Monday, May 30, 2011

Meeting Deadlines

Come Hell or High Water

My life seems to be defined by deadlines these days. From me: "Send me your author events by..." "I need your book cover by.." To me: "We need to get this sent out by..." "The printer needs this by... " and the latest "Get your guest blog to me by..."

I'm not complaining. My head might be spinning as I try to figure out how to juggle everything, but no complaints. I love being a writer/editor/designer/administrator, even if I do suffer from multiple personality issues some days.

Deadlines are useful. For instance, if I had set a firm date for getting my car serviced, I wouldn't be getting my winter tires switched out at the end of May. I get the Crime Writers of Canada publications out on schedule and meet the deadlines of my publisher. Maybe the laundry and dishes would get done on time if I imposed a time limit.

Or not.

My catch phrase for impending deadlines is "Come Hell or high water, I'll get it done." Somehow, I have a feeling if I tried applying it to household chores, I'd happily let the laundry go to Hell and let the dishes soak in the high water.

Next week "On the Virtual Trail with Under A Texas Star" with a guide to the blogs on the trail. I'll have it all organized in time for my regular blog... come Hell or high water.

Under A Texas Star
by Alison Bruce, Imajin Books
Now available at Amazon Kindle Store and Smashwords for only $3.99.
Trade paperback and other ebook retailers coming soon.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Write What You Know


There are three way to "know" something (setting aside the biblical sense). You can know by past experience - been there, done that. You can know by research  - I read that somewhere. And you can know by experimentation.

Here are the results of my latest experiment.

I've been invited to do a guest blog for Authors and Appetizers. This is a natural fit for me as I often combine exposition with meals in my books. (That comes under the heading of knowing from past experience; all our family's important discussions happen around the dining room table.) Since Under A Texas Star takes place in Texas, TexMex food seemed like a good idea. I cook a mean chili con carne, regularly make quesadillas, burritos and tacos - favourites of my kids - but I don't use a recipe. My dishes never taste the same way twice.

I thought I better do some kitchen testing to get an idea about proportions. Here is a recipe you won't see on Authors and Appetizers.

Salsa Fresca Con Queso

Day 1
  1. Look in the cupboard and realize you don't have any of the herbs and spices you need.
  2. Go shopping. While browsing in the bulk spices, get this brilliant idea for a barbeque blend that satisfies the food allergies of all your family and friends.
  3. Buy enough bulk spices to last a year.
  4. Decide you're going to do it all by scratch, so you pick up a few fresh tomatoes instead of a large can of crushed tomatoes.
  5. Buy Key Limes because they are so small and cute.
  6. Pick up a couple of Jalapeno peppers
  7. Set everything aside because you're too tired to tackle cooking after doing the grocery shopping

Day 2
  1. While making up your brilliant barbeque spice, throw handfuls of coarse salt, mixed peppercorns, crushed chili peppers, crystal sugar and herbs to taste in a bowl with too few tomatoes. (Completely forget about the Jalapenos - which turns out just as well.)
  2. Squeeze the juice out of three Key Limes because they are so tiny
  3. Crush the ingredients and realize you should have pulverized the peppercorns first
  4. Pull out the hand blender and pulverize everything
  5. Taste
  6. Drink a full glass of milk to rescue mouth
  7. Add some more sugar
  8. Taste
  9. Drink a full glass of milk to rescue mouth
  10. Pull out the package of cream cheese that you were going to use for something else and blend it into the mixture
  11. Taste
  12. Add the half tub of spreadable cream cheese that's left from your son's bagel and cream cheese breakfast, blend. No point tasting; your taste buds are fried.
  13. Put in closed container and refrigerate over night.

Day 3
  1. Tell everyone you meant to make Salsa Con Queso all along
  2. Serve with nachos.(It tasted great.)

To find out what recipe will be in Authors and Appetizers, check out the blog in the second week in June. Check back here for the exact date.

Under A Texas Star
by Alison Bruce, Imajin Books
Now available at Amazon Kindle Store and Smashwords for only $3.99.
Trade paperback and other ebook retailers coming soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fuelled by Coffee

The Good, the Bad and the "You call that coffee?"

Evidently, every episode of Sienfeld had a Superman figurine somewhere. Everything I write has coffee. As I write this, I am drinking Free Trade coffee (whole bean, ground by myself and french pressed) out of the tin mug on the left and listening to that old classic: "Let's have Another Cup of Coffee" (the Glenn Miller version).

 One of my favourite family memories is dawn on Tybee Island. It was the last holiday with my mother - taken after she recovered from her first course of chemotherapy. Mum, my sister and I were sitting on the hotel deck, sipping coffee in Styrofoam cups, watching the sun come up over the Atlantic.

I remember the first time I drank coffee and liked it. I was twenty-one, living in a cold, damp house in Drayton Valley, Alberta, with six other members of Katimavik (a Canadian youth program). I think it was Pierre that brewed the coffee, camp style, in a pot on the stove. It had a kick like a mule, but it cut though the damp and cold like a shot of single malt.

Before that, I was strictly a tea drinker. I attribute my being a late bloomer to my mother who made terrible coffee. It was either instant (shudder) or too weak. When I was going to Ryerson, I'd often get a ride downtown when my Dad took Mum to work. Mum and Dad would have instant coffee for the trip. I'd have tea. Sometimes Dad would give me his coffee by mistake - he couldn't tell the difference between my tea and his weak instant coffee. I could, but usually I'd check too late.

One of the many things I miss about my sister is that she could consistently make a great cup of coffee. Drip, press or espresso, Joanne never missed. I can't say the same. For one thing, there are mornings I need a cup of coffee before I can trust myself to make a cup of coffee.

It's all grist (or beans) for the mill as you can see in the following excerpt from Under A Texas Star. On the trail, Marly takes the first watch...

Just past midnight, Jase woke to the smell of coffee. As he stretched, Marly glanced up from the book and gave him a warm smile.

Coffee, company and that smile sure beats waking up alone, he thought.

Then he tasted the coffee. Good God.

He didn't mean to be rude. The expression on his face was a natural reflex.

"It's not very good," she admitted, "but if you sip it slowly, I guarantee you won't fall asleep."

Under A Texas Star
by Alison Bruce, Imajin Books
Now available at Amazon Kindle Store and Smashwords for only $3.99.
Trade paperback and other ebook retailers coming soon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Trail to Under A Texas Star - Part 4

UNDER A TEXAS STAR is now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

 Confessions of a Newly Published Author

Getting a publisher was the beginning of a new set of adventures. Fortunately, everyone at Imajin Books has been a joy to work with. This isn't always the case with new authors - or even well-established ones. In fact, getting published is a bit like getting pregnant. The moment people find out, you start hearing the horror stories.

First book and first baby are alike in other ways. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was worried about doing the right thing all the time. Everything I learned from observing my sister and taking care of my nieces seemed to go out the window. It was only when I heard my own lessons repeated back to me that I accepted that I wasn't as much of a novice as I thought.

I have had short fiction and articles published before. I've been in two anthologies. Heck, I used to be a micro-publisher (Women's Work). Not to mention I've been publicizing other authors' books and events on the Crime Writers of Canada website. But, just as with babies, it's a whole other level when it's your own.

So, if I get a little over-enthusiastic, or start gushing about how my book is doing, forgive me. Think of me as a new mother.

Under A Texas Star
by Alison Bruce, Imajin Books, May 2010
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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Trail to Under A Texas Star - Part 3

Getting Back on the Horse

You have heard the old adage: "Write what you know." I will freely admit I am not, nor have ever been, a cowboy, a Texas Ranger or a war orphan. However, like Marly Landers, I have fallen off a horse and got back on - in more ways than one.

In the most literal sense, Marly's first riding lesson borrows heavily on my own.

I love riding horses except for a few small details. I'm short and they are tall. I get dizzy being that high up assuming I can get up on the horse at all. The one and only time I took a riding lesson, I hoisted myself up into the saddle and fell off the other side. I eventually made it into the saddle with the help of a chair - Marly uses a fence.

Once I was in the saddle, I did remarkably well for a first-timer. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I was pretty good at getting the horse to go where I wanted him to go - but he went so fast. He wanted to trot when I would have been comfortable with a speed more suitable for a funeral procession.

The other impediment to my riding career was my allergies. By the time I dismounted, I could hardly breath. The itchy eyes and throat I could handle, but my asthma had me to the point where I thought my next stop might be the hospital.

Figuratively, getting back to working on Under A Texas Star was getting back on the horse.

For several years, I gave up fiction writing in order to make a living and take care of my family. I was slowly but surely building a career as a copywriter, editor and web designer when everything fell apart. Within a month, my mother was diagnosed with aggressive, small-cell lung cancer; my sister found out she had breast cancer; and they found a malignant tumour on one of my father's kidneys.

By the end of the year, my mother had died, I was pregnant with my second child and my marriage was falling apart. The following year, my sister almost died of complications after her cancer started attacking her bones. Shortly after that, my father had a massive stroke. Meanwhile, I was the oldest extant member of a postpartum depression group. It got me out of the house once a week and included free babysitting.

It was when I was taking care of my sister and her kids so she could be at home, that I finally got back on the horse. My sister Joanne arranged time so I could write. She strong-armed our Dad into not making demands on me during those periods.

I not only wrote, but I started submitting my writing - unsuccessfully at first - and joined Crime Writers of Canada in order to network with other authors. I entered contests, sucked up criticism and kept getting back on the horse.

Under A Texas Star
by Alison Bruce, Imajin Books, May 2010
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Concluded in Part 4