Thursday, October 28

TV vs. books... the great debate!

Elizabeth's note got me thinking about my own TV viewing habits. For a long time, I was an American Idol fan. Granted, I only watched from Hollywood week on because I think there was so much negativity in the early auditions that it was a big turn-off for me. But I was thinking the other day that the last season I watched in its entirety was the David Cook/David Archuleta year. I watched on and off the year Kris Allen won. Since then? I'm not even sure I know who won.

Among other shows that I used to be a big fan of and now rarely watch: Dancing with the Stars, Life Unexpected, and even... (gasp)... Glee.

What happened? There's nothing wrong with the shows. It's just that life got in the way. We got DVR several years ago so we could DVR things like Idol and not have to rearrange our lives around our TV viewing habits. But I think that made us kind of lazy about our favorite shows. If we can watch an episode anytime, what's the incentive to watch it right now?

And so weeks go by (I still haven't watched the Britney episode of Glee yet) and you know what? I'm finding I don't actually miss any of them. They're still DVRing so I could watch them if I wanted to. And maybe I will. Someday. But you know what I've been finding time to do instead?


For someone who is forever wanting to read more, I'm pretty excited about this revelation! Reading is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, it's my job to read books because I'm an author and I need to keep current with what's out there. Not to mention the fact that everyone deserves to enjoy their favorite hobby, right? On the other hand, there's always that guilt factor of "If I have time to be reading, I have time to be writing."

But without the TV intrusion, I've been able to read some great books lately without the usual guilt. Some of the goodies include: CRUNCH by Leslie Connor, MISTWOOD by Leah Cypess, THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman, THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB by Elizabeth Eulberg, and THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger. And those are just off the top of my head. I wouldn't have been able to read them if I'd been keeping up with my former favorite shows because, the truth is, there just isn't enough time to do everything.

So reading it is. :-)

What about you? Would you rather be reading or watching TV?

Wednesday, October 27

Interview with Denise Jaden on Losing Faith

Hello TFCers! I just wanted to share a chat I had with debut author Denise Jaden. Her debut novel is Losing Faith and it sounds awesome! Read on for the deets!

A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie's sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie's world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don't line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night...a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Hello Denise, it's great to have you here! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how
you made your first sale including the title and publisher?

Denise: My first published novel is called Losing Faith and it was just released from Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster in September. I've been writing for about seven years, and have several other novels in various stages of revision. I met my editor at a writers conference shortly after finishing Losing Faith and she was interested! After getting an agent, we sent my book on submission to the editor from the conference and she loved it. The rest is history!

Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Denise: I write at least six days per week, usually for about an hour to an hour and a half per day. I'd love to write more, but at this point life doesn't allow. I homeschool my son in the mornings, then hit the gym. When we get
home, it's time for a quiet time for my son and a writing time for his mom.

Please tell us about your novel, Losing Faith, and what we can expect from your characters.

Denise: Losing Faith is the story of sixteen year old Brie, the black sheep of her religious family until her older sister Faith dies. Through the bizarre and devastating grieving process, Brie discovers that certain facts about Faith's final night just don't line up.

Sounds great! What's up next for you, Denise? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Denise: I'm working on another YA novel called Appetite For Beauty. It's about a cheeky and forthright girl who discovers a dangerous, self-destructive side in her sister, and has to decide between helping her sister and a powerful and unfamiliar desire to become appealing to a mysterious boy.

Thank you for sharing with us, Denise! Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Denise: Write every day. It helps stimulate the creative juices and for me, I often start dreaming about my characters and stories when they're a regular part of my day.

Denise Jaden lives just outside Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not writing, she can often be found homeschooling her son or dancing with her Polynesian dance troupe. Losing Faith is her first novel. Find out more at

Tuesday, October 26

did someone say tv??!

TV is a weird subject to talk about with other writers. Some--like myself--love it and others don't watch it at all.

Now, while I fully admit I can't imagine life without TV (I mean, can you imagine never ever seeing Arrested Development? Because I can't!), I also have to confess I haven't been watching much lately.

In part it's because I've been sick (which is annoying and boring) and in part because I've got a lot of deadlines, and--at the end of the day, no matter how much I love TV, work has to come first.

But! A few weeks ago, one of my blog readers, Haley, mentioned a show called Raising Hope. I checked out the first episode--and then watched all the other ones. I'm totally hooked on it, and I think it is my fave of all the new tv shows this season. (Granted, I've only seen two of them, but still!)

How about you? Do you watch TV? If you do, what shows do you consider can't miss? And are there any new shows you know you *have* to watch?

Thursday, October 21

Blogs ‘N Websites

Writing blogs can be a little tricky because sometimes the wrong people will read them and get the wrong idea. You’ve got to be a little careful. It’s so easy for someone to pick up one of your feet and shove it in your mouth even when you know there’s absolutely no reason for it to be there.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I was once asked to write a guest blog about my memories of Christmas and because it’s my nature I gave it a slightly different spin. I claimed that my family celebrated the holiday in a very dysfunctional manner and then went on to describe a very traditional and conventional Christmas experience. It’s just that I gave it a sinister air and made everything seem dark and disturbing. For example, I likened my dad and me hunting for a Christmas tree to the actions of a father and son serial killer team. I also described how we would later prop up our Christmas tree (the trophy of our hunt) in the corner of the room and then sit around and watch it die a slow death.

As far as I can tell 99.9% of the people who read that blog realized right away that it was a joke and that its underlining theme was that my memories of Christmas were actually fond ones and the same as the vast majority of others that celebrate the holiday. But of course there was that 0.1% that read it and found it outrageously offensive. I think the email exchange went something like this:

Gregory, What do you mean our family was dysfunctional! I’m VERY offended and deeply hurt!

Mom, Please reread that blog! It was a joke! Really! I didn’t intend to offend or hurt you! I love my memories of Christmas!

So here’s a little free advice. If you write a blog, beware of family and friends. What they see might not be what you intend.

Since the topic this week is Blogs AND Websites, I’d like to comment on a type of website that I predict will only grow in popularity. It’s the web-based comedy show. They’re normally about three to five minutes long and some of them are really very entertaining. They’re perfect for quick little diversions during your workdays. I also like that they can be done on a small budget which means a couple people with a good idea can compete with the big guys. So for all you creative types out there, here’s another opportunity knocking.

This is one of my present favorites. It’s a show called Decision/Decision.

What do you think? Fun, huh? Why not make one? I bet you could come up with a two-minute show using only a deck of cards and a couple voiceovers. There’s a big world out there…catch it by the tail and take it for a ride.

Also let me know if you’ve ever had something you wrote in a blog taken the wrong way? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, October 19


Sorry that I'm a day late to post. It's been a bit of a crazy week - not only is my mother over for a holiday but my daughter has gone away to camp for the first time and let me tell you that trying to pack for a nine and a half year old girl isn't a barrel of laughs!!!!!

Anyway, this week it's all about blogs and websites so I thought I would give a shout out to the Crossroads Halloween tour, which has been organized by the fabulous Judith Graves. It's a scavenger hunt that involves 16 authors over 16 days and there are lots of prizes and fun interviews to be had!!!!!

Thursday, October 14

jeggings: yay? or naaay. please discuss.

I've been racking my brain this week to come up with a post for fashion & style week, when the muse poked me in the ribs and said, "You are wearing incredibly warm, soft, and comfortable stretchy pants that look like cords. What more do you need for a topic?" Yes, after repeated, skeptical viewings at the store, I finally said what the hell, and came home a few weeks ago with a pair of Hue corduroy-esque legging/pants. They are sort of a bastard sibling of jeggings, which, if you don't know, are leggings that look like jeans.

Now, leggings have always had passionate defenders and detractors, so I probably don't have to tell you that jeggings inspire even greater heights/depths of appreciation and disdain. Personally, though I shunned leggings for a good long time, shaving over 60 pounds off the old bod has brought them back into my life, for better or for worse. Because, damn, they are comfortable, and a writer needs to be comfortable. And though I'm sure you can guess they don't exactly look like the picture on the left on my body, the cord leggings look a lot better than I thought they would. With a long-ish T and boots, I can do my work and my errands in total comfort aaand then pretty much transition straight into bed. Without the boots. Usually.

What about you? Have you already taken the jeggings plunge? If not, will you? Or did you swear to yourself upon first seeing them in the store: "As God is my witness: never"?

I'm taking off for a long weekend getaway, but I will eagerly check back on Monday to see if there's consensus. Now I have to go pack my jeggings.

Tuesday, October 12

Style Secret: Etsy

It's not much of a secret since the site is at rockstar status, but Etsy is my style guru these days. I get daily emails in which fashionable types curate items that relate to a theme (today's theme was "Opalescence" and it featured this two-tiered necklace that was sold out when I clicked!):

You can find all manner of adorable items on the site--from fancy vintage kitchenware like this spoon and container set (below top) to slingback 80s pumps (below bottom, sadly not my size).

Sure you have to dig through some odd items (see Regretsy for a hilarious run-down of those), but isn't that the fun of getting a bargain or a lovely vintage piece to add to your stylish collection?

Happy Etsy-ing! Now, tell me where you secretly shop!

Thursday, October 7

Plotting Vs. Pantsing in... food?

Plotting versus Pantsing is discussed quite a bit when it comes to writing. Do you plot out your books or do you write by the seat of your pants? Until recently I've always been more of a pantser who plots only when she needs to (hmmm, maybe all the plotting in my current WIP is what led to this dang writer's block...). It is possible that I do this because the rest of my life is so incredibly plotted out and scheduled that I need one place to cut loose (and again, hmmm, maybe this is why I'm not enjoying writing lately).

When it comes to food, I'm a major plotter. I go on a big grocery shopping trip every other week where I get everything except for the produce I need to be super fresh. This means that right before I go grocery shopping, I plan out a dinner menu for two weeks. I'll usually eat the same meal two nights in a row, my husband and I go out once a week and every other week I am cooking for my writer's group. It's all meticulously planned mainly because my life is so busy that if I don't plan out my meals, I'll rely too much on frozen prepared foods and even the vegan versions of these aren't that good for you. Basically I'm a health nut with an overly crammed schedule, so I do what I have to in order to fit cooking in. I also love to cook!

However something is about to change my meal planning ways this fall. I've joined my very first CSA! What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It means a local farm (and since I'm in Chicago, "local" means southern Wisconsin) will deliver a big box of produce that is organically grown on their farm straight to my door every Monday night. And I pay them directly, meaning no middleman, my money goes directly to the farmer. I love this concept politically on so many levels. For one, I am supporting a small, local business--and believe me small and family-owned farms were hurting *long* before the current recession. Two, it is good for the environment. Two years ago, I decided to eat only organic food whenever possible because I just don't like consuming chemicals. But a lot of the time, I would notice that my organic apples were coming from as far away as Chile!!! What a huge carbon footprint to bring me my food all that way when there are perfectly good organic apples fifty or sixty miles from me. In the summer, I solved this problem by going to farmer's markets to buy my produce. One of the farmers at my local market, Tomato Mountain Farm, had a CSA sign up for fall. I convinced my mom to try it with me. It means for 10 bucks a week, I get to split 5/9 of a bushel of produce with her.

It starts in two weeks and I am so excited! Except that I realized I go shopping on Fridays and I will be getting my food on Mondays, so how am I to plan a menu? I can't rearrange my schedule to go grocery shopping on Tuesdays and I won't know in advance exactly what vegetables I'll be getting (though from their website, I know there will be a lot of winter squash, kale, potatoes and leeks which I've never tried so I'm excited about that). I have a ton of cookbooks and plenty of spices on hand, so my plan is just to keep my pantry and fridge stocked with the vegan staples such as tofu, lentils, chick peas, beans, canned tomatoes, veggie stock, and rice. Then hopefully when I get my box, I can look up the vegetables in my cookbooks, find a recipe, hit the pantry and fly by the seat of my pants. It's somewhat nerve-wracking to this queen of organization, but I'm too excited about fresh local vegetables--some that I have never tried before--to let it get me down.

What about you? Do you plot out meals in advance or can you just whip something together--and if so do you have any advice? And know any good leek recipes?

Wednesday, October 6

A Philosophical Inquiry Into Aesthetics and Ethics, or A Post About Cheesteaks

Like many residents of Allentown PA, I often tell people I'm from "outside Philadelphia." I do this because (1) it's annoying to hear people sing the Billy Joel song, (2) a lot of time people don't know where Allentown is and (3) it's embarrassing to be from Allentown, a city mainly known for being a crap-hole and the national epicenter of the stinkbug infestation. So anyway, even though I'm not actually from Philadelphia, I feel as though when it's my turn to talk about food, I must broach the subject of cheesesteaks.

Specifically, the question of which is better: Pat's or Geno's? (I blogged about this briefly before in a longer post about Pennsylvania, which is filled with off-color jokes, so, um you've been warned?) Pat's and Geno's are two cheesteak places located on the same corner (9th & Passyunk) in South Philly. Some people swear by Pat's and some people swear by Geno's. It's not debated politely. It's ended marriages.

You might be wondering why there is so much debate about cheesteak, and it's a fair question. Basically there aren't a lot of ingredients. Basically both ingredients are mentioned right there in the name of the food. But how can they vary so wildly in quality? I honestly don't know, but they sure can. Some of it has to do with the bread, some of it has to do with the type of cheese and steak I guess, and maybe there are some spices in there. The point is, they really do taste different. So which is better?

A little while ago, my father, brother-in-law, and I decided to do a test. We drove down to South Philly for a double-blind taste-test challenge. I don't really know what "double-blind" means and I also don't know how to divide 4 steaks by 3 people, but for some reason we ordered 4 and it resulted in complicated math. The verdict? Geno's is better. We all agreed! 3 out of 3. Hands down. Now, this is where things get interesting. Depending on your politics, the guy who owns Geno's, Joey Vento, is either a hero or a pariah. It all started with a controversy about a sign at Geno's that said "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please 'SPEAK ENGLISH." And then during the coverage of the controversy, Vento offered a bunch of political opinions I strongly disagree with. And then, to my mind anyway, he pretty much just acted like a jerk all the time. And if I really think about it, I should probably boycott the place. But the steaks! I'm a weak man.

But this brings up a serious(ish) question. Can you enjoy a meal if you find the chef despicable? And does this apply to other arts, say, literature? Ever learn horrible things about an author whose work you have loved? Does this change the love? (I'm not asking you to name names!) Conversely, maybe an author is such a wonderful person that you love their work more than you otherwise might? Or does the work just have to stand on its own? Is aesthetics free of ethics? Please discuss. Or just share thoughts on cheesteaks. I'd be happy with that too.

p.s. Go Phillies!

Tuesday, October 5

Delicious Fall Dinners

One of my favorite things about the weather growing colder is making and eating soup. I love how you can make it in a jiffy and serve it with bread and salad for dinner or lunch, and it's usually even tastier leftover. Here is one of my favorite soup recipes, thanks to chef Stuart Jacobsen (his recipe is in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts' The Fine Art of Soup, which has, sadly, gone out of print). He actually soaks the beans for 36 hours, but because I never have the foresight to start cooking that early, I just use canned and drained black beans.

Black Bean Soup

3 cans black beans, drained
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 t. coriander
3 T olive oil
1 t. oregano
4 cups yogurt
1 t. salt
4 cups water or chicken broth
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 t. ground cumin
3 T. vinegar
several hot peppers, crushed, or 1/2 t. ground black pepper (optional)
chopped Bermuda onions and/or chopped green peppers for garnish (optional)

Saute garlic and onions in oil until wilted. Add spices and tomatoes, water or broth and bring to a boil. Add beans. Simmer for 1 hour. Add more water if necessary. Add salt and pepper. Let cool a bit and puree in blender or food processor. May be stored in refrigerator or freezer. For each serving, place 1/3 cup yogurt in sauce pan. Add 2/3 cup of bean puree. Heat gently. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn off heat and serve with garnishes. Serves 12.

My boys' favorite autumn meal is Dinner in a Pumpkin, which has become a tradition. You can find this recipe in the Junior League of Ogden's cookbook, The Art of Cooking. It sounds kind of weird, but I promise it's delicious.

Dinner in a Pumpkin

1 small or medium pumpkin
1 onion, chopped
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/2- 2 pounds ground beef
2 T soy sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 10-ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cups rice, cooked
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Cut off the top of the pumpkin and thoroughly clean out the seeds and pulp. Paint a face on the front with a permanent marker. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, saute onions in oil until tender. Add mean and brown. Drain drippings, add soy sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms, and soup. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cooked rice and water chestnuts. Spoon mixture into the pumpkin shell. Replace top of pumpkin and place entire pumpkin with filling on a baking sheet. Bake 1 hour or until the inside of the pumpkin is tender. Cooking time might vary up to 2 hours, depending on size of pumpkin. Place entire pumpkin on serving platter, remove lid, and serve mixture plus meat of the pumpkin.
So, now that I've shared 2 of my favorite fall-weather meals, what are yours?

Monday, October 4

Food in Fiction

You're probably wondering what the image of that book cover is doing here. We'll get around to that in a minute, or two, or three.

I'm currently reading Elin Hilderbrand's latest adult novel, The Island. It's good, as are all of her books, and like all her books it takes place on Nantucket. Here's another feature of her books: they all make you want to go out and eat or drink whatever her characters are currently consuming. The descriptions of restaurant meals or meals prepared at home - I want to eat it all. And then there's the matter of what her characters drink. They drink a lot of wine. I once went hunting for a particular wine, Viognier, just because the characters in one of her books made such a big deal about it.

So what does any of this have to do with The Sisters 8 Book 6 Petal's Problems? The Sisters 8 series for young readers aged 6-10 is about octuplets whose parents go missing, leaving the Huit sisters to run the household while trying to solve the mystery of their parents' disappearance. Durinda, the second sister, becomes the family cook and occasionally comes up with some unique recipes, like her meatballs, which never come out round, but rather, as every geometric shape but round. I'd love to one day do a cookbook of Sisters 8 recipes although someone else would have to taste-test the geometric meatballs since I don't eat meat.

So why am I even talking about this today? Because: 1) it's Food Week here at TFC; and 2) The Sisters 8 Book 6 Petal's Problems goes on sale today. Yippee! So if you've ever loved me, liked me, or hated me and just wish you could find something to make me shut up, then go out today and buy a copy of Petal's Problems.

And now for our...




Be well. Don't forget to write.