Monday, April 30, 2012

Fixation Friday (on a Monday): 2012 Lit Fest

Friday was not a fun day for me (read: root canal). So, here's last week's post.

For those who aren't cool and don't live in Denver, there is a great non-profit organization here called the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. They are an independent creative writing center founded and operated by working writers. They offer workshops, gatherings, and a great annual conference.

I just signed up for the 2012 Lit Fest in June and I could not be more excited. The conference has workshops and courses for writers of all levels and a book fair to wrap everything up. As a new writer with a complete manuscript, I signed up for a pass that allows me the opportunity to speak directly with agents and editors for feedback on my query and opening pages. I'm eager (and also terrified) to hear what they will have to say, but mostly, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to get some feedback on my work.

I only have the next couple of weeks to polish my pages and query until they gleam, so I better get going!

Stay tuned for more as we get closer to June.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stories Uncovered instead of Written

You know what's kind of funny? Well, not funny haha, more funny strange. I don't feel like I write stories in the conventional way. At least, not in the way I thought I would when I first decided to write.

Obviously, I don't know how it is for all other writers, but, for me, I feel like the stories I write are already written in my head. Does that sound weird? Probably does because it sounds weird to me and I'm the one thinking it. It almost seems like I get an idea, I write it down, and that's when the story is first uncovered for me. Like the idea was in my head all along, I just hadn't found it yet. Then comes the outlining. I start to outline and determine what actions my characters take and the sequence of those events. When I stop to think about their motivations, they're already there. Again, like the characters knew all along what was driving them to act in a specific way without telling me why first. It's only when I stop to ask them why it is they're doing something (especially if it is something I don't like) do I find out.

Sometimes (most of the time) I think writing is this nutty experiment for me to empty my head of all these crazy ideas. Although I think it's probably helping my sanity some. After all, it can't be healthy for me to walk around with a half dozen fully complete novels in my head :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: The Demon King (A Seven Realms Book)

 The Demon King is book #1 in  Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series. I picked up this book for several reasons: 1) High fantasy fun! 2) YA high fantasy fun! 3) Highly recommended YA high fantasy fun!

The Demon King follows two teenage narrators leading very different lives - Han Alister a.k.a. Hunts Alone a.k.a Cuffs Allister and Princess Raisa ana’Marianna a.k.a. heir to the Gray Wolf throne of the Fells. 

Han is a reformed street lord trying to go straight to support his mother and sister. His old ways haunt him as he navigates murder and betrayal on the streets of Fellsmarch and the complex nature of upland Clans. 

The princess's days are centered on parties, lavish dinners, and the problems of her coming of age and the suitors that entails. But, her glittery world is cracking with tension from southern wars, the growing influence of a certain wizarding family, and her own weak mother's reign as queen. Luckily for Raisa, she has some reliable confidants who show here that her charmed life is a glossy veneer over her troubled queendom.

Fair warning to flouncers, this is a slow start. Personally, I hate to ditch a book and rarely do so. However, between work, family, friends, and writing, my available reading time is pretty slim. I did consider walking away from The Demon King after the first hundred pages. I was intrigued by the world building, but wasn't captured by the characters and plot. I gave it another hundred pages to win me over and I'm so glad I did. The second half of the book flies by in a whirlwind of court intrigue, secrets revealed, and a hefty conflict set-up for the next book.

There are four books in the series with the final installment scheduled for release this fall. I've already got the second book on hold and I'm looking forward to continuing my journey through the Seven Realms.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Fixation Friday: Skillet Lasagna

I'm always on the lookout for fun new recipes to try. I stumbled upon this beauty when I was lost in Martha Stewart's website (I swear that thing is a maze; you take one errant turn and you don't surface again for hours).

I'm a big, big Italian fan and I really liked everything about this recipe from making my own sauce from canned tomatoes to using the same skillet throughout the process. Very cool. If you have a minute (or several hours), check out Martha's website. She's got things stratified into so many different categories that you're bound to find something you like!*

I feel the need to explain the tiny Chihuahua on a shoe in this photo. I have a Chihuahua and my mom likes to buy me little Chihuahua tchotchkes. This one is a salt and pepper shaker set. I keep it out mostly to annoy my husband.


    43 ounces canned whole peeled plum tomatoes (from a 28-ounce can and a 15-ounce can)
    3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Coarse salt and ground pepper
    1 large egg yolk
    1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese, room temperature
    1 box (12 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles
    1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
    1/4 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, pulse tomatoes until coarsely pureed. In a large deep skillet, bring tomatoes, garlic, and oil to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce to a simmer and cook on medium until thickened, about 12 minutes (you should have 5 cups marinara sauce).
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together egg yolk, ricotta, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. 
  3. Carefully pour sauce into a heatproof bowl and return 3/4 cup to skillet; spread sauce evenly. Add a single layer of noodles, breaking them up to fit. Top with half the ricotta mixture, spreading evenly. Follow with a second layer of noodles, then 1 1/2 cups marinara. Add a third layer of noodles, then remaining ricotta mixture. Follow with a final noodle layer, then remaining sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella and pecorino over top.
  4. Bake lasagna until golden and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
*This is not an endorsement of Martha Stewart or her website (even though there's a ton of cool crap on there that everyone should check out).

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yummy Eats: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal cookies + chocolate chips = Mmm. I love oatmeal cookies, but I can't stand raisins. Why would you ruin a perfectly lovely cookie by adding in a grape in disguise? I'm haunted by this question on a daily basis. Truly, it boggles my mind.

I found this recipe on the inside of the lid of my Quaker old fashioned oats. It calls for raisins, but raisins are the devil, so I swapped them for chocolate chips. The result is perfection.


1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for my high altitude friends: increase flour to 1-3/4 cups and bake as directed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Things to note: In my experience, oatmeal cookies burn quick, so it's important to watch them in those crucial final minutes of baking. Depending on your oven, and the size of your "rounded tablespoonfuls", the cook time varies. My cookies tend to be on the larger side, so I cook for the full 10 minutes. I like my oatmeal cookies chewy (really, who doesn't?), so instead of waiting for the tops to brown, I check the sides. Once the sides near the bottom of the cookies have browned, I pull them out. Last thing, I love nutmeg and if you happen to have any around, add a dash (only a dash!) to create another dimension the wonderful mash of flavors in this cookie.

The recipe said you could make 4 dozen, but I call bull. The most I have ever squeezed out of a batch was 30 cookies. But, like I said, I tend to make each cookie a bit bigger.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Fixation Friday: Nathan Bransford Blog Pimp

For me, the desire to lay down some ink on paper came from an idea I had. You know the kind that pops into your head out of nowhere and won't leave you alone? That kind. But, once I had this brilliant story idea, I had no clue what to do next. Being that it's 2012 (2011 at the time, if we're splitting hairs), I did what any internet savvy person would do - I googled it. Don't try that. You'll be inundated with over a billion results in .29 seconds. That's a lot. 

Lucky for me, I had made some connections with other writers - some published, some not - and asked where to start and what the heck a "pantser" was! (Btw, it's someone who doesn't outline. Never trust a pantser!) One such person directed me to the blog of author Nathan Bransford. Nathan is a middle grade fiction writer and was a literary agent in a previous life. His perspective on writing, finding an agent, and getting published is definitely unique given his experience. His blog has *HANDS DOWN* the best resources for writing newbs (which I was/still am).

Anyone who is thinking about starting their own journey into the quagmire that is becoming a published author, should bookmark Nathan's blog. I've also picked out a few other resources that helped me get moving in the right direction and listed them on my "Resources" page. Check it out! And Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress #1)

 I decided to check out Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series when I was researching an agent that I really want to query with my fantasy manuscript. She listed it as one of her favorite series in the fantasy genre (though it's more PNR than fantasy). I'd also heard rumblings about the series on the Nest Book Club board - who, for the record, are never wrong about good books. Well, let me say that I devoured this book faster than my Easter candy (Cadbury Cream Eggs and I have been seeing each other on and off for decades).

Cat Crawfield is a half-vampire hunter of the fully undead. This is a great premise - 50% vampire, 100% kick-ass. She stalks creatures of the night with her heightened senses and a vengeance born from her mother's hatred of all vampires. Cat's mother was a rape victim who became pregnant with her vampire attacker's child. Needless to say, Cat has some serious issues reconciling that she is half vampire because her mother is too narrow-minded to see that her prejudice has adversely affected her daughter's state of mind (more on that later). While prowling for her next victim, Cat stumbles across Bones, a Master Vampire who has a thing or two to teach her about vampire hunting. The unlikely pair join together to stop a ring of murderous vampires who are enslaving Ohio's young women. Sparks fly between Cat and Bones as they surge down the deep and dangerous rabbit hole.

Things I loved:
  • Bones
  • Bones
  • Bones
  • Bones calling Cat "Kitten"
  • Cat and Bones together
  • Cat and Bones fighting evil vampires
  • Bones training Cat to battle aforementioned evil vampires
Thing that bothered me:
  • Cat's obnoxious grandparents
  • Cat's obnoxious mother
  • The fact that Bones wears a denim jacket through the entire story (because undead means zero fashion sense)
I mentioned Cat's ridiculous mother and I feel like I need to harp on that point. Cat's mother raised her daughter to be secretive all her life. She encouraged Cat to downplay her supernatural abilities while refusing to talk to her about them until she was 16. At that point, she proceeded to tell Cat that she was the spawn of Satan and encouraged her to go hunting for beastly vampires to exact revenge on every one of them for the crimes of Cat's father. Now this is just ridiculous. Yes, Cat's conception was horrid. Is that her fault? No. Is Cat's mother a selfish biatch who sent her 16 year-old daughter out into the night to fight vampires? Yes. Was I secretly rooting for Cat's mother to reach an unfortunate end the entire book? Maybe. I disliked her character so much that it was distracting. I feel like there was a message that Frost was trying to get out with Cat's mom, but it was lost on me because I despised her that much.

All the anger at Cat's mom aside, I did enjoy myself with this one. It's been a while since I had that much fun reading. If you liked the Sookie Stackhouse novels (the first 5, after that they really took a turn), then Cat and Bones are definitely right for you. I'm looking forward to where this series is going and I have high expectations for the next book.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Fixation Friday: Pintrest is the devil!

Is it bad that I am unhappy it's Friday because that means I have to post? I think so. I should change this regular segment to another, less happy day.

This week, I want to share with you my fanatical love of Pintrest. I know a lot of writers/readers/bakers pin (and some everyday at that), and I am no exception. I love Pintrest. I love the social aspect. I love that people who have never met me before can follow my pins because we share a similar love of cooking, fashion, or funny crap. Here are my favorite pins of the week:

Motivation Board:

Recipe Board:
Fashion Board:
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to stalking my Pintrest board for new and shiny things. Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yummy Eats: Baked Falafel

I am obsessed with Mediterranean cuisine. Mediterranean dishes are always such a vibrant mix of colors and contrasting textures. So. Flipping. Good.

There's a restaurant here in Denver called Garbanzo's (as in the bean) that I fell head over heels for. Imagine if Chipotle had a sexy Mediterranean cousin who fed your freshly made falafel while you're waiting in line to place your order - that's Garbanzo's. I looked into franchising opportunities last year so that I could have unfettered access to said falafel, but apparently they're rather choosy about falafel ownership. Unfortunately, there is no Garbanzo's close to me (don't worry, I've already written the company requesting they place their next location within 1 mile of my house), but being my resourceful self, I decided to have my own falafel party.

Since Pintrest is the source of all light and happiness in the world today, I trolled the pin board for a good baked (I don't own a deep fryer) falafel recipe. I stumbled upon the blog Can You Stay for Dinner and found a post from someone as passionate about these delicious morsels as I am. The recipe was fairly easy and they turned out so well! I paired the dish with some hummus and chips and it resulted in the perfect meal. If you're looking for a break from monotony (read: chicken), I definitely recommend this little gem.

Photo credit: Can You Stay for Dinner
Baked Falafel with Lemon Tahini Sauce
serves 2
15oz can chickpeas
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Lemon Tahini Sauce
2 tablespoons tahini paste
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Remaining Ingredients:
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
2 pita breads (5” diameter)
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped green leaf lettuce
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all falafel ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Scoop the bean mixture into a bowl and shape into 8 equal sized patties. Place on a greased baking sheet, brush each with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes.
Whisk the tahini, lemon juice, and zest in a small bowl.
Divide the hot falafel among the two warmed pita breads and top with chopped lettuce, tomato, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta, and the lemon-tahini sauce. 

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: Legend

YA dystopian is the new black. We all know that. It's popular and there are a slew of books in this genre hitting the shelves right now. While I don't think any of these series will ever reach the fever pitch achieved by the Hunger Games series, there are still tons of books of similar merit. Some of my YA dystopian recs include the Delirium books by Lauren Oliver and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. If you're looking for something that not a lot of people talk about, but is one of the books that defined the genre ages ago, check out Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's brutal, but, well, it's brutal.

I grabbed a copy of Legend by Marie Lu on Friday and finished it Saturday night. Truly a great read! It barrels along at break-neck speed and really sucks you in from the opening pages and refuses to let go. The story opens in the Republic (formerly the western U.S.) with 15 year-old Day watching the plague police do their routine check on his family's home. Day has been in exile since failing his trial 5 years earlier and made a name for himself as a famous criminal. He watches on helplessly as his family's home is marked with the dreaded quarantine "X" - meaning that the plague has been found. Day has to find a way to help his impoverished family get the medicine they need to survive.

Once we're introduced to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, we meet June who is at the very top. She is the nation's best of the best (literally receiving the perfect score in her trial), attending college four years early and on the fast-track for a top military assignment. She is a preeminent example of good breeding and a resolute Republic citizen. Her life is toppled, however, when her brother, and only remaining family member, is murdered by none other than Day - the Republic's enemy #1. June vows to hunt down her brother's murderer and bring him to justice, until she meets Day and discovers that a lot of things in her perfect world are illusions cast by the Republic itself.

Like I said, this book packs a punch of information, background, and plot in only 300 pages. It could easily have been another 100 pages longer and still be paced very well. I enjoyed Lu's take on the warring country of the Republic and its constant enemy known as the Colonies. She did a wonderful job drawing the parameters and social morays of the new world and the Big Brother-esque government. The themes of family and duty run strongly through each chapter and bring a dynamic reminiscent of the Hunger Games. I'm really looking forward to the second installment this fall.

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