Archive for January, 2010

Tip ‘O the Day Tuesday

Advice on opening novels with dreams, flashbacks, backstory and prologues: Don’t.

The first few pages of a novel ground the reader in the story’s reality. They become comfortable in that world, attached to the characters described in the first scene or chapter. For the reader, a sudden change in this reality is like standing one moment in modern Tokyo and blinking, then finding oneself in the American Old West when the eyelids lift. It’s disorienting. It can jolt the reader out of the story.

Sometimes newer writers  are tempted to use dreams, flashbacks, backstory and prologues because the real opening to their story is not dynamic enough. It’s easy to write an action-packed dream sequence of a young girl running from white slavers in the alleys of a foreign city. Not so easy to draft that action-packed opening once she’s 24 and a data entry clerk at a small-town bank. But to start with one just to get the reader hooked and then switch to the other is a trick. It’s not nice to fool mother nature and it’s even worse to trick a reader. Instead, find a better opening within the reality that will persist for the rest of the story.

This is where those of you who’ve read CARVED IN STONE, the first of my gargoyles series (which opens with a prologue), are clenching your fists and screaming at the computer. Yes, I’ve used prologues. Not in my first book, though. Or my second. Or my third.

Authors more skilled than me probably even get away with dream and flashback openings. But these are experienced authors who’ve honed their craft and are granted some leeway by editors and loyal readers. If you’re seeking that first sale…stay away from these devices at openings to your novel.

Happy writing,


Foodie Friday…on Sunday

A day late and a dollar short? I think not. I prefer to be two days late…but offer an awesome recipe that is worth far more than a buck!

Winter is the perfect time for good old homestyle comfort food. One of my favorites is Chicken Pot Pie. Since I went vegetarian, I don’t use real chicken. I use the MorningStar fake chicken strips…or nothing at all. It’s really better with just veggies! I won’t say it’s the healthiest recipe in the world because it uses the “Cream of” something soups which can be high in fat and sodium, but it is sure a tasty treat. Here’s the recipe. If you’re a meat eater, just substitute a can of Cream of Chicken soup for one or both of the other Cream of somethings, and use real cooked chicken breast instead of fake meat!

Vegetarian  (or not) Chicken Pot Pie

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of something else soup (celery? Potatoe? Whatever you like)
1 can (or frozen equivalent) mixed vegetables (drained)
1 small can peas (drained)
Pearl onions, quartered (or regular white onion, chopped)
Minced Garlic or garlic powder
Black pepper
sliced mushrooms (optional) or other fresh veggies you happen to have in fridge
½ package of Morningstar chikn strips or equivalent cooked chicken breasts meat
1 pkg Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust

Mix everything except the pie crust together in small crockpot. Cook 4-6 hours on low (or shorter on hi). Heat oven according to pie crust instructions. Cut pie crust to make a bottom and a top (if you want both). Top crust should be slightly bigger (1/4 inch) than bowl. Place bottom piece in oven-safe ramekins and push to bottom. Spoon mix on top of crust. Top each bowl with the top crust piece. Pinch crust around edges of ramekins to seal. Bake according to pie crust directions until crust is golden brown.

Makes 2 large servings using 1.5-2 qt. Crockpot. Double for more servings.


Tip ‘O the Day – Closing the Gap

It’s Tuesday — that means another tip of the day for writers!

As an author, I  don’t want my reader standing off at a mental distance watching the action. I want her in the head of the viewpoint character. But how do you close that gap? How do you make the reader experience what the character is experiencing, feel what the character is feeling?

One way is to make sure as a writer you aren’t filtering the character’s physical sensations. By filtering, I mean using phrases like “She felt a cool breeze on her damp forehead.” Throw out that “She felt” and put the reader in the character’s head by using a more active statement like “A cool breeze chilled her damp forehead.”

Here are some more examples of filtering physical sensations, and some corny ways to remove the filter. Yeah, you’ll want to spend a little (lot) more time on your unfiltered versions than I spent on this blog.

She felt him take her hand in his. ==> He took her hand in his.
She heard a train whistle in the distance. ==> A train whistle wailed in the distance.
He smelled smoke. ==> Smoke tingled his nostrils.
She saw a robin on the windowsill.  ==> A robin perched on the windowsill.

Filtering physical sensations with words like smelled, tasted, heard and saw makes the reader feel if she’s standing across the street watching the action, or being told about it, instead of experiencing it. Close the gap between character and reader by getting rid of those filters!

That’s the tip of the day.

As a PS, I’d like to say how proud I am of all my USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) colleagues in Haiti and the rescues you are making, even at risk to your own lives. I wish I was there with you. Stay safe and hopefully I’ll see you on the next one, whenever and wherever it may occur.

Foodie Friday

I’ve never been a big meater-eater…except for my addiction to fast food burgers. Really that addiction arose more from convenience than taste. I used to spend a lot of time in my car, and it’s really tough to eat a salad while you drive. I’ve always disliked handling raw meat, and I’ve always had trouble choking down any meat product that still looked like it did when it was alive. Thus Thanksgiving turkey was never a treat. I never ate the legs or thighs, just breast meat carefully sliced off the bone before it touched my plate. Fried chicken makes me wince. Forget about fish on the bone.

So last summer I took the plunge went vegetarian. Not vegan…yet…just vegetarian. I did so for 3 reasons. I won’t try to sway you with the research behind the three reasons–my point here is not to convert the world to vegetarianism…just to explain why I made the vegetarian choice.

1) The sodium, antibiotics, hormones, etc. that are fed to our meat animals or injected into them and then pass into our bodies
2) The impact of “factory farming” on our environment (the research here is shocking!)
3) The horrid lives and deaths our factory-farmed animals are forced to endure

So it’s been an adjustment, even for someone who didn’t eat tons of meat, to find healthy recipes that provide enough protein and still taste good. Over this year on “Foodie Friday” I’ll let you know how the lifestyle change is going — when I cheat, if I cheat. I’ll post recipes when I find a good one.

Here is today’s recipe. This is simple enough that it’s hard to mess up and fancy enough to serve when company’s coming. It’s a clone of the French onion soup served at the restaurant “Panera’s” and is said to be their most often requested recipe. It can be made in the crockpot or stovetop.

I had a nice picture of how pretty it looks when it’s all done and in individual serving bowls…but silly me deleted the pic from my camera before I downloaded it to the PC.


1/4 cup butter
8 cups sliced white onions (4 to 5 medium onions)
2 14 oz. cans beef broth (I use vegetable broth because I’m vegetarian and it still is good!)
3/4 cup chicken broth (and, I just stuck with the vegetable and couldn’t taste the difference)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp ketchup
1 and 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
couple drops Tabasco pepper sauce
8 slices crusty French bread, or 8 handfuls of croutons
shaved or grated cheese for topping – Asiago, Gruyere, Paremesan/Asiago…whatever you like


1) Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and saute for 15-20 minutes until the onions turn brown. NOTE: Be careful not to scorch the onions with too high heat. If they get black, it will give the soup a nasty burned taste (don’t ask how I know this. 🙂  )

2) Pour all other ingredients except the bread and cheese into the slow cooker. Add the browned onions. Heat on low for 4-5 hours NOTE: If cooking on stovetop instead of slow cooker, add an additional cup of water and simmer on low boil for 20 minutes.

3)  Pour serving of soup into oven-safe ramekins. Don’t fill quite to top. Place a slice of French Bread on top of soup in each bowl and cover with thinly sliced or grated cheese. Heat oven to Broil. Place all ramekins on a baking sheet and heat them on broil until edges of bread are crusty and cheese is melted/bubbling. Serve piping hot.

Enjoy — this one is really yummy!

Tip ‘O the Day

Hey all,

First, for all of you have been calling and emailing today asking whether I’ll be going to Haiti for search and rescue efforts, the answer is no…for now. Rest assured, there are teams on the way. It just wasn’t our assignment this time. Still, the people of Haiti –and those providing aid — could use your prayers tonight.

Now to writing. In an effort to come up with more things to blog about <g> I’ll be posting a tip of the day once per week, usually on Tuesday. Other days of the week will be dedicated to other weekly topics. To kick it off my tip of the day is: Don’t let the magic escape. Yes, I know it’s Wednesday, not Tuesday. Get over it.

Don’t Let the Magic Escape

New story ideas hold magic for writers. They are bright shiny balloons full of so much possibility. New ideas can hold a writer in thrall for hours, days…years before they start writing. When you have one of these ideas, be careful not to let the magic escape. Sometimes we want to talk about our great new idea. We tell all our friends about it. We blog about it. We start a special notebook to jot down pre-writing details or snippets of dialogue that will be a part of it. We practice our editor/agent pitch before we’ve written a word of the book, just to see how it will go over.

Keep picturing that hot new story idea as a bright shiny balloon. Every time you talk about it, blog about it, pitch it, journal about it without actually WRITING THE BOOK a little of the magic escapes, like a little bit of air from the balloon. Go too long talking without writing and eventually the idea is rumpled piece of mylar on the kitchen floor being batted by the cats and dragged around by the dog.

Some writers need to let an idea germinate in their subconsciouses for a while before beginning to write. I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying you can’t capture a snippet of dialogue before you forget it. I’m saying don’t tell your family, friends, co-workers and 10 taxi drivers every detail before you put a word to paper. Save that enthusiasm, that excitement, for the page. Like the air inside the balloon, the magic of a new story creates a pressure in you. A need to get it out. Use that pressure to drive you to the computer to write. Not to gab.

Don’t let the magic escape before your great book is a book at all.

That’s my tip ‘o the day!

Guilty Pleasures

Blogging about guilty pleasures today over on the Silhouette Romantic Suspense blog. And don’t forget, A DOCTOR’S WATCH and LEGACY OF STONE are both on shelves now!

Available Now!

western romance novel boxed set

7 men as tough as the West. 7 women ready to Cowboy Up

Available Now!

Psychological Suspense short story with a bonus inspirational short story included

Coming Soon from Vickie Taylor

Fantasy Romance Novella

What am I reading today?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker - Just started, but I'm intrigued so far!

Last five books read:

TEXAS GOTHIC - Rosemary Clement-Moore - Awesome! Great fun and spooktastic at the same time!

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN - Ransom Riggs - Really creative idea. Enjoyed it very much!

BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS - D.D. Scott - Very enjoyable, fun book!

THE GOOD DAUGHTER - Diana Layne - Awesome! Get it now!

GOT YOUR NUMBER - Stephanie Bond - Fun little mystery!

What’s on my TBR List?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker

Reader’s Guide to E-publishing

Find your next e-book here!

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