Thursday, December 14, 2017

Profound Reality by Juliana Aragon Fatula


Aragon Siblings with my Dad, Julian Aragon





This holiday season I'm going big. Big decorations, big parties, big big big.

I haven't celebrated Christmas in years and  years never mind why. It's sad. But this year I have reason to celebrate and I'm going to. I feel like I've been saving up for this one Christmas and I'm going to finally get my celebration on.

I'm spiritual; not religious. Christmas isn't about going to church for me. For me it's about remembering loved ones, family memories of holidays, spending time with my husband, son, pets, friends. It's not about materials, shopping, buying...The holiday has gotten out of hand and it's about so much other than what it should be.

When I was a kid, we got one toy and a big bag of fruit, nuts and candy. We went to see Santie Claus at the movie theatre and we saw the reindeer. My parents had ten mouths to feed and they managed to keep our bellies full and smiles on our faces at Christmas.

This year, I'm going to remember what it used to feel like to decorate a real tree with popcorn garland and to build a snowman out front (if it snows), to give to the bell ringers and the less fortunate.

I have enough of everything. I don't need more stuff. I need to finish my book and that's where my priorities are this December 2017.

If I accomplish my goal and reach my deadline, I'll be ready to party and ring in the new year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

National Writing Month

By Bethany Maines

National Novel Writing Month, officially abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, is now over and many of my writer friends are crawling out of their holes with fingers permanently curved into the typing position and blinking around at the world that they left behind.  Essentially, we’re all Gollum.  What did we learn?  What did we accomplish? Other than scoliosis and arthritic fingers.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write fifty thousand words, the general baseline amount for a complete novel. I’ve completed a NaNoWriMo before, but my goal this year was to complete about half the word count and outline the rest of a novel that’s been lingering out on the edges for awhile.  I didn’t make it.  I made the word count, but I filled it on two different projects, neither of which was what I set out to work on. 

One project was a holiday short story for a holiday giveaway with several other authors I know from my time at the Girlfriend’s Book Club.  (Enter below).  I’ll also be sending my story to everyone in my Reader’s Group, whether they win the raffle or not.  So that was not time wasted!  But it wasn’t exactly the challenge I was setting out to meet.


I think the interesting thing about NaNoWriMo is that imposition of an immovable deadline.  There is no flex and no one you can complain to if you’re not going to make it. We all deal with deadlines (even self-imposed deadlines) in different ways.  Some of us rise to the occasion, some of us rail against “the man” and some of us quietly head out of the office for a drink.  I think you could safely say that I headed out for happy hour.  So now I’m scrambling to reapply my deadline to December.  That outline still needs to be written, my rough draft still needs to be started.  Will I make it?  We’ll find out in January.

Enter to win one of 50 copies of Baby it's Cold Outside, a not-for-sale collection of holiday stories from USA Today & Kindle Bestselling Authors!  Including Oh, Holy Night - The Christmas Season is a lot more dangerous than it used to be.Violet Harper is usually found at her local Starbucks. Roman Knox is usually carrying a gun. Tonight they’re both in a bank and there’s a body on the floor. It’s a mess, but maybe a Christmas miracle can get them out of the bank and into love.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A ROSE IS A ROSE, BUT IS A NAME A NAME?

By AB Plum

Still waiting for the winner of my November giveaway to contact me with names for two characters in my next novel, Broken-Hearted Many.

In case I don’t hear before blog deadline, I’ll ponder a bit on one of my favorite topics: Naming characters.

Feller Gowdy is a name I hope to use someday. Feller will have to be an unusual guy to carry around such a handle. Hero or villain? Seems likely he’d have endured teasing his entire life. What were his parents thinking? Of course, with a surname like Gowdy, what first name actually fits? Big Feller? Little Feller? Funny Feller?

For years I've kept a file of unusual names. Still, I've used very few of them. I can't quite figure out the profile for a woman named Apple. Is she a Pippin? Or a Granny Smith?

Names from the Bible jump out at me most frequently. So many of them come with meanings that can serve to give life to a character. Or not.

Consider Methusalah. Abendego. Job.  

Names most of us recognize. But did you know that Gad is a real Biblical moniker? Probably highly respected in the day—just as Basemath was for girls. Admittedly, I shy away from many names found in the Old Testament.

But I like Michaelmeaning “gift from God.” In my dark, psychological thriller, The Dispensable Wife, I kept my tongue in cheek each time I wrote Michael Romanov’s name.

Anna and Sophia, both derived from Greek names, sound soft and pleasing together. They mean "grace" and "wisdom." AnnaSophia Romanov is married to Michael. Again, I chose the name for its irony relative to both characters.

Choosing a name for main characters always presents me with a challenge. The process reminds me of choosing baby names. In a few instances—not with my bio kids—I’ve changed a character’s name. Why?

Maybe because unlike roses, a name is not a name by any other name.

Go on, figure that out. I dare you!

As 2017 closes, I hope you have more good memories than bad. May you find time in 2018 to read and read and read—no matter the characters’ names.
**************
AB Plum composes lists of names off the fast ramp in Silicon Valley while she walks and dances and reads Peanuts and For Better or Worse most days in her daily newspaper. Her latest novel, The Dispensable Wife is available on Amazon.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Holiday Traditions

Someone should have told me.

I didn’t realize that if I did the same thing for a few years in a row, I was beginning an unbreakable tradition. But I did. And now, the Mulherns have the same thing for breakfast every Christmas morning.

Not that I’m complaining. The recipes are easy and delicious (unlike Ellison, the heroine of my novels, I can make a Bundt cake). I turn on the oven when kids stir and pop the soufflé into the oven when we start opening presents.

I pair the soufflé and cake with fresh fruit and lots of coffee (of course).

Sausage Soufflé

·      1 pound sausage -  browned and drained
·      6 slices of best quality bread – cubed
·      ¼ cup cheddar cheese
·      1 teaspoon dry mustard
·      ½ teaspoon salt
·      4 eggs
·      2 cups milk


Beat eggs, milk, mustard and salt. Add sausage and bread. Mix well and pour into a greased 10 x6 ½ x 2-inch casserole dish and refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, covered with foil. Reduce heat to 325, remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.


Cinnamon Bundt Cake

            Filling
·      ½ cup light brown sugar
·      2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Cake
·      1 package plain yellow cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines)
·      1 package vanilla pudding mix
·      ¾ cup vegetable oil
·      ¾ cup water
·      4 large eggs
·      1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I always use Vain vanilla)

Glaze
·      1 cup confectioners’ sugar sifted
·      2 tablespoons milk
·      ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a Bundt pan, then dust with flour, shaking out the excess.

For the filling – combine ingredients in a small bowl (you could add nuts – if I did my youngest wouldn’t eat it).

Place the cake mix, pudding, oil, water, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for two minutes. The batter should look thick and smooth.

Pour one-third of the batter into the prepared pan.

Scatter half of the filling over the batter.

Pour another third of the batter over the filling.

Scatter the remaining filling.

Pour the remaining batter, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 58 to 60 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes then run a sharp knife around the edges of the cake and invert the pan.

Cool an additional 30 minutes.

While the cake is cooling, make the glaze. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth.

Place the cooked cake on a serving platter and drizzle the glaze over the top.

This cake can be stored under a glass cake dome for up to a week. It won’t last that long.




Wishing you and yours the merriest, jolliest of holiday seasons.

















Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Times They Are A'Changin' for The Stiletto Gang


The Times They Are A’Changin’ for The Stiletto Gang
by Debra H. Goldstein
The times they are a’changin’ is both a song refrain and an accurate description of The Stiletto Gang. Happily, all the changes are for the good.

Today is both a beginning and an end for me and the Gang in that instead of personally posting twice a month and being responsible for Clicking Our Heels, I will only be handling Clicking Our Heels and the second Friday of the month post. Not a big change for me or for Linda Rodriguez, who now will only post on the first Friday of the month, but a positive change for you in that you’ll have the opportunity of getting to know Shari Randall and Teresa Thorne on the third and fourth Fridays of each month.  (don’t forget our other newbies, Judy Penz Sheluk and Diane Staresinic-Deane). In fact, mark your calendars for this enhanced line-up:

Judy Penz Sheluk- 1st Monday
Julie Mulhern - 2nd Monday
Paula Gail Benson - 3rd Monday
Dru Ann Love - Every other 4th Monday
Short story writers - Every other 4th Monday
J.M. Phillippe - 1st & 3rd Tuesdays
AB Plum - 2nd Tuesday
Diana Staresinic-Deane - 4th Tuesday
Clicking Our Heels (group post) - 1st Wednesday                           
Bethany Maines - 2nd & 4th Wednesdays
Kay Kendall - 3rd Wednesday
Sparkle Abbey - 1st Thursday
Juliana Aragon Fatula - 2nd & 4th Thursdays
Cathy Perkins - 3rd Thursday
Linda Rodriguez - 1st Friday
Debra H. Goldstein - 2nd Friday
Shari Randall -3rd Friday
T.K. Thorne - 4th Friday

I'm proud we’re such a diverse gang. For me, the members of this blog are so impressive
that I am constantly challenged to write at the highest level possible because they all do. For you, it means exposure to different thoughts, cultures, genres and writers you might not readily come across. I hope you enjoy this mix of writers as much as I do.     Debra

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Movie Stars Merry & Bright

by Sparkle Abbey

Judy posted earlier in the week about the traditions of holiday movies and we couldn't help but add our two cents worth on the topic because we love holiday movies. Do you like holiday movies? Do you have a favorite (or two or three) that you look forward to each year as they start appearing in the television line-up?

We love It's a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, The Holiday, and oh so many others. Such great stories and so many wonderful stars!

There's nothing like Zuzu Bailey proclaiming, "Teacher says, 'Every time a bell rings, an angel get his wings.'" Or Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Or Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Jude Law and all the madcap mixups in The Holiday.

But we have to tell you, there's a new kid on the block. A new entry in our favorite holiday movie must-see list. The Man Who Invented Christmas with Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Charles Dickens, and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge was a surprise as we hadn't heard much about it. But this telling of how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol did not disappoint!

Perhaps some of the charm for us was the protrayal of Dickens, the writer, and the difficulties he encounters as he tries to work out the plotline and get his characters to behave. And deal with real life difficulties at the same time. We won't give away any details, but if you get a chance, check out this new movie that's on our list of favorites.

Speaking of stars, we've been busy with the launch of our latest installment in the Pampered Pets mystery series, Barking with the Stars, and we'd love to give away a special holiday gift packet to celebrate. Just leave a comment below before midnight December 9th and we'll draw from among those commenting for a free Sparkle Abbey book and some other Christmas goodies.

Please share your favorite holiday movie, if you have one. Or if you're not into holiday movies, is there a movie that you re-watch each year?

Wishing you all things merry & bright and a great holiday season!
Sparkle Abbey

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series.


They love to hear from readers and you can find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. And if you want to make sure you're up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by their website and sign up for updates at sparkleabbey.com.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Movies That Makes Us Laugh and Cry

Clicking Our Heels – Movies That Make Us Laugh and Cry
Like books, movies impact emotions. The Stiletto Gang thought we’d suggest some of our favorite films for a good laugh or cry.
Dru Ann LoveImitation of Life made my cry. What’s Up Doc made me laugh.
Paula Benson – During times of stress, I have three go-to-movies that always life me up with laughter and make me ready to face the world again: Legally Blonde, Bridget Jones Diary, and Shakespeare in Love.  Then, I have to admit a real fondness for Sneakers, due to all the wonderful performers, the puzzles, and the conclusion.
Cathy PerkinsCollateral Beauty (made me cry). I watched this one on the plane coming back from a business trip. Will Smith stars in this movie about a parent’s grief over losing a child.
Juliana Aragon Fatula -  Gone With the Wind – Don’t listen to Miss Prissy. She don’t know nuttin’ bout birthin’ no baby. Yellowbird and Blazing Saddles always make me laugh.                                                                                                                     
Linda RodriguezSongcatcher is a movie I’ve loved that didn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s a superb little film about the Great Smokies, the original homeland of my people, and always makes me cry.
Bethany Maines Clue – A movie based on a board game should never work, but not only does Clue work, it succeeds brilliantly. The dialogue is razor sharp and delivered at a machine gun pace by actors working at their best. Tim Curry anchors the movie with a wicked grin and the rest of the cast from Eileen Brennan, to Christopher Lloyd, and Madeline Kahn fill the screen with enough shenanigans that it needs multiple viewings to catch all the jokes.  Added to the acting is some brilliant editing that operates the movie in real time (a character says “the police will be here in thirty minutes” and you can time it yourself, the police do indeed show up in thirty minutes), and gives the viewer a multiple choice ending. It makes me laugh EVERY time I watch it. I wish more people were aware of it, because it’s truly a classic.
Kay KendallFrench Kiss (starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, released in 1995) has several scenes that make me laugh out loud, no matter how times I watch it. Kevin Kline is a delightfully sly Frenchman forced to turn crook, and Meg Ryan plays his unwitting accomplice, an American tourist running from her fiancé who two-timed her.
Debra H. Goldstein – No matter how many times I see it, the subtle and not so subtle lines in Miss Congeniality make me laugh. Similarly, as hokey as the movie can be, there is a moment in An Affair to Remember that always make teary eyed.
Sparkle Abbey:
  Anita – There are so many!  Movies that make me laugh in no particular order: The Princess Bride, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Airplane, The Great Outdoors, Steel Magnolias (it makes me cry too!), and Some Like it Hot.  Movies that make me cry: Imitation of Life, An Affair to Remember, Penny Serenade, Marley and Me, My Dog Skip, Old Yeller.
  Mary Lee – Oh my, Ditto on all of Anita’s list. I cried for a couple of days when I saw Old Yeller. Another for me is Toy Story 3. I know it’s animated but it always makes me cry. It is so funny and great for kids, but also extremely poignant. The main “toy” story and the human sub-plot is all about growing and changing. As far as movies that make me laugh: All of Me, Birdcage, Miss Congeniality, Airplane, and I loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Jennae Phillippe – So many! The one that comes to mind these days is Swing Kids about a group of rebel kids in Germany that listen to swing music and go to dance halls – until they get caught stealing a radio and two of them start to get indoctrinated into the SS. Only one manages to resist. The end of that movie makes me cry every time, even if I only watch the last 15 minutes.
A.B. PlumWonder Woman – the hero’s reaction to WW catching him naked coming out of a hot springs bath is laugh-out funny and sweet and innocent. The scene that made me cry was Wonder Woman’s arrival at the front line near the end of WWI.  That was a gruesome war that definitely should have ended all wars given the number of deaths, lives destroyed, and nightmares suffered by shattered survivors.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Frustration and Counting Your Spoons

by J.M. Phillippe

I have had a very frustrating week, followed by a frustrating weekend. I suppose part of this is the nature of the holiday season -- too many things squeezed into too little a space of time. Part of this is connected to my day-job and what feels like a never-ending and overwhelming work load. And part of this is just vicarious frustration as so many of my clients are also feeling their ire rise.

In simple terms, frustration is the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something. Frustration tolerance is the idea that we have a capacity for how much frustration we can tolerate without having some sort of emotional breakdown.


What I try to get my clients to understand is that everyone has limited daily energy. That energy is being used up by all sorts of things. I have people picture a battery -- throughout the day, every task they do takes energy from that battery. The lower their battery level, the greater the percentage of what they have left each new task takes. In short, the more you have on your plate, the less energy you have for each thing, and that includes emotional energy. The end result is that your frustration tolerance goes down, and those little things that you might be able to brush off with a full battery -- like traffic, rude people, or even dropping your keys -- suddenly feel like really big deals because you have so little energy left to deal with them.

Other people use the spoon theory to describe what life is like with chronic illness (physical or mental) or chronic pain -- the idea that your battery (or in this case, the number of spoons you have) is already lower than someone else not dealing with that condition:


The point of both analogies -- batteries or spoons -- is to recognize when your levels are low. Because when your levels are low, your irritability will be higher, your problem solving skills will be impaired, and your emotions in general will be closer to the surface.

So as we move forward into the holiday season, and the multitude of things that comes with it, please be sure to keep track of your battery levels. You will need to recharge them -- with rest, with time for yourself, with delegating tasks to other people, with turning down obligations. And more importantly, you need to practice self kindness when you start to lost it -- snap at your loved ones, get emotional over small things, or feel too drained to do as good a job as you want to. It just means your battery -- and your frustration tolerance level -- is low.

***

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.