Saturday, September 14, 2013

JACK'S APPLE BETTY

Jack Brandt, the hero of BAD NIGHTS, my new Sourcebooks romantic suspense release, had parents who separated when he was young.  But he did have a few good memories from his childhood, including some of the desserts his mother used to make.  This Apple Betty is one of his favorites.  It’s a little like bread pudding but with more fruit than bread.  Recently Jack was lucky enough to have found the right woman, Morgan Rains, who loves cooking.

This recipe is for her, so she can surprise Jack with one of his all-time favorites, but I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.  Note that I’ve taken a lot of the calories and carbs out of the dish by using Splenda instead of sugar.  I’ve used a combination of red and Granny Smith apples, and I’ve left the skins on.  You could also peel them if you like.

Makes six to seven servings.





1 cup Splenda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 cups cored and cubed apples (about 8)
4 cups light bread cubes (I like to use Light Oatmeal Bread)
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

1. In a 1-cup measure, stir together the Splenda and cinnamon.

2. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, stir together the apples and Splenda mixture.  Microwave on high power for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring two or three times, until apples are partially cooked.

3.  Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet with sides.  Toast in the broiler 5 or 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until cubes are browned.  Watch the cubes carefully to make sure they don’t burn.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5.  Transfer apples and cooking juice to an 8 ½ by 11-inch baking pan.  Stir in bread cubes.  Slowly drizzle the melted butter over the mixture.  Stir to coat well.

6.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until the apples are cooked through.

I serve the Betty with no-sugar-added ice cream or half and half. It will keep in the refrigerator for two or three days.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Turkey and More

As you may know, I’m married to Mr. Travel.  He loves exploring the U.S. and the world.  And I've heard him brag recently that we’ve visited the sites of five of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  I say “the sites,” because most of them—like the Colossus of Rhodes—have fallen to dust. (Or scrap merchants, in the case of the Colossus.)  We saw the Great Pyramid of Giza on August 12, 2001.  I remember the date because we had been in Nairobi the day before, after a safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  If we’d been traveling a month later, we would have been grounded and unable to return to the U.S. until the 9/11 flight ban was lifted.

My husband’s latest delight was visiting the site of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. (Another ancient wonder.)  You can no longer see it, but its parts live on as building blocks in the castle at Bodrum, Turkey.



Our visit to Turkey began peacefully enough, with walking tours of the famous sites in Sultanahmet, the old-city part of Istanbul.  We marveled at Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Topkapi, the Mosaic Museum, the Grand Bazaar.  And my favorite was the old Basilica Cistern near the Hagia Sophia. You go down into a watery cavern, supported by columns stolen from various Roman and Greek temples.  To even out the height, one sports a giant head of Medusa at the base.

My writer friend, Patricia Rosemoor, joined us near the end of this Istanbul visit. Then we all flew to Cappadocia, a region of weird rock formations, many hollowed out as living quarters, and even an underground city—going back to the time of the Hittites.  We stayed in a cave hotel and took a balloon ride over the unique landscape. Bodrum was next, where we all climbed around the castle, admired the gardens, the statues and the view of the harbor. One highlight was the “Museum of Underwater Archaeology,” where recovered shipwrecks and the goods they carried were displayed, some from the 25th century BC.  (That date is not a typo!)


We’d planned our trip to Istanbul to take in the antiquities first, then later returned to stay at a hotel on the Bosphorus, where we could visit the Asian side of the city. But when we came back to Istanbul from Bodrum, we ran smack into the protests.  Our hotel was close to the park that the protesters want preserved. From our eighth-floor window, and also from the windows in the dining rooms, we watched police hurl tear gas and try to clear the area with water cannons.  And at 2:00 a.m. one day, tear gas seeped into our room, stinging my eyes. The violence wasn’t all on the part of the police, however. We watched protesters remove paving stones and billboards to make barricades, which we had to walk past to leave the hotel.


People have asked me, “Were you scared?” No, but the riots trapped us inside the hotel for a day. Finally we did get out for a visit to the Spice Market and took a Bosphorus cruise—being careful to get back before the evening rioting started again.

I know I’ve been a witness to history in the making.  Actually, what I saw on our return trip to Istanbul saddened me.  There’s so much to see and do in Turkey. Although we only scratched the surface, we enjoyed many unique experiences you won’t see anywhere else. We loved the ancient sites, the shopping, and a glimpse into another way of life. The people were warm and friendly.  One highlight of our trip was a home visit to a family in Cappadocia, where the mom and daughter-in-law fixed us a delicious meal, and one of the school-age boys brought us a newly-hatched chick to admire.  Another great interaction was with the man in charge of the breakfast room in our first hotel in Istanbul.  I’d bought cat food for a stray mom cat and her kittens, then found out he was sneaking them cheese.

As I traveled around, I saw a lot of people whose jobs are dependent on the tourist industry. People working for Turkish Airlines, in hotels, restaurants, bazaars, at the attractions and in the Bodrum marina. And there were scores of tourists—from the U.S. and Europe.  But I think the government’s repressive reaction to the protesters has seriously cut that source of income. I know people who have already canceled trips to Turkey. And every time I read about the unrest, I pray that the people and the authorities can come up with a peaceful resolution—quickly.  But I honestly don’t see it happening.

Maybe some year you’ll get to see the fantastic sights I saw in Turkey. But I don’t think it’s going to be soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Research and Fun in Central America


       The next book I’m writing for Sourcebooks, BETRAYED, features a heroine from Central America, and I picked up some fantastic background material for her while on a trip to Central America a few weeks ago.  I learned about the educational system, the drug trade, health care, and political corruption.  And I watched the military men striding around with their automatic weapons at the ready.

       There’s so much to recommend this part of the world that I keep going back.  I love the people, the birds and animals and the amazing flowers.  And I especially love tramping around Mayan sites where thriving cities flourished more than fifteen hundred years ago.

       In Belize we started our trip at a zoo Harrison Ford helped establish when he was filming Mosquito Coast. All the animals there are native to Belize, including this boa constrictor I’m holding.
 

We also visited Mayan ruins in the country, including  Cahal Pech and Xunantunich.  Although the stone carvings at Xunantunich are a reconstruction, they make a very impressive presentation.  And getting there was half the fun---crossing a river on a cool ferry that the operator worked with a hand crank.

       The most jaw-dropping ruins we saw were at Tikal in Guatemala, which we had visited 19 years ago.  We loved coming back and seeing how much more of this “New York of the Mayas” that archaeologists have uncovered.  Here’s a picture Norman took from the top of temple 4, which is 212 feet tall. I climbed up the switchback staircase that’s been installed so you can get to the top relatively easily, but I hate heights; and with a whole bunch of people milling around on the narrow ledge up there, I didn’t stay long.


      Another highlight of our trip was beautiful Lake Atitlan, formed by a gigantic volcanic explosion and still ringed by volcanoes that belch smoke and ash.  Our hotel was right on the water, and we took a boat trip from their dock to several villages where we visited a weaving cooperative and a street market. As we motored into one village, we saw how the level of the lake is rising, swallowing trees and buildings along the shore.

     
And here are vegetables at the indoor market in a village called Chichicastenango.  


       Our next stop was Antigua, a World Heritage city, where we stayed for three days, exploring the cobblestone streets, the ruins, the markets, and several museums, like the Mayan music museum.



       One of the highlights of the trip was an abbreviated Mayan ceremony, where we purified ourselves with bunches of rue and cast colored candles into a fire in a metal cauldron.  It was the dry season, but as we tossed blue candles symbolizing water into the fire, a light rain began to fall.


  Here’s an Antigua street scene near our hotel.


 I loved the macaws at the entrance to Copan. 



The carved stelae inside the ancient site are spectacular.


And here’s a replica of the temple that archaeologists found underneath another temple–so that the coloration on the exterior was preserved. 


And look at Norman providing a perch for some parrots.


       We had a fantastic time exploring Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In fact we liked it so much that we’re planning another trip in January–to two of the places we liked best, Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

       Do you like to travel.  And if so–what’s your favorite destination?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Look for my Blog


With the help of the incomparable Paula Graves, and a power assist from the ever-talented Norman Glick, I’ve got a new look for my blog. And if you rush over to www.freepartay.com , you can get a copy of two of my Decorah Security stories for FREE (today only!) on Amazon. And when you get to the free ParTay, you’ll see a lot of other authors you will want to buy.

I’ve heard disputes about giving away books on Amazon. Some authors think that it works as great publicity. Others think that so many free books mean readers will just wait until a book goes free. I’ve had On Edge and Ambushed free yesterday and today, and I’m getting a lot of sales for my other books at the same time. Going free has worked for me as my primary publicity tool. Every time I do it, I get increased sales. What do you think about free books as publicity? Are there too many? If you’re an author, has it worked for you?

I’ve put my books free through Kindle Select. I know there are authors who also have a book “permafree” by having Amazon price-match free books in other venues. Which do you think works better?

And, by the way, how do you like the new look for the blog?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Joy of Short Stories



I have friends who love to turn out long books. For some writers, 150,000 words a pop is nothing. The mammoth novel has never been my favorite form. If I have to pick my natural length, it would probably be the novella. And the short story is also a treat for me.

Too bad I wasn’t born soon enough to take advantage of the golden age of short stories in the Nineteen-Twenties and Thirties. Back then, the major writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton could live off the income from stories—sold to popular magazines such as Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post.

I read a lot of those stories later when I was an American Studies major at The George Washington University and then as a graduate student at the University of Maryland. And I loved them.

But my fondness for the form actually started earlier, when I discovered science fiction as a kid. From the age of ten until into my twenties, science fiction was a lot of my leisure-time reading. And the most frequent variety was the short story.

I’m going to skip over decades when the short story declined in American culture, mostly due to the dying out of the magazines that published them. It’s more fun to go right to today’s resurgence of the market. And I’ll credit the rebirth to indie publishing. You don’t have to be invited into an anthology to write a short story today or find a magazine that still buys them. You can write the stories that stir your creativity and publish them in e-format.

Some authors are doing them to keep readers happy between novels. Others are writing them because they have an idea they want to explore that won’t work in novel form but may be perfect for a short story.

I’ve done a couple of them myself—AMBUSHED and HOT AND DANGEROUS—as well as a novella, CHAINED.

All of them are the kind of fast-paced romantic suspense I’ve been writing for years, where a man and a woman fall in love against a backdrop of terrible danger. The risks intensify the emotions building between them. And the hero is likely to be a guy with paranormal powers that add to his sexual appeal and his warrior skills.

I’m loving the freedom that the indie market has opened up for writers—especially the ability to publish stories of any length you want. And luckily for us, readers are appreciating these shorter works, too.

What’s your favorite story length for leisure reading? Or do you love the freedom to choose what’s best for your mood of the moment?

And stop by Lunch Time Reads at http://bit.ly/TYxidH , where you can find some great short stories by favorite authors, each for 99c.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Authors Unleashed


Where do you get your ideas?  That’s the question I hear the most from fans and people who don’t spend their lives writing fiction.

I used to give a flip answer---that I bought them from a little shop in Ellicott City, the charming old town just down the road from my house.

Now I tell the truth.  If you’re a writer, ideas for stories whirl around in your mind all the time.  You just have to choose which ones you’re going to develop.

Until a few years ago authors were restricted to writing the stories publishers wanted to buy.  Now there are no restrictions.  You can write anything you want, publish it yourself, and sell your work to readers.

I jumped into the indie market just over a year ago with a novel, DARK MOON, a novella, CHAINED, and a short story AMBUSHED.  During 2012 I added another novel, DARK POWERS, and a short story, HOT AND DANGEROUS, all the while keeping up my “day job,” writing for Harlequin Intrigue, Sourcebooks, and Carina.

This month, I’ve put several of the above titles together into a DECORAH SECURITY COLLECTION that’s doing really well on Amazon.

Indie publishing is a wild ride with some big advantages and also some disadvantages.  Nobody tells you how long to make the book.  If you have an idea that will work better for a short story than a novel, you can go write and publish it. And nobody censors you.  If your bad guys tend to use the F word when they’re angry, they can sling the trash talk with the best of them.

Then there’s the book cover. Over the years, I’ve been disappointed by so many of the covers my publisher has provided for my books.  Now I get to pick the guy, the pose and the background.  It’s exactly MY vision of my story, which is more satisfying than you know.

And it doesn’t matter if romantic suspense is “in” or “out” or if an editor wants paranormal or not.  I can do it my way.

Of course, you don’t have the support of a big publishing company behind you.  You pay the  cover artist.  And you need to find a good editor and a copy editor---if you want your work to be as polished as possible, with no typos or pesky spelling mistakes.  Then you either learn how to put it up on Amazon and other sites, or you find someone to do it for you.  After that, nobody is going to push your book but you. You’ve got to stay active on social media and interact with fans.  Which is fun, since it keeps you connected with the world from your writing cave.

There are frustrations in the self-publishing business.   But the control over my work outweighs them.  Next up in the DECORAH SECURITY series is ON EDGE, a prequel telling  how Frank Decorah got to be the head of Decorah Security.

I’ve got a couple more projects on the drawing boards as well, which means there’s lots more work for me ahead.  And I hope a lot more reading fun for you.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

CRANBERRY ORANGE SAUCE RECIPE


When I want to take a break from writing, I often head for the kitchen. I’ve made this wonderful cranberry sauce before, and I finally made myself write down the recipe as I worked.  It’s great on turkey, ham or lamb.  I also love putting it on my breakfast cottage cheese.



Cranberry Orange Sauce
Makes 4 cups


2 12-oz bags of fresh cranberries
1 navel orange
4 cups water
2 ½ cups Splenda

1.Wash and pick over cranberries. Transfer to a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, and set aside.

2. Cut stem and navel end off of orange, and cut into eighths.  Place in a food processor, and process until chopped.  Transfer orange to pot with cranberries.

3.  Add water and Splenda.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat so that cranberry-orange mixture simmers.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Bring mixture to a boil, and cook at a low boil, stirring frequently, for ten minutes until sauce has been reduced by about one third.  Be careful to keep sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cool and transfer to refrigerator or freezer containers.  Cranberry sauce will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator and up to six months in the freezer.