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If You Like Hugh Laurie's Piercing Blue Eyes.....

Hugh Laurie is very nerd-sexy.  He's got killer blue eyes, a deliciously hot accent, and on the rare occasion he unveils it in public, a wonderful smile.  However, he's also got a rapier wit and knows his way around a story.
Oh, you didn't know that in addition to being an actor and a musician that he's a novelist?  Yup, this Renaissance man can write!  In fact, as much as I love House, I can't wait for it to end so he can get back to writing.  This book is a hysterical spy caper that revels in its British-ness.  Think of it as James Bond, very lightened.  Laugh out loud funny.  It starts with an ex-Scots Guard being offered a job to assassinate someone.  Not only does he turn down this lucrative offer, but he goes to warn the intended victim.  Who of course has the requisite sultry daughter to be seduced.  Sarcastic, witty, and with a riveting and fast-paced international terror action packed plot, this is a MUST READ!!!!! 

Weekend Treat: Garlic Chicken (or Turkey!) Pizza

Chances are you have a considerable amount of leftover turkey in your frig.  And as yummy as they are, the thought of another turkey sandwich or white turkey chili leaves you cold.  Here's a fabulous Cooking Light recipe to jazz up your leftovers.  Or, if you truly don't have any turkey left, just follow the recipe as written and use cooked chicken (I actually prefer thighs to breasts - it is up to you!).  Super easy, super fast, and super yummy.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (16-ounce) Italian cheese-flavored pizza crust (such as Boboli)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 cup chopped plum tomato
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Place crust on a baking sheet; brush vinegar mixture over crust. Top with chicken, tomato, and mushrooms; sprinkle with cheeses and green onions.
Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheeses melt.

You're Never Too Old For A Field Trip

I'm getting up from my laptop this weekend and taking a field trip to Cape May, NJ.  It is the setting for the next three books I'm writing.  My husband and I visited there a few years ago on our anniversary and loved it.  Whenever I travel, something in my brain clicks. I think soaking up the different atmosphere just kicks my brain into overdrive. But all I come up with are possibilities. A general gee this is a great setting feel. Then I have to put my nose to the grindstone and figure out what the heck will happen there. It is a constant battle of rubbing the brain cells together while thinking what if?
The problem is that I shouldn't have to make this trip.  I wrote my first book, Carolina Heat, after a two day visit to Charleston.  The bulk of the book was written years after our visit.  And yet one of the things reviewers praised most was my sense of setting.  Why?  Because the feel of the city got under my skin.  The humidity as thick as a wet blanket, making it hard to breathe.  The slower pace of speaking, the amazing architecture, and the manners that only come from generations of practice all added up to something particular to that locale.  Evoking a setting in my next three books was just as easy.

But right now, I'm 20,000 words in and so far, this plot could take place near any beach.  As I mentioned, we loved Cape May, and I did get a germ of a story idea while there.  But aside from its colorful, gingerbread mansions and the beach, I can't put my finger on what makes Cape May stand out from every other Mid-Atlantic beach town.  And if I don't feel it, I can't transmit it to my readers.  To me, the setting is a supporting character - vitally important to a rich, vibrant book.

So I'm off on a field trip.  I'm going to visit the lighthouse, a WWII bunker, a winery, a pedestrian mall, a gorgeous hotel where John Philip Sousa used to perform, and a few restaurants.  Oh, and, if I plan it right, stroll Sunset Beach at sunset.  I will soak in the local flavor, come hell or high water.  I'm spending the night in one of those gingerbready-looking mansions, and I won't leave until I know I can transport you there in a few sentences.

Would You Climb A 14,000 Foot Mountain?

I'm a couch potato. Sure, I drag myself to the gym several times a week, but exercise is NOT my idea of a good time.  Mark Obmascik felt the same way when his twelve year old son pestered him into climbing a mountain.  He figured it would be a good bonding experience, and that he'd probably survive.

For your reading pleasure today, I present Halfway to Heaven, the story of - in his own words - a fat, mid-40s journalist who decides to scale all 54 of America's 14,000+ peaks...in a single year.  The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, so I assure you the prose is crisp and funny and honest.  Without any training, he leaps into the insular world of climbing.

Even in the middle of summer, each mountain is treacherous with snow and ice.  He has to somehow drum up climbing buddies (and many of his friends won't commit more than once).  Despite the constant danger, lack of sleep and oxygen, every mountain is a fresh and different story, laced with fascinating tidbits of Colorado history, climbing lore, and juggling a midlife crisis, a scared wife and an almost teenage son.  Obmascik loses weight, gains confidence, strengthens friendships, and provides a vicarious adventure enjoyable to all.

Weekend Treat: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

This time of year, everyone is searching for a new, exciting cookie recipe.  For a birthday party last night, I whipped up a batch of these from Bon Appetit.  The birthday boy (37 years old!) gobbled down 7 of them.  Four of us managed to eat the entire batch.  Yup, Bon Appetit never lets me down.
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup natural no-stir crunchy (or chunky) peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 2.1-ounce Butterfinger candy bar, chopped (scant 1/2 cup) 
Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and reheat to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat peanut butter, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and brown sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla extract, then flour mixture (dough will look crumbly). Stir in bittersweet chocolate chips and chopped Butterfinger candy.
Place remaining 1/4 cup sugar in small bowl. Using 1 1/2 tablespoons dough for each cookie, roll dough between palms to form balls. Roll balls in sugar and place on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Using bottom of glass or measuring cup, press cookies into 1/3-inch-thick rounds.
Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 15 to 16 minutes, reversing sheets halfway through cooking time for even baking. Transfer parchment paper with cookies to rack and cool.

Getting Involved - A Way to Give Back, That Gives to You

This time of year there is much talk about being grateful.  Authors are grateful for their contracts, their agents, their critique partners, their long-suffering and patient families.  Readers are grateful for back to back releases, and extra time to be curled up with a favorite book.

Instead of focusing on the 'thanks' part of Thanksgiving, I want to talk about the 'giving'.  Last night I was voted onto the Board of Directors of my local Romance Writers of America chapter.  Whether you look at it as a great honor or a voluntary year of indentured servitude to the organization (I'm hoping it is the former!), it is my way of giving back to a group that supports me year round.  The beautiful part of this is that no matter how much of my time I give to others, I receive (almost) as much back.  New frienships, strengthened existing friendships, unbelievable networking, and so much more.  Writing is a particularly solitary occupation, so seize every opportunity to mix and mingle with your peers.

Getting on the Board of any organization to which you belong is a great idea.  There are positions for people with loads of experience, as well as positions that relative newcomers can snap up.  It is a wonderful training ground, and a great way to immerse yourself (otherwise known as trial by fire!).

Now, to be more engaged, you certainly don't need to commit yourself to a leadership position (although I highly recommend it).  As a more low-key example, we recently wrapped up a contest.  Participation as a judge meant critiquing four 20 page-long entries; you could knock them off in an afternoon, or spread out over four weeks.  In other words, the time committment was negligible.  But you always improve as a writer by reading other works, not to mention that you are helping out each entrant to grow, and pursue their dream.  Think about that for a minute - being a stepping stone along the path to realizing a lifelong dream.  That is HUGE!  Talk about good karma.  And who couldn't use some good karma?

Give of yourself.  Becoming more engaged simultaneously gives to others while the experience is a gift to you.

Would You Retire If You Could?

I've got another non-romance recommendation for you in Early Bird, although it does contain a search for love and sex, along with many laugh out loud moments.  So many of us toil for a paycheck (yup, I'm at work right now!).  Some enjoy it, others simply want to pay the mortgage and afford a few dinners out.  Others work to sock away plenty for retirement.  But what if you didn't have to? 
In this hilarious memoir, after being a writer for David Letterman, Mr. Rothman 'retires' at 28.  He opts to move to a Boca Raton retirement village.  Yes, he embraces everything cliched about retirement, including early bird dinners, shuffleboard, and finding his place in the very hierarchical community.  There are wonderful character sketches of his new neighbors.  Plus, he has to figure out how to date a woman his own age while living the life of an 80 year old.  

I have friends who swear they'll retire at 40.  While I'm not thrilled when my alarm clock goes off every day, I do enjoy mingling with people, and having a purpose.  If we won the lottery tonight (oh yes, I bought a ticket!) and my husband could quit his job, I don't know what he'd do.  Sure, he'd golf more often, but I think he'd be at a loss fairly quickly.  Bored, even.  What about you?

Weekend Treat - Orange Marmalade Layer Cake

I began subscribing to Cooking Light many years ago.  Back then, their desserts were bad, because you could tell they were 'light' recipes.  Not anymore!  They found their sweet-tooth groove.  So I wanted to share with all of you a birthday cake I made yesterday from, yes Cooking Light.  It is low fat, low calorie, and freakishly delicious.  For those of you like me who don't read to the end of the recipe until it is too late, be warned - this must be made ahead of time to chill.

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 (12-ounce) jar orange marmalade, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.
Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray, and line bottoms of the pans with wax paper.
Lightly spoon sifted cake flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine sifted flour, baking soda, and salt (I also added a tbsp of allspice and a tsp of ginger - made all the difference!), stirring with a whisk. Place butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Gradually add 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until well blended. Beat in orange rind and vanilla. Add egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine buttermilk and milk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 20 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
Combine juice and 1/4 cup sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Pierce the cake layers liberally with a wooden pick. Slowly drizzle juice mixture over cake layers.
Carefully place 1 layer on a plate; spread with 1/3 cup marmalade. Top with remaining layer; spread remaining marmalade on top of cake. Fold sour cream into whipped topping; spread over sides of cake. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

Take a Spin Around the Stripper Pole

Romance novels are great.  I love them whole-heartedly.  Can't ever get enough.  However, it behooves both readers and writers to stretch themselves into other genres.  Every week, I'm going to share a recommendation to help you explore the vast non-romance world.

You may all remember Juno as a heartwarming and funny film that rocked the box office a few years ago.  What didn't get much coverage was that the writer spent a year prior to her big Hollywood break as a stripper in Minneapolis.  For fun. Not for drugs, not for money, not because she came from a broken family - just because she wanted to know what it was like.

Candy Girl is Diablo Cody's memoir of that crazy year.  It is a funny, fascinating behind-the-scenes peek.  Caution - it is not for the prudish.  One of my book club members actually stopped reading it on an airplane, for fear of what the flight attendant might glimpse on a page.  She is beyond frank in all of her descriptions.  That raw quality is part of what makes this book so compelling.
It might not make for appropriate conversation over the Thanksgiving turkey, but it will definitely lead to great conversation over a bottle of wine!

Weekend Treat - Pumpkin Honey Beer Bread

In our house, Sunday is the day when much cooking happens.  We make a recipe plan for the week, go shopping, and go to town in the kitchen.  This time of year, that includes a few extra treats, such as pie or bread. 

This is a recipe for a quick bread, which means no yeast, no waiting for it rise.  Feel free to tweak it to your taste - I go heavy on the spices, and instead of honey beer, used a maple beer from our Canada vacation in the spring (plus, you get to drink the rest of the bottle!).  You can give the second loaf away, or wrap up and freeze for up to two months.  Delicious for breakfast, and the best part is that this wonderful recipe is from Cooking Light, which makes it a guiltless way to kick off the holidays.  Enjoy!
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (feel free to swap in a cup of whole wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup honey beer (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

  • 1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  • 2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, salt, and next 4 ingredients (through pumpkin pie spice) in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.
  • 3. Combine 1/2 cup water and flaxseed.
  • 4. Place sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. Add flaxseed mixture and pumpkin; beat at low speed just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until combined. Divide batter between 2 (9 x 5–inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Words Are Magical or The Lingering Funk

As a writer, I have the utmost respect for words.  Words are magical.  They can inspire love, anger, hatred, forgiveness, hilarity - the list goes on endlessly.  There are seven times more words in the English language than in French (they definitely got the short end of the stick on that one!).  The Japanese have one word for both foot and leg - must make it awkward when visiting the doctor. 

I visited the doctor today.  My karmic punishment for taking care of my sick husband?  Not only catching his cold, but upgrading it to a sinus infection.  My doctor labeled it The Lingering Funk.  Immediately my brain went into overdrive.  Sure, it was the perfect description of my hacking cough and stuffiness. 

But...the words could also describe that stench in my back yard I used awaken to that said skunks partied there overnight.  Or the depression that lingers after eating an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting post-breakup.  A biochemist who studied and named vitamins (okay, I had to look that one up, but it's true!).  Or the most kick-ass name ever for a jazz group.

So yes, I walked out of that doctor's office still sniffly, but also jazzed by the wonderous possibilities of words.  I like the musicality of my Lingering Funk.  Now it's your turn.  What phrases set your mind spinning?

Doing the Happy Dance

Nobody (well, nobody sane, anyway) sets out to be a writer for the fame and fortune.  We toil because we love it.  We write because we can't not write.  And yet I'll shamelessly admit there is a not so small part of me that does crave, if not adulation, then at least a pat on the back.  So I'm very excited to share with you the best review I've ever received on any of my books:  http://bit.ly/rQHIFl .  My thrill isn't at the hope that this review sells more books, or gets tweeted around the blogosphere.  I'm dancing around the room with a permagrin because my words made this reader happy for a few hours.  Put a smile on her face.  For me, that is the ultimate authorial satisfaction.