Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter - In the Kitchen with Nancy

Well, it's that time of year again. You know? When a bunny lays eggs? And we not only want to eat those eggs, but we'll hunt through the woods to find them. Talk about magic.

It's time to celebrate new life, and the coming of spring. That last part would be easier for me if it didn't keep snowing in Virginia for goodness sakes. Anyway, I digress.

One of the ways we do that here is by cooking and eating far too much. We are, after all, Italian. Breakfast is a mix of chocolates snatched from Easter baskets when parents aren't looking, and Easter Bread. I couldn't find my Mom's recipe this year, and wasn't able to call her at a decent hour to ask so I had to rely on one from a book. Specifically, Greek Cooking by Lou Seibert Pappas (Galahad Books, 1973).  So here it is with some modification to make it more like Ma makes:

Easter Bread

2 packages (tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp.cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
     (okay. I don't use this ingredient because I dislike the taste, but it's in the recipe and you can make
      your own mind up about it).
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Cups flour
6 hard boiled eggs, dyed in the shell
   (the traditional Greek recipe uses red dyed eggs, we've always used multi-colored ones though).
1 egg white, slightly beaten
gum drops (The Greek recipe calls for sesame seeds)

Sprinkle yeast into the warm water, stir to blend, and let stand until dissolved. Heat milk and butter together, until the butter melts. Pour milk/butter mixture into mixing bowl, add sugar, and let cool until lukewarm. Add (raw) eggs one at a time, and beat until smooth. Stir in yeast mixture, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 2 cups of flour, beat at until mixed (on medium speed - about 5 minutes). Gradually add the remaining flour with a heavy duty mixer or a wooden spoon.

Knead until smooth and no longer sticky. If necessary add in additional flour. Place dough in a greased bowl, lightly oil top of dough, cover with dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled- about 1 1/2 hours.

Here's where the Greek recipe and my Mom diverge again. I'm going with my Mom here.

Put aside some dough for decoration, Roll  dough into six oval loaves. In the center of each loaf make
an indentation or a nest. Gently push one of the hard boiled eggs into this spot. Roll the remaining dough into a thin strip. Place a section of the strip over the egg (to simulate a handle), pressing the ends of the strips into the bread to secure the eggs. Cover and let rise until doubled in size again.

Preheat oven to 325

Brush the dough with the slightly beaten egg white, and push the gum drops into dough as decoration. (The Greek recipe would have you sprinkling the tops with the sesame seeds).

Bake in 325 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Serve hot or let cool on a rack.

And after all your time and hard work, your children can also declare that they want pancakes instead.

Sigh. Now it's time to cook the leg of lamb. Odds on whether the boys eat that?

Anyway, have a lovely day everyone.

Monday, March 25, 2013


This weekend saw me typing "The End" on the first draft of my work-in-progress: New Bohemia: Just One Night. About a year ago, I put another WIP on hold because this story kept interrupting me when I sat down to write. I figured New Bohemia would be a quick short story or a novella, at best. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the down sides to being a pantser (a writer who doesn't outline the story in advance but writes by putting the characters in a terrible situation and asking what would happen next) is sometimes a story will take a turn onto a different road. Well, that's what happened with New Bohemia. For this romance, I'd gotten the two characters together and now needed an obstacle. What happens when you need an obstacle? You hit your characters where it hurts most. For Maysoon, the female main character, that meant forcing her to give up her career as a lawyer for low income individuals in the worst section of Washington, DC to accept a position in the family business. Their overcoming that fairly huge obstacle, and coming together again changed the story from a novella to a full length novel.

As you might have guessed being a discovery writer has its downsides. If I'd had an outline worked out in advance, I would have realized the commitment I was making to May and Pete much sooner than I did. But, there are some benefits of pantsing it too. One is that I get to experience the happily ever after moment (a must in a romance) when the characters do. Typing "the end" is as fulfilling for me as it is for the characters.

What happens next for New Bohemia? Well, it gets to sit in the proverbial drawer for the next month to "cool" before start on edits. During that month, my plan is to work on edits for my other novel (The King's Falcon), and finish the preparation and research work for the urban fantasy WIP that was pushed aside for New Bohemia.

My goal is to have both New Bohemia and King's Falcon ready for the submission rounds by summer. Although given that it's snowing in Virginia today, summer may be a long way away. I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Monday, March 18, 2013


We're in the middle of another round of winnowing at Flash Fiction Online. As it often does, winnowing makes me think about what goes into a good story. One of the things I noticed with this round of stories is that the ones I rejected as "NAS" (not a story) had something in common. They all failed to answer my "why" questions.

"Why is the main character acting like this?"
"Why is the world like this?"
"Why do I care?"

Okay, that last one grows out of the first two.

The best stories answer questions. I'm going to use an imperfect analogy for a moment. If you equate a novel with a movie, then a flash fiction piece is a short discrete section with its own beginning, middle and end. A short story or flash story doesn't work when it's only a scene. So, let's take Dangerous Liaisons (1988). If you were to write the sword fight scene toward the end of the movie as a flash piece you're going to have a problem. Valmont makes two decisions based on what's come before in the movie. We know why he makes the choices he does because the groundwork was laid. Without the groundwork, the fight scene and its conclusion are unfulfilling.

But wait, why did the Sixth Sense (1999) work? Wasn't the biggest why hidden throughout the story and only revealed at the twist ending? Not really. When you go back and watch the movie again (and again), you start noticing that the writer and director, M. Night  Shyamalan, littered the story with clues, some subtle, some less so. In fact, one of the characters tells you flat out the why and why it's "hidden" early in the story. We just don't notice. But our subconscious picked up on them in the first viewing which is why we don't feel cheated at the final reveal.

I believe that the reader needs to know or, at least, be given the clues to put the why together through the story.

Let's take another example.

The first few minutes of Disney's Up (2009), show the main character, Carl, as a young boy meeting the girl he'll eventually marry. We see the heart break of their learning they can never have children and the life they make for themselves. We see Carl's losing Ellie.

Why is showing Carl as a young boy, and then through his marriage, important? Because those minutes, a story story, tell you why Carl won't sell the house, why he's shut himself away from the world, and why he reacts the way he does when the mailbox is damaged. So, when Carl then makes the decision that changes his life, we understand it. Heck, we want him to succeed.

If you strip those moments off, and just start with present day Carl and his house surrounded by construction, the story no longer works. After all, it's just an old house. Why doesn't he get with the program and move? Carl goes from being a sympathetic character to just a grumpy old man standing in the way of progress. He hasn't been shown to have capacity to be more. It's a different movie all together.

If the why is only revealed in your "twist" ending, you might want to reconsider your story structure. Either show me, or give me hints to let me figure out the  big "why" of your story, let me know why your main character acts or is the way she is, and I'll keep reading. Let me wonder about her motivation, and it's easy for me to put the story down.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Winner - Spectrum of Speculative Fiction Blog Hop

A big thank you to everyone who visited during the Spectrum of Speculative Fiction Blog Hop over the weekend. Sadly, there can be only one - - - -winner.

And so, the winner is. . . .


Warren - please e-mail me at nancy at falconsfables dot com so we can coordinate what format you want Paths Less Traveled in.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Integrity has been on my mind lately. In the continuum of human actions there's a whole lot of grey between black and white. Some people wallow in gray. Most companies do. So, when Maker's Mark announced in early February that it was going to lower its alcohol content from 45% to 42%, I took notice.


Most companies hide when they are going to give us less. Take for example my 5 pound bag of sugar. Oh wait. You can't.  Across the board, all the sugar producers very quietly, and at the same time, went from 5 pound bags to 4 pound bags. Oh yes, and the price stayed the same. So consumers were tricked into a 20% price increase. This sneaky change didn't endear the sugar companies to me.

But Maker's Mark let us know that it was changing its product because it wanted people to be able to buy more than one glass when they were out. It was honest. A trait rarely seen on our playgrounds anymore, much less corporate America. Anyway, after lots of hue and cry, Maker's Mark decided not to change its product.

Some (like Forbes) have speculated that the whole debacle was a publicity stunt to increase brand awareness. And, I'm not naive enough to discount the idea. It might have been. But I suspect that if people hadn't complained, Maker's Mark would have gone ahead with its plans and diluted its alcohol content to sell more liquor.

Here's where Maker's Mark won me over, even if this was a PR stunt, it came right out and told consumers what it was going to do and why. It didn't engage in a sneaky price hike by reducing what I get for my money and not telling me.As a result, Maker's Mark will remain a brand I trust.

To me integrity in writing means having integrity means keeping your promise to your readers. There are writers who I know will give me a good story, and great world building for each novel I pick up no matter how different this series is from what's come before. Those writers have earned my trust because of their integrity. I could name drop, but I won't unless you ask which writers I trust in the comments.

Not surprisingly, I'm leery of picking up stories by other writers because they don't have story integrity for me. These are the writers whose plot twists only existed because that writer withheld information a POV character knew.

We make thousands of choices every day. Most of them don't have long term implications in our lives. Some that seem immediate - like what to have for lunch - can have longer term effects. Every once and a while, though, we face a choice that can change our life.

We work all our lives to build our reputations, both personal and professional. One bad choice can destroy a reputation.

I'm going to suggest that when you're standing at one of those crossroads, whether as a writer or some other part of your life, choose the path that shows your integrity. People will keep coming back if you do.