A Day for Thanks

Between this writing blog and my food blog, I have had, at one time or another, fabulous readers from 71 countries! Page views are closing in on 8,000, and my name as a writer and decent cook is getting out there. When I started this adventure, I only wanted to write down some recipes for my kids to access electronically in perpetuity. Who would have thought I would be writing my second novel, revising my first novel for publishing, and participating in Penguin’s BookCountry – an awesome online writer’s community. I have been interviewed by the Dallas Morning News  and Gannett Corporation’s NowU, and have recently entertained the interest of The National Aquarium in Baltimore. As for the last one, they  ran across a food blog photo I had made of a horseradish-encrusted flounder entree. The dpi may not be good enough, jury’s still out on that one, but if it works out, the photo could be a part of an exhibit about the Chesapeake Bay.

Then there’s my short story (of course, not a mystery) being published in the inaugural issue of The World Unknown. This periodical will feature 11 pieces by indie writers who submitted through a national call for work. More (much more) to follow soon!

Not bad for a guy who forgot to stab the potatoes when he was cooking dinner once.

Here in the US of A, today we celebrate Thanksgiving. Most Americans are watching parades and football games on television, and those not watching are busy cooking up turkey, sweet potatoes, and one of a hundred variety of cranberry dishes, not to mention pumpkin pies and their ilk. And we are no exception. One child is taking a nap, one is working on grad school applications, and the in-laws and their daughter are watching television. The turkey has about an hour to go, the dressing is in the crock pot, and the mashed potatoes will be started soon.

But as for me? I am on hiatus until the turkey is done. What better time to work on the blog, and then will crank out another 2,000 words of the Nanowrimo novel. In case you were wondering, I am tracking to finish on the last day, November 30th, probably at the last hour. But I will have finished.

So a lot has happened to this writer. And lot will keep happening.

Why?

Because it’s fun to do, and I have the best readers on the planet. Thanks so much for your support!

So no matter what country you call home, and no matter what holiday, if any, you celebrate today – I am thankful you stopped by.

Coming soon – a return to The Thirteenth Samurai.

D.J. sends.

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The 13th Samurai – Act 1, Scene 6

The telltale sound of metal grinding against metal should have warned Masaru to walk away. The cook had intentionally wandered near the castle’s great hall, a place where the Shogun’s loyal Samurai were practicing their techniques of sword, knife, and bow. And while the castle had well over one hundred servants, Masaru was the only one who daily walked about the passageways bordering the hall. He enjoyed staying in the shadows, watching the men practice their combat techniques. Among half the servants Masaru was legendary; the other half thought he should be locked in a cage for his own protection.

So as not to injure themselves, the Samurai often practiced on frightened laborers grabbed as they walked near the hall. Most were too scared to do anything but accept the soon-to-come beating, but Masaru was different. Knowing he had the favor of the Shogun, Masaru always defended himself, being careful to not accidentally insult the Samurai. What they did not know was Masaru’s mother had taught her son more than just cooking.

“Hataka Masaru – the kitchen can wait. Come stand over here. Now.”

Today, however, Masaru found himself with a true dilemma. He could not disobey the Samurai, for to do so meant probable death. Yet, if they discovered the kaiken’s blade hidden inside his kimono sleeve, there would be questions. And then his death would follow with certainty.

This indiscriminate power to kill peasants was an accepted part of Bushido, the warrior’s code. And until now, Masaru’s desire to become a Samurai had not been personally tested by the consequences of following the entire code.

Masaru was positioned in the center of the hall. Here there was adequate space for combat; the furnishings having been moved to the side. Samurai gathered around, forming an inescapable perimeter ten paces in diameter. He knew what was coming next. The senior man was about to impart wisdom to his charges, and Masaru would be the demonstration. He clenched his muscles, ready to accept the pain.

Two Samurai stepped forward and bound Masaru’s hands in front of him using a strip of old fabric. A third came up from behind and tied a blindfold across his eyes. The cloth scraped his skin, but Masaru knew better than to flinch; he wanted to remain as silent as possible. His ears would tell him what was happening.

The senior was instructing his students about the higher techniques of controlling a prisoner. The news of the one-armed thief had travelled quickly throughout Castle Edo, and the leader of the Shogun’s Samurai knew his position, and his life depended on such an occurrence never happening again.

“Your prisoner no longer has the use of his hands, and his eyes are blind,” the man said. He slowly circled around Masaru, pointing to the blindfold and the cloth handcuffs. “He tries to escape. How can you stop him?”

A student stepped forward two paces.

Masaru could not see, but knew from the smell of the man’s sweat that he was now directly in front. Masaru’s nose detected this odor was not the normal stench associated with wearing the chain-mail armor coverings, the kusari gusoku. No, the novice Samurai stank of fear.

Instinct caused Masaru to jump, lifting his feet as high as his muscles could flex. The swooshing sound of a wooden Bo whiffed by Masaru at ankle-height. He had dodged the first attack, then readied himself for the next movement of the Samurai’s bojutsu kata, the litany of physical actions used with the long staff.

Masaru, with only a moment to react, raised his arms in hopes of catching the descending pole before it landed a debilitating hit on his neck. The cloth handcuffs entrapped the bo; and Masaru dropped to his knees pulling the young Samurai’s staff down with him.

The clatter of the oak weapon skittering away was drowned out by the laughter of the other Samurai. The senior admonished the warriors to stop, putting his hand on top of the handle of his katana. The older Samurai knew their leader would not draw the sword from its sheath, for that would indicate someone, a Samurai no less, would have to die. The junior Samurai had no clear indication of their mentor’s intentions, though, and silence was immediately restored.

“Masaru, you are wasting our time as a cook. Had you been born into a higher class, you would do well to join us. Perhaps you have spent more time observing our methods than stirring the Shogun’s soup?”

Masaru knew his station in life. To speak now would be an affront to the Samurai, implying he considered himself an equal. A deep and prolonged bow would suffice. He hoped.

The senior motioned his charges away to another part of the great room. It was time for archery and Masaru wanted no part of it. Arrows flew much faster than wooden poles could be thrust, and being hit with a stick was one thing; feeling the sharp point of an errant arrow wielded by a warrior in training was another.

As Masaru returned on his journey to the kitchen, he noticed another servant carrying two large buckets of potatoes. It was Ichiro. How long had he been watching? Had he been watching at all? Why was he watching?

Masaru, remembering the one-armed thief from the midday meal, tried not to look too closely at Ichiro’s arms as the man lugged the heavy buckets. Still, Masaru wanted to know if the mark on Ichiro’s forearm matched the one he had seen on the limb sliced from the thief.

Something was wrong; something bad was going to happen. Masaru’s instincts were overstimulated, probably from the blindfolded attack he assumed. But still, Masaru had a gut feeling the incident in the Shogun’s antechamber was just the beginning.

“Masaru,” his new assistant said, “we must hurry to your kitchen. I have something very important to tell you.”

The man’s kimono sleeves had slid up just enough to confirm Masaru’s theory. The marks were not burns. They were tattoos. And only two types of people in Edo had such markings. Criminals, and those who would soon enough become one.

Masaru said nothing in reply, instead letting his own sleeve loosen enough to allow the hidden blade enough freedom to slip down into his palm.

As the two reached the privacy of the kitchen, Masaru spoke. “I see you have brought more potatoes. Very good. We will both make another journey to the markets to get the other foods needed for the dinner tonight. And some fish. But only if we can carry it ourselves.” The last thing Masaru wanted was another stranger in his midst.

“Hataka Masaru. You have not had training as a Samurai, yet you do well against their attacks.”

Masaru slowly backed away from the man. He did not know if this was a challenge or flattery designed to gain something else. “I have watched the Samurai move through their bojutsu kata many times. I know which moves follow every strike. It was a simple matter of hearing when and where the first attack would occur.”

“I think it more than just observation. You and I both know. Your mother taught you well.”

       How did this man know my mother?

♦ ♦ ♦

The 13th Samurai – Act 1, Scene 4

Nani shite no aho!

Masaru was used to being called an idiot by the members of the higher classes. One more time mattered not to the man destined to remain a cook his entire life. Seeing Kira dance on one foot was enough entertainment to make up for the insult. Even the two Samurai chuckled at the sight.

All commotion stopped when the door opened.

The Shogun had heard the scream and came through the door, katana in hand. Once he saw what had happened, he joined in the laughter, saying “Kira, I have told you many times to stay away from my servants. When you are Shogun, you can have your own.”

The Shogun took the tip of his sword and slowly traced the scar on Kira’s cheek. “But if I were you, I would worry about others more dangerous than my cook.”

Masaru was invited into the next room. Kira started to follow but the Shogun shut the door as his advisor stepped up to the portal. Just having the Shogun open and close his own door was an incredible slight to the advisor – such tasks were always left to assistants and advisors such as himself. Now he was without an audience to the ruler of all Japan.

Inside, Masaru placed the pot of soup on a table, turned and started to walk back toward the door, knowing he would come face to face with the furious Kira. Masaru reached for the pot handle now secured back in the left sleeve of his kimono. He would not draw it unless Kira came at him. Would his good relationship with the Shogun spare him a death sentence for clubbing a scoundrel like Kira? After all, Masaru would just be finishing the job started by Saito Takeji.

Masaru had dreamed of being a Samurai since childhood. Would killing Kira give the Ronin loyal to the house of Saito a new master? “Another dream,” he told himself. Masaru was born into a low class in society. Bravery on the battlefield was his only chance to become a Samurai, and even that chance was never guaranteed. Becoming a Daiymo was not a possibility.

Before Masaru could pull open the door, the Shogun spoke.

“Hataka Masaru, please tell me. Am I in danger?”

♦ ♦ ♦

The New Weekly Writing Plan

It’s been a while since I have spent time with WordPress; not your fault, it’s me, not you. No, really. Me. The whole way.

So where have I been? No, not jail. In fact, here’s a quick recap of my life since we last met:

Writing, work, family, writing, work, family, writing, work, family. (Just kidding. Food was in there, too. And wine, but I digress.)

So where are we at with the novel? In the process of rewriting the completed “Apple Pie Alibi” from third person into first person. It’s going slower than I anticipated since I am also reading it out loud as I go.

By the way: reading your work out loud is a great way to spot poor writing. Just saying.

This week’s writing plan? More of the same. Writing from 5:00 – 6:30 AM; work from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Add in an hour commute on both ends and I’m left with a few hours with the family. On the weekends, I try to spend time on Saturdays reading the works of others (Book Country gives me an ample supply of emerging novels.)  Sundays? A day of church and rest. Except today…

New agenda items: I’ve added my Twitter feed. Between that platform and the FB page, you can stay up to the minute on my culinary exploits and writing progress. For more details on the cooking, see the new page above, Exploding Potatoes!

Enough for now. With diligence, the rewrite will be done by the end of April. Then it’s decision time: query or self publish? Thankfully, I’ve got time to ponder that one.

Until next time, keep writing, everyone. If we don’t, who will?

 

Cuban Style Black Beans

Cuban style Black Beans

Cuban style Black Beans

The problem with being a writer is that writing mandates sedentary activity. Is that an oxymoron? If you think about it, even as active as he was, Hemingway couldn’t type while watching out for stray bulls skulking around the streets of Pamplona, could he?

It’s worse for those of us who write about food.

If I’m writing, I’m sitting. If I’m researching, I’m eating. Thus the problem.

As I keep working on the revisions for The Apple Pie Alibi, a culinary-based, cozy mystery using the locked room murder format (in case you had forgotten,) I have started to read a new book – Eat to Live, written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. More on the book later, but I also had Dr. Fuhrman’s accompanying cookbook of the same title. And with a church pot luck today, I needed to cook something.

Hmm. Need to cook something. Brand new cookbook. You get the picture.

This is my version of Cuban style black beans. It is vegetarian friendly; and slightly different than the recipe found in the book. The published recipe is fine, I’m sure. I just didn’t have all of the ingredients, so I had to make do with what I had.

Place the following into a large crock pot / slow cooker:

3 large cans of cooked black beans, drained.

1 cup water

2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and rough chopped

1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, pressed (or finely minced if you haven’t a garlic press)

1 Tablespoon of cumin

1 Tablespoon of dehydrated cilantro (use a few sprigs of fresh cilantro if you can get them. It’s out of season on my back porch right now.)

1 teaspoon of black pepper

1 good slosh of sherry vinegar, about a shot glass’ worth

Mix well, cover, and cook on low heat for at least 8 hours. Stir occasionally.

Need more heat? Add a tablespoon of cayenne pepper or jerk seasoning. Or both.

Need meat? Add a cup of diced ham. Maybe some chopped pineapple, too; although that has nothing to do with meat. It just might taste good.

Enjoy!

(Normally this would pair well with a Cuba Libre, but given our event was a church luncheon, iced tea worked very well instead.)

 

 

 

The Process of Writing

sometimes involves research; it always involves reading. So if you have been wondering where I have been lately, you’re correct – I’ve been in Mexico.

Mexico?

Yes, that Mexico. I had been finding the piles of snow very distracting, so thanks to some very good friends with a spare room in their condo, we took a week off from the real jobs and spent the past week enjoying margaritas on the beach as house guests two blocks away from the beach in Playa del Carmen, just south of Cancun.

In addition to trying my skill at napping in a hammock (I do this well once in, but getting out is another story,) I found time to read a few more chapters of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, a great textbook on the structure of the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey.

I couldn’t ignore my culinary research, so each day was spent searching out local or regional cuisine. And chocolate. As for the former, I’m talking Mayan specialties like Huarache de Nopal, a fabulous plate of nopal cactus smothered with mushrooms, squash blossoms, spinach, chaya and panela cheese.  The latter? Homemade chocolate mousse; excellent cake, petit fours galore and even modern versions of traditional Mayan chocolate drinks. For those who know me, we didn’t hit the Starbucks for a Cafe Mocha until the last day. That should tell you something about the variety of food and drink available in the little beach town. Recipes will be posted soon enough.

The novel? It has been getting some good reviews amongst the peer group. I am now drafting a second version, telling the story in first person instead of third. The first chapter has been met with much more enthusiasm. Is this a good move? Who knows. In the end I may have two full versions of the same story. But that’s okay. It’s all part of the process of writing.

I hope your writing is on track and where you want it to be. If not, maybe you need a “research trip.” May I suggest a little town on the Mexican Riviera? The sunrise is something to behold!

Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

Of French Fries, Milk Shakes & Peer Reviews

Just have time for a quick note. The snow is starting to fall and before you know it, we’ll be stuck in the house, watching the news on the television as reporters comment on the crazy drivers trying to negotiate slick roadways. I can only imagine the zombie apocalypse that will occur if we receive more than the expected 6 – 8 inches of snow.

Yup. We in coastal Virginia are wimps when it comes to snow.

Anyhow, took a big step in my venture as a writer. As some of you know, I participated as a beta tester for Penguin’s Book Country (their answer to Amazon’s CreateSpace.)  After some initial angst between Book Country (them) and writers (us) it looks like things have evened out and more writers are starting to use the site. The site administrator does an excellent job, as well, with regard to tech support and moderating the site in general. I speak from experience. You don’t need to know the gory details, just know that it pays to read the directions sometimes.

I have just successfully posted my Nanowrimo novel, The Apple Pie Alibi, into Book Country for peer review. It’s like asking for other writers to be your beta readers. Was this a good idea? Not sure yet. I know what “I” think the book needs, but I am interested to see if others think the same – or if I totally missed something.

Are we to the point of indie-publishing yet?

No. But we have made a pretty big step in that direction. Putting your words out for peer review is like dipping French fries into a milk shake. At face value, one would ask – why? What good could possibly come from this? But for those who step out there, away from the comfortable norms of food separation, you take the risk and reap the reward – in this case enjoying the entire sweet & salty dance on your taste buds. Next time you post your novel for peer review, go visit a [insert name of nutritionally suspect, fast food establishment here] and order a large fry and a vanilla shake. Live like the snow won’t stop falling. And hold the ketchup.

It’s not a just dessert; it is a just reward!