Everyone Loves Fall (except me)

Unpopular opinion time: I don’t care about Fall or Halloween. AT ALL. They do nothing for me.

boo-humbugI always feel like such a humbug about this since my friends get so hype about being able to wear sweaters (I hate pants and long sleeves), no longer sweating (I love summer), and planning their costumes for Halloween (admittedly fun, but I’m cheap, lazy, and not crafty).

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Luckily, my husband’s crafty, so I can wear things like this

However, I’m not the kind of person to crap on someone else’s excitement just because it’s not for me. So it’s just a lot of smiling and nodding (and coughing and sneezing since this is allergy season for me) as I scroll past pictures of decorative gourds, plans for spooky movie marathons (I’m also a coward and avoid horror), and skeleton-themed everything.

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Hocus Pocus is the exception. There is ALWAYS time for Hocus Pocus ❤

Things I do enjoy about this time of year:

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Click picture to go to the Youtube video this image is from

The fashion. I know, I know, didn’t I just say I hate being all covered up? Aesthetically, I think Fall is the cutest and has the most versatility. I love scarves and boots, I like the way tights look even if I don’t like the way they feel, and as a teacher, you better believe I have one heck of a cardigan collection. Layering is cute and fun and creative and I really appreciate the way it looks, even if lazy Mia prefers just slipping on a summer dress and calling it quits.

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Apple everything! (click on image for source)

The food. Good food is always a plus in my book, and I think Fall is the perfect transition between light summer meals bursting with fresh produce from the farmers market and heavy winter food with nary a non-potato veggie in sight.

In Chicago, the farmers markets stay open until the end of October and are bursting with some of my favorite produce, such as sweet potatoes, apples, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and even grapes.

Last month, I talked about how I hate cooking but love baking. Yet who wants to turn on the oven when it’s 80+ degrees outside (and inside, since we rarely turn on the AC in my house)? Fall is all about filling your home with the smell of warming spices, comforting baked goods, and roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness. Turning on the oven brings me such joy.

And while I don’t care gourds as decorations, they sure bake up into tasty treats. My current favorite recipe is pumpkin bread from Smitten Kitchen.

Along with baked goods, this is the perfect season for tea! Last night was the October meeting for Graham Cracker Comics Ladies’ Night. This group meets monthly and is meant to be a safe space for geeky women, genderqueer, and non-binary folk to get together and chat about comics and all the nerdy things we love.

For our October Ladies’ Night meeting, we partnered with David’s Tea for a Gothic Tea Party! Attendees were requested to:

– Bring a spooky snack

– Wear a goth outfit

– Enjoy seasonal tea samples courtesy of David’s Tea

Again, I am not a spooky or goth-type person. BUT I LOVE ME SOME TEA. And themed tea parties are absolutely my jam (debating having a Clue-themed tea party for my birthday).

So while Summer > Fall, IMO, at least I have a few things to look forward to as I grumble my way through the season.

How about you, Dear Readers? Are you happy that the temperature has started to dip or are you a Fall Humbug like me? Also, please share your favorite teas and Fall-themed recipes!

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Developing Recipes (plus Ube Rice Krispy Treats!)

Full disclosure: I am an immensely lazy cook. As much as I love food, when it comes to preparing my own meals, I am perfectly happy cooking up a giant pot of something and eating it for a week. My desert island food is sandwiches (or noodles) since they are so easy to prepare, fast, and have endless possibilities.

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I eat a lot of hastily-thrown together sandwiches at work. One day, I stepped away for a moment to go do something and came back to this commentary on my lunch.

What I do love is baking. Mostly simple stuff, and never anything pretty or that requires finesse. I love reading food blogs and culinary cozies. I’m so blown away by the idea of someone creating their own recipes, particularly when it comes to baking. My cooking involves me just tossing a bunch of stuff together and then figuring out what else it needs after I taste it. With baking, once it’s in the oven, that’s it. So you kind of have to know what you’re doing ahead of time.

Right now, I’m working on a Filipino-themed culinary cozy and I’m having SO MUCH FUN reimagining classic baked goods with a Filipino twist. Pamela A. Oberg recently wrote about “Seasonal Magic,” which made me realize just how close we are to the end of summer. That means saying goodbye to cheap, delicious summer produce.

And what veggie tends to dominate the summer, filling your fridge and CSA boxes and garden with so much produce you have no idea how you’ll get through them all?

Zucchini.

Suddenly I remembered a tweet from Michi Trota, a Chicago-based Filipino-American writer in the SFF field, who posted about a batch of pandan-zucchini bread she’d just made. I was OBSESSED.

Pandan (or the screwpine plant) is used in Southeast Asian cooking much the way vanilla is in other parts of the world. It’s wonderfully aromatic and has a lightly sweet and floral flavor. I knew this was a dessert/snack that I wanted to incorporate into my WIP.

Only problem? As much as I love zucchini bread, I have yet to find the recipe that is THE ONE for me. They’re either too sweet or bland or heavily spiced. I need something that’s slightly sweet and with only a modicum of spicing since I don’t want them to compete with the subtle flavor of the pandan.

Dear Readers, can any of you help me out? Point me in the direction of your favorite zucchini bread recipe or share tips on how I can start creating my own recipes? I’m a little scared of all the trial and error (and money and dirty dishes) that just futzing around will bring.

In return, I’m sharing a very pretty and VERY easy Filipinized-version of Rice Krispy Treats that I tested out on my students.

Ube Rice Krispy Treats

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Not a great pic since I was doing it one-handed, but check out the gorgeous color! So yummy and sweet ^^

 

NOTE: Ube is a purple yam that is ubiquitous in the Philippines. It is pretty and delicious and few things make me happier than the deep purple of a tasty ube dessert.

NOTE 2: Ube extract is available at most Filipino/SE Asian supermarkets, such as Uni-Mart and Seafood City. If there are none in your area, you can buy it online, but it’s considerably more expensive. This is the brand I’ve always used.

INGREDIENTS

1 stick of salted butter (4 ounces; if using unsalted, might want to add a pinch more at the end)

1 10-oz bag of marshmallows (preferably mini since they melt faster)

6 cups of puffed rice cereal (Rice Krispies or the equivalent in your area)

¼ tsp sea salt (or to taste; Optional)

1-2 tsp of ube extract

  1. Melt the butter on medium-high heat, either on the stovetop or in the microwave, and let it cook until it’s a deep brown and smells deliciously toasty and nutty.
  2. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and mix in the marshmallows and salt until they’re completely melted and well-incorporated with the brown butter.
  3. Turn off the heat and mix in the ube extract until the mixture is a deep, uniform shade of purple.
  4. Add the cereal and mix thoroughly, then pour into a greased 8×8 inch (you can use a 9×13 inch pan if you like them thin)
  5. Spread the cereal mixture out quickly, and let cool before cutting them into squares. Enjoy!

Podcasts: Love ’em or Leave ’em?

This topic is partly inspired by past posts from Mysterista 3 no 7. She wrote about true crime and audiobooks, which brought to mind a form of media that I’m starting to warm up to: Podcasts.

My boss and many of my co-workers are absolutely obsessed with true crime and follow several true crime podcasts that they’re always trying to get me to listen to. The fact that I read and write crime fiction means they’re usually talking to me about this or that crazy true story, but I have to be honest with them: I’m not a huge fan of true crime. No judgment on any who are, but it’s just not for me.

However, I do enjoy comedy podcasts that rip apart bad movies in a fun way. They brighten up my day during my commute, and I get to walk into work with a smile on my face. The only negative side effect is that I’ll randomly burst into laughter on a crowded train and get the weirdest looks.

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Me and my husband with one of the hosts of We Hate Movies

Writing-related podcasts are something that I’m slowly getting into. I’m not great at auditory-learning—my brain just can’t focus on the words for too long. That’s the reason I prefer my comedy ones. If I space out and miss a joke, no big deal. But during a podcast that’s supposed to impart wisdom or a good interview/story, if I miss one part, I have to go back for the rest of it to make sense.

Dear Readers, do any of you have this problem with audiobooks and podcasts? Which ones do you listen to? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!

Writing-related Podcasts (that I follow)

  • Social Media Deconstructed A (very new) podcast dedicated to teaching writers how to best utilize social media
  • the bastard title Angel Luis Colon, a NY-based crime fiction writer, interviews fiction writers from all different stages in their writing journey. I was recently a guest on his show. Check it out and let me know what you think!
  • 88 Cups of Tea A podcast for writers, readers, and storytellers of all kind. Yin Chang interviews not only authors, but agents, editors, and other industry professionals
  • Write or Die Claribel Ortega shares the REAL stories of what it takes to be an author; stories of people who didn’t give up and are now living their dream.

Writing-related Podcasts (that were recommended to me and still need to check out)

  • Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire Mindy McGinnis asks published/agented authors and industry professionals all the questions she had when she was still “aspiring”

Non-Writing-Related Podcast

  • We Hate Movies WARNING: Comedy podcast, so the jokes and language are NOT for everyone

True Crime Podcasts (recommended by my boss and co-workers)

  • My Favorite Murder My boss and co-workers’ favorite true crime podcast. It’s also humorous, so WARNING: raunchy jokes and language
  • Criminal From NPR, it’s described as stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle
  • Dirty John An investigative journalism podcast
  • Sword and Scale Covers the the despicable acts of the criminal underworld. WARNING: Graphic content and topics

 

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Cliché?

Every genre has elements/themes that get repeated all the time, and the mystery genre is no exception. From the alcoholic detective to the woman running away from her past, the intrepid reporter looking for her big break to the small-town sleuth trying to clear her name or the name of someone she loves, these stock characters are there to see that justice is done.

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Image by Rainy Bay

I’m not gonna lie: I love a good trope. That’s one of the reasons I love traditional mysteries and cozies so much. They’re familiar. They’re comforting. I greatly enjoy opening a book and getting exactly what I expected.

But then there’s clichés. Oh, the dreaded cliché! The hallmark of lazy writing, eliciting eye rolls and groans of frustration.

What the heck is the difference? The answer to this question is highly subjective. For me, a trope sets up expectations. A good book plays with them. A great book subverts them. Tropes only become clichés when the author does nothing new with them.

Genre is a tricky beast though. Many people have very, VERY set expectations on what should and shouldn’t happen in certain genres (or at least subgenres).

For many people, Romance = Happily Ever After. If the main couple doesn’t get together in the end, readers get upset. I can understand where they’re coming from. I specifically picked up a romance novel to get swept away in an idyllic love affair. If I wanted to be reminded that dating sucks, I could have looked back over 10+ years of disappointing experiences. I don’t need a book for that.

The same goes for cozies and lighter mysteries, IMO. We see real-life villains get away with terrible things every day—at least in fiction they get their just desserts.

But when do these elements become too predictable? Too unbelievable?

Many people say there is no such thing as an original idea—it’s all in the execution. I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add: have a little fun with it. For my culinary cozy WIP, I’m acknowledging every cozy trope I’m throwing in there and having a blast with it. Some people take themselves too seriously and miss out on half the fun of writing.

That being said, are there any particular mystery genre tropes/cliches that you love? Hate? (I personally can’t stand protagonists that are “Too Stupid to Live.” )

Please share your thoughts on this, Dear Readers!

Malice Domestic: The Power of Networking

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. ANOTHER Malice Domestic post? Really? Has every mystery blogger run out of topic ideas already?

Of course not! *shifty eyes*

Malice is just that special.

Last year was my first Malice. I went because I won the William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers (what a mouthful!). It was such a special moment in my journey as a writer, and I credit Malice with introducing me to people who’ve been particularly important in my journey.

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My proudest moment: Malice Domestic 2017

Harriette Sackler, the head of the grant committee, championed both me and my work-in-progress.

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Harriette Sackler and I after the SinC breakfast 2018

She introduced me to Janet Reid, who would go on to become my agent.

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Janet’s not fond of photos, but I did manage to capture this action shot of her going after a tasty writer

And at the Agatha Banquet, I met Kellye Garrett, the author of the Agatha/Lefty/Ippy-winning Detective by Day series, and another writer of color. We became social media “friends,” then she took me under her wing and mentored me during a contest called Pitch Wars. I’m proud that  get to call her a real friend now, sans quotes.

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Before she won the Agatha for Best First Novel ❤
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Gathering of the writers of color at Malice. From top left: Alexia Gordon, V.M. Burns, Sujata Massey, Cheryl Head. From bottom left: Frankie Bailey, Mia P. Manansala, Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian.

The manuscript I revised under her instruction went on to earn me five offers of representation from literary agents. So you see, I can pretty much draw a straight line from Malice to where I’m at now in my writing journey. On top of that, everyone I had met, and I mean EVERYONE, was so unbelievably kind to me. (2017 post)

Writing is a career filled with insecurity; I was just a baby writer, new to the game and without a single finished manuscript to my name. Yet everyone I interacted with welcomed me with open arms. Complete strangers walked up to me to let me know they were cheering for me and couldn’t wait to follow my career.

In fact, the reason I’m lucky enough to be blogging with the Mysteristas is because Keenan Powell, a fellow grant winner, invited me to join.

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Malice Domestic 2017

There’s a lot of talk about whether or not conventions are worth attending for the authors. They’re expensive and exhausting, particularly if you’re an introvert. I had to sneak up to the room for a bit each day so I could recharge my batteries. And from what I hear, the amount you make in book sales doesn’t cover all the other expenses, so people don’t consider it a good investment.

But I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. You don’t go to conventions to make money. You go to make connections. In fact, I only knew about the Malice grant because of Lori Rader-Day, the then-president of Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter. So that’s where my story TRULY begins.

Moral of the story: Join writing organizations and network. You never know what opportunities are waiting for you.

Dear Readers, what are your best tips for networking? Also, what connections have you made that turned into big opportunities? I’d love to hear about them!

Please Don’t Look At My Browser History

Ah research. Love it or hate it, it is fundamental for writers who pride themselves on authenticity or are writing outside their experience.

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I’ve read about writers traveling to all sorts of distant lands to get a proper feel for the setting they want to create. I’ve talked to authors who spent years and years in libraries reading endless tomes, interviewing experts in the field, and compiling spreadsheets full of data. I’ve heard of writers learning how to pick locks, fire guns, analyze handwriting, and even train to be a bounty hunter, all in the name of fiction. I admire that level of dedication.

For me, research just means Googling things like, “How quickly do you die from a stab wound to the stomach?” “What’s the fastest way to kill a diabetic?” and possibly the creepiest, “If you get shot in the head execution-style, is your face still recognizable? No, I don’t want to look at pictures.”

Being a crime writer sure is interesting. My name has gotta be on some low-ranking FBI agent watch list with all the crazy things I Google.

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I love this mug

Luckily, there are non-disturbing elements to my books that also need a bit of research. For my first novel, which takes place at a comic book convention, my idea of research was to attend conventions, go to panels on topics I found interesting, and people-watch. It was so much fun!

I have a geek speed dating scene in the book, so I participated in several geek speed dating events to see what they were like and even roped my husband into going to one so I could get his perspective too. Yeah, we’re a strange couple, but he’s a writer too, so he gets it.

I’m currently working on two different projects (I toggle back and forth between the two whenever I get stuck–being unpublished gives me a bit of freedom). The first is a sequel, which takes place in the world of pro wrestling. I used to be a big fan as a kid, but haven’t closely followed it in years, so my husband has been extremely helpful with wrestling history, rivalries, terminology, etc. We have tickets to a live show in June, which should be fascinating. I really want to get the energy and atmosphere right.

My other project is a Filipino-themed culinary cozy and I LOVE coming up with lists of food/recipes I want to include in the book. However, this story involves me researching poisons and debating the pros and cons of fast-acting vs slow-acting, the best way to slip someone poison without them noticing, how to cultivate certain specimens, etc. Pretty sure my name just got flagged again.

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Mmm, no poison in this halo-halo…

This coming weekend is Malice Domestic and the Poison Lady is giving a talk. Guess who’ll be there, front and center, pen and pad in hand? At least I know I’ll be among my people when it’s question and answer time!

What’s the weirdest/most interesting/craziest thing you’ve had to research for a story, Dear Readers? And for those of you who don’t write, what questions do you have about the research process? Leave them in the comments below!

Do You Believe the Hype?

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read or watched Gone Girl.

I know, I know. As a crime fiction reader and writer, that’s pretty close to blasphemy. But I tend to avoid things that get overhyped, where everyone is talking about how I absolutely HAVE to get into the latest book/show/movie, etc. Maybe I just like being contrary, but the more people tend to talk about something, the less interested I am in it.

So I’ve never watched Breaking Bad. Or The Wire. Or a million other TV shows and movies that are apparently required watching.

Very rarely does the buzz around a project live up to my expectations, notable recent exceptions being the Black Panther movie (which I’ve seen four times already) and The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (which I read in a little over a day and plan on re-reading again soon).

On St. Patrick’s Day, I had the good fortune to be at the 2nd annual Murder and Mayhem in Chicago. The headliners were Jeffery Deaver and Gillian Flynn, and they put on an excellent keynote conversation. In fact, Gillian was so compelling and entertaining that hearing her talk about her work made me think, “Crap. Now I have to read her book. It sounds AMAZING.”

So I bought it and had it signed (unfortunately, the line was too long for me to ask for a picture) and now it’s sitting on top of my TBR pile. Just staring at me. And I’m wondering if it’s worth moving to the front of the pack. I feel like I should read it soon, while the thrill of the convention is still fresh in my mind. But the giant stack of books–that only ever gets bigger, never smaller–is wondering why she gets to cut in line while they’ve been waiting oh so patiently for my attention.

20180322_152242 Continue reading “Do You Believe the Hype?”