Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Great Holiday Appetizer

It has been awhile since I have posted a recipe.  Its the holiday time and I was looking for something that would make a great appetizer for those holiday get togethers.  Well turns out that oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food; zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system, is needed for wound healing, helps maintain your sense of taste and smell.  So this appetizer is not only delicous but good for you also!

Broiled Oysters with Jalapeño Pesto

½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

½ cup cilantro leaves chopped and plucked

2-3 jalapeño peppers

¼ cup plain dry bread crumbs

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 garlic cloves peeled

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

30 fresh oysters

Combine basil, cilantro, jalapeños, breadcrumbs, cheese, ¼ cup water, lemon juice, and garlic in processor. Blend until mixture is finely chopped. Add butter and process until smooth paste forms. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper. Preheat broiler. Arrange oysters in half shells on 2 large baking sheets. Top each oyster with 1 ½ teaspoons pesto. Working in batches, broil until pesto begins to brown, about 1 ½ minutes. Place 3 oysters on each plate and serve. Serves 10.

Goes great with Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars Vin de Porche. This wine has an inviting floral fragrance. On the palate, the overall impression is one of smooth refreshing dryness with flavors that resemble a mix of fresh strawberries and cherries.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Dog Gone Dog

Since I've been posting some of my writing, I thought I'd post a short story I wrote some time back based off The Wine Lover's Mysteries. This "short" stars the sidekicks in the series--Simon, Marco, and the ever-loveable Rhodesian Ridgeback Ollie. I also offer this short up on amazon but for some reason am unable to figure out how I can put it up there for nothing. I had to put a miniumum price of .99, so I figured i would just put it here on the blog.

Ollie (Nikki and Derek's dog) is one of my favorite characters to write. I did not have a Ridgeback when I strated the wine mysteries, but we got one about a year later. Our ridgeback is named Java and he has quite a personality on him. He is certainly not convinced that he is a dog. He's pretty sure he's a human and possibly even king of all humankind. As Java has been around for the past five years now, I have developed much of Ollie's character from him--although Ollie is a bit more intelligent.

I hope you enjoy!


“See, you don’t have to wear anything with a label on it to look divine,” Marco said, his Italian accent punctuating the end of his words. He pinched his fingers together. “Magnifico, mi amoré.”

His partner of five years mustered a smile that he hoped convinced Marco he was as happy to go along with this nonsense as Marco seemed to be as happy to give up designer duds, expensive champagne, and tuberose scented candles flown in direct from Hawaii. “Oh yes, I love the Goodwill specials,” Simon replied. He sipped his coffee while looking out of the bay window that showcased the vineyard where they lived. Rows of soil like spun brown silk lay the groundwork for tangled and twisted vines stretching toward the powder blue morning sky. Fruit filled with the juice from golden, red and deep purple grapes spent lazy days being cultivated into perfection. The kind of perfection that paid for Dolce and Gabbana, Prada and Kenneth Cole for God’s sakes and here was Simon drinking herbal tea craving a hazelnut (sugar free syrup) mocha from Bouchon Bakery and wearing a two dollar T-shirt from the Goodwill! It was out of hand. Where was Nikki when a man needed her?

Oh yes, Snow White had run off for the weekend with her Prince Charming, Simon’s brother. Outside of Marco, Nikki was Simon’s b.f.f. and she and his brother Derek Malveaux, who owned the prestigious Malveaux Winery, hotel and spa, had been shacking up for the last few months. Nikki and Derek had taken off for a weekend to Mendocino for some R&R and to plan their upcoming nuptials. And here Simon was in a dilemma.

He and Marco had been following The Guru Sansibaba for the last couple of years. The New Age spiritual leader had changed their lives for the better in many ways. Simon felt he could deal with past unresolved issues, plan a future and work through whatever needed working through with his soul mate—Marco.

The problem was (and Simon didn’t think Marco was willing to work through it because they’d already broken up over it once before) Marco had delved in far more deeply into the spiritual side of life. He’d taken their Guru’s messages to the extreme and these days acted more like a monk than the fun loving hot Italian guy he’d fallen in love with. The problem was Marco expected Simon to give up anything and everything that had some kind of materialistic connotation to it. However, Simon had held his guard when Marco suggested they sell the Porsche and buy a Prius. He was all about a green earth, but c’mon! Some things simply weren’t negotiable. But because the Porsche still remained in the drive, he’d had to agree to give a little. Relationships were all about compromise, right? Some compromise. He was wearing something called Safari Club.

He eyed Ollie sleeping on Derek and Nikki’s couch—also known as the dog’s bed. Ollie belonged to his brother and b.f.f, and he and Marco had agreed to take care of the one hundred pound Rhodesian Ridgeback while the two lovebirds were off being soooo in love. Simon knew that Nikki would never ask Derek to give up his ridiculous Levi’s he wore on a regular basis, and Derek would never ask Nikki to give up her pen chance for playing Miss Marple. Oh, oops, Derek actually had done that quite a few times. Nikki had a curious nature that had gotten her and Marco and Simon in trouble more than once or twice even. Snow White’s (Simon’s nickname for Nikki) trouble always consisted of a dead body or two and a lot of deception, manipulation and treachery. She was a regular Sherlock Holmes and Simon was her Watson, and right now this Watson needed his Holmes to go shopping with.

Ollie scratched behind his ear and yawned. Simon shook his head and rolled his eyes. “That dog…” before he could finish that thought, he changed it in mid-sentence. Initially Simon had planned to say something like this to his beloved. “That dog thinks he owns the place.” But something struck him mid-sentence—a brilliant thought. “That dog is really pretty sweet. He’s growing on me. I think I’ll take him for a walk.” He lifted up his mug of coffee to cover up the smug smile spreading across his face.

Marco took his hand. “Oh you are such a good man. Look at you now; you finally understand what it means to truly give to another soul. Wait until Nikki and Derek hear of this. But what about your allergies?”

Simon batted a hand in the air. “I’ve already taken my allergy medicine, hon. I am good to go. In fact, I think we’ll take a little tour through town. It’s the Farmer’s Market today and I think Mr. Ollie there would love to stretch his legs.” Ollie’s idea of stretching was apparent, as he was stretched out across the sofa at the moment and doubtfully wanted to move too far.

“I could go with you,” Marco said.


Marco looked at him oddly.

“I mean no that’s okay. Really. You and the dog…I mean, Ollie have a bond already. I think we need to have some of our own bonding time, you know, kind of like a brother thing. We are going to be family soon.” He smiled and almost gagged on his sentiment.

Marco frowned. “Okay. Yes, of course. You two go and have a little bit time together. I do have some work I need to do around here.”

“Good. Alrighty then. We’ll be back before you even miss us.” Simon finished his coffee and stood up. “Come on Ollie, let’s go. Wanna go for a walk?”

Ollie opened his eyes but didn’t move. Simon patted his leg, “Come on boy. Let’s go!” He put every ounce of enthusiasm he could muster into his voice. He’d witnessed Nikki and Derek do this a million times with Ollie and the pooch typically at least gave them a wag of the tail, and not this stare down that seemed to say, “You’re kidding me, right?”

Marco walked to the kitchen and got something out of the fridge. “Try this.” He came over and handed Simon a piece of lunch meat.

“A bribe?”

Marco nodded. “It will work.”

Simon waved the meat in front of Ollie who perked right up, slid off the couch and followed him as if he were Cesar Milan. “You’re right. It does work.”

“Wait, wait a minute,” Marco said.

Simon stopped. Could Marco have figured out his little ploy? He batted his eyelashes. “Yes, darling?”

“A leash. You will need his leash. I’ll get it. It is hanging by the back door.”

As Marco walked to the back of the house, Simon closed his eyes and sighed. He was still on his way to a day of splendor and glory amongst rows of styles straight out of GQ Magazine. Nothing could stop him now. He patted his accomplice on the top of his head and whispered. “We’re going to have a good time, my friend.” Ollie eyed him with his big brown eyes; a wrinkle creased across the top of his brow. Simon shrunk back, frowning. “You could use some Botox in that area.”

The Ridgeback plunked down on the floor at Simon’s feet.

“Oh no you don’t. Get up.”

Marco came back with the leash, bent down and hooked it onto Ollie’s collar. “Okay, you must impart the energy in you that you want him to follow. Remember that you are the leader.”

Simon stared at him. “Excuse me, but you have been watching way too much Animal Planet.”

Marco shrugged. “I love Cesar.”

“I’m jealous. Come on dog. Let’s go for a walk.”

Ollie reluctantly stood.

“Remember your energy,” Marco yelled as Simon and Ollie walked out the front door.

“Energy, schmenergy. I’m taking my good doggie Ollie for a little jaunt. We’re going to have a blast.” Simon opened the passenger side on the Porsche and tilted the back seat forward and patted the smooth black leather. Ollie stood his ground and looked at him. “Come on, let’s go,” Simon ordered.

Ollie didn’t budge.

“Come on!” Simon said with a bit more force. Maybe there was something to this energy thing.

No. Ollie stayed put, so Simon made another plea. “Goddammit, get in the car.” Ollie put a paw up on the front seat. “Oh no, no, no. You ride in the back.” Ollie didn’t move his paw. Simon stared him down. “Fine! You win! Up, up!” He patted the front seat now and Ollie pulled his one hundred pound frame into the front of the sports car. Simon hustled around and got into the driver seat. He looked over at the dog. “Oh gawd. Okay if you insist on being a prima donna, then here.” He took Marco’s pair of Gucci aviator shades off of the visor and placed them over Ollie’s eyes. Simon donned his matching glasses. “Okay then. We are off.”

Speeding down the highway toward St. Helena, Simon decided to make a pit stop. He was sick and tired of coffee from the can. For goodness sakes, who made coffee from canned beans, and already ground beans at that. This let go of all the wealth and material crap idea Marco had just wasn’t working for him. Who on the New Age chain said that you had to give up gourmet coffee and freshly baked pastries in the morning? Simon shook his head as he pulled up in front of Bouchon to purchase a gourmet coffee that would cost as much as that stupid store bought can of tar that Marco said was a sound decision. No need to spend money on such frivolous things as coffee, he’d told him the other day. Well, why the hell not? They had the money! And as far as he was concerned good coffee was one of the necessities in life, not a luxury.

He patted Ollie and said, “Okay, now you be a good boy and I’ll be right back.”

The aroma in the bakery put an immediate smile on Simon’s face. Bliss! Fresh baked goods, organically grown coffee beans that took one straight to the fields of Colombia. Oh and the sound of that espresso machine. Couldn’t ask for more than that!

He stepped up to order. “I’ll take a double mocha with hazelnut syrup. The sugar free syrup.” He patted his stomach. “Gotta keep the figure. Also I think I’ll take a buttered croissant.” The girl behind the counter nodded. The croissants at Bouchon were scrumpdeliocious—gooey, warm, flaky and so buttery. A rolled up piece of heaven.

He grabbed his things and got back into the car. Ollie with his shades still on glanced at him, his nose working over time. He nudged Simon’s hand causing him to nearly spill his mocha. “Hey! Stop that. This is for me.” He put his coffee in the drink holder and set the croissant on a napkin in his lap. Ollie whined. “Okay, you can have a bite.” Simon tore off a piece of the croissant and handed it to the dog. Nikki and Derek would have a conniption if they’d seen him do that. The Ridgeback was their kid and they only fed him that silly raw food diet. It smelled to high heaven. Who knew what was in it. He had to feed it to him last night because Marco was in town, and he could barely stomach the stuff. He’d had to use plastic gloves and breathe through his mouth. He almost puked from it. The dog looked to enjoy the croissant as much as that raw crap he ate every day. “That a boy. Now that’s some real food for you.”

They’d made it halfway to St. Helena when a sudden smell wafted through the car. Simon turned to Ollie who stared out the window aloof. “What the hell is that? Oh my God. Oh. God, Ollie! Ooh la la stinkapoop!” Simon rolled down the windows. It was to no avail because Ollie ripped another one, only this one was accompanied by sound effects. “That is toxic! Have you no couth? You should be ashamed.” Ollie tucked his head and tried to curl up on the seat, half of his large body off, his butt facing Simon. “Oh no you don’t. Sit back up, don’t you dare face that weapon in my direction.” Too late as Ollie continued to fire off his deadly farts. “Oh gross! Now I have to put down the convertible top and it’ll ruin my hair.”

Simon pulled off to the side of the road. He plugged his nose as he rolled up the windows and pressed the button that electronically slid the convertible top down. A creaking kind of screechy sound brought the convertible top to a halt in mid-air. “Oh hell! What now?”

He got out and went around to where the top was stuck and began wrenching with it. As he manually maneuvered it down, Ollie stood up and apparently figured that Simon wanted to play as he jumped out of the car. “Ollie!” Simon yelled and pointed to the car, “In!” He must have had his energy tuned to the right signal as Ollie immediately jumped back into the car. Simon got back in and looked over at the Ridgeback who wore an expression of, what’s your problem, buddy?

“Oh no! Look at what you did.” Simon got out of the car and ran around to the passenger side where he spotted a huge puddle, obviously filled by the sprinklers that had run that morning on the vines they were parked next to. There were now muddy paw prints all over the leather seats of the Porsche, and Ollie had the tell-tale signs of croissant crumbs on his mouth. He’d seized Simon’s moment out of the driver’s seat and finished off the rest of the pastry. Simon looked upward. “Why? Why? All I wanted to do was go and run my hands over a little Dolce. Maybe slip into something Prada.”

He found Ollie staring at him, his aviator shades askew, but oddly enough still on. Simon reached over and straightened them out. “A little set back is all. This has nothing to do with karma as Marco would insist. This just means I will only be that much more satisfied with my pending purchases. Onward and forward with our shopping spree.” He shook a finger at Ollie. “But from here on out, no more flatulence and no more shenanigans.”

They finally made it into St. Helena and Simon pulled up in front of his favorite store—Valentino’s. “I can’t take you in there like this. Look at you.” Ollie wagged his tail, shaking off some more mud. Simon frowned. “Oh okay. You know in a weird way, I sort of like you. God listen to me, I’m talking to a dog.” Ollie let out a low whine. “That’s right, you’re not just a dog, you’re a lion hunter.” Simon had been told umpteenth times by both Derek and Nikki that their pooch’s breed was initially bred to hunt lions in Africa.

Simon latched the leash onto Ollie and the two of them got out, heading into Valentino’s.

Before Ollie could get all four paws into the store, the lanky man behind the counter with so last year’s buzz cut came around shaking a finger at them. “Oh sorry, but no dogs allowed.”

Simon glanced down at Ollie who looked up at him and then faced the buzz cut. “This is not a dog. This is an African lion hunter.”

Buzz cut’s eyes widened. “Looks like a dog to me.”

“Nope. A very skilled, very highly intelligent lion hunter. An African lion hunter.”

“Australian, African, whatever… We don’t allow lion hunters in the store.”

“Well I…First of all there are no lions in Australia, and furthermore…,” Simon started to turn around and walk out when he spotted a perfectly gorgeous linen white sleeve button up that had an intricate design embossed into the white on white pattern. Again, he glanced down at Ollie. “Sorry pal. But looks like you have to wait in the car.”

Simon escorted the Ridgeback back to the Porsche. “I’ll only be a minute. Be good and stay put.” He examined the convertible top. It might not be the best idea to leave him in the car. There was a light pole on the charming sidewalk and it was only feet away from the front door to the store. Simon hemmed and hawed about tying him up to the pole. He thought about the shirt. He wanted the shirt. He needed the shirt. He wrapped the leash around the pole. “Okay, listen here, you lie down and be a good boy. Don’t bother anyone and I’ll be back in a minute.”

He rushed back into the store and grabbed the shirt. But then he found a pair of jeans he liked and a belt, and another shirt and another one. Oh God, then there were these luxurious half silk and cotton slacks in this cream color that with a black silk shirt he found, could be nothing less than stunning--especially with his blue eyes and platinum blonde hair. Before Simon knew it, an hour or more had passed. As buzz cut rang up his items, he felt terrible about leaving Ollie tied up to the pole for so long, so he bought him a really cute T-Shirt with a cross bones and skull logo on it. Kinda cute. Not Simon’s cup of tea, but the lion hunter would have a little style to him, especially with his sunglasses.

Almost orgasmically overjoyed, Simon pranced out of the store swinging his shopping bags and feeling like Sara Jessica Parker ala Sex and the City. “Ollie,” he called out, “Wait until you see what I …” Simon stopped dead in his tracks. He turned from side to side and then all the way around. He blinked several times and shook his head. But he kept coming up with the same result. Ollie was no longer tied to the pole. “Oh no, no, no, no!” he cried. Passers by stared at him. He grabbed a woman by the shoulder. “Have you seen my lion hunter?”


“Come on honey, this guy is a lunatic,” her husband said.

“I mean my dog,” Simon yelled. “My dog. He’s about this big and weighs at least a hundred pounds. He’s the color of a cinnamon latte.”

“Bernice, get away from him.”

The couple walked on and Simon was certain he’d been dropped into an episode of the old show The Twilight Zone. No one named anyone Bernice. Her parents should be ashamed.

Simon threw his bags into the trunk of the car and walked up and down both sides of the street asking anyone if they’d seen Ollie. Walking past Williams Sonoma, Simon spotted a set of amethyst colored wine glasses that were simply perfection for an excellent glass of Cabernet, and before he knew it, he sauntered on into the store. Picking up one of the glasses and looking at it into the light, he twirled it around.

The clerk came over to him. “We just got those in.”

“They’re lovely,” Simon said. He set one down and began to pick up another one when his cell rang. It was Nikki. Oh no. Ollie. Oh no. How had he gotten sidetracked so easily? Well, amethyst colored wine glasses in this particular shade were not exactly a dime a dozen. Crap! What if she knew Ollie was missing. She did have this weird sixth sense thing about her. He had no choice but to answer. He needed to sound normal. “Hi Snow White. How’s my favorite lovebird and my brother doing?”

“Great. The coast is beautiful and we’re having a really good time. How about you? I called the house and didn’t get an answer and then I called Marco on his cell, and he said that you had taken Ollie out for a walk. That’s so sweet. Where are you guys?”

Simon bit the side of his lip. Think quick. She’s no dummy. “Oh you know, out and about. Just in town for a little exercise.”

“Good. He’s not dragging you around, now is he? Sometimes he can do that when he’s on the leash.”

“Oh no. He’s great. Just a peach of a dog. A lion hunter. Love him and I’m like a regular old dog whisperer.”

“Okay. Are you sure everything is alright?” Nikki asked.

“Of course it is. Why? What are you asking me? Why wouldn’t it be? It’s not like I would lose him. I mean I know he’s like your child and all.”

“Right. Good. Well, I’m glad you two are out having fun together. Be careful. And don’t feed him anything that’s not on his diet, okay? He has a very sensitive stomach.”

“Oh you don’t have to worry about that, and trust me, I am always careful. Careful, careful, careful. Careful is my middle name. Alrighty Snow White, gotta run. Doggie needs me.”

“Gosh Simon, you really are the best.”

“Damn,” Simon said flip shutting his phone. “I need to find me that Ridgeback and fast or else, or else, oh God, Nikki will hate me and Marco will know I lied and my brother will kill me.”

The clerk in Williams Sonoma spoke up, “Would you like the glasses?”

“No. Of course not. I have to find a dog. A lion hunter to be exact.” Simon ran out of the store and again began cruising the main street in St. Helena. After two hours of walking in and out of stores asking anyone if they’d seen the Ridgeback, he felt defeated. He’d had to work really hard at not touching all the incredible merchandise his itchy fingers wanted to handle, and of course buy.

He turned the corner and decided to start looking down one of the side streets. About a block away he spotted a big brown dog. He squinted. Could it be? Oh yes, please let it be Ollie. He ran down the sidewalk yelling Ollie’s name, but as he reached the large animal who turned around, Simon realized he’d come face to face with none other than a pit bull baring his teeth at him. Simon turned on his heels and ran back the other way with Cujo in tow. His arms pumping, the beast barking and growling, Simon just knew he was a dead man running. He made it all the way to the Porsche, jumped in and was pulling out of the parking space when the monster jumped up and definitely scratched the side of the car. In hysterics, Simon sped away, sans Ollie, and now what had to be a few hundred dollar new paint job on his beloved sports car. What next? At least he had his new clothes. But as he thought about his purchases, he realized that not even Kenneth Cole nor Gianni Versace could heal his woes. He’d lost man’s best friend, and not just any man, but his b.f.f.’s dog and she was not a he. She was Snow White and had never done a mean thing in her life to Simon, and now he’d have to tell her that he’d lost Ollie, and how, and why. Derek would disown him, Marco would leave him, and Nikki would despise him. All to be dressed to impress. It wasn’t worth it.

He flipped the car around and decided that without the love of his life, his Snow White and his brother, he would have nothing. The dog, the lion hunter, Ollie was gone. Tears blurred his vision and he choked back a sob that stuck in his throat. Simon had a destination. He jammed the car into fifth and sped down the highway until he reached St. Peter’s Shelter, where he promptly took the bags from Valentino’s and set them on the receptionist’s desk.

She looked up at him in surprise. “What’s all this?”

“Some new clothes for some deserving soul.”

She peered in the bag. “They’re brand new, and well they appear to be rather expensive.”

Simon nodded.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

He nodded again.

“Let me write you up a receipt for your taxes, at least.”

“No. That’s not necessary.” He walked out and drove home, knowing he was headed to his very own persecution.

By the time he rolled up to the front gates at Malveaux he’d cried himself out while repeatedly listening to Celine sing, “Got Nothing Left.”

As he turned into Nikki and Derek’s drive praying Marco would not be there so he could have some time to pull himself together before he had to face the music, he slammed on the brakes. “Holy…” He jumped out of the car. There was Ollie standing next to Marco whose arms were crossed. The downturn of his lips meant he was likely not happy.

“Ollie, Ollie! I have been looking all over for you! I have been up and down and all around and here you are.” Simon bent down and rubbed the dog who gave him one big sloppy lick across the face.

“Do you want to tell me how you lost the dog?” Marco asked quite coolly.

Simon stood and for a second thought that maybe the way out of this one was a little white lie. But no, he’d already wracked up one too many bad karma points in the last few hours. He told the truth and nothing but, except for the part about getting sidetracked and nearly buying the wine glasses at Williams Sonoma.”

Marco stood there, arms still crossed, shaking his head. “You know I had a feeling today that you were using the Ridgeback to be devious and I was right. I followed you this morning.”

“You did?”

“Yes. I watched you go in and get your coffee and croissant, then the fiasco on the side of the road, which was rather funny. And I knew where you were going from there—straight to Valentino’s.”

“How come I didn’t spot you?” Simon asked.

“Is that really the point? I drove one of the old trucks we use around here.”


“Oh is right.” Marco shook a finger at him.

“So do you hate me?”

“I thought about it. But after kidnapping Ollie, I came home and reread some of The Sansibaba’s latest book. I can’t change you and I shouldn’t try. Love is truly loving the person for who they are. So you happen to be a clothes whore and a champagne whore and everything that costs over a hundred dollar whore, but you’re my whore and I love you.”

Simon hugged Marco and then bent down and hugged Ollie. “You are the best lion hunter ever.”

“I also know what happened to you after you couldn’t find Ollie,” Marco said. “I got a call about fifteen minutes ago. Apparently you left your wallet in the clothes bag at the shelter. That was a good thing you did.”

“You think?” Simon asked.

“Yes. Now we get back in the car, and we go back to St. Helena, and we buy you another new wardrobe. Only this one you keep.”

“Really?” Simon clapped his hands.

Simon, Marco, and Ollie climbed back into the Porsche. Marco plugged in his Ipod and turned on “All You Need is Love,” by The Beatles. Simon and Marco sang along with the band as Ollie stuck his nose up into the wind and howled along with them-- aviator shades in place as they sped back to St. Helena.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Story Behind the Story

There's always a story behind every book. The what if's do sometimes jump out at writers but at the end of the day there is some kind of story that goes along with the story.

In between the next chapter of "Saddled with Trouble," I thought I'd write a bit about the story that is behind the book and some of the challenges that were met while writing it.

If you have read or want to read the Michaela Bancroft series then you know that Michaela trains Quarter Horses and she focuses on reiners. For those of you who don't know what reining is, it is where rider and horse work together as one through precise pattern circles, spins, and stops. All work is done at the canter (or "lope" or "run" in Western parlance). The patterns consist of small slow circles, large fast circles, spins, and rapid changes of directions, flying lead changes, and sliding stops. I have to be completely honest, I don't know a ton about reining. It's not the discipline that I ride in. But I do know about horses and I have grown up around a lot of horse people. My dad is a cowboy and started his equestrian business over 35 years ago. His love and passion has always been toward The Quarter Horse and the disciplines that you may associate most Quarter horses with such disciplines as reining and cutting. Myself on the other hand, have always ridden English and jumping is my passion. So why not write about a character who trains say Thoroughbreds or Warmbloods in the English disciplines? I wanted to, but my dad talked me into using the Quarter Horse world and reining as a setting. He made some good points and I went with it. I've learned a lot more about these disciplines since I've written three books in the series. My passion is still in the jumping. That isn't going to change. But what is interesting to me is that Michaela's character fits so well with what she does. She's very down to Earth, decent person who loves the animals, her friends and her family. I enjoy writing about her life a great deal.

I mentioned the challenges that each book faces when being written. Life sometimes get in the way of writing process. With this book, it did but I still kept on writing because that was what writers do. My best friend Hillarie had breast cancer and while writing this book she was in the last stages. I spent a lot of time at her kitchen table working on the book and being available to her. As I worked on the manuscript I noticed a certain character taking on traits of Hillarie--Michaela's bff Camden. Hill always had a real joy for life and she laughed and joked a lot. She had a wonderful sense of humor and some of the antics that we pulled off together were down right nutty but lots of fun. I finished the book on time and sadly I also lost my friend. I miss her a lot but much of her spirit lives on in my character Camden. It's funny how life and writing co-mingle together. As I stated--there is always a story behind the story.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sexy Men and a Mystery...

I just read where Ryan Reynolds was voted "People's Sexiest Man Alive." You can tell I am hard at work. I find Ryan Reynolds adorable. I am now asking myself what it means to find a man adorable? It means that I am getting old(er). :) He's super cute and I get it, but I am going with my old standby of Hugh Jackman. I think he's hot.

That said and if anyone cares, since I have already personally cast Marisa Miler as Michaela Bancroft I think I will cast Hugh Jackman as Dr. Ethan Slater and Matthew Mcoughneghy (how the hell do you spell his name) as Detective Jude Davis.  I may have to write another horse mystery just for the visuals alone!

Here is Chapter Two of Saddled with Trouble. Before I post it I just want to add one thing. I love writing and part of the reason that I do is because as The Writer I get to be the director. And it also means that I can have characters say and do things that I would never do, but in many ways I would love to have done them. For instance in this second chapter, there is a scene where Michaela and her bff Camden go and do something not-so-nice to Michaela's ex Brad. Well, when I wrote this, I had inspiration as I thought of a former boyfriend--from way back when--who was a TOTAL jerk (and that is putting it mildly). I love what Michaela and Camden do to this guy. It cracked me up when I wrote it and it was cheap therapy. So for all of you struggling writers out there when your significant other complains about your writing time, you can explain that it's very therapeutic and much cheaper than a psychiatrist.




MICHAELA OPENED THE BACK DOOR TO HER ranch-style house, which led into the laundry room. The house, located in Indio, California, amid the Coachella Valley, had been built in the early 80’s and was badly in need of an update. Michaela and Brad had bought it with the horse facilities in place a couple of years after they were married, almost a decade ago. Her plans to bring it into the twenty-first century would have to wait until the debts were paid off.

She breathed in deeply. The smell of fabric softener and detergent filled the air. Unbelievable. Camden had actually been doing laundry. Huh. Surprise, surprise. She had come to believe that Camden simply went through clothes until she didn’t have any left and then went out and bought more.

Michaela pulled her boots off, not wanting to track mud through the house. Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” blared from the family room. God, why that song?

A little farther away the blender in the kitchen whirled at full throttle, probably mixing the contents of a powerful concoction— tequila, lime-aid, and more tequila. Michaela shook her head as she headed to her room to shower.

Cocoa, who recently had made it to her tenth birthday, lifted her head off her doggie bed and wagged her tail. Michaela bent down and patted the dog’s head. “Hey you, you lazy girl. I see how it is, as soon as the sun goes down you hightail it back inside. By the looks of it, I’d say Miss Camden has been letting you dig into the doggie treats again. I’m going to have to scold her.” Cocoa just kept on wagging her tail.

Michaela checked her voice mail:

“Hi, sweetpea, it’s Uncle Lou. Give me a call back. I was wondering if we could have breakfast in the morning.” She smiled. Uncle Lou was definitely one of her most favorite people.

But the smile faded when the next message came on. “Michaela, it’s Kirsten. You better sign those papers, or else we’re gonna have big problems.”

Michaela flipped a finger at the machine. Why did she let that little hooker get to her? “Ooh look at me, I have fake boobs, collagen lips, lipo on my ass, and I’m Miss Rodeo America,” she said out loud, her head bobbing from side to side in an exaggerated fashion.

“News to me.”

Michaela spun around to see her best friend and newly acquired roommate, Camden standing, in the doorway, margarita in hand. She tossed back her latest colored locks— flame red— and held out a glass of the concoction. “I gotta tell you that if those are fake boobs, your plastic surgeon did a shitty job, because girlfriend, you’re about a B cup. And, for God’s sakes who would pay five thou for a measly B cup?”

They both laughed.

“Let me guess: The evil babe who the shithead robbed from the cradle has been bugging you again.”


Camden held out the margarita. “Drink on me?”

“Nah. Thanks, though. It’s been a rough day. The evil babe came by and gave me a piece of her mind. I don’t think a margarita will cure this girl’s blues.”

“No. But a shot will, and I am not taking no for an answer. Now, c’mon.” Camden grabbed her hand.

“I need a shower.”

“Ten minutes more won’t hurt. If I can stand you smelling like a horse, then you can wait. Live a little, and don’t let this stuff get you down. You’ll be old before you know it and then you’ll be dead and you’ll be saying, ‘Damn I should have had more tequila shots with my best friend.’ ”

She held up her hands, palms out. “Fine, I give up. I know better than to argue with you. Besides, maybe you do have a point.” She followed Camden into the kitchen. “But don’t you have a date with Kevin tonight?”

“Nope. He’s taking clients to dinner. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow. He’s taking the day off and we’re going to spend it together.” Michaela frowned, and Camden added, “I know you don’t care for him.”

“It’s not that. I don’t know him that well, really. I just didn’t like that he was kind of a jerk to my uncle when he wouldn’t sell him his property.”

“He can be pushy, I admit that, but he backed off when Lou told him he wasn’t interested. He’s moved on to other projects.”

“I know, but be careful, okay? Get to know this one a bit better than the last one before he slips a ring on your finger.” Michaela had a right to be concerned that her friend would rush into another relationship. Her recent split from her third husband, Charlie Dawson— a big-time financial advisor— had left her in a lurch. Seems Charlie knew exactly how to work the financials to his benefit and Camden was out on her butt and wound up at Michaela’s front door needing a place to stay, until she could find a place of her own to rent or buy. That had been six months ago, and as far as Michaela knew, Camden hadn’t done any house shopping as of yet, only man hunting. She kept insisting to Michaela that Charlie would settle with her, because she hadn’t signed a prenup, and then she’d get into a new house. But Michaela really didn’t care. She enjoyed her friend’s company and wild ways, so far removed from her own behavior, but entertaining nonetheless.

“What, you afraid you’re gonna be stuck with me forever? That you’ll have to install a revolving door for your divorcée friend? Won’t happen, worrywart. I’m gonna find me a real man who can take good care of me and me of him. Who knows, it might be Kevin, it might not.” She shrugged. “Now, let’s have that drink.”

Ten minutes turned into twenty and before long an hour had passed and Michaela had filled up on two of Camden’s cure-alls, though refusing to down the shot. She didn’t think she could handle the booze straight. “You know that SOB has a new truck,” Michaela said. “A Ford F-350.” She shook her head. “Kirsten tried to tell me that she bought him the truck. Please. Does it say sucker somewhere on my forehead? Jerk probably hid some money away that I didn’t know about— maybe he hid some cash in a safety deposit box or under the mattress, or better yet under, his girlfriend’s mattress. He’s such a jerk, and that little trophy he hangs out with is a piece of work.” Oh boy, the alcohol was certainly going to her head.

“You know.” Camden pointed at her. “It’s not like you aren’t gorgeous. I don’t know why you always say she’s the trophy. She’s no prize. Brad lost the prize and I bet he knows it. Look at you. Oh, and I might add that you have a brain, too. A commodity Kirsten definitely lacks.”

They were sitting on the couch in the family room. Camden took her by the shoulders and turned her to face the mirrored wall behind them. “Just look at you.”

“Oh yeah, look at me. Real prize. I’ve got horse crap on my jeans, and my hair is pasted to my head from sweat. Yep. I’m a real prize.”

“Shut up.” Camden stood with her empty margarita glass. “Want another?”

“Nope. I think I’ve had enough.”

As her friend walked into the kitchen to pour herself a refill, Michaela turned back to the mirror. She pulled the rubber band from her blond hair, letting it down, and studied her reflection. Twenty-two was ages ago; well, ten years to be exact. Although her boobs were small, they were still perky, and her hair wasn’t bleached blond like a Playboy model— or Kirsten the rodeo queen— more of a sandy color, long and thick, too. That was a good thing. But, those damn freckles that the sun liked to exaggerate still gave her that “I’m the cute girl next door” look. At least her eyes were something; she really liked her eyes. They were nice— warm, hazel, garnered-lots-of-compliments eyes. Who needed fake anything, anyway? Botox was rat poison! And plastic boobs could rupture. Yep, natural worked just fine. A little more sunscreen and a Miracle Bra, maybe, but the other stuff— forget it, and who could afford it anyway? Damn if she could.

Michaela moved to a barstool at the counter, watching Camden pour some more margarita.

“It would be kind of fun to do something nasty to him, wouldn’t it?” Camden asked.

“Who? Brad?” Michaela shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose it would. I’d love to do something to that stupid new truck of his. I’m sure he loves the thing.”

“Ooh, like key it?”

Michaela gave her a look. “Nasty and mean are two different things. I don’t know if I could go that far.”

“You’re a prude.”

“Are you calling me a goody two-shoes?”

“If the shoe fits.”

“Shut up. Pour me one more of those. Tell you what. Since we’re in no shape to drive, I’ll carry out a dirty deed to give Brad a nightmare to contend with.” Camden rubbed her hands together. “On one condition.” Michaela shot her index finger up.

“This is going to be good, isn’t it?”

“We’ve gotta do this on horseback.”

“Oh, sister, you expect a lot from a friend. You want me to get up on one of those filthy beasts?”

“Um, Camden, I doubt it would be the first filthy beast you’ve gotten up on top of.”

Camden started to protest, then said, “Okay, you may have a point. So, you’re willing to take a chance on putting my drunk ass on one of those animals and venture out in the dark?”

“Yep. Besides, I know you. You’re barely buzzed. Me, on the other hand . . . phew, you make a strong drink. I’ll put you on Booger. He’s push button. I’d put a baby on him and trust him.”

“Great. I get to ride a horse named Booger. The fact that I am even doing this is so not me.”

“Who knows, you may like it.”

They took their drinks out to the barn, where Michaela saddled up the horses. “Okay now, come here and give me your left foot.” She clasped her hands together.


“Put your foot in the stirrup here. Grab the saddle horn here with your left hand, and the back of the seat of the saddle with your right hand and step up in the stirrup and swing your right leg over the rear end of the horse and sit in the saddle.”

“God, Michaela, I had no idea I’d have to do a flipping gymnastic stunt.”

“Aren’t you the girl always bragging about her flexibility?”

Camden sighed. “Fine. Let’s do this before I change my mind.” Michaela got next to her and helped to give her a boost up. Camden squealed as she swung her leg over and nearly came off on the other side. Michaela helped her get adjusted. “Oh shit, shit, shit. Get me off. Get me off now!”

“No. Now trust me. Hang on. That’s all you have to do. Hang on.”

“No shit, Dick Tracy, you think I’m about to let go?”

Michaela grabbed a trash bag filled with the contents they needed and put them inside a saddlebag. The saddle-bags tied on, Michaela put her left foot in the stirrup and swung her right leg over the mare.

“Showoff,” Camden muttered.

They headed over to Brad and Kirsten’s place, which was only a couple of miles away. It took some time because Michaela had to keep in mind that Camden hadn’t been on a horse more than three or four times in her life. Every time she glanced back to see how she was doing, she could see by the light of the full moon that Camden wore a mask of fear. She tried to make small talk, but Camden was hanging onto poor Booger for dear life. Her hands were both around the reins and saddle horn so tight and from what she could tell it also looked like Camden had poor Booger’s girth or mid-section in a vice. It was lucky Booger was exactly what she’d said he was— one mellow fellow— because a horse who wasn’t so well broke would have been having a fit with Camden on board.

The lights were on inside Kirsten’s house. Was that laughter? Yes it was. Oh, how nice for them. They were having a grand old time.

Kirsten’s place was a modest ranch-style home with a few acres of land. There were a couple of horses out in a small pasture. One whinnied at the sight of newcomers.

“Shhh. Shut up,” Camden whispered.

Michaela pulled slightly on Macey, her mare’s, reins. The mare stopped, as did Booger. “Uh, Cam, they don’t understand shut up. Besides, horses whinny at times. They won’t think anything of it, even if they can hear what’s going on out here. Sounds to me like they’re having a party.”

“Hmmm. I think you’re right. Well, good, because we are the party crashers. Still want to go though with it?”

Someone inside cranked the stereo up another notch. It was playing Faith Hill and Tim McGraw singing “It’s Your Love.” Michaela peered through the front window and saw what looked to be Brad and Kirsten dancing. He had never danced with her. Jerk. “Oh yeah, I am so ready.” Michaela dismounted and led Macey over to a hitching post next to the pasture. The other horses trotted over. The same noisemaker let out another “How do you do,” and Michaela realized that time could be of the essence if he didn’t pipe down. After enough whinnies someone would surely take a peek, and she wanted to be certain they were long gone before that happened. She wrapped Macey’s reins around the post, and walked over to Camden.

“Okay, you always want to get on and off on the left side, so bring your right foot out and back around, then kick your left foot out of the stirrup— kind of lean over the saddle with your body and basically step down and off.”

Camden did as instructed and landed on her butt. “Like that?” she asked, a smirk on her face.

“Not quite. You’ll have a second shot at it later though, when we get back home. Now come on, get off your ass. We’ve got a treasure for Brad.”

Michaela retrieved the trash bag and the two of them, quietly and quickly, all the while trying not to giggle at their immature antics, snuck up on Brad’s brand-new red Ford F-350. She opened the driver’s side door, knowing the moron wouldn’t have locked it, sliced open the bag with her pocketknife, and shoved the contents under his seat. Boy, was it was going to be a real pain getting it cleaned out. “Nothing like the aroma of fresh manure to take away from that new car smell.”

She tossed the bag down and grabbed Camden’s hand as they ran back to their horses. She quickly boosted her friend up, who this time managed much better, and then she got back up on Macey. They rode off, cracking up the whole way home, making Camden loosen up, and actually enjoy riding Booger. Their laughter didn’t stop even after they’d put the horses away, got cleaned up, and wound up on the couch with a bag of popcorn in front of the boob tube. “What I wouldn’t give to see the look on his face.”

“Oh God, I’d love to see him get in that truck and start smelling the smell and then he’ll have to get out and when he looks under the seat, he’s gonna die,” Camden said.

This put them into another fit of gut-wrenching laughter. Yes, as childish as it had been, it did feel really, really good. Facts were that Brad had left for the much younger Kirsten after Michaela had spent the last few years trying to get pregnant. With Brad’s support they’d sought out fertility specialists and Michaela had given herself shots daily in the abdomen in hopes of conceiving. She’d gone through the expensive in vitro process twice, and the day she was prepared to go through it again for the third time, Brad’s infidelities had been brought to light. Now, there were a stack of bills from doctors on her desk and every time she looked at them, she couldn’t help but be reminded of what Brad had done to her. Worse than sticking her with the bills, was his total deceit. But tonight was the first time she didn’t feel a ton of anger toward her ex. Funny how a stupid teenage-type prank made her feel a bit better.

Michaela finally made it off the couch and into the shower she hadn’t taken all evening. Then, finding Camden sound asleep on the sofa, Cocoa curled up on the floor next to her. Michaela decided to leave the two of them there, covering Camden with a blanket and patting her old dog on her head a good night. As she settled into bed, exhausted, her phone rang. She looked at the clock on her nightstand: a little after eleven. Her stomach sank. What if it was Brad or Kirsten and they’d seen her and Camden? No, caller ID said that it was her uncle.

“Hi, Uncle Lou.”

“Hi. I didn’t hear back from you tonight. Did you get my message? I thought I’d better check in and make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine. I did get your message. Sorry. I was a little busy.”

“No problem, sweet pea. I was only concerned because I know that you’ve had some rough times this past year.”

“Thanks. But I’m fine. Really. In fact, I’m doing, uh, really well.” She loved the way he’d called her sweet pea ever since she could remember. Her father always called her pumpkin, and that made her feel good, too, but Daddy also knew how to spank and send her to her room, or ground her when she needed it. She loved him for his sense of fairness. But Uncle Lou was the spoiler. He’d never had any kids of his own, so spoiling Michaela was one of his favorite things. “You want to grab breakfast in the morning with me, right?”

“I do. There are some things I need to talk about with you.” He cleared his throat.

“Uncle Lou? Are you okay? You sound . . . I don’t know. Tired?”

“I’m fine. Working a lot, that’s all. I’m having a hard time unwinding these days for some reason. I’m getting old, and riding the animals every day is starting to wear on me.”

“You are not getting old,” she said. “Sixty-one is a spring chicken.”

They both laughed. “I don’t know about that. I’m feeling like a cooked goose. You get to bed now, and I’ll see you about seven-thirty over at The Dakota House.”

“Ooh, sounds good.” Her stomach rumbled just thinking about the yummy breakfasts The Dakota House specialized in, especially considering that all she’d had tonight was a liquid diet. “I can’t wait. Sleep well.”

“You too, sweet pea.”

Michaela hung up the phone. Something in Uncle Lou’s voice bothered her. What was it? The sound of exhaustion? At first she thought maybe that was it, but, no. Resignation? Maybe. Defeat? Yeah, it did sound like that, but about what? She yawned. Whatever was eating at Uncle Lou, she resolved to get to the bottom of it tomorrow over a ham and cheese omelet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Writing Women's Fiction

In between posting a few chapters here and there of "Saddled with Trouble," I thought that I would also post a workshop that I gave a few months back to the Orange County RWA on Writing Women's Fiction. It's quite long so I am breaking it up over the course of the next week. You can also find this workshop in my book "The Writer's Workshop." Thank You and I hope that you enjoy!


What is women’s fiction, and how do we as writer’s “get it right?”

According to Wikipedia, Women's fiction is an umbrella term for a wide-ranging collection of literary sub-genres that are marketed to female readers, including many mainstream novels, romantic fiction, "chick lit," and other sub genres.

I would say that’s a decent generalization, but women’s fiction is so much more. Women's fiction is all about relationships. Not necessarily romance, but the type of relationships women deal with everyday: family, friends, kids, career. We don't just read about it or write about it, we live it!

Today I want to break it down the best that I can from my point of view, explain how I develop my women’s fiction pieces, and actually how I create my women’s fiction stories differently than I do my mysteries.

One of the differences as far as within publishing that you will find with women’s fiction versus romance is the way published books are shelved at the stores. Because women’s fiction encompasses a wide vas of themes and topics, most of the time you won’t find women’s fiction in a genre category, but rather within the mainstream, which makes it tougher in my opinion to sell women’s fiction.

So what is women’s fiction exactly? Well, it’s fiction that is obviously directed toward women, it’s what I think of as a jump up from chick lit, and I’m not knocking chick lit here because in reality if you’ve read any of my wine mysteries they are really chick lit with a murder mystery plot line. However, chick lit remains on the lighter side of things. These books tend to be campy, usually the heroine is in her twenties to early thirties, she’s single and looking for love, designer names mean something to her or else she makes fun of them depending on her socio-economic background or values, she likes martinis or white wine, Starbucks and usually has a good group of gal pals or gay friends who are all kind of eccentric and humorous—and humor tends to be a big part of the chick lit genre. Whereas, with women’s fiction, I kind of akin it to taking chick lit and growing up. It doesn’t mean your characters don’t like white wine and hot guys, but it’s at a different level. Chick lit I think is typically fun, and women’s fiction although has elements of humor and fun in it at times, and sometimes it doesn’t have it all (that really depends on the writer’s style, which I will talk about shortly) takes characters, their lives, the themes within the story and the sub-plots to deeper levels.

I want to break women’s fiction down to you by theme, characters, and plot—and hopefully give you a new look at how you might approach your women’s fiction pieces.

1. I think as writers when we look at this type of fiction to write it to the best of our ability we’re going to have to dig deep, we’re going to have to soul search, get kind of ugly with ourselves and be truthful about certain areas of our lives. What do I mean by that, and why would I as a writer want to make my fiction about me? The reason is that women’s fiction connects with women in a way that I don’t think any other type of fiction does. So, when you sit down to write this type of book, your goal is to have your reader empathize with your character or main characters. This is the kind of book where you want your character to be the kind of person that your reader wants to be friends with or at least have that character have an about face by the end of the book that sways your reader to her side. Be sure to have a sympathetic not a pathetic main character.

Walk that line especially when doing a coming of age piece on a woman who technically should already be of age. Keep in mind that most of the main characters in women’s fiction are over 30. If she's too strong, the need for the growth disappears. If she's too weak, you run the risk of annoying your readers. When you write this, ask yourself, would you want to be friends with this person. That doesn’t mean you have to like the characters every step of the way. In fact, I think we can all agree that as much as we love our best friends there are moments when they annoy us or down-right piss us off, but then we either forgive them, or realize we were the jerk, or we just let it go because that is what friends do much of the time.

I’m going to use my books as examples here because they are what I know best. So for example in my novel "Happy Hour" one of my main characters is a real control freak because she’s so afraid of doing anything wrong. She just wants to keep everyone happy, which we all know is impossible and she’s in an impossible situation. She has teenage boys, she’s newly married and now has a 6 yr old step-daughter whose mother is a pain in the ass and my characters just really wants a peaceful life. I can tell you that in a blended marriage with step-children and ex-spouses there is not much luck in finding any real peace, but that’s life. So, when this character loses it on one of her friends the reader thinks she’s being a real jerk and she is, but at the same time there are things going on in her life that although there is no excuse for her treatment of her friend, there is an understanding as to how she might react the way she does. She is human and good women’s fiction is all about humanity.

That is the first key to writing women's fiction--it must maintain a theme of humanity throughout for your characters and their situations to be believable.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saddled with Trouble

I'm not going to lie. Writers need to make a living. Yes, we write because we love it and we want to entertain but earning money is necessary when writing is your career. So for those of you who view this as a marketing tactic, you are correct. It is. What am I up to? Well, I am going to be posting chapters of my novel "Saddled with Trouble," over the next few weeks. Why Saddled? For one thing the book has been out for some time now and interestingly enough it has suddenly appeared to have a new life to it. People are buying and reading the book. You just asked yourself, "Then why offer it for free?"

Good question. The first reason is that I have 12 other books out and if you enjoy this one, you may pick up the others in this series or any one of my other 12 titles. Second reason is that I have three new books out next year. Yipee!!! I am doing the happy dance. They are all mysteries but 3 different series. One is a YA that I am super excited about. One is another Nikki Sands book, and one is TOP SECRET. I'm banking that if you like this mystery you might go ahead and buy the books that come out in the next year. Third reason is that in the next two weeks I have two thrillers coming out on Kindle and later in print under the psuedonym of A.K. Alexander (which in essence makes my third reason the same as my second only with different titles). Fourth reason that I chose this book is that I love the book and on Saturday evening while I proceeded to do some more unpacking in the new house I found a copy of it and started glancing through it (nice distraction from unpacking. Hmmm...now I know why it is taking me so long to get the house in order) and I thought, "this is a pretty darn good book." ( a writer must toot her own horn).

I started thinking about when I wrote the book and the process of writing it. When I begin a new book I put together a scrapbook (see blog: http://adventuresnwriting.blogspot.com/2009/11/visual-outlines.html) and who I envisioned as Michaela Bancroft is Marisa Miller (yes, the Victoria's Secret super model). I once had a reader write in and ask me why my heroines are always pretty. I'm sorry but vicariously living through one's heroines is quite fun and I think I wouldn't mind looking like Marisa Miller and I am pretty sure my husband would not mind either. Plus, Marisa Miller grew up riding horses and surfing. If you know anything about my life then you know that I have been riding since I was a tot and my husband has been surfing for just as long. Cool. Hmmm...except I don't think I would want my husband surfing with a super model. Anyhoo--we now come to my fourth reason for posting free chapters of "Saddled."  I know that Ms. Miller the super model is now doing some TV and I totally think that she should star in The Michaela Bancroft Mystery series. Here's my hope--she discovers my completely and totally popular blog (stop laughing) and then finds my e-mail address (It's on my website at http://www.michelescott.com/), no better yet, she searches my phone number out and calls me and says, "I want to be Michaela Bancroft and I have a production company, director, network, et al lined up." Then I get offered lots of money and I put all three of kids through college, take a vacation, buy more horses and write more books--oh and a few day spa trips soound nice too and also have this on-going love affair with Tarjay Boutique (Target). You can get a bazillion very cool things in Target. I knew you would like that fourth reason. So, if any of you out there know Marisa Miller could you send a link of the blog to her?

If you've already read a copy of Saddled do not fret. I will do double blog postings throughout the week. I know you want some more recipes. :)

Enjoy! Check out the book trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRX9bcFGga8


MICHAELA BANCROFT DIDN’T HEAR HER SWORN enemy walking up behind her until it was too late.

“Working overtime?” Kirsten Redmond said.

Michaela whipped around in her desk chair, where she’d been sitting for thirty minutes going over finances. She immediately stood up. “What do you want, Kirsten?”

“I know you received some very important papers early this afternoon from our attorney, and I’d like them signed, sealed, and delivered as soon as possible, so that Brad and I can get on with our lives.”

Michaela brushed a patch of dirt off her Wrangler Jeans. She’d been working with the horses and out in the barn all day and knew that her appearance wasn’t remotely close to Miss Glamour Puss’s here. The thought caused a flutter of discomfort. “You amaze me. What, do you have your little hair-sprayed, fake-bake, plastic Barbie doll-looking friends spying on me? Because it truly is a wonder how you know every little detail of my life. Or maybe you’re screwing the mailman, too. Does his wife know? What, did he give you a call as soon as he delivered the papers?” She hated sounding so bitchy. God, why couldn’t she just turn her back and ignore Kirsten?

“You’re such a bitch.”

That was why. Not that she was a bitch, but Kirsten and Brad had sort of pushed her into that category and she was living up to it, at least at that moment. “Yeah, well, it takes one to know one. Now, be a good girl and run along and play dress up or paint-your-nails with your girlfriends. Okay?”

“At least I have friends.”

“Oh, that hurt. And, you probably have some real quality conversations with them. You know, about important subjects like what color hat and boots you’ll wear to this year’s Miss Rodeo Pageant. C’mon, Kirsten, give up the dream. You’re a bit too old for the crown and from what I know of rodeo queens, they have a lot more class, know how to ride a horse, and have a brain. Oh yeah, and they’re what, usually about five years younger than you are?”

Kirsten frowned. “I was Miss Rodeo of Indio, you know.”

“Yeah, five years ago. I think I do remember. Wasn’t there some article about the Coachilla Valley being desperate for entrants?” Michaela smiled sweetly, knowing she was getting the best of Kirsten.

Kirsten stomped her foot. “At least I’ve got Brad and you don’t, and as soon as you get those papers taken care of we can start planning our future and I can start thinking about what color to paint our nursery. We want lots of children.”

“I feel sorry for those kids.” Michaela’s stomach tightened and she clenched her fists.

“Just sign the papers.”

“Just go away. Bye, bye.” She waved at her. “Some of us have important things to do.”

Kirsten stood her ground, planting her light pink Justin boots into the dirt. Her long blonde hair hung loose down her back, and her overly made-up face caused her to look aged and brittle for someone who couldn’t be over twenty-five. She shoved her hands into her plastered-on jeans, belted in by a bright silver belt buckle— her Miss Rodeo Indio silver belt buckle.

“Listen. I’ve asked you to leave nicely. I don’t have time for your games. Trust me, I don’t want Brad within fifty feet of me. Why you feel the need to annoy me like this is very confusing. I’ve moved on.”

“Great, so you’ll sign the papers?”

Michaela sighed and forced a smile. “The papers. Yeah, well see, those divorce papers aren’t your concern. It’s really between Brad and me.”

“Not really. We want to get married. Brad just got a new truck. A Ford F-350. It has a backseat. We got the backseat for when we start having babies. And, trust me, it won’t be long.”

Anger rose from Michaela’s gut and rushed straight to her brain. “As I told you, I don’t want Brad back at all. Here’s the problem, though: Brad owes me a lot of money from debts incurred by him, and I want that money. When I get it, I will sign the papers. Maybe he should think about returning the truck.”

“I bought the truck. And, Brad would be able to pay you off on your debt if your uncle hadn’t fired him.”

“That debt is our debt, not just mine. And, as for my uncle Lou firing Brad, that was cut and dry: Brad wasn’t showing up for work even before Lou discovered what was going on between you two, but once he did and showed me the proof, Brad never even phoned Lou. I don’t think my uncle had much of a choice, other than to let him go.”

“Whatever. You are so gonna be s.o.l. if you don’t make a move quick and sign the paperwork.” Kirsten did the hair flick thing, a sign of her disdain for Michaela.

All it did was make Michaela want to laugh. “Let me give it to you in simple speak. Brad is an adulterer, so I will sue him to my heart’s content until he pays me back every dime, and something tells me that the judge is going to be on my side. Or, how about this? I just won’t sign the papers ever and all those babies you’re talking about having will automatically have a stepmommy.”

“You can’t do that!” Kirsten whined.

“Watch me.” Michaela was aware that she really couldn’t. After all, it was California, and she knew she only had thirty days to sign the papers or contest the decree before she defaulted. She was banking on Little Miss Hot Pants not being exactly well-versed in California state divorce law. But, surely Brad’s lawyer was, and no matter how Michaela tried to play it, she’d likely be forced to sign those papers. She also knew that she would probably have to sue Brad for what he owed her in medical bills, and rumor had it he was going to file bankruptcy, which meant that she wouldn’t ever see a penny from him. The lawyer fees alone in taking Brad to court would put her out of business. She knew Brad was living off Kirsten, so why not sign the papers and be free of him, her, and the whole mess? Because they’d stuck it to her and she wasn’t about to let them get the best of her. Not yet, anyway.

Kirsten turned on her heel in a huff and marched out. Michaela walked out of her office and peered outside the breezeway, watching Kirsten roar away in her red convertible Mustang GT, kicking up dust all the way along Michaela’s drive. Talk about trouble. Michaela shook her head and let out a long sigh. What she’d ever seen in Brad Warren was beyond her, because anyone who could fall for a tramp like Kirsten was not a man she would ever want to be involved with. But she had been, and as Mom always liked to spout the age-old adage, “You made your bed,” now she’d have to lie in it.

She turned and headed back to the barn to say her good-nights to all the horses down the row. She stopped at the end— at Leo’s stall. Her ten-month-old colt glanced out, then returned to his dinner. Michaela had big plans for the little guy. She’d nurtured him from the night he’d been born last March and for a time it had been touch and go. She hadn’t known if he’d make it . . .

* * *

THE EARLY SPRING NIGHT STILL HAD A CHILL IN the air. Michaela held a thermos of coffee in her hand as she curled up on a cot inside her office, checking on her mare every hour or so and listening intently for any sounds that might echo down the breezeway, alerting her that the time had come. Cocoa, her brown Lab, lay at her feet, snoring. Michaela had put a blanket over the aging dog. Usually by this time of night the two of them would be sound asleep in the house.

Her mother, after calling earlier, stopped by and brought her some homemade chicken noodle soup and coffee, aware that Michaela would be keeping vigil into the wee hours. It didn’t matter how many foals Michaela had seen born in her thirty-two years. It never ceased to amaze her.

Around 1 A.M., as she drifted off to sleep, a thud woke her. She hurried into the stall. The mare eyed her from her straw bed.

Michaela went inside and knelt down beside her, stroking her face. “I know, girl. It’s okay. You’re all right. You’re all right.”

Little Bit let out a groan and lifted her head, groaned again, and laid it back down.

“Easy, easy. You’re doing good. Good girl.”

The mare’s water broke and wet her underside. This was it. Michaela went around to Little Bit’s backside. The front hooves came first, and then the long spindly legs, revealing black legs like Little Bit’s. Next, a tiny face with a small star on it poked through, and with one final push the foal slid out, slippery and covered in the birthing sac, which with Michaela’s assistance came right off. She took a hand towel from her jacket pocket and wiped the foal’s nostrils and eyes. The foal struggled, laid back down and struggled again. Michaela wiped the tears from her face. The miracle of life.

Little Bit groaned again and Michaela noticed that she was having a hard time lifting her head to look at her baby. She watched for seconds before she realized what was happening with her mare. A lot of blood— everywhere. Oh God. Wait! This was all wrong. Oh God, no! She was hemorrhaging. Somehow she’d been torn inside during the birth. Michaela pulled her cell from her coat pocket and called Ethan Slater, her vet— and longtime friend. Growing up around horses and being a rancher’s daughter, she knew that there wasn’t a whole lot she could do, and it was unlikely the vet could either. She was losing too much blood, too fast to get her into surgery, and Michaela cried as she gently stroked Little Bit’s face, willing her to live and in some way hoping she was alleviating any pain the old girl felt.

Ethan pulled in fifteen minutes later. But it was too late. Little Bit had died, quietly bleeding out as Michaela held her and whispered to her. When he opened the stall door, he reached his hand out to Michaela and she took it. He pulled her up and hugged her. “I’m sorry, kid. I’m really sorry.” He let go after a minute and looked at her with his intense green eyes. “We’ve got work to do now. She’s gone, but he has a chance. C’mon. Go to the truck and in the right side of my vet box are packages of Foalac. You’ll find a bottle there, too. Get them out and follow the mixing directions. I’m going to move him, so you don’t have to see her like this. Okay? Now, go unlock one of the open stalls and slide the door for me.”

Michaela knew that the timeline they had to get the colt to feed was about one to two hours, but the sooner they could get a grip on things the better, just in case there were further complications where he was concerned. She was so grateful for Ethan’s no-nonsense, methodical ways. She wanted to fall apart. She loved that mare. Hell. Thank god, Ethan knew exactly how to handle the situation and her.

She nodded and followed his orders, leaving the stall as he went to pick up the colt, who weighed about seventy pounds. Michaela had lost animals before, but the pain was always just as intense. But she’d never lost a mare this way, and of all her horses, she’d had a real connection with Little Bit. She had an inside joke with herself about how she’d wished for years she was more like her mare, who had no problem at all getting pregnant.

She took the supplemental food and mixed it as Ethan tended to the colt. She brought it back in the large bottle he’d told her to grab. Ethan asked her to set it to the side. “Let’s get him up to drink. We don’t want him choking.” Together they helped the colt get to his feet. Michaela grabbed the bottle and handed it to Ethan, who took it from her and stuck it into the colt’s mouth, teasing him a bit at first with it, allowing him to get used to the feeling of the rubber nipple. The baby gummed it, but soon his pink fleshy tongue wrapped around it, and as sucking noises escaped from his mouth, Michaela felt her body relax. She stood on the other side of the colt in case he lost his balance on still-wobbly legs. That night, she resolved to see him through, to see him grow strong and healthy. She’d named him Peppy Leo after his great-grandsire Mr. San Peppy and great-great-grandsire Leo San, both of whom had been huge cutting horse champions, and because her colt was as strong as a lion. And he had survived.

* * *

“GOOD NIGHT, CHAMP,” MICHAELA SAID TO HIM. She turned out the breezeway lights and headed toward the house, knowing that in a little more than two years her colt would indeed be a champion. As resolved as she’d been to save him that night ten months earlier, she was just as committed to her vision for him— and herself— now. Kirsten might have taken Brad from her, and the bank might come after her, and who knew what else might happen, but no one could steal her dream from her— the dream she knew would become a reality.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stumped on what to get that impossible to shop for person?

It’s that time yet again, the holidays are approaching and everyone is getting sick.  The entire office has been sharing the flu bug and it hit full force.  Although it has literally knocked me flat out, it has allowed me some time to get some quality writing time in for upcoming books.  If you’re strapped for holiday gift ideas why not do a unique gift basket.  All you need is a copy of Happy Hour, pick out one of the fabulous recipes and include all the ingredients (that won’t spoil), a bottle of wine (all recipes give a pairing wine), plus a cute apron!  Poof you have an instant thoughtful gift perfect for a mom, daughter, friend of any cooking level.  Enjoy, Michele

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another Fabulous Recipe from Happy Hour, Salmon in Miso

This recipe is another tasty one but also great for your health.  Both salmon and miso are high in omega-3 fatty acids which helps your body reduce inflamation, can help regualte your blood preassure, makes your skin glow, and even helps prevent cancer. 

Jamie’s Salmon in Miso

1 cup mirin (Japanese rice wine)

4 tablespoons light yellow miso (fermented soybean paste)

6 tablespoons sugar

4 salmon filets (about 5 or 6 ounces each)

1 ½ cup snow peas

Add the mirin and sugar to a small, nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil for three minutes, whisking as it boils to create a smooth miso marinade.

Reserve 1/3 cup of the miso marinade and set aside. Pour the remaining miso marinade over the salmon filets in a gallon zip-lock bag or shallow dish. Let salmon marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 12 hours). Grill the salmon fillets skin side down about 5 inches from the coals or heat for about 14 minutes or until salmon is cooked throughout. You can lightly brown the top of the salmon fillets by broiling briefly in your kitchen oven or by gently flipping salmon fillets over and grilling them, flesh side down, for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile to make a miso sauce for the table, add the 1/3 cup of reserved miso marinade to a small nonstick saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons fat-free half and half and a teaspoon of flour. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce has reached desired thickness. Add snow peas to a small microwave safe dish with ¼ cup water, cover and cook on HIGH until snow peas are just tender (about 3 minutes).

Serve each serving of broiled salmon over a scoop of steamed white or brown rice (if desired) and to with a drizzle of the miso sauce and fan some snow peas on top for a garnish.

Goes great with Viognier.

Cheers!  Michele

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scene by Scene

As a writer, I get asked a lot of times about my creative process. I have some very specific processes and I actually wrote about them in a book I put together on various workshops that I've taught over the last few years, titled "A Writer's Workshop." http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Workshop-Michele-Scott/dp/1453659803/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

And I use my process, but I also tend to work a book in my head before I ever sit down to write out anything within the process. It's actually a natural thing for me. It just happens and I can't give anyone wanting to write a checklist in this aspect. So much of the time my ideas come with the characters already and then as I develop or already have developed the characters I hear their dialogue and begin creating scenes in my head with them.

For example, just the other day when I spotted a really cute little Chihuhua (spelling--help!), I could hear one of my characters from the Wine Lover's Mysteries start his chat in my head--Simon (Nikki Sands' BFF--for those of you who don't know, Nikki is the heroine of this series) saying, "Oh my God! Way cute. Too cute. I want one. Love it. Not just like. But sooooo loooooove it."

Then I could hear Nikki saying, "I thought you were allergic to dogs. You can't even get around Ollie without popping a few Claritin."

Then I can see Simon make a gesture with a shoulder shrug and a flip of the wrist. "That's only your brutish hound, Snow White. He's like five thousand pounds and his dumb blonde act is a little old. I'm not buying it anymore. He thinks that I think he's stupid because he acts stupid, but I know and you know that Ollie is not stupid.  Now that..." he pointed to the half pounder of a beast...

"Is a stupid dog?" Nikki interrupted.

"No. Pleeeeze. That is what I want. No. I want two." He held up two fingers. "Dos. Two. Yes. Yes. Yes. I want two of them and I'm going to name them Senor Estefen Sanchez and Senora Veronika Sanchez."

"Really? Really, Simon? Married chihuahas with last names and everything." She shook her head. "From Mexico, I take it?"

Simon's eyes lit up. "Yea-ah."

"You're kidding me, right?"

He shot Nikki one of his "I hate you," looks, and she let out an aggrieved sigh realizing that her weekend would most likely consist of helping Simon find his new puppies, even if that meant making a trip down South to Mexico.

Maybe I am crazy (oh yes, mentioned that before), but that is how books/stories come to life for me--scene by scene, character to character.

Some writers/readers here might ask as far as plot point. Okay, so I have this silly dialogue, which is a big part of the Nikki Sands' series (quirky, silly humor), some might ask how a short scene like that would play into the big picture and then tie it all together? Good question and it is something that as a writer you have to ask yourself on a regular basis--will this be able to work within the major or sub-plot line of the story, and does it in some way move the story forward? And, remember that even your sub-plots have to at some level lend themselves to the plot.

For example, one of the sub-plots that has been an undertow in the series is that Nikki was basically abandoned at a young age by her mother to go and live with her aunt who was a homicide detective. I don't push this in the reader's face and in some of the books in the series it doesn't get brought up. However, there are underlying insecurities that my main character Nikki has that shows up throughout all of the books in the series and it's these insecurities that can hinder her in solving crimes and also in her relationships. It is suttle but it is character and plot development throughout a series. But back to this small scene between Nikki and Simon in regards to the dogs. In the big scheme of plot line--these dogs will become two new characters in the series. I am an animal lover and I find that animals have distinct personalities and I like to incorporate that in my writing. There are a variety of ways Senor Estefen Sanchez and Senora Veronika Sanchez may play into various plot lines (be them sub or main). They could save the day. They could find a clue. They could bite the bad guy or even trap him in some way. As a sub-plot, they could show character flaws or strengths in anyone that comes across them. I have learned dogs have a way of bringing out the best and worst in people. They can also help develop Ollie's (Nikki's Rhodesian Ridgeback) character. Plus, can't you just see some fun scene on the vineyard with these two little dogs and the gigantic 120 pound Ollie romping around?

I don't mean to make light of creating scenes, because there are days when I sit and stare at the computer and go, "Duh, duh, duh..........um, um, um......), and actually most of my scenes aren't created in front of the computer. They start when I'm driving, in the shower, eating lunch, making dinner, etc--and then when I sit down at the computer I have something to work with.

Any writers out there who play scenes in their head? Any readers out there who may add to scenes they've read, or think about the characters after the book is finished? Do you ever get lost in a fantasy land of scene by scene? I'd love to hear back from you!



Monday, November 1, 2010

Quinoa Made Tasty

I like food. I like to eat good food. Yeah--bad food sucks, but I definitely am up for good food. I love to make it and I love to eat it--and the best is when my family tells me that they love it. My youngest actually said last night, "You are the best cook ever, Mom." Talk about melting my heart. Okay, so might have been trying to schmooze me, but whatever--I will take it anyway.

I have found one of the best and most nutritious side dishes you can make is Quinoa. If you don't know about Quinoa, here is a bit of nutritional information about it that pulled off of Wikipedia:

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, being secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), and like oats, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods.[9] It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.

So, not only is this stuff good for you, it is TASTY. It is TASTY if you jazz it up a bit, which is easy to do with a little creativity. I make our Quinoa in a rice cooker. I always cook (steam it) in some type of broth--usually low sodium chicken broth, but I have found that Red pepper soup is excellent as well as Butternut Squash soup. Toss in a teaspoon of garlic, dice in some onion, if you like a smoky flavor toss in a few chipotle peppers and the liquid--there is a ton you can do with this stuff. Last night I cooked it with the chicken broth, salt, garlic, a dash of rosemary and some chipotle powder (the peppers can be too strong for my youngest). I made a pork tenderloin with it that I had done a mesquite rub on. I browned the meat on each side and then put a bit of broth and wine in the pot, which I then covered until done--scooped out the quinoa and poured the au jus over the top of it--YUM! I had one of the kids make a green salad, and we had an excellent meal that took all of 30 mins prep time tops and about 40 mins cook time. I figure that if I can teach my kids how to make a good quinoa recipe then when they go off on their own (which, sadly, they will) then if that's the only thing they know how to make then they should be okay. Lucky for them--I'm teaching them a few others meals.

How about you? Is there a dish you make that you or your family loves (unexpectantly loves) that is easy and nutritious? If so, let me know. I'm always interested in good food!