tracieorsi

Writer’s Blog Tour

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tracieorsi

Owner of Ragin' Cajun Restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey. Author of "Sittin' Bayou Makes Me Hot!"

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Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!

"Sittin' Bayou Makes Me Hot!" is not only a cookbook with easy and delicious recipes, the stories will make you laugh. As Tracie Orsi Godier will tell you, "Laughter is free, share it."
What better way to have fun and laughter with your best friends then to cook up a delicious meal, have a few glasses of wine to make life a little more enjoyable?

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Writer’s Blog Tour

My friend Meghan Arcuri invited me along on a writer’s blog tour. Her leg on this journey can be viewed at www.meghanarcuri.com
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I met Meghan at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp a few years ago. We made fast friends and bunk together at various Cons. She has written some great short stories and is currently working on a novel.

She’s also very helpful with my work, filling holes and eliminating noise. One of the greatest lessons we learned at Bootcamp was how to edit.

You know–kill your darlings. Meghan helps me bury the bodies.

Meghan had been invited by a fellow camper, Sean Davis, whose novel Clean Freak I’ll be reading this summer.clean freak

Meghan also invited Marianne Halbert who has a creepy Shirley Jacksonesque style. She has a fine collection of short stories in Wake up and Smell the Creepy wake up

We met Marianne at Anthocon last year and shared a lot of laughs!

Every writer has a Work in Progress. Even if nothing gets written down, a story is always mulling somewhere in the cranial nether world. The Writer’s Blog Tour is a peek into what’s at work with various authors you’ll meet along the way.

Kind of like interviewing yourself, then asking other writers to do the same.

So here goes:

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

Tom Monteleone from Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp recommended I write short stories. I’d always thought I’d be a novelist, but he said short stories give a sense of completion. Like setting short term attainable goals.

He was right. The first two short stories I’d written have been published in two anthologies:

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I thought maybe this summer I’d go back to one of the novels I started years ago, but I’m having fun writing short stories. Especially when I get an acceptance letter!

So–

My new title is “Swimming With Angels,” a Southern Gothic tale about a twelve year old girl who feels responsible for her mother’s death. What Asa doesn’t know is that her mother was dying anyway and had taken her daughter fishing for what she knew to be the last time. Her mother wanted her to go to college instead of getting pregnant and trapped in rural Virginia like her teenage sister did. Asa thinks her mother is being unfair and wishes her dead. This coming of age story has Asa’s imagination take her on a mystical journey through her budding sexuality while confronting the truth about her mother’s death.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE GENRE?

I wouldn’t say I’m a horror writer in the traditional sense, but most of what I do write is very dark. I take real situations and create a story around them. For instance, I wrote a story about a Christian missionary who does bad things in the Amazon while on a mission to convert the “savages.” I got the idea from reading an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about an archaeologist who wanted to be the one who finds the last of the Uncontacted Tribes. I was so mad when she said, “How can we save them if we can’t find them?” There was a photo of her plane swooping through the trees where they had located a longhouse, the natives forced to flee further into the jungle. If anything, they need saving from her! So I turned her into a bad man who gets it in the end. Ha!

In real life I tell funny stories and feel blessed with a kind heart. But we all have to face our shadow selves eventually. We all have a dark side. I’ve had some dark moments in my life. My stories are filled with dopplegangers and mirrors and small horrors that haunt people all the time. The world is not a nice place.

WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I don’t think I have a choice. I get an idea for a story and that’s that. I use to write children’s stories when I was young, but life ain’t so rosy I’ve come to find out. I like to make my characters squirm. I like when plots twist and leave the reader thinking about the story for a long time. I like to write about uncomfortable subjects, things people don’t want to think about.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I have to write with a pen. I’m not good at typing. It takes too long to get my ideas down so I lose a good train of thought. I buy cheap spiral notebooks and scribble away. Then I type it, edit it, print it. That’s when the red pen bleeds all over the page. As far as any discipline goes, I have none. I know it’s good practice to write a certain number of words a day. I do keep a diary about daily events, but I can’t just wake up at the same time every morning and pick up a pen. I usually have the idea rolling around in my head for a while, walking through scenarios and putting it all together. Once I’ve seen the story from start to finish, I sit down to write it. And it changes of course, but for the most part I know the story before it goes on paper. I’ll write until it’s done.

That’s when the dog hates me and my husband can’t understand why I’m so mean.
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My leg of the tour is coming to the end. But please follow along next week when I will be “interviewing” Elizabeth Massie.
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She posts sweet nighty-nights on Facebook. Some of them are inspiring while others sing like a perfect lullabye. Beth will be on my blog because her site is being worked on. And read anything you can find by her! She’s wonderfully talented and knits beautiful scarves!

I’ve also invited Kristi Petersen Schoonover. We had a great time at Anthocon last year. I loved Bad Applebad apple!

Another great writer is T.G. Arsenault. DSC_0255I just ordered Forgotten Souls for my summer reading.

That does it for this time. Check next Monday night to see what Beth, Kristi and Mr. Arsenault are up to.

Let the Good Times Roll!

images (3)“Faith, so they say; but I think it rather consists
of eating and drinking.” William Shakespeare
“Twelfth Night”

It would be hyperbole to say that Mardi Gras is a sanctioned riot.

With three million people dancing in the streets generating over a billion dollars in local revenues, “Fat Tuesday” in New Orleans, Louisiana has been declared “The Greatest Free Show in America.”

My first experience in “N’awlins” happened to be Mardi Gras. I was walking down the street with a “go cup” filled with some sort of libation. At first, I was a bit out of sorts, sashaying down the avenue, drinking a cocktail. I watched cops lounge on the hoods of their squad cars, laughing at the mayhem going on around them.

Only when there were a few flashing girls and bare-hiney men did they get up to issue warnings.

I was astounded by the heathens bouncing about like banshees, diving to the pavement for a tin coin called a “dubloon.”

I witnessed an old lady wrestle a construction worker for a set of beads that couldn’t cost more than fifty cents.

All in good fun.

My knowledge of Mardi Gras was influenced by MTV and “Girls Gone Wild” videos. I had no idea what it all meant and frankly no desire to shake what little I have in the chest department for plastic beads.

I was fortunate my hosts were born and raised in Metarie, so I wasn’t in the midst of all the drunken debauchery.

They made sure I saw Mardi Gras the right way. Like a local.

They knew all the prime spots. They took me to the best parades. Everyone was dressed up as a character. A lot of thought went into their costumes. Holly pulled two huge boxes out of her attic and told me to pick who I wanted to be for the day. Because she grew up in Metarie, she knew someone on every float. Holly told her friends I was dressed as a scarecrow and asked them to throw good beads my way.

She wanted me to get the full experience. I didn’t understand.

Holly called my name and point to a float.
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I squinched my eyes in confusion.

“What?”

“Look!”

I looked.

Whack!
Right in the kisser with a huge bundle of beads.

I ended up negotiating with a five year old. And lost.

“Hey,” I whined. “Those are mine.”

He grabbed the beads out from under me.

“Snooze you lose, lady,” as he ran off with my bootie.

“Ruthless runt!”

By the third parade, I had on a helmet and spikes pushing the little punks aside.

“Mine!” I cried, as I shoved my boon into my sack.

Most people think Mardi Gras is the one day celebration. It’s actually an extension of Carnival which translates “farewell to the flesh.” Carnival starts January 6. The Feast of the Epiphany, otherwise known as Twelfth Night. It ends two weeks later on “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday.

Ironically, this pagan bacchanalia invites the juxtaposition of that which is sacred on one end, and wicked on the other. The Roman Catholic celebration of the appearance of baby Jesus and the arrival of the Magi share the stage with the satirical antics and hedonism brought over from the pagan traditions. This last minute carnality is deemed a necessary period of merrymaking and overindulgence before the abstinence of Lent. It is an accepted forum for sexual expression and political lampooning stemming from Greek and Roman traditions dating as far back as the 5th Century.
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There is a certain mystique that lies beneath the surface of all the festivities and buffoonery, music and merrymaking. Because of its ancient ritualistic origin, Mardi Gras marks the celebration of rebirth that comes with Spring, a full sense of fertility and life the pagans so reveled. The awesome masks, satin covered horses and the ever present tribal drum beats stir the pot for fun and celebration.
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“Throw me something Mister” is the mantra and the motto is “Let Pleasure Rule” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”

I hid behind my scarecrow mask with cocktail in hand. I felt like a local that day, a bag full of beads and coveted treasure. A smile on my face that seared happiness into my soul.

At Midnight, the town went silent.images (7)

The party was over.

Till next year.

Super Storm Sandy Stone Soup

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On Thursday October 25, 2012, Governor Chris Christie told the people of the Jersey Shore to evacuate. Superstorm Sandy was on her way.

I’ve been through hurricanes before, and like many people, I didn’t buy into the “Frankenstorm” hype. It wasn’t until I saw the ticker from NOAA at the bottom of my TV screen that I got nervous. NOAA people aren’t smiling into the camera as they talk tragedy. These people are scientists. They know what they’re talking about and they didn’t say Superstorm Sandy was coming to the East Coast–they named our towns specifically.

At approximately 3 pm on Sunday October 28, the ocean met the lake, the inlet breeched. The storm still had a few hours before landfall.

A house crashed into the Mantoloking Bridge.

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The power went out. People hunkered down. The Jersey Shore was dark and silent but for the wind howling along the coastline.

On Monday morning, boardwalks floated a mile inland. Houses sat blocks from their foundations. A boat from the Belmar marina perched on a street sign three towns away. 483419_4878917939701_507805190_n

Superstorm Sandy

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Cliff drove up Highway 35 those first few days. He works for the power company.

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know.” The man doesn’t cry, but he was shaken up pretty bad.

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For three weeks they worked 18 hour shifts, coming home to eat and shower. Over 2 million people were without power. An elderly couple approached his truck asking about the status in their neighborhood.

He couldn’t give them an answer because there were so many trees down and they had to wait until the tree guys came to remove them.

“Trace, she was shivering and there was nothing I could do.”

I thought about that poor old woman huddled with blankets next to her husband trying to stay warm. I nearly cried when I heard the pilot on our hot water heater kick on and thanked God we have a gas stove.

Brian and Chris were at 10th Ave Burrito cooking for First Responders and anyone else who needed a hot meal. I couldn’t get to the restaurant because Highway 35 was flooded.

On Tuesday, I pulled into the driveway of my restaurant, anticipating the worst. I was lucky.

I called Borough Hall and asked what they needed.

“Coffee cups for the volunteers,” Tabitha said. “And Tracie?”

“Yeah?”

“Whatever you got.”

I wasn’t prepared for this. People stood in the cold rain charging their phones on 2×4’s set up with electrical jacks.

Those first days I drove from Toms River to Belmar, cooked, served, and prayed. The power wasn’t going to be restored anytime soon, so Mayor Matt Doherty set a curfew.

I stood in my kitchen and cried.

Too dark, too lonely. So cold.

The gas rations kept me from coming back to Belmar, so I went to the Silverton firehouse where 29 of their guys lost their homes in the Brick fires. They brought their families to the firehouse and went out to rescue more people.

Their wives worked around the clock feeding the hungry, the exhausted.

An EMT from Delaware put her backpack next to a cot and walked into the kitchen. “What can I do to help?” she asked.

In unison, we told her to go get some sleep.

A part of our world was ending. What could we do? Embrace one another and convince each other everything would be all right?

I watched the tired firefighters clamber on a truck. They hadn’t eaten since their last call.

A little boy stood in the doorway of the kitchen. He asked his Grandma what he could do to help. His grandmother dried her hands and pulled him close.

I handed him a basket of bread. “Why don’t you put this on the big table next to the plates?”

He smiled, happy to have something to do.

Grandma said “thank you” to me and a minute later, he was back.

“What else.”

We laughed, tears in our eyes.

No matter what happens in this country, we’ll survive because people are willing to pitch in. A woman lost her home. She chopped onions to disguise her tears. She’d reserve them for later when everyone else was safe. We pulled together the best part of ourselves and threw it into the pot.

On my way home, I stopped at the Elks in Toms River to have a beer. A truck arrived from Virginia. They needed volunteers. It was the night of the snowstorm.

I put a few chickens in a pot of water and peeled potatoes. Nancy chopped vegetables while Sue opened cans of tomatoes. People came in from the cold and we served Brunswick stew. It wasn’t much, but it tasted good.

An old woman took my hands in hers and thanked me. “Did you make the soup?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

She lost her house and was sleeping at her daughter’s house. They had come for extra sleeping bags and blankets. I handed her a lantern and a new pair of gloves.

“Yes ma’am. I did.”

“That’s the best bowl of soup I ever had,” she said.

When I cry, it’s not tears of sadness but of joy. Yes, it was a sad time. But we made it. We’ll always make it. We took the best parts of ourselves and gave them to others. Like in the fable Stone Soup. It takes a community for a feast.

I saw it firsthand.

We all did what we could, and it worked.

Brunswick Stew for Melissa

Recipe for Brunswick Stew

1 3 lb fryer chicken (leftover chicken can be added to store bought chicken broth)
1 medium onion
2 cups diced potatoes
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 cans corn drained
1 package frozen baby lima beans
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. cumin

Clean whole chicken and put in a large stock pot with water enough to cover chicken (about a quart). Boil gently for about one hour or until chicken is cooked through and the meat falls off the bone. Strain, reserving liquid. When chicken is cool enough, pick the meat off the bones and put in pot with stock. Add the rest of the ingredients and stew for about 20 minutes. Serve hot with crusty French bread or a grilled cheese sandwich.

What the Bleep is in my Pantry, I’m hungry!

DSC_0004I’ve been gone a while. It took us two days to pack up the Budget truck for the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City, North Carolina. We packed 350 pounds of alligator sausage, 200 pounds of shrimp, stuff to make jambalaya and lobster macaroni and cheese. We had over a thousand crab mozzarella croquettes and the makings for lobster cakes. We had lobster bisque and seafood gumbo.

I barely ate all weekend. In fact I think I lost about four pounds. It’s hard work, these festivals.

Surrounded by food, and spilling shrimp juice on my legs, I didn’t feel like eating.

We got home late last night and went to bed right away. This morning I woke up with the dog in my face. She’s a little (no, a lot) pissed off we left her for so long. I gave her a shin bone from the freezer that “Uncle Steve” brought over he being a butcher and all. Belle loves Uncle Steve so I put the “babysitter” on the deck and tried to fall back to sleep.

Cliff left for work at 6 am. God Bless him. We’re both incredibly exhausted and psyched we didn’t fight. You see, he has his way of doing things and then there’s my way. Hmmm. Figure it out because I know you all have experienced what I won’t mention here.

My stomach is growling and I know there’s nothing to eat because we’ve been gone since Tuesday.

I open the refrigerator anyway.

Surprise.

Nothing.

I open the freezer. More Uncle Steves wrapped in brown butcher paper. A couple of pot pies. One ice cream sandwich.

Something long wrapped in aluminum foil.

A bag of Sabrett’s and burger patties leftover from the softball party.

I open the pantry and see cans of chicken broth, pork and beans and some Stove Top Stuffing (don’t say a word, cuz I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have to do everything from scratch).

A few cans of black olives.

Beans, pasta, tomatoes,

A box of Uncle Ben’s rice.

Taco shells.

Nothing to eat. I look at the dog through the sliding glass door. She sure is enjoying that meaty bone. I don’t feel like getting out of my pajamas to go to the store. I have clothes in the laundry that smell like Seafood Festival.

If you’ve never worked a seafood festival, you wouldn’t understand.

Trust me, you don’t want to.

Beans, pasta, tomatoes. Chicken broth.

Chicken broth and ditalini. Simple. No onions. No celery. No carrots.

Boring.

I can’t even have a bowl of Captain Crunch because there’s no milk.

I put on a pot of water and open a can of chicken broth.

I look in the pantry again.

Hmmm.

I open a can of tomatoes.

And a can of white beans.

I add some spice.

That long thing in the freezer wrapped in foil? The other half of garlic bread I made two weeks ago.

On goes the oven.

Now I’m starving and the smell of garlic bread has the dog staring at me through the glass. She has abandoned the babysitter.DSC_0717

The bread is crunchy and I’m on my second bowl of cheating pasta fagioli.

If you ever find yourself without something to eat, look in your pantry. I’m sure you’ll find something truly delicious in there if you look hard enough. This should also influence your next trip to the grocery store. The beans were 79 cents. The can of tomatoes on sale for 59 cents. The broth was two for a dollar. Pasta on sale 4 for 5 bucks.

I didn’t share, but I could have.

Yum!

Pantry Pasta Fagioli (pasta and bean soup)

2 cans chicken broth
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. oregano
1 beef bouillon cube
½ tsp. chopped garlic
Pinch herbs de Provence
Pinch savory
¼ lb ditalini pasta

Cook pasta according to package. Rinse in cold water and set aside. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add pasta and simmer for 10 more minutes, longer if you like your soup thick. I like mine brothy. And I add more black pepper after.

No body wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, “I’m going to be a hero today.”

SEPT. 11 ANNIVERSARYphoto: Marty Lederhandler AP

We’re going to be all right because there’s a hero in all of us. We are the protagonist of our own story.

Then there are those who go beyond the call of duty and that’s what real heroes are made of. No one knows when to run into a burning building.

But people do it. All the time.

john labriola photo of firefighter photo: John Labriola

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Some more than others but who knows when it will be your turn to save the day.

You probably do it without even noticing. A passing smile, letting someone go in front of you at an intersection. Helping someone with a grocery bag. Packing your child’s lunch bag.

When tragedy strikes it’s more evident who is willing to sacrifice their lives.

Soldiers do it every day.

For our freedom. For our lives.

Be a better person. Wake up every morning and look in the mirror. We are all heroes.

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Many tragedies have befallen our beautiful country.

We’re going to be okay no matter what happens.

We’ll survive because people are willing to pitch in to make it easier for the less fortunate.

I’ve seen it firsthand.

It’s who we are. It’s what makes us Americans.

It isn’t about what happened to our country September 11, 2001. It’s what happens every day in our country. We all need to be accountable for our lives, enriching those we encounter every day. Let September 11 be a reminder of who we are and how we play our part as heroes.

Wake up every morning, look in the mirror. Who do you see?

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Necon Newbie – A Picture Book

I never thought horror writers could be so funny. But they are. And creative. Very creative. I recently returned from a weekend in Bristol, Rhode Island from The Northeastern Writer’s Conference, affectionately known as Camp Necon.
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When I think of summer camp, I think of the movie Meatballs. This is better. The same, but better. Some of the best horror writers in the country attend every year.

I’m a newbie. A Necon Virgin.

Since I first attended Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp I wasn’t able to attend because Necon takes place in July, the height of my busy season at the restaurant. This year I’ve decided to feed my passion for writing and let the restaurant run without me.

I’m tired of cleaning toilets. I’m tired of peeling shrimp. I’m tired of talking jambalaya. The restaurant business is way too glamorous for me. Not that I’ll quit that world, but I need another one.

F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, and Doug Winter came in for dinner Thursday night before Necon.  Mary Wilson wagged her finger.

“You take care of her. I don’t want her coming back changed.”

The three authors told stories with such fondness I was envious of the camaraderie. I wanted to be a part of the childish shenanigans and have years of story to tell.

Paul told his wife that I’d most likely be looking after them.

“What goes on at this thing, anyway?” she asked. I too wanted to know.

“Well, there’s bowling.”

“There’s a talent show.”

“There’s a Roast.”

DSC_0379“Ah, the Roast,”  they said in unison.

Will I be hazed? I wondered. Is there some sinister initiation process to this grand fraternal order?

Surely, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, my Necon roommate would have told me? She was there last year.

She’s a horror writer, maybe not.

It took me nine hours to make a five hour drive.

I spent the entire length of Connecticut stop-go stop-go. I calculated an average 20 mph. My left thigh still burns from the clutch.

I sent a text message to F. Paul (no I wasn’t driving):

“Holy traffic, Batman.”

To which he replied, “Where are you?”

I hadn’t hit New Haven yet.

“We’re in Bristol already.” And that was that. They were mixing drinks and I was all alone in the parking lot they call I-95.

I probably would have turned around if it weren’t bumper to bumper in the southbound lane.

I pulled up to the curb. Doug Winter was there. I gave him a hug. He said, “Well you’re here now. Good.” And introduced me to Dallas Mayr who Stephen King claims to be the scariest man in America.
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I walked through the lobby dragging my cooler. My roommate was at the counter asking if there was another ice machine in the building, the one on the first floor was empty.

Nope, only one in the entire conference center with so many writers, so many cocktails.

I missed dinner but Megan looked at my cooler and said, “You have ice in there.”

“I bought two extra bags.”

“Perfect,” she said and helped me carry it up the stairs to our room (no elevator).

We made drinks and went to the opening ceremony with Rio Youers hosting. It was scandalously naughty and I knew I was in the right place.
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Gardner Goldsmith was there. I haven’t seen Gard since Bootcamp 2010. I shared my drink with him. I was happy to see him especially since he was the brunt of many of Rio’s jokes.

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I love Gard. What a sport.

We drank in a courtyard and when 3 am rolled around it was time for bed. For me and Meghan anyway.

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I learned so much from the panels. Authors giving advice on how it is in the publishing world, editors giving their side of the story.

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Even though I didn’t know many people when I arrived, I know them now. Tony Tremblay took me by the hand and introduced me around.  I felt welcome, even though I haven’t had a story published.

The people at Necon don’t care about stuff like that. They want you to have fun. They want you to get it. They want to share the loving support they carry with them for their colleagues.

I appreciate all the great stories and advice from everyone. Heather Graham and Dallas both took time to talk to me and I could tell they loved the craft. The big old boot in the butt I need to finish my novel.

To be part of something so special is what Necon is all about. When I get together with my cousins, it’s the same way. We pick up where we left off. The same stories rehashed year after year and we never tire of them. They only get better.

I can’t wait for next year. I can’t wait to see who will be the next Roastee and hear the heckling from the crowd.

“Too kind! This is a Roast!”

I look at a picture with me, Gardner Goldsmith and Meghan Arcuri. Meghan and I are peeved with Michael Bailey and RB Payne who said they were coming this year. I think of all my fellow grunts from Borderlands and I wonder:
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Are we going to be like them? Are we going to share the beginnings of our writing careers together and one-day host the Game show?” Will we guide and support each other throughout our budding careers the way these guys all did?

I hope so.

The night goes on. Megan tells me I must have a saugie, which I hadn’t  heard of until Necon. She said they’re like a hot dog or some sort of sausage. The way everyone lined up I thought of the movie Soylent Green. These are all horror writers. Who’d they kill? Who are we about to eat?
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Megan handed me what looked like a hot dog. When I bit into it, the skin was crispy and it really was tasty even if it was old whatshisname.

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“When in Necon . . .” they all said.

Whenever I take someone to a restaurant I love or recommend I want to know if they liked it, worried they might not  appreciate something I love.

I got the same feeling from the Necon campers. They love their family reunion. All the joking aside, they all love one another. It was great hearing the stories. Watching everyone interact. Each assuming a role  chosen years ago.

As Doug, Paul and Tom get ready to depart (Meghan calls them the three amigos), Tom asked me:

“Did you have fun?”

“I learned man ballet.”
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“I learned how to shave a guy’s head.”

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“What did you think?” said Paul.

“I need to finish my novel.”

“That is correct. Will you be back?”

“I can’t wait til next year.”

“Good.”

Next year I can’t wait to see a newbie sitting in the cafeteria  so I can sit down with my tacos and welcome her with my own stories. I want her to feel as comfortable as I did. I want to be the one who asks, “Are you ready for a good time?”

Have I changed? Yes, but not because I had to sit in a baby pool full of ice or walk around with a dead fish around my neck singing dirty limericks.

Am I coming back next year?

You betcha!
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Here’s a Tip: Get Off the Phone!

DSC_0127I’m not sure people are as ignorant as they are self-absorbed. They care more about e-mails and text messaging than getting hit by a car.

They’re too caught up in Candy Crush and their stupid Farmville.

It’s all about Facebook and posting pictures of themselves driving in their cars.

They check how many Likes they’re getting on Instagram instead of talking to the person they’re having lunch with.

Who’s posting a picture of her plate of French fries.

People walk into the middle of the road oblivious to oncoming traffic. They don’t wait for the light to change. They don’t use crosswalks.

A man stepped off the curb from behind a bush right in front of me. He was looking down at his phone.

“Pedestrians have the right of way!” He said.

I should have told him only creepy dudes sit in the bushes and jump out at girls in cars.

I’m sure I would have won that case.

When a waitress serves you at a restaurant, she thinks about how much you’ll leave for a tip rather than how much she could make if she’d put forth a little effort instead of slapping the food down and rushing back to her phone to see if anyone texted her in the past four minutes.

I’d love to say:

“The only person you’re important to right now sweetheart is me because I just ate a jalapeno and I need another beer. I can see you don’t give a shit, but in reality, your boyfriend is sliding his hand up your best friend’s thigh and neither one of them care that you’ve been texting all night.”

Most people I encounter don’t give a hoot about their jobs. I’ll call customer service and no one seems to know what his or her company does. I asked the cashier at Foodtown, “Do I get the Rug Doctor from you or do I go to the customer service counter?” She didn’t blink. She stared at me as if time had stopped. I said, “Can you find out?”

She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes at me.

Then she picked up her phone.

I wanted to smack the thing out of her hand but glanced at her nametag instead.

“Jackie,” I said, “I’m so sorry to have bothered you. You have a nice day,” and went to see the manager.

The general attitude of the workforce is that they make just as much money as their co-workers. There’s no reason to do anymore than they have to.

How about taking pride in what you do?

In this world, promotions are given based on seniority as opposed to ability, loyalty, and hard work.

I sat the bench on my high school basketball team until I learned to shoot the ball from the top of the key.

Nowadays, everyone plays and everyone gets a trophy.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent practicing from the free-throw line until I got it right. I ran harder and faster to make sure I made the team.

I wanted to start so I ran even faster and longer every day.

People are disengaged, and not held accountable for what they do. Kids aren’t praised for what they do well because another kid might feel bad.

I can’t believe they don’t teach cursive in school anymore! How are they going to read a wedding invitation?

Calligraphy use to be an art form done by hand by an artist, not by changing the font on your computer! I write faster in cursive than I can type.

Even though THANK YOU is printed on the guest check, when I see

photo (8)

I feel better about the restaurant, better about the service and better about my day.

I think people feel a little bit better whether they notice or not.

People need to put their phones down. Nobody is that important. Nobody really needs to talk to you while you’re in line at the grocery store.

When you go out to dinner with your besties, no one should have a phone in their hands.

When you work for a company and you don’t know the answer to a question asked by a customer, find out. The more you know about your job, the better you look. The better you look the better you feel. The world will be a better place.

If you put your phone down and do your job, you’ll make more dollars than you have sense.

Have a great day!photo (7)

Oh, I Love Your Tomatoes!

tomato-producers-534x356So I’m thinking of a small garden this year. The past two years I didn’t have a whole lot of luck as I worked too many hours and sometimes, well, I was too darned tired to stand for an hour with a hose on my tomatoes.

But what’s summer without fresh tomatoes? Our Jersey Tomatoes are famous! So I thought, what about getting those big barrels and fill them with dirt?

And then I get to thinking. I don’t really need zucchini and squash. I love cucumbers and how watery they are straight off the vine. I don’t like tomatoes except in the summer for some strange reason but then I eat them every day. And Basil. You have to have basil!

So here’s the plan:

We’ll call the first one the Bruschetta Barrel. In it I’ll plant my Roma tomatoes, some onions and of course basil. When all is said and done, I’ll cut up 4 ripe tomatoes and 1 onion finely chopped. Chop about 6 basil leaves and stir in with some salt and pepper. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of olive oil and 3 Tbs. of red wine vinegar. Stir and cover for at least an hour. Spoon over garlic bread and indulge!

The second container will be the Pico Barrel for my salsa fresca or as some say pico de gallo. Another tomato plant, some more onions, jalapeno and cilantro. Same as the bruschetta with the tomatoes and onions. Then chop up a good handful of cilantro (about 2 Tbs.) Finely chop a jalapeno (cut the seeds out first and if you don’t wear gloves don’t touch your eyes or go to the bathroom for a while). Add salt to taste and squeeze the juice of 2 limes. Let sit covered in the fridge for at least an hour. Great with tortillas or in fajitas. Mash up an avocado, add a Tbs of the pico and ole!

Holy guacamole, Batman!

I had success with cucumbers in the past so I’ll plant a few with a beefsteak tomato plant. I love cucumber tomato salad in the summer or a nice caprese salad with fresh mozzarella. I drizzle avocado lime vinaigrette and yum!!!! For the cucumber salad: Peel and slice cucumbers. Cut tomatoes in bite sized chunks. Coarsely chop an onion. Use the same dressing as the bruscetta, but add a little more vinegar. Again, let it sit for at least an hour.

Another good tomato recipe:

cut up tomatoes in a bowl. Add 1 Tbs. crushed garlic, 1 tsp finely chopped jalapeno, 8 chopped basil leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil and salt to taste. Let sit for 2 hours. Heat it up and toss with some pasta. Easy and good!

I’ll have a pot with several herbs like dill and oregano. My rosemary and thyme always flourish year round, so I don’t have to worry about that. I even have some lemon oregano which is awesome in a big fat Greek salad.

So that’s it. Even if you go to the market for your ‘maters, here are some easy recipes. And when you make a salad, everyone will look straight into your eyes and say, “Hey lady, I love your tomatoes!” 644588_4589382978671_1732029917_n

Not Bad For A First Draft

I didn’t want to use this blog to critique works of authors, but I felt the need to review a book I recently read by Alexandra Skoloff, “The Unseen.” The reason I’m posting my review here is because I feel the need to show new authors the dangers they might face if they choose to publish their wares independently. It might seem pricey to hire an editor when your best friend who majored in English can do it for the price of a bottle of wine. But she knows you and will hear your voice despite the grammar problems, your protests and justifications.

Or you might want to ask a coworker because she reads a lot and knows what’s “out there.”

Hiring a good editor will decrease your chances of receiving a scathing review. I don’t mind constructive criticism with anything I do, but some people can get downright hateful.

A good editor might help create a reader base for when you no longer have to promote your stories on Kindle for nothing. If the free story you read is poorly written, chances are you won’t read anything from that author again. I don’t want to waste my time when there are so many great authors waiting to entertain and move me.

Same if you write something that makes you look like an amateur, it might be hard to convince a publisher you’ll ever make the Bestseller List.

So here is my review of Alexandra Skoloff’s “Unseen.” I’m not saying I hated it. And maybe my experience at Writer’s Bootcamp changed the way I read (which I was warned the first day as a grunt). I want to be a good writer. I want to read good books. When I read one that has a good story going but there’s more action going on between my temples than with the characters, I’m going to change my policy of finishing what I’ve started and start throwing these books away.

NOT BAD FOR A FIRST DRAFT
I can’t believe this novel was published in Hardcover. I downloaded it for free on my Kindle based on a recommendation for this author.

I would have been upset if I paid money for it.

I read the reviews of Alexandra Sokoloff’s “The Unseen.” I’m amazed that no reviewer mentions how poorly written this book was. Some say the characters were flat, another said the novel was a disappointment. Most reviewers loved it. As I read it, I thought Ms. Sokoloff should have invested in a good editor. Or gone to a workshop. I thought she published this book independently and prematurely.

There wasn’t an editor at St. Martin’s Press who knew there was work to be done?

It’s not that the story was bad, it has great potential. If the rule in writing a novel is “show, don’t tell,” Sokoloff is a rogue. The entire story was “told” by the author. I saw nothing. Not from any character’s point of view, which could have been interesting with scientists recording a psychic phenomenon, a poltergeist waiting to be seen.

Maybe that’s why the title is “The Unseen?”

Laurel spends too much time “finding herself turning and looking, glancing around the room when suddenly a dark man appeared.” Yikes! Nobody ‘finds’ themselves turning and looking at anything at any time. A dark man suddenly appearing doesn’t give me “tingling behind” my ears as our psychic-sensitive heroine felt every time the reader was suppose to realize something dramatic was about to happen. Even the quick paced ending left me with nothing. Something rapped twice and some light bulbs broke. A few people sitting around a table and “suddenly” the mayhem was over.

I wish her editor had told her to run a word search. How many times can I read the word “was” before I reach for the bottle of aspirin? Or throw away the book? I counted the word “suddenly” ten times on one page, “was” ten times in one paragraph. If Laurel isn’t going to react to anything why should I? Not only is the use of “suddenly” non effective and a writing no-no, it’s a sign of lazy writing all together. In a story about a poltergeist, there are any number of ways to get the reader’s attention. Poltergeists are noisy and destructive. Certainly Ms. Sokoloff could have supplied a few rattling verbs to get the point across. Slam the door, let the ringing telephone crash against the wall, pinch her, something. I felt I was watching a dress rehearsal for a bad play through a security monitor.

The use of adverbs is also a sign of poor writing. I’ve been taught to find a better verb, period.

I recently wrote a blog about passive voice and point of view in my own writing. “The Unseen” would make a perfect example on why passive voice is, well, so passive. This book sludged along like a drunken walk home in the middle of the night. There was no reason to feel terror when I was told by the author that Laurel felt terror. There was nothing Laurel or any other character did or said that made me sit on the edge of the bed at 3:00 in the morning to see what came out of the puddle of water. Nothing ever did.

“The Unseen” would make a good exercise on how point of view and passive voice are important factors in story telling.

Take this passage: “She turned on the path and glanced toward the circle of oaks where she often saw him with his study groups, but on this chilly day the lawn was empty, dotted with tiny white daisies.” Did his study group “suddenly” turn into flowers?

“She was not aware that she herself sighed as she turned away from the tree.”

What? If she’s not aware of sighing, how can I be?

Reading this novel was like being in a bad dream that never ended. Why didn’t I put it down? It’s my policy to finish what I’ve started. And to be fair, if I’m going to have an opinion on something, I should at least see it to the end.

I could have done without the sex dream as it was never addressed in the end. Who did she have sex with? That scene should be cut as it has no bearing on the story itself.

Who is Brandon Cody? I thought the guy’s name was Ian Brady. I’m confused by some reviews wondering if they read the same book I did.

She might have done a better job if Walter Kornbluth and Dr. Anton were the same person. Without giving anything away, this would have made more sense.

I shouldn’t be as critical of Ms. Sokoloff as I should her publisher. She wrote a book and sold it. If St. Martin’s Press thought this was well written, that gives me reason to question their understanding of good writing. Where was her editor? What Ms. Sokoloff needs to do is rewrite this book. Take away the “was-es” the “had been’s, had seem’s” and “suddenly,” she might “find herself” with a good story.

When we all receive our rejection notices day after day, know this: sometimes the publisher isn’t as scary as we might imagine. What’s scary, is that we might allow a publisher to print something that might make us look less than we see ourselves. That said, I’m going to make sure I write to the best of my ability, buy a bottle of wine, invite the coworker to dinner, AND hire a good editor!

Write and Rewrite, my friends!

Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Bear. Was He?

the thinkerIt’s been a month since my weekend at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. I’ve just now had the time to look at the critiques from my fellow grunts. Sixteen of us submitted 35 pages of a manuscript to be ripped apart by our peers and three instructors.

Every critique had the same message scrawled in the margins:

Passive voice. Point of View. Passive voice.

I used “was” 385 times in 35 pages.

I should give up on this writing thing.

I was a writer until. . .

You know about the “Be” verbs?

They ARE boring!

They sit idle with nothing going on. You know them:

am, are, is, was, were, been, being, and be.

I am therefore I am.

You are what?

I am a bear. I am fuzzy.

Dear God!

To Be or Not to Be? Unless you’re Shakespeare, don’t bother.

The story sludges. It takes too long to get anywhere.

Yawn.

The reader moves on to something more rousing.

Michael Bailey is a counter of words. He informed us of the frequency we used a single word in our submissions.

“I recognize patterns,” he told us.

I pray my pattern is not passive. But there it was. In plain view.

In the right hand corner of Microsoft Word on the Home tool bar, you’ll see a set of binoculars next to the word “Find.”

I typed in “was” and hit the “Highlight All” button.

All writers want to paint a picture with words, but a florescent pink highlight mosaic on the page is not what I had in mind.

Here is a paragraph I submitted from my working novel “The Family Tree.”

There are 10 “wassies” in one small blurb!

I climbed the stairs into the attic. It was filled with steamer trunks, a sofa and a small bed. It was musty and I found it hard to breathe. I opened a window and looked for the door to the widow’s walk.

The bathroom was small with a claw foot tub, a toilet and a sink.

Underneath the ladder to the widow’s walk there was a tiny door. I tried to open it. The door was jammed and I looked around to find something to pry it open.

I listened to Margaret shuffling around down stairs.

A piece of flooring was busted and I lifted the board.

Something caught my eye. It was a tin box covered with dust. I turned it over in my hands. I had one of these when I was little. The book was there as I expected it would be.

Not to mention the other weak verbs for which I’m embarrassed to reprint. It’s terrible.

Boring. Tedious. Wearisome. Dull.

Like cobwebs that sit in the corner.

So I reworked it hoping to eliminate all the was-es.

This is what I came up with. From 10 to 0 in one fall swoop of a bat’s wing (to get you in the mood).

Hannah climbed the attic stairs. A door, with locks and double bolts on both sides, hung across the threshold, wrenched from its hinges.

Steamer trunks lined the walls. A small bed sat isolated beneath the rafters casting an eerie silhouette across the floor.

A claw foot tub, a toilet and a sink hid behind a moth-worn curtain in the corner.

The heaviness of the air and the reek of decay tightened Hannah’s chest.

She pried open the lone window.

The floor creaked, the attic moaned with relief, able to breathe again.

Hannah found a tiny door underneath a ladder and jiggled the handle. The door wouldn’t budge, the wood swollen with years of stifling humidity. Dust motes swarmed in a beam of sunlight.

What ghosts lurk beneath these rafters? Who slept in this bed? Old houses have secrets to reveal. What dark mysteries hide within its haunted mind?

As if the attic heard her questions, a glint of light shone through a niche in the wall by the window seat. She shook a panel from the wall and pulled out a tin box. She turned it over in her hands, brushed off the dust and released the latch. The cracked leather proved its antiquity, its tiny lock broken.

Hannah glanced at the door. She thought she heard Margaret shuffling around on the floor below.

She drew in a deep breath, and with hammering guilt, opened the book.

I also changed from the first person to third because if the narrator is telling the story about something that happened to her, the reader knows it couldn’t have been that bad because she lived to tell her story. Not much tension there. Not as creepy.

What if we don’t know what’s going to happen to Hannah in that attic; what secrets she might unearth; whose diary did she find and what will it reveal about its author?

It’s still not perfect, but certainly better than it was!

Which paragraph would entice you to turn the page?