Monday, December 22, 2014

Off For Christmas

Is Christmas really only three days away? Every year it seems to slip up on me faster! I'll be taking time off from blogging to get ready for the big day and big year ahead, but I'll be back January 5. Merry Christmas to and Happy New Year to you and yours!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chicken Soup

"And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for a funeral either." John Steinbeck, East of Eden

One of the best comfort foods around is chicken soup! Not only does it taste good, but it's good for you, just like Grandma said!

According to Natural News, research shows that chicken soup helps break up congestion and eases the flow of nasal secretions.  It also inhibits white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and the production of phlegm.

Chicken contains cysteine (an amino acid that's released when you make soup) and this thins mucus in the lungs which aids in the healing process.

When combined with nutrient rich vegetables, homemade chicken soup definitely helps heal those suffering from colds and colds flu!

Nothing hits the spot on a cold winter evening like a bowl of home made chicken soup, and today I'm sharing my all time favorite recipe, adapted from one in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Unfortunately, lots of cutting and chopping is involved. Listen to an audio book to keep yourself entertained, and consider this a labor of love since it's so healthy for your family!

Chicken Soup

1 whole fryer chicken
3-4 quarts chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled and chopped roughly
3 celery ribs, chopped roughly
3 onions, chopped roughly
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped roughly
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped roughly
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 t garlic powder
2 t onion powder
1 1/2 t dried dill

Place chicken in a very large pot.  Cover with broth.  Bring to  boil and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.  Add seasonings and chopped vegetables.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken and vegetables from soup.  Puree vegetables and return to soup.  Remove skin and bones from chicken and chop. Return chicken to soup. Makes 8 servings.

Does your family have a chicken soup recipe that's been past down from generation to generation? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 1/28/11.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Christmas Cult Classic

It's December! Time to sit back and enjoy some classic Christmas movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

I never realized there were Christmas cult classic films, until a few years ago when someone gave my kids a collection of Christmas movies. The motion pictures included were not well known, to say the least, but all were good for a laugh. 

The strangest--and corniest--was Santa Clause Conquers the Martians.  It's a 1964 science-fiction movie that regularly receives the honor of being listed as one of the worst films ever made. A featured player is ten-year-old Pia Zadora.

Here's a part of the plot from Wikipedia:

The story involves the people of Mars, including Momar ("Mom Martian") and Kimar ("King Martian"). They're worried that their children Girmar ("Girl Martian") and Bomar ("Boy Martian") are watching too much Earth television, most notably station KID-TV's interview with Santa Claus in his workshop at the North Pole. Consulting the ancient 800-year-old Martian sage Chochem (a Yiddish word meaning "genius"), they are advised that the children of Mars are growing distracted due to the society's overly rigid structure; from infancy, all their education is fed into their brains through machines and they are not allowed individuality or freedom of thought.

Chochem notes that he had seen this coming "for centuries", and says the only way to help the children is to allow them their freedom and be allowed to have fun. To do this, they need a Santa Claus figure, like on Earth. Leaving the Chochem's cave, the Martian leaders decide to abduct Santa Claus from Earth and bring him to Mars. As the Martians could not distinguish between all the fake Santas, they kidnapped two children to find the real one. Once this is accomplished, one Martian, Voldar, who strongly disagrees with the idea, repeatedly tries to kill Santa Claus along with the two kidnapped Earth children. He believes that Santa is corrupting the children of Mars and turning them away from the race's original glory.

It goes on, but you can tell from this that it's pretty bad, very funny, and not your average Christmas movie! Do you have any Christmas cult classics you'd like to share?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Memorable Movie Dialogue

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca
"Play it, Sam..."
"The stuff that dreams are made of." Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, 1941

Dream weaving, illusion and great stories make wonderful motion pictures. But what makes a line of movie dialogue, or even just a single word, timeless and unforgettable? What makes it so memorable that it's often quoted in real life, other movies, television and even kids' cartoons?

Perhaps it's spoken during a suspenseful situation, or in a scene where love has gone wrong. Maybe it's exclaimed in the thick of danger, or during the thrill of excitement, or in the midst of a conflict about to
Lauren Bacall as Slim Browning in To Have and Have Not
explode. It could be line akin to a sigh of relief, spoken at the very end, when all problems are resolved.

With a skilled screenwriter and an awesome story, all of these elements can create exciting dialogue and at least one immortal line that leaves the audience saying, "I loved it when he said...", "Remember when she said...", or "I can't believe that's what______ meant!"

Here are 10 of my favorites, in chronological order.

1. "Wait a minute, wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" Al Jolson as Jackie Rabinowitz in The Jazz Singer, 1927
2. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, 1939
3. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, 1939
4. "Rosebud." Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane, 1941
5. "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, 1942
6. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." Lauren Bacall as Marie "Slim" Browning in To Have and Have Not, 1944
7. "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" Alfonso Bedoya as "Gold Hat" in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948
8. "Stella! Hey, Stella!" Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in On the Waterfront, 1951
9. "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, 1954
10. "Say 'hello' to my little friend!" Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface, 1983

What are some of your favorite movie lines? And in your opinion, what makes them so memorable?

Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! I'm taking the day off from blogging to prepare for the upcoming festivities! Will be back on Monday, December 1st.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

In life, as in writing, it's important to see humor in even serious situations. In literature, humor eases the stress level in tension filled scenes to give the reader a chance to catch his breath.

American Heritage Dictionary defines comic relief as follows: n. A humorous or farcical interlude in a serious literary work or drama, especially a tragedy intended to relieve the dramatic tension or heighten the emotional impact by means of contrast.

Wikipedia says, "William Shakespeare deviated from the classical tradition and used comic relief in Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet. The Porter scene in Macbeth, the grave-digger scene in Hamlet and the gulling of Roderigo provide immense comic relief... In popular culture, the character of C-3PO, featured in all six Star Wars films, is also considered to be used as comic relief. He is often found criticizing the desperate situation the other characters find themselves in, or being rescued from predicaments by his counterpart R2-D2."

In real life a good laugh is important, too. According to's page on Stress Management:
  • Laughter gives us a physical and emotional release
  • Good belly laughs work out the diaphragm, contract the abs, and exercise the shoulders
  • Laughter takes away focus from negative emotions like anger, guilt, or stress in a more positive way than an ordinary distraction.
To learn more about the health benefits of laughter, click here!

Here's my prescription for a happy, stress free life: Smile, laugh, hug often--oh, and read some good books with lots of comic relief! What's yours?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing Bad Guys

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in The Avengers
"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!"  William Shakespeare (Hamlet, I, v, 106)

There's never a dull moment with a bad guy--or a bad girl.  Let's face it, creating fictional villains is just downright fun!  I, personally, hate confrontation, and the last thing I'd ever want to do is hurt some one's feelings.  Perhaps writing about a mean person is cathartic for me.  I've been told I do it well.  Not quite sure how to take that.  But whatever the case, it's rather exciting to write dialogue I'd actually never say, and write about nasty, villainous deeds I could never imagine being done in real life--until I see them reenacted on America's Most Wanted.      

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch
of the West in The Wizard of Oz
Villains break all the rules of decency and morality and don't care.  Lying/cheating/stealing is their MO, and political correctness doesn't exist in their world.  Heroes don't make derogatory comments regarding race or sex, but with a villain, why not?  Our heroes don't smoke, and if they drink, they're merely social drinkers.  Villainous women can be portrayed promiscuous to the point of nymphomania.  And a bad man isn't into real relationships, because he's too busy using and discarding women.
Our heroes can be flawed individuals who have overcome some of the same demons our villains don't see as demons.  Perhaps a hero is a recovering alcoholic, recently quit smoking and still struggles, or maybe was a womanizer at one time, but no more--since finding "the one."

As the hero is flawed, the villain must to be humanized.  Through back story, he or she must be seen as a person first, not a monster.  Otherwise, that character will just come off looking like a cartoon bad guy.  Reading bios of notorious criminals can help develop a believable villain.

Depending on the circumstances that molded this individual's psyche, the reading audience might feel a little sympathy (because his mother died when he was an infant, he lacked a mother's love), or make them hate him even more (because he was bitten by a dog as a child, one of his hobbies as an adult is running over dogs with his car).

How will you have fun creating your next villain, or making your current one even scarier?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creating a Villain's Villainy

Anthony Hopkins as Villain Hannibal Lecter
Sorry my post is a day late. Life gets in the way sometimes!

"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

Not long ago, I attended a fabulous all day workshop presented by authors Laura Baker and Robin L. PeriniDiscovering 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.

Gene Hackman as Villain Lex Luthor
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?

Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

Reprinted from 11/15/10.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Easy Pork Roast with Gravy

Here's something kid tested by my kids, and mother approved by me! It's also really easy to prepare and cooks in the crock pot. This recipe comes from Reader's Digest, and they suggest serving it with mashed white potatoes. Rice works well, too. Enjoy!

Pork Roast with Gravy

1 boneless whole pork loin, 3-4 lbs.
1 can chicken broth
1 cup julienned sweet red pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1T brown sugar
2 t Italian seasoning
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 t cornstarch
2 t cold water

Cut roast in half, transfer to 5 qt. slow cooker.  In small bowl, combine broth, red pepper, onion, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and seasonings.  Pour over pork.  Cover and cook on low 3-4 hours, or until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees and meat is tender.

For gravy, strain cooking juices and skim fat.  Pour 1 cup into small saucepan. Combine corn starch and water until smooth.  Stir into cooking juices. Bring to a boil, cook and stir two minutes or until thickened.

Do you have a favorite pork roast recipe that your mom used to make? Thanks for visiting, and have a wonderful week!

Reprinted from 4/15/11.

Monday, October 20, 2014

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? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 12/27/10

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's the Story Behind Your Name?

Sultry Kristen Stewart as Isabella in Twilight
"Words have meaning and names have power."  Unknown

Unless we choose a stage name or pseudonym, or legally change our names, we're stuck with the monikers given to us by our parents for life.  Some parents put a lot of time and consideration into this by scouring baby name books.

While some future moms and dads want a name that's pleasing to the ear, others may choose one for its strong symbolic meaning, as well, for example, Gerald: mighty with the spear.  A name chosen for a baby could be one passed from generation to generation, or perhaps taken from the Bible.  Historical heroes and heroines can be popular name choices, too.

But not everyone puts that much thought into the naming process.  A friend of mine from college said that when she was born, her father asked two nurses what their names were.  One was Karen, the other Sue.  So my friend was named Karen Sue!  That was easy.

Beautiful Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story
Lots of name choices are influenced by popular culture.  During the Depression, many little girls were named Shirley, after child movie star Shirley Temple.  I know someone who was spared that fate when her father insisted she be named Carmen!  She's ever thankful for his intervention and loves the more exotic and mysterious name chosen for her instead.

The girl name Madison was inspired by the 1984 movie Splash.  Nowadays, Isabella is one of the most popular girl names because of the books and films in the Twilight series.   I read an article not long ago about popular baby names inspired by films and found myself sneering.  "It's amazing how many parents name their kids after characters in movies," I thought condescendingly.  But then I had to scold myself.

Ever heard of West Side Story?  My mom was pregnant with me when she saw it.  My name would've been Carol, but after hearing the song "Maria," you can figure out the rest of the story.  I, along with probably hundreds of thousands of other little girls in the U.S. (of non-Hispanic origin), was named Maria, back in...well, it was a long time ago.

Although a name is a serious thing, once in a while, you hear some that sound as though they were chosen on a whim.  Several years ago, my husband overheard a conversation in the grocery store between two women.  One was quite excited because she'd found the perfect name for her soon to be born daughter.  "Formica Dinette!" She exclaimed happily to her friend.  "I saw it in the Sears Catalog!"  For the child's sake, I hope someone talked her out of that!

What's the story behind your name? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 9/29/10.

Monday, October 6, 2014

He Says, She Says

Men and women are different--especially where communication is concerned! Ever struggle with gender specific dialogue in your fiction writing? Hope these tips will help!

Men are more direct and brusque in tone. They use simpler vocabulary with fewer modifiers, and are likely to use one word responses and shorter sentences.  Instead of talking about people and feelings, they’d rather talk about things.  

Women, however, love talking about people and relationships.  Their language is softer, and they’re more likely to talk around a subject.  “I’m not too happy about this,” she might say, while he says, “I’m mad as hell!”  Women express themselves in complete sentences, and want to share their feelings.

Today, I thought I'd pass this article along from the website Your Tango, written by Richard Drobnick of The Mars and Venus Counseling Center. It provides some information to keep in mind when writing dialogue from the perspective of the opposite sex.

He believes communication should have a clear purpose. Behind every conversation is a problem that needs solving or a point that needs to be made.

She uses communication to discover how she is feeling and what it is she wants to say. She sees conversation as an act of sharing and an opportunity to increase intimacy with her partner.

He prioritizes productivity and efficiency in his daily life, and conversation is no exception. When he tells a story he has already sorted through the muck in his own head, and shares only those details that he deems essential to the point of the story. He might wonder, "Why do women need to talk as much as they do?" Often he will interrupt a woman once he has heard enough to offer a solution.

She uses communication to explore and organize her thoughts — to discover the point of the story. She may not know what information is necessary or excessive until the words come spilling out. But a woman isn't necessarily searching for a solution when she initiates a conversation. She's looking for someone to listen and understand what she's feeling.

Do you have any tips to make dialogue sound more feminine or masculine?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Reprinted from 2/15/13.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Librarian of Mystery

No one ever thinks of a librarian as having an exciting life or harboring a scandalous secret.  However, not long ago I stumbled upon a very fascinating librarian that I'd never heard of.

Belle da Costa Green's life (1883-1950) is chronicled in Heidi Ardizzone's book An Illuminated Life: Journey from Prejudice to Privilege.  What did da Costa Greene have to give up in order to achieve the dream of a lifetime?  

This sensational woman lit up New York society while working as J.P. Morgan's personal librarian, all the while, hiding a past that would have prevented her success. In 1905, J. P. Morgan hired Belle da Costa Greene to organize his rare book and manuscript collection.  At this time, she only had a few years of experience to recommend her, along with a dynamic personality.

Ten years later, she had shaped the famous Pierpont Morgan Library collection.  She'd also become a proto-celebrity in New York and the art world, renowned for her self-made expertise, acerbic wit, and flirtatious relationships.

She has been described as a sensual and beautiful woman, known for her exotic look  and designer wardrobe.  She once said, "Just because I am a librarian, doesn't mean I have to dress like one."

Here's her secret:  Greene was born into a family African Americans.  To cover this up, she changed her name and created a Portuguese grandmother to gain entry into white society. By entering a new world, she dined at the tables of high society, as well as those of bohemian artists and activists.

J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will.  Nowadays that would be around $800,000!  When asked if she was Morgan's mistress, she is said to have replied, "We tried!"

Da Costa Green never married, but had a long lasting romantic relationship with the Renaissance Italian art expert Bernard Berenson.

Fascinating story, fascinating librarian! For more insight on her, click here.

Had you ever heard of Belle da Costa Green? And by the way, do you know of any fascinating, mysterious librarians?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 7/16/12.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Suzie's Sloppy Joes

I love Sloppy Joes, and this particular recipe is for the crock pot.  Slow cooked and luscious, this dish, also known as a loose-meat sandwich, is sure to please the pickiest eaters!

After visiting the famous Sloppy Joes bar in Key West Florida, I assumed that that's where the name for the sandwich was born. Turns out, it's hard to pinpoint the exact origin.  According to Kerry's Island Kitchen, its history is full of contradictions.

The owners of a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, where the lose meat sandwich is popular, claim that they had a cook once named Joe, and  the sloppy sandwich was named after him.  And of course, Sloppy Joe’s in Florida says they coined the name.

What's in a name? Taste is what's important, and I can't wait until you taste these! Throw some together this weekend and enjoy!

By the way, I don't know who Suzie is, but this recipe comes from a great book purchase I made at the dollar store called Easy Home Cooking All New Slow Cooker.

Suzie's Sloppy Joes 

3 lbs lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups ketchup
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
5 T Worcestershire sauce
4 T brown sugar
3 T perpared mustard
3 T vinegar
2 t chili powder
Hamburger buns

Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic in small saucepan. Drain fat.

Combine ketchup, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar and chili powder in slow cooker. Stir in beef mixture. Cover and cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours. Spoon onto burger buns. Makes 8-10 servings.

I didn't know there were so many names for "the loose-meat sandwich" until I did a little research today.  For instance, in southern Illinois, it's called a Yip Yip, in Nebraska, a Yum Yum and in Northern Pennsylvania, a Wimpie.What are Sloppy Joes called where you live?

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Reprinted from February 4, 2011.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

Not long after our conversation, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from September 10, 2012.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Writing Right

Stephen King is extraordinary, a master storyteller. Back around 1986, I read my first Stephen King book, Pet Sematary, a gripping novel that kept me up late at night turning pages. When I'd force myself to go to sleep, I kept the lights on. Even after I finished reading it, I slept with the lights on for two weeks afterward.

Well, I'm glad to report that over 20 years later, I'm finally reading my second Stephen King book! One that won't scare the living daylights out of me, but will allow me to sleep with the lights out. Today I started King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Although his horror novels scare me too much to read, he is a true master of the craft and I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.

In his Second Foreword, King states that his book is short because "most books about writing are filled with bull****." He notes that one "notable exception to the bull**** rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." He goes on to say that there is little or no detectable bull**** in that book.

After reading Mr. King's statement about books on writing, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites--and they're short with no detectable waste products:

The Elements of Style is a must read for anyone who's serious about writing. Before even starting a novel, read and re-read Chapter 5: An Approach to Style. It'll save you from many common mistakes of first time authors.

On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michaels is an excellent writer's resource. Even if you're not a romance writer, Ms. Michaels offers helpful advice that can apply to all genres. In the appendices, she includes helpful information on crafting query letters, synopses, and cover letters.

Robert's Rules of Writing101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello provides useful instruction pertaining to novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoirs, periodical articles, and non-fiction. Each rule (ranging from 1-3 pages) is jam packed with excellent advice that will improve your work--and leave you feeling like you can write anything!

What are some of your favorite books on the writing craft?

Reprinted from April 15, 2010. I have since completed the book and I highly recommend!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Anne Lamott: Avoiding Perfectionism

Anne Lamott
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life...I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

"It doesn't have to be perfect..."
All non-perfectionists can now breathe a sigh of relief! Don't you love Ms. Lamott's wise words on avoiding it?

In her wonderful book on writing she shows us that perfectionism is detrimental, because when striving for it in our manuscripts, we try not to leave too much of a mess to clean up.  But she points out that the clutter we leave behind can hide precious treasures that we'll discover later. And those treasures can be put to good use by providing more material to work with once we go back to revise and edit.

Being too tidy, according to Ms. Lamott, suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. In a previous post here, not looking back when writing a manuscript was discussed.

The important thing is to finish.  Plow ahead, make a mess! Don't worry about every little detail or whether or not it's polished enough.  That comes later, at revision time.

Have fun with that first draft; avoiding perfectionism allows a really great story to unfold!  Do you struggle with perfectionism? Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

Reprinted from March 28, 2011

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inside the Mind of a Murderer

"Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life." Daniel Webster

I recently read an excerpt from Michael Capuzzo's new book, The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases. The section I read (featured in the August 2010 issue of Reader's Digest) focused on a woman who murdered her live-in boyfriend after finding out he'd found a "decent girl" to bring home to mom and dad.

I thought the information provided would be useful to anyone developing a character who just happens to be a murderer.

The victim, 24 year old ladies man Scott Dunn, had moved from his well to do home in Philadelphia, to a small West Texas town in hopes of turning his troubled life around. But his real troubles began upon meeting waitress Leisha Hamilton.

A year after Scott's murder, his father, James Dunn, was put in contact with Profiler Richard Walter. By this time the unsolved murder had become a cold case.

Dunn explained the first time he heard from Leisha. She'd found his name on a phone bill and thought he needed to be contacted because Scott had been missing for four days and she was concerned. Dunn had never heard about her. The only girl Dunn knew anything about was Scott's soon to be fiance, Jessica. Leisha claimed Scott had vanished without a trace, only leaving behind his car. And she hinted in subsequent conversations that since she was closest to Scott, she should get his car. Hmm...

Leisha Hamilton
Dunn had recorded Leisha's cold, atonal voice, and played it for Walter, saying he'd never heard anything like it. After Scott's disappearance, police regarded it as a missing person's case. Dunn pushed for a luminol test in Scott and Leisha's apartment. Luminol detects blood as diluted at one part per million. Even after rigorous cleaning, when the chemical is sprayed on walls in darkness, they'll glow blue for 30 seconds. The walls in the apartment glowed blue like they'd been spray painted. DNA tests confirmed the blood as Scott's.

According to Profiler Walter, "the careful cleanup speaks to an elaborate plot. The murder was purposeful, not recreational." Recreational is choosing a random victim for sadistic pleasure. But a carefully organized crime, cleanup, and body disposal indicate a power assertive, or PA killer. "The killing is all about power--incapture, restrain, torture, kill, throw away, 'I win, you lose' kind of power."

Upon examining Leisha's personality, Walter found her very bright, sexy, flippant and manipulative. She had a long list of lovers, husbands, and one night stands, as well as five children--all by different fathers. She claimed only to love the ones conceived in love. Hmm...

The end for Scott came the day Jessica called and Leisha answered the phone. Walter says, "If anything is going to get you killed, it's to reject the psychopath and say, 'I'm better than you are.'"

Before Scott disappeared, he was seen sick, leaving a party with Leisha. Walter believes at that point, Scott was poisoned. He speculates that Leisha then called on neighbor Tim Smith to help murder Scott. Smith had sent Leisha fawning love letters saying that if Scott weren't around, they could be together.

Walter says this is classic setup for a female PA killer. She'll enlist trickery to disable a stronger male and/or acquire a sympathetic and weak accomplice.

But calling attention to herself was Leisha's biggest mistake. She called Scott's father. She also played the coquette with detectives on the case calling them with new information and pretending to be afraid of Smith. But she moved in with Smith in order to set him up to take the fall. Walter says, "The need for stimulation is quite insatiable for a psychopath, the ego gratification to prove they're smarter than anyone, the gotcha."

In a later meeting with Leisha, Walter says, "I've noticed you seem to have a great ability to attract men...But for the life of me, I can't figure out what they see in you. Can you explain it for me?" After a startled silence, she smiled and said awkwardly, "Well, I don't know," then excused herself to get back to work.

When a detective with Walter asked why he called her a dog, he said, "Leisha thinks she is smart enough to outwit everybody. What we must do is make her feel insignificant--unimportant. This will drive her crazy, and she may well make a mistake."

Walter later received from a detective a pencil sketch by Leisha of the murder scene. The drawing had been given to the detective by an ex-boyfriend she took up with after Scott. The drawing documented the torture of Scott Dunn. It indicated that she'd chained him to a pallet. At the bottom of the picture was a key depicting handcuffs, a needle, a knife and a gun. Also shown were fists and a blunt instrument.

"This is classic," Walter said. "She drew this to memorialize her achievement." She'd also made other dramatic changes classic to post murder behavior. Walter says killers use murder to to stimulate personal growth. "It was a very dark self-help movement--'I'm Okay, You're Dead." Since the murder, she'd moved on to two more boyfriends and had a child by the last one. She'd also gone to nursing school, while continuing to work as a waitress, and graduated at the top of her class.

Walter says,"If you're accused of being a murderess, how do you cleanse yourself of all suspicion? You become a healer and dress in white."

Leisha was eventually convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Phew! One less murderer roaming the streets.

Hope this information is useful in any future fictional character development you're working on. And be sure to read Capuzzo's book! I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing. How about you? Do you have a true crime work you'd like to recommend?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from August 9, 2010

Monday, August 18, 2014

A barbecue competition is like going to a family reunion, only you get to pick your relatives." Judy Fry, The Frying Pan

If you're not from North Carolina, you may not appreciate NC barbecue.  I lived in the Tar Heel State for about 15 years and never liked it's version of BBQ as much as Ohio's, but it is tasty.

My husband, who grew up in NC, really loves it!  And my kids, who are picky eaters, actually like this version I cooked in my crock pot the other day. If you find it strange, douse in your favorite BBQ sauce and you'll love it!

This recipe is from my Slow Cooker Recipe Book that came with my GE crock pot. Hope you like it!

North Carolina Barbecue

3 lbs boneless pork butt, shoulder or blade roast
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomato
1/2 cup vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T sugar
1 heaping T red pepper flakes
1 T salt
2 t black pepper

Combine all ingredients in crock. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours. Pull meat apart with fork when done.  Makes about 3 pounds of BBQ. Great Served with baked beans and cole slaw.

What's your favorite BBQ? Thanks for visiting and have a great weekend!

Reprinted from April 8, 2011

Monday, August 11, 2014

Esther Williams: Fighter, Champion, Star

One of my favorite stars from Hollywood's Golden Era was the beautiful Esther Williams (August 8, 1921-June 6, 2013), a swimming star of several MGM movies known as Aqua Musicals.

Something you may not know is that Ms. Williams was a proponent of civil rights--keep reading to see how!

I love watching anything filmed underwater, and seeing Esther Williams swim in those pictures is amazing and a real treat.  If you've never heard of Esther Williams, check out this video to see what I mean!

Prior to becoming a movie star, Esther Williams set multiple national and regional swimming records while part of the Los  Angeles Athletic Club swim team during her teens.  She had wanted to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics, but couldn't  because of the outbreak of World War II.  At that point, Ms.Williams joined Billy Rose's Aquacade, where she spent five months swimming alongside Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic swimmer and Tarzan star.

While performing at the Aquacade, Williams caught the eye of MGM talent scouts. After appearing in several small roles, Williams began making the Aqua Musicals, featuring elaborate numbers with synchronized swimming and diving.  From 1945 to 1949, Ms. Williams had at least one movie among the top 20 grossing films of the year.

Not long ago, I read her autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid.  If you do enjoy bios of the stars, don't pass this one up!  I was thoroughly impressed by her candor, zest for life and positive outlook.  She lived through experiences that might have been crushing to some of us, but made her a fighter, champion and star!

The most devastating time she endured was the repeated rape that began at age 13.  The older teen who abused  her had been charitably taken in by her family.  Orphaned and left on his own, this young man was an exceptional student and athlete.  Ms. Williams had lost an older brother years earlier who was the "golden child" of the family, and this orphaned youth filled the void in her parents' lives.

As a victim of abuse, Esther remained quiet for two years, fearing his threats.  Finally at age 15, she told her parents.  Their reaction was hurtful to her, and I almost cried when I read it.  They were in denial at first, but finally confronted him.  When he admitted the truth, her parents were more upset with him for not living up to their expectations of who'd they'd thought him to be, rather than the fact that he'd repeatedly raped their daughter for two years.

Esther listened from another room, completely demoralized.  Why hadn't her father been ready to kill the guy and kick him out?

The pool at the athletic club was her solace, and after hearing her parents' exchange with him, that's where she went.  But when she'd changed and was ready to swim, the rapist confronted her.  To his tearful apology she responded, "If you touch me again, I'll kick, I'll scream and I'll fight!" After this, he left her family's home and joined the armed services.

During Ms. Williams's days in  the Aquacade, she had fight off Johnny Weissmuller's aggressive advances and endure substandard treatment from bosses since she wouldn't "give in."

Prior to stardom, Ms. Williams survived an abusive marriage, and after stardom, the loss of her fortune through another husband's gambling.  She also lived through some near death experiences from swimming mishaps during filming.

But in addition to the painful times she shares, her story has some humorous ones as well.  Here's the civil rights anecdote I referenced earlier.  She was the mother of three children and employed the same African American babysitter for a number of years.

While performing in a live show, Ms.Williams wanted her babysitter and the sitter's husband to attend one of her performances.  However, the establishment where she'd be doing her show was segregated, but this didn't deter Ms.Williams, who thought the whole segregation system unfair.

She procured Middle Eastern garb for her guests and told the management that they were friends of hers from a royal family.  Needless to say, the sitter and her husband had the best seat in the house that night, and the last laugh!

Are you an Esther Williams fan?  Thanks for visiting!

Reprinted from March 12. 2012.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Planner or Pantster?

If you're a writer, are you a planner or a pantster?

If you're not familiar with those terms, here's a simple explanation: Planners plan their stories to the last detail and pantsters wing it, flying by the seat of their pants.

Some planners write elaborate outlines, character biographies, spread sheets, etc. Needless to say, they are detail oriented and highly organized people.

Some pantsters will have an idea for a story, and perhaps they'll know how it begins and how it ends.  However, getting from start to finish remains a mystery until the pantster starts writing.

I lack the organization and detail gene (if there is such a thing), so I'm more of a pantster. I do write a very brief outline--no more than a page--then go from there.

What about you? Plotter or pantster?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Revelation: Now Available!

Revelation: Book Three of The Unchained Trilogy is now complete and available at! Here's what's in store:

Light-skinned Selina Standish lives a life of emotional pain and torment. In 1906, at the tender age of eight, she is convinced by her mother, actress Lavinia Standish, the daughter of a slave, to pass as white.  Although Selina yields to her mother’s insistence to pass, she refuses to cut ties completely with her “Negro” relatives, including her twin brother, a child her mother deems too dark to pass.

However, at age seventeen, in the year 1915, Selina meets wealthy southerner Jack Cosgrove, the man of her dreams. Keeping her ancestry a secret, Selina is conflicted by Jack’s “negrophobia” and negative attitude toward her race. She must determine if happiness with him could ever be a possibility, especially if she were to reveal her bloodline.

Later, a chance encounter with Pastor Tony Manning opens Selina’s eyes to real love. Although he is a progressive thinker regarding race relations, Tony appears to draw the line at interracial marriage. In order to live as his wife, Selina decides she must completely disassociate herself from all her “colored” relatives. 

While bound to a chain of secrecy, Selina struggles to live in honesty. How true can she be to her husband, if she can never reveal the truth about herself? In 1933, Selina’s brother reappears in her life. Can she successfully hide his existence? How will her decision touch the lives of future generations to come? 

Read on for a brief sample:

New York City
Summer, 1912

Dearest Gabe,

I hope you, Father, Aunt Olivia, and our adorable little brothers, Jason, Gregory, and Jonathan, and Grandmother and Grandfather are doing well.  I could not wait to write to you, because I can hardly contain my excitement about what I am planning to do today!  Do not think me daffy, but I cannot tell you, at least not yet, although I wish I could.

You see, if I do tell you, you might tell Father, and he might disapprove.  It is scandalous enough that I am going behind Mother’s back!  I am not doing anything particularly bad, yet it is daring, to say the least!  I will explain everything to you once I have executed the deed, and then told Mother, at which time, I will face the music!

I am fourteen now, or rather, we are fourteen, and Grandmother has often told me of the difficult times she endured while raising Mother.  I have been good, Gabriel, and I know you are aware of that!  I do, however, want to spread my wings, as they say, and see what the world has to offer! 

I will write soon to tell you all about what happened.  I send my love to you and the family!

Yours affectionately,
A gentle breeze swept through the enormous windows, filling Salina’s sizable bedroom with the scent of gasoline and soot from the automobiles and elevated trains that roared outside.  The soft wind tousled the fringe of bangs that covered her forehead.  Sitting at her Queen Anne desk, Selina folded the letter she’d written to her twin brother.  She’d lived with her mother for six years now, still in the elegant brownstone at Central Park West and Eighty-Sixth Street that had originally belonged to her father.

Selina missed Gabe, as well as the rest of her relatives in California.  Sometimes, she even wished she could live there with them.  She had such happy memories of the four years she’d lived out West, and that was before all the new siblings had arrived.  Now there were so much family—and so much love.  But Selina had to think practically, that’s what Mother always said. 

Life in New York wasn’t bad.  Selina had Brigid, her nurse since birth, and even her mother for most of the year.  Stuffing the letter into an envelope, Selina reflected that the life she’d lived here was better than the alternative Mother had explained all those years ago...

“...Don’t go back to California with your father, darling... If you do, he’ll send you off to a boarding school in France—where no one speaks English...”

That was one of three reasons Mother had used to convince Selina to stay in New York.  Another was the practical one...

“You being here, living in New York—that’s the best possible thing for you.   You may not completely understand why, but you will one day.   I promise you, Selina, your life here is better than it ever could be in California... It’s not so much the living in New York that matters.  It’s you being with me...being white... 

Hope you'll check it out, along with parts one and two!

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Famous Pseudonyms and Stage Names

Eleanor Hibbert aka Jean Plaidy,
Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, etc.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." William Shakespeare

Are you thinking about choosing a pen name? Perhaps you want something a little more sultry or adventurous sounding. If you already have something in mind, Google it to make sure no one else is using it. One writer I know of had picked a perfect name, but after doing a search found out it belonged to a porn star! Back to the drawing board.

For years, authors have been using pseudonyms for various reasons. Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot, used a male pen name to make sure her works were taken seriously. Eleanor Hibbert's complex literary novels produced little interest among publishers. She was told the easiest way to break in to publishing would be with romantic fiction. She chose to write contemporary romances under her maiden name Eleanor Burford, and found success. Talented and prolific, she went on to write historicals as Jean Plaidy, and Gothic romance as Victoria Holt.

Kim Novak aka Marilyn Novak... Only room
for one Marilyn in the 1950's
Nora Roberts, the most popular and prolific author of contemporary romance, shortened her real name from Eleanor Robertson, because she thought all writers used pseudonyms. Ms. Roberts writes her romantic suspense series, "In Death," under the pen name J.D. Robb.

Jayne Castle (birth name) writes futuristic paranormals. Under her married name, Jayne Ann Krentz, she writes contemporary romantic suspense, and as Amanda Quick, pens historicals.

As writers choose pen names, so actors choose stage names. Sometimes these names are used to evoke a certain image, or perhaps disassociate a sibling connection. Years ago, names deemed too ethnic were changed to more all American sounding monikers. And of course, names must be changed if already in use by someone famous. Read on for a fun list of stage names vs. real names.

  • So So to Star: Norma Jean Baker aka Marilyn Monroe, Frances Gumm aka Judy Garland, Tula Finklea aka Cyd Charisse, Archibald Leach aka Cary Grant
  • Sibling Disassociation: Peter Graves (Aurness, Mission Impossible)) and James A(u)rness (Gunsmoke), Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine (Beatty), Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine (de Havilland), Donna DeVerona and Joanna (DeVarona) Kerns
  • Ethnic to White Bread: Rita Cansino aka Rita Hayworth, David Kaminski aka Danny Kaye, Issur Danielovitch aka Kirk Douglas, Bernard Schwartz aka Tony Curtis, Dino Crocetti aka Dean Martin
  • Already Taken: Marilyn Novak aka Kim Novak (not enough room for two Marilyns during the '50s, thanks to Marilyn Monroe), Mike Douglas talk show host, Mike Douglas actor aka Michael Douglas, Michael Douglas actor aka Michael Keaton
Do you have a pen name? If not, do you plan to use one?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Republished from 7/21/10.

Monday, July 14, 2014

African Chicken Stew

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

This 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?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from November 5, 2010.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Belle is one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in a long time! In it, you will see superb acting, breathtaking costumes, authentic scenery, and historically accurate settings (including manure in the streets).

Based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the film offers enlightening facts about the British slave trade, racism in Great Britain, the status of women and social mores, and even interracial love.

Belle's great uncle, Lord Mansfield, his wife and spinster sister, come to adore Belle (called Dido) and want what's best for her.  However, upon Belle's original arrival as a little girl to their home, they are rather annoyed by their nephew's failure to mention her color.

Belle, the daughter of a slave, possesses physical beauty, and she is raised by her paternal family of white, cultured aristocrats. She inherits a dowry upon her father's death, so by having this, as well as her father's name, Belle's color and illegitimacy can be somewhat overlooked, yet tongues would continuously wag of scandal.

Belle's cousin Elizabeth, also raised by her father's family (Belle's father, Admiral Sir John Lindsay, would have been Elizabeth's uncle) is left penniless by her father. So even though Elizabeth is a beautiful, legitimate, cultured white aristocrat, her chances of marrying into the landed gentry appear slim to none. By marrying a woman with a substantial dowry, a man of aristocratic standing could achieve even more political power. Love, however, seldom fit into this equation. It's interesting to see how Belle handles this particular dilemma.

An idealistic young vicar's son challenges Belle's uncle, the Lord Chief Justice, on an insurance case involving the slave trade, and ends up using Belle as his greatest ally in fighting this legal battle.  This young man is not considered a gentleman, but nonetheless he stirs Belle's heart!

I loved this movie, my only regret was that I had no tissue with me!  There is a happy ending, but lots of sadness along the way.

Have you sen Belle? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!