Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Love Those Villains

"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.      

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?

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Braised Pork in Caramalized Soy Sauce

"I believe Malaysian is the most creative cuisine in Asia.  It will keep you coming back for more."  Christina Arokiasamy.

My husband loves great food--and a clean house.  Luckily for him, he married a woman who enjoys food just as much as he does.  I don't mind cooking, it's just that the everyday thing is a drag.  Needless to say, leftovers are a staple in our household.

Unfortunately, I hate house work.  I know there are some who love it, but I'm not sure what planet they come from.  A Facebook friend listed as one of her hobbies housework.  "Yes, I love to clean because I love a clean house!"  Yeah, right. I pity my husband that he didn't marry a woman like that.  Now, don't get me wrong. I love a clean house, too, but I just wish I didn't have to do it myself.

For the past couple of days, I've been MIA from writing and social networking because of cleaning, catching up on laundry, and ironing.  It was my husband's birthday yesterday, so a clean house was part of his present, as was this delicious Malaysian recipe (plus his favorite blueberry crisp for dessert).

I found this wonderful dish in Today's Diet & Nutrition.  It's  by Christina Arokiasamy, author of The Spice Merchant's DaughterRecipes and Simple Spice Blends for the American Kitchen.  Although relatively easy to prepare, some cutting and chopping is involved.  But it's worth every minute, because the taste will absolutely blow your mind--it's that good!  An Indian friend even said it's one of the best meals he's ever tasted.  Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Braised Pork in Caramelized Soy Sauce

3 T vegetable oil
one 2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thick strips
5 garlic cloves chopped
1 fresh red chili, seeded and thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
one 2 inch cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 large red onion, cut into thick rings
2 ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 1/2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 T soy sauce
3 T sweet soy sauce
1/4 t freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the ginger, garlic, chili, curry leaves, cinnamon, star anise, and half the onion.  Cook, stirring until the ginger and onion rings turn light brown, and smell fragrant; about 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes.  Add the pork and mix well to coat with spices.  Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 35 minutes, until the pork is very soft.

Add the remaining onion, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, pepper and salt.  Raise the heat to medium, mix well, and cook for 5 minutes, until the sauces have thickened.  Remove from heat and serve hot over Jasmine rice.  Serves 4.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Playing It Safe with the Muse

"Of all the ways writers find to waste time, waiting for the muse to show up has to be the most common, and fruitless, of them all."  Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing (Rule 9:  Lose the Muse)

I think "the muse" is good old fashioned imagination--nothing more, nothing less.  And imaginations can create great stories all by themselves, or be inspired by some form of external stimulation.  A talk show topic, news story, conversation, painting or photograph can easily get those creative juices flowing.  And just asking the question "what if?" in any situation can open the door to a fascinating narrative.

Not only do I think of imagination as "the muse," I see it as "the safest muse."  Finding this elusive creature in a bottle or a pill (or a combination of the two) can lead to devastating circumstances. 

Unfortunately, many of the greatest American writers were alcoholics.  Several died young from complications due to their addictions, while others committed suicide, or attempted it, often more than once. 

Did their addictions enhance their artistic abilities, or was alcohol just used as way to self medicate from the other problems in their lives?

Here's Listverse.com's Top 15 Alcoholic Writers:

15.  Hunter Thompson
14. Raymond Chandler
13.  John Cheever
12.  O. Henry
11.  Tennessee Williams
10.  Dylan Thomas
  9.  Dorothy Parker
  8.  Edgar Allan Poe
  7.  Truman Capote
  6.  Jack Keroac
  5.  William Faulkner
  4.  Charles Bukowski
  3.  F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2.  James Joyce
  1.  Ernest Hemingway

I don't know about you, but based on the lives of some of the aforementioned writers, I think playing it safe with "the muse" can lead to a longer, healthier, happier life!

What do you think?

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Scrap Those Fancy Words

"Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten center handy, ready and able." The Elements of Style

The ear is your guide to what sounds natural. So, instead of picking up your thesaurus, use the first words that come to mind when crafting your scenes. Polish them later, preferably without a bunch of erudite nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives that'll throw your reading audience off course!

Don't completely trash your thesaurus, it does come in handy. But avoid throwing foreign sounding words into your natural prose. We all have a style and voice, and readers become distracted when we stray from it.

"Upon looking at her, he became discombobulated," sounds a little too fancy (and a little too wordy, for that matter). But, "Seeing her confused him," is plain, simple and to the point.

A twenty dollar word may not earn you a dime, but that ten center could be worth twenty bucks in the long run!

So keep it simple, and keep it natural!

Can you replace the fancy words in your manuscript with some simpler ones today?

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Burgers From Down Under

"Sacred cows make the best hamburger." Mark Twain

Grilling season is in full swing and at your next cookout, these burgers will be sure to raise a few eyebrows, as well as, "change lives," says Gourmet Magazine!

I found this recipe in the Cincinnati Enquirer after the food editor read about it in Gourmet. It sounded so weird--and delicious--I had to try it! Although challenging to eat, the combination of meaty, sweet and spicy, tied together with egg, drives your taste buds crazy!

According to the article, this is how burgers are served in Australia. Hope you enjoy these as much as my family does. Happy grilling!

Australian Hamburgers

4 kaiser rolls (largest you can find)
4 1/4 lb burgers
*1 large pineapple, peeled and sliced in rounds
1 15 oz can pickled beets
4 fried eggs
1 cup thousand Island dressing, mixed with 1/2 to 1 t hot chili sauce, such as Sriacha

Grill hamburgers and pineapple slices. When done, serve on kaiser rolls, top with beets, fried egg and dressing. Also great with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and pickle. Serves 4.

*Canned pineapple slices (do not grill) can be substituted.

What's your favorite burger?

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Against the Odds

"If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere." Frank A. Clark

Publishing is a subjective business; always push forward and send out more query letters. What doesn't work for one publisher or agent, might work for another. So, if you keep confronting rejection, don't give up--KEEP SUBMITTING!

Here are a couple of inspiring anecdotes. Although the first isn't directly related to publishing, it's still an uplifting story about another subjective arena, the film industry.

In 1937, David O. Selznick was in the process of searching for just the right girl to play Scarlett O'Hara in his motion picture production of Gone with the Wind. He screened a picture called A Yank at Oxford and briefly considered a young, relatively unknown British starlet for the role. After the viewing, he, and director George Cukor, agreed that she wasn't right for Scarlett. Cukor later told reporters he thought she was beautiful, but lacked sufficient temperament for the part.

That young starlet happened to be Vivien Leigh--the future on-screen Scarlett O'Hara! After she'd read the book, she wanted the part! Just think what audiences would have missed out on, if Miss Leigh hadn't persevered and later auditioned!

Langton Hughes's introduction to the 1952 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin explains some interesting facts about Harriet Beecher Stowe's struggle to find a home for her book. The first publisher was so afraid of not making any money from it, that he wanted Mrs. Stowe to share half of the publishing expenses, offering to give her half the income, if any! The author's husband proposed a more businesslike arrangement: a ten percent royalty to his wife.

Mrs. Stowe was thrilled to have someone interested in publishing her book at all, because another publisher had turned it down, claiming it unlikely to sell. With the publishing deal in place, Mrs. Stowe sighed, and simply said, "I hope it will make enough so I may have a silk dress."

Two days after publication in Boston on March 20, 1852, the entire first edition of 5000 copies had sold out. Four months later, Mrs. Stowe's royalties amounted to $10,000! Within a year 300,000 copies had been sold in the United States, and 150,000 in England.

So just remember, even Vivien Leigh (now immortalized on screen as Scarlett O'Hara) struck out the first time. And Harriet Beecher Stowe was so discouraged after managing to find only a half hearted publisher, that her mere wish was to make enough to buy a silk dress!

Time for me to get busy! What about you?

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Breaking the Rules

"Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression." Bronson Alcott

When writing fiction, it's okay to break a few rules. Unlike political incorrectness, grammatical incorrectness harms no one, and in general is more pleasing to the ear. A narrative should flow smoothly, not read like a research paper.

I'm not talking about poor grammar, unless your character comes from that background. Even then, don't go overboard with dialect. A little goes a long way. In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White say, "The best dialect writers...are economical of their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him."

What I'm referring to is all those prickly little rules we learned in grammar school, such as never end a sentence with a preposition, and never begin one with a conjunction.

"I can see him, up above," is more likely to be said in real life, instead of, "Up above, I can see him." And because of this, I'd rather end that sentence of dialogue with a preposition. But did you notice how I just started two sentences with conjunctions? If you've broken a writing rule, but it passes the natural speech test, you're pretty safe!

Remember, smooth flow and naturalistic dialogue keep the pages turning!

Have you broken any rules of writing lately?

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

"Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love." From the song "Burning Love" (lyrics by Dennis Linde)

I know I've mentioned this more than once, but food is love, right? And nothing says love like chocolate!

Years ago, my mom was making a yummy dessert called hot fudge pudding cake. And this was long before I'd ever heard of hot or molten lava cake.

I believe this recipe comes from The Cincinnati Enquirer. It's easy and low fat, because unlike other lava cakes, it's not loaded with butter and whole eggs.

Make this "hunk of burning love" for someone you love this weekend! Enjoy!

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup flour
2 t baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 T cocoa powder
1/2 cup skim milk
1 T canola oil
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

4 T cocoa powder
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 3/4 hot water (heated, not boiling)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8 inch square pan with cooking spray; set aside. For cake, sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and cocoa. Stir in milk, oil and nuts; mix well. Spread in prepared pan.

For topping, combine cocoa and brown sugar. Sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over entire cake. Bake 45 minutes. Serve warm. Makes six servings.

What's your favorite chocolate dessert?

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bite Sized Words of Wisdom

"To be able to look back upon one's past life with satisfaction is to live twice." From a Chinese Fortune Cookie

A perk of being a favored customer at our favorite Chinese restaurant is getting a ship load of fortune cookies with our take out orders. The owners have two boys about the same ages as mine, and they always play together whenever we stop in--hence all the cookies!

As we sat eating cookies the other night and listening to each other's fortunes, the kids didn't understand them. While I explained the meanings, I thought, "These are pretty cool--and some would even make good dialog!"

Nowadays, the fortunes aren't really fortunes, but more encouragement, inspiration or words of wisdom. Thought I'd share a few today as--"food for thought." If some are Chinese proverbs or quotes without proper credit given, I apologize. The only attribute I can make is "From a Chinese Fortune Cookie." Here are a few favorites:
  • Excellence is the difference between what I do and what I am capable of.
  • We must always have old memories and young hopes.
  • Fortune favors the brave.
  • There are many ways you can be hurtful, but only one way to heal. That is through love.
  • Blessed is the man who has found his work.
  • Do not let great ambitions overshadow small success.
  • A faithful friend is a strong defense.
  • For insight on quandary, turn to people with firsthand experience.
Friends once told me when they'd first thought about having children, they'd chosen the name Joy for girl. The next time they had Chinese, one of their fortune cookies said, "Joy will come upon you." They ended up having two boys, but still a pretty fun coincidence!
Can you remember a favorite fortune from a fortune cookie?
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Monday, August 9, 2010

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 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...

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?

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Slimmed Down Spinach Quiche

"Real men don't eat quiche." Bruce Feirstein

I disagree with that statement, because there are a lot of sexy French guys that do. And my husband, a pretty hot looking, manly Scotsman does, too!

Quiche is a great main dish, since it's quick, simple and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's also easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive.

As with any pie, the crust has the most fat and calories. My recipe is crustless. And with a pudding (egg and milk) based pie, whole eggs, heavy cream and butter can add a few inches to your waist line, as well! None of that found here.

Hope you enjoy this recipe. Serve it to a real man. And if you are a real man, make it for yourself!

Slimmed Down Spinach Quiche

2 8 oz. packs frozen spinach
1 medium onion chopped
12 egg whites
1 12 oz. can fat free evaporated milk
1 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t cayenne
1 cup 2% cheddar cheese
2 T flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x12 inch Pyrex dish with cooking spray; coat with flour and set aside. Thaw spinach in microwave, then saute with onions.

In a large bowl combine egg whites, evaporated milk, salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. In a small bowl, mix cheese with flour, then add to egg mixture; whisk together. Add spinach to egg mixture and mix well.

Pour quiche into prepared dish and bake for 40-45 minutes. Makes six servings.

What's your favorite quiche?

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