I have to finish Fatal Intention and see where that one goes. I'm about 50k into the rough draft. After that, I'm not sure. I'm almost never sure until I sit down to write something what's going to be written next and right now a lot of that has to do with the indie versus traditional publishing route. Since I'm writing for Thomas & Mercer, I have other thriller ideas that I might explore. There's also the issue of cover art for a third Strandville novel. I'll have to see if I can snag Sarah again ... Add it to my list of things to do. So, if you see me waxing intellectual about writing zombies and you're wondering when that might be, know that when I say I'm absolutely doing something, I stick with it. Maybe it'll be an in-between project after Fatal Intention. Maybe it'll be down the road a ways. I'm pretty sure it'll happen at some point. It just depends on what else falls in my lap in the meantime. The upside, some of my best stories (Fatal Reaction) were years in the making. When I get back to Strandville, it'll be the most awesome story of the series yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reading, Writing, and Going Back in Time: Revisiting "Cure," Again

It's been an eye-opening week full of exciting happenings. Here's a rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Starting with my absolute favorite thing that happened this week, I received cover comps from Thomas & Mercer for their release of Fatal Reaction. The talented Mark Cohen provided several options for me to choose from. I'm thrilled with the one I've selected. I asked for a couple minor adjustments and when I get the word from my publisher that it's okay, I'll share it here. Stay tuned!

The copyedited manuscript also came in. This is the eye-opening part. I haven't had a professional editor since my textbook in 2005, but have paid other authors (some with "editing credentials") to take on that part of my work (Dead Spell, Cure, and Afterbirth), and for the past couple of years (Fatal Reaction and The Missing Year) have been exchanging similar services with an indie pal of mine who really has done a phenomenal job all things considered. Getting Fatal Reaction back from a publishing house editor reminded me of how different the process and end products are from indie world. Before anyone goes off half-cocked in defense of their editors, I understand that there are shades of editing from the very good to the very, very bad. One is out there shaking their head at my use of the pointless word "very," but this is a blog. Informal and stuff. My feet were held to the fire, the Chicago Manual of Style waved in my face. I might have even been whacked with it a couple of times, and you know what? I loved it. My end goal is the absolute best finished product I'm capable of. Fatal Reaction has reached another level thanks to professional editing. I'm humbled and excited.

I'm also a little ashamed. Why? Because in 2011 I was not the writer I am now. In 2012, I was better. In 2013, even better. You see a trend? Dead Spell,  my 2011 indie debut haunted me. I've talked about that here and have since rehabbed it, not wanting something I couldn't stand behind out in such a competitive market. I also thought I was done revisiting old work, but that's not the case. 

On the heels of seeing Fatal Reaction be all it can be came a handful of scathing reviews for Cure, the first in the Strandville series and a novel I admit to making permanently free because I knew it needed work. I am my own worst critic. It's easy for me to hear and believe the bad things people say maybe easier than the good. The comments are mostly about editing misses, though I see a lot of plot opportunities and places to tighten the narrative now that I've written several more novels. This is the indie learning process. It has been said that  Afterbirth was a dramatic leap forward for me skill-wise. Warmly received and without the criticism plaguing Cure, Afterbirth marks a turning point (I hope). I could lament why Cure isn't the story it could be, but it boils down to a learning experience I need to accept and move on from. The story is unique, the characters are a cast readers can and have come to care about, and the series is not dead, or undead for that matter. Amelie scratches at my brain every  now and again, telling me it's time to move out of Strandville, to let her grow up a bit, and to bring to fruition what happens when a medical experiment couples a zombie with a living female to create hybrid offspring. This girl has some unique talents. Cure  being the genesis of the series needs to step it up, or the series needs to be taken permanently off the market. I'm  not ready to do that yet. Those books represent two years of my life and the future is too uncertain for me to say that I will or won't continue to write the horror stories I love (despite them being in a niche genre with relatively few avid horror readers).

For now, I have to finish Fatal Intention. I have momentum, a publisher, and a whole lot of stories waiting to be told. I'm not going to sacrifice future work for past, but I will be working on Cure during  my downtime. I have contacted a reputable professional editing company who has me scheduled for March 6th. Stay tuned if you haven't yet started on the series for a new and improved first book. For those of you who have enjoyed the story so far, this might be how you get a book three out of me. Two books to bring Amelie into being, I think her and Miranda deserve the spotlight. Don't you?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Small Indiscretion: A Novel Review

A Small Indiscretion: A NovelA Small Indiscretion: A Novel by Jan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*I received a copy of "A Small Indiscretion" free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Told from the perspective of Annie Black in a letter to her son, "A Small Indiscretion" spans multiple continents and follows Annie's life over twenty years, leading to the confession of a family secret brought to light by her son's involvement in a near-tragic automobile accident.

First, kudos to Jan Ellison for writing with a beautiful, powerful voice. The prose had me awe-struck at moments, had me identifying with Annie Black as a mother looking back on what it was to be her own woman. The observations about daily life, marriage, and motherhood lend sympathy to Annie's plight as she brings the reader along through her sometimes questionable past. Annie is a woman who has loved and who has been loved, not always realizing the impact of her reckless choices where men were concerned.

Characters are what made this story for me. The author does an incredible job weaving a complex tapestry of individuals whose paths become tangled. I suspected the ending of the book early on, as I assume most will, but this novel isn't as much about an A to B plot as it is about love and redemption. What is forgivable within the confines of a marriage? How do we perceive love after twenty years of life versus twenty years of marriage? How do our choices affect others?

Plot was a bit lacking for me. The author writes in intricate detail, often crossing the fine line between stunning and verbose. The actual point of Annie's letter came late, dragging me along solely with the quality of writing and the fact that I liked her as a character. There were points I was sure I might shelf the book. I'm glad I didn't. Fairly, I normally read mysteries, thriller, and horror novels that are much more fast-paced than this type of book. I can't say that didn't contribute to the fact that I felt that this was overall a slow read.

The first part of the novel (as this story is told in two parts) was somewhat frustrating in its going back and forth between past and present, often within the same chapter and without warning. It was easy enough to figure out who and when after a few lines, but it seemed that there should have been more attention to time and how it was conveyed.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I found the story believable, the characters three dimensional, Annie's story just compelling enough to compensate for the slower pace and mundane detail, and the resolution to be satisfying. I went back and forth between three and a half and four stars, but the prose puts it over the top. Four stars for a well-written debut.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Days and Counting

I've been letting the first half of Fatal Intention marinate while I enjoyed the holidays. My  husband and I took a road trip to see my Navy son and bring him Christmas. After being in frigid upstate New York, the Virginia temperatures were a welcome change. Good times were had, but it's time to get back to drawing board.

Being a writer is a bit like being a shark, you have to keep moving. Movement isn't always active. Sometimes it's enough to be passively writing, thinking about the story and the characters, their plights, and what may or may not be their ends. Fatal Intention picks up a little over a year after Fatal Reaction and opens with the discovery of an unidentified body pulled from the thawing lake. As the body count rises, Ana and Mike come to realize that what is happening is somehow tied to Sydney's case. Someone has a score to settle, but who and why? Ana and Jared struggle with the reality of being a couple out of crisis, doing their best to keep things together when Colby has set out to destroy him. Dorian left Colby, and there's a story there, too. Ana and Colby have reacted differently to the events that had both of them hostage. Ana refuses to be a victim, while Colby is falling apart. As things spiral out of control, each of them will face their most dangerous challenges to date. What happens as a result of that is anyone's guess. I have a general idea where things are headed, but fate is a fickle thing. I'll sit down to my laptop like I always do and make the important decisions. 

The first dribs and drabs of things are coming in from Thomas and Mercer for the summer re-release of Fatal Reaction. I received promotional text copy the other day. What I'm really looking forward to most is the cover. I am addicted to cover art. 

I have the beginnings of several stories vying for pole position after Fatal Intention. I have a couple of thrillers and a coming of age that may or may not be a sideline passion project. I had a supernatural murder mystery, but I doubt that one's going to be happening anytime soon. My mind changes on a daily or weekly basis until I finally commit to work on something.

I guess that means when I finally do decide what's next, I'll be as surprised as you are about what it is.