Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And the winner is...

...all of them. I love all the conferences. Where else can you go, hang out with friends, talk writing, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat at expensive restaurants and have Uncle Sam pay for half of it?

Okay so Uncle Sam doesn't really pay have of it - he just demands less excessive tribute because you are working and he knows you are pumping money back into the economy and... and we really do work there, honest.

For example - at Thrillerfest in NYC - I as an unagented, amature writer schlepping my manuscript around met a dazzling young agent by the name of Barbara Poelle - and after I confused her with a pitch that sounded something like two wookies arguing over who gets the last slice of space pizza (Ray's Original of course) she reluctantly said - real quiet like and perhaps hoping I wouldn't hear her - "Okay so send me ten pages."

Fortunately what she read was much better than what I pitched - to the point where her e-mail to me was something like - "are you the same guy I talked to at Thrillerfest? Anyway, if you are, I'd like to represent you."

To which I replied " OORREHHEYOOO" - Which anyone who speaks wookie will recognize as "OKAY - No problem."

Actually, did anyone else find it odd that Chewbacca would basically grunt three syllables which Han Solo would translate as "Chewie thinks the theory of relativity and super symmetry do not really connect well at the sub atomic level, and therefore there must be a third, as yet unknown, theory that will bridge the gap between the two of them and open up a whole new world of possibilities."

Really Han? You got all that from "OOOHRREE OOW"?

I know - I digress - and don't even get me started about why Chewie never had any clothes on. I mean what if he saw a cute girl wookie or took a liking to Princess Leia or Han's leg?

OKAY - Back to conferences - so the Thrillerfest is awesome - hands down the best. I also Like Bouchercon and found Killer Nashville to be fantastic.

But my favorite conference moment was the first one I ever went to. It was the Maui writers conference. It was 2002 or 2003 and I had written a manuscript and thrown it in a drawer years prior and my girlfriend at the time had convinced me to go the conference. I figured what the heck - its a trip to Maui - that doesn't suck.

So I went and I signed up kind of nervous like and I snuck into a few of the panels and watched and listened and I distinctly remember the feeling of my eyes opening - here was information I didn't have - professionals talking about writing about character and plot and theme. Here was access I didn't think I could ever get, rubbing shoulders and sitting down with agents and editors, talking with authors that had sold millions of books or even those who had sold thousands of books - or even one book. Here was inspiration, so much so I hit every panel I could, every day, right up until the last night when Bryce Courtney gave the keynote speech and I just sat there in awe and realized - specifically at that moment - this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, the Maui Writers Conference, which morphed into the Hawaii Writers Conference has gone by the wayside. But its not just the conference itself that matters, its the act of going. Its that first step, that leap of faith into a different bigger world.

I'm guessing we have a fair amount of aspiring writers reading this blog - if you're reading this you know I would urge you to go to any decently represented conference. Go for inspiration, go for the education, go for the friends - and the beverages. Because writing is a lonely enough business as it is, and we don't want to end up like the Uni bomber. Maybe that's why Uncle Sam is willing to pay half the bill - its safer that way.

And now a special announcement - Because those of us at Criminal Minds are truly bent on World Domination - not only did my novel Black Sun come out in bookstores yesterday, but today September 1st, Joshua Corin's complex and multifaceted novel While Galileo Preys hits the bookstores.

A little teaser for you:

"If there were a God, he would have stopped me."

That's the message discovered atop an elementary school in downtown Atlanta. Across the street are the bodies of fourteen innocent men and women, each quickly and cleanly murdered. the sniper Galileo is on the loose. He can end a human life from hundreds of yards away. And he is just getting started.

Where others see puzzles Esme Stuart sees patterns, and these outside the box inductive skills made her one of the FBI's operatives. But she turned her back on all that. She now has a husband and a daughter and a Long Island home far removed from the bloody streets of Atlanta.

But as Galileo's murders escalate, Esme's beleaguered old boss at the Bureau needs the help of his former protege. But how can she turn her back on her well earned quiet life? Could she ever justify such a choice to her husband? Her daughter?

And what will happen when Galileo turns his scope on them?

-- It sounds intense and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Learn more about it at http://www.joshuacorin.com/

And you can find details about Black Sun at http://www.authorgrahambrown.com/

Black Sun is the second book in the Hawker/Laidlaw series.

It picks up two years after Black Rain, reuniting the characters in a race to discover the truth, as the world counting down to December 21st, 2012 and a cataclysm that may - or may not be - of human design.

Hope you enjoy it.


Monday, August 30, 2010

A Tale of Conferences Past

Conferences About Books!

by Rebecca Cantrell

I love reading. I grew up in a family of readers, but once I entered school I discovered that most of my classmates did not yearn to sneak away and read during recess. They wanted to play soccer or Frisbee or jump rope. I was aghast, but muddled through, convinced that I was the last reader left in the world.

Then I grew up, wrote books, and discovered book conferences. I love them all.

I loved my first Left Coast Crime in Waikoloa, Hawaii (finally a conference in driving distance) where I watched over Kelli Stanley when she was completely agog after she won the Bruce Alexander award.

Then at my second Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles I was literally struck dumb when I won the Bruce Alexander award myself (video evidence exists, but I'm not pointing you toward it). Every year the International Thriller Writers conference is like summer camp, where I meet all the old camper/authors and new ones in New York.

The best thing about conferences? They are full of people who, like me, simply love to read. Everyone read under their covers at night, everyone knows fictional characters that are more influential than real ones, and everyone wants to talk about their favorite books.

I love to sign books and talk to writers and readers until the wee hours. Books, books, books!
It's like coming home.

(See how I dodged another favorite question? I hate to list off favorites, except my favorite color, which is blue)

And, I almost forgot, today a guy I met at a conference, and a really talented writer from this very blog, has a book coming out. And I'm not even going to make you guess who it is. Our very own Graham Brown! His novel, BLACK SUN, is available today.

It's a thriller, of course. Here's what I know. BLACK RAIN, Graham's last book, was a scary page turner, set in the jungle. This one promises to be just as good. Here's the description from his web site...

They gave us the power...

Left us their words...

And asked us the question:

Do You Believe?

2012 is coming.

Forget everything you think you know.

Damn it, Graham, am I going to lose more sleep because I can't put the book down, again? Well, I suppose there are worse things. (actually, losing sleep because I can't put down a great book is one of my favorite things, but don't tell Graham, I might need to use that guilt later).


I’ve been to many writers conferences over the past fifteen years. Part of that time I was also attending many crafts industry trade and consumer shows. At some point they all started blurring together into one giant amorphous image of airports, convention centers, and hotel rooms. I’d have to say, though, that the Romance Writers of America national conference this past July in Orlando stands out for me, and not just because it’s the most recent conference I’ve attended.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the conference doesn’t stand out for the conference, per se. It stands out for the location. You see, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been hooked on Disney. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in front of our tiny black and white TV, watching the original Mickey Mouse Club, the one with Annette Funicello way back before she ever stuffed a wild bikini. (Yeah, I’m really that old!) I still cry when I watch Old Yeller or Bambi, and I really do believe that a dream is a wish your heart makes.

Anyway, there was no way this lover of all things Disney was going to head down to Orlando for a conference and not spend a day at DisneyWorld. So the day after I arrived, in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity, three friends and I set off early in the morning for a day of park-hopping. We started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we took in some rides before eating lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. After lunch we headed over to Animal Kingdom for more rides and a safari adventure. Epcot came next with a trip down memory lane to watch Captain Eo and my favorite, the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction. We spent cocktail hour sipping frozen margaritas at the Mexican pavilion, then headed over to the Magic Kingdom for such classics as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and It’s a Small World, before returning to Disney Studios for the highlight of the day -- the 10:30pm showing of Fantasmic!

Fantasmic! is like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I’ve seen quite a few Disney parades, fireworks, and laser shows over the years. Nothing comes close to Fantasmic! -- a 25-minute extravaganza of pyrotechnics, laser lights, water effects, animation, music, and live action featuring 50 costumed performers. It combines Disney’s trademark silliness with suspenseful action that will blow you away, whether you’re 2 or 102. You really have to see it to believe it.

And that for me is my favorite conference story -- playing hooky to let my inner kid come out to play for the day.

The first book in Lois Winston’s Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, will be a January 2011 release from Midnight Ink. Meanwhile, Anastasia is blogging at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, and you can visit Lois at her newly redesigned website.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Calorie Free Comfort

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone
All you really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
Peanuts -- Lucy Van Pelt

There’s no other way to do it. I’m going to have to rip the band-aid off. My name is Gabi and I don’t eat for comfort. Worse, I’m an American in the land of the delivery pizza, the takeout Chinese, the biggie fry and that’s not where you can find me when all has gone wrong. Not that I won't consume any care packages forwarded by my culinary CM compatriots. I'm just going to eat them when they get here, storm clouds notwithstanding.

I am not an alien. I do eat. Lots. I love my stepfather’s spaghetti (before you put the sausage or meatballs in, thanks) and I never met a chocolate bunny I didn’t adore the ears off. I have an account at quisp.com and single-handedly skewed the chocolate goldfish buying habits of my local big box warehouse store. I may even have kept the Diet Coke people in business during the recession. But that’s just a normal Tuesday or other day ending in ‘y.’ It’s not emotional eating. It’s lunch.

Comfort, when I seek it, comes in different forms. First, I don’t seek it often. It’s not that I don’t need it or wouldn’t appreciate it but I spent a lifetime building my reputation as truly scary and not to be messed with and Linus’ blanket would dull the impact. Then again, the occasional pet-pet-pet of Snoopy appears to the naked eye like absentminded decency towards animals instead of the fur therapy it really is so I guess that would technically count as comfort.

There are movies that make me feel better. 101 Dalmations. High-tech fur therapy and the dalmations sooted to pass as Labradors could be in the family portrait of my beloved Koko don’t affect the daily weigh-in. Likewise, The Quiet Man, a strangely sweet John Wayne in Ireland tale might be found in my DVD player when the sky is leaden. I think it’s the roses he plants next to the wee cottage. You’ve never seen an unhappy Leprechaun, have you? Or one with the top button of his lederhosen undone? It’s the wee cottages.

There are places that make me feel better. Disney World with my parents. It’s like going with two 12 year olds. They want lots of high fat food before being spun on some ride. Nothing can talk them out of it. We’re talking dill pickle on a stick (the size of Oscar Meyer Weinermobile) followed by the Scrambler. I am not even making that up. There’s something comforting in knowing that my mom can laugh and throw up simultaneously. There’s more comfort in knowing that as soon as she’s up off her knees, she’s going to need cotton candy and a ride in the tea cups (which for the record three adults can get in but given the way the door closes those same three adults cannot exit the ride without a happiest place on earth assistant). Maybe you could consider it indirect comfort food. Then again, I doubt I’d feel comforted when I was as green as the pickle. It’s not a good look for me.

It’s possible I take the most comfort from the calorie out activities. We’re not talking Ironman burns but the Crayola’s box of 64 with the built-in sharpener has definitely cost me a couple or three calories. Every year about this time I buy a new box. I love the way they smell. I can peel the labels off each magic color stick (maybe 1 calorie/10 denudings) and breathe deeper as the fir green and burnt umber packaging curls helplessly into the garbage can. It’s like watching roller waves curl over a tropical beach except you don’t have to pay for luggage. And I don’t need the labels. Like any of the comfort “foods,” worrying about the labels is time misspent and guilt just waiting to attack the mellow.

If all else fails, I tell my troubles to my bear. The one my parents spent two years “breaking in” by driving over him, hanging him from the clothes line by one ear, resting him under heaving objects and general “loving him up” a little to resemble the teddy I lost when I was twelve. He was a present on my twenty-fifth birthday. Maybe they knew I’d need a little non-fattening, down low comfort from time to time and I wasn’t going to be able to find it in my largely ornamental kitchen. They’re sneaky smart that way.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

And you can fry them too

By Michael

Almost every cuisine that’s worth eating has them: boiled or steamed pieces of dough with stuff inside. Call them shumai, kreplach, ravioli, potstickers, tortellini, jiaozi, steamed buns, manti, khinkali, and mandu. Or if you live in a Polish neighborhood as my fictional PI Joe Kozmarski does, call them pierogi. Call them what you want, to my thinking they’re the ultimate comfort food.

There’s nothing edgy about dumplings. The proper noise to make when eating them is a slurp. If you’re normally attractive, you’ll be less so with soy sauce dripping down your chin or marinara sauce on your cheek. You may want to unbutton the top of your pants when you finish eating, but only to give your belly more room.

Other foods become the subject of love songs. Think of Mtume singing “Juicy Fruit” (“You’re my sugar thing,/ My chocolate star”). Think of the Archies singing “Sugar, Sugar” (“Sugar, ah honey honey,/ You are my candy girl/ And you’ve got me wanting you”). What the heck, think of Mtume again (“I’ll be your lollipop./ You can lick me everywhere”). Other foods get some. But not boiled or steamed dough with stuff inside. The only popular lyric that focuses on dumplings (at least the only one I can think of) emphasizes the un-sexy, the un-edgy, the slovenly: “Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John/ Went to bed with his trousers on;/ One shoe off, and one shoe on,/ Diddle, Diddle, dumpling, my son John.” Apparently My son John ate a plate of shumai, a couple of kreplach, a bowl of ravioli, and a dozen steamed buns and collapsed from the effort of removing a shoe. So, if you want someone to hold you and control you and then melt you slowly down like chocolate (Kylie Minogue), skip the dumplings. But if you’re looking for simple comfort, there’s nothing better.

My PI, like many other PIs, has struggled with various addictions (alcohol, cocaine) –and with the attractions of the edge – but he mostly has put his chemical dependence behind him. When the burden of the world becomes too much for him, he turns instead to a different escape mechanism. Pierogi. As he knows, they’re best taken with sour cream, though he also likes his with applesauce.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Eat. Pray. Belch.

By Shane Gericke

Longtime readers know I'm a coffee hound. Owwwwooooo!

But coffee, much as I love it, is not comfort food. Comfort food has to be oozy and gloozy and thick and soft, and dance in moonbeams with fat and/or sugar glowing as if irradiated. Its job is to comfort, not nag as do veggies and fruit and egg whites.

I try to eat mostly naggy foods these days, to keep my do-lap from overdoing. But when the sirens Sugah and Phat cannot be denied, here are a few comforts I tear after like Blagojevich spotting a TV camera. Give me strength . . .


How can you not mentally orgasm over digging into a bowl of the creamy frozen treat? Particularly the high-fat kind? (Even better, frozen custard, the true nectar of the gods.) This lady knows exactly what I mean:

I particularly love vanilla, mint chocolate, and spumoni. Separately, not mixed. Gotta keep those flavors separate.


Not the crunchy kind. The chewy: Thick. Soft. Delicious. (See above video.)


While I do like New York pizza--thin, crunchy, foldable-to-eat-it-one-handed--the true pizza fan adores Chicago pizza. It's several inches thick and stuffed to the gills with cheese, tomatoes, meat, green pepper, onions (the vegetables properly sauteed in olive oil, not just thrown on raw, thank you) and more cheese. Every slice is a meal. A full pan will put you in the hospital cause it'll spill out your ears. As all good comforts do.


Just handfuls of chocolate chips from the bag. Instant sugar rush, and your mouth vibrates if the chips are high-end chocolate. Yum!


Jays or Crunchers only. All other brands are meek. My faves have the perfect balance of oil (i.e., lots), salt and potato, and some of the chips are folded around themselves in double and triple layers. I treasure those four-leaf clovers of folded potato goodness, cause when you bite into them, you get kazipple million little crunchlets.


Because of my manly visage, you thought I only guzzled Scotch and sulfuric acid? Ha! I looooove milk. Even skim. (Even though it's kinda blue, if you look closely.) But it must be COLD. Preferably just above freezing. There is nothing worse than room temp milk. Except flat soda pop. That's worse. But just barely.


Yesterday, Bill 'splained the glory that is bacon, and I cannot think of anything to add. Except that I love it so, even that scrawny stuff you get at the free breakfast buffet at discount hotels. And, bacon spawned one of my favorite commercials ever, which explains so much how I feel about the glory that is bacon:

And finally, my true writing-time fave. It's portable, lasts forever, and it's easily stashed in my desk drawer, where the ol' whisky bottle resided when I worked at the newspaper. (Things DO change.) It's heaven in a waxed wrapper, and I present:


Love it, love it, love it. Rich, moist coconut enfolded in dark chocolate. Two pieces in every package, and I can stick an entire bag in my bottom desk drawer, where the whiskey bottle went in my old newspaper days. Mounds bars don't need refrigeration like ice cream, or heating like pizza. Instant gratification. Nirvana--



But it was so comforting . . .

When Shane Gericke isn't sitting around comforting himself--with food; get yer mind out of the gutter, you--he's writing crime thrillers like TORN APART, which Suspense Magazine just proclaimed "one of the top books of 2010." Read more at www.shanegericke.com, where you can eat all the pizza and ice cream you want cause it's digital and you won't gain weight.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Which I Give Myself a Coronary

by Bill

So what is the purpose of comfort food anyway? Obviously it's to ease an aching heart. And what better way to ease an aching heart than to kill it?

My comfort foods pretty much all boil down to slow-motion suicide. Tasty, tasty, slow-motion suicide.

In no particular order:

Bacon. Okay, this is in a particular order. Bacon tops my comfort food list, and is arguably the most deadly. It's got yer salt for high blood pressure. It's got your saturated fat and cholesterol for atherosclerosis. And then there's the carcinogenic nitrates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Comfort food indeed!

Bacon is, of course, its own reward. But it also makes salads more yummy, and can deliciously top everything from meatloaf and baked beans to cupcakes. (Note, however, that cupcakes are not a comfort food for me. I dislike cake in all its forms.) At last weekend's Portland BaconFest, I sampled bacon-infused vodka, maple bacon shortbread, bacon-and-pork meatballs, bacon pops, bacon-wrapped hotdog (see photo at top), and more. I probably cut five years off my life expectancy in one magical three-hour feeding frenzy.

So worth it.

Macaroni-and-cheese. A common comfort food, offering heart-coagulating levels of fat and cholesterol in creamy casserole form. My own variation is based on a standard. As a minor sop to my frightened coronary arteries, I make it with non-fat milk. But who am I kidding. Two pounds of Tillamook cheddar cheese in one 9x13 baking dish more than counteracts the modest benefit of skim milk. The potato chips crushed on top also contribute to my early death.

Still. Oh my gawd. I heart mac-and-cheese.

Potatoes. In all their forms. I usually wake up with the sads (eh, not really, but work with me here), so I need to comfort my aching heart over breakfast. In addition to the elixir of life, coffee, I like to make cheesy eggs and potatoes. The potatoes are in hash form, which I fry up first, Then I pour beaten eggs over the crispy taters. When the eggs are almost firm, I sprinkle shredded cheese over the top, flip it so the cheese can crisp a bit. Serve and eat!

Be still my beating heart. Literally.

Of course potatoes are also good in french fry form, mashed form, au gratin form. By themselves, they are relatively benign, but the cheesy eggy goodness which often accompanies them adds heart-stopping deliciousness. And, of course, too much starchy food has its own dangers, if less acute ones than the salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats of bacon and mac-and-cheese. Thus, potatoes qualify as comfortingly reckless in the quantities I eat them.

Hmmm. Maybe I should go eat a bowl of prophylactic oatmeal or something.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing with Chocolate-Covered Crutches

by Tracy

I have a writer friend who swears that during bouts of writer’s block her body goes into a weird kind of trance and wanders around the house rummaging for food without her being consciously aware of it.

To be fair, she’s always been a bit off.

However, I recently read a quote from one Roy Blount, Jr. that said, “I think writer's block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out."

I think old Roy is right. Writing is a job and you have to take that job seriously. You need to sit down and do your job. You write and then revise and then…

(Mmmm…what is in the cupboards this morning? Cheerios? Naw. Oatmeal? God, is that stuff even still good? Does oatmeal go bad? Hey! Frosted Flakes! Score!)

Where was I? Oh, yes! Writing. As you know our topic this week is comfort food’s role in the writing process. Now if I had to pick my all-time favorite “food” to help crank up the creative juices, it would have to be peanut M&Ms.

Really, how perfect are they? A peanut with a candy coating. Simply brilliant. As you know, health experts say that nuts are good for your heart. Or is that red wine? Whatever. I know they’re supposed to be good for you on some level.

However, theses little gems are not in our house right now because I’m on a health kick and have trained myself to make do without.

(Hey! Weren’t there some peanut M&Ms in the back of that desk drawer? Crap. Who left all these empty wrappers in here? Oh, well. What’s that in the Tupperware bin? Oh, last’s night spaghetti sauce. Should I heat it up? It’s not bad cold. It’s not great, but heating it up will turn it into a meal and I’m just browsing here.)

That’s weird. There’s spaghetti sauce on my pants. How did that get there? Anyway, my current comfort when writing is Diet Coke. It’s cold and fizzy and more importantly, loaded with caffeine. It’s also the perfect pallet compliment to the above mentioned peanut M&Ms, but as I may have mentioned, WE DON’T HAVE ANY. Not that I’m bitter. After all, I have willpower.

(Oh, wait! Are there any in that stash box in my son’s closet? The one he doesn’t know that I know about? Damn it! It’s empty. What kid doesn’t keep his stupid stash box full?)

Therefore, because I am a focused writer on a health kick, I just rely on Diet Coke and perseverance to see me through the day. It’s really just a matter of self-discipline.

(Hey! We have ice cream? Who bought ice cream? Yum! Chocolate fudge chip – nice! Just let me dig out all the chips here and then smush it back down so doesn’t look like I used a leaf blower to eat it…)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Food for thought

by Josh

So in grad school I wrote a three-act play (Pop Apocalypse) which set Shakespeare's Othello on Madison Avenue and flipped racism for sexism. I wrote it over the course of a summer and I wrote it fueled primarily by Reese's peanut butter cups and Sprite. You know, just like Shakespeare.

A few years later, I moved to New York City and became poor so I wrote a screenplay (Windfall) about a young, poor couple who agree to become cold-blooded murderers in exchange for promised compensation. I wrote it over the course of a summer and I wrote it fueled primarily by Three Musketeers and Duane Reade brand apple juice.

Shortly after that, my parents divorced, but post hoc ergo propter hoc (I assume). In reaction to my parents' divorce, I wrote a comedy (Arabella's Little Secret) about a man who is going through a messy breakup so he crashes at his daughter's apartment, unaware that she is a call girl. Not being a call girl myself, I decided that the extent of my research would entail the consumption of many, many bite-size Hershey bars.

The divorce left my father feeling quite lonely, so I moved down to Atlanta to live with him and, shortly thereafter, he fell in love with a delightful woman from faraway Minnesota whom he met on Jdate.com. Promptly, I wrote a novel (Nuclear Winter Wonderland) about a college student who travels across the country to find his kidnapped sister and, in his desperate travels, he falls in love with a delightful woman from faraway Nevada. As my father liked to stock his pantry with Little Debbie snack cakes, I would have been a bad son if I had not helped him eat them, and so I helped him eat them and, as a karmic reward, the novel practically wrote itself.

As I still missed New York City, I wrote a novel (While Galileo Preys - which comes out next week!) about a woman who abandons her dream for the sake of those she loves. This time, though, I'd stumbled upon a culinary muse that rivaled Reese's and Three Musketeers and Hershey and Little Debbie. I'd discovered my Grail. I'd discovered Publix brownies. And it is Publix brownies which have been my arteries' constant companions as I've gone on to write two-and-a-half more novels.

For those unfamiliar with Publix and their brownies (and I feel such pity for your deprivation), Publix is a supermarket chain located in the South. It specializes in high-end groceries and deli, and offers extraordinary fresh-baked goods. Their handmade brownies are sold in hefty slabs which are divided into eight portions. They come with or without nuts. Each brownie contains 250 calories and each calorie is richer than Ritchie.

I was going to upload a photograph of the one remaining brownie in my refrigerator but, well, I needed to eat something to write this post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

“C” is for Comfort… “M” is for Memories…

What’s your favorite comfort food? (Feel free to share recipes with this one.)

Picture this…

A modest clapboard farmhouse with a steeply pitched and rusted tin roof. Hand-poured cement steps led to a faded and worn plywood porch. Entering the home’s small but cozy living room, the scent of fresh ginger and warm sweet cane syrup permeate the air as laughter rises from multiple sources in the adjacent and equally humble dining room.

This isn’t the beginning of a thriller, a mystery, or a slasher flick. This is one of the memories I carry with me of my grandmother’s home and my favorite comfort food: her famous ginger cookies.

My grandmother – affectionately known as “Maw” to both her family and everyone in her community – was a formidable woman. After my grandfather died in 1940 and left Maw to raise their five children alone (the oldest only eight years old), she set about to do precisely that and accomplished her goal. She reared three girls and two boys as a single parent during a time when single parents were virtually nonexistent.

Maw wasn’t simply a homemaker content to accept handouts. In fact, I can’t recall her ever being too fond of handouts of any sort. She was an entrepreneur. Maw ran a small “eating place” from what was essentially a shed close to the dusty rural road on which she lived. Farmhands from neighboring properties would walk to “Maw’s Place” for a meal of red chili, chicken and dumplings, pot pie, meatloaf, or whatever she’d cooked that day as an entrĂ©e, along with any vegetables that were in season, and freshly baked bread. She would always have something sweet for them to take back with them, whether it was pie, cake, a slice of watermelon, or her famous ginger cookies.

I personally never saw “Maw’s Place” because she closed her business after the last of her children had grown, married, and moved on to start their own families. However, the recipes she created and sold to the farmhands kept her family afloat during very hard times, and generations have continued to enjoy them even though she’s been gone for many years now.

How can I possibly describe Maw’s ginger cookies? Think of a gingersnap cookie but soft and maybe just a little gooey in the center because of the syrup. Now take that cookie and magnify it times twenty, not in size but flavor. Oh, yeah. These are cookies men would kill over. Their power is undeniable. I made a batch one year at Christmas for my husband’s co-workers and every year (a total of five now) I’ve been asked (and tempted with bribery) to make the cookies.

I’ve also been asked for the recipe. While I have few issues with making them (other than they’re time consuming), I can’t share the recipe. It’s a closely guarded family secret and like any Southern worth my salt, I take such matters very seriously. I know it’s not fair to get you all worked up for ginger cookies only to yank the rug out from under you here at the end. So, while it isn’t Maw’s cookies, I can share another family favorite that’s just as good for comfort food…and far less time consuming.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

In a boiler combine:

2 cups white granulated sugar*
1 cup of milk
1 stick of butter or margarine
1/4 cup of cocoa powder

Bring to a hard rolling boil and let boil for three minutes. Remove from heat.

Add :
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2/3 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 cups quick oats

Stir quickly until mixture forms a thick chocolaty mass. Drop, quickly, by large rounded tablespoons on to aluminum foil. Allow to cool completely.

*No Splenda can NOT be substituted for the sugar. We’re going for comfort here. Tiny waistlines are irrelevant.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do....and if you're ever in my neck of the woods, and you ask nicely, (although bribery doesn't hurt) I may make a batch of Maw's ginger cookies for you. :)

- Jeannie

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Weather Report

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

Brain storm. Cerebral precipitation. Low barometric intellect. I’m from Seattle. We’ve got a thousand ways to say don’t bother styling your hair, it will never make it to the car. As a result, we’ve learned to live in the eye of the storm. I also pooh-pooh the bumbershoot, like many a local. But when it comes to the mocking blank page or tick-tocking deadline, I admit, I’ll head to any port in a storm. Here’s my top ten favorite moorage spots.

10. My iPhone notes app. This is where I’m storing all the flashes of brilliance that strike me in the frozen food aisle or while walking the dog (or when she walks me). I nearly had a heart attack when I left the stupid thing in a cab in New York City earlier this year. Fortunately, some deity thinks those random twitches of inspiration should ferment to actual stories because the very kind cab driver brought the phone back to me during a blinding snow storm. He gets a mention in the new book. Literary karma.

9. Rebecca Cantrell is brilliant. Chocolate. Lots of it. Okay, maybe not lots. I have a blood sugar problem which means there’s a moment when self-medicated erudition slips over to table dancing, indecipherable sleep note like stories and falling down. In that order.

8. Bill Cameron is also brilliant. You simply cannot make up what you might overhear in the strangest places. Two men, nice power suits, in line at the Starbucks discussing how a new girlfriend has named his private parts Buck which turned out to be the guy’s great uncle in the nursing home who drooled and smelled bad. Apparently it was very inhibiting but how do you tell the woman? I didn’t offer any advice but I did pull out my iPhone.

7. One word. Hempfest.

6. Play a game online as an alter ego with the chat function turned on. And chat in character. There are a couple of warnings that come with number six. DO NOT PLAY FOR REAL MONEY, especially if your character has compulsive issues. Also, IRL is not good for you. Really not good. If another player suggest it, assume he’s a reviewer with indigestion and get the heck out of Dodge.

5. Buy Tabletop Conversations. It’s a non-game game that you can play by yourself. It asks real questions, the kind that make you think about what’s real for you. It is as useful playing as yourself as it is playing as a character. Playing the Girlfriend edition with a mixed crowd is even more entertaining.

4. Scare yourself. It’s amazing how much repression and paralysis build up over time. Sometimes you need to blow the clog out. Listen to Anne Rice after dark. Look over the edge at the scenic spot in your neighborhood. Or go to the $5 to fly flying trapeze event. That five dollars buys you two moments, the ladder then the take your toes off the platform moment. What a bargain. The adrenaline will kick start your brain and/or make you throw up. But you will feel energy shooting from your fingertips onto your keyboard.

3. Pick up your camera. You don’t even have to take any pictures. Just look through the view finder and ask yourself, what story does this picture tell? Does that picture answer all the question words? Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? What about the senses – are they all present? Practicing seeing the story, filling in the blanks in your imagination, translates to the page. Plus you don’t take a lot of snaps where you later ask yourself what the heck was I looking at?

2. Cut your own hair with something other than scissors. Okay, pinking shears and children’s safety scissors are acceptable but nowhere near as good as a Leatherman’s tool. Yes, I have done this. You know why this works? Because I am not a professional hair stylist and it shows. In every mirror in my house. Which leaves two rooms I can be in post-shearing without wanting to cry – the bedroom where my insomnia mocks me and the study where my computer screams come over hair felony. We have things to do.

1. Call my mother. She lives in the Midwest version of Twin Peaks, has a family so dysfunctional the Munsters look normal in comparison and I’m pretty sure she’s off her meds. If there isn’t an idea there, there isn’t an idea. I do hope I’m adopted.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Old characters, new ideas

I've learned a lot this week on criminal minds about brainstorming. Everyone has such good ideas (some of which I'll probably steal). When you're blocked, you'll do anything to get started again.

So far writing a series has been an interesting and fun journey. When I start the next book, I’ve already got a world created with some wonderful characters I just need to reanimate to get them going. But it can be a little bit challenging to come up with plot ideas that are new and different for the next book. I don't want to be accused of writing the same book over and over again.

One quick way I’ve found to figure out what I should be writing next is to ask myself, what do I want to find out about Lydia or about my characters? Lydia is a single gal, and she’s a bit leery of commitment. She doesn’t exactly have a great track record with men. I wanted to know how she would deal with commitment, so I gave her not only a new boyfriend, but I also had her find a stray cat in my second book, DEAD IN THE WATER. I wanted to push her not only mentally with the stresses of being in a murder investigation, but emotionally with her relationships. And I was curious to see if she would let herself get tied down by a guy and/or take on all the responsibilities that came with having a cat.

Lydia’s bosses are two brothers, Italian-American private eyes. They’re bachelors, and pretty much under their mother’s thumb. Mama D’Angelo is a force to be reckoned with, and no woman is good enough for her boys. In POSED FOR MURDER, one of her bosses, Frankie D’Angelo had a girlfriend. It was so entertaining to write that, in the second book, I wanted to give Leo a girlfriend, too. I also wanted, in the second book, to meet more D’Angelos. And with the introduction of their cousin, I certainly got a better sense of how their family dynamics.

The McKenzie family has been mostly off screen so far. Lydia’s parents are retired and traveling the country in their RV, sending silly postcards from all the weird places they’re visiting. They call occasionally, but I’ve been curious about them. I wanted to know more about them, and I couldn’t think of a better way than putting them on the page. So in my third book (tentatively called "An Artful Death," they arrive for a visit. And they’ve been bitten by the amateur detective bug, too, and have a mystery to solve.

I also play with themes. Art world, sex trade, family ties – and then try to think of new twists or parts of the story I can flesh out. It’s fun to give myself assignments, like making the murder, the murderer, and my sleuth’s personal life all have a common theme. As a screenwriter, I always do better with more constraints. Seems like an odd thought when discussing creativity, but it’s true. Constraints help me focus and make a tighter story.

One important thing I’ve discovered over time, there are no shortcuts in the writing process. It takes time, and I have to still take walks, think and ruminate in order to come up with ideas (and use other people's methods to get unstuck). But having the characters waiting for me when I sit down to write has made writing a series very enjoyable.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blasting Myself Out of a Jam

BOYS 'n' TOYS: The Tommy-gun-totin' feller on the left is author Steve Martini. I've got the H&K MP5 at the right. We were at firearms display at last year's ThrillerFest.
I write, therefore I shoot.
Or is it the other way around?

Doesn't matter. When I'm stuck in a beaver dam of words, I need to move. Not just metaphorically, but physically. So I walk. Lift weights. Mow the grass. Fix something around the house.

But mostly, I shoot.

There are several good gun ranges within a half hour of my house, and I take full advantage. Pistols, mostly; both revolvers and semiautos. I love the snick of the hammer. Stroke of the trigger. Blast and careen of gunpowder exploding, bullet leaving the barrel, splatting onto the (paper) target. The smell of burnt gunpowder curling out of the barrel and into my nose.

Big bangs cleanse the mind right fiercely.

Some of you don't like guns. You wonder why I'd write about "evil killing machines good only for murdering poor innocent children," let alone admit to liking and using them regularly.


First, I'd be a big ol' hypocrite if I didn't. They're in every single book I write. They're in every crime book I read. Most books you read, too; c'mon, admit it. You wouldn't be here at CM if you didn't like crime novels.

Second, guns are a tool. It's people that make them bad (armed robbers) or good (cops). To say guns cause murder is to say cars cause DUIs. Just 'tain't so.

Third, it's fun. Shooting is a mental, physical and intellectual exercise. Think not? You try putting a fiery hunk o'lead into a bullseye the size of your big toe--100 feet away--then tell me it's easy. It takes enormous hand-eye-head coordination to line up everything so the hole appears where it's supposed to.

Fourth, it's a free country, and I can.

Enough of that. What shooting does for my writing is significant: the noise and the jump and the ritual make me focus. It gets rid of the monkey brain that occurs when I'm in the throes of writing. All other things fade to nothingness while I'm in the arena. That lets my subconscious shoot away at that tangled beaver dam of words. When I'm done firing a couple hundred rounds of ammo, my writing problems have been blasted to smithereens.

And the smell of coffee curling into my nose on the drive home is sweet indeed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Bus Ticket to Inspirationville

By Kelli

Like Graham yesterday, I make a distinction between inspiration and brainstorming. Inspiration--also known as the Idea Muse--showers us with those delicious feelings of possibility that can lead to, well, dark crime fiction.

For me, there are a few standard "pick-u-pulls" from which the Muse distributes her largesse:

1. History. Fact really is weirder than fiction. And even when I'm researching--particularly when I'm researching--I'll find some tidbit from a newspaper to fit in, something that really happened, something for my characters to comment on, even in small ways. For the Roman series, archaeological mysteries sometimes spark ideas ... for example, the plot of THE CURSE-MAKER was spurred by some items discovered in the Sacred Spring in Bath.

2. Ephemera. (There, Becks, I said it.) Also known as bits and bobs. Flea markets, antique stores, Ebay. Photos, diaries, yearbooks, you name it. A Roman earring (OK, it's an "antiquity" but it's also ephemera of a kind). All objects imbued with a story ... a story I can tap and work into my own.

3. Travel. I'm always interested in learning about new places ... even if the new place is a mile away. Traveling opens our minds and imaginations to new impressions and new ideas ... both of which can be easily converted to inspiration for a character's background or the setting for a book.

4. Riding the Bus. OK, so I don't hang out at cafes, but I do ride public transportation. For a noir writer, this is very, very handy. Talk about a Pick-U-Pull of characters and stories! A cheap and efficient way to enrich your minor-league cast. And if you're lucky, it'll get you across town.

5. Film and other media. Noir, of course, but any good movie, well-told, can inspire. I like classic audio drama, too ... "Sorry, Wrong Number" is an example of how good radio suspense thrillers could be, and all in thirty minutes (the movie came after, and frankly--it wasn't as good). That's Shadow of a Doubt on the left--Hitch's favorite of his films, and mine too.

6. Literature. Read the classics, contemporary or past, read poetry. All of the pain, drama, and emotions we evoke in our work are there. It's fascinating to see how the masters handle them, and how cultural and societal mores transform through the ages.

7. Play with the dog. Walking your dog, petting your cat, saying hello to your llama ... basically bonding with your pets and letting your mind flow over the experiences of the past day or week ... therapeutic and an aid to the Muse. And good for all the animals!

But all this is digressing from what a "brainstorm" is, at least for me ...

Brainstorming is what I do when I'm trying to figure out if the inspiration will work as a full-fledged novel. How will the plot progress, what twists can I add in, what about sub-plots, etc. etc. Plotting--and re-plotting--requires all kinds of knitted brow work, and lots of lots of paper and pencil. Notes, charts, calendaring, circles and odd geometric figures and dotted lines and Xs where I've crossed things out that won't work.

[And still things will change by the end of the friggin' book ... but I digress.]

When it comes to jotting these cloudbursts down, I'm as fussy as other Criminal Minds--I have a particular pencil (mechanical) I like to use and particular paper (I favor black Clairefontaine notebooks made in France). But I've also used cocktail napkins, newspaper, junk mail, crayons and lipstick for various notes because you never know when the hell the Muse will wink at you.

[After the lipstick adventure, I learned to keep a notepad with me at all times, and I do ... a reporter's back pocket notebook, which is also water-proof.]

I also keep a notepad by the side of my bed-- that magic drifting off time right before sleep will sometimes produce ideas, lines, developments and whole pages of dialog. I also like Rhodia notebooks ... the French design paper as well as they design clothes.

So next time you want to hang out with ol' Eavesdropping Bill at his favorite dialog-heavy cafe in Portland, buy a bus ticket ... you might find some inspiration along the way!