Thursday, May 30, 2013

Crab cakes, baybee. Quick, easy, super delicious!

This post was inspired by a twitter exchange about crab cakes with
@Chris PetersenTx. So, Chris, this one's for you...

Must be forty years old anyway, but this is my Mom's crab cake recipe. Quick, easy, super delicious and pas de breadcrumbs so nothing except a thin batter to bind them. Only tip is to make them a few hours before you cook them. Put them in the fridge so the cakes have time to firm.

I cook them in Mom's cast iron pan. More than forty years old and so well seasoned nothing sticks to that sucker.

  • 1 egg
  • 2+ tablespoons mayo
  • 3 tablespoons self-rising flour (I use a little less)
  • handful chopped parsley
  • hot sauce to taste (Tabasco, Caribbean hot sauce, Worcestershire, etc)
  • 1+ teaspoon mustard (I use Maille)
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat

Beat egg, stir in mayo. Whisk in flour, parsley, mustard, hot sauce. Add crab, toss lightly, just enough to (sort of) hold together. Form into cakes (they will look sloppy and lumpy), press lightly with pancake turner to flatten, put into fridge to firm.

When ready to cook, let the pan get hot. Then add oil and butter. Let the oil and butter get hot. Add the crab cakes. Two or three minutes on each side and you're done. Makes 4-6 cakes.

That's it. Sometimes I add jalapeƱo slivers if I have them.

I serve with a simple dill sauce, cucumber salad and a baguette. Plus white wine. In our house, usually Vermentino.

I made this the other night, didn't take a photo because I didn't know I was going to post about it (blames Chris), but this is what they look like: lumpy, semi-falling-apart with big hunks of crab. What they taste like: Pure crab deliciousness.

Million-copy bestseller MODERN WOMEN by can-you-guess-who? is currently on sale for 99c. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer called it  "Funny, sad, vivid, raunchy." The Chicago Sun-Times said: "Sharply and stylishly written. Harris writes with intellect, insight and humor." I'm pretty sure others might have said something else but fortunately I don't know what it is. :-)

The 99c price won't last forever so if MW sounds like it's for you, now's the time to grab it.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

How and why a NYC girl came to write a book about a baby rhino.

ZURI—the word means "beautiful" in Swahili is a story with an unusual setting: an animal orphanage in Africa—and I’m a million-copy New York Times bestselling author of women’s fiction and, with my husband, thrillers.  I live in New York City, have never been to Africa and have never seen a rhino except in a zoo, so what happened?

The initial spark for ZURI, which reviewers have called “masterful” and “wonderful,” was set by an unplanned convergence between the movies, my news junkie habits inherited from my Dad and my love of animals.

The movie, Out Of Africa, is based on the memoirs of the Danish writer, Isaak Dinesen who is also known as Baroness Blixen. Set in Kenya in the early 1920’s. the film stars Meryl Streep as Isaak Dinesen, and Robert Redford as a white hunter. One of my favorite movies, I watch Out Of Africa every now and then and had just seen it again when, while casually flipping thru TV channels one evening, I happened to see a clip of a baby rhino. I was blown away by the little rhino’s appeal and gracefulness.

Baby animals never fail but a rhino? Could a baby rhino actually be adorable? Yes, indeed. Very much so.

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I was also aware via newspaper and internet articles that poaching had become an extremely lucrative international crime. The slaughter of rhinos and elephants is decimating the wildlife populations of Africa to the point where they are now endangered species. Between the glamor of Africa, the vulnerability and appeal of helpless animals and the sweeping Streep-Redford romance, the germ for the book was firmly planted.

The need for research was obvious. I had to find out about the people involved in the dangerous work of animal rescue and protection, the newest scientific discoveries in animal communication as more and more is learned about their high intelligence, the gory reality of poaching and the ruthless criminal gangs who profit from its bloody endeavors.

Then there were the details of rhino husbandry and veterinary, the amazing work being done by African animal orphanages, the risks involved in wildlife care, the details of rhino and elephant behavior—Zuri, the orphaned baby rhino who is the story’s heroine, meets elephant and other animal friends at Kihali. I also needed to find out about the local language, Swahili, Kenyan cuisine & wedding rituals—and I needed to use my research in a way that fit in naturally with the narrative flow of the book.

The research was fascinating. Did you know that the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs & weapons? Or that rhino horn—it’s actually keratin, the same material found in feathers and nails—is thought to cure cancer, maintain sexual vigor and is considered a miracle medicine in Asia, although it is, in fact, of zero medical value? The price of rhino horn, driven by demand in booming Asian economies, is now more expensive than gold as is the ivory from elephant tusks, used not for “medicinal” purposes but to make carved trinkets.

Inspired by Out of Africa, I also wanted to include a love storyl. Therefore: Renny Kudrow, the sexy scientist and expert in animal communication, who is the moody Alpha hero. Renny is the Director of Kihali and Starlite Higgins is his newly-hired vet, a talented doctor who hides a horrifying secret.

Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Starlite panics and almost causes Zuri's rescue to fail. The two who must work together to save Zuri and the other animals in their care must also work their way through their initial very rough beginning to a much-deserved happily-ever-after ending.

 By the time I finished writing ZURI, I thought of the book as love story in its broadest sense, meaning the love of beauty, love of nature, love of animals, and, of course, the romantic and transformative power of human love.

Loooong weekend!

See you next week!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Readers! Writers! Here's a how-to unlike any you've ever read: The Creative Habit

I rarely write reviews but want to make an exception for a book called THE CREATIVE HABIT by the choreographer Twyla Tharp. Writers, those who want to write, artists, dancers and "everyday people" will find help and inspiration in its pages.
An elegant book physically, pleasing to the eye and the hand, THE CREATIVE HABIT is generous, authoritative, intelligent and well written.  Each page brims with practical advice, specific how-to’s, questionnaires and exercises about how to:

  • open your mind
  • overcome fear
  • deal with failure
  • defeat distraction
  • clarify your thinking

Ms. Tharp offers valuable advice, based on her own experience about how make your way through confusion and had to find solutions when you know something’s wrong but don’t even know quite what the problem is—the last an issue that regularly comes up, at least for me, in the course of writing a book.
Using a wide-ranging set of examples ranging from Homer to Proust, from Ulysses S Grand to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pope LeoX, from Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine to Ansel Adams, Raymond Chandler, Mozart and Yogi Berra, TCH offers a detailed road map how to define your creative identity.
 Practical, down to earth and never flinching from the daily nitty-gritty, Ms. Tharp explains the importance of
  • routine
  • ritual
  • setting goals
  • how to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea

She also addresses the common, but difficult dilemma facing creative people who must recognize ruts when they’re in one and she offers explicit guidelines about how to get out of them.
Of special interest to baby boomers (and we're all going to be there one day!) is her candid description of the impact of aging—in her case particularly significant since, as a dancer and choreographer, her life is all about physical expression and movement.  She talks about her recognition of the decrease in stamina, the need to set new challenges and explains how she turned the same brutal honesty on herself that she relies on to guide her dancers.
She tells how she changed her approach and work habits when, moving through her fifties, she recognizes she isn’t the same dancer she’d been twenty years before and confronts the need to change.  She describes what, specifically, she did to make the transition from habits that had served her well for two decades to establishing new approaches that turned the reality of aging into an absorbing challenge.
You will find out about the value of “doing a verb” and about building a bridge to the next day, about the relationship between failure and success, the miracle of second chances and what to do when denial is no longer an option. It is hard for me to imagine anyone who won’t learn from or be inspired by a book that is part memoir, part manual, part how-to.

"A beautiful and subtle love story. The character of Zuri, the baby rhino is beautifully written. I absolutely loved Zuri!."     Read the whole review from Rabid Readers Reviews here.
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Thursday, May 9, 2013

A NYT bestselling author shares: 6 Things Pro Writers Taught Me About Writing

Before I was a NYT bestselling author, I was an editor (Dell, Bantam, Kensington) and worked with lots of writers. Some work first thing in the AM, others in the PM, some don’t get started until midnight. Some write sober, some don’t. Some write on a computer, some on legal pads, and these days some write on tablets. Some edit as they go along, perfecting each sentence before going on to the next. Some keep strict, almost corporate office hours, some write irregularly but in hot rushes of productivity.
Others power through a first draft as fast as they can, then go back to edit and revise. Some outline in detail; some prepare elaborate storyboards, others work from a jotted list of scribbled notes; still others let the characters do the work. Some brainstorm the plot with a trusted friend, spouse or editor. Some work with a crit partner getting comments and guidance along the way; others won’t let anyone see their work until it’s finished.
Bottom line, there’s no ONE way to get the job done.

No matter where, when or how writers write, though, professional writers have taught me the following:

Let yourself goDon’t kill your darlings, kill your inhibitions instead.

Get rid of the inner censor, that stern, humorless second-guessing nay-sayer that kills your ideas before they’re born. That killjoy is telling you your idea is too outrageous, too unbelievable, too OTT to see the light of day?

Don't listen. Tune him out, shout her down.

Don’t quash that zany/loony/nutty idea; instead, let it rip. Play with it and see where it goes. The “unspeakable,” the “unbelievable,” the OMG! “you can’t write that,” are exactly the ideas that lead to the fresh, original breakthrough. Considering every possibility, no matter how OTT, is the reason TV writers’ rooms are noted for Raunch & Irreverence. The reason? R & I break through the conventions, the “should’s, don'ts and can’ts” that destroy creativity.

Learn to edit yourself.

Heresy coming from a former editor, I know, but professional writers are often excellent editors of their own work. After years of experience, they have learned to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and figured out effective work-arounds.  Their approach is practical: what works stays, what doesn’t work hits the cutting room floor; aka the delete button.

 The ability to self-edit comes with time and experience but it’s a goal for beginning writers to keep in mind. Consider your book from the POV of a marriage, not a hot affair. Spouses get to know each other very well, are aware of all the plusses and minuses and still love each other. Take off the rose-colored glasses of passionate romance, marry your book instead and live happily ever after.

Butt in chair. Feet on ground.

Most of the professional authors I’ve known don’t clutter their minds with undefined notions of “relevance,” “significance” or “art.” Instead, they are experienced, disciplined and competent storytellers and entertainers who understand that craft matters.

Great books are about characters, plot, setting, if “art” is the outcome, so much the better but, as in building a house, don’t rely on a gauzy fantasy when what you need is a hammer and some nails.

Master your genre.

Successful writers whether of horror, romance, thrillers or mystery study their genre. They know what their readers expect and they do NOT let them down. Period.
  • No unhappy endings for romances. Readers want the HEA & that's what the pro delivers.
  • No “revelation” at the end that the whole book, the characters and their trials and tribulations, was the MC’s dream. We're talking compelling fiction here, not a shaggy dog story.
  • No tearing up in tough-guy noir. Hard edges, dammit!
  • No weepy heart-to-heart confessions in action thrillers. Paranoia is the WTG because paranoia works & paranoia is what the reader wants. Disappoint him or her at your peril.

Don't think you can reinvent the wheel. Pros know better.

Rescue yourself.

One of the great old-time pulp writers (200+ books) once told me “Each book is a pain in the ass in a different way.”  What he meant was that at some point each one is going to present a problem.
  • A plot going nowhere.
  • A boring/clueless/addled/DebbieDowner character.
  • Too much/not enough background/research.
  • Too long.
  • Too short.
  • You name it, sometime, somewhere in the course of writing a book, you will most likely get stuck.
Professional writers have learned how to bail themselves out. Whether it means going back to the beginning to hunt down the problem, a light rewrite, some strategic revisions, a personality transplant (for a character, not the writer—lol), the pros have learned how to deal with the glitches, get themselves out of trouble and get back on track.

Write. Write a lot. Then write some more.

Seriously. Professional writers turn out copy, they meet deadlines, they get the job done and the more they write the better they get. Same with any job, career or profession.

Do you want a surgeon who’s just out of med school or one who’s done hundreds of knee/hip replacements? See what I mean?

Super terrific, fabuloso, mega great deal!

Park Avenue Series, Books 1-3
Millions sold!
Boxed set now only 99c.

Decades: "Absolutely perfect!"
Husbands And Lovers: RT winner, "Best Contemporary."
Love and Money: "Richly plotted, races to a shocking climax."

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

When Collaborators Disagree—And Live To Tell The Tale

Love doesn’t always run a smooth path (no kidding!) and neither does collaboration. There are inevitably going to be times when co-authors—in my case, my DH, Michael—don’t see a character, a scene, even a line of dialogue the same way. 
Most of the time while Michael and I were writing our thriller, HOOKED, we were in synch but there was one scene about which we had radically different opinions. I hated it so much I deleted it. Michael, appalled, retrieved it from the trash.
The scene occurs midway through the book and involves two characters. One is Gavin Jenkins, the brilliant and charismatic miracle doctor who is at the center of the story. The other is Adriana Partos, a world-famous concert pianist who has retired at the request of her lover, billionaire tycoon, Nicky Kiskalesi. Now, however, Nicky misses Adriana’s fame and celebrity and wants her to make a come-back.
The problem is that arthritis has made it impossible for Adriana to play without pain. Nicky, who didn’t get rich by giving up, suggests she consult Gavin Jenkins, a doctor who, it seems, can cure almost anything. Adriana, reluctant but also afraid of losing Nicky, agrees to meet with Gavin.
As the scene was originally written, Adriana dislikes Gavin for intuitive reasons: she finds him “cold” and “hidden” although no specific examples of cold and/or hidden behavior are given. The scene, based on her instinctive dislike, seemed weak and unconvincing to me: ergo, the delete button.
Michael convinced me the scene was necessary and could be made to work.
The question was: how?
I trust Michael’s opinions so we had several conversations over the course of a day or two about why I hated the scene and thought it should be cut—and why he thought it was essential and should stay. We finally came to an agreement when we decided that “something” specific had to happen in the scene to validate Adriana’s dislike of Gavin.
The question was: what was the “something?”
Neither of us could come up with an incident that would work for what the reader already knows about both characters. We had solved our impasse but we now faced a new dilemma.
After another day or two of conversation and getting nowhere and still having no idea of what the “something” was, I got impatient. Typical!
Annoyed with our lack of progress, I went to the computer to rewrite the scene with our discussions in mind. I began by taking out the language referring to Adriana’s “intuitive” dislike of Gavin—his “coldness” and “hidden” personality. Cutting, as it so often does, equalled improvement.
Still, what was going to happen next? I had no idea but when I got to the lines that describe Gavin taking her arm in an intimate, almost caressing way and giving her the shot for which he has become renowned, the words, apparently of their own volition, popped out of my unconscious and emerged on the screen:
“You’ve never felt this good, have you?” he whispers seductively as he presses down on the syringe and the fluid enters her vein.
That brief line of dialogue—unplanned and unanticipated—gave us the specific, dramatic “something” we needed.
Appalled by Gavin’s creepy whispered question, Adriana slaps him. He reacts by calling her a bitch. He wants to give her a second (different) injection but she walks out on him and leaves his consulting room. The scene ends with Adriana standing on the sidewalk outside his office and remembering the bulge in his pants.
Had she been seeing things?, she wonders. Imagining things? Or did he have an erection as he administered the shot?
Since we already know about Gavin’s sexual quirks from earlier scenes, we now had a compelling scene that advances the plot, creates conflict between Adriana and the gifted doctor whose help she will depend on if she is to resume her career and keep her lover. The rescued scene also adds a new dimension to Gavin’s intriguing, slightly sinister character.
Sometimes disagreement is the friction that produces the pearl. Sometimes disagreement is part of the process of getting from the problem to the solution. In this instance, it was both.

 HOOKED, A Thriller

"Written by pros who know how to tell a story. Slick and sexy!" —Publisher's Weekly

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