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!>


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?”

♦ ♦ ♦

A new novel shows itself unexpectedly?

So it seems that Grandma Kepler and the old police captain, J.B Larson, had just returned from a vacation on the subcontinent of India. And just in time, I might add. When the good police officer walked into the holding cell at the station, he found one prisoner dead (with a note saying “Now we’re even!” clutched in his hand) and another prisoner quite ill. To make matters worse, over half of his force had come down with similar symptoms. Things were not looking good in tiny Seaview, Virginia.

While intrepid cafe owner and girl about town Winnipeg Kepler investigated the crime, from a distance of course, Grandma Kepler whipped up some Mango Lentil Dal. She had tried some in Punjab and declared on the spot it would cure what ailed you. Doc Jones said it couldn’t hurt; and besides, it would be a few more hours before the CDC quarantine team could get to the little, out the way coastal village.

Winnie hadn’t a clue about the medicinal properties of the Dal, but at this point figured there was no stopping her grandmother. And since she wasn’t yet sick with the mystery illness, Winnie decided a little preemptive cooking was worth a chance. Her logical brain told her the Dal was no substitute for sound medical advice from a licensed physician, but the aroma alone boosted her taste buds with a nice punch of flavor.

“It’s not chicken on a stick, Grandma, but after seeing all those red spots on the sick guys, I’m up for any cure – FDA approved or not!”

How will Winnie solve the crime when she can’t even get near the body? What about her new beau, recently promoted Corporal Parker Williams? He hasn’t caught the mystery bug yet but can’t leave the station house because of the quarantine. Meanwhile, Winnie’s grandmother has infiltrated the station with a pot of Indian food, thinking she can cure all concerned – except the dead guy, of course.

“It’s always too late for the deceased,” she said.

“He should of tried the curry,” I replied.

“Well, next time, maybe he will.”

“So, live and learn, I guess?”

“Unless he…you know…”

“Unless he what?”

“Unless he’s -”

Already Dead.” The second novel in the Winnipeg Kepler series. Stay tuned – and pass the dal.

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!


Creating memorable writing (without losing your head)

“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond; I expect you to die.”

A memorable line from a classic James Bond movie, Goldfinger. The rest of the script? It’s good. Makes a great movie. Worthy of a Pulitzer? Probably not, but it gets the job done. (Having Sean Connery read doesn’t hurt, either.)

Every Bond script has that one carefully crafted, sometimes cheesy, but always memorable line. Good novels have the same sort of thing. Hemingway, being Hemingway, had dozens of such lines in The Old Man and the Sea. I am fond of ” The sail was patched with flour sack and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.” Love it.

Of course the Ian Fleming series is in the thriller genre, and the man himself had once outlined his thoughts on what requisite literary boxes needed to be checked to be successful in that universe. I am more of a mystery guy, a mashup of Agatha and Stout – Rex Stout. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

To wit: I have my culinary murder mystery, The Apple Pie Alibi. The first draft is being read, and I anticipate making corrections and clarifications soon. But what are my epic lines? What does my protagonist say that will stick with the reader for years, decades, perhaps, after the reader experiences the joy of eating fried chicken on a stick or a bourbon-infused chocolate pecan pie parfait?

Obviously I need to keep working.

But first, to give my reader a fair amount of time to get through the novel, I will be reading through an excellent set of writing resources, courtesy of the Mystery Writers of America. Check it out if you have time. And like someone else once said – “I’ll be back.”


Plan B Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

D.J.'s "Plan B" Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

D.J.’s “Plan B” Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

It sounded good on paper.

Needing to bring something extra to the monthly United Methodist Men’s Breakfast, I opted to supplement my usual 4 pounds of baked and pan fried potatoes with a casserole of some sort. Realize, of course, that the good casserole ideas were already taken, i.e. the French toast strata that the same guy has been bringing for decades. Caveat: his wife actually cooks it; he just brings it. But he gets credit. Oh well; what can you do?

I had to think of something else.

In the course of writing my culinary-themed cozy mystery (currently in second edits,) I found I could save time by using a little known research tool called…the Internet. Maybe you have heard of it. After a few minutes of searching, I discovered a very tasty sounding breakfast casserole that included sausage and cinnamon-apples. Note to self: use this one next time.  Anyway, I took the idea and changed it up. Instead of wheat bread, I would use frozen hash browns. Instead of cinnamon-apples, I would use…well, just the sausage by itself. It was a simple recipe, really. Just put the hash browns straight from the bag into the casserole dish, then stir in cooked sausage, top with an egg / milk mixture and finally some shredded cheese.

It sounded so good in my mind.

Flash forward three hours. The breakfast is over, leftovers have been sent out to those who were home-bound due to illness or the bad weather (one man met the food delivery with a knife and fork, plus a five dollar bill for the kitty.) What was the fate of my breakfast casserole?

Most of it had been devoured. However, with this bunch that is not surprising.

The hash brown casserole was okay. Not great, not worthy of a repeat performance. Just okay. The 2 main issues I had with it were the potatoes lacked seasoning and even though they baked in the oven for an hour, the little strips of potato just were not done. At least not done enough. This meant I needed to do something different.  A “Plan B” as it were.

For your culinary pleasure: D.J.’s Plan B Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


1 bag of frozen hash brown potatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds of sausage (I used Jimmy Dean brand – maple infused sausage)

6 eggs

2 cups of milk

4 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese (or Cheddar, if you like)

Prep Directions

– Bake the hash brown potatoes according to the directions on the package. There are a few ways to cook them; choose whatever works for you. Bottom line – cook/bake them before you start to assemble the casserole.  Don’t forget to add salt and cracked black pepper, stirring in. How much? I would use what you think is right, then add some more.

– While the hash browns are in the oven, get out a large skillet and fully cook the sausage. As it cooks, you want to shred the sausage into little nugget sized hunks. Think browning meat for a spaghetti sauce. This isn’t scientific, just make sure you do not have sausage chunks too big for a normal bite.

– As the hash browns are finishing their time in the oven, and the sausage is now resting, take out a medium sized bowl and mix together the eggs and the milk.

Putting it all together

– Take the baked hash browns and put them in a standard, 9 inch by 13 inch casserole dish.

– Fold in the cooked sausage.

– Pour the milk / egg mixture evenly over the casserole.

– Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.

– Bake in the preheated oven for one hour. At the 30 minute point, you may want to check and see if the top is starting to brown. If it looks like your casserole is progressing from “brown” to “burned'” cover with some foil and bake for the remaining half hour.

Once the hour is up, let rest for a few minutes then dig in and eat!

Sounds good, yes?

But wait – there’s more.

What to do with leftovers – for the person cooking for one or two.

You can always refrigerate any leftovers. Then, when the urge strikes – put a few scoops of the hash brown casserole into a hot frying pan of butter. Now the hash browns will have been baked, baked again, and now fried with butter. Paula Deen would be so proud. Not sure about my doctor, though.

Sure, this is Plan B recipe is a variation on a common breakfast casserole theme, but hey – it works. Next time, it’s the French Toast Strata expedition. Maybe I should talk to my wife about that…




Tex-Mex Quinoa with Cheese Nip Chicken

photo (5)Not enough time to cook up a decent sauerbraten? No hot dogs sitting in the back of the fridge? Are there two people in the room looking at you, the food writer, expecting a culinary miracle – in under an hour? What? They’re vegetarians? And,,,when does Duck Dynasty start tonight?

Yep. I was suddenly in my own version of Food Network’s Chopped.

Let’s see. What do I have?

Chicken breasts, quinoa, half a bag of frozen corn, Cheese Nips, leftover black beans, and fresh broccoli.

Oh, this will be easy. Do you see it yet?

First off – preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Now, let’s deal with the chicken. Take the Cheese Nips and put a few handfuls in a zip lock bag. Close the bag, seal it up (trying to keep as much air out as possible) and pulverize the Nips using a heavy rolling pin.

Take your chicken and soak the breasts in a little milk, then put them in the zip lock bag and shake. You now have Cheese Nip coated chicken! Put the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes then check the temperature with a thermometer. You want at least 165 degrees in the thickest part. No thermometer? Stick the thickest part with a knife and see if the juices running out are clear. If not, put everything back in the oven until they do.

The quinoa – this has many options. I chose to go Tex-Mex. In a medium stock pot, put in 1 cup of quinoa, 2 cups of vegetable broth, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a little salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the broth is absorbed. When done, fluff a little with a fork and then add the frozen corn and leftover black beans. Cover and let sit for about ten minutes. Stir once more, just before you serve.

What can be better than plain old, unadulterated broccoli?  Stir fry the florets in a little olive oil. That’s all you have to do.

Put it all together and you have a great meal. My two vegetarians loved it (sans the chicken, of course) and I loved everything plus the Cheese Nip-flavored baked chicken.

No, it is not a hors d’ oeuvres of smoked salmon on crustini, garnished with basil cream cheese and capers.

But it was easy to make, didn’t take too long, and it tasted great.

Now, back to the mystery novel. I still have about six more recipes to write before Duck Dynasty starts.

Anyone want to be a taste tester?