Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Incredible Edible ... Aquafaba?!

I'm putting on my half-assed vegan hat today to talk about eggs, or rather life without them. For various reasons a lot of people cannot eat eggs. They might be vegan, or allergic, or have to watch their cholesterol.

Like my half-assed vegan status, I'm half-assed off eggs. Once in a while I will order them when I'm out for breakfast, but I have cut my egg consumption down to almost nothing. It's kind of like what happened when I started cutting back on eating meat, I started losing my taste for it. And with a diary allergy, I have to watch how they are prepared.

Tofu quiche with hash brown crust
There are lots of premade egg substitutes out there, but did you know you already have egg replacements in your pantry? It's true. Applesauce, banana, and cornstarch can all be used to replace eggs in cooking depending on the recipe.

Looking for an egg-free scramble or omelet,? Look no further than tofu. I make a lot of tofu based scrambles, frittatas and quiches. All yummy and pretty much identical in taste to the egg-made counterparts. And tofu based dishes like this reheat better than the same items made with eggs.

The trick with a lot of these tofu "egg" dishes is to use some turmeric, which makes it look like eggs. After all, we eat with our eyes first. Next is to season it well. Some tofu scrambles have you make a sauce which you then stir into the cooked veggies and tofu for seasoning, and some have you blend the tofu and seasonings in a blender until its a chunky batter, then cook it. I've done both and both work. It depends on what your making. If I'm just looking to make a scramble, I prefer adding the sauce separately near the end of cooking. The Internet is filled with tofu based traditional egg dishes.

As far as baking goes, most vegans use flax eggs in place of real eggs. A flax egg is 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed combined with 3 tablespoons of water. Stir well and let rest for 5-15 minutes until it becomes a sticky egg-like consistency. You can also do this with ground chia seeds.

But if you're like me, you don't have ground flax or chia seeds hanging around. I might if I baked more, but I don't. And this brings us to the fun portion of this program:

The Amazing Aquafaba!

I'll bet you think this is some kind of fancy prepackaged egg substitute, 

Bzzzz - Wrong!

Aquafaba is something that is sweeping vegan baking and it's something most of us have right in our pantry. You see, aquafaba is just a fancy word for garbanzo/chickpea juice or liquid. That's right, the stuff you pour down the drain when you open a can of garbanzo beans!  Trust me, a lot of vegans and half-assed vegans are now saving that stuff and using it in baking. You can even freeze it.

I use a lot of garbanzo beans. It's one of my favorite proteins in my vegan cooking and there's almost nothing you can't do with or to them, but even I was surprised when I learned this.

Generally, 3 tablespoons of aquafaba replaces 1 egg. If the liquid from canned garbanzo beans seems too watery, it can be reduced down slightly until it is a little thicker and the consistency of a raw egg. I reduce mine down a little, cool it, then freeze it for later use.

I have used aquafaba as an egg replacement in pancakes and baked goods with great success. It's not something you can scramble up like real eggs or tofu, but it has a gazillion uses. And you can't even taste it in these recipes.
  • Raw: Fluffs, whips, nice creams, and drink and pie toppings
  • Baked: Meringues, macaroons, and pavlovas
  • Confectionery: nougat, marshmallows, fudge and icing
  • Savory: cakes, waffles, cookies, mayo, burgers, cheese, butter, breads, etc
Garbanzo juice - who knew?!

Meringue made with aquafaba
The official aquafaba site FAQ

And there are a couple of groups on Facebook where you can learn more:
Vegan Meringue (vegan use/discussion only)
Aquafaba Everything

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Serial Not Cereal

I confess I'm a serial writer, as opposed to a serial killer, which I might be too, considering how many bodies I've killed to date between the pages of books. I once started adding up all the bodies trailing behind my computer keyboard, but as the numbers piled up and headed toward triple digits, I became increasingly alarmed.

That many? Really? Who knew?!

But when it comes to writing stories, with or without bodies, I am a serial writer. I love writing stories about characters that don't end at the end of a book, but continue over many books, with the characters changing, developing, and growing as they face the same challenges we all face in our daily lives. Minus the string of dead bodies, of course. I also love to read serial fiction.

When I first started writing my Odelia Grey mysteries, I knew it it had potential to be a long series, if given a chance. I saw the arc of Odelia's life spanning lots of pages and time, and was very fortunate that my publisher, Midnight Ink, saw that too and purchased twelve books in the series. I'm currently writing RHYTHM & CLUES, the 11th book. It has been a very long, bumpy road for both Odelia and me.

When my Ghost of Granny Apples series began, I never saw it as going beyond three books. Really I didn't. But here I am now writing the 9th! Once THE GHOSTS OF MISTY HOLLOW is done, I will have penned six full-length novels and three novellas in this series. Again, who knew?!

2nd in series Available Here!
So when I started writing the Winnie Wilde romance novellas under the pen name of Meg Chambers, it was no surprise to me that I saw Winnie's journey of self-discovery extending over a series of short fiction instead of containing it all in one long book.

I love writing these short digital novellas filled with humor, sexy adventure, and family drama. Somewhere between a short story and a novel, they give me, the author, time to create a full story, condensed and distilled into a hundred pages or so, and leave the reader wanting more. While some earlier reviewers weren't sure about my use of this format, I think it's a perfect fit. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd want to write, or read, 350 pages of bed hopping, but this way each short novel can focus on another segment of Winnie's life, keeping on hand a core group of supporting characters, as in my mysteries series, while allowing other characters to come and go within just one book.

And sometimes the reverse happens. Years ago I started a series of short stories, the Holidays From Hell series, in which I played out a dysfunctional family's crisis against the backdrop of holidays. There are currently four short stories in this series available on Amazon. I stopped writing them a couple of years because as I developed the story of the Bowen family, especially Zelda Bowen, I realized that this story arc should be taking place within the pages of a full novel. Unfortunately, with all my other writing obligations, it has taken me quite a while to finish this book, but it is about 3/4 done and I hope to finish it up by the end of 2016. The working title is STUCK IN THE MIDDLE.  So stay tuned on the progress of that book.

But back to Winnie. A week ago the 2nd novella in this series, WILDE WOMEN, was released. The plan is to have the 3rd, WILDE AT HEART, out later this year, followed by WILDE THYME after that. I have notes on at least six books, and already can see how the series will end. Hopefully readers will be biting at the bit for each one.

After Winnie, my alter ego Meg Chambers has another romance series up her sleeve. One with a lot more possibilities. So stay tuned!

But just as someone cannot live off cereal all the time, neither can a writer live off of serials. Although born of a series, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE will be a stand alone novel, and I'm currently jotting down notes on a stand alone thriller. I also have several stand alone short stories available on Amazon for just 99 cents, and another partially completed.

Reading is a lot like eating. Sometimes we need a snack, sometimes we need a quick soup and sandwich, and sometimes we need a three course dinner.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Straight Outta The News

This weekend I watched the movie Straight Outta Compton. I'd been wanting to see this movie since it came out. I was NOT disappointed. I was glued to my screen. The acting was excellent. The story compelling. And it was real.

Straight Outta Compton chronicles the rise of rap, specifically the group N.W.A. and the music icons that came out of it, such as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Easy-E. It starts in the late eighties. Rap at that time was controversial on its own, but N.W.A. took it to new heights of performance and newsworthiness as their songs talked about life in the hood, poverty, and police brutality. It was dangerous music, in that it incited people to take a stand. And in this fat old white lady's opinion, it was poetry at its finest.

Yes, the music of N.W.A. was/is poetry. I went back and played some of the songs over after the movie ended.  The words and emotions are raw and real. It was the poetry of people living with injustice and surrounded by crime, and looking for a way out.

Up front, I'm not a big rap fan, although I do like and have bought some over the years. But I am a music bio-pic lover. I love knowing the stories behind the music and music makers, Hollywood-ized or not. Some of my favorites include:

Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
What's Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner)
8 Mile (Eminem)
Ray (Ray Charles)

These songwriters and musicians all faced their own demons and hardships as they struggled to do what they love. Just as many writers like myself do the same. Behind almost every artistic endeavor is a rawness and personal experience just waiting to bust out. When writers write words, whether books, poetry or songs, they are "bleeding on the page." Even a painting is someone's life on a canvas.

But back to Straight Outta Compton. I was in my late thirties when N.W.A was hitting big on the charts. I remember well the controversy over their music. It was a volatile time for Los Angeles that included the Rodney King beating and riots that followed. All over the nation, N.W.A. was demonized by main stream America for their music.

BTW - one of my favorite scenes/lines from the movie was when N.W.A. was watching a group of people destroying their albums.

Ice Cube: [watching a crowd destroy their records] Ain't that some shit? Speak a little truth and people lose their minds.

Eazy-E: See, the truth is, they can do whatever they want with them. They bought them motherfuckers.

Main stream America is pretty fickle and often far from open minded about things they don't understand or want to see. Often during the movie I was reminded of a big song from a monster hit musical. Here are the words from Do You Hear The People Sing, from Les Miserables, a musical that main stream America flocked to in record numbers, the same people who thirty years ago were burning and destroying N.W.A.'s records:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.

Those are pretty stirring words, but wrapping them in a big glitzy musical production about the French Revolution, sung predominately by white people, and charging a fortune for reserved orchestra seats made them acceptable. If N.W.A. had penned these words, they would have been condemned.

Finally, one of the most heartbreaking things for me about viewing Straight Outta Compton was realizing that while these events took place in the late eighties and early nineties, not much has changed in our society in thirty years.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Count Down To Wildness!

On February 1, 2016, I will finally be releasing WILDE WOMEN, the 2nd novella in my Winnie Wilde romance series written under the pen name of Meg Chambers.  I say finally because originally I had anticipated that this digital novella would be released late summer 2015. But, as we all know, sometimes life gets in the way.

I love writing this romantic series about a 50 year old divorcee exploring her new freedom and awakening appetites accompanied by lovely, sexy men. The novellas are filled with humor and sexy, steamy encounters.

In the first novella, RUNNING WILDE, Winnie, freshly divorced, meets Ben Church, a charming man twenty years her junior, who encourages her to follow her dreams. Through him, she meets new people who become incorporated into her life as friends, easily mixing with her existing friends. She also challenges her grown children to see and accept her in a new light other than that of mother and grandmother.

"Want to feel empowered, lusty and totally in charge?
Take a sexual romp of libidinous fun with Winnie Wilde.
I did and loved it."
Patrika Darbo, Emmy nominated actress and
"full-featured Bitch Goddess of Daytime"
from Days of Our Lives

In the second novella, WILDE WOMEN, Winnie, now a published romance author, heads for Florida to visit her widowed mother. On the flight she meets Gabriel Dunn, an educated, sophisticated doctor. Sparks fly between the two almost immediately. In spite of family issues involving Winnie's mother and her fiancĂ©, the two manage to date and embark upon a relationship that leaves them both wanting more.

To celebrate the release of WILDE WOMEN, I have initiated two events:

1. Currently there is a contest running to win a digital copy of WILDE WOMEN.  The contest ends January 24th and details can be found pinned to the top of the thread at the Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club on Facebook.

2. Secondly, beginning today for a week there is a Kindle Countdown Deal going on for RUNNING WILDE. For the next few days you can download a copy of RUNNING WILDE for just 99 cents. On January 25th thru the rest of the period, the price will be $1.99, then it will be back to its original low price of $2.99. 


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Truly, Madly, Deeply Saddened

Today I slept in 2 extra hours. I needed it. I was exhausted from juggling two writing deadlines with a heavy work load at the law firm where I'm a paralegal. When I did finally crawl out of bed around 7, I was greeted with two sad bits of news:

1) I did not win the $1.5 billion Powerball.

2) Alan Rickman had died.

The first one I expected. The second cut me to my heart.

From Truly Madly Deeply
You see, since 1991, when I first saw the movie Truly Madly Deeply, I have been infatuated with British actor Alan Rickman. I'll bet I've seen almost every movie he's made from the blockbuster Harry Potter movies, to Sense and Sensibilities, Galaxy Quest, Love Actually, Robin Hood: Price of Thieves, Die Hard, Quigley Down Under, Something the Lord Made, just to name a few, and even dogs like Blow Dry.

Over the years I have watched this man, this brilliant actor, play comedy, action, drama, bad guys, and good guys. I watched him age and never once lost my attraction to him as both a man and an actor.  His voice alone could make me weak in the knees.

I even wrote him into my Odelia Grey mystery series, giving Odelia the same star crush:

 I was sitting on my sofa, knee deep into the bucket-o-puddin’, watching the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. It’s one of my all time favorites. Not because it stars Kevin Costner, but because it boasts the British actor Alan Rickman cast as the Sheriff of Nottingham. I have a thing for Rickman. In my eyes, he is right up there with My-T-Fine chocolate pudding. (from The Curse Of The Holy Pail)

I was ... I am ... an Alan Rickman SUPER FAN!

I'm in my 60's now and it seems at least once a week, celebrities, TV and movie stars, musicians, athletes, and news makers I've grown up with are passing away. They are aging just as I am. It's a slap in the face, a brutal reminder of my own mortality.

But this lost ... this passing ... cut my heart out with a spoon...

From Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fat Woman Walking

Yep that's me this year. When a few of my Facebook friends took up the challenge of walking/running/biking 2016 miles in the year 2016, I decided to join them.

2016 in 2016!

Do the math and that works out to just over 5.5 miles a day (2016 is a leap year).

As of the writing of this blog, I have chalked up 17.34 miles. Yeah. Yeah. I know, I'm already behind 37.66 miles. I got a late start on this by a few days and I'm so out of shape that I haven't been able to get close to 5 miles a day yet.

BUT (and please notice this is not BUTT, as in my big ole butt), I have faith in myself that I can chalk up 2016 miles in 2016.

Walking is easy. It's free. Biking on my stationary bike is easy (hell, it's in front of the TV), and it's also free. Running, well, that ain't happening, not with my bad knee. The goal here is to log 2016 miles this year, not to become crippled. And it will be so good for me in so many ways!

I'm tackling this challenge with the same determination I mustered when I took on the Camp Pendleton Mud Run in 2009. You can read about that HERE.

When I first let people know that I was going to do the Mud Run, a lot of them laughed and said I'd never be able to finish. WELL, BITE ME! I did finish, and I finished within the qualifying time! When I first started talking about doing 2016 in 2016, again people said I'd never be able to do it.
Finish Line at Camp Pendleton

Ye of little to no faith, 
you have no idea with whom you're dealing!
I mean, I'm a woman who writes 2-3 novels a year, and manages to hold down a busy day job!

In training for the Mud Run, I started slow and gradually built up my workouts until I was walking 3-6 miles a day, often on hilly terrain. And that was just walking for training. For the 2016 in 2016 challenge, we're adding up every step taken, even those in our day-to-day lives, such as walking from the car to the house, from our desks to the bathroom, from the couch to the fridge. (Hopefully, in a few weeks, there will be less of this last one.) Most of us are wearing devices such as FitBits.

To encourage those participating, I've started a Facebook group called 2016 in 2016. It's a group of people from all walks of life, all ages, and all levels of fitness, who have one common purpose: to move themselves by their own physical power 2016 miles in the year 2016.

It's only day 11 and we're having a good time cheering each other on. Some of the members are hardcore exercisers and are throwing down big numbers. Most, though, are like me, building up to the miles but determined to git 'er done!  

If you're interested in joining us in this challenge, just come HERE and ask to join.

Note, this is a closed group with a specific purpose.  No whining, and no politics or other off topic comments will be tolerated. SPAMMERS WILL BE BEATEN TO A PULP.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date with my FitBit (who I named George).

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Only Sexy Vegan Doctors Need Apply

It was just a matter of time before my half-assed veganism leaked into my writing.

On February 1, 2016, WILDE WOMEN, my second steamy romance novella featuring Winnie Wilde, will be released. Winnie's love interest in this e-book is Dr. Gabriel Dunn, a Jamaican E.R. doctor with a dynamite bod and a charming smile.

And he's a vegan.

Or as Winnie says when she first meets him:

“You have a body like that eating only fruits and vegetables?”

For their first breakfast together, he makes her a tofu scramble.

If I'm lying, I'm dying.

I write several series, each with their own large cast of characters. When developing characters in fiction, you have to decide even the most common quirks and habits fairly early on and weave them into the fabric of the character:

Do they smoke?
Do they have an alcohol problem, active or recovering?
Did they grow up in a big family?
Do they pick their nose? Chew gum? Suck on lollypops?
Do they grind their teeth or whistle when they're nervous?
Do they collect frogs?
Swear like a sailor?
What do they like to eat?

It's all part of what makes a fictional character believable.

In my Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series, lead protagonist Emma Whitecastle is a pescetarian (no meat, but does eat seafood). Odelia Grey of my Odelia Grey mystery series will eat anything but okra and has a penchant for Thin Mints and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Winnie Wilde eats fairly healthy, eating meat only on occasion. They all drink iced tea most of the time and enjoy their booze, but not to excess. The booze, that is.

Like I said, it was just a matter of time before a vegan character showed up somewhere in my work, and, trust me, Dr. Gabe is as yummy and as exotic as a fragrant curry.

And boy is he SEXY! (Think Morris Chestnut with a Jamaican accent.)

WILDE WOMEN and the first book in the series, RUNNING WILDE, are both available in digital format on Amazon for $2.99 each.

 *And, yes, I am Meg Chambers. That's my pen name for the Winnie Wilde series, in case you haven't heard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 - A Hard Bumpy Road

It was a very good year - NOT!

I can't wait to see the door slam on 2015. For me personally, it was far and away not one of my best, though it was memorable.

I don't want to appear to be a whiner, because I know a lot of people had an even worst year, but here's a quick recap:

The downhill slide started with my having surgery in February. From there I had and continue to have other health issues. Nothing life threatening or serious, but annoying things that got in the way of my usual hard core writing schedule and fun.

My brother Thom died in May from liver disease.

My cat Raffi died in November from cancer.

It was also the first year in ten years in which I did not write a single novel from start to finish. It's true. I finished editing two books and a novella that were already in the works, two of which were released this year - A BODY TO SPARE and THE GHOST OF MISTLETOE MARY. And I finished up WILDE WOMEN, the second Winnie Wilde romance novella coming out in February. But all of those were started last year and finished in 2015.

In a writing career where historically I've cranked out two novels and either a novella or a short story every year, 2015 was a disaster. I had two novels due to two different publishers and didn't deliver either. And I felt/feel like crap about it, adding to my already emotionally beaten-up year. It's definitely not how I roll. But at the risk of sounding glib, life happens.

Both publishers were gracious and kept giving me extension, but here I am in late December and neither book has been completed, although I've made and continue to make great progress, and they will be finished in time to meet the next and final extensions over the next few months. Of that I'm sure, unless I get hit by a bus between now and then, which given my year I don't rule out. And both will be out in late 2016.  As for short stories and the third Winnie Wilde romance, those will have to wait until I get these books to the publishers.

As I mentioned above, I know of a lot of friends and acquaintances who suffered great and serious losses in 2015: the passing of spouses and loved ones, the passing of beloved pets, the loss of jobs, and major illnesses. It's all part of life and life bitch slapped a lot of us in 2015.

Usually I set goals and make several resolutions for the new year. For 2016 I have only one:

I will take better care of myself, 
physically, mentally, and emotionally.

That means eating better, and making exercise a priority. To not do things or make decisions that will add stress to my life. To not overbook myself and to say NO when needed. I have a very busy 2016 ahead of me, but I will handle it all to the best of my ability so that when life throws down a nail strip or two, I can maneuver around it instead of blowing a tire.

Welcome 2016!  But I'm warning you, if you think for a minute you're going to follow 2015's example, think again. It's game on, and this old lady came to play and win!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Simply Christmas

I love Christmas! 

More so in the past decade, than ever before. Why? Because I choose to celebrate it simply. Most of the time I celebrate it quietly at home. I even wrote a blog about Christmas For One five years ago that remains relevant today.  Sometimes I do visit friends or go out of town, but mostly I stick close to home and enjoy the life I've built for myself. It's a simple life and I have simple tastes. In general, I'm a pretty low maintenance gal and I like my Christmases that way.

There was a time when Christmas meant a lot of hassle, trips to the mall, days of cooking, spending more than I should, and running around until I slumped onto the sofa in exhaustion. It was a time of year I didn't look forward to at all, knowing that by New Years I'd be an empty shell emotionally and physically. When I was a kid, Christmas was the time of year when family fights and hurt feelings increased. Usually because of the built-up stress and extra work.

Simplifying Christmas brought back the joy of Christmas.

Although originally a religious holiday, for me, Christmas is a time of remembering my loved ones, giving thanks for my life, and the people in it, and for celebrating good cheer towards others. Something we should do every day, but Christmas seems to bring it out more.

But back to my simplification process:

I don't start celebrating until December. This is a major part of simplification. This doesn't mean I don't buy gifts along the way when I find something fun and on sale, but I do not buy into Christmas beginning in October (or even earlier) and there are no decorations or music or holiday movies or shows in my home until December 1st. Christmas Creep doesn't exist in my life and I despise it in stores and commercials.

No crazy shopping. Come on, folks, this has really gotten out of hand with Black Friday and people camping out in front of stores! I buy few gifts now. Years ago my family decided (wisely) to pick names for the adults and we each buy for all the kids (of which there are only 4).  I also buy for my couple of BFFs, but those are also simple, heartfelt gifts. There is no last minute shopping and buying something just to have something to give. And I stick within my set budget.

I no longer send out Christmas cards. This started when a couple of years in a row I was on book deadline and got all frustrated and upset because I didn't have time to both write and do cards. At that time, my Christmas card list topped 150. After two years of not sending them out, I stopped and never looked back. I've noticed that fewer people are sending cards now. Even at the office, we're getting fewer cards and gifts from clients and vendors.

To party or not to party. I usually get invited to 4-6 holiday parties a year. That's a lot crammed into just a few weeks, and there is no way I can attend them all. This year, for various reasons, I only attended one, my law firm's party. Most years, I manage to make three. I enjoy parties, but again, not when they are going to either stress me out or help me spread germs instead of holiday cheer. I also attend one Christmas program, play, or musical event. This year, I skipped that altogether because my calendar didn't allow it.

Decorations are simple. I used to decorate my home extensively. Now it's a few decorations, a wreath, table cloth, some candles, and a floral arrangement or two to make it feel homey. Again, this started, like the cards, when I had to choose between decorations or hitting a writing deadline. Now I prefer the simplicity.

I know simplification is not for everyone, but it works for me.

Christmas should be a time of peace and remembrance, of celebrating family and friends, not a time for fighting for parking spaces, running up credit card debt, and breaking-point stress.

Christmas is about peace on earth and good will toward mankind.

And there is nothing Bah Humbug about that.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas 
filled with love, peace, and happiness.

Pablo Picasso's Dove With Flowers

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tis the Season ... of Hate?!

If there is one word in the English language that is being way over utilized, and often without an understanding of how and when it should be used, it's the word hate.  It's all over the news, social media, and even in our daily lives.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace on earth, good will toward men. And even if you don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, there is no denying that this is the time of year when most people celebrate family, friends and doing good. It's the time of year when people for the most part are filled with good cheer.

So why all the hate speech? Especially politically based hate speech.

Do you wish your mother Happy Holidays with that mouth?

Several years ago I said to a very wise friend that I hated a certain individual. My sage friend said to me, "Hate is a very strong word. Are you sure the sentence fits the crime?"

Hmmm ... that definitely got me thinking and and I downgraded my passionate outburst from hating the individual to disliking what she had done. See what happened there? I not only put a lower octane emotion on the moment, but steered it away from the individual herself. After all, it was her actions I didn't like.

Very recently a friend started spouting to me about how much he hated President Obama. It didn't matter that he knew I generally supported the President, and even if I didn't I would at least respect the office, something a lot of people are forgetting to do these days. I didn't care for George W one bit, but I would never have disrespected him the ugly way Obama is dissed.

Anyway, when my friend continued to underline how much he hated Obama, I stopped him with this:

Me: "Have you actually met the man?"
Him: "Um, no, of course not."
Me: "Then how do you know you hate him?"
Here I received a grocery list of his perceived Obama failings.
Me: "So it's not Obama the man that you hate, but his position on health care and foreign policy? Those are things, not a human being. You actually hate that so why not say that? And while you're at it, tone it down to dislike or disagree with."
Here I was met with a stony silence, then he moved on to another topic.

I am definitely NOT a Donald Trump fan, but do I hate Donald Trump? No. I've never met him so I can't give an honest opinion on him as a person.  I do intensely dislike and disagree with his inflammatory rhetoric, policy stands, and self-important posturing, but the man himself - meh.

Many years ago I had the honor of meeting John McCain a few times. He always seemed to me to be a lovely man and I still feel that way about him. I do, however, strongly disagree with his stand on most issues. See the difference? When you move away from the person and address the issues, hate seems to take a back seat or disappear.

The same goes for groups of people. To say you hate Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, Christians, Jews, fat people, gays, or any other group of human beings, remember, you don't know them all, and I'll bet the few you do know personally on your particular hate group hit list, you probably like or would like if you got to know them.

Put down the broad brush of hate and pick up 
the finer more useful brush of peace and understanding.

I really dislike the phrase haters gonna hate. It shrugs hate off like it's nothing, like it's impotent and doesn't matter. But it does matter. It matters a lot. We can choose to turn away from people who hate and let them continue spewing their bile and covering us all with their acidic slime, or we can choose to look haters in the face and say STOP IT! To be silent is a form of agreement.

Today is December 16th. We have two weeks until the end of the year. I strongly suggest we all, as individuals, put a moratorium on the word hate and actions of hate from today on.  Who knows, we might even be able to start looking at our emotions rationally and realistically for the New Year, which can only bring about positive feelings and better mental health, and maybe even better physical health.

So before you say I hate [fill in the blank], remember it really just highlights your own ignorance, not the person or group at whom you're aiming your venom.

Change can start with one person. One person leads to another, then another, then another. We can bring about change one loving, rational, and understanding person at a time.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Twenty Years In The Making

I thought this post would be perfect considering that National Novel Writing Month just finished and there are hoards of hopeful novelists out there with fame and fortune in their eyes.

To all of you, I say patience, grasshopper, and use some eye drops. Without patience, you are doomed. Without clearing the stars out of your eyes, you won't be able to keep working.

You see, all of a sudden, after 20 years, people are discovering my books.

Wait, let me start over.

Some of you have heard this story, so humor me while I tell it to those who haven't...

I started writing in earnest about 18-20 years ago. I've been published about 12 years, 10 of those with a traditional publisher. After a couple of non-mystery novels, which are still unpublished, and for good reason, I turned my hand to mysteries and the Odelia Grey mystery series was born. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, as it turned out) my initial agent hated TOO BIG TO MISS and refused to represent it, even though she had represented my initial two novels that were never published. So I fired her ass and moved on, publishing TOO BIG TO MISS and THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL with iUniverse.

My next agent (who by the way is still my agent all these many years later), loved Odelia and was able to catapult the series into the welcoming arms of Midnight Ink, who reprinted the first two and went on to contract for 10 more novels in the series, and it was Midnight Ink who launch both my Ghost of Granny Apples and Madison Rose Vampire series. From there, my agent and I jumped Granny Apples into the Penguin family with success.

Like I said, all of this took about 18-20 years total.

In the last six months, it seems like more and more readers are finding my work. After all this time, my sales on both my traditionally published books and my self-published works are gaining a nice upward momentum. Not rocket speed, but definitely a slow steady upward trajectory.

As one reader wrote in a recent e-mail: "How can you have 10 books and I just now found you?"  She was referring to my Odelia Grey series, of which the 10th book in the series, A BODY TO SPARE, was recently released.

Why? Who knows?  A few months ago I unleashed my street team on the world with over 1,500 bookmarks. I'm doing more regular blogging and my blogs are linked to several reader sites. I'm a solid presence on social media. But more importantly, I am prolific. I stay in the eye of the reading public.

In talking to my colleagues, one thing is for sure, the more good, solid, and entertaining content you have out there, the more likely your sales will be affected in a positive way. There is more for readers to discover, which, in turn, leads them to your other work. It's not enough to have a couple of books out in a single series, or a few stand alone novels. Today, a writer must be constantly feeding the reading machine with new books, short stories, and essays to get any traction. It's the Circle Of Life for authors.

And ... I can't say this enough ... the work must be of high quality. If you think you're going to attract readers by throwing out fistfuls of schlock just to get more out there, you are sadly mistaken. In spite of what I just said above, you are better off producing one or two super well written and edited works than a half dozen thrown together disasters. Nothing will turn readers away from you faster and send your career into the gutter.

Unfortunately, the trend among publishers today is to contract for 2-3 books in a series, then cut the series if the books don't perform to their liking. Decades ago, publishers nurtured a new talent, giving an author time to find his or her voice and build a foundation of loyal readers. Today, publishing is about instant gratification. 2-3 books and you're done, and with it possibly your writing career, unless you find another venue for your work and keep the faith. This is one of the many reasons self-publishing is doing so well. Authors who were fired by their publishers have found new life for their books and their careers by continuing with self-publishing, often with greater financial rewards.

Today an author cannot live in a writing vacuum, thinking all they need to do is write a good book to build a career. You must write a good book, then another, then another, then another. The books and stories must be of high quality. You must be PR savvy. Have the patience of Job. The skin of a rhinoceros. And the determination of The Little Engine That Could.

Do you still want to be a writer?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

To Raffi With Love

I did something today that I've never had to do before. I had to put a pet down. A beloved pet that had been a part of my life for many years. He was a common white and gray short haired little devil with boundless energy and a stubborn disposition. He took crap off no one, including me, and definitely not my other cat, B.

A few months ago Raffi started vomiting and lost a little weight. I took him to the vet and the exam and all his blood work came back normal. The vet believed it was simply a sour tummy. I tried all kinds of pet food, some he kept down better than others. Once the vomiting stopped, he rallied, and seemed more like his old self. For the past few months it was like that. Good days and bad. I worked hard to get his weight back up, but it kept dropping and at a rapid rate. Four months ago he weighed 14.5 lbs. Today he weighed 8.7 lbs. I took him back to the vet today because of the weight loss and because Raffi developed diarrhea and was having difficulty walking from weakness.

He was actually asleep on top of my head.
This morning the vet found a large mass in Raffi's abdomen - cancer. It wasn't there a few months ago, so it was very fast growing and now the size of an orange.  I felt it myself today. There was nothing to do except try to keep him comfortable for the little time he had left, and the vet said he had very little time left. I made the decision to put him down. It wouldn't be fair to him to try to keep him alive. His quality of life was gone and he was miserable.  Raffi was 13 years old.

About 12 years ago, I adopted Raffi and B from a young couple who had just graduated from UCLA and were going their separate ways to different grad schools. When they got here, B went immediately under the bed and stayed there for a month, coming out only at night or when I was gone for food, water and the litter box. Raffi, on the other hand, hopped out of the carrier and investigated every inch of my apartment, finally deciding he liked his new digs. I remember the first morning after B and Raffi arrived because Raffi scared the crap out of me by waking me up with a wet nose in my face. It would be the first of many mornings he would wake me up that way.

I think he used the exercise bike more than I did.
Raffi was a big cat. He was tall and long and carried his 14.5 lbs like a prowling jungle cat. He loved to race through the house, bouncing off furniture, even up to just a few months ago. He also loved to torment B and he'd get angry with her if she didn't want to play. All the destroyed furniture in my apt. is because of him. He was a pistol, pure and simple. He was also incredibly loving and cuddly to both B and me. He was our protector. Some nights I'd wake up to find B snoring next to me and Raffi at the end of the bed alert and standing guard over his two girls.

He was also very social. He didn't mind strangers one bit and loved it when I had company.  He made friends with everyone who came through my door, including repair men, and would flop on his back and invite them to rub his tummy. Unlike B, who hides even when I Skype.

Thank you, Raffi. 

There wasn't a single day you didn't make me smile or laugh. You brought me comfort when I was blue and kept me company during my long hours of writing. You loved both B and me unconditionally. Who's going to keep us in line now?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Love Me Some Trevor!

I'm one of those people who believe change is good. Change is healthy. Change is invigorating. Then Jon Stewart announced his retirement from The Daily Show and I attired myself in sack cloth and ashes and moaned audibly.

Now, several months into The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, I gotta say,

Damn, that fellow's good!

Really good!

Trevor Noah has brought a freshness to the show. It has a more youthful spin that even my 60+ years appreciates. It's like an old solid house getting new paint and landscaping. My only concern at the beginning was that South African Noah would not be able to present US politics and cultural craziness with the same heart and laser hot sarcasm as an American-born host.

I was wrong.  Dead wrong.

Yes, you heard me. I was wrong. Noah's news stories, whether they be about the presidential race, gun control, racism (who better than a South African to talk about that, huh?), or health care, are point on, and his stories on international news are just as biting.

Although sad to see some of my favorite Daily Show correspondents leave the show along with Stewart, I love the new correspondents who joined the remaining cast. It's a great mix.

Bottom line: Trevor Noah is funny, intelligent, congenial and cute as a button!

I always had the hots for Stewart. Not so much for Noah. You see, he's 30 years my junior. Instead of getting nasty with him, I want to pinch his cheeks and cheer him on like a proud auntie.

You got this, Trevor! 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Heavy on the Glam, Light on the Bullshit

Ashley Nell Tipton
Even though I consider Crocs a fashion accessory and seldom wear makeup, I'm a girlie-girl at heart. People who have only known me over the past several years don't know that there was a time when I wore stockings and heels and silk dresses, even cocktail dresses. I never went without makeup, especially mascara and lipstick, and had acrylic nails painted blood red. Even my bras and panties matched. It's true.

Now I prefer comfort over fashion. Call it age. Call it laziness. It works for me at this stage in my life when most of my free time is spent hammering away at a keyboard writing books, dressed in yoga pants and t-shirts, without shoes and a bra. This is also true.

I've been heavy most of my life, so finding nice clothing has always been a chore, especially when I was younger. I hate to sew, but I used to make a lot of my clothes because I couldn't find any to fit except matronly tents with big-ass prints. I even made a fully-lined trench coat once that came out pretty good.

Now it's not that difficult to find fashionable clothing in plus sizes, at least if you shop online. There are tons of great plus-size retailers on the Internet, but few physical stores that carry plus sizes. Which is surprising since most American women are a size 14 or greater. I guess they don't want our money. And, even if a chain store CLAIMS to carry plus sizes in their stores, they won't carry them in all of their stores, just in a couple, and the stores that don't have plus size departments get very snooty and bitchy if you asked a sales rep where it is (*cough* Macy's *cough*). And even if department stores DO have a plus size department, generally it is located next to housewares or somewhere in a corner away from the "cool stuff."

I have a plethora of real-life shopping experiences that have happened to me over the years that would curl your hair, some of which have made it into my Odelia Grey books. Most of my clothing is bought online because I don't have the patience for brain dead sales people and stores that don't respect me and my time.

This last week Project Runway (which I've watched from its beginning because I am a girlie-girl at heart), crowned its first ever plus-size designer, Ashley Nell Tipton. And for the first time ever, Project Runway featured a plus-size collection on the runway during Fashion Week.  Ashley's collection was fun, colorful, and very feminine. It even showed skin. If I were younger, I'd be saving my pennies and lining up for her clothing ... um minus the headgear.

Part of Ashley's winning collection.
Sadly, Ashley's win came with a lot of criticism from haters and critics. Many online attacks claimed that Project Runway chose Ashley over the other designers simply to make history instead of picking the best designer.

I call Bullshit! 

I watched the entire season. My favorites were Ashley and Edmond Newton. In the end, after the fashion show, it was clear to most watching that the two best designers in the show were Ashley and Kelly Dempsey. The judges said Ashley's collection was feminine, wearable and cohesive, and could be worn by women of any size. Ashley Tipton may have sent plus-size models down the runway, but the designs could be worn by women of any size. Not so of the other 3 finalists.

Over the 14 seasons of Project Runway, they've had several challenges that involved designing for the "everyday woman" which included some that were plus-size. I would sit on my sofa and growl as the snippier and less mature of the designers complained that they hated the challenge because it wasn't "their thing" or it grossed them out.  During those shows, I'm sure my neighbors heard me shouting, "Oh grow the fuck up!"  They probably thought I was screaming at a boyfriend or kid, of which I have neither.

One of Ashley's non-plus size designs. She can design for anyone!
Early in this season's competition (Episode 5), with Ashley fresh off not one but two challenge wins, many of the other women in the competition ostracized Ashley and tried to throw her under the bus and get her kicked off. I'm not sure why. Throughout the competition, Ashley was helpful, pleasant, a good sport, and charming. Maybe these other women sensed she was a talent to be reckoned with, or maybe it was just the age-old prejudice against weight, or thinking that bigger women are easy prey. Heidi Klum made a comment about it and even one of the judges referred to it as a "bitchfest." Ashley was hurt and crying and I cried right along with her, remembering similar incidences in my life. Some things never change.

Ashley Nell Tipton, my dear girl, you have a very successful career ahead of you, and women of all sizes are going to be clamoring for your clothes. Just do me a favor: make the skinny chicks wait in the back of the line.

Oh, and I LOVE your purple hair!!!