Plotting by Magic Eight Ball

 

I don’t know why I’ve bothered to take all those classes, why I’ve wasted blood sweat and tears over my book plots…when I could simply have used a Magic Eight Ball.

“Yes!” it agrees.

Consider this passage beginning from a potential novel. “Esmeralda looked out her window and saw…”

Now, I could spend hours debating what she saw. I could dither over the wisdom of opening the novel with my heroine spying on something. I could fret over the sentence structure. And so on. You know, the usual writer’s angst.

OR

I could simply use the Magic Eight Ball.

Liz Jasper (to the Magic Eight Ball): Should Esmeralda see her hero?

Magic Eight Ball: Signs point to yes.

LIZ JASPER: Hmmm. I guess that means she should see him, but indirectly. Maybe he’s in costume?

Magic Eight Ball: Concentrate and ask again.

LIZ JASPER: Right, right. She sees him getting into his carriage on the way to a costume ball.

Magic Eight Ball: Reply hazy try again.

LIZ JASPER: They’re in the carriage together, on the way to a costume ball and he has on one of those mask thingies. AND, that when she realizes her guardian is the mystery man she kissed in the garden at the last costume ball!

Magic Eight Ball: Cannot predict now.

LIZ JASPER: And she knows he’s on his way to meet his fiancée, to whom he was promised at birth but has never seen, and Esmeralda knows she cannot let him marry someone else because she loves him! So she rings for her maid and dons the gown from that fateful night, the gown she swore never to wear again, and secretly follows him to the ball in the second best carriage!

Magic Eight Ball: My sources say no.

LIZ JASPER: Dammit! No, you’re right. It’s been done. Hmm. How about she goes with him to the ball and that’s when she realizes he’s the one?  Maybe when they’re dancing together?

Magic Eight Ball: Very doubtful.

LIZ JASPER:  You know, this is very annoying! Why can’t you like any of my ideas? I’m a published author, you know.  An award-winning published author. Fine, that was mysteries and the Esmeralda book is a historical romance, but still.  Authors need to stretch themselves. Who are you to say I can’t write a big thick romance?  Screw you.  She’s going to that darn dance, she’s going to follow him out of the garden, and she’s going to…to seduce that blind fool!

Magic Eight Ball: My sources say no.

LIZ JASPER: Fine. She’ll stumble and he’ll clutch her to him–just for the sake of keeping her from falling—and  then they’ll kiss. Ha HAH! Now that’s good stuff.

Magic Eight Ball: Outlook not so good.

LIZ JASPER: You’d probably like it if they didn’t even exchange a smoldering look!

Magic Eight Ball: Most likely.

LIZ JASPER: Maybe You think I should be working on the next Underdead book like I’m supposed to be!

Magic Eight Ball: “As I see it, yes”

As you can see, the Magic Eight Ball can save you hours of time wasting and even help you with time management! I’d let you borrow mine, but it’s having some technical difficulties right now. Maybe when the glue dries…

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NOVEMBER NEWS

     Almost Turkey Day!

(Hey, I LIKE Thanksgiving. I’d do a countdown but I figure my time is better spent in the Thanksgiving spirit of looking up recipes of things I can slop gravy over. Mmmm. Gravy! No, I’m not sharing. Get your own gravy bowl!)

Award winning UNDERDEAD  and the sequel UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL are now available in eBook and trade paperback!

 

“Jo is terrific! An entertaining lighthearted romp!”~~Midwest Book Review 

“UNDERDEAD is certainly not your typical vampire story, it’s better!”~~ Two Lips Reviews

“Hilariously funny…a page-turner extraordinaire”~~MyShelf

“Fun to read murder mystery with vampires rivals TWILIGHT series”
~~ Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction

 

As a launch special, the eBook version of UNDERDEAD will be on sale for $0.99 for a limited time. To find links to both books in whatever format you prefer, click here.

WHERE TO FIND LIZ IN NOVEMBER: Pin Up Hair Emporium and Unique Boutique. Reading, book signing and wine and cheese and palm reading. You saw it right, palm reading. 6-8:30. 1560 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA

     

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. 

 

Underdead and Underdead In Denial re-releasing in ebook and in print!

Last December, my publisher changed their focus away from mainstream fiction. I got the rights back to my novels just as the self-publishing world took off.

 The re-pub process has taken a bit longer than I’d anticipated. And I have to admit I needed a shove from one of my author buddies to go down this path. And a few long phone calls with another author friend who had gotten the rights back to his backlists. (He’s now a bestseller! He reports he doesn’t have groupies–bummer–but that he did have a woman come up and kiss him at Bouchercon. Yes, it’s those moments that sustain writers, even if it didn’t happen to them (and in their head they change “women” to “hunky guy”. Though I’m holding out for groupies.) More phone calls to other authors to see if they had a read on the market. Hard to believe at this point that all this back and forth was needed, but we were trying to figure it out as we went. The book market has changed tremendously in 2011. 

On the plus side of all this, I have book covers that I love. And I can set the price for my books and decide whether to offer them in print. (Yes, they will be available in print. I  still like to snuggle up on the couch with a print book and I know others do, too.) On the downside, all this is a lot of work. There’s a lot more involved in getting books out than I’d expected. Here’s a partial list of what I’ve done in the past months:

* Moved my website here and completely overhauled it. It took 8 calls to yahoo and many discussions with my genius social marketing friend about why I kept loosing my email. But it eventually got done. By me trying different things and finally discovering what worked.

* Taken professional author photos (At the behest of VV who said, “Liz. Really. You NEED to have a decent photo up.” And my sister who said, “Liz, you know all those photos I have of you in the ugly hiking hat? The ones we took of with my phone where you have the double chin thing going on and sunscreen dripping from your left ear? If you don’t put up a decent photo, I’m posting one of those.”)  

* Sat in on a talk with Mark Coker, head honcho of Smashwords. (Nice guy, not CEO-ey or sales-y at all. For my virtual writerly backyard bbq, he and his family are totally invited.)

* Eaten chocolate. Lots of it. Got the cat and I addicted to Trader Joe’s Cheese Crunchies.

* Taken another course on marketing and promo. Not my fav. thing, marketing and promo. I really like doing booksignings and panel talks, but M&P isn’t all chatting with readers. If it were, I’d like it a lot more, because who doesn’t like that? I talk about books with my family and friends a lot. Always have. My mom sister and I will go ten rounds arguing about a book we’ve all just read.

* Made my (then) pregnant friend help me redo the back cover copy for both books. It’s amazing what you can get pregnant friends to do for chocolate and air conditioning.

* Started the next Underdead book.

* Had a fabulous cover done by the talented husband (Bob McAndrews) of one of my writer buddies. Having a cover that suggested mystery/vampire/humor/fun was a huge plus. Kimberly Van Meter did a great job with the next cover. As ever, thanks Ida Mary Walker, aka mizzd-stock for being the cover model.

* Admitted that I had better things to do than learn how to perfectly format a manuscript. Admitted that, as I am not a detail person by nature, perhaps that is one thing I can farm out. Really, really enjoyed making that decision.  Steven James Price of Generation Next Publications formatted the print book layouts, the print covers and the ebooks. Great decision to have hired him.

That’s a partial list of all the stuff that goes into getting your books back out after you’ve gotten the rights back from your publisher. Now. I have to go check my print book proofs on Amazon. Keep tuned for the official release. No, this wasn’t official. Well, official whining, perhaps.

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)