Writing & Coffee – what perks your work?

What's your order?

                                                  

Having just posted my second novel, The Milk Chocolate Murders, up on Book Country for workshopping, I can now refocus on the tweaks needed on the first novel, The Apple Pie Alibi. If all goes according to plan, APA should be ready for submission (again) by September 1. That timing allows me two months to outline the third book of the trilogy, The Wedding Cake Witness, in time for the next slog known as Nanowrimo.

Throw in a commission to write a 5 minute piece of classical music (not as easy at it sounds) and I once again find myself very busy. This will take much coffee.

Speaking of coffee…

I have always wondered if genre dictated coffee choice. In other words, do writers in the mystery genre prefer straight espresso, or perhaps (as I do) an Americano? Do romance writers like, I don’t know, one of Starbuck’s new drinks? A caramel cocoa crunch frappuccino maybe? Just guessing. I have no idea what a romance writer typically orders.

Hey! What about a totally unscientific poll?

Comment below with your genre and favorite beverage, be it coffee, tea, or something stronger. There will be no prizes, but rest comfortably with the knowledge you have helped to further define your genre in a new, and tasty fashion.

Let’s here from everyone! <clink!>

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Too many books? Puh-shaw!

The first stack of my BTR pile, aka Books To Read.

The first stack of my BTR pile, aka Books To Read.

“Book Blogging” seems to be a popular topic now, which means I’ll probably try it in a few years. I may be an early adopter as far as tech toys go, but when it comes to other trends, I am usually a day behind and often a dollar (or more) short. Case in point: I only recently started to tweet here. Still getting the hang of that one. Pinterest? Fairly new, but on there here. As for Instagram? So far, not enough days in the week left open. But I digress from the original thought – what is this book blogging anyway and should I do it?

Simply put, book blogging is where you read a book and then post a review. Sounds easy enough. Of course, as my old marketing professor would say, it’s always about dollars and cents. True, many book bloggers, once they reach a certain level of readership, will start to receive ARCs, or advanced reader’s copies from publishers. The idea is you get a free book before the general public can purchase one, and the publisher and author get free and early advertising which, in a perfect world, increases sales.

There is a dark side, however. Maybe not exactly dark. More like a dim side, I guess. Depends on your point of view. Affiliate sales are the little links and ads the reader might select after reading the review. Click on the link enough times and the blogger receives a few pennies. Click on the link and then actually buy a book? The blogger gets a small percentage of the sale. The more popular the book blog, the more likely you will see these affiliate sales links.

Is this bad? Not really. For some bloggers, this is necessary income. The rub comes in when a blogger pushes a mediocre book as “a must read” in hopes of gaining those affiliated sales. Should this happen? No. Do most book bloggers participate in such deception? No. But does it happen? Well, as one man once told me – if you can think of it, then someone on the Internet is doing it and making money by doing it.

As for me? I would love free books. Who wouldn’t? But until I get through my “just had to buy this book and I’ll get to it soon, really, I promise” pile, I’ll need to beg off this book blogging trend. As they used to say – ain’t got time for that. See how timely I am with the popular catch phrases? Told you.

Any way, if book blogging is your thing, more power to you. I’ll try to stop by and read a few of your reviews. Put a link to your site in the comment section and I’ll help spread the love.

Until then, in between writing recipes for The Milk Chocolate Murders, and outlining the follow-on book – The Wedding Cake Witness, I will stick to reducing my collection of BTRs – books to read. The photo at the top should tell you how long this may take. And that photo doesn’t include the books I have stashed at work to be read at lunch. Or the other books sitting in the bedroom. Or the unabridged volume of work by some guy named Poe.

As soon as I get through these books, I’ll consider acquiring more. Unless I find myself in a bookstore, in which case all bets are off.

Don’t wait up. This could take a while…

New Years Resolutions for the Writer

The crab pot fell, signalling the new year in Cape Charles, Virginia.

The crab pot fell, signalling the new year in Cape Charles, Virginia.

Happy 2015, everyone! And now that you’ve seen the ball descend at Times Square, or in our case – the crab pot fall in Cape Charles, Virginia, let’s talk about your resolutions for the new year.

It goes without saying – of course you are going to lose weight. I think 40 pounds would be a good goal for me. Probably less for you, but to each their own. According to StatisticBrain.com, losing weight is the most common New Year resolution. You can’t fight data.

Then there’s that gym down the road. Getting fit is in the top 5 of resolutions, as you may or may not know. And next Monday this resolution will be proven true as every gym on the planet will be crammed full of people hell bent for leather on becoming a cover model for a fitness magazine. If you actually are a gym rat, you know the deal. Just come back in February, once the novelty has worn off and your gym is back to normal.

But what about us writers?

Sadly, when it comes to losing weight and getting fit, writing is an activity involving long periods of sitting down. Not much there to get our heart rate up, except maybe for those who pen romance novels. But still, writing isn’t known for its cardiovascular benefit. And for many of us, our daily nutrition starts with a pastry or two and a side of coffee. Dinner depends on what pairs well with the wine already in our glass. All of this adds up to many writers needing those two resolutions stated above.

Can we do better in 2015?

Of course we can! Make those resolutions and stick to them, right? Not so fast, Hemingway. HuffPost recently published an article featuring Harvard B-school professor Amy Cuddy, who said the typical resolution is composed of unrealistic absolutes. Goals that are not attainable set us up “for failure – and failure is not a good motivator.” It seems, to paraphrase (and take out of context) a quote from Jack London, we are like rats in a trap.

As a writer, what do you always want to do? Write, of course. So let’s be general and stay away from absolutes when creating resolutions to help us achieve our goal:

1. Write something every day. It may not be more than a few sentences, an idea for a plot twist, or perhaps just a quote overheard on the tube from that particularly nasty passenger who reeks of stale cigarette smoke and moldy newsprint from the racing forms stuck in his tweed jacket pocket – but write something.

2. If, for some reason known only unto God, you cannot write something – then read something. Anything. It may only be the back label on that bottle of wine, but somewhere along the way, a writer put those words on paper. They deserve the satisfaction of having someone to read them. And you never know, you might just pick up something you can use in your own writing. I’m not saying plagiarize by any means, but technique, voice, structure, attitude – it can all be gleaned from the writing of others.

3. We must not forget about our own health and wellness. Make better choices.  Coffee? Sure – but only one cup in the morning. Switch to tea in the afternoon, perhaps only one glass of wine with dinner. Make salad the main meal. Reduce the starches and increase the raw vegetables and leafy greens. Doughnuts? Make it a special occasion. And only three, not three dozen. Water? Start drinking it.

4. Finally, resolve to “live as long as you are alive.” Taken from a favorite quote said by a friend who is battling cancer, writers would do themselves great benefit to live a little. You can’t write what you know if you don’t know anything, right? And how do you know stuff? By doing stuff. Take a few minutes and put down the iPhone. Stop posting to Facebook. Finish writing that chapter and step away from the laptop. Now take a good friend and visit that museum you’ve always said you wanted to see. What? There’s a vineyard down the road? Well, there you go. Unless you are writing on a deadline – you have time to live a little. And if you are on a deadline? Hey, if you had time to eat – you had time to do something away from the keyboard.

One last resolution: see all of the usual doctors and dentists. And see them before you are sick. (Did you hear that? My wife is saying I told you so!) If they recommend changes – do them. You never know, you might live longer. And that means you will have more time to write. Don’t wait for any bell to toll for thee. Consider that Hemingway wrote some good stuff, but once he passed – his output dwindled rapidly.

The bottom line is this: as a writer – resolve to write – and read! And as a person, make better choices and live beyond the laptop on your desk. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your writing!

 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Author Photo

The latest mug shot of D.J. Lutz

The latest mug shot of D.J. Lutz

Well, sports fans, the time had come for a new author photo. For those of you who know me, I have never enjoyed having my picture taken. Yet, duty called and I had to submit a new photo, this time in a landscape format. I would have used an old photo, but most were formatted in a square, since that worked best in my social media accounts. That said, I was being interviewed about wellness for writers – and they wanted a photo.

Lemony Snicket had the right idea: never be seen except as a shadow, or perhaps from behind. In a throwback to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock, I could do the same thing? Or maybe pretend I’m Wilson, the neighbor in Tim Allen’s old show Home Improvement, where all you see is Wilson’s eyes and forehead as he peers over the fence.

If you Google Author Photos, you will see that the search engine helps you out by categorizing the photos by quality. Great, Good, Bad, and – Worst. Dare I say it? I hope mine does not end up being placed into the Worst zone. Maybe I can slip Google some cash to bump me up into the “Meh” or even the “It’ll Work” category? No, they probably don’t need the money. And I only have about ten bucks in my pocket right now anyway.

What do you think of your own photo? Any opinions on what constitutes a decent author photo? Anyone want to sub in?

 

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.

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 5

Masaru stopped, his hand frozen at the door’s threshold. The Shogun had asked him a question, an unexpected question yet one Masaru knew his life’s longevity hinged upon. There was no time to think; an answer was due. And it needed to be the correct answer.

“Shogun, I do not think the enemies within the castle walls are plotting against you.”

The ruler of Edo and all Japan put down his soup bowl. His left hand stroked his black, wiry beard as his right drifted across his belly, coming to rest on the handle of his sword. The man started to smile. A short laugh erupted at Masaru’s expense.

“For a cook, you have more wisdom than all of my advisers. Just like your mother.” The Shogun resumed his lunch, slurping the hot soup as if it were water drawn from a cool mountain stream.

“Will that be all, Shogun?” Masaru bowed deep to his master, holding his head down hoping the lack of eye contact would give him permission to leave. Hearing no reply, he inched his torso back to an upright stance, still being careful to remain slightly lower than the Shogun.

“You said enemies, Hataka Masaru. Within the castle walls, yes?”

This was the situation Masaru had feared the most. All he had wanted to do was deliver the soup and leave. Now, a curious Shogun was engaging him in a conversational interrogation. Masaru knew if he was caught in a lie, his head would roll. And a lie of omission would be worse. There were certain appendages no man wanted to be without.

“Shogun, I have seen Ronin.”

“My Samurai have not seen anything of the sort. Where are these lost warriors?”

Masaru was about to answer when a scuffle broke out in the antechamber. He lunged for the wooden beam used to secure the door. But before he could secure the room and protect his master, the Shogun pushed Masaru aside and rushed out. The glint of the Shogun’s katana flashed in front of Masaru.

By the time Masaru regained his balance, the fight was over. Two Samurai stood tall, swords in hand, each blade coated with blood. On the floor lay what remained of one of the food tasters. Kira was rising up from behind the thick wooden door; for the moment he was unable to speak.

The dead man’s body was contorted by the force of two sharp blades slicing him in quick succession. Masaru knew the death was instantaneous. The man felt no pain; a gruesome yet merciful way to die. The Shogun directed one of the Samurai to unlock the iron handcuff from the severed arm. Masaru assumed the dead man had tried to escape. He was wrong.

Kira, seeing the danger now gone, came forward to explain the prisoner had slipped one hand out from the cuffs and tried to assassinate the Shogun. Kira said he had ordered the Samurai to protect the Shogun, but it was evident the two Samurai waited for no such order.

As the sentries dragged the dead man and his arm out of the chamber, Kira begged an audience with the Shogun. Masaru had seen this behavior before; it was not honest – it was deceitful and more than likely evil. If the cook could change any aspect of his life now, he would become a Samurai. They knew their purpose, their value. They were honorable. Unlike Kira.

Now alone in the antechamber, Masaru picked up the pot handle that had dropped from his sleeve. As much as he wanted to consider the piece of wood a weapon, after seeing the power of the katana, Masaru knew he would someday need to have his own. He, unfortunately, had no idea how this would occur.

Turning to secure the door to the Shogun’s room, Masaru noticed something sticking in the door’s frame. It was a small dagger.

Masaru pulled the knife out. Could Kira have been correct? After all, had the door not been there to stop the knife’s flight, it would have gone into the Shogun’s room. Masaru held the knife up to the light streaming in from the window. There were no kanji, no discernible markings on the blade. No blood, either. The attacker had missed his mark.

Something still bothered him, though. How would the attacker know the door would open, and at what precise time?

Masaru sat down in the chair used by the food tasters. He mimicked his hands being bound by the irons. Standing up, he raised his left arm as the attacker would have done. Twisting around to now face the door to the Shogun’s room, Masaru pretended to hit the nearest guard, the one approaching from Masaru’s left side.

Of course! Masaru extended his left arm to allow the fictitious Samurai to chop it off with one arc from the katana. He then raised his right arm, aiming at the door. This man knew he would be killed, yet he chose to sacrifice his left arm first to draw attention away from the right. In the commotion, the attacker probably hoped no one would notice the thrown dagger until it was too late.

His right hand following the path of the knife, Masaru walked straight to the door. The dagger had impaled itself deep, at a depth almost the length of his little finger. That’s when Masaru noticed the torn piece of black silk stuck inside the opening.

Maybe the attacker wasn’t trying to assassinate the Shogun, he wondered. What if the man was trying to protect him?

Masaru heard Kira and the Shogun speaking in the next room, but knew he could not accuse Kira of anything without losing his own arm, or worse. He decided it was time to return to the safety of his kitchen.

He started walking the corridors back to the Shogun’s private kitchen. With such dramatic events of the day now over, Masaru hoped his new assistant would return with the needed supplies soon. As he walked, Masaru kept adjusting the dagger now hidden within his sleeve. He was not accustomed to weaponry. A sad commentary, he thought, for a cook who wanted to become a Samurai.