Tomatoes and Basil

Last year we planted a herb window box for the first time, and now I can’t do without fresh herbs. We have basil and oregano this year, and I may buy a cilantro plant. they need different light levels, so they can’t all three be in the same box. Oregano and basil shared their box very well last year.

If you have fresh basil and tomatoes, bruschetta is a quick and easy appetizer. Cut up the tomato (don’t worry about the skins or seeds, it’s fine), and saute it in olive oil with several basil leaves, ripped up. If you’re feeling spicy, toss some red pepper flakes in for good measure.

Toast French bread lightly, and then add the cooked tomato and basil mixture. Top with mozzarella or feta and heat under the broiler until the cheese melts. (I used feta).

What summer foods are you fixing now?

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bruschetta

Kiss my Shrimp and Grits

I’ve not been around much lately, been busy writing, and seems like there’s never any time with two teenagers at home. School is finally out and I feel like I can breathe.
I’ve been in the mood to cook, and the kids both went to a camp last week so I cooked shrimp and grits since neither of the kids like it. it turned out wonderfully, so I thought I would share the recipe.

I used this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/220895/old-charleston-style-shrimp-and-grits/

The difference is that I used 3/4 pound of shrimp, I omitted the bacon completely, and sauteed the veggies in olive oil instead. As you can see, we still had plenty of shrimp. The grits were very very creamy and didn’t set up hard like usual. I think the half and half helped with that. I used yellow stone ground grits. Yes, that’s butter and cheese swimming on top, just swimmingly.

 

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Gender Discrimination Still Happens

I stumbled across a blog in the Chronicle of Higher Education reporting that the University of Colorado paid $40,000 to settle a gender-bias case. Keep in mind that the University of Colorado at Boulder has roughly 32,000 students. This is not a small organization.

I encourage you to read the article, but here are the damning quotes as far as I’m concerned:

“In her complaint, Ms. Miglarese said she had resigned from the university because Mr. Ikenberry and Al Smith, an associate business dean, discriminated against her for being a woman over the age of 40, and created a hostile work environment.
She also said Mr. Smith had systematically sought to remove women from leadership positions.
Two other women have filed gender-discrimination complaints against Mr. Ikenberry, who was reappointed this summer to a second five-year term.”

Did you see the word reappointed? The article continues.

“Two other women have filed gender-discrimination complaints against Mr. Ikenberry, who was reappointed this summer to a second five-year term.

The university has struggled with sexual harassment in its philosophy department, where an outside review found the program was rife with “inappropriate, sexualized unprofessional behavior.”

The end result? The University of Colorado- Boulder reappointed a supervisor who had received at least three sexual harassment/discrimination complaints. Forty thousand is pocket change with these kind of violations. Considering the attorney will get 30-40% depending on their contract, the person who filed the complaint will receive only $24,000. (Unless the defendant agreed to pay attorney’s charges, which wasn’t mentioned.)

This is why women don’t speak up more. I’m sure all of the time and effort of filing a lawsuit wasn’t worth the result. Even though she won the case, I consider this a loss for the plaintiff because nothing changed.

You can read the article here:

www.chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/u-of-colorado-pays-40000-to-settle-gender-bias-case/

Want to hear about my brush with obvious gender bias? Once, as a consultant, I gave a speech to a county board of commissioners to discuss my project. I was probably 34 or 24. I spoke after a consultant who was probably ten years older than me. He got flustered with the questions they asked him. When I talked about my portion of the project, I answered their questions without hesitating.

As the other consultant and I were leaving, one of the county commissioners stepped forward and told me that I did a great job for a girl. I just smiled and nodded. What else could I do? He thought he was giving me a compliment.

Have you ever been treated differently because you were a woman? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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In my book No Strings Attached, Laura Todd works for a consulting firm where the director treats the women in his office as servants. Here’s an excerpt:

Laura headed to the break-room to make coffee. Lloyd liked his coffee early, but apparently she wasn’t fast enough, because he came stomping out of his office.

Days when Lloyd worked in the office were the worst. He loomed over her and slammed two coffee cups on the counter. The cups clattered as they banged into each other.

“These were still in my office from yesterday,” he said, his tone accusing.

“Amanda told me to stay out of your office.”

“She’ll be in late, may not be in at all. Some sort of stomach bug. I need a cup of coffee.”

“It’s not ready yet.”

“Bring it into my office, then. Make it black.” He brushed past her when he left.

“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” she muttered to herself. If Lloyd planned to sell the company, she wished he would get on with it. He came into the office just long enough to disrupt everything and put everyone in a foul mood.

When she set the coffee on his desk, he barely looked up from his computer. Perhaps she should bob and curtsy as well.

If you want to read more, download the sample from the Amazon link below. You’ll find a hot Vegas weekend, a missing sister and embezzlement charges. Currently the book can be read for free if you subscribe to in Kindle Unlimited.

 

The Day Elvis Died…

Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock I have seen several people my age and older reminiscing about what they were doing on the day that Elvis died. If you were alive then, and you were at an age where you knew who Elvis was, it’s one of those days you don’t forget, like the Challenger blowing up, or September 11, 2001.

On August 16, 1977, I was nine and I had a couple of cousins over at my house for a birthday celebration. It was summer, and school didn’t start then as early as it does not, so we were home. My cousins Angela and Andrea only lived about twenty minutes away, and they would often come to my house since I lived with our grandmother.

They came over on the 15th and were staying until the next night. We had all day on the 16th to play. Sometime that afternoon, the news outlets took over all the television channels – I think we had three or four then – and wouldn’t stop talking about Elvis being found dead.

Were you old enough to remember, or even care? That was all that was on television that afternoon. Nothing fun. I think there used to be cartoons late afternoon and I remember being upset that they didn’t come on. I know I wouldn’t have cared about missing a soap opera, which was the other thing on television during the day.

I was thinking about that today when a friend posted about Elvis on Facebook, and I remembered that Lee and Elizabeth have a short conversation about Elvis in the book Under His Protection. They are dancing at a fundraiser for her campaign for attorney general.

After she (Elizabeth) had caught up with everyone she knew, Lee pulled her onto the dance floor as the band played “Love Me Tender.”

“I didn’t know it was Elvis night,” Lee said with a grin. He held her close and managed the turns on the crowded floor easily. She loved the way that he held her and she thrilled to his power as he spun her in his arms. “Nothing like the King to get a girl close,” he said, leaning closer so that his breath tickled her neck.

“Here’s something you didn’t know. I was raised on Elvis. In fact, I was born the week that he died. My mother bawled all week. My father swore that his death sent her into early labor. In fact, for years after he died, she claimed he was still alive somewhere in Michigan.”

“She and half of the Southern women her age.” He chuckled and spun her again. When the dance ended, Lee gestured toward a couple by the door. “There’s my brother. Come meet Fox and Laura.”

Do you remember the day Elvis died? Where were you? Did it mark a big turning point for you? I would love to hear from you in the comments. Back then, did you believe Elvis faked his death?

 Read more about Lee and Elizabeth in Under His Protection, which can be found in the Kindle Unlimited Program at Amazon.

 

Happy Earth Day!!

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I haven’t seen much coverage for Earth day this year, since Prince passed away yesterday, but today is the 46th Earth Day. The first one was held in 1970.

The Baby Boomers and my generation, which I guess I am part of X, will be remembered as the generations who did very little about global warming and pollution. Frankly, when we were younger we always said it would be better when our generation came to power, but I’m 46 and I haven’t seen a lot of change.

But, instead of focusing on the whole environment, I want to talk about recycling. I pay an extra $5 a month to have a recycling contained along with my garbage. Why doesn’t the state, city, or county give incentives to waste management companies so I don’t have to pay the extra fee? Because that would require taxes. My recycling company recently sent me a letter saying they would no longer accept glass because the one glass recycling facility in our area has closed because it wasn’t profitable. What? How can we let this happen? It’s happening everywhere apparently.

The United States sets a poor example. We create lots and lots of trash, yet we are in the lower middle quadrant in terms of the percentage of trash recycled.

Do you recycle? Is it even offered in your area? I wish I could do more.

Baffled by Technology and Social Media

I have been talking with my friends about technology lately, and the divide is growing between people on social media and people who aren’t. It seems to me that in general, as you grow older, unless you make a positive effort to stay current, you will just stop being interested in new tech. Inertia in the tech world is a killer.

I went to dinner with several friends in their early to mid fifties last Saturday at a retirement reception for a professor, and this was clear then. Out of eight people at the table, the only two who were on Facebook were the two who are in their late forties (me and another person that I graduated with). The others had all avoided it. Three of them even have kids, and that surprised me. Usually kids keep us current, but no, not this group. And the reason why I hadn’t heard from them in twenty -odd years is because they weren’t on Facebook.

It wasn’t like they had chosen to avoid Facebook and use Twitter or Instagram instead, which some people have been doing lately. They avoided all of it.

But then I think back to when I joined Facebook. I had never heard of it, and my husband joined first. I joined because of him. He’s the cool one in my family. Now neither of our kids want a Facebook account, although our 13-year old daughter has Snapchat, Instagram (or Insta as she calls it), and Twitter. I joined Snapchat and Instagram because our daughter hangs out here, but I still can’t force myself to look at Instagram much.

Here are my basic thoughts about the different social media platforms that I’ve had experience with.

  • Facebook –
    • Pros: It’s still my favorite, especially since I have weeded out all of the political people. I do like seeing how my friends from all over the country are doing, and I love connecting with writers who I have discovered in groups there: Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, New Zealand, and even Australia. I have actually met the one from Colorado in person when I flew to Denver, and I met the one in Georgia when I went down to Savannah for a conference. Although we had never met in person, it was like we were old friends in both cases. I also like how you can hide annoying people.
    • Cons: Why do people continue to post the “Pray for me” posts that say only that? Not what they want prayer for? If it’s too sensitive to post, then message your closest friends and move on. That avoids twenty responses that are basically “OMG! What’s Wrong!” followed by “I’ll PM you”.  She could have just PM’d them to begin with.
  • Twitter –
    • Pros: Twitter moves fast and furious, and if you collect a large number of followers, it can become  unwieldy if you don’t use the list feature. I like twitter for the personal interaction.
    • Cons: Sometimes Twitter sounds like a cocktail party where everyone in the room is shouting at each other and no one is listening. I’ve followed a lot of authors, and so much of their posts are “BUY MY BOOKS!” that it just becomes noise at some point.
    • Oh, and when my profile says I don’t like direct messages, then why do you do it? And when I get the followers who are selling more fake twitter followers, I block them. Who needs those people in their life?
  • Instagram –
    • Pros: None. I’m on it because my daughter is on it.
    • Cons: I don’t know the user names, which means half the time I don’t know who these people are.
  • Pinterest –
    • Pros: I like sharing pictures of my research that I do for my books.
    • Cons: I really don’t understand it, and I don’t do crafts or complicated recipes. Sometimes my life is a Pinterest fail, but only because I refuse to follow directions on recipes. I prefer winging it.
  • Snapchat –
    • Pros: You can share images without using much data. My daughter loves it.
    • Cons: Sometimes I just want to keep a copy of the Snapchat. I still don’t understand how to take a screenshot.

If I left out your favorite social media, you must be younger than I am and it’s because I’m not on them.

What frustrates you about social media? Do you wish you were less connected?

Editing is a Labor… of Love

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I tweeted the picture above last week, and a ton of people liked it, and I even had a few questions about it, so I thought I would give a description here of what the flags mean.

I’m hot and heavy in the middle of editing this novel, and I’ve developed a new system using colored flags.

I write with a combination of a “pantser” and a plotter method. I know where I’m going, but my characters tell me how to get there. There are often changes along the way that I have to track backwards. As I write the first draft, I keep a notebook listing the changes that need to happen, or how I think things should change as I go forward. I don’t always make the changes right away, but as I do, I mark through them. (physically marking them off gives me a sense of accomplishment)

Once of the things that i have noticed is that if I edit on screen, particularly toward the end of the editing process, there is no way to check whether the changes were made correctly. This draft is 320 pages 1.5 -spaced, right now coming in at 111k words. It is the longest I have done by far. There is no way that I could re-read the whole thing constantly. It would take forever.

I print it out at 1.5 line spacing. (2 is just too much for me and way too long) I handwrite all of the changes that I make, and I flag the page. Yellow is a minor change (maybe a comma was dropped, or a word is missing, not more than one or two on the page. I ran out of yellow so I also used green for that.

Red is a major change/rewrite. A red flag means that I either added additional text (handwritten behind the typed page) or I deleted massive text, or reworked sentences to the point that the page needs serious work. At this stage, red happens when I have to backtrack and make the changes consistent (as noticed above) or I feel like the scene needs more development. One improvement to my writing in the past three years that I have noticed is that my scenes are longer and fuller.

Blue means it’s something that needs more thought. For example, did a character’s dad die of a heart attack or cancer? I was toying with both and wasn’t sure which I wanted. So I flagged it with blue to come back to it. It was in the past, so just briefly referenced, but it became an issue as to whether it was a quick sudden death or drawn-out illness. I had to make sure and change it everywhere. I also use blue when my editor makes suggestions and I either haven’t decided whether to make her change, or her change would take to long to address at that moment.

I reuse all the flags as I pull them off. After I make all the changes, I reprint it and go back and re-read everything that I changed and compare it to the draft that I marked up. Often a red flag goes to yellow for the first cut because I rarely get edits right the first time. (For example, I may change a word and then when I reprint it, notice that I used the exact same phrase or word a little higher on the page, which means I have to change something.)

This is the first book that I have been so diligent about edits, and I have a greater confidence that i won’t miss something crucial this time. I still may—and my husband is my final proof-reader when he has the time–but with the flags at least I know what I have ahead. When I look at the front part of the printout and see very few red flags, and just a smattering of yellow, then I feel like that’s progress. That’s progress. There is actually something soothing about handwriting additions. It helps keep me in the zone.

When I do spellcheck/grammar check, I do it with track changes in Word and then I print out the file with the track changes. That part of it is still a little bit cumbersome, but I still try to have something that I can check it against.

Editing is exhausting, but it’s fulfilling because I can see it come alive and how all of the pieces fit together. I add pieces all along the way to flesh out characters better and issues.
With my next book I will try fewer iterations, which means I need to spend more time adding sensory and character detail into the first draft. That’s usually something I focus on in the second draft.

Since I took this picture, I decided to put all the yellow flags at the top of the page on the right, all the blue in the middle, and all the red at the bottom. It’s easier to see where I am that way. Now if I only had time to finish the edits. My deadline is calling.

Do you have a particular quirk about how you edit your novel once you have a first draft? I have had several writers tell me that they send their first or second draft to their editor and move on, and that idea gives me the shakes.

Remembering the Challenger – 30 Years Later

As I drove to work this morning, the incessantly chatty people on the morning radio station asked what happened 30 years ago. “We’ll be back in a minute to tell you,” they said.

I didn’t need them to tell me. I knew. Thirty years ago I was a senior in high school — no, you don’t need to do the math — and we were actually out of school because there was ice on the ground. It had all melted by mid-morning, and I drove to the shoe store to look for shoes. Why I needed shoes in January in 1986, I don’t know, but it is a very clear memory. On the way home, I heard on the radio about the explosion, and there was nothing on television the rest of the day except accounts of the disaster.

Yes, there was cable, but we lived out in the middle of nowhere, and we only had antenna television. My grandparents would have been horrified to pay a monthly bill for television. It comes through the air! It’s free! Why on earth would you pay? Now thirty years later people are trending backwards and cutting the cable again as they choose adhoc television services. (We still give the cable company a big chunk of change primarily for live sports.)

But I digress. Thirty years ago I was buying shoes and the world changed on a dime. We were promised that regular citizens would go into space. Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher, died that morning, along with seven astronauts.

If you were of age then, you still remember. The New York Times has a great article today, and here is a quote from the husband she left behind:

“The passage of 30 years since the Challenger accident is not of great personal significance to our family,” Mr. McAuliffe said in a statement to The Associated Press. “For us, Challenger will always be an event that occurred just recently. Our thoughts and memories of Christa will always be fresh and comforting.” Her is a link to the article: New York Times – Remembering the Challenger

Now, the space program barely gets a mention in the media. When Howard Wolowitz on the Big Bang Theory went into space he had to go to the space station via a Russian Rocket. SpaceX deploys satellites now, and NASA has not come up with an alternative to the shuttle program. Does it feel like we are regressing? People apply to go to the first Mars colony, but allegedly we can’t even get back to the moon now. See this article on whether we can get back. Can we go to the moon?

A little bit of all of us changed that day, and I’m not sure we will ever have the optimism about space that we once had. I’m starting to write in the science fiction romance genre, and I’ve been reading more about space travel. In my imaginary world, space travel is routine, but I’m not sure we will reach routine space travel in my lifetime. Thirty years ago I would have said we would.

Where were you when the Challenger went down? I’d love to hear your stories.

Tiny Houses — Boom or Bust?

I was in the other room last night and I heard my husband’s voice across the house. “What a nightmare!” I was expecting him to have news from a friend in Virginia or DC who got over two feet of snow, or some bizarre Internet video. No, he was watching Tiny House Hunters on HGTV.

Now keep in mind that we are not a small family. I am short, but I’m not small by any definition. My husband is 6’4″ and also is not small. Our kids are not small. At 14 my son is already over 5’9″. We could not even imagine. My daughter at almost-13 is 5’3″ and still getting taller.

I don’t get the tiny house phenomenon. Yes, I understand downsizing if you’ve retired, and I even understand the high cost of living in Manhattan where people pay a premium for ridiculously small apartments. There is something to be said for decluttering and not keeping things that you are no longer attached to. These shows go far beyond that. They are insane.

Why would you want to permanently live somewhere that you have to roll the bed under another section of the room when you get up because you literally have nowhere to walk? Why would you want to cram two adults and a small toddler in a living space no bigger than 300 feet? When you already have a house and you are established? grown-ups need their privacy, especially if they have small kids. There need to be boundaries in any healthy relationship.

We got sucked in and watched three different shows, and we couldn’t look away. It was like getting trapped in a Hoarders marathon. Why would these people voluntarily do this? In each one I saw, the wives were pushing it, and the husbands looked like they had been caught in a trap and couldn’t figure out how to extricate themselves.

On the road near where I live, I found a tiny house. The owner should put it up for sale and make a bundle. Any takers? I guess it could also be considered a fixer-upper.

What do you think? Are tiny houses a gimmick, or are they here to stay?

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Virginia Woolf – Trending on Twitter?

Yesterday I noticed that Virginia Woolf (d. 1941), one of the foremost modernists in English literature, was trending on twitter. What on earth? I was surprised, since I had not heard of a new movie or book coming out about her. It turns out a new audio recording was found of her voice, which kicked off an avalanche of twitter love. Yesterday was also her birthday.

Here is a link to the recording on the BBC: BBC Audio Recording by Virginia Woolf. I love British accents, but other than that, it doesn’t do much for me.

The Indigo Girls wrote a song, “Virginia Woolf” in 1992, as part of the album Rites of Passage. I love this album. 1992 was prime music time for me. I was 24, single, and had all the time in the world to become a writer. Unfortunately, after a disastrous year in the Purdue MFA program in Creative Writing, I was mentally blocked.

Even then, this song spoke to me. Part of the words are below:

They published your diary
And that’s how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own
And a mind without end

And here’s a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end
Comes like a long lost friend

So I know I’m alright
Life will come and life will go
Still I feel it’s alright
‘Cause I just got a letter to my soul

And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say “Each life has it’s place”

The hatches were battened
The thunder clouds rolled and the critics stormed
The battle surrounded the white flag of your youth
If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I’m sittin’ here living proof

Read more: Indigo Girls – Virginia Woolf Lyrics | MetroLyrics

If you want to watch the video, here is the link:


On one of the Indigo Girls’ live albums, Emily Saliers talks about how her mother sent her a copy of Virginia Woolf’s diary, and that’s how she wrote the song. Emily is a prolific songwriter, and I can imagine that connection. I’ve felt it before from writers who are long gone.

There are so many books published now: ebooks ranging in length from short stories to long tomes, traditionally published books with small print runs giving service to what the New York editors deem is literature these days, and then the blockbuster novels that basically fund the big New York houses. Books can go viral in a heartbeat if they trigger emotion in enough people. Am I that good? I’d like to be. I’m not there yet, but with every book I refine my craft.

Now, Virginia Woolf is not only reaching out to people through her diaries, she is also trending on Twitter. Her story is sad in so many ways, especially considering her battle with mental illness and eventual suicide. She has been an inspiration to many, and yesterday Twitter stood up and paid attention. You go, Virginia.

And how am I doing? Editing the final book in City Lights, Winner Takes All, in a frenzy. Soon, baby soon. This will wind everything up. By the time I get edits back from the editor, I’m thinking early March. Hopefully I will have a pre-order link up soon.