Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's the Story Behind Your Name?

"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.

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?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Humor: Don't Force the Issue

"When I say humor is a great addition to most any piece, I mean humor that's actually, well...funny."  Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing (Rule 78. Make 'Em Laugh)

Humor is a good way to lighten the mood of a narrative during scenes filled with darkness and intensity, and a nice dose of it is a great addition to any story.  As Masello says, "'s the leavening agent that can lighten up even the heaviest material."  But not everyone is born with a sense of humor.  So, if humor lacks from the individual, it shouldn't be forced into print.  Whatever is trying to be written as funny by the humorless writer, might come off as sounding stiff and unnatural to the reading, or viewing audience.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was hired as one of many writers to transform Gone With the Wind into a screenplay.  What I just learned recently, from the GWTW But Not Forgotten Facebook Page, was that he was let go because he couldn't make Aunt Pittypat sound funny!  Who can ever forget Aunt Pittypat riding off during the explosions, as the Yankees are approaching to attack Atlanta?  Flabbergasted and flustered she yells, "Uncle Peter, my smelling salts..."

Some people are naturally funny.  Those that are tend to be laid back and don't take themselves too seriously.  They can see the humor even in serious situations, and are usually optimistic.

But it takes more than funny people to make the world go around. Those who aren't funny sometimes tend to be more serious, tense, critical and pessimistic.  If you've ever said to someone (or someone has said to you), "You have no sense of humor," and you've gotten a reaction like this (or you've reacted this way, after angrily slamming down a fist), "I DO SO have a sense of humor,"chances are, that person (or you) may very well not.  But that's okay, not everyone is born with the humor gene.

Now, if you're a funny person and a writer, and you have a humorless friend who's a writer, too, let him know you'd be happy to help infuse a little humor into his narrative, if he's at all interested.  Even if he claims there's plenty of funny stuff he's already written, offer to read it and see if it sounds funny to you.  If someone has to stretch and strain to be funny, and what's written is beyond their "comfort zone," that can be some pretty painful  reading.

Do you or don't you have a sense of humor?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!  


Friday, September 24, 2010

Black Beans: Good for Your Heart

"You can cut your risk of heart attack by nearly 40% if you eat a three-ounce serving of black beans daily."  Reader's Digest

That's enough motivation for me to eat black beans at least once a week!  I have lots of black bean recipes, but the best I've ever tasted were at a Cuban restaurant inside the Miami airport. 

None of my recipes tasted quite like those, so I kept tinkering until I created something close.  These are great as a main dish over rice, or just as a side. 

Enjoy this simple and nutritious recipe!

Easy Black Beans

4 14 ounce cans black beans
4 t garlic powder
2 onions, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t chili powder
2 1/2 t cumin
2 1/2 t coriander
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
juice of two limes

Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  After one hour, turn heat to lowest setting and simmer one hour more.  Serve over rice, top with fresh tomatoes and hard boiled eggs, if desired.  Makes 8 servings.

Do you have a favorite black bean recipe?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Early Bird or Night Owl: When is Your Best Time to Write?

"Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself."  Franz Kafka

When do you find that time for utter solitude so you can--enjoy the escape into the creativity of your imagination?  (That sounds a little more positive than "the cold abyss of oneself.")

I'm not a night owl, but I wish I were!  After 11:00 pm the phone is guaranteed not to ring (unless there's a family emergency or a wrong number from some night owl you don't know).  Since the kids and the husband don't need anything at that time, you' re home free to write.  There's an occasional occurrence of middle of the night vomiting from one of the kids, but that's usually not more than once a year, if at all.

I'm an early bird by nature.  On school days I'm up at 4:30, but my morning hours are taken up by other things.  By 9:00, I've worked out, gone running, fixed breakfast, lunches, taken the kids to school, and started prepping dinner.  By 10:00, I try to start writing, but on those days when hubby works on something from home, the four hours I have from 10:00 to 2:00 shrink down to about one, as far as writing goes.

Common Husband Interruptions:

  • "I've got something that needs to go to the post office."  Translation: "I need you to take this to the post office."
  • "This is a deposit."  Translation:  "I need you to go to the bank and deposit this."
  • "Is there anything I can eat?"  Translation:  "Would you fix me lunch?"
  • "Mind if I sit with you?"  I usually work at the kitchen table.  He'll ask this when he eats lunch, but it actually translates to: "I know you're busy writing, but I'd really like to talk to you."
  • "So when is your book going to be done?"  Translation:  "When will your writing earn some money?"

"NEVER, at this rate!" is what I'd like to respond to that last query.  But instead I say, "As long as I have some uninterrupted peace and quiet, it'll be sooner, rather than later."

By 2:00 it's time to get the kids, then homework, dinner, kitchen cleanup, and by 7:00, I'm dragging.  By 9:00 or 9:30, I'm usually in bed so I can get up and do it all over again.

If I just didn't have to sleep, I could write so much more!

What about you?  When is your most productive writing time?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making an Exit: Know When to End a Scene

"Why does it take a minute to say hello, and forever to say goodbye?"  Unknown

I'm doing some revisions on a novel I wrote many years ago, before I really knew what I was doing.  Now that I've worked with a wonderful writing teacher, read several books on the writing craft, attended lots of great workshops through OVRWA (, and belong to a critique group, I'm crining quite a bit as I read my rambling prose!

An important element I've learned is not to wear out your welcome.  When you've provided all the information necessary to move along the story--end the scene!  No need for superfluous conversation or action.  Whatever else is said or done, will only weaken what came prior to that point.  Pushing the narrative forward will keep the reader turning pages.

What's more effective?  You be the judge:

     Tom looked at the dead body, and then the blood on his hands.  "What have I done?" he said quietly.  After a few seconds, he picked up the phone and called the police.
     "911, emergency."
     Tom hesitated briefly. "I--I just killed someone."

     Tom looked at the dead body, and then the blood on his hands.  "What have I done?" he said quietly.  He picked up the phone and called the police.
     "911, emergency."
     Tom hesitated briefly.  "I--I just killed someone."
     After reporting the crime, he walked slowly to the bathroom.  It took a long time to clean off all the blood.  Then he strode back to the living room, sat down and waited, glancing at his watch wondering how long it would take for the cops to arrive. 

All we need to know is that Tom killed someone and then called the police.  Unless something significant happens while Tom's in the bathroom--like him saying, "I don't remember doing this!  I just woke up and found myself with bloody hands and a dead body on the floor!"--no one cares that he washed his hands, then sat down and waited, wondering zzzzz.....

Hope this has been a helpful tip.  Are there any scenes that you can trim today by making an earlier exit?

Thanks for stopping by!  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cincinnati Chili: So Good, it'll Make You Want to Slap Yo' Mama!

"Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili."  Last words of Kit Carson (1809-1868), American frontiersman

Texas may be known for great chili, which is probably the kind Kit Carson longed for, but only Cincinnati can claim, and boast of, Cincinnati Chili!

In 1922, Tom Athanas Kiradjieff, a Macedonian immigrant, along with his brother John, opened a hot dog stand with Greek style food called The Empress.

Cincinnati is still behind the times, so you can imagine that in 1922, there was zip, zero, nada interest in Greek food.  Business at The Empress was pretty poor, but one dish became popular.  Tom called his spaghetti "chili," and made it with Middle Eastern spices.  Although served in several different ways, one of the best known was the Five Way:  spaghetti  covered with chili, then a layer of chopped onions, then kidney beans, and then topped with cheddar cheese.  This was served with oyster crackers, and a side order of hot dogs topped with cheese.  For more information on Cincinnati Chili (and the regular stuff), check out

The recipe I'm going to share is based on one I found in the Cincinnati Enquirer that's actually called "Slap Yo' Mama Chili." It won a local chili contest in Cincinnati about six years ago.  I've adapted it by leaving out the 1/2 cup of butter, and the congealed fat--you can thank me later.  This version is relatively low in fat and extremely hearty.  Once you've tasted it, you'll never go back to ordinary chili--like what they have in Texas.

It's so good, it really will make you want to slap yo' mama, but please refrain from doing so.  It's great, just plain in a bowl, with saltines or cornbread on the side.  It's also wonderful on hot dogs, or over rice.  And of course, it makes awesome chili spaghetti!  Don't forget the cheese and onions!  Sour cream is good, too.

Cincinnati Chili

2 lbs ground chicken
1 T olive oil
1large onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
2 t garlic powder
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 T chili powder
3 T ground cumin
1 t cinnamon
1 T paprika
1 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t curry powder
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice
1 T cocoa powder
2 1/2 T brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 t soy sauce
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
2 t hot sauce
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
2 14 1/2 ounce can kidney beans
2 cups tomato juice
1 1/2 T lime juice

Brown chicken along with onion, pepper, salt, and garlic powder.  Drain fat when meat is browned.  In a small bowl combine spices, brown sugar, flour and cocoa; mix with a fork.  Add dry mixture to meat, stir well to keep from sticking.  Add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, tomatoes, kidney beans and tomato juice.  Stir well, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.  Add lime juice, simmer 15 minutes more.  Makes 8 servings.

What's your favorite chili?  I mean your favorite up to now, because once you've tasted this...

Have a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by!  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are You Addicted to Books?

"I cannot think of a greater blessing than to die in one's own bed, without warning or discomfort, on the last page of a new book that we most wanted to read."  Lord John Russell

Are you addicted to books?  If you are, at least it's a harmless addiction.  And thanks to libraries, thrift stores and used book stores, it can be inexpensive, too.

Tell Tale Signs of Book Addiction:
  • Is your nightstand overflowing with books (purchased, borrowed or given to you)?
  • When you walk into a store, are you immediately drawn to the book section?
  • Are your bookshelves filled to capacity?  Do you have a stash in the closet that won't fit on the shelves?
  • When you visit someone's house, do you start paging through what they're reading?
  • Does your librarian know you by name (and reserve books for you she knows you'll like)?
  • Do you have a book in your purse, the glove compartment and the bathroom, so you'll never be trapped anywhere without access to a fix?
  • When you read, does time stop?
On my last vacation, I left home with three books, but returned with six.  I purchased one at Goodwill for .75, my mother-in-law said I was welcome to take one from the rec center library at her housing complex, plus she gave me one she'd just finished.  At a recent writers meeting someone brought books to give away.  I took two!  The stash in my closet is growing bigger!   Too bad I'm such a slow reader!

Are you addicted to books?  If so, can you describe any other signs?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Good Character = Good Cops

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing."  Edmund Burke

Once you get law enforcement officials talking about their work, it's hard to shut them up!  They love what they do and they're glad to share their adventures.

Over the weekend I attended the Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America ( chapter meeting, and enjoyed a program presented by four members of law enforcement.  Represented were an Undercover Narcotics Agent, an Arson Investigator, a Private Investigator and a Police Officer. 

This was a wonderful program with lots of great information provided to help us shape up those romantic suspense novels more accurately.  For two hours, these gracious gentleman answered question after question asked by a curious audience of romance writers.  One of my favorites was, "What is the most important character trait in your line of work?"

We were given a variety of answers.  If you're writing a romantic suspense novel, I hope you'll find this useful in developing your characters. 

Private Investigator:  "Compassion toward my clients is the most important thing.  We console them, and it's important that we empathize with them."

Police Officer:  "Good personal character is the most important thing on the job.  It's my job to make someone happy.  There are a lot of bad character cops (the ones who hate what they do and only want a paycheck) that give all cops a bad name.  The police officers of good character truly want to serve."

Arson Investigator:  "Extroverted, aggressive, never bashful.  And divorce yourself from family problems on the job.  What's going on at home can't  interfere with the task at hand."

Undercover Narc:  "A thick skin."  This officer, with long hair and faded jeans, said he's much grungier looking on the job to fit in with the bad guys he's trying to catch.  Because of his appearance, he's not taken seriously by law abiding citizens when he has to inform them he's a cop.  "Yeah, right," is the usual response.  Although he's often followed by security after walking into a store, he has to let it all roll off his back.

All in all, a great presentation, and this is just a tidbit!  Hope it helped you!

What are your thoughts?  Tweet me @:  maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for visiting!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spicy Chickpea Dip

"Is there chicken in chickpeas?"  Helen Adams

There's no chicken in chickpeas, but chickpeas are the most widely consumed legume in the world! This particular recipe for  a hearty, nutritious dip came about quite by accident.  Not long ago I was making a batch of hummus, but forgot to add tahini.  If you've never heard of tahini, it's ground sesame seeds (or sesame butter like peanut butter). 

I didn't realize I'd neglected to add it until after I tasted the finished product.  The dip I made instead was lighter than "real" hummus (not to mention less fattening), but tasted great, just the same. 

Having a party this weekend?  Serve this.  Great with pita bread or raw vegetables.  For traditional hummus, just add 1/2 cup tahini.

Spicy Chickpea Dip

2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
2 1/2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
2 T water
1 1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t cumin

Place all ingredients in food precessor or blender.  Blend until smooth.

Tweet me @:  maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Most Innovative Trailer I've Ever Seen

"A book trailer is an ingenious way to promote and increase your book sales."  Two Rock Media, Inc.

Trailers are entertaining and fun to watch, but just thinking about the cost can be prohibitive!  Although professional trailers look like mini  movie productions (what we all dream of), there are lots of high quality do-it-yourself ones out there, as well.

Unfortunately, there are some homemade trailers that look, well, homemade--with cheesy special effects or what looks like family members frolicking in the backyard wearing rented costumes.  But if you're skilled with the Windows Movie Maker Program, and maybe know an amateur actor or two, you can create something just as good as any professional media company.

The most innovative trailer I've ever seen (pro or do-it-yourself) is at  Ms. Dare promotes her Stud Club Trilogy quite creatively.  You'll have to see it for yourself!  But I'll just say this, she utilizes ordinary items already in her home, with humor and innovation, to create an unforgettable trailer.  I wish I'd thought of her idea first!

Have you seen any unforgettable trailers lately?

Tweet me @:  maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Passion: What Drives You?

"This is the true joy of life:  the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."  George Bernard Shaw

When we're passionate about what we do, it doesn't even feel like work.  Last week I wrote a post asking, "is it normal to write a novel?"  Author A.m. Welles left a comment saying that when someone asks why she writes, she replies, "I have to."  I think all writers feel this way.  We write because we want to, and we're compelled to do it since we're passionate about it!  And anyone who loves what they do for a living feels the same.

Ms. Welles comment reminded me of  a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Red Shoes.  When Boris Lermontov, the ruthless impresario of The Ballet Lermontov, is invited to a party by one of his most generous patrons, he is disgusted to find out that this invitation includes a ballet performance by the patron's niece.

Lermontov informs the patron that when invited to a party, he wishes to attend a party, not an audition.  Needless to say, the performance is cancelled.  But the niece, beautiful Vicky Page, approaches the refreshments at the same time as Lermontov.  They are alone, and the impresario can't help but notice the stunning redhead near him.  Making small talk, he expresses relief that he has been spared the horror of watching a dance performance.

When Vicky says, "Mr. Lermontov, I am that horror," Lermontov, baffled and surprised by "the horror's" grace, beauty and charm, almost chokes.  After introductions, and after Lermontov gathers his wits, he asks, "Why do you dance?"  To which Vicky replies, "Why do you live?"  Lermontov, again slightly baffled says, "Because I must."  "That's my answer, too," says Vicky, "I must."

When we're passionate about something, we must do it.  Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life,  "Purpose always produces passion.  Nothing energizes like a clear purpose.  On the other hand, passion dissipates when you lack purpose...meaningless work wears us down, saps our strength and robs our joy."

What's your passion?

Tweet me @maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lentil Spinach Stew

"This tiny nutritional giant fills you up, not out."

Looking for something fast, easy and healthy?  Try this nutritious dish that's sure to please!  Lentils are inexpensive, filling and by far, the most flavorful of all legumes. 

This hearty stew can stand on its own, but if you like, serve over rice.  Top with plain yogurt, or garnish with hard cooked eggs and a generous squirt of sriracha hot chili sauce for added kick!

Lentil Spinach Stew

1 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 t garlic powder
1 T minced fresh ginger
2 T ground cumin
1/2 t dry mustard
1 t salt
1 pound lentils
6 cups chicken broth
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
3 zucchini, cut into 1" rounds
2 10 oz. packs frozen chopped spinach

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and ginger and saute until tender (around 10 minutes).  Mix in garlic powder, cumin, mustard seed and salt and stir 2 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients; bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are tender, around 45 minutes or less.  Makes 6 servings.

Do you have a favorite lentil dish?

Enjoy your weekend, and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is it Normal to Write a Novel?

"The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world.  And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it isn't true."  John Steinbeck

As writers, we're driven to write!  What we're doing (at least to us) is important for expanding the knowledge of the general public, or at least offering a form of entertainment.

The downfall of this is that writing is a solitary profession.  And sitting alone for hours on end can lead to depression.  Some of the most famous writers, including Keats, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath, were depressed.

At Bob Mayer's Warrior Writing Workshop, he encouraged all who were depressed to take their medication.  "After all" he said, "it's not really normal to lock yourself away and write 100,000 words."
And Robert Masello also urges, "take the Prozac, the Zoloft...or just get out and see some friends."

I've never thought of writing as abnormal (or depressing), and because I'm an introvert, I love locking myself away and getting lost in another world.  If I'm a freak, don't tell anyone!  I once heard a skydiver say, "Some people write novels, I jump out of airplanes.  There's no greater rush for me."

I can't even begin to understand the thrill of jumping out of an airplane--but to me, there's nothing like the rush of writing a novel!

What do you think?

Tweet me:  @maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!