Friday, September 6, 2013

It's just food, Bella!

I suppose that could be a funny title for a blog post, but the fact is that a few years ago I could barely boil water. Yeah, there were many trips to my parents’ house or my grandparents or one of my aunts. There’s a lot of people in my family and most can’t cook for one but are more on the level of feeding the brigade. Still, I was eating more and more take-out. That wasn’t a good thing for me, the Type I diabetic. I recognized it pretty quickly. So, what did I do? Nope, I didn’t buy a cookbook or three. I didn’t start watching cooking shows on the television. Why? Because I am a diabetic and if you’ve ever watched some of the shows on The Food Network, they are cringe-worthy for a diabetic. A lot of diabetic cookbooks are designed for Type II Diabetes. But, most importantly, why would I shell out the money when I have a family who already cooks for someone like me. Truthfully, we are a family of diabetics.

So, I waltzed into my parents’ house bright and early on a Sunday Morning and asked my mother to teach me a few of her recipes. Here came the issue—I hate the feel of certain things like raw meat, raw fish, couldn’t crack an egg to save my soul, and I had no problem putting forth my disgust of the art of cookery.

“It’s just food, Bella!”

My mother about went ballistic on me. Seriously, I think back then I was more wanting to watch the act than participate in the process. Irish mom combined with non-cooking ½ Irish daughter= recipe for many an argument.

Still, if one wants to learn how to cook, one must get one’s hands dirty.

That fateful morning and after paternal intervention to cool certain hotheads, we sat down to make one of my favorites.

Braised Pork Roast with Whole Wheat Couscous. (This can be made in a slow cooker, braised in a pot on the stove, or cooked in a pressure cooker)

Spice Rub/Spice Blend:
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. cumin (ground)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon (a little more or a little less. My mother uses 1 tsp. in her spice blend whereas I use a little less than that.)
½ - 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (a little more or a little less depending on your taste)
¼ tsp. ginger (ground)
Mix together in a bowl.

Take a 2-4 pound pork butt roast with the bone in (I know it looks super fatty, but you are going to need the marbled fat if you don’t expect it to turn to shoe leather). Pat your beautiful piece of pork dry then brush or rub it with enough olive oil to give it some shine—about 1 – 2 Tbsp.
The recipe for the spice rub is enough for a good-sized pork roast. Rub the spice rub into the meat covering all sides and ends. I also rub my pork on a plate as I will use the excess that falls off in the braising liquid.
Cover with cling wrap and put in the refrigerator for an hour or up to overnight. This is a very forgiving rub and it takes quite quickly to pork.

Time to braise. NOTE: I do, on occasion, sear mine off like my mother does, but it isn’t necessary.
Place rubbed pork roast in whatever cooking vessel you are using. For this recipe I prefer to do this on the stove top but as I stated before it can be cooked in a crock pot or in a pressure cooker.
Add to pork:

1 14 oz. can of reduced sodium tomatoes (truthfully, it doesn’t make a difference if you aren’t watching sugars and sodium what kind you use)
2 C. reduced sodium beef broth (again, if you aren’t watching your sodium then whatever is on sale will do) If you do not have beef broth, water works just as well.
1-2 bay leaf (depends on the size of the bay leaf)
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander powder
1 star anise (if you don’t like the flavor of black licorice, this can be omitted.)
2-5 dried red chilies (if you don’t like heat, then just sprinkle in a dash or two of dried pepper flakes or omit completely)
1 tsp. garlic powder or one clove of garlic minced.
Also, add whatever of the rub that has fallen to your plate.

Bring all ingredients to a simmer and cover. Turn roast several times during the cooking if you are using the stove top method. In the final hour you can add onions, peppers and/or brown lentils if you want this more stew-like. For the pressure cooker, make this on the side and add later.

On the stove, the pork roast will cook up to 6 hours, depending on the size of the roast. It cooks 8 hours in the crock pot. For a pressure cooker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The roast will fall off the bone when cooked. Do not let it go much further than this.

Whole wheat couscous or brown rice go well with this braised pork but we often eat leftovers on rolls as a sandwich. I can’t attest to whether it freezes well or not as we rarely have enough left to freeze. ;)

I do hope you enjoy what is one of our Sunday dinner favorites. 



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Three Easy Steps to Penning a Catchy Opener

I am not saying that this blog post is the end all and be all for captivating openers, but it is the steps that I always follow:

1.      Make it active—Active openers are, by nature, attention grabbers. They put the reader right in the know and the go from the start, which is imperative as far as I’m concerned. They also help to set the tone for your story. I do suggest you stay away from cliché openers as they can turn a reader off. It’s the—“Oh, I’ve read so many of these types of stories before.” or “Not another one of these stories.”

2.      Watch your stack—If you’ve never heard of your stack, it is the subsequent paragraphs following the opener. This isn’t just for the beginning of the story, but I do this for every scene of the story I’m writing. So, if we look at a proper stack—it is the first paragraph leads to the next paragraph in a consistent order in which the story is built from line one downward until the scene breaks or the chapter ends. I will go into this more in a future blog post so don’t worry if you’re slightly confused. Plus, I’ll be putting an example in this blog post so you can see my stack clearly.

3.      Word control—Lots of writers think they need to put everything in the opening—actually you don’t have to do all your set-up here. You just need to give enough information to get the reader hooked. I would never recommend waiting too long to start layering in your information, but at the very beginning isn’t the right place to do so. A simple rule of thumb is in the first 13 paragraphs of any story/scene/chapter is to plant the setting, plant the character/s, plant the plot/thematic premise for the chapter and move on.
Chapter One

You’re crazy. I’m insane. Let’s party.

“Well, this is just fucking lovely,” Sophia whispered under her breath.

Anger—white hot and virginal—flowed through her system. She curled her fingers into a fist as a tear of impotent ire traced down her cheek.

Intent on beating down the warding doming the supposedly ‘protected’ area, she rejected the urge. It wouldn’t help the humans trapped within. No. Nothing could help them now.

Not fairy magic. Not the kiss of her kind, the Aos Sidhe, the fallen angels. Not even a miracle.

Nadda, zip, zilch. The plague was merely an indicator that a new curve ball was being hurled at humanity.

A quick prayer flittered through her head, but she shook the supplication away. “What good do appeals do them?” she wondered aloud.

The stark, pale face of a reaper lifted in her direction. The visage hissed at her. She knew the damn creature was only doing its duty, collecting the souls of the dying and ushering them on to their final destination, but the unadulterated hate harbored in its glare stirred her fury higher.

In truth, she wanted to—no—needed to destroy something.

Her breath came in harsh gasps as she forced herself to turn away from the sight of humans falling over. Their bodies were covered with massive sores. The bloody, pussy marks blared like overly-bright neon signs against the sickeningly gray skin of the infected. Indeed, the sores were a warning that effectively said, “Touch me and die, horribly.”

“Don’t do it, Sophia,” Dexter Coorling stated.

“Do what?” As if she didn’t know. Power of the awing type flowed through her system. Add that to the fact that she was a member of the omnipresent kind known as the Aos Sidhe made her a force to be reckoned with.

Have I achieved all my objectives? Yes, I believe so.

Here is my checklist:
Active opener – I started with dialogue which is always active. I could have started with a thought or an action, though. Thoughts and action are active as well.
Stack – I’m fairly good at stacking. Most likely this is because I begin with a firm concept of my story. If I’m stuck, I lay down a few lines of dialogue and let the dialogue lead the characters.
Word Control – Again, I’ve been at this a while and pretty much can sense if I have enough information in the beginning to hook my reader. The story above is part of a series, so I will have to make sure that I tie back to the first story in the series.

Granted, I do have a little work to do on this opener to remove my crutch/echoes, but I’m not worried about that now. I’ll handle those minor issues in my next edit.

So, would you buy this book just on first peek? Questions are always welcome. Comments are nice. No flaming. This is for educational purposes and not to get your panties in a wad. 

Until next time -- Happy writing, doodling or napping!


Monday, August 5, 2013

Memo from the Editor's Desk

Memos from the Editor’s Desk #1:

Let’s clear the air on a very touchy subject: Edits, comments, and anger.

Congratulations—you’ve written a story. Pat yourself on the back, take a moment to enjoy the amazing feeling of accomplishment and then go—I just love this story *breathy sigh*.

Of course, you should love the story you worked so hard on. If you didn’t adore every bit of it then why in the world would you spend months or years writing it?

Now, and this is the tough part—divorce yourself from your story. I know that sounds harsh, and you don’t have to do this overnight. Take some time. Let the story rest. Get all the things you loved about the story away from you.

You may ask why?

Here’s a clue. It’s a story. It isn’t a baby. You didn’t give birth to it. Granted, it might feel like you did.

No, really Lee, why should I set my story aside? Why should I take my manuscript to divorce court? I love it!

I know, but once your book is contracted to a publisher, the hard work is about to begin. Yes, the hard work, which is not to diminish the hard work you put into writing your story in the first place.

Keep this in the back of your mind when you are preparing to open your first edit—the editor has a job to do and that is to edit your book. Forget what your crit partners and loving family members have said about your story. Editors are by nature very tough, or at least they should be. They should be able to deconstruct your story and point out things you missed or completely forgot. They should say, well you lost control of your conflict here or have characterization problems there. After all, it is what they are paid to do. Yes, grammar does come into this, but normally grammar is either handled as the edits move along or in the final edit (otherwise known as the copy edit).

A true factor that authors forget is that this is not personal. It isn’t that the editor hates your story or is out to demolish your story. It is that they are doing their job.

Never assume something about an editor because the moment you start in with – but my crit partners just loved it or such, the editor is on notice that you are going to be difficult. Remember, assumptions go both ways. Taking it to your twitter or facebook, even couched in veiled words, “can you believe my editor wants me to do this?”, is even worse. Now you’ve put the whole publishing house on notice.

Granted, you may not agree with a little or a lot of what your editor wants done in some cases. Choose your battles carefully. The switching of one little word isn’t going to make or break a story. Adding a little to a sentence or a revision to that sentence isn’t a slap across your face. It isn’t. I swear it isn’t.

Characterization is always a tough edit to go through. I know that from personal experience. But, take a step back and say—is my character actually out of character? You may find that the character has indeed slipped from its arc. You may have done something like said the sky is green the previous page and now its grey. These things happen. It is your editor’s job to catch them.

But, Lee, I don’t agree with this one comment which leads to this next comment, and then there’s this and that. What am I to do? I’m just so upset about this, that I can’t think straight. Help!

First, step back and remember—this isn’t personal.

Second, look at the comments, but do so one at a time. Don’t flip out because a manuscript has come in with a few or an infinite number of comments in it—take it one comment at a time. You may want to reach out to all your writing buddies, but unless you have one who can be totally unbiased, they may just stir you into even more of a froth.

If you are truly stuck, then it is best to ask the editor for clarification. If you don’t trust yourself to do this and not get all outraged, or the editor snaps back, then go to the editor-in-chief or senior editor.

It has happened in the past that an editor and an author just don’t mesh. This happens. Still, you should try to work through your edit and with your publisher in a professional manner.

I can tell you—arguments really won’t get you anywhere fast.

Humble regards,