Last week was my annual writer’s retreat in Michigan – writing and brainstorming and laughing and eating and having a ball. I miss them already! And I miss the food. I made something new-is to me this year because we have a couple of vegan/vegetarian eaters in our group. And I can sometimes be persuaded to put away the chicken or beef. Not to worry, if you need chicken and beef in your life, I’ll tell you what to add at the end of this post. In the meantime, this recipe turned out so good – you could do it as a main dish (as we did) or even as a dip on those chilly football weekends coming up this fall.
Without further ado, Vegetarian Enchilada Orzo! The ingredients:
• 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
• 1 (10-ounce) mild enchilada sauce
• 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained (Note: for both the tomatoes and green chiles, feel free to dice them yourself from the produce aisle…or if you’re cooking on the road like I was over the weekend, use the canned version)
• 1 can vegetable broth, as needed
• 1 cup corn kernels, frozen (if you use canned, the taste will be the same just make sure you drain them)
• 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 can Vegan refried beans
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 Tablespoon chili powder (optional)
• 1 Tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
• 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
• 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
If you have all day set your crockpot to low and cook for 8 hours, but if you only have the morning, set the crockpot to high and cook for 4 hours. In the crockpot, combine the corn, black and refried beans, chiles, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, and spices. Stir and then add in the cream cheese and half the can of vegetable broth. Stir once more and then put the lid on and let the crockpot do it’s thing. About once each hour, stir again, making sure the cream cheese is melting and combining with the other ingredients. After 4 (or eight, if you have all day) give the ingredients one more stir and then add in the orzo pasta and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Once the pasta is ready, grab some bowls and serve, sprinkling the cheddar over the top to your taste.
*Recipe Notes: Total cook time is 4:30 and this recipe serves 6 people. You can substitute quinoa for the orzo if you like; for me that adds too much of a nutty flavor but I’ve heard from several people that it’s really good that way. Also, if green chiles are too spicy for you, simply leave them out or halve that part of the recipe. If you want to add meat, I suggest about 6 ounces of grilled chicken or steak, already cooked, and then either cubed or shredded and added to the mix.
Y’all know my penchant for office supplies by now – planners and pens and notebooks and folders. These are functional, basic office items. I also have a basic, functional office because it doubles as a guest room when we have friends or family come in to stay with us for a while. But, just because my office needs to function well (for me and for guests) doesn’t mean it has to be boring or ugly.
Part of what I love about office supplies is the sheer variety. Sure there are plain manila folders and basic yellow #2 pencils and you can get a 24 pack of basic black Bic’s. But, you don’t have to. When I was redoing my office a couple of years ago I looked at all the office supplies I have – a myriad of colored pens and pencils, folders with designs and images on them, notebooks repurposed from old planner pages. I wanted to give my basic, functional office pops of color so I decided to use my folders and notebooks and yes pens as part of the decor.
Today, I’m going to show you how I created a folder filing system that isn’t one of the those yucky, gray things that hang on walls in office buildings. Here’s what you need:
3-4 small easels for pictures
3-4 of your favorite folders
Find a place on your wall or the side of a bookcase (like I did!). Place 2 Command hangars side by side but about 3″ apart. Next, hang your easel upside down, so the “V” shape is ope toward the ceiling and the “lip” is pointed toward you. Go up the wall or bookcase about 6″ and repeat for the second easel and continue on like this until you’ve hanged each easel. Now put your folders there and, voila!, you have hacked your office and made your pretty folders part of the decor!
For additional functionality, you could add a pretty binder clip to the “lip” of each easel to create a label. I don’t do this because I label each of my folders, which takes care of me knowing what they’re for. Also, I keep my most urgent (as in have a deadline of 1-2 months) in the bottom easel, things that have a bit more time in the middle, and the top easel is for story ideas and future projects (things that don’t have a deadline just yet).
One more tip: I always find the best (prettiest!) folders at Target, but the easels and Command hangars I picked up at our local dollar store – for the rock-bottom price of $5 total…making this also a very economical office hack!
What do you like best about your home office?
At the beginning of the year I had a plan to read all 50 books on the 50 Best Books from Every State list. I’m going to fail that writing challenge, not because I haven’t been reading but because I’ve been reading off of my list of books to read…don’t worry, I’m still going to read all 50, but I think this is going to be a multi-year reading challenge for me. I first got off track with my reading challenge about the second week in January when, instead of James Michener’s Hawaii, I picked up Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m not sure why I picked it up; I’ve read that book probably five times in my life. But I was walking through the library (I’d gone there to write and had met my wordcount so of course I started wandering the stacks) and it was right there on a shelf calling to me. So I picked it up. I’ve worked my way through about 1/3 of the 50 books list.
Another book that called my name? Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company. Y’all know my love of the memoir by now, but this book isn’t so much memoir/self-help as it is memoir/memory, and it was wonderful.
I’ve been a Carol fan since I was little, watching the reruns on Sunday afternoons on a fuzzy UHF channel with my mom. I didn’t get most of the jokes but I can still hear mom’s giggle turning into a full-blown snort-laugh in my head. I laughed at the jokes I didn’t get because her laugh was just so contagious that I couldn’t not laugh. As I got older I started getting those jokes and laughed for other reasons.
What I liked best about the book were the stories behind the scenes – how Vicki Lawrence became a cast member, how Carol nearly fired one of the cast after a particularly bad show. Those were things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she fought hard to have her own variety show in a time when male studio heads didn’t think women should. I didn’t know that she ran that show, every aspect of it, in a time when women just didn’t do that. And my biggest takeaway from the book that is more memory than self-help is this: You have to fight for the things that you want in life. Carol fought for her show. She fought for the actors and performers on her show. She fought for certain skits and writers. She knew what her vision was for the show and she fought hard to make that vision a reality.
My favorite quote from the book sums up what I think is her true legacy – aside from the laughs on the show! – that you have to be present and embrace your life, and fight for the things you believe in: Fifty years have passed since we “pushed the button” to do the show. Sure, I’d like to be younger, but then I could never do today what we did back then. Sadly, variety shows like ours have gone the way of the dodo bird. A variety show today can never duplicate what we did. Why? Money. The cost of clearing the songs and music alone would sink the Titanic. Sixty to seventy costumes a week? No way. A twenty-eight-piece orchestra? Twelve dancers? A rep company of five? Six to eight sketches a show? Major guest stars? Block the entire show and rehearse with the orchestra in one day? The following day tape the whole shebang in two hours? Dream on. We all get older, if we’re lucky. So, if I had to choose, I’m happy I was there at that time…to have a laugh or sing a song.
If you have the chance, definitely pick up the book – I think you’ll love it! What are you reading now?
I get asked a lot about my writing process, and while we all have our processes and most writers are cool sharing what works and what doesn’t, I think the real value in knowing how other writers write is in knowing that there are so many different ways to write a book. There is no singular right way. You look at what is working for you and you adjust accordingly. My process isn’t the same even from book to book. Some books I write beginning to end. Some books I write out of order. Some books I turn in and realize that I need to rearrange a few key areas. Books are beautiful, frustrating, really weird things. But.
You knew there was going to be a but.
But, there is one thing that stays true with my process: my WIP Notebook/Project Planner. So I thought I’d share that part of my writing process with you guys this week because it might help you, too. My WIP notebook becomes a kind of catch-all for each book. It has details like drafting/editing deadline, series name/information, and detailed plot and character notes. I love it because having all the details in one spot makes it easy to double-check a character’s eye color or change names when you realize every.single.name begins with “M” or to fill in the “blah blah make this funnier” notes we leave in our WIPs while we’re fast-drafting.
Here’s how my WIP notebook works for me:
The brain dump: The brain dump is exactly what it sounds like: a dump of information. I write everything I think I know about the book, characters, and backstory on these pages. Things I think might happen, things from the past, where my characters are emotionally at the beginning of the book, where they are at the end, what the romantic storyline is, what the personal storyline is. It takes up the bulk of the notebook and is usually four of five pages of…stuff. Stuff that I need to get out of my head before I can actually start parsing through to see what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t.
The Plot Worksheet: After I’ve written down the pertinent backstory stuff, character stuff, maybe even opening or closing scene details, it’s time to start parsing through that to create an actual sort-of plot. That’s where my plot worksheet comes in. Here I’ll list the tropes for the book, the series (if it’s part of a series), title and length details. But, the real work is in the scene listing. I’ll write out scene ideas for the different acts of the book – some will make it in and some won’t, but having the scene ideas written down is very helpful in create an actual outline.
The “W” sheet: From that dump of information and general scene listing comes some actual outline information. I’m a fan of the “W” plot and I kind of integrate it with a three-act structure to create my outline – and for those of you who think this is too rigid, just know that I go into every outline knowing that once the draft is finished I’ll probably move at least 2-3 scenes around in the book. Back to my worksheet. So we have the highs and lows of the initial trigger and problem, the first turning point, a second triggering moment, a deepening of the conflict, and so on. Some of these moments will be in my brain dump of information. Some in the plot worksheet. It’s why I do a brain dump, a plot worksheet, and then a W sheet – because genre romance is all about certain moments happening at certain times. By winnowing all.the.details. into specific.plot.ideas. and then into an outline form I get a clearer vision of the conflict. Conflict, as we all know, comes from the past. Something bad happens as a child. Something bad happens as an adult that confirms to the character that they are not worthy of whatever it is they want/have/need. It’s conflict math. 1+1=2 or Incident+Incident=Confirmation. For me BrainDump+Plot Workheet=Solid W plot-plan.
Character Sheets: Then come the character sheets. Each character gets a main sheet with details about their physical features, their home, their family, their wants/needs, job information, hopes/dreams, nicknames. Why they have what they have and don’t deserve what they want…all that good, emotional stuff.
Setting Sheet: Keeping track of business names and locations, seasonal details, big events, even the town layout and a timeline of events can be hard in a single book…its even harder when you write a series. Having a setting worksheet keeps all those minute details in one place so that I can refer back to find that I called the local bar Shorty’s in book one (or, heck, chapter one) and Logan’s in another book/chapter.
If you like these pages, I have printable versions that you can print and use for your WIP notebooks. Do you use a WIP notebook (either online or offline!) to help your plotting?
One of our favorite things to do in the summer is grill. Heck, one of our favorite things to do year-round (hence the grill not only in the backyard but also in the garage) is grill. Burgers, chicken, brats, steaks, kabobs. You name the meat and we’ve probably grilled it. The last time we were in the Caribbean (Jamaica) part of our stop was a beach day with a barbecue – and they included a pineapple grilled salsa as part of the condiments for the burgers. OMG, y’all, it was the best.thing.ever. This weekend, we’re recreating that and I can’t wait. If you’re looking for something a little new to go with the same-old Labor Day barbecue try this recipe, I think you’ll like it!
Pineapple Salsa Recipe
- 1/2 fresh pineapple – peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- Tin foil
- cooking spray (I like Pam, use whatever you like)
- Pinch of ground black pepper, to taste
Heat your grill to medium heat. Once prepped, spray your sheet of tin foil with cooking spray. Side note: you can grill the pineapple directly on the grill grate but I have a tendency to lose the pineapple *in* the grill when I do that. The tin foil keeps the pineapple from falling through and it doesn’t change the taste. If you’re a better griller than me, feel free to skip the tin foil and simply spray the grill grate with cooking spray and put the pineapple directly on it. You’ll cook the pineapple for about 7 minutes; you know it’s ready when it’s lightly brown and caramelized. Remove it from the grill and allow to cool. Use your food processor to chop and dice the sweet online, jalapeño, bell pepper, and garlic. I love my Ninja Master Prep for this step, makes it so simple! Combine all these ingredients, along with the cooled pineapple, lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour; this will allow the flavors to blend.
Top your burgers or chicken with this salsa or, heck, eat it right out of the bowl with some tortilla chips – you’re choice! Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite holiday grill recipe? Share in the comments!
Habit. It kind of sounds like a bad word…probably because for most of our lives we’re told we need to “break that bad habit”. Be that habit smoking or drinking too much soda or indulging in a candy bar once too often.
One thing I’ve learned over time: it’s much easier to learn a bad habit than it is a good one. I think because the bad habits can be so fun – I mean, who doesn’t want to spend a day in the pool rather than at the office? Who doesn’t want another slice of Chocolate Decadance or one more drink of that mojito? We’re human. We like the things that, in many cases, aren’t great for us.
According to Mr. Webster, an habit is “a behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. In other words, a habit is a learned behavior, and it doesn’t have to be a bad learned behavior.
I think the key to creating any habit is to begin by looking at it as a positive rather than a negative. Instead of “I can never eat chocolate again” look at it as “I’m going to enjoy one slice of the best chocolate cake ever and I’m going to enjoy every second of it”. Instead of “I can never laze in the pool on a hot summer day!” think “I’m going to meet __(goal)__ before I laze in the pool this afternoon”.
Y’all know I love my planner – it’s so much easier to have a list of to-dos and deadlines and expectations and family events all in one place that I can keep track of. But, another thing I do is track my habits – the good and the bad. Up above you’ll see the habit tracker I created for 2018 (feel free to download my Habit Tracker and other printables for writers here). I don’t fill it out every month, but I do find it helpful to use it every couple of months, just to make sure I’m doing the things I need to be doing – like exercise, like drinking enough water, like making my bed time. I’m happier, in general, when those things are going well, and I’m more likely to follow through on work goals when I’m also meeting my personal/health goals.
Here’s a copy of the tracker so far for August. Making those checkmarks is very satisfying…and as you can see, I’m not perfect. I haven’t been tracking my meals like I should (which is probably why, even though I’m hitting my bed time goal, I’m still feeling a little tired and “off”). But, now I can see where I’m not being the best me I can be (as bebe’s teacher liked to say in 4th grade), and I know how I can make a small change to start feeling better, in general.
Have you tried tracking your habits? Did it work for you? Share in the comments!
During my yearly reading challenge last year, I rediscovered my love of the memoir. I’ve been a fan of autobiographies for a long time, but I’d gotten away from memoirs because they seemed too preachy or too vague or too…something. But, I’d set a reading goal for the year and I was in a bit of a rut and so I decided to step outside my reading comfort zone to pick up a book I’d heard writers buzzing about for a few months.
I’m so glad I picked up this book! Part memoir, part writing guide, part advice, Shapiro’s book helped me get a better handle on where I was both professionally and personally. 2017 was a big year of change for our family – the line I wrote for at Harlequin closed, my husband changed jobs, a magazine I’d written for for several years cut way back on freelancers…there was a lot of upheaval and had left me wondering what the heck I was doing with my life. When I picked up Still Writing I wasn’t sure what to expect. I ended up laughing a little and crying a little and being really inspired to take control of the things I can control: the writing. Publishers will come and go, and so will editors and publicists and cover artists. What I can control is the writing. I can sit my butt in the chair every day and write the words. And the next day, I can write again. By controlling the writing, or at least putting myself in the chair to write, I’m doing my part in this crazy roller coaster ride of publishing.
If you’re looking for an inspirational read – whether your in a creative field or not – I think you’ll find something to enjoy about Still Writing…What are you reading right now? Feel free to share in the comments!
Hey, readers! I have a new release out this week and I can’t wait to share it with you! Here’s a fun excerpt to get you started !
“I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time about finding the right guy. The partners will be so caught up in their own dates, no one will notice me.”
Nick had his doubts about that. From the way Howard put himself between Nick and Daisy’s door, he had a feeling her boss would keep a close eye on them. But Daisy didn’t need that kind of worry.
“Did you really send Joe back because he drove a Smart Car?”
“I don’t have a death wish, Nick,” she said wryly. “Other than the trip to the airport, when is the last time you drove on the San Diego freeway?”
“Point taken. And Andrew?”
“I need complete silence when I sleep, and his voice was very nasally. I thought he had a bad cold and offered him some orange juice, but he insisted he was fine. That leaves adenoidal issues.”
Nick chuckled. He’d never paid attention to Sam’s voice, but now that he thought about it, he did sound a bit stuffed up most of the time. Maybe he should set up a specialist appointment. “Mitch?”
“Mitch of the Callused Hands?” She raised her eyebrows. “I just had a manicure.”
“Right.” He bit back a smile when Daisy held up her perfectly manicured, blue-painted fingernails.
“And if you weren’t desperate, what would my crime against dating have been?”
Her brown gaze shuttered, but not before a little flash of something crossed her pretty eyes. A flash that made his stomach muscles clench.
“Nothing,” she said finally. “You’re perfect. On paper.”
About Perfect on Paper:
Nicholas Vega started ManServants as a way to make extra cash in college; five years later, his business is bigger than he ever imagined. And it’s in trouble. An angry ex-client wants to sue because one of his employees didn’t sleep with her. To keep things going, Nick takes on a client of his own – his best friend Daisy MacIntosh.
Daisy needs a boyfriend in a bad way. Her current boss – and ex-lover – has planned a retreat and makes no bones about wanting her back in his bed, at least for the weekend. Daisy wants a barrier between them, and an on-paper boyfriend seems like the best idea.
The problem? Once they’re playing at being in love, their fictional relationship might blow their real life friendship out of the water.
Hey, everyone! Welcome to my brand-spankin’-new website and blog! I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t been a regular blogger for a while, but I’ve decided to delve back into the world of blogging. I’ll be posting every Friday about new book releases, writing tips, some deadline recipes, and even some planner stuff, so come back often and enjoy!
If you’d like to dip into the old blog, it’s still there, you can click over and search some of my older posts, and maybe find a little inspiration for dinner, too.