Friday, October 29, 2010

Recipe Friday: Scary Movie Night Pizza

"Don't mix this movie with pizza." From the movie Grim (1995)

Halloween is Sunday, so scary movies will be shown all weekend long. Of course, if you don't like what's on TV, you can rent your own selection of DVDs--and then enjoy with a pizza!

If you could design your own scary movie marathon, what would it include? I love old movies, so here are a few for my list:
  • Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  • The Bad Seed (1956)
  • Psycho (1960) 
  • The Cat People (1942 version)
  • Island of Dr. Moreaux (1933 version)
    My husband prefers more modern movies. Here are some of his favorites:
  • Cloverfield (2008)
  • Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999)
  • Signs (2002)
  • The Others (2001)
  • Now that we've got our movies lined up, time for pizza! Here's an easy recipe that's cheaper than delivery and uses no gas for pickup! The dough is adapted from a pizza recipe found in I'm in the Mood For Food: In the Kitchen with Garfield, by Jim Davis and Barbara Albright.

Scary Movie Night Pizza

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup luke warm water
1 T olive oil
1 T sugar
1 t salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour
1 14 oz. can pizza sauce (I use Contidina)
5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
assorted toppings of choice (pepperoni, onions, peppers, ham, etc.)

Pour water in a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water, then stir to dissolve. Stir in oil, sugar and salt. Add flour gradually to form a stiff dough. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Lightly flour hands and knead dough until it's smooth and elastic. Place dough in an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 35-45 minutes).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray two pizza pans or baking dishes with cooking spray. Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll out two 12 inch rounds. Place each round on baking sheet or pizza pans. Spread each with pizza sauce, sprinkle with assorted toppings, then top with cheese. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned. Makes 6-8 servings.

What are some of your favorite scary movies, and do you prefer pick-up, delivery, or pizza made from scratch?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spooked by Rejection?

Several months ago, I started a discussion in the Fiction Writers/Writer's Digest online community asking, "How do you handle rejection?" I received several comments, and originally posted this article back in June.  For those who participated in the discussion but never saw the blog post, here it is again.  To those seeing it for the first time, hope it's beneficial, as well as encouraging!

Into every writer's life, some rain must fall--though sometimes it may feel more like a deluge." Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 55: Get Rejected

As writers, we must accept rejection. If we're not prepared for it, we don't need to be writing. As Robert Masello says, "You will send your work out--to agents, editors, publishers--and it will come back to you like a boomerang. Turned down, passed on, rejected. It's a rite of passage, and the sooner you make your peace with it, the better off you'll be."

It's important not to take rejection personally. It's your work that's being rejected, not you as a person. Agents, editors and publishers are concerned about the bottom line. They want to make money, and they want you to make money, too. If you're not a right fit for them, it's a lose/lose situation. Author turned agent Jennifer Lawler says, "My problem isn't how much bad writing crosses my desk. The problem is how much good writing I see. I have to figure out which of these good projects is most likely to sell."

Recently, I asked writers from a couple of online writing groups how they handle rejection, and I received a variety of responses. I'm happy to report that no sociopaths replied, so no mention of dart boards, voodoo dolls or stalking appeared--PHEW!

But before I detail those comments, I'd like to mention a gentle reminder. Respect is the most important element of any business transaction. Respect equals the Golden Rule: treat others as you would have them treat you.

Sending a nasty email in response to a rejection letter won't do anything to endear you to that agent/editor/publisher or their agent/editor/publisher friends. And detailed blogging about your rejections and expletive filled opinions about those who rejected you won't get you far. You'll establish a reputation, but not exactly the one you want.

Here are a few other points to keep in mind. Regardless of how many rejections you get, keep persevering! Bestselling author Bob Mayer says he got published because he submitted to everybody! But do your homework. Make sure that whoever you're submitting to takes the type of project you're offering.

There's someone out there who will love your story just as much as you do. You wouldn't want someone representing you who felt only so-so about your work. Just like you wouldn't want to marry someone who only felt so-so about you!

Sometimes, as author Holly Jacobs says about one of her books rejected more than once, " was a matter of finding the right desk on the right day for the right line." This particular book, Everything But a Groom, became one of Booklist's Top 10 Romances in 2008.

If someone is kind enough to offer constructive criticism in a rejection letter, by all means heed the advice! One rejection letter I received (the most crushing ever) offered some excellent instruction and made me a better writer.

Suggested changes usually apply to mechanics, rather than story elements. Agents are hesitant to explain why they reject something regarding your story. Jennifer Lawler explains, "This business is subjective; what I think is wrong with your novel may be what the next agent thinks is right with it." Here’s one last tip: Do not email an agent and ask why you were rejected. As busy as they are, they don’t have time to answer you!

When I receive a rejection letter, I file it away and decide who I should query next. Here's some encouraging insight from other writers on rejection. I promised anonymity to all respondents so I took the liberty of creating new identities for them. Which identity do you best relate to?

"I run to my writer friends for comfort, advice and 'been-there-toos.'" The Seeker

"I framed my first non-form rejection letter. Now I just file the others away." The Sentimentalist

"My best idea is to avoid rejection and take control of my own destiny." The Optimist

"I get to work on rewrites. Nothing lights a fire under my behind more than someone telling me I'm not good enough!" The Fire Marshal

"I used to get really depressed when I got rejected. Now I just shrug and look for someplace else to send the story." The Realist

"I've worked in competitive environments all my life: air personality/operations manager/account manager/radio talk show host, TV sports anchor, etc. Slumps are part of those businesses, and so too are rejections from agents and publishers. You can't dwell on them, you have to learn from them. 'No' is just a word, losing is not a lifestyle." The Coach

"Just got one yesterday that put me in the pits. My guy took me out to dinner and stopped by the candy shop to buy me fudge." The Foodie

"In the spreadsheet I maintain to keep track of which book went where and to whom, I make entries as appropriate, put the correspondence in the trash and go on. Emotional energy is too precious to waste on something you can't change." The Detail Specialist

"If you are referring to that pile of paper in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet pushed into the corner of a back bedroom closet, that's my wall paper collection. I simply find the minimal use of ink on the page breathtaking. It will make perfect wall covering for my bathroom. And for the hallway, I'm going to use the ones with the nice little hand written notes at the bottom. Those will make some great conversation. And when I run out of paper from that pile, I'll pull out the big guns. These are the ones that say "I just love the piece but I'll have to pass." Those will be framed and line the kitchen back splash." The Interior Decorator

"I found that in the process of becoming a serious writer, the rejections didn't mean so much after a while. It became a part of the process. Now when I get a rejection, I send that piece out to the next publisher on the list." The Perseverer

"I tend to over think things. There's no way I can know the reason for the rejection. So I just ignore it and move on. Getting better at the craft is a personal experience. The process of getting published has absolutely nothing to do with the journey of becoming a better writer." The Philosopher

"The way I look at rejection is through a 'lock and key' comparison. A new rejection letter is just a key that doesn't fit my lock. The next agent or publisher might be just the right key, so I don't get discouraged, I just keep searching until I find the right fit." The Locksmith

"I just submitted my first proposal, and though I'm encouraged, I'm prepared for the infamous 'no.' If it's rejected, I'll tweak if/where necessary and send to the next agent/publisher. I'm always up for a challenge." The Fearless

To that last response one writer said, "When your book is finally accepted by a publisher, and is finally in print, and you get a few, or many good reviews, you are going to ask why it was rejected so many times to begin with. There is no answer to that question. I know because I am going through that right now."

I hope you’ve been inspired by these words of wisdom, advice and humor from fellow writers on confronting the “Dreaded R!”

How do you handle rejection?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 25, 2010

For You, Is it Scary To Write a Query?

"The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure."  Sven Goran Erikkson

At a recent writers meeting, someone asked if I'd started submitting my work.  After telling her that I had, she confessed something to me.  Although her book was finished, she was terrified about writing the query letter. This is understandable, but we've got to put the fear behind us, and as Nike says, "just do it!" 

Some agents tell writers not to be intimidated by the query process.  One agent's website even says, "Many writers fear queries, but that shouldn't frighten you off. They're easy!"  Although this is comforting advice (and the site does offer a tutorial), a lot rides on that query!

Nicholas Sparks says, "Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write.  It's the first impression and will either open the door or close it.  It's that important, so don't mess it up.  Mine took seventeen drafts and two weeks to write." WOW!

If you've never written a query, there are lots of great books out there to help, such as The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters and Elana Johnson's From the Query to the Call.  Also, several generous authors provide advice online for free, such as Charlotte Dillon (, Holly Lisle (, and the aforementioned Elana Johnson ( 

Query Shark ( will even review your query and make suggested changes.  Just Googling "sample query letter" will bring up tons of information to get you on your way, as well!

But is there a secret to writing a great query?  A book I read when first learning how said to use bold colorful words.  Since then I've read agent interviews in which agents say, "There's no need to try to wow us with flamboyant words."

As far as the format, one agent might say, "Jump right into the story," while another says, "Starting with the genre and word count is great!"

Writer's Digest featured some standout queries in its October issue.  The query comments made by the agents indicated things such as clean prose, strong conflicts, high stakes, twists, and unique stories. 

Even though most of us think we've shown that in our queries, agents are looking for what sells.  And sometimes, it's the luck of the draw. If your query falls into the hands of someone who absolutely loves your story, and believes in it, then you just might have a chance!

So push the fear aside, write the best query you can, and go for it!

If you've already written a query letter, how long did it take you?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Recipe Friday: Chocolate Decadence

"And above all...Think chocolate!" "Betty Crocker"

I know there are a few people out there who don't like chocolate--but only a few!  The recipe I'm sharing today is for Mint Chocolate Eclair Cake.  Eclair cakes are easy to make, but don't tell anyone that when you serve this one at your next dinner party.  Let your guests think you slaved hours over this elegant dessert just because they're worth it!

Although this cake is very low in fat, it's sinfully delicious and tastes decadently rich. My recipe is adapted from one by nutritionist Lynn Hoggard that appeared several years ago in the Raleigh News and Observer.  I cut the amount of sugar used in the topping by half, to keep the chocolate flavor more intense, as well as to cut back on carbs.

By the way, this is one of my husband's favorite desserts. The first time he tasted it, he said, "Oh, My..."  So now hubby calls this "Oh My, Pie."   

Prep time is minimal, but it does need to sit in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight. So do plan ahead if you want to serve it for company.  Hope you enjoy!

Mint Chocolate Eclair Cake (or Oh My, Pie)

1 (16 ounce) box chocolate graham crackers
2 (3.4 ounce) boxes instant white chocolate pudding mix
2 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 t peppermint extract
3-4 drops green food coloring (optional)
1 (8 ounce) carton fat free whipped topping

6 T cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 cup skim milk
1 t vanilla
1 T low fat margarine

Topping: In a medium saucepan, combine cocoa, sugar, cornstarch and milk. Stir until well combined.  Slowly bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and low fat margarine.  Set aside and let cool. (A quick way to cool is to fill the bottom of a large mixing bowl with ice water and set the pan on top.)

Cake: Line the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan with graham crackers. Break crackers in half if necessary to fit in pan.

In large mixing bowl, combine pudding mix, milk, peppermint extract, and food coloring. Whisk until smooth. Fold in whipped topping.

Pour half mixture over prepared graham crackers. Top with remaining pudding mixture, then another layer of graham crackers. 

Spread topping over top layer of graham crackers. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.

Makes 18 servings.

Have you ever made an eclair cake?

Tweet me @: maria_mckeknzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Freaks: The Ultimate Horror Movie

"Horror movies open the scary frightening world where we are barely in control."
Masterpiece Movie Lines

Freaks is a horror movie from 1932 that not everyone has heard of, and not many have seen. Even by today's standards, it's pretty much over the top, and will probably never be shown as a late night movie--even on cable! (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Halloween is coming and horror movie marathons will be on TV all month long.  Scary movies are nothing new, and  have been around since the silent days starting in 1915 with Golem.  Known as "the first monster movie," Golem was based on the Jewish legend of a solidly built clay man sent to save the ghetto, but once his work is done, he runs wild throughout the village.

Another early classic, considered "the granddaddy of all horror films" is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which pits an evil doctor against a hero incarcerated in an insane asylum.  By the end of the film, the audience is unsure of who's really mad and who's sane.

1922's Nosferatu is the first vampire movie that basically plagiarized the Dracula story.  This version presents an inhumane bloodsucker and is much more frightening than any of its motion picture predecessors.

The three above mentioned films were made in Europe.  But Universal Studios in Hollywood made its share of horror films starring Lon Chaney, including The Phantom of the Opera (1923) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1925).

But in 1931 Universal pushed the envelope a little further by producing Dracula, based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston.  Their work was based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film had no comic relief, nor a  trick ending to lessen the elements of the supernatural, so it was an extremely risky project for a Hollywood studio to undertake. American audiences, they feared, might not be receptive to it.

Because of a major publicity campaign, the film opened to full houses, complete with audience members fainting in shock.  Dracula was a hit!

But just how could Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios jump on the horror movie bandwagon? MGM was the premier studio back in the day, and after the success of Dracula they wanted to create something even "more horrific."

Tod Browning, who'd directed Dracula, was brought to MGM to direct an adaptation of a short story by Tod Robbins called Spurs. The plot is a simple melodrama. A husband finds out his wife wants to kill him so she can run off with his money and her lover. Only this story is set against the backdrop of a circus. The husband is a midget, the wife a Russian acrobat, and her lover, a cruel circus strong man.

The movie was eventually entitled Freaks (remember, there was no political correctness back in the 1930's).  But when conjoined twins, a bearded lady, armless and completely limbless sideshow stars, and many more started arriving on the set, MGM executives started having second thoughts. 

Browning gave each of these performers time on screen to exhibit their unique talents, but when the finished product was screened, the executives were not only shocked, but nauseated by what Browning had filmed. They ordered changes, but even with changes, once released to the public, audiences "freaked out" (sorry, couldn't resist).

The film suffered from so much bad press it had to be pulled from circulation.  Shot in 36 days on a budget of $300,000, it ended up costing Browning his career and caused MGM to lose over $160,000.

To read more about the fate of Freaks and to actually see it, click here:

Have you ever heard of Freaks? Do you think you'll watch it?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Morbid Curiosity or Fascinating Character Study?

"I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect--in terror."  Edgar Allan Poe

It's October and Halloween is right around the corner, so now seems an appropriate time for this post.

Call me sick, call me twisted, but I seem to have a morbid curiosity regarding true crime.  I'm fascinated by what drives people to do such things.  I also find that some great ways to develop fictional bad guys are by reading factual criminal accounts and watching televised reenactments.

A tragic local story has been in the news recently that involves a 17 year old young man who strangled his 10 year old brother.  This is a terribly sad account and I can only imagine what the parents are experiencing, as they've lost two sons.

During the courtroom proceedings (of which the parents were absent) the prosecution, as well as the public, displayed outrage because the young man showed no remorse, and never apologized for what he'd done.  In response, he did make an apology.  But the statement was chilling to hear on the news as the young man read it with the same emotion he'd use to read a book report. 

Although the youth never mentioned his sibling by name, he did say he was sorry for the murder and that he'd never forget how much his little brother meant to him and everyone else. (Really???)  Another unsettling aspect of this apology was that he spoke of how he planned to spend his time in prison (receiving his GED, taking college courses and working toward a degree), and when released, he'd go back to work at the restaurant he'd previously been employed by before the murder.  (Really???)

The prosecution didn't buy the apology, and neither did the public.  The verdict was announced last week.  The young man received life without parole, because he was only 17 when the murder was committed.  What I have since learned, is that he said he did it because he wanted to see what it would feel like to kill someone.  He also mentioned that he'd fantasized about committing murder since age 13.  I was flabbergasted upon hearing this!  What happens in some one's upbringing to make him think of such things?

When I brought the case up to my husband not long ago, he said, "I don't want to talk about it, I can't even think about it!  How can you?"

Perhaps I'm just sick and twisted.  But this case reminds me of another one, that of Leopold and Loeb.  I first became acquainted with this infamous case when I was 16, working at the library during summer break.  One of the reference books kept in the work room was called The Encyclopedia of Murder.  I tried to get to work early everyday so I could read it.  (Okay, pretty twisted, I know.) 

Maybe this is when I realized I had a morbid curiosity about true crime.  I'm not interested in horror movies, and scary books (sorry Stephen King) frighten me too much!  True crime, however, fascinates me.

If you're not familiar with Leopold and Loeb, I've provided a thumbnail summary below.  But to learn more, go here:

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two wealthy University of Chicago college students who murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924.  They were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and this case has inspired works of fiction, film and theater including Rope, a play by Patrick Hamilton, and a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock.

Both men were exceptionally intelligent.  Leopold was 19, and Loeb 18 at the time of the murder, and they believed themselves to be Nietzchean supermen, capable of committing the perfect crime.  "A superman," Leopold had written, "is on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men.  He is not liable for anything he may do."

The duo (residents of Kenwood, a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago at the time) spent seven months planning an elaborate kidnap and murder scheme of a neighbor, and distant relative of Loeb's.  They even planned on a way of receiving ransom money without getting caught.  Money wasn't something they needed, as their families were wealthy and provided them plenty.

The boy was kidnapped, murdered and his body disposed of.  But when the corpse was discovered, also found at the scene was a pair of eyeglasses.  Expensive ones, with a unique hinge mechanism, only purchased by three people in the Chicago area, one of whom was Nathan Leopold.  So much for the perfect crime!

Clarence Darrow was hired by Loeb's family and the trial soon became known as  "The Trial of the Century."  It was later revealed that the men were driven by the "thrill of the kill," as well as to prove that they could commit the perfect crime.

Is it just me, or do you have a morbid curiosity, too?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Recipe Friday: Kickin' Black Bean Dip

"A Cheerful heart is good medicine." Proverbs 17:22a

Black beans are a great source of dietary fiber and help naturally lower cholesterol. I love them and this is one of my favorite recipes!  The first time I had it was at my mother-in-law's. She'd made some and I just had to have the recipe!

The cayenne gives it extra kick, so if you can't take the heat use less, or leave out all together.

This dip is a great appetizer or makes a wonderful snack. I keep a batch in the fridge to munch on with raw veggies. Make some this weekend and enjoy!

Kickin' Black Bean Dip

2 t garlic powder
1 can black beans, drained
2 T olive oil
4 1/2 t fresh lime juice
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cayenne

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor.  Blend or process until smooth. Serve with pita bread or raw vegetables.

Do you have a favorite bean dip?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Direct Your Book

"Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through.  I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul." Henrik Ibsen

Over the weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Ohio Valley Romance Writers (, and the program featured award winning author, playwright and actress, Leanna Renee Hieber (  Be sure to read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, both Gothic Victorian Fantasy Romances by Ms. Hieber, now available from Dorchester Publishing.

Ms. Hieber presented a fantastic workshop entitled, "Direct Your Book: Theatrical Techniques Towards a Blockbuster Book."  As the title suggests, she demonstrates how you can incorporate theater techniques into your writing.

As an author, you are also a:
  • Cinematographer -  By describing the setting, as well as providing the mood and ambiance
  • Director - By setting the stage and establishing pace and viewpoint
  • Actor - By describing your characters, revealing their motivation and intent, and writing their dialogue
  • Marketing Director - By writing your "movie poster quote," your one line pitch, defining your brand and choosing best how to present you and your work.  Gone are the days when the writer could sit at his computer all day in sweats and slippers while a publicist did all the marketing!
Ms. Hieber pointed out some important questions that actors (and authors) must ask of their characters:
  • What is my motivation?
  • How am I going to get what I want? (Intention/tactics)
  • What is the conflict? (or, What's keeping me from getting what I want?)
  • What's my environment and how is it affecting me? (Context)
She emphasized the importance of never forgetting your characters, and that the environment itself is a character.  Think about (the red earth of) Tara in Gone with the Wind, or the cyclone in The Wizard of Oz.  Tara is motivation for Scarlett.  Keeping the plantation from being sold drives her to make decisions hurtful to others, such as tricking her sister's beau into marrying her so his money could pay the property taxes.  The cyclone is dangerous, yet brings Dorothy to a different world where she learns valuable lessons.

Ms. Hieber ended her workshop by touching on some viewpoints expressed by Anne Bogart, author of A Director Prepares.  While writing, consider the following nine elements and ask yourself if you can use any of them for greater dramatic advantage.

1. Spatial Relationship - What's your set up? How close or how far apart are your characters? What position would create the greatest amount of friction between them?
2. Kinesthetic Response - How can you use, for instance, a loud noise, to show a character  flinch, scream or show some other reflexive or gut reaction?
3. Repetition - Repetition creates history. The reader comes back to something he's seen before. Can be used for symbolism or foreshadowing.
4. Floor Pattern/Topography - Blocking to display mood and setting.  For example, when writing about a nervous character pacing, how can you show him moving through that space?
5. Tempo - Pacing, is it fast or slow?
6. Architecture - Physically, what does the space look like in your piece? Describe the environment.
7. Duration - How long does something last?
8. Shape - Bodies have shapes.  What do your characters look like as they sit or walk?
9. Gesture - How do your characters hold their hands? Do they have nervous or happy gestures? Is there any form of nonverbal communication between any of your characters?

Ms. Heiber recommends  A Director Prepares, as well as the following books to open up your writing and general artistic process:
Playing Shakespeare by John Barton
Audition by Michael Shurtleff

I can't say enough good things about the workshop! It was an afternoon well spent and I took away some valuable writing advice.  Hope what I've shared will be useful to you!

Have you ever realized that theater techniques could translate into writing a better novel?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Before "Twilight," There Was "Dark Shadows"

"Of course a woman is going to kill me. I wouldn't have it any other way!" Quentin Collins, Dark Shadows

I'm guest blogging today with Casey Crow, author of sexy, southern, sassy romance.  Visit her at  A big fan of One Life to Live and General Hospital, she wrote a blog post not long ago (9/20/10) entitled  "Inspiration from Soaps."  Today, I'm stealing her idea--and I hope she doesn't mind!

Just for fun, I'm asking, who is (or was) your biggest soap star crush?  All through grade school, high school and college, I watched The Edge of Night and All My Children.  But once I started working full time, prior to VCRs, I lost track of all the characters and plot lines.

Regardless, I still remember my crushes, but my biggest one appeared on a soap discontinued long, long ago.  At age seven, I fell madly in love with actor David Selby, who played bad boy Quentin Collins on the paranormal soap Dark Shadows.  Quentin was the werewolf cousin of good guy vampire Barnabas Collins.

Dark Shadows was a Gothic soap that aired from 1966-1971.  It revolved around the wealthy Collins family of Collinsport, Maine, and the strange occurrences that tormented them. Unprecedented for its time as a daytime program, Dark Shadows introduced ghosts, vampires, witches, zombies, warlocks and time travel into its story lines.  Sounds more like a soap for today rather than 40 years ago.  My sister and I loved the show, and every day after school we couldn't wait to see it! 

When I was 6, I must have fled from the room terrified on several occasions while watching Dark Shadows, and my mother even threatened (more than once) that she wouldn't allow me to watch it if it continued to frighten me.  I remember one particularly unsettling episode when a portrait aged, and then the character herself, beautiful Angelique, aged as well.  When she revealed her wrinkled appearance by removing a hood from her face, I was scared to death and up off the couch running! Somehow, I managed not to let my mother make good on her threat, and thank goodness for that, because Quentin wasn't introduced until I was seven!

Once I dreamed that Quentin kissed my cheek (a true seven year old girl's fantasy), and was thrilled the next morning because it seemed so real! Well, Dark Shadows finally ended in the early '70s, but I must say, my heart went KABOOM when, as a young woman years later in 1982, I saw David Selby on Falcon Crest!

For me, Twilight's Edward Cullen pales in comparison to heart throb Quentin Collins! But enough about my crush, who's yours?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Recipe Friday: Red Beans and Rice

"Red beans and ricely yours." (Louis Armstrong signed his correspondence this way)

Satchmo was a native of New Orleans, and apparently the native specialty of red beans and rice was one of his favorites!  This easy meal is a staple in South Louisiana, although now it's enjoyed all over the country as an American tradition. 

This low fat version takes just minutes to prep, and about an hour to simmer on the stove.  Make it this weekend so you won't have to spend that much time in the kitchen! 

If you prefer not to go vegetarian, slice up a pound of smoked sausage and add with remaining ingredients.  Enjoy!

Easy/Low Fat Red Beans and Rice

2 large onions, diced
4 15 ounce cans kidney beans (drained)
4 t garlic powder
2 stalks celery chopped
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t pepper
1 cup tomato juice
1 t dried parsley
1 t salt

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan; stir to mix well.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low. Simmer for one hour covered.  Serve over rice.  Makes 8 servings.

Do you have a favorite recipe for red beans and rice?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can't Find an Answer? Call an Expert

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" Albert Einstein

I was a librarian for several years, and working at the reference desk was one of my favorite jobs! I love doing research, I love history and I love finding answers.  My first two novels are historical and I enjoyed doing every bit of research. 

But lots of people don't like it at all.  I've spoken to paranormal writers who've said that part of the fun of creating make believe worlds is establishing your own rules so you don't have to do any research!

My third novel is a contemporary.  That's not to say, however, that I'll never write another historical!  But research can be time consuming.  In the October, 2010 issue of Romance Writers Report (the national publication of Romance Writers of America), I've written an article providing tips on research, specifically, tips on how to best find an expert when you run into brick wall trying to find an elusive answer to a tough question.  (If you're not a member of RWA, see the complete article below).  

Although the Internet is a great source of information, as is a stack of books from your local public library, there's nothing like going directly to a human source.  Librarians often do this when they've exhausted all print and online resources available to answer difficult reference questions.  And as writers, we can too!  After all, we have a novel to write, not a research paper, and time is valuable.

In my first novel, I needed information on US currency and coins in 1856.  My husband, who collects coins as a hobby, gave me a numismatics book he owned to help me.  After searching through it for a good two hours, I had nothing to show for my effort except a bunch of wasted time!  I looked on the back cover and saw the author's picture and bio.  This numismatics expert was employed by the Smithsonian.  So after finding the museum's phone number on the Internet, I called and was connected directly to him.  He was glad to assist me and answered all my questions!

So when you hit that brick wall, stop wasting time! Pick up that phone and call an expert to help so you can get back to writing!

Do you like research?

Tweet me at maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by, and hope you find my article below helpful!

Research: Utilizing Human Resources

Sometimes a piece of information can be so elusive, it’s not worth finding. And unless it’s needed to move your story along, you can leave it out all together. As Todd Stone says in his Novelist’s Boot Camp, “carefully manage the time you spend researching: You have a writing mission—not a research mission—to accomplish!”

But some facts are necessary for a plausible scenario, and as writers we want to be accurate with our information, so we won’t look ignorant to our readers.

With the Internet at our fingertips, all of us can easily access information in seconds. But what about more complex facts? With a longer amount of time, the Internet can usually provide needed answers. And people we know can often be a direct source for information. None of us hesitates to call the family member or friend who’s a social worker, teacher, police officer, etc., to help us get our facts straight when writing a novel.

However, there are those times when you can’t track down an answer at all, and before you know it, you’ve wasted hours looking for something that you thought would be relatively easy to find. So what should you do after you’ve looked in all available print and online resources, and don’t know anyone personally that can help?

One option is to call your local public library. Sometimes a librarian will give you answers that aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, but the information is close enough. Robert Masello, in his Robert’s Rules of Writing, says, “In fiction veracity is nice…but believability is all that you’re really required to provide and all that your audience has a right to expect.”

But there are those times when the librarian will exhaust all print and online resources and run into a dead end. At this point, the librarian will call an expert. As writers, we can just as easily do this ourselves, instead of using the librarian as “middleman.”

Just tell your selected source you’re a writer doing research on (fill in the blank), and ask if he/she has a moment to help you, then proceed with your line of questioning. This is more beneficial for a writer because you can ask your own questions, as well as bounce ideas off your expert to ensure that they make sense. And if you’re unsure of how to make a scene work, pick your expert’s brain about it! He’ll be glad to suggest some realistic solutions.

Most likely, any expert will be glad to speak to you. Leigh Michaels says in her On Writing Romance, “Most people are flattered by requests for information and eager to help, especially when you say you’re asking because you want to portray their profession or experience accurately.”

Calling a complete stranger to ask for help with research can seem intimidating. But just remember, whoever you’re calling will say one of two things: yes or no. More often than not, it’ll be yes. People love to be used constructively, and most are enthusiastic about giving information to a writer. But if someone does say no, move on. There’s always a willing individual somewhere out there to help you.

When calling, if at all possible, avoid leaving a voicemail. It’s more effective, when making initial contact, to actually speak to your source. That makes a personal impression. An impersonal voicemail might be deleted. And be prepared. Have your questions written prior to your call. Time is money. You don’t want to waste someone else’s while you draw a blank trying to remember everything you need to ask.

You might be asking yourself, how will I know who to call? Depending on what type of information you need, sometimes you won’t know until you start looking. The Internet is a great place to start. Google keywords to find an organization or association, preferably with a local chapter, that can help. But if you strike out this way, don’t hesitate to call your local public library.

The public library can give you contact information from directories like the Encyclopedia of Associations, a standard reference source. And don’t forget about all the great contacts in your local RWA chapters and those in RWA special interest chapters. Lots of writers are or used to be nurses, architects, computer programmers, corporate executives, and the list goes on!

Here are a few tips to get you started when seeking experts in:

Medicine/Medical information: Call a medical library. Medical libraries are located in hospitals and medical schools. If not completely satisfied with the information the librarian provides, ask if she can refer you to a medical expert. Remember, librarians are experts in finding answers, not necessarily explaining them in depth. A fire station is also a possible place for medical information. In some jurisdictions, fire fighters are required to be emergency medical technicians, and after one year they can request further training to become paramedics. You can also try calling your doctor’s office. Most offices have an on call nurse. But if you do this, tell the nurse immediately that you’re doing research, then ask if she has time and is willing to talk to you.

Law/Legal Information: Contact the legal library of your county courthouse, or a law school library. Some law librarians have law degrees, some don’t; it’s not a requirement. But if necessary, ask the librarian if she can recommend a legal professional who can to talk to you.

Law Enforcement: Go directly to a police station. As long as there’s not an emergency, a police officer on duty will be available to help, or refer you to someone who can.

Fires/Fire Safety: Go directly to a firehouse. As mentioned above, if there’s not an emergency, the firemen will be happy to talk to you.

Military: Veterans, and those who are currently serving in some capacity, are all around us. But if you have no family, friends, friends of friends, work contacts, church family or gym acquaintances, go to the phone book. Look in the US Government listing under “Recruiting.” There are numbers listed for the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy. Most likely, the recruiting office can direct you to someone who can help.

FBI/CIA: Call around to some local academic (college) libraries. See if any faculty are retired FBI or CIA and ask if they’d be willing to help you with research. Or, call those agencies directly and see if they can put you in touch with someone to assist you.

Art and History: Many art museums and local history museums have librarians and historians on staff available to help the public.

Science: Call academic libraries to see if they can recommend faculty members in the field of science you’re researching. If you have a local science museum, that’s also a good place to seek out an expert. For art, history and science, never hesitate to call the Smithsonian if necessary!

In closing, remember the benefits of communication the old fashioned way through talking! Your research thrives when you utilize human resources because:

• Experts are willing to help!
• Experts love talking about what they do and want to see their professions accurately portrayed in print.
• You can bounce your ideas off an expert to make sure those ideas make sense. If they don’t, your source can help you formulate a realistic scenario.
• You don’t want to waste time! If a fact is important, but elusive, and you’ve spent too much time looking—pick up the phone so you can get back to writing!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ignite an Explosive Conflict

"For success, the author must make the reader care about the destiny of the principals, and sustain this anxiety, or suspense, for about 100,000 words."  Ken Follett

Tension, anxiety and suspense keep those pages turning, because the worried reader is eager to see what happens next!  Happy characters with no obstacles make for a boring narrative.  It's conflict that drives the story, so constantly think of ways to build the tension and keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat!

Readers want to root for the hero and heroine, see them win against the odds, and overcome the struggles they must face all the way through to the end of the novel. 

I'm in the process of rewriting of a particular scene, but I'm struggling to find a way to create more conflict in it.  Throughout the chapter, there's lots tension.  But in the part I'm reworking, it's late at night and my hero (a young abolitionist in 1856) has to sneak into the home of  his uncle (a slave owner) to steal some supplies to aid in the escape of the slave he loves.

The hero's love interest has almost died from a flogging before the hero goes to the house.  And after the hero leaves the house, he has a confrontation with the drunken overseer who inflicted the injuries upon his beloved.  But what can happen at the house? 

Although everyone is asleep, should the hero encounter someone while he's sneaking around?  His uncle disapproves of floggings, but was away all day, unaware of what had happened until his return.  The hero's aunt, a lash happy woman, is responsible for the punishment administered to the slave girl.  The cousin, a spoiled teen aged female, had seen the hero earlier with the girl and spilled the beans to her mother about their clandestine meetings.

If the hero runs into any of them, it will ignite an explosive conflict.  I just need to decide who, if anyone, it'll be.  Or perhaps I'll just have him drop something that makes a loud noise, or hide if he hears footsteps.  Decision, decisions.  Right now nothing happens and the scene is too convenient, yawn...

What do you think?  Should he encounter someone, accidentally drop something, or hide if he hears footsteps?  Conflict makes storytelling such great fun!

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!   

Friday, October 1, 2010

Recipe Friday: Easy Chinese Chicken

"There are more Chinese restaurants in this country than McDonald's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken combined."  Fortune Cookie Chronicles Blog (

Who doesn't love Chinese food?  Jennifer 8. Lee traveled the globe in search of the world's greatest Chinese food.  She wrote about her adventures in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.  While eating her way across the U.S., she explained that Chinese restaurants cater to the tastes of their surrounding neighborhoods. 

This explained to me why I've seen pork chops, fried chicken and banana pudding on menus at Chinese restaurants in the South.  But one time in North Carolina, because of the language barrier, a customer at a dine-in establishment couldn't make the waiter understand that he wanted his meal served with the meat and "gravy" on top of the rice instead of in separate serving dishes.

Now, I ask, who doesn't love Chinese food?  My kids do--as long as it's from a restaurant, they informed me recently.  Regardless of how they feel, this is a wonderful recipe that's quick, easy and delicious.  It's adapted from Ling Yu's Spiced Roast Chicken found in her Cooking the Chinese Way, a cookbook for kids.

Easy Chinese Chicken

3 lbs. chicken thighs
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 t garlic powder
1 t pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1 T vegetable oil

Place chicken in a Pyrex baking dish, set aside.  Mix remaining ingredients.  Pour over chicken, then rub into poultry using hands.  Let sit at least two hours in refrigerator.  Bake uncovered for 90 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serves 4.

What's your favorite Chinese food?

Tweet me at maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!