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The Making of a Book Cover 4.0

The seeds of the first three novels in the Boston Classics series were stories from my own past working as an actor in Boston in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but this one was different in that I pulled threads from all over the place – my experience as well as others’ and just the well of my imagination. Bella just kind of showed up in WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR as this mysterious character, someone who’d been on a soap but left it and was now auditioning for this little Shakespeare company (based very loosely on a friend’s experience working in daytime TV). Then in FORGET ABOUT ME she played the role of a boy servant onstage (I also played Speed in Two Gents) and Ben’s goofy pal offstage. Her secrets started to build in my mind and as I was writing YOU SPIN ME, her past got clearer to me, and I figured out how she ended up a single mom. I couldn’t wait to write her story, but that of her hero, Henry was a bit more elusive. Thankfully, I’m stubborn and I have good author pals, a great editor, and friends and family in my life who will listen to me yammer on about plot and character things I’m trying to figure out, so this book will finally be in reader’s hands December 1**… I actually just remembered this long, awkward but very useful conversation I had with my eldest daughter and her boyfriend about the various ways Bella and Henry’s “encounter” might’ve happened, and whether or not alcohol should be involved… Anyhoo… back to the cover design. I jumped the gun and spilled in an earlier blog about the visual inspiration for Bella and Henry, and you can see that here. Like Puck in FORGET ABOUT ME, I knew that Bella’s daughter Lilah needed to be on this cover. The question was – what grouping of the three would communicate the layers of conflict between Bella and Henry regarding this little girl? I found a lot of nice photos (some of which you’ll see in promo graphics for the book) but none that showed exactly what I was looking for. I sent them all to Lana, with the input that: The little girl is a magnet that draws them together despite other tensions between them – they put her welfare first. I’m thinking that the couple might be walking away, looking over their shoulders like in the photo of the couple with the picnic basket, but perhaps with a bit more distance between them. We can see them in profile, her expression a little more wary, his can be more joyous. Instead of the basket, . . .

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APPLE HAND PIES

This is a bit of a loosey-goosey recipe, so if that worries you, I’d try a different one. I based it on two recipes that had very different instructions. I’ve made this one twice, following the instructions I came up with below, but because I’m not working from my home kitchen, the ingredient amounts aren’t exact. INGREDIENTS Enough pie dough to make one crust. (I recommend Trader Joe’s or make your own. If you have two crusts, double the apple filling amounts.) 2 or 3 crisp, tart apples 1/8-1/4 cup white or brown sugar (or a combination of the two) plus more for sprinkling ½ teaspoon cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg Pinch salt 1 tablespoon butter 1 egg or a few tablespoons milk or cream Make the Filling: Mix sugar(s), cinnamon and spices in a medium glass or metal bowl. Peel, core and dice apples. Toss apples with sugar mixture and taste. Add more sugar as needed. Brown butter in a large skillet. Cook apples in butter about 5 minutes, until soft and sticky but not mushy. Transfer back to the bowl to cool. Prepare crust: Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough on a floured surface or between sheets of waxed paper until about 1/8” thick. Cut into 4-5” circles or squares, as desired. Don’t re-roll more than twice. Chill cut pieces on the baking sheet for 10 – 15 minutes. Beat egg (if using) in a small bowl with a dash of water or milk. Brush a small amount of the egg mixture (or cream) along the edges of each piece of chilled dough. Spoon ¼ – 1/3 cup of apple mixture into the center of each piece of dough, leaving any liquid behind. Don’t overfill. Fold dough over (into a half-moon or triangle) and crimp edges to close. Brush each pie with egg mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Poke a few vent holes in the top of each pie. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crust is golden brown. Let cool slightly before filling.

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Character Inspiration for…

Child of Mine I *finally* turned in a draft of book 4 in the Boston Classics series to my editor last night, so I celebrated this morning by organizing my character inspiration images on Pinterest. If you’ve been following the series, you might already have an image for Bella in your head, but this is the one that I’ve been working with. Her love interest, Henry Smith (yes, I know, boring name but there’s a reason why) was all new to me, so I went back to this photo again and again. I just LOVED this guys hair and eye color, his hair and beard but most off all his super intense gaze. Which I sometimes got lost in. Bella’s daughter, Delilah, or Lilah as she likes to be called (all the MC’s in this book have multiple nicknames…) is featured heavily in this (psst. Secret Baby trope) book, and of course there are multiple pets as well! As a side note, if you’d like to name this bookstore cat (and get credit for it in the Acknowledgements) I’ve donated that honor to the fundraiser Romancelandia for Lousiana, where all proceeds go directly to organizations providing Hurricane Ida relief. Check it out here: https://www.32auctions.com/organizations/88400/auctions/109722/auction_items/3168582 You can also bid on an audiobook-themed tee shirt I designed here: https://www.32auctions.com/organizations/88400/auctions/109722/auction_items/3168580 Stay tuned for more on this book, including the release date & cover reveal!

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FRESH OJ POUND CAKE

Based on a recipe at Chew Out Loud, I reduced the sugar by a lot and the result is a moist, dense cake where the sweetness doesn’t overpower the citrus taste. Valencia oranges would be the best for these because they’re perfect for juicing. If you use navels, just avoid ones with super-thick skins because they usually have less juice. Make sure to plan ahead and put all your cold ingredients on the counter for a couple of hours. A microplane and a citrus juicer (electric or hand powered) are useful to have for this recipe. Ingredients: (ALL should be at room temperature) 6 medium oranges 3 cups AP flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon sea salt) 2 cups granulated sugar, divided 1 cup unsalted butter 4 extra large eggs or 5 medium eggs ¾ cup buttermilk 1 tablespoon vanilla extract Optional: 1 cup powdered sugar for glaze Instructions: Preheat oven to 350° and put the rack on the bottom third of the space. Butter and flour a standard bundt pan thoroughly. Wash, dry and zest all six oranges (1/3 cup total). Juice at least four (but you may as well just juice them all and drink what you don’t use.) In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and with 1 ¾ cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in orange zest, just until combined. Add 1/4 cup orange juice and the vanilla to the buttermilk (mixing right in the measuring cup if you have a large one). Alternating dry and liquid, fold half the juice/milk into the sugar/butter/eggs, then half the flour mixture and repeat, until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake about 50 minutes, until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for fifteen minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Make a glaze by dissolving 3 – 4 tablespoons sugar (to taste) into ½ cup fresh OJ. While the cake is still warm, drizzle this mixture over the entire cake. Let cool completely. I just dusted it with powdered sugar, but if you want something sweeter and/or more decorative, whisk about 1 ½ tablespoons of OJ into 1 cup powdered sugar and drizzle this topping over the cooled cake. Printable version:

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Word for 2021

BLOOM I like the process of choosing a word to guide my year-to-come, of distilling my goals down to a small collection of syllables. I don’t always do it, but the end of 2020 has been a particularly good time for self-reflection. Last year’s word was LISTEN. Truthfully, I didn’t do a good job of keeping my word front of mind, but I do think I practiced listening more, especially to my family members (since we spent so much extra time together thanks to Covid). This year, I choose BLOOM as my word. The word appeals to me as I move through the upcoming shifts in my life (becoming an empty nester) and career (taking fiction writing from “wonder if I can do this” to “I’m doing this”). This quote in particular speaks to me in that regard, especially as I face an unfortunate habit of comparing myself to others: The phrase “bloom where you’re planted,” which seems to have multiple sources and interpretations, calls to me too. To me, it primarily means accepting my life as it is (as opposed to what could have been or might be) but it can be interpreted in lots of ways. This is a great blog post with 31 ideas of how to bloom where you’re planted, if this is something that piques your interest. In fact, I may post the calendar below in my office (along with the other images in this post) as a way to keep my word front and center this year. I need hope to move forward into this new year. After living through 2020, the unknown seems a bit scarier than it ever has before. BLOOM seems essentially optimistic. I was a late bloomer as an adolescent and young adult, and I think that’s true for me as I move into later adulthood. It bothered me when I was younger, but I’m happy to move slowly into the latter part of my life. I’d love to hear your ideas for a word of the year for 2021…

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THREE HOLIDAY COOKIE RECIPES

I decided to go with a “crackle” theme for my holiday baking this year. These three recipes are similar in execution and general appearance (no fiddly decorating but you do have to chill the dough so planning ahead is required) but the flavors and colors vary nicely. Each recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies. CHAI LATTE COOKIES are adapted from a recipe in the New York Times, using my daughter’s and other reader recommendations and experimentations. This is a cakey, not-overly-sweet, uniquely spiced cookie. A nice change of pace. GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES are adapted from a 2013 Bon Appetit recipe. I upped some spices and added others after reading user comments. These are quite spicy and have a lovely chewy texture. Using turbinado sugar for rolling gives them a nice crunch but you can use granulated sugar if that’s all you have. MINT CHOCOLATE CRACKLE COOKIES. This is a dark chocolate almost brownie-like cookie with a strong mint flavor and a pretty white crackle. Adapted from a recipe in Southern Living. I used a bit less sugar and changed the methodology a bit. I’m going to post each recipe on a separate page to make printing easier. Let me know if you have success! CHAI LATTE COOKIES GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES MINT CHOCOLATE CRACKLE COOKIES

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The Making of a Book Cover 2.5

I hadn’t planned to write a holiday novella but Hot Steve unexpectedly turned into such a compelling character that I decided he needed a story. An idea for a New Year’s Eve themed story spanning the final decade of the 20th century planted itself in my head, and Like It’s 1999 snuck it’s way onto my writing schedule for 2020 (I mean, what else did I have to do with my time…?) Luckily I was able to talk my intrepid (and busy) cover designer Lana into fitting me into her schedule. This time when I gave her the basics, she started the process by sending me a sketch she found to get the ball rolling. I loved the idea and shared my Pinterest boards for both characters to give her specific faces to work from. Steve had been tougher for me to pin down than I’d expected since he loomed so large in my imagination. He wasn’t visually specific for me until I started looking at hot 80’s icons (and their preppy sweaters). Alice is based in part on one of my college roommates, who also emigrated to the U.S. in elementary school. Visually, one Korean actress in particular (Han Ye Seul) really caught my eye. It’s as much about the sparkle in her eye as her beauty. When Lana sent her initial sketch of Alice and Steve, the characters’ body language just wasn’t communicating what it needed to. That is: “I’m interested, but I shouldn’t be.” The grumpy poses said “why do I have to deal with this person?” (Alice’s boots and pony tail were perfect, however!) So I sent her back to the drawing board with some other ideas, especially with regards to Steve’s posture and Alice’s shirt (cold weather and more 80’s). That was the ticket because the next sketch delivered. A few tweaks to the placement of title, sub-title and tag line and we were done! Like It’s 1999 releases in ebook only on December 9, 2020. Pre-order now and it’ll arrive in your inbox on release day!

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APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUT CAKE

A recipe for National Doughnut Day! There are a lot of steps, and it does take a chunk of time (as well as some whisking elbow grease) but the final result is worth it: a not-too-sweet super-moist cake with just the right blend of spiced-cider goodness.

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