Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's that time of year again...

by Cheryl Brooks

The leaves are almost gone.


Pumpkins are everywhere, including those awesome pumpkin spice English muffins you can only buy in the fall. I love pumpkins. Love looking at them, cooking them, and eating them. But one thing I don't do anymore is carve my pumpkin into a jack o' lantern. Everyone has their fall rituals. Mine is not carving my pumpkin until I'm ready to cook it. 


Yeah. I know. I sound like the Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge, but I think it's a damn shame to waste a pumpkin on a single October night when it can be visually enjoyed for at least two months and then tastily enjoyed throughout the year.

I buy my pumpkin as soon as they begin to appear for sale and set it on the deck where I can see it through my kitchen window. Simply looking at it makes me feel good. I can't explain why. The color, the shape, the season it represents--all of those and more add to the pumpkin's appeal.

Its cheerful orange face smiles at me from the deck until sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving when I bring it inside and bake it. Baking a pumpkin is easier than you might think, and the house smells amazing!

How to Bake Your Own Pumpkin
  1. Cut the pumpkin in half, clean out the seeds, and place it cut side down on a large baking sheet that will catch the juice. 
  2. Bake at 350 until the top skin is browned and the pulp is soft. Sometimes this can take up to two hours depending on the size of your pumpkin. With large pumpkins, you may have to bake them one half at a time.
  3.  Allow to cool and peel off the skin.
  4. Puree the pulp in a blender and then place in a colander to drain off the excess liquid. You can save this and the liquid from the baking pan and add a little sugar and pumpkin pie spice to make pumpkin juice à la Harry Potter. I like it best mixed with hot apple cider.
  5. If your pumpkin pulp is still somewhat soupy after the draining process, place it in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking until it reaches the desired texture and thickness. 
  6. The pulp can then be used immediately or frozen for later use. I usually freeze mine in cottage cheese cartons, but you can divide it into the specific quantities called for in your favorite recipes.
What about you? What are your favorite fall rituals?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What About the Classics?

Recently a very popular Facebook group began called the Old School Romance Book Club. Almost 900 readers signed up to read classic romance novels, like The Bride by Julie Garwood,


The Flame and the Flower by Laura Kinsale,


 and Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux.


I have actually read all of those and most of the other books considered classics, but only because a few years I go, I intentionally read them. I didn't read them when they came out. I was either too young or unaware of them.

Recently, I also re-read The Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. I don't know if that's considered a classic, but it should be. I did read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon when it came out, and I was surprised to learn it's now considered a classic.

Some other classics include
Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught
Skye O'Malley by Bertrice Small
Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

I've read most of these, but I still need to get my hands on Skye O'Malley and re-read Whitney, My Love because I read it and don't remember it.

What about you? Did you miss any classics? My list is woefully short on contemporaries. What novels are contemporary romance classics?

One person who comments (and leaves her email address) will be randomly chosen to win a copy (print or digital) of my new Christmas anthology, Christmas in the Duke's Arms. Winner announced and contacted Sunday, November 2.
 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do you believe in Magick?



Magick? Don't I mean magic? Well, yes. I know how to spell the word, but many of my counterparts have used the olde spelling to show the difference between rabbits popping out of hats and the more supernatural type of phenomenon that defies explanation. I might think my computer is magic, but I'm sure someone can explain exactly how it works--just not me.


Witch meant “wise woman” to our Pagan ancestors. I cannot think of any more appropriate term. Laurie Cabot (the official witch of Salem, MA) warned, “Do not teach this craft to fools.” I don’t think I hear that quite enough. There is great power, thus great responsibility, at their wand-tips. Those who are governed by knee-jerk reactions or vindictiveness have no business wielding magic as a weapon. For those who fear modern day Wicca, know that the number one fundamental lesson they are taught is “Harm none.”

A craft is something creative. It’s also something we practice. Authors create and practice their craft each time they write a story—Wiccans may draw a magic circle, use ritual tools, and put an intention out to the universe as part of practicing their craft. Because I wish to be a wise-woman, I never told a certain ex-friend that I had studied the craft. She had a hair trigger temper and revenge was something she thought was good to get. Right after Hollywood released, “The Craft” she asked me if I knew where she could learn witchcraft. I told her she should probably realize that Hollywood wasn’t real. I went on to mention that Witches today were more like a bunch of earthy, peace-loving hippies. She quickly lost interest.  

In my Sourcebooks series Strange Neighbors, not only do I have a ghost haunting the apartment building, but an array of paranormal characters who live there. Among them are shapeshifters of various types, a vampire, and two witches who are roommates. The elder is teaching her sometimes foolish younger cousin the craft with an emphasis on responsibility. I had great fun with these characters. So much fun in fact that although they show up in each book, the third and final book in the series features the witches prominently. But that’s not the end of this cast!


A spin-off series called Flirting with Fangs is now complete and published. Book 1 is Flirting Under a Full Moon, Book 2 is How to Date a Dragon and book 3 is Kissing with Fangs. The gang gets back together to defeat a foe which could expose and destroy them all. I enjoyed bringing back the characters from the first series to help.


And now…I’ve been contracted to write another spin off series! This one brings us a newly discovered enclave of dragons in Ireland. Book 1 is I Dream of Dragons and we meet the Arish siblings on their way to Boston. (Incidentally, they move into the apartment building still haunted by everyone's favorite snarky ghost, Chad.)  That book is now in my editor’s loving hands and I’m beginning book 2, titled My Wild Irish Dragon. 

I’m delighted to share the fruits of my labors with the world. http://www.ashlynchase.com
Thank you to my publisher Sourcebooks for believing in me. All the books in the Flirting with Fangs series are now available in audiobook format as well as mass market paperbacks and eformats. Perfect for Halloween reading.

What's the most recent release? Kissing with Fangs. And who is this sexy beast? A vampire, of course.

Look for some fun new dragons in Spring 2015! What type of series do you enjoy? Unrelated trilogies? Spin-offs? A long epic series that spans generations?

Monday, October 27, 2014

For the Love of All Things Pumpkin

by Amanda Forester

I love the holidays. I particularly love that it starts with a celebration of that beautiful orange gourd - the pumpkin.

I recently took the kids to a local pumpkin patch. We traipsed through the mud to find just the right pumpkin.  Pumpkins in the store are all round or oval, but in the field they come in a variety of shapes - round, square, rectangle, oval, and even some that have a waistline or fold over onto themselves.  I'm sure your choice of pumpkin says something about you, but I'm not sure what.  I chose a bright orange oval while my husband chose something that looked like a hunchback pumpkin.  I'm guessing that says something about his quirky sense of humor.

At the pumpkin patch we came across bins of little pumpkin-like gourds of every shape and color imaginable - little orange pumpkins, mini white pumpkins, gourds that look like ghosts from Pac-man, gourds that look like crazy sea creatures, and even some gourds that look a little naughty!  Proof that God has a sense of humor.

The best thing about pumpkins is you can do so much with them. Of course you must hollow them out to make jack-o-lanterns.  Your choice of pumpkin design says even more about you than your choice of shapes.  I remember several years ago I was invited to a pumpkin carving party and went to work designing the perfect Halloween pumpkin.  Afterwards, we decided to line them up along the railing of the porch at night and light them up to appreciate their glowing wonder.  It was only then that I realized that my friends had made smiling pumpkins, happy, loving pumpkins, while I had carved a snarling monster from the bowels of hell.  Perhaps not the right theme for the church group activity?  For some reason, I was not invited back the next year.  Hey, I was warding off evil spirits - you're welcome!

Though I love to make horrifying jack-o-lanterns (that's the whole point people!) I love what you can do with the inside of the pumpkin even more.  Pulling out the pumpkin guts is not my favorite, but roasting the pumpkins seeds is. I love the nutty smell of the roasting seeds.  Crunchy pumpkin seeds make a great snack!

Even better than the seeds is what you can do with the insides. Of course, I just grab a can of Libby's for the pumpkin puree, I'm not clever enough to do it myself.  I like to eat pretty much anything you can make with pumpkin - pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bread pudding, and of course my all time favorite - pumpkin orange cranberry bread! 

Pumpkin Orange Cranberry Bread

Ingredients:
3 cups flour                                        1 T plus 2t pumpkin pie spice
2t baking soda                                   1t salt
3 cups sugar                                       1 can Libby's pumpkin (15 oz.)
4 eggs                                                  1 cup veggie oil
1/2 cup orange juice                        1 cup dried cranberries
Orange zest of 1 orange                   1 cup chopped hazelnuts or pecans (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Combine flour, spice, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

3. Beat together sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, juice, and zest and mix until just blended. Add flour mixture and stir until combined.  Fold in dried cranberries and nuts if you desire.

4. Bake in two greased & floured loaf pans until inserted knife comes out clean, about 60-65 minutes.  OR bake in 5-6 mini loaf pans for 50-55 minutes.  OR bake in muffin tins for 20-25 minutes (makes about 3 dozen muffins, depending on size of muffin tin).

I make this bread from October all the way through Christmas.  It's great as pumpkin muffins for Halloween, pumpkin bread for Thanksgiving, and it even makes cute little Christmas gifts for the neighbors as little mini loafs.
 
Speaking of Christmas, the other thing I love about this time of year is the release of the holiday romances.  I have just released my first foray into the Christmas themed romance, Winter Wedding.  Eating some delicious pumpkin bread while reading a holiday romance - now that is a little slice of heaven!

What is your favorite thing to do with a pumpkin?HHHkklll

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How My Trip to England Inspired The Rake's Handbook



 My debut Regency-era novel, The Rake’s Handbook: Including Field Guide, will be released soon on November 4th. Some of you may already know that the inspiration for this book is the BBC’s TV program of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I’ll discuss my pathway to publication on this blog when the book is released. Today I’d like to tell you about a trip I made to England that became the inspiration for my all of my books in The Rake’s Handbook series. 

After viewing North and South, I became fascinated by the cotton industry around Manchester at the beginning of the 19th century. I had already read the Gaskell book and other so-called “industrial novels” written by people like Charles Dickens. I also read a few nonfiction books, like Friedrich Engels’ book on the working class in England and treatises on cotton manufacture. Then I joined a message-board of intelligent ladies, mostly living in Great Britain, who posted many online conversations about this very subject. I devoured them all. No details were too small or too obscure. The workings of a carding machine? Victorian drains? Yes, please. I’m all over those topics. 

Later I discovered that many of the members had previously met in Manchester to view the TV program and take a tour of the cotton mills used in the filming. That sounded like heaven to me. Geez louise, I wish I lived in England.

Then one day, the message-board invited everyone to celebrate the second anniversary of the TV show by meeting up at a hotel in Edinburgh. Count me in! So I packed my bags. Okay, the plane doesn’t leave for three months, but that’s fine, I’m ready.

Once in Edinburgh, our happy band of North and South sisters visited many of the sites used in filming the TV show. That’s me standing in front of the Hale house. Afterwards, I traveled to Manchester and gave myself a tour of all things cotton. In the end, I left for San Diego with a suitcase full of cotton (at various stages of the process to make cloth), mud on my shoes from tramping around Ancoats, and information from a private tour of Gaskell country. So when I decided to write a book, my trip to that part of England became my inspiration. What I learned about those crucial moments in world history will probably end up in every book I write. Subjects like steam engines, dandy horses, to foundries will sneak onto the pages. But I never would have been inspired to write any book, if I had not put my boots on the ground in the very part of England where our modern world began.

Has any location ever changed your life forever and inspired your writing?

Friday, October 24, 2014

NESTING...stop the madness


Lately I’ve been nesting. NO, I’m not pregnant but going through that nesting stage during pregnancy where I want to clean and scour every countertop and rearrange every closet and junk drawer down to military precision. I can’t explain this sudden urge to pitch and purge except to say I’ve been battling a weird autoimmune disease that has left me feeling helpless with only a quarter of my cylinders spinning. So when the multiple meds kick in, I get the urge to straighten and dust and rearrange and throw out missed-matched socks and my son’s deflated footballs hiding in every corner of my house like last year’s Easter eggs. 



Which leads me to designing. Yup. Once the de-cluttering commences, the designing begins. Because now I can see my spaces with a fresh eye. For example, I’ve moved the dining room table (actually I bribed my kids to move it) into the breakfast room for better use and now I have this small but empty dining space with infinite possibilities. *rubbing hands together gleefully* Picture this: repainting tired, boring white wainscoting a deep dark chocolate brown, adding contemporary yellow floral wallcovering, new chandelier and custom-made, round drape table surrounded by acrylic chairs. A room no one will use except my sisters, girlfriends and me, of course. Perfect. 
These Ghost chairs!


No window bench, but round table with tablecloth!
My son, who only has two more years before he heads to college, will finally get the draperies and bigger bed he’s been begging for since turning thirteen. 

Replace the K with a B and my son will be in heaven!


And take my office…please, I beg you…take it! Today it would make Niecy Nash from Clean House break out into de-cleaning sweat. 
"Girlfriend...you need an intervention!"

But not by the end of the month, because I’ve ordered the coolest writing table with extra storage to serve as credenza and extension to my much larger writing table. And I’m adding a huge metal grid to one of my walls to hold my various white boards, notes, scarps of fabrics, pictures, ribbon, trim…you name it. I’m getting all the crap stuffed in bags (cute bags, but still) off my floor so I don’t fear navigating a land mine every time I enter the “danger zone”.

Can't wait to get my new writing table!



All before it’s time to pull out the holly and deck the halls for Christmas. How about you? Do you get the urge to pitch and purge? What sets you into a cleaning frenzy?

Michele Summers
www.michelesummers.com
Find My Way Home

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Community, Conversation, and Life is Great




I'm here at Novelists, Inc. and I'm struck once again by the power of community. We're here to talk about books, authorship, publishing models and the future, and the most exciting thing is that we're here to create the future together.

Every author here has a unique path to success. Every author we publish at Sourcebooks has a unique path. A couple of days ago I read this marvelous blog post from Emma Dryden.

Yes indeed comparison is the killer of joy.

Every quarter at Sourcebooks we have a managers meeting and we all read a book on leadership or about our industry. Some time ago we read Tribal Leadership and what stayed with me all this time is the "five levels" of attitudes in a tribe or group (I'm paraphrasing).

1. Life sucks. (This is where people "go postal")

2. My life sucks. (Well, at least there's some hope.)

3. I'm great. (Implied: uh, you're not)

4. We're great. (And implied: but no one else is)

5. Life is great.

This last is where you're in it for the love of the game, the competition doesn't scare you because you're having such a great time exploring and innovating and learning.

This is where I want to live, don't you?

I'm with Sourcebooks, I'm at NINC this weekend with some of the most brilliant minds in our industry, I'm looking for everything I can bring to being a best-in-class publisher, I adore my authors, life is great.