Sunday, December 02, 2012

Kringle -- not Kris, but the pastry

Kringle Blog I love to cook and bake, to read about food, and to write about it. I’m always interested in how other authors use food in their books, and often discover delicacies I want to try. That was the case with “Kringle, the single greatest pastry the world has ever created,” which I discovered through Mark Zubro’s Another Dead Republican.

Since Christmas is approaching, I was thinking about Kringle again. The first time I heard about Kringle, it was being eaten by Tom and Scott, Zubro’s heroes. “Scott handed out napkins and small slices of Kringle to Enid and me and took one for himself. It was pecan, the best kind. I swallowed it in two bites. Mom had remembered to pick up the Kringle from Racine. Count on mom to get the best pastry ever invented at a time like this.”
I was intrigued, but when I read, “As we talked I offered more Kringle around. Enid declined. Scott and I took more. You had to scarf down Kringle when you got the chance. You never knew when you might be facing your last chance at Kringle,” I thought this was a pastry I had to find out more about.

Fortunately, Cook’s Country just came out with a simplified recipe for Kringle, which in its complicated form required three days of preparation, including folding the dough over and over again. I’ve done that when making pain au chocolate, chocolate croissants, and it’s very tedious.

I admit that several of my problems with this recipe came from not following the instructions. I started out using the blender instead of the food processor. Not a disaster, but it did make something else to clean up. Then I dumped all the ingredients for the dough into the processor—not realizing I was supposed to wait to add the sour cream until after the dough had become pebbly. Oops. And I put the egg I was supposed to use for a wash over the dough into the dough. Second oops.

The Kringle turned out pretty well, though. It’s not as flaky as it could have been, but it tastes good. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to get Kringle into one of my own books!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Have we already had a gay president?

A gay man has been in the White House. And not as a visitor—as president!

The news is explosive, particularly for the man who makes this revelation, Jeff Berman, a history professor at a small college in Pennsylvania. Jeff’s book, The Petitjohn Letters, investigates correspondence between James Buchanan, our 15th president, and his aide Roland Petitjohn, which indicates that the relationship between them was a sexual as well as emotional one.

The Buchanan Letters develops what happens after Jeff’s book is published. Suddenly, he’s at the focus of a firestorm of publicity. From interviews in the local paper to appearances on national TV news programs, Jeff’s in the spotlight, being grilled about his scholarship and ultimately his personal life.

At its heart, The Buchanan Letters is about a man who has built his life around a goal which he ultimately realizes to be the wrong one for him. During the book he’s used and abused, loved and hated, befriended and betrayed. Pascal Montrouge, a handsome, sexy newspaper reporter who’s clawing his way back up after a deadly slide uses Jeff’s book as a stepping stone to a new career. But does Pascal really love him?

Interspersed with copies of the letters Jeff finds, The Buchanan Letters is a timely novel with a timeless heart: one man’s search for love and meaning in his life.

Buy The Buchanan Letters now from the MLR website

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Writing from the villain's point of view

Lately I'm finding I don't have the patience or interest to read crime fiction that includes or relies on the villain's point of view.

I used to enjoy books like this. James W. Hall writes great villains-- I loved the creepy bad guys he created in the early Thorn books in particular. Ditto some of James Patterson's early books.

I even tried this myself. Mahu Fire included big chunks written from the point of view of my brother/sister team of villians, in which I worked to understand their motives and humanize them. It was important work for me; I wanted to understand what made someone tick who worked so hard to take rights away from others. In a larger sense, what could cause a person to kill someone else?

When I submitted the book to my editor, it came back with a note that there wasn't enough of Kimo in it, and I had to fix that. I realized that I had short-changed Kimo in the investigation. Because I was showing so much of the action through the villains' point of view, I wasn't showing Kimo figuring things out. I ended up throwing out all the third person stuff and making Kimo do all the work.

But I didn't learn my lesson. When I wrote the first draft of Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, once again I wrote big sections from the point of view of the young man who is one of the two guys chasing after Aidan and Liam because of the information they have.

In this case I wasn't holding back information, though, I was duplicating it-- showing the same action through both parties. I thought I was adding continuity. But instead, when I submitted that first version to Loose Id, my very perceptive editor returned it with a rejection, noting that the action was very slow, and there wasn't enough emphasis on the romance.

Once again, I went back and stripped out a whole point of view. By focusing on Aidan and Liam (still in third person, mostly from Aidan's point of view, but occasionally from Liam's) the action moved more quickly, and I was able to stay focused on the romance.

Maybe these two are connected-- my inability to write convincingly and clearly from the villain's point of view, and my lack of interest in reading that way any more. Or maybe not. What do you think? Can you read that way? Write that way?

Coming Tuesday June 12 from Loose Id: Olives for the Stranger, the fourth Aidan & Liam romance adventure!

Monday, June 04, 2012

I'm participating (as my alter ego Scarlett Jacobs) in the Sizzling Summer Reads event at The Romance Reviews. Click here to see the authors and publishers who are participating in this event, which runs from July 1, to July 31, with fun, games and prizes!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Linked In for Writers

There are 119 million people on linked in—and many of them read! During the winter my friend Mike Jastrzebski and I heard public speaker and Linked In guru Jeff Zelaya give a presentation on how to maximize your efficiency on Linked In. His first recommendation was that you complete your profile.

You may already be using Linked In for your day job—but there’s no reason why you can’t add an additional current job. Assign yourself a job title—“Author” at your website. Mine reads “Neil Plakcy, author at Mahu Books” and includes a link to my website.

SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” and in this case refers to using terms that people regularly use to search on Google and other search engines. Google values Linked In, and often includes Linked In profiles in its results. So be sure to use terms that relate to your writing, like “mystery author” and “police procedural,” as they relate to you.

Have you ever gone to an event and collected business cards? Perhaps they are from other writers who you might want to get in contact with in the future, or subject experts who express a willingness to answer questions when you have them. If you simply put those cards in your drawer, or even your contact file on your computer, you’ll quickly lose touch with them. You’ll forget about them, and they’ll forget about you.

Instead, as soon as you get home, log into Linked In. See if those people you just met are registered, and send them a friend request. Be sure to personalize it—“It was a pleasure meeting you today and I hope we can stay in touch.” Then when they update their profile or make a post, you’ll know about it. When that attorney who offered you help changes firms, you’ll know. And the same goes for you—every time you change your profile (for example, adding a new book to your publications list) that information will be sent to all your contacts. So your name will stay fresh with them. (And maybe they’ll even buy a book!)

You can sync Facebook and Twitter to Linked In, so that when you post to one of those sites, your message is automatically added to your status updates on Linked In. But be careful not to overwhelm these people, who are essentially your business contacts (for your writing business) with lots of messages primarily intended for friends and family. You can add a feed link for your blog as well.

Under the “More” tab on Linked In, you’ll find questions people have asked. You can answer those questions yourself, using your expertise. That helps your ranking on Linked In, and it’s a way to share your expertise. For example, I write murder mysteries set in Hawaii, which means I've learned a lot about the aloha state during my research. I can answer an awful lot of questions about places to go in Honolulu, about the time difference, and so on. I also write about golden retrievers so I can answer questions about grooming, training, and treats.

You can also ask questions there, either ones about writing and publishing, or other questions that come up while doing your writing research, and get answers from other members whose credentials you can verify.

Jeff suggests that you have at least three recommendations on your profile from others on linked in. Do you know people who have reviewed your books? Ask them to post those reviews on Linked In. Do you have connections who have read your books? Ask them to write a brief recommendation. The more content you have in your bio, and the more recommendations you have, the higher you will rank on Linked In searches.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to connect with you. Remember, networking is a two-way street. Those people are on Linked In because they want to network with others—perhaps to get business, perhaps to keep up with current trends, perhaps to share the information they have. If you find someone on Linked In you want to connect with, see if you have any background in common—education, past work experience, and so on. If so, you’ll be able to send that person a connection request directly.

What if you don’t, though? The next way is to look through their connections and see if you have any connections in common. Then you can send an “introduction request” to your common contact. It’s just like meeting someone at a party and being introduced by a mutual acquaintance. You are more likely to value that new person (or be valued by him or her) because of your common connection.

Finally, if you don’t have anything in common, and you don’t have any mutual acquaintances, you can see what kind of groups that person belongs to, and join one of them. Hopefully it will be a group that relates to whatever it is you’re interested in this person for. Then participate in the group for a few days, introducing yourself and beginning to interact. Then when you want to connect with your target, you have that group membership in common, and Linked In will facilitate the connection.

Let’s say you’ve built up your connections and now you want to contact them via email-- for example, to send them a notice about your new book. There is an export function—but be careful not to use it to spam people.

I have a background in video games, and let’s say I write a novel in which video games play a significant part. I could tailor a special email to my connections in the industry, writing something like, “Because we share an interest in video games and a connection through Linked In, I thought you might be interested in my new novel….”

Finally, Jeff recommended looking into Google Presentation or Slide Share. Both of those allow you to embed video content into presentations you upload to Linked In. Want to show off your great new book trailer? That’s the way. What a great channel to showcase something you're proud of!

Here’s another good article about Linked In, from Poets and Writers: Now get linking!

Monday, February 20, 2012

8 Cognitive Characteristics of Career Criminals

          Professor Thomas Fagan of Nova Southeastern University gave a fascinating presentation to our chapter of Mystery Writers of America at lunch on Saturday.
He presented eight cognitive characteristics of career criminals—eight thinking errors that direct their behavior. In general career criminals are irresponsible, impulsive, self-centered, pleasure-seeking and free of negative controlling emotions like fear and guilt. They have poor interpersonal relationships—as soon as the other person stops meeting the criminal’s needs, the criminal leaves the relationship. Their drug of choice is usually a stimulant (because they are bored and need distraction) or enough alcohol to enable them to overcome their inhibitions.
1.       Mollification: a tendency to rationalize, to deny harm to others and divert blame by questioning the motives of others. “The security guard knew his job was dangerous and he shouldn’t have drawn his gun. I wouldn’t have shot him if he hadn’t.”
2.       Cutoff:  the career criminal quickly stops evaluating the outcome of his behavior. “What the hell, I’m already here at the bank, I might as well go through with the robbery.”
3.       Entitlement: They have the right to do what they want because it’s all about them. He told a story about a criminal whose mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and who asked for a phone call to her. But instead of anything sympathetic, he asked “Where’s the check you usually send me?”
4.       Power Orientation: the tendency to only look at others and situations as the strong versus the weak. If you are perceived as weak, the criminal will seek to exploit you—even if you are trying to be helpful.
5.       Sentimentality:  They see themselves in a positive light because they feel sentimental about some things, like children and small animals. “I’m a good person because I donate to charity, or take care of a dog.” This is also why pedophiles are the lowest in the pecking order in prison, because the other inmates are sentimental about children.
6.       Super Optimism: The belief that they are invincible. They have a fantasy belief that they won’t get caught. It’s the Achilles heel of career criminals, because they operate within patterns that have worked before, even though there is always a threat that they won’t work this time.
7.       Cognitive indolence or laziness: Their thinking style takes the path of least resistance. They are lazy and easily bored, and will go outside society’s rules just to do something different. They’re always pushing the limits, and making that one step over the line. This habit begins in childhood, where they are the first to smoke, drink, do drugs or have sex. However, this need to break the rules often declines after age 40, as they settle into a routine.
8.       Discontinuity: They are easily distracted by their environment and lose sight of their objectives. Even a criminal who manages to turn his life around during or after prison is still vulnerable to falling into old patterns.