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4 posts from June 2013

Summer Favorites June 30, 2013

Apologies to those of you who follow me on Twitter and have heard me rhapse waxodic on these candles, but I lurve them sooo much. 

Y'see, the last time I lit a real candle in our house, Digit ran past it, lit his tail on fire, and headed for the living room curtains. I put out his tail-flame with my bare hands and then breathed into a paper bag for a while. I gave up on candles. Not worth it. But I love the way candles look -- the glow the give, the home-ness of them. I missed them. 

Then one night at work, we got a call from a citizen who saw a candle burning in a closed tchotchke shop. We sent out a fire engine. The shop was closed and locked, and there was, indeed, a candle burning inside on a table. 

We set about trying to find the responsible contact for the premise, going through PD and the alarm company -- all the normal venues. In the meantime, the fire crew had been on scene about a half-hour. And one of the guys started thinking, Maybe it's not a real candle. No, the others said. It flickers! Look, it's wavering. It's real. They stared. They studied. They weren't more than eight feet away through glass, and they could not tell. 

Finally, we got hold of the owner who verified that no, they didn't light real candles in the store, but that it was a special battery-operated candle that utilized the technology Disney uses in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

We had a good laugh. The crew cleared. And I started Googling, because if those candles were good enough to fool the firefighters, then they'd be good enough for me. 

I found them! I bought them! Even though they were exceedingly expensive! And I'm blogging this now because I just found them for hella cheap on Amazon, less than half-price, and if you want to try them, this would be the time. They look a little frumpy in their Amazon photos, so I took a little video of them in the house. (Some come with a remote -- one remote will control them all, in case you're curious.) 

 

I don't actually ever use the remote -- you can put them on a timer, and they'll "burn" for 5 hours every night before flicking off. So now when we come home at night? They're on! They run on D batteries, and we use rechargeables, so we're golden. This will absolutely be our go-to wedding/housewarming present from here on out. They look so real

Sorry! That was such a hard sell! But they make me happy, daily. 

Your reward? A Summer Plum Salad, adapted from that amazing 101 Simple Salads list the New York Times compiled four years ago. 

Brine two chicken breasts for an hour-ish or more (place in a large ziplock bag, add about 4tbs salt and some peppercorns). Grill them (the chicken breasts, not the plastic bag). Slice 4-6 plums (in season now!). (I honestly didn't even know how to do this cleanly, but god bless the Internet -- I learned how here.) Place sliced plums in large bowl, add balsamic vinegar, enough to coat and then some more. While that sits, chop some celery, toss some salted roasted almonds in food processor, chop some oregano (he says marjoram also works, but I found that too perfumy), chop a little red onion, and throw all that in the bowl. Add olive oil and salt on top, mix it up. Chop the cooked chicken, add. Serve on top of favorite greens. AMAZING. You're welcome. 

Also? Happy Pride, y'all. So happy with the Prop 8/DOMA decisions. (We went and danced in the Oakland streets that night. It was wonderful.) 

IMG_7931

Reading Recs With Bonus Giveaway! June 25, 2013

Oh, darlins, I've been reading SO much lately. I've been on a reading bender, overdosing on books. 

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by...Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading--that is a good life. -- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I picked up that book in 2007. I know because my Kindle told me not to buy it again last week (thanks!). I vaguely remembered starting it, and not connecting with her language, with her level of intensity. Dillard takes her job as writer very seriously, and that scared me. This time through? I'm highlighting sentences on every page. I love this book. I finished it earlier this week, hit the home button, and started it again from the beginning. I'm not sure I've ever done that before. 

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. Recommended by just about everyone around me, this book gripped me from the very start. Female pilots in World War Two! The Gestapo! Spies! Don't read any of the blurbs -- just jump in and read, blind, like I did. I have never cried so much while reading a book, maybe ever. (That is not a spoiler. When I heard that before I started reading it, I thought Dang, I didn't want to know that! But trust me, it's not really a spoiler.) I couldn't put this down -- one of those books you can't wait to get back to. 

Speaking of books you can't wait to get back to, I'd love to introduce you to Vanessa Kier! She's an exciting writer I was lucky enough to beta-read for, and she writes romantic thrillers. Who doesn't love a thriller? Vanessa writes what I like -- spicy hot alpha males and women who are even stronger. She gave me an interview, and she'll be giving away a copy of Vengeance - The Surgical Strike Unit Trilogy Book 1 in hard copy or e-version to a lucky commenter! 

Vengeance_200x3001

Hi, Vanessa! First of all, I love where he's carrying that gun. Next, What comes first for you, characters or plot? How do you marry the two?

Character usually comes first for me. For example, with Vengeance the first thing I knew about the story was that it revolved around an emotionally wounded heroine, Jenna. I knew that she’d survived a horrific attack that killed her parents and her younger siblings, and that trauma and survivor’s guilt pushed her in a direction no one who knew her up to that point would have expected. After that, I had to actually get into the writing before I even discovered who the hero was. Mark Tonelli was the original hero, until he met Jenna and was such a jerk I realized he was a secondary villain. Niko appeared to me shortly after that.

Betrayal worked slightly differently, because the plot and many of the characters flowed from Vengeance. So I already knew the hero, some of the villains and that the heroine was the daughter of the villainous Dr. Nevsky. From the moment I started thinking about Betrayal I knew that the heroine was going to be either an archaeologist or anthropologist. Susana Dias appeared very shortly after that and was a blast to write!

The plot usually flows from the characters. I often know a few key plot points and maybe the ending, but for the most part, when writing the rough draft I let the characters dictate the action.

 

What draws you to fast-paced suspense?

The simple answer is probably that I’m just hard-wired that way. I get bored if I'm not writing mayhem! :D After I finished my first full-length manuscript, a romantic suspense that took me five years to write, I was so burned out I thought I’d try to write a light contemporary romance about a woman who meets a man while on vacation. But before long there are dead bodies, her Army brother goes missing in action over seas, and the heroine becomes involved in an investigation that uncovers corruption in the army command. Then Jenna’s story popped into my head and completely overrode the other plot. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll go back and write that as a suspense, not a contemporary romance!

The more complex answer is twofold. First, I’m fascinated by the idea that if you put a character in a life or death situation, you’ll quickly see their true essence. 

Second, I’m a worrier. I think that it's cathartic for me to write down some of the worst situations I can think of, then maneuver the plot to result in a happy ending. In my books I can make sure the good guys win, which is very satisfying emotionally and something that doesn’t always happen in real life. 

 

What's your favorite part of the writing process?

The organic process of putting emotion and action on the page is my favorite part. I like sitting down to a blank page and not knowing what's going to come out as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I also love discovering new details while interviewing one of my characters. 

 

What's your least favorite?

Trying to organize all the messy scenes into a coherent whole! I’ve learned that I’m no good at following an outline. I outlined Vengeance, but as I wrote, the characters deviated so far from my outline there was no going back! After the rough draft is done I really drill down and make sure that the characters’ motivations and goals are clear and that the actions they take are logical. Sometimes I end up having to completely alter the plot because of this, which ends up in a lot of work. However, my muse is happier if there's not too much structure when I'm writing the first draft.

Also, keeping the timeline straight for the SSU trilogy was horrible, particularly since Retribution (Book 3) starts chronologically before Betrayal (Book 2). It took several iterations of tracking events on an erasable wall calendar with multiple colors of markers to make sure that the characters weren’t in two places at the same time! 

 

What's on your plate now?

Retribution_200x300I’m revising the first book in a new romantic thriller series. The series takes place in Africa and I’m drawing on my time spent living there to add authentic details. The first book is about Jane Gardiner, an international aid worker nicknamed Calamity Jane, because no matter where she goes natural disaster, disease or strife seems to strike. If this was a paranormal, she’d behaunted by the Four Horsemen! The hero isRio Martinez, an ex-Marine. Rio is Jane's former lover and the man she was forced to betray several years earlier, ending up in his imprisonment and torture. Rio has become part of a secret African organization that is part special operations, part Robin Hood’s Merry Men, with a goal of preventing violent rebel groups from throwing the region into chaos. Jane and Rio are forced to work together to locate a disk that contains data that can prevent a series of attacks against foreign embassies. There arerebels and traitors and some pretty gritty action scenes. You know, the usual fun and games! 

Thanks so much for having me here!

 

 One lucky commenter will win a copy of  Vengeance! Say whatever you'd like in your comment, but as always, it's fun if you share the latest great book you read with everyone else. - R

NowJune 20, 2013

I just got my third tattoo. Actually, it's my fourth, but one was covered up. This one is on the inside of my arm, just below my elbow. 

It's based on this drawing I made: 

NowUp

When I was a kid, I used to draw words like this. I'd write my name in cursive and then mirror it (folding, rubbing with pencil, and redrawing) and marvel that my name was unrecognizable and so beautiful, disguised that way. 

The word NOW is gorgeous in the same way. 

NowLong

See it now

Photo on 6-20-13 at 5.55 PM
Backwards, and shiny because under saran wrap still but you get the idea.

It's kind of my own secret, since I hid it on the underside of my arm, so if my arm is against my side, you can't see it even in short sleeves. But when I write, I can glance down and read the word, in my own handwriting, in purple (like the best kind of fountain pen ink).

Now

I've been thinking a lot about that word, trying to keep it in my mind. I don't live in yesterday (though I always think it would be nice to--I have a lot of great memories in the old mental Rolodex that don't get flipped through as often as I'd like to) but I have a real problem with that whole What's happening next thing. I can be truly, deeply, and spiritually loving the bacon and eggs that Lala's fixed me in the morning and be wondering at the same time what would be good for lunch. Or worse, dinner. Instead of sitting there, enjoying the bacony goodness. 

Now is now. 

It's the silliest, most simple thing, but it's HUGE. It's all, perhaps. Where you are sitting (because I bet you're seated) right now is the only moment you're sure of. Are you comfortable? Do you, like me, have the remains of a perfect peach to your left? Is it too hot where you are? Too cold? How does your body feel? Are you listening to music? Maybe you're stealing time away from work to cruise blogs (good for you). Are you hungry? Maybe, just for a minute, look around and be amazed that you are where you are. Right now.

Me: I have the desk fan pointed on me because I'm hot (as usual). Outside, the sprinkler is going because I finally remembered to turn it on (our grass is browning). There's a kid playing in it, washing off a tennis ball. He's sweet, about five, maybe. I don't know his name, but we're pals. From the kitchen on the other side of the house, I can hear The Lone Bellow, the album I put on to make dinner to. A dog is snoring in the living room. 

Now is now. Now is pretty fucking awesome. 

I think it's hitting me more today because I just got the tattoo, but it's been joyously lovely to keep in mind. After I went to the grocery store, I was driving home in heavy, slow traffic on 580. A 50s pickup truck was broken down in the left hand shoulder. Half a mile ahead, a man walked right next to the fast lane (which I was in). The top of the SmartCar and the windows were down, so as I passed him, I said, "Want a ride?" 

You should have seen his face. When he woke up that morning, he hadn't planned on riding in SmartCar, I could tell. But how on earth was he going to cross five lanes of heavy traffic without getting smooshed like a bug? He said he'd been wondering that himself. And as I made my way to the right lane, to the exit that would take us to a gas station where I could drop him off, as we chatted about the truck (that he had just bought, poor guy), we were both kind of astounded as to where we suddenly found ourselves, I think. I'd been alone in my car a few seconds before, with no intention of picking up a stranger. He'd been trudging down the road, stuck on the wrong side of a river of traffic. 

Suddenly we were both in the car, music playing, laughing. It was a lovely, lovely moment that didn't even last three minutes. When I got back on the freeway, I entered right behind the car I'd been behind originally (that's how bad traffic was). And I hadn't helped the guy out in any substantial way -- he still had to deal with a broken-down truck on the freeway. But I'd helped for a few seconds, and we'd had fun. 

And now? Now I'm going to brine some chicken and then go sit on the porch with a glass of wine and my book. It's a gorgeous night. I hope you're enjoying the now, my ducks. Love. 

Photo on 6-20-13 at 6.12 PM #2
Clara approves. 

Summer ComethJune 10, 2013

Lala and I went kayaking last week for her birthday. I'd forgotten how much fun it is, just paddling a boat. (It always makes me think of Ratty in the Wind in the Willows, "there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.") 

 Kayaking! Bday girl in the background.

I've kayaked quite a bit, always in the ride-on-top or recreational sit-in kayaks, never the strap-yourself-in scary kind. And wherever I've ended up has been as much due to luck as it was to paddling skills. It's a natural movement, after all. Give a kid a paddle, and he'll paddle with it. That was me. 

But we took a class, because Lala wanted to. And what do you know? There is SO MUCH to know about kayaking! I learned what my body was supposed to do (if you're doing it "right," you're using your feet and your core as much as your arms). I learned how to turn in place (turning of any sort had always been a mystery to me) and how to paddle backwards.

 Action shot of @smartyboots

The class took us through the estuary at Jack London to Alameda, where we boated around the marinas, and then wound up at the Grand Street marina for lunch, and then we paddled back. 

It made me think about the summer fast approaching. I realized that not only is it almost here, it's almost too late to start planning. Gah. I went through our calendar and we really only have one free weekend available for a camping trip, and when I went online to reserve something, it was all booked. Of course it is. I've been saying for months I should get on it, but didn't. 

So are there places you can go camp that aren't campgrounds? That's a weird question. But you know what I mean. Anyone used AirB&B? (I just looked at their site and couldn't find camping-friendly things, just rooms in houses. Maybe I'm using it wrong.) 

What other ideas do you have for summer close-to-home? I'm thinking a campout in the backyard might actually be fun. Campgrounds have quiet hours, and they make you stop playing music by 10pm. Our backyard? We have cool neighbors on one side and none at all on the other, so we could play all night! 

I'd love to hear what you do in the summer for unconventional fun. (Or any kind of fun, really.)