spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine – Prologue

I’m trying something new on the blog today – a fiction serial. That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine was a novel I wrote in the early 1980s. I’ve kept it in its original time period. It’s not your usual spy novel, but I hope you enjoy it.

Prologue

spy novel, spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery‘Twas Glasnost what done us in. That and a CIA mucky-muck with a chip on his shoulder. All those years of guarding our secret, and now we’re on overt status. Quickline has folded, a victim of the thawing cold war.

At least my journals can see the light of day. I started them shortly after I was first adopted by Quickline. It was a dangerous and perhaps even stupid thing to do. But my life had suddenly and profoundly changed. I needed some way to make sense of it, to understand it and the person I was becoming. The things I was doing were so unlike the person I’d always thought I was and the values I’d spent so much time working out. As it turned out, my values weren’t challenged. Just me.

Anyway, all the names have been changed, and some of the places. Secrecy remains a habit with us. Still, as I look over the pile of tattered notebooks and binders stuffed with pages scrawled over with cipher, I’m glad I wrote it all down. [Dear Lisa, so am I – SEH]

Essays, general essay

My Mystery Novel Bring Into Bondage is Due July 31

Bring Into Bondage, cozy mystery, Historical mystery, romantic mystery, mystery fiction, mystery novelIt’s here! Well, almost. My mystery novel Bring Into Bondage is finally ready and will be officially released on July 31.

This is the sequel to my Roaring Twenties novel Fascinating Rhythm, which features socialite author Freddie Little and his editor Kathy Briscow. In Fascinating Rhythm, the two meet and realize they really like each other. In fact, when we leave them, they’re deciding to go on dates together. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler)

As we begin Bring Into Bondage, Freddie’s setting up a very special date with Kathy, but it does not go as planned. Turns out, Kathy’s mother has summoned her home to Hays, Kansas, because Kathy’s father is seriously ill. That’s not the only bad news. Vandals have been attacking the family farm. Freddie talks Kathy into letting him fly her home in his airplane, and once there, the vandals strike again. So Freddie and Kathy decide to try and figure out who’s out to get the Briscow family and put a stop to the trouble.

There are lots of secrets in the tiny town, not to mention an orphaned boy with tell-tale bruises on him. Some of the attacks almost turn deadly. But there’s even bigger trouble afoot. Freddie and Kathy get caught spooning behind the barn and Pa gets the shotgun out.

The fun part about all of this is that the ebook version is available for pre-order both on BarnesandNoble.com, for your Nook or other e-reader, and on Amazon.com. If you haven’t read Fascinating Rhythm yet, you can get it at both places (including a print version) at both sites.

Finally, I want to thank all the nice people who weighed in on my book cover concepts. This is what my designer did with the winning choice. I really appreciated all the input. I think the cover rocks. Special thanks to Helen Kim, of The Think Farm, for all her hard work.

Chalk Ink Makes Marking Easier

Chalk Ink  So it was a few months ago that I received the Chalk Ink marker samples. Come to think of it, it’s been a few months since I did a Sewing Report. Mea culpa. My sewing machine broke down. Life was uncommonly nuts this past spring. I didn’t have any time to sew.

But what got me interested in the press release from the Chalk Ink people was that the ink is opaque and meant to be used on dark surfaces. Which got me thinking…

Chalk Ink

A nice clear line for a dart

One of the problems working with a dark fabric is that it’s really hard to mark the positions of darts and pockets with something you can see. I’ve used the traditional tracing paper, but I often lose the marks because they steam out when the fabric is pressed. Or if I take too long to get around to making the garment. And tracing paper can’t always get to where I need it. Chalk usually makes too thick a line and it also either fades or steams out with pressing.

When I’m using lighter-colored fabrics, I use Flair pens – the old felt-tipped pens. They’re skinny enough that I can get precise marks and the ink is very water soluble, so it almost always washes out (usually with a bit of stain remover). The problem is that with very dark fabric, the pens don’t work because they’re not opaque. Even lighter colors just blend right in.

Chalk Ink

No bleed through

But the Chalk Ink is opaque, so the white pen makes nice, easy to see marks. It didn’t press out and washed out of several samples that I put it on without using any stain remover. The tip I had was a bit thick. But then I discovered that they do make markers with fine points. Nor did I take the time to see how long the marker lasts. The extra fine tip costs $4.99, which isn’t too bad unless the marker won’t last for more than a project or two.

I would test the ink on any potential fabric before using it to make sure it does wash out and that it doesn’t bleed through to the right side. It didn’t on any of the samples I tried, and one of them was fairly light weight fabric. But a nice, easy way to mark a dark fabric? Hey, I’m down with that.

Wooly Got Adopted!

Pet rescue, basset hounds as pets, dog rescue, dog adoptionJust wanted to post a quick update from my post a couple months ago, in which I shared how my husband and I were fostering a basset hound named Wooly Boy for Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California.

Were fostering. The good news is Wooly got adopted over the weekend. It was not easy letting our boy-o go. I felt like a nervous mommy, sending her precious little one to day-care for the first time. I didn’t get to meet Wooly’s new parents, but I did talk to his new mom and bent her ear, rattling off all of Wooly’s little quirks and how to handle them.

There will be another foster hound in this space. But we’re going to give it another couple weeks, first.

Essays, general essay

Mother’s Day Gifts Suck

Mother's Day Gifts suck, gender roles, gender stereotypingIt started with a press release for scotch. What annoyed me was that it was about buying gifts for Dad. And it really reminded me of just how badly Mother’s Day gifts suck. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen ads and press releases touting pink standing mixers, flowers, chocolates, fashion accessories, and all sorts of ephemeral, often purely decorative stuff.

Whereas the stuff for the guys tends to be useful and/or substantial. Even the scotch. Premium quality scotch is not something you drink in one sitting. It’s something that hangs around a while. Ties may be decorative, but they’re usually worn when you want to be serious about, say, a job interview or an important meeting.

When we honor mothers at church, the women get a flower, which is usually half dead before we get it home. At our church, the guys get a pen, which is useful.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mother’s Day gifts, in general, or against Mother’s Day. If we’re going to truly stand behind the idea that parenting is the most important work we do, then we should be honoring mothers, however defined. And fathers, too. I’m not even bugged about the gender distinction of the honor, because each gender brings something unique and necessary to the process of parenting and helping our kids build their identities. Please note, this is not a knock on same gender parents or single parents – they do even more work to help their kids build healthy gender identity.

What bugs me is how our advertising community and the larger society insist on reinforcing rigid gender roles, particularly the ones that present women as decorative and insubstantial. We get the flowers, which last maybe a few days. We get the chocolates, which also last a few days. We get kitchen appliances, because we’re the cooks, and we get them in “pretty” colors, especially insubstantial pastels.

In my household, I’m the scotch fan. My husband doesn’t like grain-based spirits. I’m the household geek. My husband puts out the fresh flowers. I may be the primary cook in the family, but my husband cooks almost as often as I do. My dad is the chocolate hound in my parents’ household.

And then there are the power tools. One time, years ago, my husband and I were waiting in an insanely long line at one of those home-improvement centers. I left to find some light bulbs and took quite a while to do it. When I got back to the line, the neanderthal in front of us began poking fun at me for going off and drooling over all the wallpapers and window treatments. My husband just grinned and said, “She was drooling over the power tools.”

And that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day – a power sander. I’ll have to wait ’til June, of course, because that’s when power tools go on sale. For Father’s Day. And I’ll probably buy my husband’s Father’s Day gift now, while the standing mixers are on sale. Assuming I can find one that isn’t a pastel color. Because it’s the assumption that’s so annoying. I don’t care if you want a pastel standing mixer for Mother’s Day. That should just mean you need one to do what you do and you happen to like pastels. I simply resent that all women are assumed to want one and that it’s assumed that what we want is largely decorative and insubstantial.

Because the bottom line is, I’m not decorative or insubstantial. And neither is my husband. We worked hard to bring up my daughter to be a responsible adult. We both deserve honors that reflect that work. I’m just saying is that the honors accorded me do not really reflect all that women are. And I’m more than a little tired of it.

 

Essays, general essay

To Rescue a Basset Hound

Pet rescue, basset hounds as pets, dog rescue, dog adoption

Wooly Boy – a basset hound available for dog adoption.

This is Wooly Boy. He’s a basset hound that needs his forever home. We’re fostering him for the Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California, helping to get him re-socialized and ready for a family to give him lots of love and attention.

Wooly’s had a rough time in life. We found out this weekend that his previous foster had worked with him for three years, and when he first came to her, Wooly wouldn’t even let people pet him or other dogs anywhere near him. Someone had been terribly mean to The Woolster – you can tell they cut his ears and he has the odd scar or two on his muzzle.

When we got him, he was pretty cranky about our dog, Clyde, and very, very nervous about everything. The least change in routine would start a hunger strike. He was constantly pushing his limits in terms of getting on the furniture, trying to sneak snacks, trying to pull on the leash when walked, growling at Clyde.

The big thing with Wooly is that we had to be lovingly firm with him. He was pushing his limits to see where he was safe. If the limits held, then he knew he was okay. In fact, his forever family is going to have to be firm in the same way to keep him happy and relaxed.

He’s calmed down a lot. He doesn’t freak out when people want to pet him. He walks really well on a leash. He is beautifully house-trained (unlike Clyde). And he only jumps up on the table edge when he’s really excited, like walk-time. Okay, he will still try to sneak snacks.

Not our basset hound
basset hounds as pets, dog rescue, dog adoption

Clyde in the foreground, Wooly behind him.

Alas, we can’t be his forever home. That’s because Clyde, our original basset hound, got here first. Clyde is a rescue, too. Apparently, he was in a loving home that broke up and his previous owner couldn’t keep him. Clyde is what hooked us on basset hounds – pound for pound, he’s the funniest critter we’ve ever had. And we’ve had some funny, wonderful pets.

Wooly gets along okay with the Clydenocerous, but doesn’t really like him. As the Basset Rescue people put it, life hasn’t taught him yet that his people won’t abandon him or love another dog more. He doesn’t growl at Clyde much, but you seldom see the two of them together in the house.

Keep in mind, we have come to adore basset hounds, but we’re also realistic about them. The good news is that they are speed bumps with legs. Wooly is a little bit more energetic than Clyde (Clyde is 10 years old, Wooly around 8). Nonetheless, bassets are not high-energy dogs. They do need their walks every day, but we’re not talking a full-on run or the dog will eat the curtains kind of thing.

Basset hounds also drool and that can get pretty gross. They are pretty smelly, too. Some say they smell like corn chips. Finally, bassets are stubborn. They’re bred to hunt rabbits, and I suppose you’d have to be pretty stubborn to dig a rabbit out of its warren. But it does make them a bit of a challenge to train.

Still, they are the most loving, ridiculous, delightful dogs on the planet. And Wooly Boy is a complete lover. You can find out more about him on the Basset Hound Rescue site. And there are other babies who need adopting, too. Please check them out.

Thoughts on Hanging Laundry

Laundry hanging

The clothes hung out to dry

With the spring warm-up, I’m back to hanging laundry out to dry.

Bend and stretch, reach for the stars…

That’s what hanging laundry is all about – bending down to get stuff from the basket and maybe a clothespin or two, then stretching up to get the shirt or blouse or pants pinned to the line.

Yes, I know I’m dating myself with that little ditty – or maybe not. It was from Romper Room, the pre-school show that I grew up with. Miss MaryAnn, I think, led our show, but there were later incarnations, some of which I found on YouTube.

Bend and stretch, reach for the stars…

We have a dryer and during the past few wet months, we used it. But hanging laundry out is a way of cutting down on the use of natural gas and electricity, letting the sun do its business to get our clothes dry. I’ll toss them in the dryer for a few minutes at the end of the day to soften them up a bit. But the time in the dryer has been greatly reduced.

It’s not a fun job. A basket full of wet clothes or towels or linens is plenty heavy. Then there’s the irritation of a sock or pair of undershorts falling out of the basket onto the dirty ground. Shake it off and hope you don’t have to wash it again.

This used to be Woman’s Work, which makes me wonder how the heck we got this idea that women are the weaker sex. Well, I know how, but sheez, most women were not wimps back in the day. If you had any money at all, you had servants, but that was as often as not, the girl from the neighboring village looking for a husband or your own daughter. And it’s as likely as not, you did the same work yourself before getting married. At least through the late Nineteenth Century.

Bend and stretch, reach for the stars…

But the job has its moments, too, in the repetitive movement. In the satisfaction of getting everything in the load on the line – not always easy given that our new high-efficiency washer actually takes bigger loads than our old one. Shirts and pants – the larger items going up first, with socks and smaller things after. Socks are easy to squeeze between the shirts and pants and other tops, so they go last in case I need the extra space. And for once, they don’t. The laundry is hung and I feel virtuous. Until I forget to get it off the line before dark. Again.

Essays, general essay

We Have a Winner in the Pick the Cover Contest!

First up, I want to thank everyone who participated. Not only did I get some excellent data, several folks offered suggestions in their comments to make their fave even better.

We also have a winner in the drawing, but am waiting to announce her name until she gets back to me.

Oh, and the important part – the cover winner is (drum roll, please)

BIB_Cover1

Cover #1 – by a wide margin. Most folks liked the contrast and a couple said that the house added an air of mystery. Oddly enough, one person said the book didn’t say enough about the story. Which just goes to show that we all have different tastes and ideas. And isn’t that a wonderful thing.

Essays, general essay

Best Cover Contest – Time to Pick a Book Cover

Update: We have a new contender… Anne Fine, a long-time friend of mine, did some noodling around on her own and submitted a whole new cover. Would love your thoughts on it, as well. See below.

One thing every author wants for his or her new book is the best cover possible. One that customers will see and decide they must buy this wonderful new story, because people really do judge a book by its cover.

So I’m doing a little crowdsourcing here. The sequel to my mystery novel Fascinating Rhythm is getting close to being ready for release. I’m hoping all the ducks will be in a row for this summer. But part of that is getting the best cover for the book.

It’s called Bring Into Bondage, and my heroes Freddie and Kathy rush out to Hays, Kansas, and the farm belonging to Kathy’s parents during the summer of 1925. The farm is under attack by mysterious vandals, so Freddie and Kathy decide to stay and find out what’s going on. Trying to stay ahead of vandals who don’t seem worried about killing Kathy and her family is scary enough. But Freddie and Kathy may be in more trouble when Pa Briscow gets the shotgun out.

I’ve got three mock ups below and I’d like you to pick the best cover and tell me why you like it. To make things even more sporting, if you reply in the comments, you’ll be entered in a contest to win a small, but reasonably cool prize: a t-shirt with the winning cover emblazoned on the front, some lovely Robin Goodfellow handcrafted soap, and copies of Fascinating Rhythm and Bring Into Bondage (well, the Advance Review Copy). The final cover will be fixed up (with the help of somebody who actually knows what she’s doing), so it may not actually look like what you picked, but it should be in the ballpark.

Best Cover Contest Rules

Well, such as they are. One entry per person, because I don’t need you to pick all three covers. Relatives are okay, mostly because you’re the ones I can count on to actually enter. The winner will be drawn at random and gets to pick style and size of said t-shirt from the options I’ll provide. Please make sure you’re putting the right number on the cover, since they aren’t shown in numerical order.

BIB_Cover1, best cover, book cover

Cover #1

BIB_Cover2, best cover, book cover

Cover #2

 

 

BIB_Cover3, best cover, book cover

Cover #3

Cover #4

Cover #4

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Cooking with Wine

So last week, my kid asks me about cooking with wine. Namely, she was trying to figure out how to interpret a recipe calling out dry white wine, and couldn’t figure out which white wines were technically considered dry. Well, that in and of itself is the current post on our wine blog Wine recipe, Dry red wines, dry white wines, cooking with wine recipes, dry cooking wineOddBallGrape.com. But while few recipes are about the wine, cooking with wine is a major part of building flavor into a dish.

When we’re talking about wine in recipes, we’re generally talking about a dry wine, one that doesn’t have sweet flavor from leftover sugar in the wine. That’s because what wine generally adds is acidity. Now, that may sound pretty icky – acid is that awful sour flavor you get in lemons. But when you add enough sugar to lemon juice, it tastes pretty good. That’s because the sugar counteracts the sour acid and the sour acid balances out the super sweetness. In other words, the two flavors balance and play off each other.

The same thing happens when you add wine to a dish. In addition, when you cook it for a longer time, that acid softens and adds an interesting note to the whole thing, rather than just taking over. If you’ve ever eaten a musty-tasting pot roast or a stew that just seemed rather flat and flavorless, then some sort of wine or acid was missing.

When Cooking with Wine is good

You can add wine any time you want a brighter flavor in a dish, not just when the recipe says to. For example, you’re making some gravy for a meatloaf or some steaks you’ve cooked. Adding a bit of wine after you’ve made your roux  (check out the How to Make Gravy post here) will make your gravy taste rich and lively rather than just okay. Say you’ve fried that steak or pork chop and you want to get all those tasty stuck on bits up. Pour in some wine, maybe a quarter to half a cup and bring it to a boil, then scrape all those bits up. It’s a technique called de-glazing and it’s wonderful for making sauces and gravies, plus it makes your pan a lot easier to clean. Once you’ve cooked your wine for a bit, you can add some butter or cream or even just some extra broth (beef broth for beef or pork, chicken broth for chicken or even fish, although there is such a thing as fish stock or broth, too). Reduce it by boiling it down a bit, and bingo, you have sauce.

Another time you want to add wine is when you’re making a stew or a braise. In two classic French recipes, you add a whole bottle or two to braise the meat – coq au vin (chicken) and boeuf bourguignon (beef). Braising is cooking meat or vegetables at low heat for a long time with liquid in the bottom of the pan, as opposed to submerging them in liquid and cooking on low heat for a long time, which is stew. You may not want to go as far as using a whole bottle of wine, but even a half cup or so will add a lot of flavor.

The trick to remember is that the less time you’ll be cooking the dish or sauce, the less wine you want to use. Wines, especially dry red wines, can be pretty strongly flavored. It’s one of our mantras, right? You can always add more, you can’t add less.

When Not to Add Wine

Basically, you don’t generally want to add wine to anything that is already pretty acidic. I once made the mistake of adding white wine to a chicken picatta sauce, which already has lemon juice in it. That was a bit on the tart side. Tomatoes also have a fair amount of acid in them, so unless I’m making a tomato-based sauce that’s going to cook for several hours, I’ve stopped adding wine. Instead, I add vodka, and boy, does that kick up the flavor.

So go ahead and experiment and see what happens. You might even have a glass to drink while you finish dinner. It’s one of the things that makes cooking with wine fun.