Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Finish What You Start

Mission Impastable came out in 2014. I am completing books two and three in the culinary mysteries series, “Dinner is Served”, this summer. But ALWAYS when I am in the throes of writing a novel and near the end, my mind drifts to bright and shiny things that ARE NOT the current project. And that would be book four. Ever happen to you? You know what I’m sayin’, right?

Book two, Prime Rib and Punishment, has my personal chefs, Alli and Gina, teaching at a cooking school. The head chef hates them and all home cooks since they are not professionally, classically trained. Too bad he dies. Even too badder is that they are the prime suspects. Recipes are largely meat-based entrees.

In Potluck, a double entendre title, Alli is driven to use marijuana in recipes for medical purposes, to help people who cannot get medical benefits from smoking grass and must ingest it. She seeks the help of a brilliant agronomist who is a grower-distributor for most of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona. Gina is not on board with this direction for their company. Recipes are for neighborhood potlucks as well as ones to add marijuana to at the prescribed dosage.

So with two great books winding up, why is my attention drawn from them to book four? I can’t wait to begin Ancient Grease, and I must fight myself constantly to keep from jotting down scenes and snippets of dialogue. If I get drawn into that book prematurely, I will never get books two and three done. That is precisely why I am now finishing two books this summer, both at past the mid-point. And the newer, fresher one is more appealing than the stale (in my mind) books two and three.

If I throw book four into the mix, none of them will ever get completed and published!

Writing Ancient Grease appeals to me on so many levels. I get to include Mediterranean/Aegean Sea recipes. I get to replay scenes from my travels in Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. And the format is different. Rather than a novel, Ancient Grease is a series of linked short stories that take place when Gina and Alli are demonstration cooks on a cruise ship. There’s murder and burglary and mistaken identities. Wowie! It’s going to be a great book!

Doesn’t that sound more appealing than finishing up two other books and then doing the inevitable and everlasting edits?

Sigh. Delayed gratification has never been my strong suit. But, fortunately, with a critique group prodding me, I will finish what’s on my plate so I can get to dessert.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guest Post: "Slivers of Glass" by Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger

I am fascinated with well-done noir mysteries and admire people who can write them. To that end, today I am featuring Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger who partnered up on Slivers of Glass. When you read the interview, I'll bet you'd like to sit down with them. I know I would. As a special treat, at the end of this post, they provided a classic recipe of the era.

Southern California 1955:  the summer Disneyland opened, but even the happiest place on earth couldn't hide the smell of dirty cops, corruption and murder.

The body of a women thought to be killed three years earlier is found behind a theater in Hollywood. Movie Stuntman Skylark Drake, former LAPD detective, is dragged into the investigation. He can make no sense of the crime until he discovers a dirty underworld and unearths deep-seated...greed.

Genre: noir murder mystery

How much of your characters/plot are drawn from your life?
J-I think a lot of my plots and characters are drawn from people I know and things that happened to them and my family.  Then I asked myself, what is the worst thing that could happen to my family and friends that would impact me greatly
W- In my mysteries, very little is autobiographical. Mostly from people watching and eavesdropping
What is best to write from, real settings or fictional settings?
J-Fictional by all means, with a real situation playing a major role in the story. Nothing beats real life situations, and they say, sometimes life imitates fiction.
W- For me an actual setting that has been altered to fit the story. Creating a whole new world can take a lot of time and involve a lot of tracking and organization.

What was the most awkward situation you experienced when discussing your book?
J- My sister, 8 year old niece and I were enjoying a day at the beach. We ran into some friends I hadn't seen for years. We talked for a while and I told them about my new book, Slivers of Glass and how I write murder mysteries. The next day, my niece went to school, and during sharing time about families she stated, "My Auntie and Uncle are famous, they kill people." My sister got a call from the teacher that day. 
W- We were at a wedding in Santa Rosa when the subject of our murder mystery book research came to light. We asked about places in the area that could be the site of a body dump. You wouldn't believe the number of suggestions we got!  One woman said to her friend, "Those two seem so normal."

What city would you visit over and over again? 
J-New Orleans, it is such an amazing place! There is great history, scrumptious food,  beauty scenery everywhere you look, and friendly people. I was inspired during a walk through Jackson Square to write an entire murder mystery set in New Orleans. I already included New Orleans in my third book, EAST OF THE PIER.

W- I agree with Janet - New Orleans is number one. because of the rich history and of course the food!

Why do you write fictional murder mysteries?
J- Who says they're fictional!?! Many of my subplots and characters come from real life over the years. Mind you not necessarily my life!
W- Most true crime stories have been covered and I like to be creative with my characters and give them their own stories.

Where and how do you write?
J-I write anywhere I can: backs of forms, napkins, scratch paper, etc. And depending on where I am: doctors or dentist office,  standing line in the grocery store, stuck in traffic, name it. When inspiration hits, I write. Then I transfer my chicken scratches to my computer and elaborate on it.
W- Usually I am at my computer. I prefer to type in my story rather than write it with pen or pencil. I guess I like to commit to it in that way.  I do crossword puzzles in ink as well.

Where do you get most of your creative thoughts for your book?
J- I get most inspired in the shower, at the beach, swimming underwater. Since I swim 3-4 times a week at a public pool, I always come home with something. Especially when I'm stuck on a scene. Water tends to make my brain think best.
W- I never know when inspiration will strike. Many times when I'm sitting in a boring meeting, the urge to kill surfaces. Sometimes in a checkout line or waiting at the post office my mind will wander off to the dark side.

Excerpt from Slivers of Glass

There were a dozen other things I could’ve been doing besides standing in line at the drug store listening to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” piped in overhead.  Though, it was a treat to watch the cashier move behind the counter in her form-fitting white smock. I shook my head and plopped a tube of Pepsodent and a couple of toothbrushes on the pharmacy counter.

She looked up and said, “That will be seventy-five cents, Mr. Drake.”

I dug in my pocket and dropped three quarters in her hand, “Thank you, Miss Abernathy.” She placed my items in a small white paper bag and folded over the top. “Here you are, and quit calling me that.  My name is Emily. Anyway, this should keep you smiling brightly. I only wish I could see yours sometime.”

In all the times I’ve walked to this drug store, I couldn’t remember a day she didn’t smile at me. Too bad there was a ‘y’ at the end of Emily’s name. Women with names like Sandy, Cathy or Abby were bad luck. Those ‘y’  women were always trouble and it would be dangerous to get mixed up with another one now.

“Thanks,” I tipped my hat, "When I have something to smile about, I might just show you.” I knew Emily pretty well since this place was only a couple of blocks from my apartment, an apartment I lived in because a fire took my home along with my beautiful wife Claire and Ellen my little girl.

As I turned to leave, I winked at the two little old ladies behind me.  They stepped back and stared as if I’d just sneezed in their faces. I turned and waved goodbye to Emily only to see her pointing behind me in horror. I followed her gaze and saw a dark green car hurtling toward us - right through the huge windows at the front of the store! The gigantic crash at my back sent shelves, boxes and cans hurtling in our direction. I turned around as glass, smoke and debris seemed to explode in a cloud around us. At that moment my training from the Marine Corps took over. I instinctively swept up the two ladies and Emily and pushed them to the back of the store. The other customers ran screaming out the huge opening where the storefront windows used to be. I shielded the women against the back wall with my body all the while knowing that my weight could suffocate them, but what else could I do? The ceiling could come down on us at any moment. I held them against the wall while listening to my heart pound.  Slowly the tinkle of glass subsided and I released them. Tiny slivers of glass and wood had embedded themselves in my sweater and trousers. “You’d better be careful,” One of the little old women chirped, “Your backside looks like a pin cushion.  Best not to sit down for a while.”

Website and/or blog links



A very popular dessert in the 1950’s, served at the famous Coconut Grove Night Club in Los Angeles. The “Grove” was known for its great cuisine. The Coconut Grove is featured in one of the scenes in Slivers of Glass, a Noir murder Mystery.

2 oranges or tangerines 

2 bananas

Shredded coconut, unsweetened
Peel the oranges or tangerines, pull the pieces apart; cut the pieces across the middle. Peel the bananas and cut them into thin slices.

Cover the bottom of the bowl with orange pieces. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of sugar over the oranges (depending on the sweetness of the oranges/tangerines). Put some banana slices on oranges, and then sprinkle a little coconut over bananas.

Do the same thing for the next layer, first the oranges, sugar, bananas and coconut. Make more layers, using all the fruit.

Sprinkle coconut on top. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 1 hour. Serves 3-4

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Quick Cook: Chopped and Served

This is part of my continuing series on the Quick CookTips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. An earlier version of this post appeared there. The series, on some of those tips, let’s you see how it might play out in your kitchen.

I admit to an addiction. Addictions are compelling, you know. They grab onto you and force you to aberrant behaviors, behaviors you never thought YOU would be snared by. Yes, that’s right. I watch too much reality TV. I am addicted to the Food Network, and the show Chopped is especially addictive.

I was thrilled with the Iron Chef shows that had the mystery ingredient. What fun to watch these world-class chefs figure out what to do with lizard brains! But Chopped took it to another level. A whole basket with mystery ingredients. I loved imagining what I could do with them.

When I first watched Chopped, I was not so impressed, and on some level that is still the case. Shoot! A bunch of disparate ingredients to throw together in a few minutes? At my house, I call that dinner!

After all, isn’t that what happens at your house? [Opening refrigerator whilst simultaneously scouring pantry shelves] “Hmm. Dinner. What can I put together?” Seriously! They made a TV show out of every busy mom’s daily experience??? Who are they trying to kid?

Quick Cook Tip # 6: Develop a kitchen-awareness of foods on hand.

Okay, admittedly, unlike Chopped, I don’t typically have frog legs, kumquats, graham cracker crumbs, and mustard greens I have to combine in one dish in 30 minutes, but the principle is the same. Every mom I know looks at the food possibilities, puts them together, and calls it dinner. So take that, Chopped!

Recently, I had uncooked spaghetti, some cherry tomatoes on their way to becoming dried tomatoes the old-fashioned way, bits of some cheeses, some chopped veggies left from a salad (peppers, green onion), and some leftover roast chicken and chicken au jus.

I cooked the spaghetti and after draining added the au jus and chicken. I tossed in the veggies and added shaved cheeses. Dinner in ten minutes!

What’s sitting around in your refrigerator? If you play Chopped, it’s a lot more fun than moaning about the lack of your expected ingredients. Don’t get in a rut. Play Chopped a couple of times a week to use leftovers in unexpected ways.

Leftover meatloaf? Cut meatloaf into fork-size chunks. Add a can of chiles, black beans, Mexicorn, diced tomatoes, salsa, and Mexican cheese. Pop the casserole into the microwave for ten minutes. Warm up tortillas for bread. Dinner is served!

Two pork chops and four people for dinner? Thinly slice the pork chops and put half in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cut up two white and/or sweet potatoes (or use leftovers) and put half on top of the pork. Drizzle on some cream to make it gloopy and add cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes (reduce time if potatoes are cooked). Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown up the top.

See? How easy is that? Look at what you’ve got and throw it together. Odds are very good that you will create a memorable meal. And un-replicable since you will never have the same combo of ingredients again at the same time!

This is Alli’s kind of cooking. She would be a great contestant on Chopped, don’t you think? 

Has you gotten your copy yet of Mission Impastable? This book is the first in my culinary mystery series. With a tasty mystery AND recipes, what's not to like?