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 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.


Essays, general essay

I’m Prolife and I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016

I usually hate associating myself with the Prolife Movement, mostly because the people in it largely seem to be a bunch of self-righteous jerks. Not everyone, mind you, but the most vocal folks certainly are. The problem is, I do have a little issue with abortion – mostly the part about when life begins. I recognize that not everybody shares my belief about life beginning at conception, nor am I interested in judging anybody who has had an abortion. (If you have had and abortion, I’d love to talk to you about it just so I can better my understanding and hopefully build some bridges instead of walls.) But my stand on abortion is exactly why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton this year – she will do more to end the practice than all of the so-called Prolife candidates together.

You see, the problem with the Prolife movement is that they focus on trying to make abortion illegal, which is completely counter-productive to their stated aim of ending the practice. Making abortion illegal isn’t going to stop squat. It may even encourage the practice, with the added fallout of countless young women dying from botched procedures.

What will end abortion is education, child care services, birth control and increased government spending on those things to both prevent crisis pregnancies and make it easier for a woman to keep her baby. Yet the very same politicians who are so rabidly insistent that we make abortion illegal are the very ones who refuse to vote in spending on those things that will help the babies they’re so insistent they’re saving. Where does any of that make sense?

The real Prolife candidate

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton does support all those things. Yes, she supports abortion rights. So what? Her policies make it easier to prevent crisis pregnancies and will make it easier for women to keep their babies. Will some women still choose to terminate their pregnancies? Probably. But making abortion illegal isn’t going to change that. Providing services to both prevent crisis pregnancies and make it easier for women to keep their babies will certainly stop more abortions than not.

And, yes, I’m aware that Bernie Sanders also supports those things, but he does not have the breadth of experience Clinton does. Nor does he have her special link to the issue.

If you really want to vote prolife, do you want to vote for a man who will insist on burdening a woman with an unwanted child, then refuse to lift a finger to help her? Or do you want to vote for the person who will do the most to prevent the problem, then will help with the result should prevention fail? I know who is really the prolife candidate and it’s Hillary Clinton.


Blessings From the Homeless

One of the great joys and blessings of walking and taking public transportation is that I get to talk to a lot of different people. Okay, some of them are a little scary. But they’re rare. Most folks are pleasant and some… Well, the wisdom is amazing and I am often humbled.Blessings from the homeless

Take last week. My route took me over a freeway overpass and near the end of the offramp is a place frequented by homeless people, hoping to get some change or whatever from the drivers coming off the freeway. I had stopped and was waiting for the light to change, and as is my habit, was trying to do some unobtrusive leg stretches. The homeless man nearby spoke to me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything,” I said, thinking he was asking for change.

“No,” he said. “Do you have cramps? Because I have a banana.”

Well, I didn’t have cramps and said so.

“Even a homeless person can give,” he replied.

I thanked him and moved on, feeling rather sad that I really didn’t have anything for him.

But why is it that the folks who have the least are the most willing to share what little they have? How can I justify not sharing all the good things I have when even a homeless person was willing to give me his banana to relieve me of some leg cramps?

I was truly blessed by this encounter. And I did write the check to Catholic Worker right away, to help support their program of feeding and caring for the homeless. But, gee, if I’d been in a car, I wouldn’t have had those blessings, or many of the others I’ve encountered simply because I walk or ride the bus. Anne Frank was right – people really are good at heart.

The Training Walk: Back in the Groove

Boy, what a difference not being in pain makes! All that lovely physical therapy has finally paid off. Last Friday, I did six miles and was tired, but not hurting by the end. In fact, I was fine. I even did a little bit more walking after lunch to get to the library.

Who knew? I’m excited, refreshed and ready to walk again.

Now to get the foster dog with the program. Wooly Boy is a bit more energetic than our forever dog Clyde, so he’s getting extra walks to calm him down and keep him behaving. Next week is an easy week (I do three weeks increasing mileage, then an easy week), so Wooly will be coming out for the two and a half miler on Tuesday and maybe even the four and a half miler on Friday. Assuming I don’t have a meeting to get to that day. Mwah-hah-hah-hah!

Next up – finding a dictation program for Android that will let me dictate novels while I walk.

The Training Walk: Back in Action

Training WalkIt was during the second week of my training. I caught one nasty cold. In the post for that week, I lamented how it seems as though as soon as I start some sort of exercise program, the first thing I do is get sick. Or injured.

Well, early last December, it was the injury and it was a nasty one. Sciatic pain. Massively nasty, incredibly painful. Couldn’t freaking move for love nor money. I’ve been doing weekly visits to the physical therapist ever since. And with the start of the year, had to start all over on my walking plan. Damn.

But I’m doing a lot better. I’ve got a couple more weeks to go before I’m back to where I was when the injury happened. And I’m back to writing about my experiences. The good news is, the set back was simply that – a set back. It didn’t kill my training program. I’m still walking – which is terrific. Learning how to walk differently than I was, which probably is what thrashed my back, so that’s a bit intense.

Alas, it’s not that interesting right now. Did see a pretty tree during one of my walks earlier this month. More importantly, I thought to take a picture of it.


Carless in L.A.: Thermostat Wars


Photo credit Shari Weinsheimer

Somebody was joking recently about their thermostat at work being set to hypothermia. I added that our household thermostat is at the same setting. My husband says it’s not. I said it is. The thermostat wars are on again!

The problem is that we’re both right. He sets the thermostat to a nice, cool, but livable 68 degrees – which is considered appropriate for those of us wishing to conserve our natural resources. Well, I’m sitting here in my office with teeth chattering, a hoodie covering my sweatshirt, sweatpants on, as well. I’m freaking cold, dammit! Here’s the catch – the house thermostat got bumped up a while ago to 71 degrees.

My internal thermostat

The problem is my age. I’m at that stage of life where my internal thermostat is running haywire. I used to be a freaking polar bear, running around in shorts until the temperature outside dipped in the mid-60 degrees. 68? Totally comfy. Not since the hot flashes started. You’d think that would keep me comfortable when it gets chilly out.

No, the exact opposite has happened. Unless I’m up and around, I start getting chilled at 72 degrees. Much lower than that, and we’re talking about a bone-deep chill that does not go away without a hot shower. Or a night spent wrapped around my husband, which is only fun for a short time, since neither of us sleeps well when wrapped around each other.

What’s a reasonable, conscientious person to do?

I’d like to keep the house at 68 degrees, but I’m miserable. I tried a space heater. Even the one with the best “green” rating from Consumer Reports still costs more to run than it does to heat the whole house. Granted, our house is pretty small, but you’d think I was blasting the BTUs on this puppy – and I’m not. I don’t mind bundling up some, but when I have to wear gloves and a hat to write at my desk inside, I’m sorry, that’s too cold and uncomfortable.

So I set the thermostat as low as I can and wait as long as I can to do it. I wait to use my space heater until the late hours of the night so my husband isn’t so warm, he can’t sleep. I don’t like the idea of carbon credits, but fear I’m going to have to cash a couple of my carless points in for this one. I don’t know what else to do. Sigh.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: New Year Thoughts

New Year thoughts

Clyde is so over last year.

We’re not exactly feeling the pumped up rush of a New Year at the moment. Maybe a trickle of excitement, but that’s it. For a lot of folks, it’s all about a fresh start, getting your goals in line, figuring out how you’re going to get to where you want to be.

I’ve got my goals set. In fact, they’ve been set for at least six months (actually, even longer), since I’m still working on projects that I started around this time last year. It’s not like I didn’t get stuff done last year – I launched two books, sold a fair amount of soap, and pretty much built a mini-recording studio. Well, that last part isn’t completely done, but this is new to me work. I’ve also got a final draft (minus edits) on another book. I’m trying to refine my social media strategy to compensate for the fact that I’d rather just sit around and comment on other folks on Facebook. When I’m not playing solitaire on my computer.

And I have to confess, much of my current grumpiness has to do with almost an entire month lost to some nasty back pain, which is much better, thank you. Still lingering and waiting to pop out and wreak havoc again, but much better than it was.

So instead of a fresh start, I’m keeping on keeping on. I’m doing the work that I need, even want, to be doing. Which is what I was doing last year. And the year before that. Just because I haven’t reached my goal of becoming a best-selling author and in-demand speaker doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy goal.

I am having a slight problem, though, with the blogging. Now, I understand that it’s important to reach out and connect with my readers (all three of you). But there are times when I’d really rather be learning how to edit voice recordings. Or finalizing edits on my next novel. Or doing the layout. Or figuring out what update next needs doing on my website.

And here we come to the rub on this blog, specifically. There are some changes that are going to be made. I just don’t know what they are yet. I think I will continue my Tuesday rotation of Thoughts, cooking, sewing and living as green as possible, but I’m not sure I want to be tied to those themes, either. I also want to start posting more serialized fiction here. I do have, a sweet romance about a president and his aide trying not to fall in love with each other. That, I think, will eventually land on this site, perhaps on Wednesdays. I have a series of cozy spy novels that I wrote back in the 1980s, and I think I’m going to post them as a serial one day a week here. And there’s also the time travel epic that I’d like to do the same with.

Another thing I want to do is focus more on, the wine site I do with my husband, because, well, I like writing about wine and interviewing winemakers.

I know, I know. It’s a lot and I really should be focusing on getting more novels out and building my speaking gigs. But that’s who I am. I am all over the place. Focus is not going to happen, no matter how hard I try. I might as well try to make being scattered work for me.

So here’s to the new year. Rah. I’ve got work to do.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: How to Write a Review

If you liked any of these, please go to and write a review for it.

If you liked any of these, please go to and write a review for it.

This is a re-post from last summer. Hope you enjoy it!

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day, pointing out that when someone reads a book they like, the nice thing to do is to go to Amazon (or Goodreads or Nook) and write a review. And, let’s be real, most of us won’t. Mostly, it’s because there aren’t enough hours in a day as it is. But I suspect it’s also because many of us simply do not know how to write a review.

I can’t do anything about the time problem. But I can show you how to write a simple review that will be reasonably helpful to others thinking about buying a book and keep the bots happy at

As to why you should, well, the simple truth is that we authors live and die by reviews. Statistically, books don’t really start selling until they have around 35 reviews. For some reason, buyers think that if a book doesn’t have a lot of reviews, it must not be that good. Either that, or the bots on Amazon figure not enough people are interested for the book to show up in their recommendations, which makes it harder to find. Nor is Amazon making it any easier to get those 35 reviews. I’ve heard from several sources that Amazon is taking down reviews made by people it has determined are friends of the author. Which is really annoying, since the first bit of advice you get when marketing your book is to ask all your friends to write a review. That being said, what Amazon is trying to prevent is authors getting their friends to post a stack of five-star reviews for an otherwise only okay book. It has happened.

So, if you want to do good and build up your Karma, in general, here’s an easy way to write a review for that last potboiler you liked. And remember, this isn’t about being graded or writing great literature. All you’re trying to do is help someone else decide whether they want to buy the book or not, and the best way to do that is to just put down your basic impressions. In fact, it helps if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re writing. Just write.

Pick your star rating. I’ll usually post three or four stars, seldom five, unless the book was genuinely life-changing.

Then, in the box, what you want to write are three to five sentences about what you did and didn’t like about the book. Basically, answer these three questions:

1.) What did I like about the book? Was it funny? Did it make me cry? Did I like a character? Was it really interesting? Did I learn something new? Even if all the book did was make you feel good, then that’s what you write. It was a fun, relaxing read. It really brought an issue to life. Things like that. You can write about two sentences. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something specific, close your eyes and think of the book. The scenes that leap to mind are probably what you liked best about it. And unless they’re the end, you can describe those scenes. If you really liked how the book ended, just say that because we all know spoilers are no fun.

2.) What didn’t I like about the book? Was it hard to read? Did a character really get on your nerves? We’re none of us perfect, so if there’s a small flaw, you may want to note it.

3.) How did the book make me feel overall? Was I satisfied? Did I want more? Did something feel left out? Was the book relaxing? Intellectually stimulating? Just plain silly? So wonderfully sad, I can’t stop crying?

Answer those three questions and the next thing you know, you’ve written a review.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Timing Your Thanksgiving Dinner (a Dark Side of the Fridge Special)

Timing your Thanksgiving DinnerWelcome back to my special series on how to cook a delicious Thanksgiving Dinner even if you’ve never done it before. In this second-to-last installment, we’re covering not only timing your Thanksgiving Dinner, but how to get everything into your fridge in these critical days leading up to the big event. The series starts with Getting Organized, and you can find the links to The Gravy Tutorial, how to cook the turkey, and several of the side dishes at the bottom of the first post.

Timing is everything they say, and that’s certainly true when it comes to getting a bunch of different dishes cooked and all on the table at the right time. But fear not, I’ll walk you through the process below. But first, we have another job to do. Not one I want to be doing, nor does anyone else I know. But if you don’t, you’ll be making yourself a little crazier than you need to be come T-Day.

I’m talking about Cleaning the Fridge. Yes, I’m talking about going through your refrigerator and throwing out those little jars of pesto that you’re never going to use, all the science experiments, all the containers of something that’s probably still good but you have no idea what it is. Do the same with your freezer. I am willing to bet you’re going to free up a good 10 to 20 percent of space in each compartment. Why? Because we don’t like waste. So when there are leftovers, we tend to hang onto them. But then they don’t look so appealing, but we don’t want to waste, so we still hang onto them. And then they grow fur and we toss them with a cleaner conscience because we have spared ourselves some scary disease by doing so.

This is not the time to wait. You need that space for cut veggies, a turkey, Aunt Martha’s cranberry compote, turkey broth and all the other other ingredients of your feast.

However, keep in mind a couple things. You can pile stuff that’s packaged on top of that turkey. You’d also be surprised how many foods do just fine outside the fridge. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and many other veggies actually do better outside the fridge than in it. Anything you really need to keep crispy, like salad greens, carrots, celery, radishes, those do better in the fridge. Cheese, unless it’s processed cheese-like stuff, keeps perfectly well outside the fridge. In fact, that’s the whole point of cheese – it’s a way of preserving milk. Anything that is going to grow nasty critters if you don’t keep it below 40 degrees, such as meats, needs to go in the fridge. Bread does better outside the fridge. You can keep your sodas outside the fridge and pour them over ice when it’s time to serve. You can keep your butter outside the fridge. It’ll be a little soft, but then most folks prefer it that way.

Now to getting all the stuff in and out of the fridge and into the oven/onto the stove and onto the table to applause and acclaim. You just have to do some planning. If you don’t plan, you will be running around your kitchen, frazzled and crazed, and then when something goes wrong, well, they’ll be pulling you out from underneath the dining room table to get the vodka bottle you’re hugging to your chest. Even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, if you have one, it’s a hell of a lot easier to adjust to your actual circumstances.

So, get a nice glass of wine, a few bits of cheese to nibble on, a couple notepads or a pile of scrap paper, a pencil or pen or whatever you like to write with, and let’s lay everything out. Now, I am a gadget fan, but this is one of those instances where I prefer paper. When I’m using my tablet, the screen always goes dark right before I need to check something or when my hands are wet or gloppy. I suppose I could adjust the time before it goes to sleep, but then I have to remember to adjust it back. Not to mention, I’m always worried that the darned thing is going to fall into the sink or get melted by the toaster oven. Paper, on the other hand, is always on and will survive most kitchen mishaps. You can also tape paper to your cabinets. Can’t do that with a tablet. Your mileage may vary.

There are two tricks to timing. First up, write everything done. Go through your menu, item by item, and write down the steps you will take to make or reheat that item and in what pan, and in which dish you’ll serve it.  Add setting the table and pre-dinner clean up. Secondly, assume everything is going to take two to three times longer to do than normal. So what if the turkey is buttered and ready to go in the oven a full hour before it should? You put it back in the fridge and do something else on  your list.

If it helps, set alarms and write down what time something is supposed to happen, such as check the sweet potatoes at 4 p.m., instead of 20 minutes. Because you know you’re not going to remember when you put the sweet potatoes in the oven.

After you’ve got your list of menu items and the steps you need to take, get a second notepad or pull those sheets off the one you’ve been working with (or download my handy dandy checklist), and start a new list. What you’re going to do is work backwards from the time you’re hoping to serve the turkey and main course. So, say it’s going to take four hours to cook the turkey and you want to have dinner at 3 p.m. It’s going to take 20 to 30 minutes of rest time once the turkey is out of the oven, so it comes out around 2:30 p.m. and four hours before that is 10:30 a.m. It takes 20 minutes to cook the potatoes, and it’s going to take 30 minutes to eat the soup and salad courses, so the potatoes need to be in the water, ready for the heat just before 2:30, and the heat gets turned on at 2:40.

Yeah, it’s a little like battlefield maneuvers, but it will get your specific dinner on the table at roughly the right times. And if the turkey takes too long to cook, then spread out the hors d’oeuvres, soup and salad. If it’s cooking too fast, slow the heat, then skip the hors d’oeuvres and eat the soup and salad together. In short, just because you have everything set up to happen at this time or that, you may have to readjust. But because it’s all written down, no sweat. Just re-write as you go.

And after dinner, cram all that food back into the fridge and we’ll worry about the leftovers later.