Archive for October, 2009

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” –EAP

I  love Edgar Allan Poe.

His writing drips with florid prose, but no matter. Poe nails horror. His distinctive voice, tenebrous and terrifying, still captivates. One of my favorite Poe stories is The Pit and the Pendulum. Confusion, weakness, and fear plague the nameless protagonist as he struggles to escape a series of torturous traps.

Read the original? Check out this awesome(!) hip hop version from Flocabulary.com

Confusion, weakness, and fear are a common motif in Poe tales. They’re also a common motif in my development as a writer. Sadly, like the poor schlub dodging the pendulum, I fall into traps. For me, there are many pits and pendulums:

Pit #1: The Pacing Pit

A story suffers when a writer mishandles rhythm and pace. An author is given only the first few pages to draw the reader in. Each chapter should end on a tantalizing note. This tidbit compels the reader to keep turning pages.  If tension builds, either through a cascade of smaller conflicts or through the increasing intensity of major conflict, the reader payoff is richer. If nothing much happens for 50 pages here and there, the writer has fallen into the pacing pit.

Pit #2: The Proportion Pit

Then he did this, then he did that. Shower. Bathroom Break. Breakfast. Jewel Heist.

Really? Does the reader really need to read everything that happens to your protagonist? No. Only write the interesting bits which advance the story. It’s the jewel heist, stupid! Cut the rest of the pointless details out. Use appropriate breaks and transition paragraphs to fill in the blanks.

Pendulum #1: Predictable Swings

Back and forth, back and forth. Dull, flat writing kills interest in a story. Yes, edit and tighten up that manuscript. And then go back and highlight the best bits. Analyze why those passages are great. Look for opportunities to add that magic to other crucial moments in the story. With my first manuscript, I found that after the first several rounds out edits, I’d killed my voice. Surgical cuts are necessary, but sometimes healthy grafts of voice are good, too.

Pendulum #2: Linear Swings

The road to writing purgatory is a straight shot. Poe plots are twisted, monstrously crooked things. For good reason. If your manuscript is languishing in a linear funk, shake things up. Don’t move from breakfast to the car ride to the jewel heist. Think about starting with the jewel heist and then move the story along by sliding the puzzle pieces, past and present, into place in an intriguing way.

Pit #666: The Bad Writing Pit

Can’t help you with this one. I haven’t crawled out of this pit myself. You tell me, what writing traps ensnare you?

If #666 has you down in the dumps, try my Delectably Easy (and foolproof!) Pumpkin Dump Cake. Misery loves dessert.

Pumpkin Dump Cake

Ingredients:

1 15 oz.  can pumpkin

1 12 ounce can evaporated milk

3 eggs

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 box yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines is best. Always.)

1 cup chopped pecans (optional: I don’t. You might wanna.)

1-1/2 sticks butter, cut into small pats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 9×13 pan. Combine all ingredients except for the cake mix and the pats of butter. After mixing well, pour the pumpkin mixture into the pan. Sprinkle the pumpkin goo evenly with cake mix. Sprinkle with nuts (optional). Space out the pats of butter on top of the cake mix.  Bake for 50 minutes to one hours. Allow the concoction to cool off before eating to avoid second degree burns in the mouth.Binge!
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Have a short attention span?

Well, you have clicked to the right place.

Half minute horrors Just in time for Halloween, I have a giveaway of Half-Minute Horrors, a compilation of spooktacularly short stories written by a constellation of bestselling authors (Neil Gaiman, M.T. Anderson, Arthur Slade, Jerry Spinelli, Avi, Libba Bray, Melissa Marr, the list goes on and on…). Plus, I have a scrumptious recipe for time-crunched choco-holics.

Yes, you can have your book and eat cake, too. All in less than five minutes.

To win this fabulous anthology, all you have to do is read the following super short story and add one sentence to twist the ending. In a comment to this post, type your scary, sensational, or silly sentence into the comments section by midnight on October 31th.

Then a panel of impartial (but insanely witty) judges will choose a winner. After the winner is announced, he or she can contact me at mathmartin@tx.rr.com to leave a mailing address to receive Half-Minute Horrors. That’s it.

I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday, November 3rd.

And now…for the story. (BTW, the story is dark, twisted, and creepy. Also, it is FICTION and in no way resembles any person I know, alive, dead, or undead.)

Read, set, read…

Guessing Game

Let’s play a game. I’ll tell you about the people in my family and you guess which one of them is the real crazy. I know what you’re thinking. There’s all kinds of crazy, but I mean the real kind. I’m talking about the kind of nutter who needs to be locked away in a dark place.

C’mon. It’ll be fun.

For starters, there’s my mom. She’s a real piece of work. Depressed. Not bi-polar at all. Just depressed. There ain’t a pharmaceutical or clinical remedy known to mankind that can get her out of bed in daylight hours on a regular basis. I hear she used to be happy, and beautiful, and alive. Now, she just curls up in bed and stares at the wall. If you ask her why, she’ll tell you her eyes are burning.

Every once in a while, my dad would get fed up with the dishes and the smell, and he’d toss her out of bed. He didn’t let up until she’d get up and shower. She’d do a little laundry, and then rake up the trash. She might even make him dinner afterwards. She’d lie on the sofa and stare at him until he fell asleep. Mom stared, but she never cried. As soon as he was asleep, it was back to bed for her.

My aunt once told me that my Grandma Irene used to lock my mother in the cellar because she was afraid of the dark. It must have worked. She likes the dark now.

My aunt? She’s not depressed. She’s OK. Only, she hears voices sometimes.

Well, really just one voice.

She had a little girl. Amy. Amy bought it when she was five years old. She had meningitis. It was so bad they had to amputate Amy’s arms before the end. Aunt Carol still talks to Amy. Amy tells her…things. Things no one could know. Like one time, Amy told my Aunt not to let my cousin Robert get on a plane for his senior trip to Washington, D.C. Auntie Carol got so hysterical about it that Robbie missed his departure. He didn’t even make it to the gate.

The spooky thing is, the plane crashed. No one survived. So, I don’t know if you can call Aunt Carol crazy or not. She can’t see Amy or anything, she just hears her talking. Sometimes, at night, in the dark, I lie in bed and think about it. I wonder if Amy’s ghost has arms.

Now this is going to sound kinda sick, but some days I think it would’ve been better if Robbie had gotten on that plane. Like, the world might be a better place. I hate to say it, but Robbie wasn’t a very good little boy. A real bad seed.

He was a mean little son of a gun when we were kids. He used to catch stray cats and take them out to the woods behind our subdivision. He did stuff to them. I saw it once. He took a pregnant cat and stuffed her into a duffel bag. He swung an aluminum baseball bat and hit the bag. He beat the poor cat to death. The sound of that cat! It still makes me want to throw up when I hear a cat crying. I closed my eyes when I heard him unzip the bag. Ran home after that. Never went with Robbie to the woods again.

I still dream about the woods. The ground is littered with pine needles and kitty bones.

Know what you’re thinking. It’s gotta be Robbie, right? I mean, what’s worse than some kid murdering animals in the woods? He must be some kind of serial killer. I bet that’s what you’re thinking. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Robbie lives in Florida now, with his wife and three kids. I think he beats the missus. They don’t have any cats.

I’m not finished, though. I haven’t even gotten to my brother or my dad. My brother. Geez. He’s a different kind of sick puppy altogether. I say that, and I feel bad. It seems cruel. But it’s true. Somebody touched him. Somebody hurt him in the worst way. See, my cousin Robbie didn’t ever feel anything. He was numb inside. That’s why he beat those poor old cats to death. But my brother Curt, now he’s different. I know he feels bad when he hurts somebody. He can’t be around little kids. He knows it’s wrong, and he takes medicine and goes to a therapist, but he still wants to do things. I don’t want to know what he’s done.

It’s better if I don’t know. Besides, it’s really my dad’s fault, anyway.

My dad. Mr. Big Tough Man. I blame my dad for most of what happened to my mom and my brother. I can still see him sitting in his lazy boy in front of the Curtis Mathis console TV, drinking Old Milwaukee until the cans piled up like a tin sea under his feet. Some people think you’re not a real alcoholic unless you drink hard liquor. Those people never met my dad.

It’s not like he needed to drink to get angry. He was more violent when he was sober, anyway. All full of righteous indignation at how life screwed him over and saddled him with a sorry wife and witless kids. We all took turns getting a beating. He liked to kick and slap mom. He liked to hit me. With Curt, he’d close the door and use his belt. I don’t want to know what happened behind that door.

Afterwards, dad would come out and sit in the easy chair and watch reruns.  He was always good and relaxed after he’d come back out of Curt’s room. He’d be dripping with sweat. He kept a towel hanging over the headrest of the Lazyboy. There was a permanent sweat stain on it. Geez, that thing stunk. He’d watch cop shows and drink until he passed out.

When I think about it now, I wished we’d just handed him a beer when he walked in the door. Would’ve saved us all a lot of misery.

Dear Old Dad. Here’s his picture. I still carry it in my wallet. I like to take it out and look at it. Then I can spit in his sorry face. But you know what’s even better? I like to go down in the basement and stare at his head. I keep it in a jar. His face is all pruny and pickled. It makes me laugh just to think about it. Mr. Big Tough Man.

Well, that’s it, pretty much. So, what do you think? Can you guess who’s the real crazy?

Twist this ending and/or add to it in one sentence. Leave your entry in the comments below to win Half-Minute Horrors.

Hungry for more?

Then fire up your microwave and cook yourself a mugful of my Minute Chocolate Cake!

Minute Mug Chocolate Cake

Image from ehow.com

Ingredients:

1 large coffee mug (latte or soup mugs are great for this)

4 tbsp. flour

2 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg

3 tbsp. milk

3 tbsp. oil

3 tbsp. chocolate chips (optional)

Dash (or two) of salt

Splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mug. Add egg. Mix well. Pour in milk and egg. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.

Microwave your mug for one and a half to three minutes on high. The cake will rise over the top of the mug. No worries. It’s supposed to.

Allow cake to cool. Tip out of the mug if desired. Or just gorge straight from the mug.

Binge!

Dracula, part deux, is melodramatic at times. The plot twists in the third act skirt the borders of ridiculous, and…

Who am I kidding? I devoured it.

Was it Masterpiece Theater?

No. (The original wasn’t either. It was considered a vulgar penny dreadful in its day.)

Was it completely faithful to the original?

No. (Stoker’s Dracula departed from the mythos of Vlad, too.)

Was it what I expected?

No. (Is a good book ever exactly what we expect?)

If you’re a purist, thirsting for a rehash of the original, don’t bother reading this book. If, however, you’re open to a modern interpretation of the classic, look no further. Dracula: The Un-Dead is a ripping good read, a page turner with lots of turn of the century intrigue and atmosphere.

It feels fitting for Holt and Stoker collaborate on the project. Ian Holt is one of the world’s leading experts on the Dracula legend. With considerable ingenuity, Holt anchors the plot in the world of Victorian England. Holt’s attention to minute historical detail is evident in the first few pages. Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great grandnephew, lends the book a well-written narrative infused with gothic sensibilities.

While Bram’s Count Dracula began in 1887, Un-Dead picks up the thread in the year 1912. A quarter century has changed the band of heroes who first dispatched the Count. Mina, tainted by Dracula’s blood, has aged little. Her estranged son, Quincey, shrinks from her presence.

The men, haunted by the spectre of the vampire, fare far worse. Mina’s husband, Jonathan Harker,  cannot shake the memory of her betrayal. He retreats into a drunken stupor. Dr. Jack Seward, Lucy’s unrequited suitor, is a mere shadow of himself. His morphine addiction drives him to near madness. Arthur Holmwood, Lucy’s fiance, abandons his friends and family to pursue a reclusive life. Abraham Van Helsing is no longer the stalwart doctor; he is a shrunken wisp of man haunted by gruesome deeds.

The characters are well drawn and the story begins in an opportune era. 1912 sees the dawn of a new age. Electric lights, garishly illuminating, replace the gaslights of old London. Underground trains and motorcars whiz past the horse drawn carriages. The time of Jack the Ripper gives way to the age of machines. It seems the perfect moment for Dracula’s evolution.

“Time has finally caught me…There is no place in this age of machines and politicians and intellect for monsters roaming the countryside. Choose to evolve, or choose to die.”

Although the authors take great care in crafting a believable coda to Bram’s original story, this sequel is a definite departure from Bram’s one hundred year old novel. Bram’s story was told through diary entries and news stories. Un-Dead is written in omniscient third person.

Furthermore, Dracula is no longer the evil count. He is recast as the dark but noble Prince. No longer the villain, he becomes the sensual savior, ridding the world of another menace. In Un-dead, another blood soaked historical figure, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, becomes the true monster.

For me, this plot point is the only flaw. For all its rich historical detail and its brisk action, Un-Dead unravels the mystique of the vampire a bit too much. Humanizing Dracula comes at a handsome price. Dracula’s appeal rests in his shadowy nature. His monstrous ambiguity is what renders him so intriguing. When the monster becomes the hero, his actions justified, something is lost. Although Dracula still mesmerizes, it seems all the good villainy is squandered on Bathory.

Despite the role reversals, Dracula: The Un-Dead holds the reader in its fanged embrace until the last page is turned. Bram’s beloved characters live on in this sequel.

For the story behind the story, check out Holt and Stoker’s official blog.

Still hungry for more? Try this scrumptious Blood Red Velvet Cake.

Ingredients:

½ shortening

1 ½ cup sugar

¼ cup red food coloring

2 ¼ cake flour

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup regular milk with plus 1 tbsp lemon juice)

2 eggs

2 tbsp. cocoa

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. vinegar

1 tsp. baking soda

Beat shortening and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs and beat on medium for one minute. Add salt. Dissolve cocoa in buttermilk and add alternately with flour. Add food coloring (hope the vampires in your house aren’t allergic to red dye) and vanilla. Dissolve soda in vinegar and stir into batter. Bake in three layers or in a 9 by 13 pan for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.

Frost after cake has cooled.

Frosting:

1 cup milk

5 tbsp. cake flour

Cook in medium saucepan until thickened. Let cool. Beat together 2 sticks butter, 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Add to paste and beat until fluffy.

Binge!

Happy Release Day for the authorized sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

Dracula: The Un-Dead is co-written by Ian Holt and Bram’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker.

Dracula, part Deux

Dracula, part Deux

Can’t get to the bookstore or library right away? Then sink your fangs into my favorite Dracula related links:

Bone-up on the backstory by rereading the original Dracula for free at Project Gutenberg

Just in time for October 13th, Entertainment Weekly lists the 13 Greatest Pop-Culture Vampires.

Vampires Uncloaked: From Nosferatu to Twilight, The Buffalo News’ quick and dirty guide to the undead on the page and on the screen. (Thanks for @christinerose for the link!)

Delve deep into legend surrounding Dracula and Transylvania at this Romanian Tourism site.

Look into the mind of author Bram Stoker.

Finally…a list of the best non-sparkly vampire novels of all time.

Hungry for more? Try a slice of cake. Although my recipe for Fangtastic Peanut Butter Cake is bloodless, it’s still sweet and salty delight.

Sweet and Salty...Yum.

Sweet and Salty...Yum.

Fangtastic Peanut Butter Cake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 tsp. salt

1 cup water

2 eggs

2 sticks butter

1/2 cup buttermilk (no buttermilk? add 1 tsp. lemon juice to regular milk)

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 cups sugar

In large bowl, stir flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. In small bowl, whisk eggs and buttermilk. Melt together peanut butter, water, and butter. Bring to a rapid boil. Pour hot mixture over dry ingredients. Mix. Add buttermilk and egg mixture. Pour into greased jellyroll pan (or 9X13 pan).

Make Frosting: Bring 1 stick real butter, 1/2 cup peanut butter, and 6 tablespoons buttermilk to a rapid boil. Add 2 tsp. vanilla. Mix in 3 to 3 2/3 cups powdered sugar. Mix well.

Frost cake while still warm.

Binge!

Spam I am.

I am Spam.

Spam I am.

That Spam-I-am!

That Spam-I-am!

I do not like that Spam-I-am!

Do you like my twitter spam?

I do not like your twitter spam.

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Would you like teeth whitening links?

I would not like them, your profile stinks!

I do not like your twitter Spam.

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Would you like make money schemes?

Would you like our realty teams?

I do not want make money schemes,

Or stupid, vapid realty teams,

I do not like teeth whitening links,

I really think your profile stinks,

I do not like your twitter Spam.

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Would you like them with some porn?

Would you like moonfruit every morn?

I do not like them with some porn,

I’m sneering at you now with scorn,

I do not want make money schemes,

Or stupid, vapid realty teams,

I do not like teeth whitening links,

I really think your profile stinks,

I do not like your twitter Spam.

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Links that make your computer crash?

To Nigeria, please wire some cash?

Not  with an OS crash,

Your head I’d like to bash,

Not with some porn,

Your tweets I  scorn,

Not with money schemes,

Not with realty teams,

Not with whitening links,

Your profile really stinks,

I do not like your twitter Spam.

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Would you, could you? With a guarantee?

Your money back, or it’s (almost) free?

Tweet them! Tweet Them! Here they are!

I would not, could not, with a guarantee,

Your snake oil supplements are not for me.

You may like them, you will see.

You may like a gift bonus Wii.

I would not, could not with a Wii,

I’m blocking you, just let me be!

I do not like them with some porn,

Your tweeting has me all forlorn,

I do not want your money schemes,

Or stupid, goofy realty teams,

I do not want tooth whitening links,

Dealing with spammers really stinks,

I do not like your twitter spam,

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

Acai! Acai!

Would you, could you, buy some juice?

Not with a Wii, not with some juice,

I now believe your screws are loose,

I will not follow with some juice,

I will not follow, you’re obtuse!

I will not follow money schemes,

Or stupid, goofy realty teams,

I will not follow your tooth links,

I will not follow you who stinks,

I do not like your twitter spam,

I do not like them, Spam-I-am!

I block them.

You do not like them. So you say.

Click them! Click them! And you may.

Click them and you may, I say.

Spam, if you won’t leave me to my fun,

I think I will go buy a gun.

Did you say you want RTs?

Let me be, oh human feces!

I block your spam with some juice,

I block you Spam, you’re obtuse!

I block your moron money schemes,

I block your ridiculous realty teams,

I block your tooth whitening links,

I block you who of the sewer stinks!

I’m blocking all your twitter spam.

You are so lame, Spam-I-am!

Writing voice can be a tough concept to understand.

This year, my school is making a concerted effort to strengthen voice in our students’ writing. I’m working to help our kids develop in this area.  Digging deep into the components of an author’s unique tone helps me as an emerging writer, too.

What is voice?

Take a moment to listen to Garrison Keillor’s thirty second definition.

To me, voice is…

…the writer’s spirit on the page.

…the unique way we use words to communicate.

…the author’s fingerprint; unique and distinctive.

To help my students (and myself) understand some aspects of voice, I’ve come up with a mnenomic device:

Please Tell Me Who’s Speaking.

1. P is for Point of View

 1st person— “I walked outside and was hit by a bus.”

–Strengths: facilitates intimate narrative, often appealing for this reason

–Weaknesses: can be difficult to maintain POV with many characters and details.

Example: “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood…” The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

 2nd person– “You walked outside and were hit by a bus”

 –Strengths: Can be interesting, may create sense of personal immediacy

–Weaknesses: Not appropriate in most cases, widely discounted

Example: “Within minutes, you are so deep in the ocean that little light filters down to you..” Choose Your Own Adventure: Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery

 3rd person: “She walked outside and was hit by a bus.”

 –3rd Person Omniscient: “She walked outside and was hit by a bus. Her life flashed before her eyes in a second. “There goes my license,” the bus driver thought.”

 –3rd Person Limited “She walked outside and was hit by a bus. Her life flashed before her eyes in a second.

 -Strengths: Most comfortable for many writers, can be extremely effective

–Weaknesses: Can lack tension and emotion if executed poorly

Example:  “Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age…” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

Tips for Students

 -Stick to one POV per story or scene.

-Choose the right POV for the right story.

-Experiment with different POVs for the same story. See which works best.

2. T is for Tense

  Past: “I was hit by a bus.”

 –Strengths: Most common, effective

–Weaknesses: Can feel less immediate

Example: “Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

 Present: “The bus hits me.” or “I’m being hit by a bus.”

–Strengths: Immediate, can be riveting

–Weakness: Can be annoying, may distract the reader

Example: “I sit still for a few minutes, breathing hard, staring at the back of my mother’s seat…” Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Future: “I will be hit by a bus.”

-Strengths: avantgard, unique

-Weaknesses: Weird, distracting 

1. M is for Mix of Dialogue and Narrative

Showing vs. Telling

 Telling: “She saw the bus and she was scared. The bus hit her and crashed into the tree.”

Showing: “Help me!” she screamed. Thud. Her body crumpled onto to the pavement. The tree snapped against windshield of the bus. 

Tips for Students

 -Show, don’t tell.

–Alternate action and dialogue

–Understand “Less is more.”

–Use action or dialogue instead of “telling” when possible.

4. W is for Word Choice

 Word Choice helps tell who’s speaking.  Is the narrator…. old or young, funny or boring, educated or not too bright, rich or poor, from another cultural background or just like me? (Resonance = Power of Voice)

 Word Choice is a big part of voice. Look at these distinctive examples:

“Tonight, the hay in the fields is already brittle with frost, especially to the west of Fox Hill, where the pastures shine like stars. In October, darkness begins to settle by four-thirty and although the leaves have turned scarlet and gold, in the dark everything is a shadow of itself, gray with a purple edge.” Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

“Once there was a tree and she loved a boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.” The Giving Tree by Shel Silvertein

“…When you’re walking away from a bus that’s just been attacked by monster hags and blown up by lightning, and it’s raining on top of everything else, most people think that’s just really bad luck; when you’re a half-blood, you understand some divine force is really trying to mess up your day.” The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

 Tips for Students

–Adverbs are not your friend. Often, adverbs are part of a weak sentence that can be strengthened by a stronger verb. Example: “She set the cup down angrily against the table.” vs. “She slammed the cup against the table.”

 –Choose active verbs over passive “to be” verbs. “She was being hit by a bus.” vs. “The bus hit her.”

–Use strong, exciting adjectives instead of boring ones. Use descriptors, but don’t go overboard.

–Watch out for clichés. (“It was a dark and stormy night.”)

5. S is for Sentence Structure

 Good complex, robust sentences intoxicate the reader.

“Even the bravest of them wouldn’t dare stray from the High Road after soccer practice at Firemen’s Field, and those who are old enough to stand by the murky waters of Olive Tree Lake and pry kisses from their girlfriends still walk home quickly. If truth be told, some of them run. A person could get lost up here. After enough wrong turns he might find himself in the marshes, and once he was there, a man could wander forever among the minnows and the reeds, his soul struggling to find its way long after his bones had been discovered and buried on the crest of the hill, where the wild blueberries grow.” Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman.

 Simple Sentences can just as effective, too.

“’Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and Rest.’ And the Boy did. And the Tree was happy.” The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

 Sometimes, good sentences break the rules.

“Sometimes when you are trying to think about something and it keeps popping back into your head you can’t help it you think about it and think about it and think about it until your brain feels like a squashed pea.” Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Tips for Students

-Choose the right kind of sentence to match who is telling the story.

-Mix it up. Don’t use the same old boring sentence structures over and over

-Curtail excessive use of “As” and “Ings”  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ authors Browne and King state they are the tricks of the trade of “hack writers.”

These four components are certainly not the only considerations in writing voice, but I find they answer the question, “Please Tell Me Who’s Speaking?”

If you’re hungry for something unique and distinctive outside the pages of a book, you might try my recipe for “Not Just Another Chocolate Chip Cookie.” In this recipe, you can tweak a few ingredients to make your favorite gooey snack.

Not Just Another Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Ingredients:

4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt 

3 sticks real butter

2 cups dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 tbsp (yes, tablespoons!) vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2 cups dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 cups milk chocolate chips

Optional ingredients:

You may substitute any of the following   for the chocolate chips. Or get crazy, and just add them all!

2 cups toffee bits

2 cups honey roasted peanuts

2 cups pecan bits

2 cups m&ms

2 cups Hershey’s kisses bits

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Melt the butter. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Add the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips and/or other stuff. Drop cookie dough in small balls (or big ones) onto heavy duty (Williams-Sonoma are best, but hchoc chip cookiesey, use what you’ve got) cookie sheets.

If you don’t have time to bake individual batches, spread all the dough in a jellyroll pan and bake for thirty minutes. Or you could just stop there and eat the dough. That works, too.

Bake cookies at 350 for 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before removing from cookie sheet.

Binge!

If you’re a stalker, stop reading this now. I don’t like stalkers.

Don’t start stalking me.

Really.

Secret Confession Time: I do like stalker-ific love stories. I’m all over dark, brooding, obsessive romance novels. I could read them Eight Days a Week.

And since I haven’t posted anything about The Beatles (a band totally worth stalking), I’m giving my list of fave unhealthy obsessions…erm, love stories with corresponding Beatles’ songs.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights/ Helter Skelter: Let’s lead off with the best freakout feast of gothic fixation ever written.  Emily Bronte’s generation spanning saga is full of creepy adoration. Heathcliffe’s love (or psychosis, whatever…) for Catherine is so intense, it drives him insane. The dude can’t let go of her even after she’s dead!

Stalker-ific Book Quote:

“And I pray one prayer–I repeat it till my tongue stiffens–Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you–haunt me, then!…Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

Stalker-ific Beatles’ Lyric:

“When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide.
Where I stop and turn and I go for a ride;  till I get to the bottom and I see you again….Do you don’t you want me to love you. I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you. Tell me tell me come on tell me the answer…” —Helter Skelter

Here on Earth/Run For Your Life: In Alice Hoffman’s modern day Wuthering Heights, March Murray returns to her childhood home in Massachussetts. March is drawn like a moth to a  flame to her long lost childhood sweetheart, Hollis. Hollis makes a melancholy, violent Heathcliffe. He’s as reclusive as the unabomber and as handsome as a bodice ripper coverboy. Hoffman’s wordsmith prowess adds extra value to this OCD romance.

Stalker-ific Book Quote:

“Unfinished business always comes back to haunt you, and a man who swears he’ll love you forever isn’t finished with you until he’s done.”

Stalker-ific Beatles Lyric:

“You better run for your life if you can, little girl. Hide your head in the sand little girl. Catch you with another man, that’s the end’a little girl…” —Run For Your Life

The Thorn Birds/Girl: Who knew a love story built on a the forbidden affair between a young girl and a priest could be so steamy? If you stop and think about this book too much, the creepy factor gets to you.  (C’mon, Ralph first meets Meggie when she’s almost a baby. Ick…) Even so, the plot is compelling and tragic. Read the book, then see the Richard Chamberlain/Rachel Ward three hankie mini-series.

Stalker-ific Book Quote:

“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth…  singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. ..”

Stalker-ific Beatles’ Lyric:

“When I think of all the times I tried to hard to leave her,
she will turn to me and start to cry…”–Girl

Twilight/I Want You (She’s So Heavy): Another secret confession– I snapped up the Twilight series like a flaky, fried meth tweaker scoring a hit.

Is the writing Pulitzer worthy? No.

Are the characters believable? No.

Does Edward Cullen make a hawt vampire stalker? Yes, Oh Mylanta, YES!

Full Disclosure– I consider the Twilight series a trilogy.  I loathe (nay, HATE with an all consuming passion) Breaking Dawn. Stephenie Meyer, you broke my heart with “Renesmee.” Thou art dead to me.

For a full (badly written and spoiler ridden) rant on Breaking Dawn, read my (#1 top rated!) Amazon review.

Stalker-ific Book Quote:

“Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin.”

Stalker-ific Beatles’ Lyric:

“I want you. I want you so bad, babe. I want you.  You know I want you so bad,  it’s driving me mad…Yeah, she’s so heavy…heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy.”

Do you like stalker love stories? If so, which are your favorites?  Leave a comment and enjoy this recipe for Deep, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Chocoholics, this cake is your brand of heroin.

Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Cocoa

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 canola oil

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13 (or two 9 inch round) cake pan. Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix in eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for two minutes. Add boiling water. Stir, then pour batter into pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool. Frost cake.

Frosting:

Melt 1/2 cup butter. Stir in 2/3 cup Hershey’s dark chocolate cocoa. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and 1/3 cup milk. Stir in 1 tbsp. vanilla. Spread on cake.

Binge!