Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweetbreads and Fried Beer and Free Books, Oh My!

In keeping with my recent guilty-pleasure theme--and because apparently I have little life beyond the DVR--I've decided to reveal yet another of my favorites.  I've recently discovered cooking competition shows and I've found they're as addictive as… well… food.  I've been following Top Chef: Texas, just finished watching The Next Iron Chef and I try to catch all the cake/cupcake bake-offs whenever possible.  But I have to admit that Chopped is probably my current favorite.  In case you haven't tuned in before, this show features four chefs competing to create culinary masterpieces from a basket of sometimes bizarre ingredients in thirty minutes or less.  The three rounds—appetizer, entrée, and dessert—are critiqued by four notable chef judges who are charged with sampling the food then chopping one competitor each round until they're down to the final two.   The winner walks away with ten grand and the title Chopped Champion, as well as the knowledge that apples and anchovies can exist harmoniously in a pound cake.       

But does it walk off the table
 when you're done?
Now I personally can't peel potatoes in thirty minutes or less, so I'm totally enthralled watching what could prove to be a disaster if the contestants don't get it right, or on the plate, right or wrong.  Not to mention, I don’t recognize half the ingredients most of the time.  Who cooks with rose water anyway?  Someone who doesn't mind if their buffalo tenderloin tastes like body lotion?  I'm not even sure I'd want to pick up a blue-foot chicken—with the feet still attached—much less prepare it.

Maybe it's just my lack of sophistication.  After all, I cut my teeth on good Southern cookin' in my youth.  My grandmother's motto:  if you got it, fry it.  Apparently that motto still applies at the State Fair of Texas as I've been told you can find everything from fried beer to fried butter.  Fried butter?  If you think that should  earn a citation from the saturated fat police, think again.  Every year they give the Big Tex Choice Award   selected from a list of top fried food finalists.  Fried bubblegum made that list this past year.  Yum! Not.

I'm proud to report that my palate has developed over the years and I no longer limit my options.  I've exchanged standard box mac and cheese for the kind with creamy Velveeta.  I've graduated from iceberg lettuce to romaine.  I purchase shredded parmesan as opposed to the ground-up kind.  Oh, and I've learned about béchamel, thanks to my oldest daughter, who happens to be a chef.  I don't know what to do with it, but I know what it is.  Sort of.  But regardless of what's cooking on whatever show I'm watching, whether it be cupcakes or cod, I always come away with two undeniable reactions—hunger, and the urge to hire a personal chef who'll work for free books.

Speaking of those free books... I'll be giving away two sets of the first two Delta Secrets books—The One She Left Behind and The Son He Never Knew.  In order to enter, just leave a comment about your favorite food, your favorite food show or a food you'd like to see fried.  Winners will be selected in a random draw by the end of the week.  And if you have a spare minute, be sure to cast your vote in the new poll located in the upper right hand corner.

Happy Tuesday, and  bon appétit!  Which in Texas translates as, Enjoy that fried baloney, ya hear?


Friday, January 27, 2012

Tune in Tomorrow For Another Episode of 'Do You Really Expect Me to Believe That?'

Years and years ago, I admittedly became quite attached to soap operas.  Some might even say I was totally addicted, but I'm inclined to disagree.  So what if I ignored the Lamaze method and breathed in time to General Hospital's Dr. Tony Jones' heart monitor during labor with my second child?  I mean, the TV was on and Tony had been shot by Jack Slater, although I can't remember if that was before or after he'd been rendered temporarily blind.  I do know that Tania had not yet perished in the car accident….

Anyway, I set aside time  to watch four daytime dramas and managed to keep track of every evil patriarch, pregnant debutante and routine tragedy.  I gladly believed in five-minute paternity tests, the boarding school that accelerated a child's age by fifteen years in less than six months, and every heart-stopping whodunit that remained unsolved for weeks, despite the obvious suspect.  I also admired that even among the fictional chaos, they managed to raise awareness of some very important issues, like HIV and breast cancer. Yet at some point in time—and I think it coincided with my writing addiction—I stopped tuning in. 

Skip forward fifteen years or so to this past summer when I begin watching two of my favorites again with my daughter (the Tony Jones heart-monitor baby). You'd think I might have problems catching up after such a long hiatus, but it hasn't been too difficult—except when it comes to the next generation and trying to pin them on the correct parents since it's not uncommon in Soap Opera Land for someone to pass off a child on the incorrect father.  I'm beginning to think maybe a spread sheet might aid in avoiding confusion.  

Anyhoo, I've recently discovered I don't so easily buy some of the scenarios this time around.  What trauma surgeon leaves a shirtless, hunky cop, who's bleeding out with a gunshot wound to the chest, alone with only his non-medically trained fiancé to attend him?  Where did the mob boss get the magic drug that brings a purely evil femme fatale out of a incurable coma to wreak more havoc?  My habit of asking these questions during the show drives the TJHM baby insane, and she's quick to point out this is a soap opera, not real life.  She's absolutely right.

Soap operas are designed to allow a viewer to escape the rigors of reality and enter a world of make-believe.  A world where kids grow up extremely fast and almost everyone has untold wealth, a target on their backs and a hairstylist on call.  In general, they operate on what is known as 'suspending disbelief', meaning you're willing to quit questioning the journey and just enjoy the ride.

Although I tend to write more reality-based romance these days, I have asked readers to ditch their disbelief on several occasions.  I have happily been a part of the best-selling Harlequin Desire series, The Texas Cattleman's Club, featuring a small West Texas town populated with so many millionaire ranchers and sheiks and such that you can't throw a stone on the street without hitting one.  And you don't want to hit one because they're all highly-trained military types--and of course, very good-looking.   With my Gothic-style romance, House of Midnight Fantasies, I invited readers into a mysterious antebellum plantation where a woman with telepathic powers taps into the equally mysterious--and gorgeous--owner's fantasies about her (like that happens every day).  I've written about secret babies, an Internet mistaken engagement, a hot air balloon that lands on a yacht, and an Irish-American family with five successful siblings who find love in some unexpected ways.  In contrast, I've also written stories highlighting deaf culture, childhood diabetes, domestic violence and blindness.  But the common denominator in all my books involves two people overcoming obstacles and finding love as they strive for that happily-ever-after ending that doesn't always happen in real life.  Simply stated, every time I write a book, I'm asking readers to escape into a fictional world where two strangers could meet, fall in love, break-up, marry in less than a week and mate for life.  Where rich, honorable men are readily available and love is the greatest power of all.  Come to think of it, I firmly believe that last part is true.   Guess that's why I love what I do.

I'm also of the opinion that everyone needs to escape reality now and then. So how do you escape?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Welcome To Authordom!

2012 marks a huge milestone for me.  It's been twenty years since I set out for that magical place known as Authordom.  I began the journey armed with only a kernel of an idea, a computer and encouragement from my sister.  For seven years I battled rejection dragons, greatly fearing failure monsters, while guided by my fairy godmother, Perseverance and her mouthy sidekick, R.U. Insane.  Several times I wanted to leave the foreboding publication forest and almost did, when I encountered that often elusive Lady Luck, who gave me the keys to the kingdom with my first sale. 

Thankful I'd finally arrived, I stormed the gates and rushed into the castle, only to discover that I'd been somewhat mistaken in my expectations.  Where are the bon-bons and the chambermaids?  What do you mean there's no throne aside from the one in the bathroom?  As it turns out, I don't keep company with ladies in waiting or dashing men in tights—aside from those in my stories.  Without the tights, of course, since I write contemporary romance.  I don't wake up every morning to breakfast in bed and don a red satin ball gown to begin my day.  I eat cereal and put on ratty sweats and a T-shirt, keeping my bra nearby in case I'm summoned by a mysterious messenger dressed in brown.  The banquet table isn't stocked with pheasant, fine wine and decadent desserts.  In fact, I have no banquet table, but I do have a microwave and TV dinners at my disposal.  And chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate.

I've become well acquainted with the deadline dungeon, a dark place where I chain myself to the computer, talk to imaginary cabana boys and learn to exist on five hours sleep, not knowing whether it's night or day or if I'll ever be able to lay off the caffeine again.  And just like that old "Writing a book is like giving birth" adage, I conceive a plot, nurture it until it's ready to be born and finally release it as a full-formed book.  I then take my place on the cyber balcony, the proud parent filled with anticipation, preparing to greet my loyal subjects/readers… only to have someone in the courtyard yell "Your baby's ugly!" It doesn't matter if a few people in the crowd applaud my offspring, I only hear those words repeated over and over.  Ugly baby. Ugly baby.  Ugly baby.  And still, I return back inside the castle and do it all over again, avoiding the moat so I won't get eaten up by self-doubt sea serpents.

While residing at the kingdom—or the queendom—I've become an expert juggler, so much so I could be the court jester if the writing thing doesn't pan out.  I've learned to juggle family needs, socializing with friends and the ever-changing publishing realm.  I've also learned that no matter how strong or how high the fortress walls, sometimes the challenges of life intrude into the inner sanctum, and terrible, awful loss sends you back out the gates and into the real world for a while.  Yet somehow you eventually return to the castle and your writing with a shattered heart and the realization you have to move forward, one word at a time.  Back to the dungeon to attempt to escape into your imagination, only it isn't quite as easy as it once was.  Then again, you're not exactly the same person, either.  A little wiser, maybe, but definitely grateful for the little things.  Even TV dinners and dungeons.

When things get tough, I try to remember everything I've learned to this point, and I often recall someone saying you should write what you know.  And what I know is how it feels to be truly and completely loved by a real knight in shining armor.  This knowledge carries me forward and encourages me to honor and celebrate that kind of love in every book I write.  If I can continue to keep my place in the castle—and I'm certainly going to try—I can only hope that I'll be residing in Authordom for another twenty years.  Looks like I better stock up on chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate.