Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cottage Pie

I haven't done a food recipe in a while, so here's one. It's cottage pie, Regency style. The first mention of Cottage Pie was in 1791, when the Rev. James Woodford mentions eating it with roast beef for dinner.

•2 lbs ground beef
•1 tablespoon oil
•2 onions finely chopped
•2 tomatoes chopped or one small can of peeled, diced tomatoes
•2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
•1 cup beef stock or bouillon
•1/2 teaspoon thyme
•1/4 teaspoon sage
•1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
•1 tablespoon chopped parsley
•5 medium potatoes
•1/4 cup butter, softened
•1 cup milk
•salt and pepper
•1/4 pound shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the beef in oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Drain most of the accumulated fat from the pan. Sauté onions until tender, and then add chopped tomatoes and cook for 2–3 minutes. Add broth and stir in herbs, seasonings, and flour. Return brown meat to skillet and continue cooking for 5–15 minutes on low heat untill almost all of the liquid has been absorbed. Transfer mixture to an ovenproof casserole.

Place diced potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and place over high heat. Allow to come to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain.

Mash potatoes until smooth, then add butter, followed by milk. Whip until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread potatoes over beef filling (scoring them with a fork) and dot with butter. For a non-traditional pie, sprinkle with grated Cheddar cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven (25 minutes at 400 degrees or 30–40 minutes at 375 degrees) until top is browned and cheese is bubbly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Heroes & Hearbreakers

New blog on Heroes & Heartbreakers: Fresh Meat: Stephanie Laurens, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Candice Hern, and Mary Balogh’s It Happened One Season (March 29, 2011).

Operation Auction

Operation Auction is a benefit organized in support of Fatin and her family in the wake of the loss of her husband.

Fatin has been an integral part of the romance community for years—she owns and runs the RR@H Novel Thoughts and Book Talk blog, is an administrator of the WriteMinded loop, an author assistant, and a tireless advocate for romance novels. On Tuesday, March 8, she lost her husband in a senseless act of violence, leaving her alone with four children. You can read more about the tragedy HERE.

Author Tessa Dare has donated a customized amateur book video shot in her Darelings' room with all the attendant props. Calling all authors to bid on this fun book promo.

Here's a sample of Tessa's videoing abilities: a book trailer of her Stud Club Trilogy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Collection

Copyrighted by "A room without books is like a body without a soul." —Cicero

"Books to the ceiling. Books to the sky. My pile of books are a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I'll have a long beard by the time I read them." —Arnold Lobel

I took their words to heart.

I hoard books. There, I’ve confessed it in electronic ink. (I also hoard other things but I'm not going to confess to that here or elsewhere.)

To hoard is to squirrel away. My books are in plain sight. Hoard also means treasure, which I do, and to store in large quantities, which I do, too.

I have four tall bookcases in the study upstairs, four equally tall ones in the library downstairs, and one short one in the little people room. Then I have stashes in the living room, in the family room, on bedside tables, and on the desk in the kitchen.

The very covetousness nature of my book habit has me displaying books from my single-digit salad years, which, if you know me, was a very long time ago. One of the bookshelves in the library is filled with unread books just waiting to be read (snort).

Copyrighted by Daniel Hurst Photography I have signed books I disliked, but because they were addressed to me, I keep them. I have books that I don't particularly like, but I keep them, because I have had them for a very long time. History! I have classics that I absolutely hated(!!) but if you claim to be a reader, you better have those prominently on your shelves. Tradition! I have books, I have no interest is ever reading, but they hang out on the to-be-read (TBR) bookshelf, because you never know, a miracle could occur, and I'd read those books.

Copyrighted by Coffee table photobooks make great gifts, but after the first few perusals, they are relegated to organized, artistic arrangements next to photographs or acting as shelves for said photographs. They are nothing more than dust collectors at that point. The only book that gets a lot of use in our house is the atlas.

Of course, my beloved signed books, my cache of entire backlists of authors I have fanatic zeal for, the dictionary and thesaurus, the research books for the current writing project, the books with pretty covers showcasing my frivolous side, pristine journals, the valuable books donated to me by people I admire — these are my treasures. They are irreplacable.

Copyrighted by I leave you with these:

"Wear the old coat and buy the new book." —Austin Phelps

"So there you have it: a lifetime of first smelling the books, they all smell so wonderful, reading the books, loving the books, and remembering the books." —Ray Bradbury

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors and the most patient of teachers." —Charles W. Eliot

Which treasures line your bookshelves? If you're reading this blog, most likely, you have a book habit akin to mine. Do share, so I don't feel quite so guilty.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heroes & Heartbreakers

New blog on Heroes & Heartbreakers: The Whey Water Version of Love scene from Christina Dodd’s medieval story CANDLE IN THE WINDOW.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Picture Day Friday

One day, I'd like to go here: Antarctica...

Copyrighted by

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blogs Around the Web

Hot for the Scots is a post on my top three favorite Julie Garwood Medievals for Heroes & Heartbreakers, Macmillan.

My comments on How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal have been published by the Los Angeles Chronicle.

Poem: I Am Woman Enough by Erica Mann Jong

For all the readers and writers I know and those who I don't know who come here to Cogitations & Meditations to read my thoughts, here's a poem for you.

Woman Enough is by Erica Mann Jong, author of Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life.

Because my grandmother's hours
were apple cakes baking,
& dust motes gathering,
& linens yellowing
& seams and hems
inevitably unraveling
I almost never keep house
though really I like houses
& wish I had a clean one.

Because my mother's minutes
were sucked into the roar
of the vacuum cleaner,
because she waltzed with the washer-dryer
& tore her hair waiting for repairmen
I send out my laundry,
& live in a dusty house,
though really I like clean houses
as well as anyone.

I am woman enough
to love the kneading of bread
as much as the feel
of typewriter keys
under my fingers
springy, springy.
& the smell of clean laundry
& simmering soup
are almost as dear to me
as the smell of paper and ink.

I wish there were not a choice;
I wish I could be two women.
I wish the days could be longer.
But they are short.
So I write while
the dust piles up.

I sit at my typewriter
remembering my grandmother
& all my mothers,
& the minutes they lost
loving houses better than themselves
& the man I love cleans up the kitchen
grumbling only a little
because he knows
that after all these centuries
it is easier for him
than for me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Meet Cute

Hollywood uses the term "meet cute" to describe the first time the hero and heroine come together.

Film critic Roger Ebert has said that the meet cute scene is one "in which somebody runs into somebody else, and then something falls, and the two people began to talk, and their eyes meet and they realize that they are attracted to one another."

This first meeting sets in motion the emotional plot of the story, the ahhh moment, the catch in the throat, the faster heartbeat. The more dramatic and romantic that meeting, the more believable it is for us that this represents a major turning point in the hero's and heroine's lives.

If done right, a virtual stage has already been set up before that crucial meeting—where the hero and the heroine are, what time it is, their names, and what they look like—so we can see them and watch the unfolding action. But it's not just the impactful circumstances of the meeting that make it memorable.

It's that all important micro-moment—within the first meeting—that sets up the promise of a truly great romance. That recognition of each other and the silent acknowledgment that something exciting is in the air between them, signifies for us the start of their process of falling irrevocably in love.

Very often the most romantically significant moments are when nothing is said at all and not much is done either. Full-on copulation is not necessary for the hero and heroine to recognize that "this is the one." The dramatic suspenseful moment could a shared look across a crowded room, an accidental brush of his hand against hers, an unexpected act of kindness on one of their parts.

Which is your favorite meet cute in a book? What about your own meet cute?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Swoonworthiest Scene: Laura Kinsale

The "Confronting the Quakers" Scene from Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm for Heroes & Heartbreakers' blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Lust

[This blog of mine was first published by Romance Novel TV. I'm reposting it here with their permission.]

Louisa May Alcott wrote of Jo March, "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." This is certainly true of rock star librarian Nancy Pearl. As the winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award and the author of Book Lust and More Book Lust, she certainly knows about books "for every mood, moment, and reason."

With over 175 lists of recommended books, in her first work alone, I was eager to read what she had to say about romance.

"Nonsense" was her comment when romance readers see the need to qualify their love of the genre with, "I know it's not good literature, but…"

Of course, I agree. We read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world. We read to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to marvel over how writers use language, and for the pure wonderment of it all. We also read for company and for escape. And romance novels provide the perfect escapist brew.

Pearl divides her romance list into: historical, Regency, contemporary, action-suspense, and paranormal. A large category missing from this list is erotic romance.

Among the classics, Pearl gives a nod to Austen, the Brontes, du Maurier, Baroness Orczy, Georgette Heyer, and Victoria Holt. Absent from this section are Regina Towers who wrote for Candlelight Regencies, Joan Smith for Fawcett, Janet Louise Roberts, and many more. Perhaps the most egregious loss is the doyenne of romance Barbara Cartland, who sold over a billion copies of her 723 books and left behind 160 unpublished manuscripts.

Under paranormals, she covers Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, La Nora, Rita Clay Estrada, Dinah McCall, Amanda Quick, and Jacqueline Marten. Missing are JR Ward, Teresa Medeiros, and Brenda Joyce.

Historicals and Regencies include Joan Wolf, Carla Kelly, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, Dorothy Garlock, Julie Garwood, and LaVyrle Spencer; however the absence of the following is marked: Mary Jo Putney, Laura Kinsale, Loretta Chase, Mary Reed McCall, Christina Dodd, JoAnn Ross among many others.

Jennifer Cruise and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are huge in the contemporary section, but not on Pearl's list, whereas Suzanne Brockmann and Elizabeth Lowell are the sole upholders of the suspense category. Another noticeable lack in the list was the mention of the small group of men who write romances, either under female pseudonyms or in partnership with a woman (Toni Carrington). Some like James Rollins are card carrying members of the Romance Writers of America.

Given that romance fiction if 54.9% of all popular mass-market fiction sold and 39.3% of all fiction sold according to RWA, Pearl's attention to the genre was disappointing at best. I will, however, conscientiously take her following advice.

"One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they're not enjoying, no matter how popular or well reviewed the book is."

What are your top ten favorite authors? Top ten favorite books? Which categories, authors, and books would you say should've been on Pearl's list but weren't? Lastly, do you agree with Pearl about abandoning a wall-banger, i.e., a book deemed unenjoyable despite strenuous efforts?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Grew Up On A Farm

My comments on children's book I Grew Up On A Farm by Alan Lewis have been published by the Los Angeles Chronicle.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Weeds

Libraries are "responding aggressively to market preferences" just like bookstores. That statement simply boggles the mind.

So, how do our local libraries determine the content of their collections? With limited funds and space, no library is ever truly all things to all people. Twenty-four months with no activity and the book is weeded out. Classics, novels, nonfiction, reference—nothing is exempt. If no one is reading them, librarians take them off the shelves and either sell them or dump them.

Public libraries have always purged old or unpopular books to make way for newer titles. However, these days, library administrators are calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves and figuring out which "products" will generate the biggest buzz.

While a part of me understands the economics behind this, the reader in me is horrified that those dusty tomes are no longer to be found in libraries. I consider free public access to all books to be one of the basic rights, ranking right up there with the freedom of speech. Never be able to read the classics is like losing a part of history—a history of the language, of thought, culture, society...of the very people.

So, what do you think about these necessary steps taken by libraries to stay current and afloat?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Medieval Town image copyrighted by NYPD Gaelic Football Club.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Date a Reader

In a departure from my usual posts, comes this fiery post by Rosemarie Urquico titled Date A Girl Who Reads in response to Charles Warnke's You Should Date An Illiterate Girl. I'm posting Rosemarie's response here in its entirety, because it deserves a full read.

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2am clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Video Day Friday

Today's usually Picture Day Friday. But since I already did a slew of Oscar pictures on Monday, I'm doing a Video Day Friday.

Here's Georgian music not from England of the eighteenth century but from Georgia, Shenma Survilma Damlia, along with soaring views of Georgian countryside.

Midwest Book Review

From time to time I shall be commenting on books for the Midwest Book Review. The first two of my pieces have been published HERE and include comments on Hattie, Get a Haircut! by Jenna Glatzer and What Not To Wear by Tinny Woodall & Susannah Constantine.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Manly Men in Red High Heels

My post for the Heroes & Heartbreakers blog on Jo Beverley's Rothgar and Georgette Heyer's Avon has been published. Do go and read.

Romance Trading Cards for Authors

A chat on Twitter has turned into a fun promotion idea for RT 2011 and RWA 2011, says author Jeannie Lin. "Authors can create and print their own cards featuring a character from their books: hero, heroine, villain, or the couple. Bring the cards to signings and conferences for readers to collect and trade."

Jeannie Lin is spearheading this idea. Here are some more details on the cards:

—Actual print size is 2.5 x 3.5
—There is a back and front template. You are free to do whatever you wish with either side, but this is the intention:
—a. Front: Full image of your cover. Border is optional
—b. Back: Romance trading card border with your character info in the middle. The character profile may include an image (original art, stock images, icons, or part of cover), stats, biography or book info, favorite lines, your website. The back design is COMPLETELY open.
—Create the images in your imaging program and save them as .jpg files. Notice how they need to be flipped on their side horizontally before sending to the printer
—Go to and select Collector Cards (2.5 x 3.5). Put in your order. The standard is 14-point, gloss cover, color on both sides, no rounded edges
—Upload your images and complete your order

Here are two samples by Jeannie Lin and Moira Rogers:

For more information, read the FAQ.

Jeannie has created a basic TEMPLATE to create your own cards.

Join the Web Tutorial on Romance Trading Card Templates and GIMP on March 5, 7-9pm EST. E-mail Jeannie for the link and the password. For now, follow the conversation via the Twitter hashtag #romancetradingcards.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

St. David's Day

In honor of St. David's Day, the national day of Wales, here's a video of Ioan Gruffudd performing bardic poetry in Welsh:

Thanks to authors Liz Fielding and Susanna Kearsley for the link to the video.

It's an anonymous Welsh poem from the Book of Taliesin, or Llyfr Taliesin from the sixth century. Some also say it's from the mythological collection Mabinogion from the thirteenth century.

Here's some of English translation:

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin.
I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.