Friday, May 29, 2015

Crock Pot Cook: Shredded Beef Tacos

Okay, so I know people are huge fans of crock pots. "You can't mess up," they tell me. "Works every time," they say.

Well. I'm here to say that I've messed up and had things not work in the crock pot before. But this is not one of them. I love making this meat mixture. It's so versatile. I made tacos one night, layered it with cheese and tortillas for a beef quesadilla the next, put it on sourdough with cheese for an amazing beef grilled cheese the third.

It makes so much, I took half of it to my friend who had just had surgery (and her family of 6!) and still had enough to do all of the above.

This is a recipe from the American Heart Association cookbook. I've made exactly one thing from it: this, but it was worth buying the thick volume. I've made a few changes according to my tastes, and I'll note those below.

Shredded Beef Tacos:
2 lb. top round steak
1 bell pepper (recipe calls for green; I use whatever color I have in my fridge), diced
3 large onions, diced (I only use two, and it seems to have plenty of onion)
1/4 c. water (recipe calls for dry red wine, but I don't cook with alcohol)
1/2 c. ketchup (recipe calls for low-sodium, but yeah. I use the regular stuff)
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 T. cider vinegar
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 t. cumin
3/4 t. liquid smoke
1/2 t. hot sauce (I'm a wimp, and don't put this much in. I do a couple of shakes and call it good)
2 medium bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, minced (I adore garlic and may or may not add more than this...)

1 t. brown sugar
1/2 t. cumin

Taco toppings (sour cream, ranch dressing, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions, guac -- whatever you like!)

I use those raw tortillas, cook them and add cheese before I start building my taco. That way, the cheese is melty and everything's warm. #mmm

1. Place the steak in the crock pot. Dice the onions and pepper and layer over meat.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the water, ketchup, bouillon cubes, pepper, cumin, liquid smoke, hot sauce, bay leaves, and garlic. Whisk together and pour over the meat and vegetables. Stir to coat.
3. Turn the crock pot on low and let it go for 6-8 hours.
4. With one hour of cooking time left, add the additional 1 t. cumin and 1 t. brown sugar. Shred meat, remove bay leaves, and stir well. Let stand for one hour so the flavors will marry.
5. Assemble tacos, or quesadillas, or enchiladas, or chimichangas, or... the list is endless!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Taking Time to Learn

Okay, so confession time. I'm one of the most impatient people on the planet. No, really. You might be thinking of Two Weeks Notice right now, and when Hugh Grant says, "That's silly. Have you met every person on the planet?" << Ha!

Of course I haven't met every person on the planet, so maybe I just FEEL like the most impatient person ever. Maybe you can relate to this.

Anyway, I've been getting some feedback about my writing, and I've realized that I need to A) slow down, and B) learn new stuff. That last one is vague, but I know there's more I need to do in order to find my success again.

But I'm impatient, and I had previously made some writing goals to draft two books this summer (since I don't work and all that). I find myself resisting the thought to maybe re-draft my goals, and take the time to learn what I need to learn before I draft the novels.

I have notes from the conference I attended last week. I have a few writing exercises I need to get done before I draft. I bought a new craft book on the suggestion of the instructor of another class. I need to read it, ponder it, incorporate it into my writing. And I need to fill out my beat sheets for my new novels.

I think I'll have to do less work later if I put the time into this now. So I guess this is me publicly saying I'm going to take the time to learn a bit more -- about the writing craft, my characters, and my plots -- before I start drafting.

Have you ever had to slow down and readjust goals?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Weekday Chef: Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

Okay, so my daughter is a super-fan of this soup. She's always begging me to make it, especially in the fall months and when it's a little rainy. It's been pretty stormy here for a few weeks, and one day while she was at a mega-dance practice one Saturday, I whipped this up for her.

It's a simple soup to make, and I'll admit that sometimes I even leave out the chicken! She just really likes the pasta and the creamy broth. I mean, who doesn't? It's totally not diet food, which is why I hardly ever make it, but everyone can splurge sometimes, right?

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup:
10 c. water
10 chicken bouillon cubes
1 pkg. egg noodles
1 pint sour cream
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can evaporated milk
2-3 c. cooked chicken, cubed

1. Boil the noodles in the chicken stock (water + bouillon cubes) until tender, about 8 minutes. 
2. Add sour cream, cream of chicken soup, and evaporated milk. Whisk until smooth. 
3. Stir in chicken. Serve immediately; do not boil.

Easy! And delicious! And mostly from your pantry, so you might be able to make this TODAY without even a trip to the grocery store. Happy eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Struggle to be Around Other Authors

Okay, so I hope this post doesn't come of as A) whiny, or B) rude. I think it might actually do both. Maybe I'll delete it before it goes live. Ha!

But I'm going to admit something: It's sometimes hard for me to be around other authors. I love them. I do. I like hearing about their projects, their successes, their struggles.

But I'd like to keep the questions away from myself. I don't want to talk about my projects. Or my struggles. I just don't.

Maybe it's because it takes me a long time to trust people, and I don't want everyone to know everything. Maybe it's because I don't quite know what to say. Maybe it's because there simply ISN'T anything to say, and then I feel lame trying to come up with something that makes things sound better than they actually are.

No matter the reason, I've been struggling to want to get together with other authors, even in a non-writerly capacity. Because no matter what, the conversation always turns back to writing.

I'm still enjoying writing -- and I'm feeling rejuvenated after the conference I attended last week -- but at this moment, I'm not really enjoying the socializing aspect of writing. I get that "no man is an island," but right now I kind of want to be.

Tell me I'm not the only one who struggles with this from time to time... Anyone?

Monday, May 18, 2015

You Can Do Better

Okay, so this past weekend I attended the LDStorymakers conference in Utah. I've been on the committee for this awesome con for a few years now, but this past weekend I really focused on attending the classes.

The several I got to attend were fantastic, and I have some great notes to help me in my writing. But I attended one workshop called "Deep Editing" by an amazing author and mentor Margie Lawson. Not only did I come away with many devices and revision ideas, but I wrote in my notes, in all caps, YOU CAN DO BETTER.

I think this is something that we struggle with as authors, especially if we've achieved some success. We fall into patterns of our writing, thinking it's "good enough," because it's worked before. So it was not only a fantastic class with information I needed to take my writing to the next level, but also a little pep talk for myself.

I really can do better. And I'm going to work on doing just that!

What are you working on in your writing right now?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Awesome Book Warning: FIRES OF INVENTION

So I'm super excited for my good friend, J. Scott Savage and the forthcoming release of his middle grade steampunk novel, FIRES OF INVENTION. This book is the beginning of the Mysteries of Cove series, and I can't wait to read them all!

Today we get to spotlight the cover, as well as a note from Jeff himself!

Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and "invention" is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion-an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlikely anything they've ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on-and quite possibly their very lives.

Add FIRES OF INVENTION to your Goodreads list.

Pre-order online!

This is what Jeff has to say about the book: Like many of my books, the inspiration for my new series Fires of Invention came from the collision of two ideas. The first time the story occurred to me was while I was watching the musical Wicked with my wife. The moment I walked into the theater and saw the huge mechanical dragon above the stage, I thought, Wow! I have to write a story about that! A few weeks later, I was talking with my nephew, who is probably the most creative kid I know, but whose inventiveness often gets him into trouble, and I thought, What if a kid who had the talents of my nephew lived in a world where creativity was against the law? What if the kids were building . . . a steam-powered dragon? Bam! I had my story.

Powered by great feedback from my agent, Michael Bourret, my good friend and author James Dashner, my publisher, Chris Schoebinger, and the song “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, I wrote the entire first draft of the first volume in the series, Mysteries of Cove in four weeks. This book is unlike anything I have ever written. There are elements of City of Ember, Dragon Riders, and Hugo in it all mashed up together in a world I fell in love with from the moment I started writing.

I think what’s most exciting to me about this book is that it’s about giving yourself the freedom to imagine. To take chances. Too often we limit ourselves by only trying things we’re confident we can succeed at when what we need to do is give ourselves permission to fail. Often it is when we attempt things with no idea of how we can possibly pull them off that we achieve our greatest successes.

Jeff is the best! Be sure to follow him online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or his website.

About J. Scott Savage: J. Scott Savage is the author of the Farworld middle grade fantasy series and the Case File 13 middle grade monster series. He has been writing and publishing books for over ten years. He has visited over 400 elementary schools, dozens of writers conferences, and taught many writing classes. He has four children and lives with his wife Jennifer and their Border Collie, Pepper, in a windy valley of the Rocky Mountains.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cover Reveal: UNDERCOVER EMPATH by RaShelle Workman

Okay, so I have a super fun cover to show you today. International bestselling author RaShelle Workman has a new book coming out from Curiosity Quills Press, and the cover is GORGEOUS!

First, let's see what UNDERCOVER EMPATH is about: Nineteen-year-old detective Rose Hansen has a secret. She can read a person’s intentions by touching their hands and that’s the least strange thing about her.

Only one person knows, her partner Jack.

At least that’s what she believes until a handsome, shirtless stranger appears on her doorstep in small town Blush Valley, California. He leaves her an envelope, but not before articulating his disappointment in her for ignoring her powers. The contents send Rose on a path toward the supernatural, solving her parents’ murders, and possibly even saving the world.

Aside from that, Rose and her partner have two important cases they’re working. The first involves a missing child. The other is the death of a stripper. Once it is ruled a serial killing, a very hot FBI agent from L.A. shows up and is given lead. To make matters worse, he asks her to go undercover. As a stripper. And that is just the beginning of her troubles...

And now for the cover!

Amazing, right? I love the colors of it, and the brightness of her eyes, and the sort of electricity or curled lines of her thoughts. It's fantastic!!

About RaShelle Workman: RaShelle Workman is a bestselling author, wannabe chef, and dog lover. She's publishing a brand new series entitled UNDERCOVER EMPATH with her amazing publisher, Curiosity Quills. She's also been self-publishing since 2011 and has no interest in stopping.

Her motto is: LOVE HURTS. LOVE HEALS. So LOVE HARD! And it shows in the different genres she writes.

Her most popular series to date is BLOOD AND SNOW, a reimagining of Snow White with a vampire twist. There are several series within the Blood and Snow world, all inspired by different fairy tales, including THE CINDY CHRONICLES, THE BEASTLY SERIES, and THE EVER AFTER SERIES as well as several short stories. In 2016 she's releasing a new adult series from the world entitled THE DARK MOTH SOCIETY. The series has sold more than a million copies worldwide since release of the first book in 2012.

RaShelle is also the author of The Immortal Essence series (ya sci-fi romance), Sleeping Roses (contemporary romantic suspense), and Across the Ages (ya time travel romance). Her books: Sleeping Roses, Exiled, Beguiled, and Dovetailed have foreign rights contracts with a Turkish publisher.

Currently, RaShelle lives in Utah with her husband, three children, and their three dogs. Visit her website to join RaShelle's EXCLUSIVE mailing list and be entered to win a signed paperback copy of Blood and Snow volumes 1- 4 (Special Edition). And be sure to like her Facebook page for all the latest news.

Find RaShelle on Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Blog

RaShelle is giving away $25 Paypal cash during the cover reveal! Be sure to help spread the word to win!

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Weekend Baker: Homemade Bagels

Okay, so I love baked goods. Breads, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, all of the above! I'm not a huge baker, because my sixteen-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter have taken over the cookie-making on Sundays.

But a few weeks ago, we decided to make something out of the ordinary. My husband is the real baker in the family, having done artisan breads and such. But we worked together as a team to make these delicious, simple homemade bagels. I mixed the dough and he did everything else, but that's still teamwork, right?

The best part of these is their somewhat crunchy outside combined with their delicious, chewy inside. The trick is boiling them first. I wish it were the weekend so I could bake up another batch of these beauties! And the best part? I had everything in my pantry, and I bet you do too!

2 tsp. dry yeast
1 1/2 T. sugar
1 1/4 c. water
3 1/2 c. flour, plus extra for kneading
1 1/2 tsp. salt

1. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into 1/2 c. water. Leave for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the dissolved yeast.

2. Pour in half of the remaining water and mix. Stir in the rest of the water, as needed to form a firm, moist dough.

3. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Work in extra flour -- this dough should be firm and stiff.

4. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes.

5. Cut the dough into eight equal pieces. Shape into a ball, and make a ring by inserting your finger through the center and working the dough until the hole is about 1/3 of the bagel's diameter. (You can see ours aren't like this. They don't have to be perfect!)

6. Place the bagels on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover. Let rest for 10 minutes. (Dough resting is important! Don't skip this step. It's a weekend recipe!)

7. Bring a large pan of water to a boil, then reduce heat to keep the water at a simmer. Carefully lower the bagels into the water in batches of 2 or 3. Boil, uncovered, until the bagels rise to the surface, about 1 minute. Turn them once.

8. Transfer the drained bagels to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake* at 425 for 20 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

*You can use steam in the oven if you'd like. Put a pan of ice cubes in the oven as it preheats, and put the bagels in before the ice has all melted. When the cubes have all melted, remove the pan. You can also use a sprayer. After the oven is at temperature and you've put in the bagels, mist the sides of the oven 8-10 times. Close the oven quickly. Repeat after 2 minutes, and again after 2 more. Be careful not to spray the oven light, heating coils, or oven fan.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Moving Forward After Publishing

Okay, so if you've been around this blog for a while, you might know my journey. For those that don't, a brief outline:

1. I signed with an agent in 2009, and my debut YA novel sold pretty quickly. Possession came out in June, 2011. I only sold one book. My agent sold the sequel in early 2011 and Surrender came out in June 2012.

2. My publisher wouldn't buy the third book in an obvious trilogy until Surrender came out and they could see how it was doing. I think this is an extremely common practice in the industry, as I've heard of it happening to other authors. But it terrified me. What if they didn't buy the third book? What would I do then? Surrender was open-ended, as most middle books in a trilogy are.

3. They ended up buying the third book in July 2012, and Abandon came out in June 2013.

4. My agent and I submitted two more books to my publisher, and they passed on both. We went wide with Elevated, and while it came close at several publishers, ultimately it did not sell.

5. I parted ways with my agent in September 2013. She's lovely, and I still recommend her to other authors. The partnership just wasn't working for me.

6. I self-published Elevated, my futuristic fantasy series, and another novel-in-verse, Something About Love in 2014.

6. I signed with a new agent in November 2013, with a time travel novel. We submitted it widely in the spring of 2014, came close, no sale.

7. This agent didn't like anything else I had in the pipeline, and we parted ways in December 2014. Since last year, I've been moving away from a YA-centric career, focusing on writing clean, contemporary romance.

8. I'm querying again, and while some authors have said it's easier the second or third time around, I'm not finding that to be the case. I still send dozens of queries. I still get lots of requests -- and many rejections.

It's hard for me to feel like a success. I have 10 titles out, and have years of experience in the social media realm. But I still feel like I'm failing.

These feelings make no sense. After all, I just received a large royalty check from the sales of Possession. So my books from 4 years ago are still selling, and I'm still earning money from them -- which means I've earned out my advance. All of that should point to "success."


Then why don't I feel successful?

I'm not sure, but I think it's because I don't have agents or editors snapping up the books I'm writing now. I don't have title after title coming out from the same publisher. There are a myriad of factors that have contributed to this, but this blog post would become a novella if I went into all of them.

Maybe I need to redefine what makes me as an author a success? Maybe I need to re-evaluate what makes a book successful? I don't know, because I don't know what those parameters are. What makes an author successful? A book, or a series?

Maybe you can help me with this.

How do you define success for yourself as an author? For your books?

No matter what, I've learned that even after you've been published, there's no yellow brick road that takes you directly to a land of wonder. I'm still wandering in unknown paths, writing books I love, and hoping there's someone out there who will love them too. I know this isn't the case for every author, but I think more of us are on this path than we know about. We feel alone, unsuccessful, but really, there's a lot of authors in the same situation.

Monday, May 4, 2015

REMAKE Book Trailer!

Okay, so today my friend and amazing author of REMAKE, Ilima Todd, is releasing her book trailer! I'm super excited to show it to you.

If you haven't heard of or read REMAKE yet, you should definitely add it to your list. It's a fantastic book, about friendship, love, and gender. I highly recommend it. Buy it here!

Male or Female? My finger hesitates over the touch screen. How can I decide which to be for the rest of my life? It's so…permanent.


Ilima is giving away $25 in association with this trailer reveal! Be sure to enter below.

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What do you think of the trailer? Have you read REMAKE?

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