Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Times Are a' Changing

Hello Friends!

Nine years ago, I opened this blog because my first book, THE SPACE BETWEEN, was about to be published by a lovely little publisher, The Wild Rose Press. I was so excited, and certain that the publication of my first book would lead to bigger and better things.

I made a lot of friends, and even a few people who called themselves fans. I released two more books, BAD ICE and THE TOAST BITCHES, with two different publishers. Three, if you count The Bitches' short run at Musa Publishing. Book One and Book Three ran their courses, and now sit on my hard drive, hoping to be re-released in some shape or form. I hope they're not holding their breath, because they will probably remain there.

For all these years, Champagne Books was the home of my second book, the hockey romantic suspense BAD ICE. Last night, I made the difficult decision to ask for the return of my rights. J. Ellen Smith was kind enough to grant it.

We had become friends over the years. I expressed my concern when her Calgary home was flooded. I befriended fellow authors in the group.

Sales have not been good. The publisher is doing well, but they have focused their attention on newer releases, and I wish them great success.

I'm still writing. I'm still trying. This blog will not disappear. I wanted to give up many times, but the writing community has always pulled me back and enveloped me with love and encouragement. There WILL be another book.

In the meantime, if you want to read about a hockey player with a heart of gold and a troubled past, and a young single mother with a little hockey-playing six year old daughter, and a psycho bitch who wants to destroy their happiness..... Get BAD ICE while you still can.

Until better news comes along... or until I feel like writing about the stupid cat, see you on the flip side.

BAD ICE  is available (until it isn't) at the following sites:

Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Kobo
Champagne Books



Wednesday, 27 January 2016

I'm Still Here

I'm sitting in my living room, printing mailing labels and putzing around on Twitter. I finished a painting. Well, actually, I did two paintings: One for a writing friend, and the other will be my contribution to a local fundraiser for Indigenous youth in Canada.




Have I been writing? I've been thinking about it. I open my WIP and stare at it for a while, and then close it. Then I open it again. I write words. I close it.

The writing life is an enigma. People say it's a solitary craft, yet these days I am surrounded by writers in the cyber world. Successful writers, aspiring writers, encouraging writers and distant writers. They all have something to say about this crazy occupation, and I alternately toggle between hope and despair.

When I first left the workforce after 23 years as a graphic artist, I had visions of being a domestic goddess, creating art with my words and my paintbrush while surrounded by pastoral sunshine in my back yard. Sure, I had moments where I was satisfied with my accomplishments, whether they be refinished folding chairs or a rearranged living room.

I experimented in the kitchen, and honed my photography skills. I volunteered. I wrote. I chased around the local wildlife. I got mauled by my cat (that's a whole story in itself).

Now I sit here, waiting again for Spring, and doing my best to find my place in the world. Sure, hubby loves my culinary creations, and my sister loves the fact that I've embraced the art of Silent Auction Coordinating. My paintings are admired, but I have yet to pay for more than groceries with the proceeds. Agents love my writing, but don't know where to sell it.

As I jab at the ground lamb in my frying pan and contemplate my predicament, I realize that my problems are nothing compared to the millions of individuals who wake up every day, wondering if it's worth seeing the end of that day. Today is #BellLetsTalk day, when we talk about mental illness, and do our best to erase the stigma that is attached.

Generations before ours suffered in silence, and used (even today) suicide as a final escape from their pain. People with social anxiety were bullied. Angry men were simply told to stop being jerks. Maybe they suffered from depression and as a result, alienated their families and died lonely.

Mothers self-medicated with wine because they dreaded the next PTA meeting, fearing that they would be singled out. Some were afraid to leave their own homes because crowds made them feel as if they were about to drown.

Now we have a chance to understand why that friend constantly backs out of social engagements, or why a co-worker cries in the bathroom stall or takes a lot of sick days. They aren't selfish, or wimpy, or weaklings. They're not just seeking attention. They might be truly suffering, and our understanding and support can help them get through the mire that's holding them back.

Listen to them.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Apple Cheeseball Again Because I Love It



A few years ago, I posted a recipe for Apple Cheeseball, an appetizer that had been floating around the Interwebs and magazines since the mid-Nineties. I decided to post my version again this Holiday Season. It adds an artsy, tasty element to any gathering, and apples have been harmed in the making of this treat.

Ingredients:

1 package cream cheese, softened (about 8 oz)
1 - 1 1/2 cups finely shredded sharp or old Cheddar cheese (white if you can get it)
Paprika (preferably smoked, but Spanish will do - fresh and red!)
A cinnamon stick
1 or 2 bay leaves
Worchestershire sauce or hot sauce (optional)
Garlic powder or ground spices (optional)

Mix the two cheeses, the sauce if you've got it (and any savory or zippy spices you like) together with your hands until well mixed. Or use a food processor if you're squeamish about getting your hands goopy.

Form it into a ball about 3 or 4 inches around, and shape like an apple, with a little dimple at the top. Use plastic wrap if you think it's too messy. Chill it for a while.

Roll the ball in the paprika until nicely coated and red. You can brush off any excess.

Stick a cinnamon stick in the top to represent the apple stem, and a bay leaf or two to represent apple leaves. Put it on a small plate, surrounded with crackers, pita pieces or those little toasty slices with a nice knife. The first person to cut a chunk out will make it look like someone's taken a bite out of the apple!

My friends claim I came up with this recipe, modified from some other cheeseball, but I probably got it from a magazine. My friend Debbie asked for the recipe, and when she made it for family it was an instant hit. She passed it on to her daughter, who got the attention of her college dean's wife. Debbie appreciated the contribution so much she gave me that cute little leaf-shaped plate to put my apple on.

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays! (Yes, I'm still writing. Shut up.)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Handy With a Skillet

Between bouts of revisions and writing and querying and painting, I decided to invent a dish inspired by this quarter's LCBO Food & Drink Magazine. They had some cast iron skillet supper recipes, and my brain said, "DO SOMETHING WITH STEAK!"

So, today I did it. It passed the husband test, so I'm sharing it with you. Please note: I don't post recipes the normal way, I type the way I think, which can be a bit haphazard. I hope you can follow my train of thought.

Steak Sandwich Skillet Pizza

INGREDIENTS:
1 store bought pizza dough, room temperature, or make your own, enough for one medium pizza.
6-8 oz. boneless steak. I used 2 portions of Walmart Black River Angus Frozen Steak, thawed and sliced.
1 large sweet red pepper, sliced thinly
1 Small onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp Caramelized Onion– I found a jar of President's Choice at the Real Canadian Super Store. It's tasty, not too sweet or salty. If you don't have store bought, make your own. Google it...? Or leave it out, whatever.
½ cup broccoli florets, frozen or fresh (optional 'cause hubby didn't like those during the focus group testing, but I liked it)
2 tbsp steak sauce plus a bit to drizzle (I used HP Sauce)
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1-3 oz stout or whisky or chicken stock to deglaze pan
1 Tsp. Worcestershire sauce or to taste.

WHAT TO DO:

Preheat oven to 450F.

Press the dough in an oiled, seasoned 9 inch cast iron skillet. Push it up around edges of the pan. Prebake for 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry steak in a bit of oil (also seasoned with salt & pepper) in a sautée pan. Drizzle some Worcestershire while it's browning. When browned, set aside, covered in a bit of foil.


If the five minutes are up for the skillet dough, take it out of the oven and put the pan in a safe place.

Meanwhile, add a bit more oil to the sautée pan and cook the vegetables with garlic and salt & pepper, until tender.


Remove vegetables to a bowl.

Deglaze the sautée pan with good stout. I didn't have any so I used an ounce or two of Scotch and a bit of chicken stock, to loosen up the "fond" or browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Scrape the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula, and let the liquid thicken a bit.

Tip the deglazed mixture into the bowl of vegetables. Add the caramelized onion if you have it. Add the two tablespoons of steak sauce, and mix.

Spread the veggie mixture into the partially baked crust. Spread the cooked steak on top of that.


Top everything with shredded mozzarella and a drizzle of steak sauce.


Bake a further 20 minutes in oven. Take it out when the crust is a nice brown.
Drizzle with more steak sauce if you wanna.



Serves four normal people, or two really hungry ones.


Friday, 30 October 2015

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Sorry, folks... it seems my website went AWOL, having hitched a ride in a Raspberry Pi to the city. My technical guru will round it up and corral it properly, as soon as possible. In the meantime, any pertinent information on the website (which needs a redesign anyway) is available on the sidebar of this blog. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Stay tuned!

Edited to add: Dear Guru has revived the website, and it is now ALIVE!!!! ALLLLIIIIIVE!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Family That Slays Together Stays Together

Don't worry, we weren't going to slay anything except paper. That's what the Range Officer quipped when the four of us showed up at the shooting range last weekend. My son, a licensed gun owner, wanted his family to experience what it was like to shoot a rifle. He owns three guns: A Norinco JW25A 22, an SKS semi automatic, and a Mosin Nagant Model 1891.

As a writer, I figured it was important to learn how to shoot a gun, so that if I ever wrote about it, I'd know how it feels.

Off we went, on a two-hour drive to a facility in the Niagara region, on the coldest, wettest day of late summer. As we moved south, the skies lowered and the rain increased. By the time we got there, it was a regular Winnie The Pooh Blustery Day.

I was dressed for the weather, but the rest of the family wasn't. Still, they wanted to power through and get on with it after such a long trip.

Eye and ear protection was mandatory. After we provided ID and paid up, we were given identification tags, ear plugs and protective eye wear. Good thing, because when we approached our area, other patrons were already at work, shooting at their targets. I nearly jumped out of my skin every time I heard an explosion.

Don't I look badass?



I wore rubber paddock boots, so I slogged through the mud and helped my son affix our paper targets with a staple gun to the corrugated plastic backings 50 yards away. Large earth hills loomed behind the targets to absorb any bullets that went through the cardboard or missed the targets.

The shooting area was covered, so the rain was kept off us, if not the wind. The Range Officer offered my daughter one of his camo jackets, and she huddled into it between turns.

We took turns, learning how to load the guns as the Range Officer looked on and gave advice as needed. My son was a good teacher, showing us how to handle the equipment safely. We started with the easiest model, the Norinco JW25A .22, a copy of a WWII training rifle. Since the cartridge tended to bend the bullets, we fed them into the chamber one at a time and ejected the casing after each shot.

The trigger of the .22 was feather light. I remembered to squeeze, not pull. The sound it gave was a loud pop. I could see the target, but unfortunately my 56 year old eyes couldn't clearly line up the sights on the gun. I did the best I could, under the circumstances. My daughter watched the targets through a spotting scope to tell me if I at least hit my paper, and I adjusted accordingly. I managed to get the outer part of the center circle a couple of times.

The picture below is my daughter trying the .22.



The SKS semi automatic could technically hold ten bullets about 2.5 inches long, but according to Canadian law, it was equipped to take only five. I held the butt of the stock firmly into the meat of my shoulder while pushing my cheek into the side of the gun. It was a good thing, otherwise it could have jumped out of my hands. 

The explosion was much louder than the .22, making me glad I was wearing good ear plugs. The casings popped out the side with every shot. We were told to keep a second or three between shots and not to go "Pop pop pop pop pop," like they do in the movies. With each shot, a curl of smoke rose from the chamber, along with the smell of sulfur.

While my daughter tried the SKS, I looked through the scope to tell her if she'd hit the target. The holes the rounds made were three times the size of the .22 holes. Whenever a round passed through the target, a spray of mud exploded against the dirt hill behind.

Once, while my daughter was shooting and I was spotting through the scope, a casing popped upward and landed on the top of my head. Good thing I was wearing a hat, because they come out hot. (The shooting range safety rules suggest that women cover their cleavage for that very reason.)

Later, my daughter and I decided to pass on the Mosin (which was manufactured in 1939). We sat in the warm, dry car and took out our earplugs while my son and husband finished up with the bigger gun. It was just as well that I didn't try the Mosin, because my husband said it bruised his shoulder.

After a couple of hours, we were ready to return home. The paper targets were shredded by bullets, rain and wind, but I swear I hit mine at least a dozen times! I wish we'd taken pictures of the targets to prove it, but we didn't think of it until we were on our way. You'll have to trust me.

I won't promise I'll do it again, but I'm glad I had the experience.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Tale of Too Many Tables

Back in the mid-Seventies, my dad came home for a visit from his job in Algeria. He lugged along a gift for my mom - a tooled brass table with a wrought iron folding stand. It looked like a giant plate.
He called it a Meshwi dish. He said North Africans used it as a serving dish for traditional cooking.

Loosely translated, "meshwi" means barbecued meat. He said the food was placed on the big plate, and people sat around it on cushions and ate with their hands. I tried to look it up, but I can't find much information.

Mom used it as a coffee table, and she when she moved to took it with her to New Brunswick to be closer to her family, it went with her. When she passed away, my sister took custody of the table, but was unable to find a place for it.

So she gave it to me, and I polished it up and placed it in the same spot where it had sat for many years, in what is now my living room.


I then went on the hunt for a glass top for it, to protect the brass and to make it a level surface for coffee table stuff. An estimate of $200 seemed a bit steep, so I found a glass coffee table at a discount store for half the price. The top fit beautifully.


Now I had a set of tripod legs from the coffee table. I thought, "Hey, I should look for a nice big round tray to put on it, and it could be used in the backyard for parties."

Well, it was hard to find a round tray big enough, and I took my little tape measure to Homesense. I found a wooden disk, rather heavy, and kind of expensive. But I had my birthday money, so I bought it.

When I got it home, I discovered it wasn't wide enough for the tripod base, but I liked it. My husband informed me that it was the lid of a wooden barrel, or cask.

Neato. It would make a great cheese board! I could serve whisky and wine on it! How provincial!
But I still wanted a stand for it. I was getting groceries at the Super Store, and they had cheap metal tray tables. Twelve bucks! And a round metal tray to put in the middle of my brass table instead of the square one I had purchased for three bucks at Value Village!

So, I took the base and placed the cask lid on top, and now I have another table.


I'm starting to run out of floor space, but when my eyes rest on items that either bring back memories or make new ones, I am happy.

Now all I need are a few people to come over and drink some wine and eat some cheese. And maybe eat some Meshwi, too.

Oh, also, I have a set of tripod legs still looking for a table top. I think I'll just tuck 'em under the stairs in the danger room for now. Let me know if you come across a round tray at least 26 inches wide.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Holding Pattern

Hi, Everyone!
While I'm polishing my latest manuscript (again) I thought I'd let you say hello to the assortment of woodland creatures that frequent our little property in the middle of town. Enjoy!








p.s. I strongly suspect that #7 recently ate #1...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Things Are Different, Yet The Same

Hi Friends,

I thought I'd check in with you and let you know that I'm still alive, I'm still writing, and I'm still unemployed (smiles). Although I haven't been in an office environment for the past few months, I did use my time wisely by writing, editing, polishing and querying my latest novel.

I also re-purposed thrift store finds, expanded my cooking skills (I still chop slowly and carefully, though), took lots of pictures, rearranged the furniture a dozen times, and generally morphed into a well-rested and happy person.

I also ventured out of my comfort zone and accepted a short gig as a set and props assistant at a mini-series shoot in Midland, Ontario. In the dead of winter, we shot footage for a U.S. TV series about Saint Kateri. I hand-built rosaries for 17th Century Jesuits, and moved candles and feather quills around on set so they'd show up perfectly in the camera frame. I kept a native warrior warm between takes with a wool blanket, ran back and forth in the snow to retrieve forgotten props, and picked up the director's clipboard when he forgot it in the slush. Ah, the life of an assistant, with a glue gun in one pocket and a staple gun in the other.


Later, I volunteered with DAREarts First Roots, where my sister Cathy Elliott helps native youth by visiting reserves and organizing week-long workshops involving the Arts. The kids - with guidance from musicians, filmmakers, playwrights and artists - create musicals and plays, make great art and short films, thus reconnecting them with their heritage in positive ways.

A few weeks ago, we put together a special Feast to celebrate Indigenous cuisine, with Top Chef Canada finalist Rich Francis teaching local kids from my old high school to put together a wonderful meal for 100+ patrons. I helped out by taking photos and videos of Rich guiding the students through the process, put down my camera to chop carrots, made table cloths for the venue, and helped organize the Silent Auction.

My not-so-secret foodie alter ego took a front seat during this exposure to great cuisine. Thanks, Rich, for treating us to delectable dishes using moose, elk, venison, wild rice, squash, blueberries, and more.


In other news, my beloved Toast Bitches suffered yet another setback. The publisher that took them in announced their closure a couple of weeks ago, and they returned the rights to me. I'm not sure what I will do with my Bitches. They didn't get a lot of exposure despite my efforts - twice - but perhaps in the future they will get a new lease on life. Or not! After all, a writer's goal is always to move forward.

I have started another book, which I am sure will contain intrigue, humour, a bit of sex, and either horses or hockey. Or both! Why the hell not?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Say Hello To My Writing Friend

Some of you may already know Kevin Craig. I met Kevin a few years ago at the Ontario Writers' Conference, but I knew him before that as a fellow writer on the Absolute Write forums. Kevin's FOURTH book is set to be released soon, and I'm happy to share in his celebration!

Curiosity Quills is excited to reveal the cover for contemporary, young-adult Burn Baby Burn Baby, by Kevin Craig, which is due for release December 11, 2014. The cover was designed by CQ managing partner Eugene Teplitsky.

  Burn Baby Burn 1000

About Burn Baby Burn Baby: Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby. The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end. Add Burn Baby Burn Baby to your Goodreads 'to-be-read' list. --

  Kevin Craig - Author pic

About The Author: Kevin Craig is the author of three previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. Find Kevin Craig Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 You can pre-order Burn Baby Burn Baby here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Door to Door Salespersons Aren't What They Used To Was.

Tonight we had a visit from a nice young gentleman in an orange traffic vest. When I opened the door and saw his clipboard, I immediately tensed up.
He said he was here to inspect our water heater to see if it qualifies for a "free upgrade." My scam radar immediately went BOING.
After I stressed that I don't do door to door solicitations, I gave him the heave-ho. As I closed my front curtains, I saw him heading up my neighbour Lilian's driveway. He saw me through the window and gave me the stink eye.
Lilian is 91 years old. She's a smart cookie, but too polite. I suspected she'd hmmm and huuuh long enough for him to get his talons into her.
I went to my back porch window and leaned against the sill, staring at him. He caught my eye, and faltered. When a minute or so went by and Lilian didn't send him on his way, I called out to her not to sign anything, and to ask for a brochure.
He came over and asked me why I was so suspicious. I said anybody can show up in an orange vest and print up a fake ID card and carry a clipboard.
After a lot of this and that, Lilian piped up that she had let someone like him in her house to “inspect the water heater” and the woman put her wet gloves on Lilian’s dining room table and ruined it. She laughed and said she never forgot that.
The guy kept trying. He flashed the 1-800 number on the back of his clipboard and challenged me to call the number to see if they were legit. I said anybody can be at the other end of a 1-800 number, including scammers.
I told the guy (with a smile) I’d never let him in my furnace/water heater/laundry room anyway because it’s disgusting.
Anyway, the guy gave up. I don't know if he succeeded on our street, or his partner who was covering alternate homes.
Mark was standing in the shadows behind me, listening to the whole exchange. When I looked at him, he raised his eyebrows and said he’s scared of me now. He gave me a high five and went downstairs.
I went over to Lilian’s to make sure she was okay with me butting in. She said, “Thanks for coming to my rescue.” She would have been too polite and eventually the guy would have taken advantage of her good nature.
In hindsight, I would have loved to ask him to wait while I looked up National Home Services on my laptop. What would I read on his face then?

Later, I looked up the company name on the trusty Interwebs (don't believe everything you read on the Interwebs) and concluded we had made the right decision.

Side note: Forgive the weird text and background. I haven't posted in a while and Blogger seems to think Normal is something from another planet. I'll figure it out...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

More Time To Write, Paint, And Cook... Because Of Reasons



I've been meaning to tell you all about my change of circumstances this year.

Back in April, our company dissolved the department in which I was working. They gave us options: other positions elsewhere or a departure package.

I thought about this, and decided to use the opportunity to make a serious go at this writing thing. While revising my latest novel, I've been going nuts cleaning and organizing my neglected home, and also indulging in one of my other loves: cooking!

My friends at Musa Publishing prompted me to submit a recipe for their blog, so I sent them this recipe for shrimp, chicken and salmon risotto. I made this recipe up on the fly, but wrote it down right afterward, because it ended up delicious!

Shrimp, Chicken & Salmon Risotto



1 cup chicken stock
1 boneless chicken breast
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. smoked paprika
250 g sliced mushrooms (8.8 ozs)
1 tbsp. butter
½ cup Arborio rice
A few threads saffron (optional)
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup raw peeled shrimp, medium to large size
1 boneless salmon filet
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp. cream cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Heat chicken stock in a small saucepan. Keep warm until needed.

Cut chicken into bite size pieces and sauté in olive oil. Stir in tomato paste and garlic while sautéing. Sprinkle with paprika and stir well.

Add mushrooms and butter. Sauté until mushrooms are tender.

Stir in rice, saffron, and chicken stock. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Check for sticking and stir if necessary.

Carefully drop in peas, shrimp, and salmon. Cook over medium-low heat until sauce has thickened. Be sure to stir occasionally. Drizzle white wine in every few minutes until you’ve added ¼ cup. The same method as if you were making risotto.

Blend in cream cheese and the rest of wine. Cover and simmer until the shrimp is pink and the salmon is flaky.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

Hope some of you try this! For dessert, try The Toast Bitches with strawberry jam.

Now, off to finish that watercolour painting I've been neglecting. Oh, and of course, WRITING.

Wish me luck.