Yeah, I’m behind in blogging. And I haven’t taken down the holiday decor here. I have an excellent reason…

Namely that I have been very busy being sick. I’m not kidding. I have managed to infect those around me, including–and this is impressive even to me–a friend who lives 10 miles away and whom I hadn’t seen for a month before I got the cold. Yeah, top that!

Now. I’m going to go back to my special box of tissues–Kleenex with the aloe and e lotion. I have done an exhaustive test on my own nose and I think they are the best available. Yes, I have put myself out there for the team.

Hope all of you are doing well in your new year! If you’re having a tough start, go snuggle up and read a book. Yeah, it’s an order.

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Don’t Make the Halloween Mom ANGRY!

When I was in the sixth grade, trick or treating was a big deal because I was invited–and allowed–to go with a couple of friends and stay out until late (8:30) without supervision.

We were very proud of our costumes.  My friend Shanna was a cabaret dancer. It was a very cool costume. She had a top hat and a sparkly tuxedo jacket and a leotard and fishnets. I borrowed a spider costume that consisted mostly of giant black pipe-cleaner legs. It required explanation when I rang a doorbell:

Bewildered door-answerer:  And what are you?

Liz: I’m a spider!

Bewildered door-answerer:  Ohhhh. Here. Have an extra Milky Way, dear.

But then my costumes always required explanation. I don’t remember what the third friend went as. You just can’t compete for memory space against Shanna’s sparkles and top hat and my thrill over having a real costume instead of the sort of throw-together thing my family went for.

Liz’s Mom: Here, Liz, wear this old shirt of your father’s out of the rag bin. Look! You’re a hobo!

Liz: What’s a hobo?

Anyway, we were having a great time (translation: having a good candy haul that year) when the clock ticked past 7:30. That meant the parents out trick or treating with little kids were taking their kids home. Soon we we ran afoul of a gang of 7th grade boys. Here’s a what happened: they had shaving cream and were ten year old boys.

Shanna got the brunt of it. Her sparkles were like a hundred little targets begging the boys to nail her with shaving cream.

We made it back to Shanna’s house teary and dejected.

Shanna’s Mom: Girls! You’re back early. How was the… [eyes narrow. Lips compress.] What happened.

Three girls speaking at once: They were mean! They had shaving cream! It wasn’t our fault! They just attacked us!

Shanna’s Mom [crossing to the fridge and yanking it open]: Here. Hold this. [Hands closest girl an 18 pack of eggs.] Girls, get into the car. No. We’re taking the van. [She grabs a box of something and hefts it in the van, placing it between the front seats.] Okay. Everyone buckled in? [We drive in petrified silence to back to the street. There are muffled sounds of sniveling as we take stock of our ruined costumes.] Okay. Point them out.

Shanna: There they are. Those are the boys! See? The big one still has a can of shaving cream.

Shanna’s Mom [Slams to a stop. She opens the egg carton and grabs as many as will fit in her hands and starts pelting the boys]: Get ’em!

[We grab eggs,  crowd at the back windows and hurl them out.]

[The boys run]

Shanna: Mom, we’re out of eggs. They’re running away!

Shanna’s Mom. “Hold on girls!” [Screeches forward in a three point turn and chases after the boys with the brights on.] “Take some apples!”

Shanna: Eew, these are the ones that went bad!

Shanna’s Mom [smiling for the first time]: I know.  Get ’em girls!

Frankly, now that I look back on it, I find it was very generous of Shanna’s mom to teach those boys an important life lesson at such a tender age: Always remember how you treat a girl because at some point, you WILL meet her mother!

Take me now, Dirk Deedlehopper!

When asked why I write book series, I usually respond with something suitably ponderous and writer-ly about character development and plot arcs. And it’s true that I like the way one really gets to know and care about characters in a series. But writing a series has an important advantage no one really talks about:  you don’t have to come up with as many new names. 

I hate naming characters. I’m not kidding.  It’s really hard for me. Most of the names that pop in my head pop in because I know someone with that name.  And that causes all sorts of problems.

For instance, imagine you’re creating your hero. He’s tall, dark and handsome or buffed, blond and gorgeous or whatever. You imagine your heroine leaning in for that first kiss. She moans, “Oh, John!”

Hold on. (And not because that’s terrible writing.) John was the name of the guy who took you to homecoming your sophomore year of high school. He had fish breath and damp hands.  O-kaaay. Not John. You rewrite. Your heroine and hero are sharing a box of Junior Mints. He puts his arm around her. She leans toward him and whispers, “Oh, Rick!”

Backtrack, backtrack, ick, ick, ick.  You have and Uncle Richard, which is awfully close to “Rick.” And don’t forget about Ranger Rick Magazine which you read as a kid. How can you possibly write a romantic scene when you think “raccoon?” I mean, how much chest hair does the guy have? Eeew. Now in your head your tall, dark and handsome hero has got a serious back hair problem.

Okay.  Time to switch gears.  Let’s name the murder victim. Okay. The victim is a female librarian in her 50s.   How about Marge? You can’t think of anyone named Marge.  Except for Marge Simpson, but since your victim is too old and square to have dyed her hair blue and too young to have a nice blue rinse, chances are no one is going to think Marge Simpson. Fine.  Death to Marge! And then your mother reads the manuscript and you get this phone call:

Liz’s mom: “I can’t believe you killed off our next door neighbor.”

Liz: “What? What are you talking about?”

Liz’s mom: “Marge! Marge Wilkinson. How will I be able to look her in the face? Who’s going to watch our cat when we go to Florida?”

Liz: [awkward pause]”Her name’s Marge?”

Liz’s mom: “What did you think her name was?”

Liz (in her head): “Mrs. Wilkinson.”

Liz (aloud): “It’s okay, Mom. I can change her name to…” (Liz looks frantically around desk. Sees ad for Glendora Cleaners.) “Glendora.” Hah. Perfect.  Death to Glendora!

Liz’s mom: “Glendora? Tsk. That’s a ridiculous name for a librarian.“

So you can see how difficult coming up with names can be.  I think we should all be glad I haven’t resorted to Dirk Deedlehopper. But if I’m honest, it’s only because my best friend used to date a guy named Dirk and George Deedlehopper doesn’t quite have the same ring.

[Note: this was originally blogged elsewhere. I’m re-posting these here. See note below. Is this an endless string of notes destined to torture you? Perhaps. Why don’t you scroll down and see?]

How I fell out of love with Jake Gyllenhaal and why I still think Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is dreamy

For those of you don’t recognize the latter name right off, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai was “Broken Sword” in the movie  Hero and now plays Mr. Lee in Lust, Caution. I fell in crush with him when I saw him in Hero.  He’s just gorgeous. He’s got the long hair going on and enough quiet charisma to set a screen on fire. Very dangerous, given all the rapturous sighing going on in the audience. (Though if the conflagration were to set the multiplex on fire, the fire department would come, and I’m sure the audience would be happy to transfer their affection from hot actor to hot firefighters.  But I digress.)

I’ve had a crush on Tony Leung Chiu-Wai for years now. I didn’t realize how unusual it was for me to keep an actor in my theoretical “Five people you get to cheat with” list (Oh, come on. Everyone has a list.) until this morning when I saw an ad in the paper for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Rendition. Instead of going “Jake Gyllenhaal! He’s so dreamy,” as would have back when Brokeback was still on people’s tongues,  I shrugged and flipped the page to Doonesbury.

The sort of falling out of crush happens a lot to me, and I wondered why.  The simple answer is “over exposure.” But that’s a little facile. I think the answer is that I don’t ever really have a crush on the actor, but the character he is playing. When I see an actor outside a movie, in an interview where he’s deliberately holding back personal information (for good reason), the actor goes from 3-D, surround-sound Technicolor to cardboard facsimile.  And though crushes are two-dimensional in nature, I can’t be sustained by a piece of cardboard for long.

But Tony Leung Chiu-Wai lives in China, and while I’m sure he does the usual cardboard cutout interviews there, I never see them. So he is always Broken Sword. (Or some other rich, gorgeous character like Mr. Lee he’s now playing in Lust, Caution. But I haven’t seen it, so, he’s still Broken Sword in my heart.) Broken Sword. Shuddery indrawn breath. Flutter of lashes. Sigh. 

 

What’s on your coffee mug?

Everyone has a favorite coffee mug.

I maintain that the mug you choose says something about you, or at least about the day your having.

When I was in college and in the the worst ever 8 am math class (Modern Abstract Algebra–shudder!), my mug sported a lovely pastoral Christmas scene. The mug was a holiday gift from my roommate, who had broken all the rest of my mugs and who thought I needed cheering. It was cheerful. It held coffee. It was fine. Until I lifted it up and it jangled out a Christmas tune. Loudly.

Professor: “There is an element e such that for all a in R–”

Liz’s coffee mug: “Oh! The weather outside is frightful…”

Liz: (Muffled)”Crap.”

Professor: “A times e equals e times a–”

What Liz Hears: “Blah blah blah blah”

Liz: (internal) “Must…have…caffeine.”

Liz’s coffee mug: “But the fire is so delightful–”

Liz: (Muffled) “Crap!”

Professor turns from board and sweeps baleful glance over classroom. Liz has yet to have a sip of coffee…

Professor: (going back to writing on board) “Equals a, then the–”

Liz’s coffee mug: “And since we’ve no place to goooo”

Professor: “Miss Jasper, would you please turn off your coffee mug? Some of us are trying to learn.”

Liz: “Sorry, professor.”

Liz’s brain: “Caffeine! Caffeine! Now! Now! NOW!”

Liz’s mug: “Let it snooooowwww.”

Liz: “Crap! I mean…Whoops! Sorry, professor. I thought if I covered the bottom it wouldn’t sing–nevermind. Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

Liz: (internal) sigh!

Professor: “Blah, blah, blah, Q.E.D.”

Thankfully, for all concerned, my coffee always went cold and undrunk in that mug so it was only a matter of time that I hit desperation and stuck it in the microwave to reheat and fried the music chip.

Which brings me to the coffee mug I am using today. Today I have lots of mug choices. Also, today I have roofers overhead. So far as I can tell, they’ve got fifty 400-lb linebackers up there with oversized power tools, nails the size of baseball bats, and cement boots.

Which means I am desperately clutching my Shakespearean slurs mug and trying to get coffee down my throat.

(Good gad what are they using now? The hammer of Thor?)

In between gulps I’m muttering the rudest slurs on the mug that I can find. “Canker-blossom!” I yell at the ceiling. “Roast meat for worms!”

The slurs seem inadequate. I’m going to do what murder mystery writers do. And, frankly, what I’m sure Shakespeare would have done, at the very least, if he’d had to deal with this kind of stuff. I’m going to fire up my pen and kill them off.

(First posted at The Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers blog Jan 2008)

 

Blogging about…stuff

I used to blog. A lot. At least it felt like it. I used to have my posts archived, as a service to anyone stupendously bored at work, but when I moved my website, I lost all the archives. So I’m reposting them here and in time they’ll be archived with this site.  Just in case anyone was wondering what the heck I’m doing posting old stuff on a new blog. I’m sure there are more direct ways of doing this, but I don’t know them, so I’m being…creative.

(The things authors do when they’re busy writing their next novel!)

Cranky Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t know what the rest of you were doing this morning. Probably you were having a wonderfully relaxing time reading the Sunday paper and lingering over that second cup of coffee and third pancake.  At least I hope you were doing something nice like that to help out the global Sunday morning average while I was on the phone with computer technical support.

I am cranky.

When I’m in a foul mood, I bake.  Usually cookies.  And today, I’ll be making chocolate chip. Now, my mother says chocolate chip cookies are boring because everybody makes them. I disagree.  I think the reason they’re boring is because most people don’t make very good ones. And while normally I would very tactfully opine that no one who reads this blog could possibly be the sort to make less than perfect chocolate chip cookies, I lost all tact about 45 minutes ago when I was put on hold for the fifth time. So, here, for anyone else who may be having a day like mine, is a recipe for GOOD chocolate chip cookies. The sort you need after an hour and a half with technical support.

LIZ JASPER’S CRANKY DAY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Preheat oven to 375. Fahrenheit.  If your oven thermometer only works in Celsius, you’re on your own for the conversion.  I’m in no mood to look it up for you.

INGREDIENTS:

  • TWO STICKS NUCOA MARGARINE.  I’m sure other brands of margarine are fine, but this one is superlative.  Get it. It’s cheap and you can always stick the other two cubes in the freezer for next time. Vegetable shortening is tasteless and leaves a nasty coating on the roof of your mouth.  Butter is what you need for shortbread and such, but frankly it gives drop cookies the wrong consistency. I had a hard time accepting margarine was good for anything, but it is what you want for this sort of cookie.
  • A SCANT 1/2 CUP WHITE SUGAR.
  • 3/4 CUP BROWN SUGAR. If you have problems with your brown sugar getting hard, store it in a plastic bag in the fridge
  • 1 TEASPOON VANILLA EXTRACT
  • 1 EGG (room temp is nice, but if you just took one out of the fridge and don’t want to wait, don’t worry about it. You’re making cookies, not negotiating world peace.)
  • 2 AND ¼ C. all-purpose AT FLOUR. (I use 1 c. all-purpose flour and 1 and ¼ c. whole wheat pastry flour.  You’d think adding whole wheat flour would make the cookies heavy and icky tasting, but the whole wheat pastry flour is v. light and gives a nutty flavor. So far all tasters, even my “I only eat Wonder Bread” friends have preferred this blend to white flour alone. But if you don’t have the whole wheat pastry flour, don’t worry about it. And on the subject of white flour, get the unbleached. Who wants bleach in their food?)
  • 1 TEASPOON BAKING SODA
  • A TINY PINCH SALT
  • ½ HERSHEY’S BAR, GRATED (yes, you can leave this out if you don’t have it.  They’ll still be good.)
  • ONE BAG SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS. (I use Nestlé’s because that’s what I like, despite what I read about blind taste testing. Use whatever you like.)

Making them:

If your margarine isn’t nice and soft, nuke it in the microwave for five seconds and give it a stir. You can keep doing that until it’s good and soft. Stir in both sugars.

Add egg and vanilla and take out your aggressions on the batter until they’re both well incorporated. Stir in the grated chocolate.

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt. If you’re feeling lazy, or the need to thwart authority, you can add the salt and baking soda directly to the batter, give it a mix, and then add the flour.

Open the bag of chocolate chips.  Take a good deep whiff.  Eat a few. They’re your cookies, and by gum if you want a few chocolate chips, you can darn well have them. Poor what’s left into the batter and give it a stir.

I line my cookie sheets with parchment paper because they no longer make aluminum cookie sheets and those heavy steel ones seem to work better with parchment paper. Also, the last ones I got had the manufactures information stuck to it with some glue like substance that didn’t fully come off the cookie sheet, no matter how hard I scrubbed, and though I’m sure it’s long gone by now, I don’t particularly want to eat even a trace of it. I slit my sister’s Silpat (sp? Eh, who cares.) sheets once with a spatula and ruined them, so obviously I don’t go that route. So, parchment paper. Stick blobs of dough on the cookie sheet. My blobs are about the size of a fat, lumpy walnut. I put about 12 on a cookie sheet. Put it in the oven.

After seven or eight minutes, give your cookies a check. If you like them chewy, take them out when they’re still white and a little raw in the middle.  I take them out a few minutes after that, when they’re nice and brown on the edges but still a little pale in the middle. This recipe turns out cookies that are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Slide them off onto brown paper grocery bags. I rip my paper bags (la la la, thinking of you, tech support) and use the inside as Lord only knows what’s in that ink they use.

Cookies are best between about five minutes and a half-hour after you’ve taking them out of the oven. The first hardening has set in. The second one, which eventually turns your cookies soft and stale, starts in after about a half hour. But that’s okay.  If you’ve had a crappy day, there won’t be any cookies left after half-hour.  If there are, these freeze really well. When they’re totally cool, toss in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer.  If you pop them in the toaster oven for about a minute until they defrost, they’ll taste as if you just taken them out of the oven.

I can only hope no one besides me has to make these today.

(Original posting on Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers blog 10/2007)