Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mom's Spaghetti Sauce

This week I watched Hungry Girl, which I've never watched before, and she made her version of spaghetti sauce. It consisted of tomato soup with a pinchful of extras. As someone who has actually been served tomato soup over pasta in a restaurant, I just want to say, "YEECHHH!"

Spaghetti sauce (or marinara sauce, take your pick) should have some oomph to it, some depth, even if it's an easy-to-make version. Last night I watched Rachael Ray make her own sauce, which started with roasting eggplant, peppers, and garlic. Too much work for my tastes! (Though I might try it sometime.)

Here's my mother's recipe, adjusted just a bit by me over the years. It's fairly simple and makes a vat of sauce that can be used on anything that requires such.

Brown 1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck with a diced onion. You can substitute ground turkey, but DO NOT substitute hamburger-flavored soy product, as it will turn, well, just nasty. I have three very large Baggies of such in my freezer that I haven't used yet.
When that's done, pour off extra fat if there is any, and then add 3 or 4 chopped stalks of celery. You can allow maybe a leaf into this, but I wouldn't suggest more than that.
Then add a chopped green pepper, large can (bigger than the 15 oz. 24? 30?) of tomatoes. They can be whole (in which case you have to smush them) or diced, just as long as they're not pureed.
2 pkgs of spaghetti mix. I usually get the stuff with mushrooms or mushroom flavor (who knows what it is?), or I can add some sliced mushrooms to the sauce.
Tbsp. or a little less of salt.
Simmer on low heat for a half hour, then take 3 small cans of tomato paste (I think these are 3 oz each?) and dump them in. Fill up one empty can with water and smoosh it around to pick up any paste that's stuck to the sides. Then pour this water into the next can, do the same, and repeat for the last can. Then pour the water into your sauce and give it a good stir.
At this point, taste it to see if it has enough salt. Also: you can add a little bit of sugar or baking soda to counter all the tomato-y acids. Depending on what you're using the sauce for, you may want to add more water to make it runnier.
Simmer another 20 minutes, then let cool. Put in the fridge and let it sit there for a day before even considering serving it.

And oh heck, as long as it's on the same page in my recipe folder, here's

Mom's chili sauce.

It's not as good as the Veg-All recipe but it's good in its own beany way. Very hearty! I'd serve it with some cornbread on the side, since this recipe doesn't come with its own cornbread topper:

Brown 1 1/2 lbs. hamburger with 1 chopped onion.
Add 3/4 of a large can of tomato juice. (I usually substitute regular V-8 juice here with no probs at all and feel noble.)
1 tsp. salt, 1 package of chili mix.
Simmer 1/2 hour.
Add 3 cans chili beans and 3 cans pinto beans, and don't drain them first.
Bring it all to a boil and turn off. This is another recipe that has to sit for an hour or two before consuming. Watch your heat/cool as you don't want to grow bacteria. You could let this sit out for an hour and it'd still be quite hot enough not to grow anything rancid and yet be warm enough to spoon into a bowl.

Don't forget the Beano!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Ohhh, the paaaaiiinnn!"

Remember on Lost in Space (the TV version) when the awful Dr. Smith would react to just about anything not going precisely his way by moaning, "Ohhh, the paaaaiiinnnn!" Even the Robot got tired of it after a while.

Well, I've been moaning internally a lot lately (and not just because poor Obi seems to be on a downswing). Y'see, I've just come out with my latest novel. It's called Star-Crossed, and it's volume 2 of my Three Worlds romantic superhero series.

They say that each book teaches a writer more about writing. This book is teaching me a ton about self-publishing. Oh, the pain!

Well yeah, it'd help if I were a little more awake when formatting. But when you've got a full-time day job, things can get hectic when you hit home.

One of my major stumbling blocks was the tiny fact that Microsoft Word hates me. I change a line of formatting, and an entire page changes. Undo! Undo! The line looks good now, but three lines down the formatting is now off. Repeat an infinite amount of times.

With this book I began at Smashwords, thinking only to publish there since they do all ebook codes (but don't do print books). A week later at a FABULOUS Heart of Carolina Romance Writers meeting, I learned that you want to start with Kindle, Nook and CreateSpace, and then fill in the blanks of distribution with Smashwords. Smashwords also lets you use coupons so you can furnish reviewers with free copies in whatever code they need. I also added Lulu to the list for the "fill in the gaps" for print. Just in case. We'll see how that goes.

Smashwords has this wonderful (free) ebook that details how to format your book. It is 85 pages long. Eight-five freaking pages. They say it'll take about 2 hours to go through, but I discovered that it was more like 6-plus hours. Much of this extra time was needed because, as I said, Word hates me and fought almost every step.

But I got it done. Hooray! Click the final button and it's published! You have to wait another 2 weeks before they'll distribute it to some catalog that goes everywhere, but until then at least it's on their site.

So I published on Lulu—a little trickier because you have to have a back cover and spine there as well, since it's print. Got all that done and ordered my sample copy. (You have to check that everything's right before they'll distribute.) Getting a book from them takes just under 2 weeks, and they're just down the road in Raleigh. Got the book. Horrors! No page numbers! I redid my doc, crossed my fingers, and reordered. This time everything looked fine. Ahhh!

So then I sat down and did everyone else. Buttons pushed. Then the next day when I was awake—ACCCCKKK!!!!

Italics were missing on the final three pages of the story. Somehow things hadn't entirely formatted correctly during the course of all the conversions this particular book went through in the past few years. I corrected those three pages, sent off a couple of corrections, and ACCCKKK! The italic mistakes occurred in other places!

FINALLY got everything done. I hope. Thank you, "Find" function! I may have missed some French words along the way, but the vast majority are correct. All texts have been sent off. I got a note back from CreateSpace that the spine copy needed to be smaller, so I did that as well (haven't heard back yet).

Lessons learned:
My next self-pubbed novel will be Applesauce and Moonbeams, a book I've been trying to sell for about 3 years. When I hear back (WHY don't professionals have the courtesy to send a "no thanks" email instead of silence?), I've gotten comments like, "I love the characters. Great situation! How cute! But sorry, no room on our schedule for this. It's too niche-y."

So this will self-pub. Because it's been so long since I've looked at it, I'll do a complete edit. But first I'll go by CreateSpace's Word template for the document layout if nothing else, strip every last bit of formatting off my Word files and then re-format as I read each word. That way nothing will be overlooked.

My style sheets will be minimalistic: "Chapter Headings," "Body Copy" (with CreateSpace's first line indent measurement) and "Centered" should be all I need. I'll also remember that calling my chapters "Chapter X" instead of just "X" will allow the various systems to recognize a new chapter and set up automatic tables of contents for easy navigation.

And instead of starting off with Lulu's cover instructions, I'll use CreateSpace's handy-dandy template which shows you exactly where everything should be placed.

I'm looking forward to a MUCH easier time self-publishing!

Now all I have to do is get Star-Crossed reviewed somewhere. Recent book marketing courses have furnished acres of review sites, but most don't want ebooks (do I want to pay big bucks to get books printed when my chances of getting reviewed aren't guaranteed? No, sir!) or if they do, are so inundated with requests that they aren't taking any new titles for a long while, and even then, it'lll be at least 6 months before they can get reviewed.

And oh yeah, I've got to update my fiction page tonight with all the right links for buying.

Think I'll take an aspirin or six. Ohhh, the paaaainnn!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Interview with a Super— I mean, Parahero!

I’ve just joined a blog chain! Oh, the wonders of modern technology. The theme for this month:
Have one of your characters, from one of your stories (any! Novel, short, flash…) interview YOU!

That's right, I'm going to be interviewed by the delectable but sometimes scary Londo Rand, one of the stars of my Three Worlds series. He’s the fella on the cover (see at right) of both vols. 1 and 2. Let me tell you about Lon. He's a parahero (superhero) who stands about six-four or -five, a shade under 30 years old, built like Hercules with a gorgeous-guy-next-door-if-you-live-in-Canada face, and a medium shade of skin so you can't quite tell what ethnicity he is. Black hair, brown eyes. An autocratic nose. Resident of Montreal. Frowns a lot because he's got to let you know he's in charge as if you didn’t realize that already. Lon? You want to begin?

Londo [flipping through book]: Chrisse, I've read this stuff. Pourquoi moi? Why me? Why are you revealing all our secrets?

Carol: Man, you have no idea. I've only begun to peel away your secrets. Be afraid. Be very afraid! Heh heh.

Londo [frowning fiercer]: If you know so much, then you know what happens to people who annoy me. I am the most powerful man on Earzh, and I'm not afraid to use my strength! I could fly you over a volcano, or into the heart of a tornado and—

Carol: Ahh, you're one of the good guys. You only bash the really bad folks. Though there are things coming up that you do that might make others think less of you.

Londo: Not listening! I don't want to know!

Carol: That’s right; you don't. Heh.

Londo: D'accord, let's get to something I've been wondering about. Am I really Superman with a different name?

Carol: Golly day, no! When I was a kid I read every Superman comic there was. He had some good stories, but mostly he was a pompous bore.

Londo: A bore? [He begins to pace. Uh oh!]

Carol: I like the way you say that, like Louis Jourdan in Gigi. "Eet's a booore!" By the time I got into him, Superman had taken the Superman-Clark-Lois triangle that had been so important to his legend and run it dry. Now he was out to portray women as being inferiors and pathetic—which most of 'em in his book were. It was awful! These days Superman's worried about how big his— I mean, how strong he is. He makes sure he's stronger than everyone else. Fight, fight, fight; bash, bash, bash. That's boring to the ultimate degree.

Londo [suddenly stops pacing]: And I am not!

Carol [quickly!]: Absolutely! You've got depth. And, if you don't mind me saying so, sexiness out the wazoo. I based you on another character, a favorite of mine who lives in Superman's universe though he's somewhat obscure, and combined you with yet another character whom I also found fascinating. That one's not so obscure, but people won't guess who he is. Then I looked over the Three Worlds series, what it needed as its lead characters, and adjusted the amalgam to fit smoothly into that world. You're quite your own man now.

Londo [looking smug]: I always thought I was.

Carol: Of course you are. You've got the biggest eg— I mean, the best sense of self-esteem anyone's ever seen. (Maybe a little too much sometimes.) Unlike your girlfriend, Lina, who's at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Londo: Tais-toi! Don't you say anything bad about her.

Carol: I'm not, I'm not. She's got a long character arc to go through. We need to see her grow as the series progresses, and she can't complete her journey too quickly. Believe me: she winds up a long way from how she started. Touch of Danger got her through one major phobia, and now Star-Crossed has her working past another two. By the end of the book, she's ready to really incorporate herself into a world she'd previously been cut completely from.

From there she starts to build her personality. She has to become a leader, even a world(s) leader. (Isn't it great how I can incorporate parentheses even though I'm talking?) She's actually Wonder Woman, though not even Time-Warner's best lawyers could ever make a court believe that. She'll ultimately incorporate the important Wondie themes and goals within herself. I can't help it. I'm semi-obsessed with Wonder Woman, even in these dark days. But don't get me started on that!

Londo: How about me?

Carol: Lina's the primary star of the series. But you're still the alpha dog, the champion. You grow, but in other ways. I'm not telling you. You need to be surprised.

Londo: So what’s all this “parahero” stuff? You have something against the word “superhero”?

Carol: Actually, “superhero” is trademarked by Marvel and DC Comics. Check Wiki if you don’t believe me, though the term is also generic. So confusing! But I don’t want to chance getting into legal trouble. It costs too much to get out of. Say, how’s about buying a book or two? Just in case, I mean, so I can get a little additional revenue. You make a lot of money; the Terran Paranorm Network pays you bucketloads, and you also get a hefty salary from the Affiliated Systems Mega-Force Legion. People who save the world on a regular basis deserve that kind of wage. I can write you up for a couple hundred cases right now, no prob. You use Paypal? You need any paintings, too? I've got some you’ll like.

Londo: Hmm.... I read a bit of this book—Star-Crossed—before it became too unsettling. Bloodthirsty, aren't you? There's a bunch of mushy stuff in it as well. Romance. I take it this is one of those chick books. Are you hinting that there's a "happily ever after" at the end?

Carol: There are a bunch of, as we call 'em, HEAs in the series. This particular volume has a very nice one—but I'm afraid it also has a cliff-hanger. Couldn't be avoided. It's the only one in the series, if that helps. But the series is a collection of adventure story arcs starring you, Lina, your best friend Jae, and the people around you as they progress through the years. Each of the arcs does indeed have that HEA, but "ever after" might only last as long as the next arc's first complication. You understand?

Londo: Certainement. I know writing. When I'm not Earth's greatest hero, I like to write children's books.

Carol: Well, not quite yet. But it's coming. I've got one I'm writing as well. I'll be using a nom de plume since I don't want the kiddies to accidentally run into your series, which has a lot of adult material in it. Though it's not hard-core. Mostly. You'll be using a nom de plume, too.

Londo: Mais oui. That makes it more fun! I like wearing an eyepatch and pirate “Cap’n Miller” disguise for the publicity shots. Arr!

Carol: Fun's what it's all about, isn't it? I hope that between the sci fi action and desperation—

Londo: And mushy stuff?

Carol: And that, yes, that you find you're having a lot of fun in these books. And that the readers do as well.

Londo: So do I. Or there still might be a tornado out there with your name on it. Uh oh—there's my alert signal. Gotta go save the world.


Thanks, Lon, for stopping by. Now for everyone else: Check over there on the right for a cover you can click on to link to Star-Crossed’s page on my website, which gives you a link to Smashwords for the ebook version. You can read 1/15th of the book for FREE there and see if you want to spring for it. If you prefer print, you’ll find a link to Lulu. (Links are available for vol. 1, Touch of Danger, as well. Touch is published in all formats by Ellora's Cave Blush.)

ANNOUNCEMENT: As long as I have visitors here today, I’d like to say that I’m going to start doing a one-hour “Ask the Psychic” event on my Pro Facebook page, on or about every 16th of the month. Stop by my page to find details and ask a question!

Full list of blog chain participants:

Aimee Laine:
Lyla Dune:

Carol Strickland:

Amy Corwin:

Lilly Gayle:

Rebekkah Niles:

Laura Browning:

Andris Bear:

Marcia Colette:

Nancy Badger:

Sarah Mäkelä:

Jennifer Harrington:

Scott Berger:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Snakes on a Plain Patio

Friday afternoon! Free! Well, I have to finish that painting, but I want to check to see what the irrigation guy did in the garden this morning when he came to finish the job.

And oh yeah, I want to get rid of that netting on the patio.

Y'see, in a fit of energy the other day, Obi galloped to our small pond to get some water. He has double-filtered water in the kitchen, but no, he wanted scummy water. I happened to be nearby when he got stuck in some netting. "Meow! Meow!!"

It's bird netting, stuff I put over the pond in winter to keep the leaves out. I had pulled it off the pond when the temps warmed, telling myself that I'd bag it up and take it to the dump—later.

Here it was, the end of May, and the netting was still next to the pond. It was sort of half-and-half, netting and leaves. Obi got a claw stuck in it. I pulled him loose, then gathered the netting and tossed it up on the cement patio where he'd be able to see and avoid it until I took it to the dump the next day.

Okay, so that was over a week ago. The netting lay still on the patio, still filled with leaves. On Wednesday I walked by and jumped back. A black snake tail twitched at the edge of the pile.

My co-worker and I had just had a conversation about snakes. She'd run into a rattlesnake or something at her house, and we'd both checked a Web listing of NC snakes. She showed me that if a snake looked like they had a full set of mumps, it was poisonous.

This seemed like a black snake, so I told it that if it were smart it would find some other place to get out of the sun, as it might get caught in the netting.

Thursday as I walked past, I noticed the tail again. This time it was on the other side of the pile. Oh good—not caught. I determined that Friday afternoon—today, when the dump was open again—I'd bag up the netting and get rid of it.

But there was the tail again, on the side where it had been Wednesday. I edged closer. No movement. Taking the netting from the opposite side, I lifted it, hoping that the snake would then slither off into the woods.

Instead, it came up with the netting. Eeek!!!!

But I've been communing with nature lately. I hit a suicidal squirrel with the car the other day—first time in a LONG time I'd hit something—and, thanks to a book on animal communication, was able to let it go. Ordinarily I'd have been bothered for at least a week. Now I knew the squirrel was doing fine in the Hereafter, and its end had come quickly.

My cat Bran died last Thanksgiving. He later whispered to me that he was having a good time, but was waiting for Obi to join him before he really kicked back and had fun. In the meantime, he sent me an injured kitty because he knew I'd take it to the doctor and then find it a good home. (PS: I heard recently from Kitteh's—now Dexter's—new mom, who reports that he is king of their household and beloved by all.)

So I reminded myself that in a previous life I'd been a Franciscan monk, and went inside to find my good scissors and a glove.

Ew. Ew. Ew. I cut away all the extra netting I could, trying to get in closer. That snake (I named him Mr. Snakey) (I have a way with names) had really wormed his way, so to speak, into the tight nylon netting. After snipping closer to him, the looong tail began to undulate. Ew. Ew. Shudder!!!

It got to the point where I couldn't help but have to touch the guy so I could get a steadier bead on cutting the net. He was quite dry, not slimy at all. After a while, though, especially as I was getting closer to his tiny little head (and he squirmed in my hand), I went inside to get some thick gloves. Ick! Ick!

Finally, FINALLY, I got to his little neck and managed to get all but a lacy collar of netting off him. He slithered out of my grip, down to the patio, and curled up there, licking the air.

What to do? First, I needed to get the pile of netting away from him so he couldn't get caught again. I picked it up and—


This was far down inside the pile, and also firmly stuck.

A car drove up next door: My evil neighbor's kid and her friends. I asked if any of them wanted to help with a snake problem. The two girls quickly and firmly declined, but EN's daughter volunteered her boyfriend. He was not enthusiastic.

"Is it poisonous?" he kept asking as he eyed Mr. Snakey.

"I think it's just a black snake. But I'm not sure." The guy had white under his mouth. A cottonmouth? He didn't have mumps, but co-worker Peg had said that there was an exception to the mumps rule, and for the life of me I couldn't recall what kind of snake that was.

We both stood there as the snake reared up and hissed at us. BF decided that EN's daughter's dad would love to help me instead.

Dad (Marc) trotted over. "I love animals," he enthused. This from the guy I have to keep reporting to Animal Control for his mistreatment of his dogs. But I smiled and thanked him, and he revealed that he used to catch snakes to release them into the wild.

It took a rake, stick, and sheets, but we finally got Mr. Snakey to hold still. (And yes, he was just a black snake.) While Marc held him I snipped off the last of the netting. Mr. Snakey sped off behind some trees.

Now it was time for Mrs. Snakey, who'd obviously been injured by the netting. "I don't think she's had any water for at least two days," I told Marc. She was entwined almost up to her eyeballs, which required a lot of precise cutting. Difficult to do, especially since my sweat was running onto my glasses. We had to keep stopping so I could clean up. And Marc stopped when Mrs. Snakey got so scared she took a crap on him.

Finally, with more help from rake, stick and sheet, Mrs. Snakey took off to find her hubby, both now net-free. Hope she and he will heal well. I thanked Marc PROFUSELY and believe me, most genuinely. The job would never have gotten done without him!

Black snakes are excellent for dealing with rats. I hope that they eat copperheads as well.

And I hope that they do such far, far away from any path I may travel again!