Friday, December 31, 2010

Recipe Friday: Chinese Pepper Steak

"To the ruler, people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven." Chinese Proverb

Happy New Year! Anybody doing take out Chinese to ring in the New Year?

Chinese food is one of my favorite cuisines! Here's a healthy and easy recipe for your crock pot from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery. Hope you enjoy it!

Chinese Pepper Steak

1 1/2 pounds round steak
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 T hoison sauce
1 t sugar
1 tomato, chopped
2 red or green bell peppers, cut in strips
3 T cornstarch
3 T water
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
4 green onions, finely chopped
Cooked rice
                              

Trim fat from steak; slice into thin strips.  Combine steak, garlic, salt, pepper, soy sauce, hoison sauce and sugar in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on LOW about 4 hours.  Turn control to HIGH.  Add tomato and bell peppers.  Dissolve cornstarch in water in a small bowl; stir into streak mixture.  Cover and cook on HIGH 15-20 minutes or until thickened. Stir in bean sprouts. Sprinkle with onions. Serve with rice.  Makes 4-6 servings.

How are you celebrating the New Year tonight?  Several years ago, my friend Sheri told me that she and her family spend a quiet evening at home (like mine) and she makes an array hors d'oeuvres for dinner. I loved that idea, and I've been doing it ever since!

Tonight we'll have Swedish meatballs, shrimp, hummus and raw veggies.  I also got a frozen pizza for the kids (I'll cut it into little squares) and popcorn chicken.  Don't know if we'll stay up until midnight, but we will have had our share of party food!

Tell me about your New Year's Eve! Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks so much for stopping by, and have a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Versatile Blogger: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Wednesday discussion will return next week.  Today's article is dedicated to the Versatile Blogger Award.  It's a post that's way overdue, since Alexia, over at  The Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn, named me one several weeks ago!

The most rewarding part of being a Versatile Blogger is passing the award forward! But before I do that, a couple of other things come first.

Thank you, Alexia, for naming me a VB! I'm thrilled once again to receive it! If you're not familiar with Alexia's blog, be sure to visit and become a follower!

On to seven things about me.  Last time I shared all the exciting stuff I could think of--which wasn't much!  So here are a few tidbits from my very ordinary life:

1. I love chocolate
2. I was vegetarian for about six years
3. I love meat
4. Being pregnant brought me back to eating meat. I didn't crave it, but I did crave protein in the form of cheese and nuts. I decided eating chicken would be less fattening than the mac and cheese and pizza I wanted all the time. Now I eat all meat!
5. I love movies
6. My favorite book is the same as my favorite movie: Gone With the Wind
7. I didn't start writing until I was in my 30's. I never dreamed of writing a book. I'm not a talker, so I figured I could never think of enough to say to fill one. But we non-talkers internalize a lot, so it's much easier for us to write!  Go figure.

Now it's time to pass it forward! Here are seven wonderful bloggers that I'm naming Versatile Bloggers:

1. Kittie Howard, The Block
2. Ivy, The Happy Whisk
3. Old Kitty, 10 Lives, Second Chances
4. The Words Crafter, Rainy Day Wanderer
5. Donea Lee, Queen of Procrastination
6. Julie Musil, Writing and Blogging Beteween Carpools
7. Nas Dean, Nas Dean

If you haven't visited these blogs, pop by today! Thanks for visiting!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Moday's Writing Tip: Say What? Simple Ways to Make Dialogue Tags Disappear

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting." Mark Twain

"John," Mary said, "I love you."
"Mary, I love you, too!" John declared.
"But what about Evan?" Mary cried. "We're to be married tomorrow!"
"My brother!" John exclaimed. "He's ruined every good thing in my life, and now--"
"Stop!" Mary interjected. "All of this--it's not fair to Evan, but..."

Shall I go on? I think not. First of all, there's nothing wrong with using "said" as a dialogue tag. It's like the ugly chain link fence that when painted black, becomes invisible. Readers are less likely to notice "said," because it easily blends in.

Too many different verbs are distracting, as in the example above. But that doesn't mean you can't use different verbs at all. You might want to say something stronger like hissed or spat for certain situations, but not too often. And make sure the words you choose in those instances have lots of s's that create an actual hissing sound or flying spittle!

You probably know, however, that dialogue tags aren't necessary for each line of dialog. Plain old dialogue can be used for several lines, or gestures can be used in place of tags. Just don't overdo the gestures.

Mary ran a hand through her hair. "John, even though it's not fair to Evan, I can't live without you."
John sighed. "Mary, we'll have to tell him."
Mary eyes widened. "But there's no telling what he'll do! He might--"
"Don't worry." John embraced her. "Even though he's a convicted felon, he's been through anger management." John kissed her neck. "Everything will be fine. Trust me."

You get the message. Now, one last word on dialogue tags. Make sure they really are dialogue tags. People don't smile, laugh or gasp their words. Here's one last example that correctly incorporates everything discussed today:

"Oh, John, you're impossible!" Mary laughed.
He smiled. "I know."
A door opened. Evan stepped from the closet. "Just what are the two of you trying to pull?"
Mary gasped, pulling from John's embrace. "How much have you heard?"
"I've heard enough! My own brother, and the woman I love!" When Evan reached in his pocket, John stepped in front of Mary.
"What?" Evan said. "You think I have a gun?" He pulled out a granola bar and unwrapped it. "As far as I'm concerned the two of you deserve each other with all that rotten dialogue!"

I suppose you've probably read enough, so I'll stop now! But I hope this tip on dialogue tags has been helpful!

Any advice you'd like to share on dialogue tags? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Recipe Friday will return next week. I'm taking a break to get caught up with holiday details. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! I'll be back blogging on Monday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wednesday Discussion: So Like, What Are Some of the Most Annoying Phrases Around?

"If any of these [annoying expressions] ever fall out of lexical favor, new ones will undoubtedly arise to take their place." E. Mohrman, Yahoo!  Contributor Network

Here's the thing, I was listening to a radio show yesterday and the host was talking about some of the most annoying words and phrases around.  To tell you the truth, I was thinking about taking a break from blogging until after Christmas. I've been pretty busy, 24/7, trying to get it together for the 25th.  But, actually, after hearing that topic discussed, I thought it would be a quick and fun discussion for today--literally!

BTW, what do you think?  Is this a sustainable topic to draw in an audience? Does it have sufficient gravitas?  Personally, I find myself a victim sometimes, because I fall into the trap of using some of these annoying words/expressions, even though, honestly, they annoy me, too!  So, my bad!

Some annoying phrases have been around forever. Others are Valley Girl, Hood speak, Chat speak or Politico speak. But all in all, they're all annoying!  

Share some annoying expressions that drive you up the wall!  Dig? (oops showing my age here).  Perhaps I should say, do you feel me?  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holly Jolly Blogfest


Monday's Writing Tip will return next week.  Today I'm blogging about The Holly Jolly Blogfest over at Through the Looking Glass!  I'm in the process of baking, but I'm taking a little break to post my Christmas cheer!

Melissa and Jen have asked that we post our Christmas tree, decorations and recipes of our favorite holiday drink and dessert.  For complete details, check out the link above and join the fun before the end of today!


My favorite dessert is German Chocolate Cake.  When I was growing up, my mom made it every Christmas!  I'm posting a recipe for it from allrecipes.com.  It's a rather labor intensive dessert, so needless to say, I've never made it myself!

My favorite holiday drink, eggnog of course! I love eggnog (non alcoholic, please), and there's nothing like it made from scratch.  See what I've posted from homecooking.about.com.  You'll find it below the German Chocolate Cake. 

Following the recipes you'll see my decorations.  But they'll be posted later--sorry!  Hubby's out and has the digital camera.

German Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

1/2 cup water 4 (1 ounce) squares German sweet chocolate 1 cup butter, softened 2 cups white sugar 4 egg yolks 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup buttermilk 2 1/2 cups cake flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 egg whites 1 cup white sugar 1 cup evaporated milk 1/2 cup butter 3 egg yolks, beaten 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut 1 cup chopped pecans 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon shortening 1 (1 ounce) square semisweet chocolate

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 3 - 9 inch round pans. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat water and 4 ounces chocolate until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, cream 1 cup butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 egg yolks one at a time. Blend in the melted chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated.

In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter, then quickly fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain.

Pour into 3 - 9 inch pans Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto wire rack.

To make the Filling: In a saucepan combine 1 cup sugar, evaporated milk, 1/2 cup butter, and 3 egg yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut, pecans and vanilla. Cool until thick enough to spread.

Spread filling between layers and on top of cake. In a small saucepan, melt shortening and 1 ounce of chocolate. Stir until smooth and drizzle down the sides of the cake.  Yield: 1 three layer cake.

Eggnog

6 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Additional grated nutmeg for garnish

Combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3- or 4-quart pan, whisking until well-combined. Continue whisking while pouring milk in a slow, steady stream until completely incorporated. Turn on burner to lowest possible heat setting. Place pan on burner and stir mixture continuously until an instant-read thermometer reaches 160 degrees F. and the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Be patient. This should take about 45 to 60 minutes.

Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove any accidental small cooked bits of egg. Add vanilla extract and nutmeg, stirring to combine. Pour into a glass pitcher, decanter, or container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate this egg custard mixture to chill at least 4 hours or up to 3 days before finishing.

When ready to serve, pour heavy cream into a bowl and whip until it forms soft peaks. Fold whipped cream into cold custard mixture until combined.

Serve eggnog in chilled cups or glasses and garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg.

My decorations to come! Meanwhile, visit Melissa and Jen and everyone else participating today and make this a Holly Jolly Time!

As promised, decorations (finally)!




Friday, December 17, 2010

Recipe Friday: Thai Chicken

"In Thailand's history, there have been dissensions from time to time, but in general, unity has prevailed." Bhumibol Adulyade

I don't know that much about Thailand's history, but I love the food! If you've never tried Thai cuisine, or love it but have never attempted to make it, here's an easy recipe for your crock pot!  You'll amaze your family with your culinary skill when you serve this delicious dish for dinner.

I've adapted this recipe from one I found in Woman's Day Magazine.  My version is a little bolder in flavor because I've upped a few of the ingredients, and instead of using mint, I substitute cilantro.

Minimal cutting and chopping is involved and you do need to squeeze some lime juice.  Other than that, it's pretty quick to prepare.  Serve over rice, have a salad--and you have a restaurant quality meal for a fraction of the price! Happy eating, and happy writing! Ah, the beauty of the crock pot--it does the cooking so you can do the writing. Enjoy!

Thai Chicken

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large red or green pepper, sliced in strips
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes with jalapenos
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 T soy sauce
3 T lime juice
2 t ground ginger, or a 2 inch piece of fresh, finely chopped
8 oz frozen sugar snap peas
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Put chicken and onion in 3 1/2 quart or larger crock pot.  Add pepper strips. In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce and ginger.  Pour mixture over chicken.  Cover and cook on low 7 to 9 hours.  Stir in sugar snap peas and cilantro and cook for an additional 15 minutes.  Makes 4 servings.

Have you ever had Thai food? If so, have you ever made it yourself? Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wednesday Discussion: Are You a Holiday Planner or Pantster

"I stopped believing in Santa Clause when I was six. Mother took me to a department store to see him and he asked for my autograph." Shirley Temple

My kids don't believe in Santa Clause anymore either, but they still want to bake cookies for him! And that's one more activity to plan. Speaking of which, are you a planner or a pantster when it comes to the holidays? 

When I write, I don't like to fly completely by the seat of my pants.  I prepare skeleton outline and then go where my characters lead me. No detailed outline or spreadsheet for me--I think my head would explode if I tried to that.  So I fall somewhere in between.

Same with holiday planning; I wouldn't dare try to do everything just days before Christmas (although I usually do wrap presents on  Christmas Eve). I finally mailed my Christmas cards today, and I only have three more gifts to buy.  I'll do my baking this weekend. So hopefully, by Christmas morning, everything I need to do will already be done!

I envy all the organized among us who buy their presents right after Thanksgiving and have their cards mailed by December 1. 

From what I've observed, having the ability to organize is genetic. My husband (whose parents are extraordinarily organized) is a very ordered person--I am not.  My dad has piles on his desk, and for some reason, so do I. And I know exactly what's in my piles and where to find what I need. 

I don't like clutter, but beware of my closet. If you go in, you may not come out! I'm also a procrastinator--that drives Mr. McKenzie nuts!  But some how we manage to complement each other.  I suppose the old saying is true: opposites attract.

Time to put the writing aside and catch up on some more Christmas--dare I say the word--details!

Are you a holiday planner or pantster?  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday's Writing Tip: Utilize Another Set of Eyes

"Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Chinese Proverb

There's nothing like a second set of eyes (or a third, fourth or fifth pair) to help you shape up your manuscript!

It's amazing how wonderful something sounds to our ears after we've written it.  And all the praise we receive from loved ones who've read it, is pretty great, too!  But let's face it, writers need other writers to critique their work, otherwise, we're bumbling around in the dark, wondering why our manuscripts keep getting rejected.

If you're married to a writer, you have an advantage! But those of us who aren't so lucky need a writers group.  If you don't have any friends or acquaintances that write, there are lots of critique groups available online. 

If you don't belong to Writer's Digest online (think Facebook for writers), become a member--it's free! Different groups are available to join within WD online, and one is Critique Corner. There you can post your work and other writers will offer changes and constructive criticism.

Some writers have one critique partner, while others have several.  I meet weekly in person with a group of five. I love having the benefit of all those different skill sets, and I know my finished product will be a lot stronger with all the fantastic input I receive! 

In a group you'll see that someone might be great at line edits, while another person offers just the right dialogue.  Brainstorming ideas is always fun, and formulating a better scenario or plot twist can come directly from your critique group.

When other writers read your work, you'll also find out if what you've written makes sense to begin with.  And if it doesn't, your group can help you make it make sense!

Sometimes I think I've churned out a decent piece that can stand on its own.  But then Lisa, my writing teacher/group facilitator starts peeling away the layers (some that I didn't even know were there) to show me how to create an even better scene. 

After Lisa reads my work, I feel like I've written it looking through a peephole.  It takes her to open the door and reveal everything else out there that's waiting to be said!  She's amazing at digging deeper in a scene to bring it greater depth, feeling and clarity!

So, if you're currently floundering alone, join a critique group!  The writing journey to publication is hard enough--don't go it alone!

Do you belong to a writers group or have a critique partner? If so, do you meet in person or online? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Recipe Friday: Italian-Style Beef Stew

"Talk of joy: there may be better things than beef stew and baked potatoes and homemade bread--there may be." David Grayson, "Adventures in Contentment," 1907

This is one of my all time favorite crock pot recipes, because you can throw it together in a snap!  Beef Stew is hot, hearty comfort food, just right for a frigid winter evening.  Today's dish takes only minutes to prep, but plan ahead so you can allow 10 hours of cooking time.

Serve with a big crusty hunk of bread on the side, or ladle over rice or egg noodles.  Have a salad to make the meal complete! I've adapted this from my GE Slow Cooker Recipe Book, the book that came right along with my crock pot.  Hope you enjoy! Happy eating, and have a great weekend!

Italian-Style Beef Stew

3 lbs boneless beef stew cubes
1 10 ounce box frozen mixed vegetables
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, chopped
1 1.5 ounce envelope beef stew seasoning mix

Combine all ingredients in the crock pot. Stir well. Cover and cook on low 10 hours. If you prefer, cook on high for 5 hours. Serves 4.

Do you have a favorite beef stew recipe? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Wednesday Discussion: "Are You Published Yet?"

"Success is that old ABC--ability, breaks and courage." Charles Luckman

"Have you been published yet?" For "pre-published" writers, this is a question often asked by friends and relatives. After the first six query letters are sent off, new writers think that at least one of those agents, if not all, will be chomping at the bit to sign them on--WRONG!

The road to publication is a long process and for most of us, this probably wasn't realized until after the 20th rejection letter was received!

Sending an average of 50 or more is the norm.  That can be pretty depressing, especially when those near and dear keep asking if you've been published.  But after a year or more of saying no, they eventually stop.

Well wishers haven't lost hope in our writing, they just don't want to make us feel bad, and whether you know it or not, they're behind the scenes quietly rooting and praying for our success. 

When the asking stops and the rejections keep coming, it's important that we don't lose hope in ourselves.  Agent Jeff Herman says, "No rejection is fatal until the writer walks away from the battle leaving dreams and goals behind."

So keep improving your God given ability through continuously writing, reading and taking classes. Despite rejection, have the courage to go on.  And in closing, have faith that your break will come!

Have you been published yet? If so, how did it feel to say yes for the first time?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday's Writing Tip: Don't Forget that Thought, Write it Down!

"The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to our mind when we want them to."  Friedrich Nietzsche

Ever lost a great story idea, or forgotten just the right quote, or the perfect sentence to describe something?  If you came up with these great thoughts in the middle of the day, but failed to write them down at the moment of inspiration, the answer is probably yes!

That's why it's so important, as writers, to always have pen and paper handy wherever we are.  If you dream up your ideas, or they come to you while waking in the wee hours of the morning, have a notebook on your bedside table.  If you develop scenarios as you drive, place a little steno pad in your glove compartment.

If you're a woman writer who wants to be well prepared to hear from "the muse," carry a little notebook in your purse.  Same goes for a guy who carries a "man bag." And with a cell phone, anyone  can be prepared since you can text yourself!

Write down (or text) your ideas when they're fresh!  If you don't have a handy pad or a cell phone, grab the nearest thing available!

We've all heard about great stories written on cocktail napkins! And if you're like me, you've probably scribbled on napkins from your own kitchen table when nothing else is accessible to catch that stream of wildly flowing inspiration!

Even though you can hold on to ideas for a few hours (before completely forgetting them), sometimes they're just not as strong as the original thought, once you find the time to jot them down.  It's difficult to recreate the initial pungency from the fragments left  floating around in your head.  

So be prepared, write it down! Do you have a pen and paper handy wherever you go?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie! Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Recipe Friday: Caribbean Pork With Sweet Potatoes

The holidays are upon us! Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas is just a few weeks away. That means lots of cleaning, decorating, shopping and shipping of gifts, out of town house guests, parties to give and parties to attend.

Throughout all this hassle, you still have to eat everyday!  That's why I'll be posting easy crock pot recipes this month.  Not only are these dishes quick to assemble, they're healthy and delicious, too!  The beauty of the crock pot is, you can throw everything in and forget it! Then, when you come home from work, a hot, home cooked meal is waiting.

I can't resist featuring one more sweet potato recipe, this time in a savory pork dish! There's a little cutting and chopping, so I apologize, but the end result is worth it! This dish can stand alone, or you can serve over couscous or rice.

This was in Woman's Day Magazine about three years ago, and  became a hit in my household. It calls for jerk seasoning, which you should be able to find in the international section of one of the larger grocery stores in your area. Enjoy!

Caribbean Pork With Sweet Potatoes

1 can (14 ounces) lite coconut milk
3 T flour
1 T Caribbean jerk seasoning
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 lb boneless pork butt, cut in 1 1/2 inch cubes
2 large (2 lb) sweet potatoes, cut in 1 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups frozen green peas
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Put coconut milk, flour, jerk seasoning and garlic in a 3 quart or larger slow cooker. Whisk until well blended. Add pork and sweet potatoes. Stir until well coated.

Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours, or until meat is tender. When done, spoon off fat. Stir in frozen and cilantro. Cover and let stand 5 minutes for peas to cook. Serves four.

My crock pot is one of my most treasured appliances! Do you own one?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wednesday Discussion: Who Will You Encourage Today?

I'm a little pushed for time today, so I'm reposting an article originally published several months ago, not long after I first started blogging. I hope you'll be encouraged by it, and also, that you'll encourage others!

"One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement.  When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own." John O'Donohue

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "encourage" as follows: To inspire with hope, courage or confidence.

Pastor Chris Beard described it in a totally awesome sermon which inspired this post, when he said, "to encourage is to speak courage into some one's heart.

No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our station in life, we can all encourage others! Quoting Pastor Chris again, "We are made to take the input of others, and to to give our input to others.

But sometimes we're afraid to share our stories and experiences. Perhaps we're afraid of what people might think, or maybe we believe what we have to share isn't that important. But all of us learn and acquire wisdom from our mistakes, and it's a gift to share this with others!



  Even though our scars exist (physical or emotional) the pain is gone, and sharing what we've experienced can strengthen, and speak courage into another person's life. One of the most moving accounts of encouragement I've ever read was in the June/July issue of Reader's Digest. Daniela Garcia  (pictured at left) was a young medical student who suffered horrific injuries after being run over by a train. Although she could have died, she didn't give up; she chose to live.

As a quadruple amputee, she finished her medical degree and became a rehabilitation physician. Through her experience, and her scars, she inspires patients daily, as well as ordinary folks like me who read her story.

Encouragement doesn't have to be on a dramatic scale. Every day we can encourage those around us. George M. Adams says, "Encouragement is sugar to the soul," and we all need it--children, spouses, friends, co-workers, the sales clerk who's having a bad day, etc.

In writing communities we encourage each other by sharing ideas to improve our writing. And we also share encouragement when rejections are received. We've all been there and we think of the current bestselling authors who aren't any more! And we're certainly encouraged to hear when one of us gets "the call" from an agent or publisher.

In the business world, encouragement by helping and sharing with others, and showing you care benefits everyone.

Dan Blank in his May 13 We Grow Media Newsletter, wrote a post entitled "What Are You Sharing?" In it, he discussed a recent transaction of ideas he shared with a prospective client.

Even though no money was exchanged, he chose not to hold back on his ideas and give them only a little of what he could offer. Instead, he shared extensively. Dan said, "It wasn't a transaction of money, but rather a transaction of of ideas and possibilities. Of considering what we can create together. And that's the way it should be. To share. To help."

And that's encouragement--at home, at work, or somewhere else out there in life--to share, to help, to care.

Who will you encourage today?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday's Writing Tip: Don't Look Back

Don't look back: Something may be gaining on you." Satchel Paige U.S. baseball player, 1906-1982

Last Monday, I asked readers what the best piece of writing advice was that they'd ever received. There were lots of great responses, but today I thought I'd focus on one tip in particular, the importance of moving ahead when writing a manuscript. 

As Satchel Paige says, "Don't look back." If we do, guess what's gaining on us? The possibility of not being able to complete that book!

Author Norma Beishir says, "Finish the first draft before attempting ANY changes of any kind. Otherwise, the manuscript will never get finished. I'd often give my agent or editor a first draft with the following note: 'Just tell me what's wrong with it.'"

A first draft is a first draft. Robert Masello says that amateur writers don't want to hear about drafts, because they believe that once something's written, it's done. Real writers (the ones who get published), he goes on to explain, know better. They know that the first draft is a working draft.  And it won't be perfect.  But that's alright, because real writers make it from start to finish.

One reason some don't complete their first draft is because they keep looking back.  I was talking to someone working on a children's book.  Although the story sounded awesome, and she'd thought it through from start to finish, she hadn't written that much. 

She said she just couldn't get the first few pages to sound exactly like she wanted.  I told her not to worry about that, and keep moving forward.  "You can go back and revise once you've finished writing the story."  I don't know if she took my advice, and even though she listened carefully to what I said, I don't think she  liked the idea all that much!

If we keep looking back, it's as though we become stuck in the mud, obsessing over words and details. But if we move on, we see that there really is an end is in sight!  The finished product might sound  a little rough and sloppy, but that's when the hard work of revising starts, the smoothing and sanding and cutting and shaping of your story.

During revision, whole scenes may be cut and characters eliminated to keep the pace exciting and the story progressing. But the most important thing to remember is that from the rough cut of your first draft (and second, third or more), will emerge a smooth and polished manuscript.

Have you made the mistake of looking back? Are you currently revising a first (second or third) draft?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recipe Friday: Sweet Potato Pie

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie." Jim Davis (Pumpkin pie is delicious, but sweet potatoes make a pie that's even better!)

In the northern part of the United States, southern food is referred to as "soul food." And up North, "soul food" is mostly eaten by black people, since the majority of blacks have southern roots. 

It wasn't until I began living in the South many years ago, that I realized "soul food" is what all people eat in the South (and rather than being called "soul food," it's just called food).

My husband, originally from upstate New York, moved to North Carolina with his family when he was about nine years old.  He's a white guy, and although his mother didn't cook southern cuisine, he had his fill of it growing up on school cafeteria lunches.

Mr. McKenzie developed a taste for collard greens, something I've never liked that much.  Needless to say, hubby feels a little short changed having married a black woman who doesn't cook greens!

I do, however, cook sweet potatoes, in case you haven't noticed!  And I wouldn't be a real black woman if I couldn't bake a sweet potato pie! (Just kidding, but it sounded good for effect.) 

White people above the Mason Dixon Line make pumpkin pies during the holiday season, but Southerners and black folks all over the U.S. bake sweet potato pies.

Today I'm sharing my friend Elaine's recipe.  It's her grandmother's, and it makes the most delicious sweet potato pie I've ever tasted!  Hope you like it too!

This is not a slimmed down version, so just promise to take a walk after eating.  There's enough filling for two 10 inch pies--yum!


Sweet Potato Pie

6 medium sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup flour
2 t baking powder
dash of salt
1 to 1 1/2 t nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 t vanilla

Bake sweet potatoes at 350 degrees until soft all the way through.  When cool, remove from skins and mash. Add remaining ingredients, beat until smooth. Pour into 2 10 inch unbaked pie shells. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350. Bake one hour more. Yield: 16 slices.

What's your favorite holiday pie?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Becoming a Versatile Blogger

Earlier this week, I had the honor of being named a Versatile Blogger by one of my peers in the blogosphere. Woo-hoo--my first blogging award! Once being recognized as a VB, a few things are required of recipients:
  • Thank the person who named you
  • List 7 things about yourself
  • Name at least 12 other bloggers (you've recently discovered and find fantastic) as Versatile Bloggers and notify them
Thanks:  I'd like to thank William Kendall (Speak of the Devil) for naming me a Versatile Blogger.  Although a self proclaimed rogue and scoundrel, I find William very nice (even though he hates my  bean recipes) and LOL funny. I enjoy his writing advice, character interviews, political commentary, and his general take on life in the personal experiences he shares. Again William, thank you!

Seven Things About Me:
1. I prefer the mountains to the beach; the solitude and magnificent views win me over (great for writing).
2. I'm married to a wonderful man.
3. I'm the mom of two beautiful boys.
4. I love museums, historic homes, antique shops and thrift stores.
5. I love spicy food--actually I love food (I don't mind cooking, if it's quick and easy, but I hate housework).
6. I enjoy working out. The health benefits are great, but I even met my husband through staying fit!  However, I don't recommend giving your phone number to a total stranger, who pulls over while you're running to ask you out, as a way to meet a potential spouse (but it did work for me).
7. I was a federal witness in the Georgia Mail Bombing case. I was working at the service desk as a librarian, and the mail bomber (posing as a PI) came in one day and asked some questions--thankfully, not about bomb building--I think he already had that covered. About three years later, the FBI came looking for me (regarding my exchange with the guy, who was then locked up) and needed me as a witness for two different trials. Who says being a librarian is boring?!

Fantastic Blogs:
Joanna St. James: Bionic Writer
Dangerous with a Pen
Dancing Down Serendipity Street
YA Audio Book Addict
Artzicarol Ramblings
One Significant Moment in Time
Through the Looking Glass (Dawn) 
Through the Looking Glass (Melissa)
Iggi & Gabi
W.I.P It
Adventures in Writing
Wordplay
Left and Write Brained
Above Water

Now I will notify the above listed bloggers that they have been named VBs, and woo-hoo! I have become a Versatile Blogger!

If you haven't already, be sure to check out the sites of the fabulous bloggers!

Have a happy, blessed and safe Thanksgiving! Thanks for stopping by! Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's the Best Writing Advice You Ever Received?

 "Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad,and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read! You' ll absorb it. Then write.  If it is good, you'll find out.  If it's not, throw it out the window."  William Faulkner

I'm very thankful for all the great writing advice I've gotten over the years from writing friends, my writers group, books and workshops. Since it's Thanksgiving week, I thought this would be good time for all of us to share the best advice we've ever received.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:


Keep Moving Forward - Revise, research, rewrite later. If a fact stumps you, look it up later. If a sentence or a whole paragraph, page or chapter sounds crappy, revise and rewrite later. Don't let a stumbling block stop you-- keep going!

Utilize Another Set of Eyes to Read Your Work - Not your mother or non-writer friends. It's okay to let them read it, just don't expect any constructive criticism. It's important for another writer to read your work to help you improve it. So join a critique/writers group.

Brevity is Best - Do your best to avoid wordiness and keep your prose simple. Avoid long windedness: At the store she picked up lots of gag gifts that were insanely crazy and really wacky. Keep it short: She bought lots of crazy gag gifts.

Scrap Those Fancy Words - "Do not be tempted by a twenty dollar word when there is a ten center handy, ready and available." From Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. So in other words (again), keep it simple! Avoid this: Upon looking at her, he became discombobulated. And try this instead: Seeing her confused him.

That's enough from me. Now, it's your turn!  Leave a comment sharing the best piece of writing advice you've ever received!

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe Friday: Curried Groundnut Soup

"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter." James A. Garfield

Here's another fabulous sweet potato recipe, and today it's savory!  This is my favorite soup and stars the winning combination of sweet potatoes and peanut butter! If you've tried the African Chicken Stew posted here two weeks ago, you'll understand. This soup is a staple in our house during cold weather, and I make a batch every couple of weeks. 

Cutting and chopping aside, it's easy, and  pretty quick to prepare.  For a light dinner, I serve with a sandwich on the side.

I found this dish in Woman's Day Magazine several years ago. I served it a dinner party and people couldn't get enough; everyone wanted the recipe! It's a zesty, flavorful soup which originated in Africa, where peanuts are called groundnuts.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Curried Groundnut Soup

1 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion chopped (about 1  1/2 cups)
1 carrot grated (about 1/2 cut)
1 large sweet potato (about 3 cups)
3 cups water
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 t curry powder
1/8 to 1/4 cayenne pepper
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
2 T chopped peanuts (optional)

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot;saute until tender (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the sweet potato and water; cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until sweet potato is soft. Stir in the condensed soup, peanut butter, curry, and cayenne.  Bring mixture to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Puree the soup in a blender in 2 batches (or use a handheld immersion blender), then return it to pan and reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chopped peanuts, if desired. Serves 6.

What's your favorite soup?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As a Writer, Are You a Poet, Too?

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Oscar Wilde

I am not a poet, not even a bad one! Some have a natural flair. A friend who used to be in my writing class often brought poetry to share--really beautiful poetry. She could take an episode from her work as a nurse, or a sight she'd seen on vacation, or even a dead deer she'd come across in the park, and create something breathtaking.

My husband, with a statistics and engineering background, also writes beautiful poetry.  When we were dating, he wrote some gorgeous pieces for me!  I know what you're thinking--he was on his best behavior and just trying to impress me. So? It worked! And I know you're wondering when the last time was that he wrote me something. Okay, it must've been 19...well, I can't remember. But he has helped me write poetry!

I'd written a scene involving two wealthy ladies (in the American south of 1936) who are discussing the work of a nationally acclaimed southern poet who'll be doing a reading in their town that afternoon.  Even though this gentelmen writes love poems that practically make women swoon, he's gay.

This poet of my imagination is Bennett Stuart. I'd come up with a sappy sweet title of an anthology, but my writing class suggested that one of the ladies recite a poem, one that sounded pretty awful for comic releif.

Of course that meant I'd have to write something--NOT! Remember, I can't even write bad poetry!  After struggling for far too long and only producing two lines, I asked Mr. McKenzie for help.  After explaining the time period, circumstances, and that it needed to be bad, my wonderful husband wrote the perfect poem. And it only took him a mere 15 minutes!

If you want a good laugh, the finished product is posted below!

Are you a natural poet?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

"Smitten" by Mr. McKenzie,
writing as the fictional Bennett Stuart (bad poet)
from his poetry anthology (of my imagination), Love's Passionate Bliss

My dearest, oh one of wonderment

I am assuredly smitten.

Admittedly so, I can think

of nothing but your gaze.

Though others hope of golden coins,

be they but hard and cold,

you, my love, my dearest one,

‘tis you that are soft and warm.

My mind is of feathers, floating,

fluttering back to you and your golden hair.

My dearest, my grandest wish is for you

to call me your lover, your beaux.

You have captured my heart.

My thoughts are a plenty, full of you,

rather than grits, greens or red eye gravy.

Though you’ve warmed my tummy, too,

you’ve mostly warmed my heart.

I long for you, my love, my cherished one,

I long for you, oh love, who stole my heart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creating a Villain's Villainy

"An excellent man, like a precious metal, is in every way invariable. A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards." John Locke

Over the weekend, I attended a fabulous all day workshop (at the monthly OVRWA chapter meeting) presented by authors Laura Baker and Robin L. Perini. Discovering Story Magic explored the integral relationship between character, conflict, plot, realization and turning points in producing salable fiction.

The information I received is much too plentiful to put into a blog post, but I do want to share an exercise Ms. Perini suggested in creating a villain.

Pick an "inciting incident" from your own life and spend three minutes writing about it in first person, present tense.  An inciting incident is a change that affected you in a bad or sad way. 

Then take that same inciting incident and pick one of the following villains: Hannibal Lector, the Wicked Witch of the West, or Lex Luthor. Now, write about it in first person present tense from the point of view of the villain you chose (be sure to stick with that same villain).

Perhaps the sadness of a grandmother's death to you, could bring happiness to the Wicked Witch, since your loving grandmother was an obstacle to her power. Maybe the sadness you felt after a friend moved would be joyful to Lex Luthor, who wanted him out of the way, since Lex's parents always compared the friend unfavorably to little Lex.  Or how about a  decision to drop out of medical school?  Disappointing, although the right choice for you, but Hannibal Lector regrets it and vows to go back.

So--you are your own villain! Think you'll give this exercise a try?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recipe Friday: Sweet Potato Pudding

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. By a small sample, we may judge of the whole piece." Miguel de Cervantes

This pudding's so good, you might want to eat the whole dish in just one sitting! Last Friday I featured a savory recipe using sweet potatoes. This week I'm posting something sweet! This scrumptious pudding can be served as a side (at Thanksgiving and Christmas) or a dessert.

Lots of people aren't familiar with sweet potatoes or don't realize their versatility. I, for instance, didn't know they could be used in savory dishes until I was grown.  A blogger from the UK said she'd never eaten them sweet.

Each Friday this month, I'll feature a recipe highlighting the versatility of the sweet potato. There's more to it than just being a plain old baked sweet potato or a fry! 

Sweet potatoes taste great any way you slice them (sorry, couldn't resist), and not only are they delicious, they're nutrtious, as well!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ranks the sweet potato number one of all vegetables. It scores 184, the next closest vegetable only ranks in at 100.  Points were given for dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars and complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.  To see the complete article I've used  for sweet potato nutrition from foodreference.com, click here.

Today's recipe is a slimmed down version from one of my favorite cookbooks, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine. Hope you enjoy it!

Sweet Potato Pudding

5 medium sweet potatoes
3/4 cup of sugar
6 egg whites
3/4 fat free cup evaporated milk
1 t cinnamon
2 t vanilla extract
1 t rum extract (optional)

Bake sweet potatoes in 350 degree oven until soft (about 90 minutes to two hours).  When baked, let cool, then slice open and scoop out flesh. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Add sugar, stir well until mixed. Then add egg whites and beat well. Stir in remaing ingredients. Pour into 2 quart casserole sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Have you ever had sweet potato pudding?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Twist Endings: Can You Figure Them Out Before the End?

"Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That and surprise." Julia Cameron

I'm hopeless when it comes to figuring out the twist ending of a movie. In a book, I'm usually fed enough clues to correctly guess the conclusion before it's completely revealed--but of course by then, I'm almost finished reading!

My husband, however, less than half way through a movie, will tell me the twist. "He's in on the scheme." "He faked his death." "She's got a split personality." Sometimes he's wrong, but most of the time, my husband's either on the right track, or he's nailed it completely.

I suppose our brains work differently.  I enjoy seeing the story unfold. I love being surprised, shocked and scared. I'm too busy being entertained to think about unraveling the plot. Also, I'm vulnerable and take things at face value.

In Derailed, Jennifer Anniston pays for Clive Owens' train fare near the beginning of the movie. My husband started suspecting something right then. Not me! If I'd had an extra $9.00 and someone (a stranger who didn't look suspicious) had forgotten his wallet, I would've been a good Samaritan and helped him out--just like Jennifer!

When the twist is finally disclosed, I'll rethink my way through the movie to make sure the screenplay was consistent, and the conclusion realistic. And sometimes, once armed with the knowledge of the ending, I'll watch the DVD all over again.  Then I'll see stuff I missed the first time around, and understand little things I paid no attention to before.  Shutter Island, The Sixth Sense and The Others all have to be watched more than once!

Despite my inability to figure out the twist, these types of movies are my favorites! Nothing like the element of surprise.

If you a good love twist ending, be sure to rent these if you haven't already seen them: Shutter Island, Derailed, The Secret Window, The Illusionist, The Sixth Sense and The Others.

Can you figure out the twist before a movie ends? What are some of your favorites (books or movies) that have twist endings?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing Your Author Bio


"There is properly no history; only biography." Ralph Waldo Emerson

You've finished your novel--that was the easy part! Now you've overcome your fears and written the query letter. In addition, you fought the idea of condensing your "baby" to five pages, but finally did and wrote a synopsis.

Good to go, right? In some cases yes, but not when the agent/publisher requests an author biography!  Writing your bio isn't as daunting, as it is challenging for those of us who lead average, run of the mill lives. 

Some people have experienced exciting and adventurous lives as army brats, or pursued glamorous professions such as corporate law or international business.  Even some not so glamorous professions can be rather exciting, such as truck driving or jail wardening.

But if we're not  lawyers like John Grisham, or doctors like Robin Cook, how can we make our lives (as housewives, sales clerks, accountants, insurance salesmen, etc.) sound a little more--robust? 

First of all, you're not required to write a book! Usually no more than a paragraph is expected. You can take any significant experience in your life that has shaped you as a writer and put it in your bio. 

Include your education if relevant to your writing background or your subject matter.  If you were an English major or have an MFA, great!  If you're a nuclear physicist, who's written a thriller about a nuclear physical disaster, by all means, state that.

Even if you don't have an MFA, or didn't go to college, you can take the life you've lived and work with it.  However, don't "toot your own horn." Author bios are written in third person. Your mother may think you're the greatest writer alive, but leave that to the agent/publisher to decide.

A previous published article (even if you weren't paid) and where it appeared can be mentioned in your bio.  Working in a job that used (or uses) your writing skill is also relevant info (such as news script writing for a local news station).

If you're a native of a notorious town (Las Vegas), popular tourist destination (San Francisco), or a historic city (Cincinnati), that fact can be used in crafting your bio.  Perhaps your hometown's crime history, famous prison, or relationship with the Underground Railroad tapped into your creative juices as you wove your story about the Mafia, Alcatraz, or an escaped slave.

As an avid reader, you can mention the authors who've influenced your work, such as Thomas Fleming and Eugenia Price for historicals, or John Grisham and Scott Turow for legal thrillers.

If you experienced an exciting trip to an exotic locale (this can be a trip in the mission field, or that trip to Europe you took with the high school senior class), you can describe how that experience inspired you in creating your story. Perhaps the people, the history/culture, or the art made an impression upon you.

Lastly, if you belong to a writers' organization (e.g. Romance Writers of America), and a critique group, place that in your bio.  This shows that your serious about your writing career and are working to improve your craft.

Here are a few basic points to keep in mind:
  • Write in third person
  • List facts
  • Cite relevant experience
  • Write tight
For more help, check out this link and this one. Both provide some great information for writing a compelling author bio!

Have you written your author bio yet?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recipe Friday: African Chicken Stew

"He who pursues a chicken often falls, but the chicken has to run." African proverb, Amaka

Today's recipe is a delicious chicken stew that can be served alone, over couscous, or over rice.  It's hot and hearty featuring a fall favorite--sweet potatoes! 

Growing up, I always ate sweet potatoes as a pudding or souffle. But as an adult, I've discovered lots of recipes that use them in savory dishes, which my husband prefers over the sweet ones.

This stew is easy to prepare, but unfortunately involves a little cutting and chopping (so just pretend it's therapeutic).  I've adapted my version from one I originally found in Woman's Day Magazine. Hope you enjoy!

African Chicken Stew

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t onion powder
3 sweet potatoes
3 t garlic powder
1 1/2 t chili powder
20 ounces canned diced tomatoes
12 ounces frozen peas
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup peanut butter

Season chicken with salt pepper and onion powder. Coat a large pot with cooking spray. place over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook about three minutes until browned.

Peel potatoes and cut in bite sized pieces; set aside. Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and chili powder. Cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Add potatoes and tomatoes. Bring chicken to the top. Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer about thirty minutes, or until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with peas, cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Add peanut butter and lemon juice. Stir until blended and hot. Makes 4 servings.

How do you like your sweet potatoes, sweet or savory?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interracial Love: Conflict Supreme

"Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." Aristotle

Who doesn't love a good love story? But what drives one to make it great? Conflict!
And when you throw an interracial element into the mix (pun intended) you have an intensely compelling and emotionally volatile story.

Several films address this topic including, Come See the Paradise (Japanese/white American), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (white/black American), Mississippi Masala (Asian Indian/ Black American), Something New and Jungle Fever (both white/black American).

Throughout history, interracial love has been a topic of great literature. In Shakespeare's Othello, a Moor is married to Venetian, Desdemona. Here racism is seen as Iago schemes to break up their marriage. Hoping to spur Desdemona's father Brabantino to annul the union, Iago tells him "an old black ram is tupping your white ewe."

In Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, the slave Cassie is repeatedly raped by her master Simon Legree.  But she's also been in a previous relationship with her former master, whom she loved. "I became his willingly, for I loved him!" Cassie says in chapter 34.

Sinclair Lewis's Kingsblood Royal tells the story of a bigoted character who discovers he has a small percentage of African blood, then falls in love with a black friend named Sophie.  When he held her hand, it was "warmer than any hand he had ever known," and when she kissed him, "he had not known a kiss like that..."  For more interracial love in literature, see Doug Poe's post on Interracial Sex in Classic Literature here.

Out of all multicultural combinations, perhaps the most explosive in our country is black and white. Make it a love story in the American South of the past--and POW!

I'm black, and my husband is white, but many years ago I began to think how sad it would've been if we'd lived a century earlier. Back then, we couldn't have married. That thought inspired me to write my first novel, Unchained, about the abolitionist son of a wealthy merchant who falls in love with a slave he helps to escape.

After reading Essie Mae Washington Williams's memoir Dear Senator, I wrote my second novel, The Governor's Sons. Ms. Williams's memoir told of her black mother's love affair with her white father, future South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond.  In my novel, a rich white law student plans to sacrifice everything and move overseas for the black woman he loves.

All through our country's history, interracial love has ignited conflict.  Forbidden Fruit by Betty DeRamus and  Martha Hodes's WhiteWomen, Black Men are two fascinating non-fiction accounts on the subject.

The topic of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson's black mistress, was swept under the rug by history, and Jefferson's white descendants, until DNA tests revealed that her descendants, were Jefferson's as well.

Although there was an enormous amount of rape and exploitation of black women by white men in the United States (especially the South), there was also love.

If a plantation owner chose a slave as his "wife" and actually lived with her, he'd become an outcast from the community.  To prevent being ostracized, some white men, assuming the facade of bachelors to friends and family, would set up separate housing and provide financially for their black "wives" and children. And then there were those white men who chose to have two families, one white and the other black, hidden away in the shadows.

Thank goodness it's a different time!  Although still a touchy topic among both the black and white communities, at least as human beings we can freely love whomever we fall in love with.  As the old cliche goes, "love has no color."

Do you have an interracial love story to share? Are you, your parents or any relatives/friends involved in an interracial relationship?  Are you the product of an interracial union?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Synopsis: Friend or Foe?

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Mention the word synopsis to any writer, and you'll elicit fear or an overwhelming dread at the thought of having to write one.

I think most authors agree that writing a synopsis is no fun! After we've worked months, or years, to refine and polish our novels, how can we reduce them to 10 pages, five, two or one page, and then whittle them down even further to a paragraph or even a single sentence?

We can't let the synopsis be our enemy. It has to be our friend to help us sell our work. If you're not familiar with what a synopsis is, here's a simple definition: the summary of a novel.

But in summarizing your novel, you want to show that editor, agent or publisher that you can tell a knock down, drag out, darn good story that they're gonna want!

One agent told me that she doesn't read the synopsis until after she's read some of the sample writing sent along with it. So remember, you're writing (the actual novel pages) will always speak louder than the synopsis, because all the synopsis is, is plotting. But regardless, it must be clean, tight and extraordinarily well written!

There are varying lengths for a synopsis, the longer lengths, of course, being the easiest! Sometimes an agent will ask for a "short synopsis." This usually means one to two pages. Page length may or may not be specified. If a "synopsis" is requested (with no page limit mentioned) you're pretty safe to send 5 pages. If a "detailed synopsis" is asked for (with no specifications), up to 10 pages is acceptable. 

However, just be sure to carefully read the guidelines of whomever you're submitting to. Some agencies and publishers are very specific about the page length of the synopsis.   

The formats for a single page and a multi page document do differ. A one page synopsis is written in block paragraphs with double spaces between paragraphs. More than one page requires the entire document to be double spaced.

Still thinking the task impossible, especially the one sentence synopsis, or one line hook? Read this example from Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: "As the Civil War rages, a woman's passion for the wrong man blinds her to the love of the right one."  That's a one line synopsis for Gone With the Wind!

If you're fighting with the idea of writing a synopsis, it's time to stop. As with writing a query, there are lots of great tools out there to help, such as Blythe Camenson's and Marshall J. Cook's Your Novel Proposal, and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, mentioned earlier. Visit Charlotte Dillon's website at www.charlottedillon.com/SynopsisSamples.html for some great sample synopses. You can also find articles at http://www.ehow.com/ on how to write, as well as format, a synopsis.

Writing a synopsis can be difficult, but it can be done!

Have you written a synopsis for your latest completed work? Are there any other tools you'd like to recommend that have helped you?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!