Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hot-sweet fish recipe with Jasmin rice

Something I've cooked yesterday and boy did I enjoy it: light, healthy, tasty and best for everyone with only little time -- it's quick.

What you need:
Pouting, Mackerel or Whiting fillets (I try to avoid buying Cod due to the overfishing issue, plus those fishes are much cheaper as well as tasty).
Spring onions
Red chillies
Soy Sauce
Good quality olive oil
Grated ginger

Cut spring onions, chop a red chili and garlic, grate ginger. Put the garlic aside, mix the rest with honey, soy sauce and olive oil.
Score the fish on the skin, then fry in very hot pan, skin side down, no seasoning required.
Plate up Jasmin rice, place fish on top, spoon the sauce over the fish
right into the cracks, now fry the garlic briefly in the still hot pan, then put it on top of the fish. 
Also great: finish off with some toasted sesame seeds.

Now here's another tip: I'm all for using left overs. So if you have some spring onions left and you don't know what to do with them... 
Next time you go to the supermarkets, get some no-name soft cheese. Depending on how many spring onions you have, scoop some of the soft cheese into a bowl, cut the spring onions into small rings and bash them up, add to the soft cheese, season with salt and pepper, then mix. 
It tastes brilliant on French stick or as a sandwich filler, either with meat or salmon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another sneak peek at the sequel to No Wings Attached:

While No Wings Attached is put on hold, being currently corrected, I'm using the time to crack on with the sequel. Here's a small excerpt of Chapter Eleven, first unedited draft.  I'd love your opinions, so fire away. ;-)

I struggle and hiss, stomping and kicking in order to step on a foot of the guy whose arms are still locked around me. He curses and tightens his grip.
Let go of me!� With as much force I can muster I knock back my head, hoping to smash his nose. Pain jolts through me.
He winces and pushes me forward. �You bitch!�
I open my eyes and see... nothing. It's dark, pitch black and it smells rank, like rotten moss, I hear water dripping, echoing from seemingly close walls. Knowing he's probably behind me, I carefully feel the ground under my feet, trying to get some more distance between us. Something wet touches my face and I bite my lip to suppress a scream, if I'm basically blind he won't be able to see either. What do I do, what do I do? What does he want? Am I allowed to use my powers to protect me? My heart thuds so heavily in my chest, I want to throw up. With my arms stretched out I inch forward.
Another curse from him. �That fucking bitch got my lip. It's bleeding.�
Where is she now?� a second voice asks.
Don't know, we'll find out in a second.�
I stop and try to breathe as calmly as I can. Suddenly, a blue light flashes past me, crushing into the rocks before me; instinctively, I duck and wrap my arms around my head. The dark force!
There! Darian, now!�
I throw myself flat onto the floor and in hope they will aim to the left, I roll to the right, squeezing my eyes shut. From what I can hear, another blue light ball hisses over me and the sound of pieces of the rock wall falling on the ground echoes through the cave. I blink and hastily crawl further to the right.
One more time,� whisper under my breath. I'm furious and willing to fight back, �go on, only one more time.�
Again, I'm blinded and quickly looking to the side, I stretch our my hands, palms up. Oh, please let it work, I don't want to die!
The blue ball dances in the air, illuminating the place. As I suspected, it's small and water runs along the walls. I turn to my kidnappers and gasp. The bold guy! A much smaller figure stands next to him, legs apart, hands stemmed in the side, glaring at me. I could swear I've seen him before, but I can't remember where. At the club, when Sam was there?
You?� I address the bold guy. �What do you want from me?�
He watches the blue ball's dancing. �Just playing a bit. Thought you might like that.�
I continue to stare at him. The tingling in my hands and the pressure on them stops and the ball explodes, leaving a mini firework behind. For moment I freeze and lock eyes again with the bold guy. With one quick move of his hand another blue ball appears in the palm of his hand and before I can react, he throws it in my direction. The pressure is much stronger and I can't hold against it.
Please, stop! What have I done to you?� My voice breaks off at the end of the question and I have both, fear and fury raging in me. I'm going to die!
Stop!� a third voice barks, followed by a stream of orange-red light directed at the two other guys. They try to fight back, but the figure now stepping in front of me is far too strong for them. I recognise the long leather coat and heavy boots. Sam?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Living with and looking after a big alpha male iguana

It's now been four months since my big boy went into mating season and there's still no end in sight. I've been to the vet a few times. Luckily there wasn't an operation necessary, but his nose is still rather battered. Poor sod. He's also lost a lot of weight, but I watched him closely. You can tell they are underweight when the bones at the beginning of the tail, right over the legs, start to show or when the tail itself loses its strength. (See pictures left and right which show a healthy iguana)
I know my animal well and he's been active, still likes his snacks (blueberries, raspberries and bananas), so I wasn't too concerned. I provide fresh food for him several times a day. They won't touch old and wilted food, understandable, you wouldn't eat the stuff that has been sitting on the plate, in the warmth of your kitchen either, would you? Though, he has started to get his appetite back, which is a good thing, so I throw away less.
I also make sure he has fresh water daily (throughout the year), spray his enclosure regularly and he licks the water from the surface or directly from the sprayer.

His nose, though, is still swollen from jumping against the glass. I've covered the glass with an old sheet from inside, so he doesn't see his reflection anymore and he is much calmer. His lower jaw, as you can see in the picture to the left, is not healing as I'd like it to. If possible, I dab it gently with a self-made saline solution (Sea salt/Water), which disinfects and dries out, helping the process.
The best time to do it, is when he sleeps. Iguanas are rather sound sleepers. He'll half-wake and head-bob at me, even with his eyes closed.
Snout injuries are very difficult to treat, especially if the iguana is still in mating season and aggressive. I have found that he's reacting calmly if I wear a towel wrapped around my hair, like after having a shower. Then he won't attack me. Yesterday, though, it came off and a second later, he charged. He's a very weird little dragon. I spoke to the vet and will try a hormone-implant next year, before season starts and hope that'll calm him down. If that works I'll go for neutering. It's my last hope to be able to keep him as I've promise him and the old owners. If it doesn't help, I have no chance but to give him away, because it would be animal cruelty to keep him when he ends up injured. Unfortunately, the pet insurance won't pay for neither, the implant, nor the op, but if it helps him, it would help me. What's the point of having a beautiful animal like that when you can't even see him behind all the covers, or only when you wear a towel around your head?

Finally some head-bobbing action I've recorded today. He's a real alpha male and will do it every time he moves. His muscles are so strong, I can't hold his head still if he does it. Just to give you an idea.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


How could you do this to me? Presenting your new love, right in my face, before dumping me! Is that what you call a gentle let-down? I'm hurt, yes, you hurt my feelings. What was it I did so wrong? Wasn't I reliable enough? Maybe you didn't like how I changed over time. Everyone changes, you know? I feel used; you used me and I'm worn out. I gave my all, every time you needed me. And I felt your affection, every god damn single moment I was with you. Of course it was hard when you abandoned me for days, left me in the dark, when I didn't know when I'd see you again, but I kept waiting, patiently, in silence; hoping we'd soon be re-united. You came back for me, always and I cannot tell you the warmth that spread through me when you did. I knew I had to share you with others, and I didn't mind, as long as I could be sure you'd not forget me.

I remember the first time you lay hands on me: firm � rough almost � it was when I knew you had the experience to handle me. The first few weeks were trial and error, you needed to get used to me, with how I would respond to your handling. I let you do whatever you wanted to do with me, not once was I scared about my safety. I like being submissive. Oh and you did so well. I could sense you were proud and you wanted to show me around, introduce me to your friends; it was the day I caught fire, the flames licking at me, yet I did withstand until you came to my rescue. Were you really that upset back then? It wasn't your fault, just an accident, but noticing the burns I carried, your heart cracked a little. And you never got over it, did you?

I think I can count myself lucky you stuck to me nevertheless � I can't imagine how it would have been had you dumped me right there and then. That would've been cruel, wouldn't it? No, you are not that type of girl who'd do that, you are loyal. On the other hand, had you done it back then, I might not be as sad as I'm now. I wonder if it wasn't enough to hold on to everything you gave me, you stirred a lot, testing me to my limits, added spice to every get together, got me all hot, I won't deny I enjoyed it. I was part of your existence.

But everything has changed, from one day to another, you went to find my replacement. After five years of true commitment to our relationship, you've abandoned me again, only I know you'll never come back for me. I fought one last battle and lost. You found a new loyal companion and I have to move on. Farewell and thank you for keeping a roof over my head.


Friday, September 23, 2011

I love similes and metaphors

When used in moderation, that is. I've recently started to edit my literary fiction novel and because I haven't touched it since I finished in May, I stumble over one or the other surprise. I admit, that I wrote most of the book when I had too much wine, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe for my liver, but certainly not for the book. Fear not, I didn't make a habit of it, that book, though, seemed to require drastic measures.

I challenged myself with that novel. When I re-read the part I wrote the night before, I was amazed what I came up with. And it was often hard to write, but I loved every minute of it. I also learned that I've got a knack for similes and metaphors, something I never knew I had in me. To me literary fiction is beautiful prose, character driven, rather than plot driven; it's letting the reader look at a person from a different angle. Not necessarily unreadable, which many books in this genre are. I like it simple and want to prove that you can produce a readable novel when breaking all the rules there are. And yes, I use similes and metaphors in it, not too many, they're neatly fitted without overpowering the rest.

Here are a few examples:

Finally the tiredness overcomes you and for the last time tonight, before you close your eyes, a shadow of unease reaches out, hoping for a ride into your dreams.
You like to play with emotions, possibilities, meanings. With sentences, skilfully built as they appear on screen as beautiful as rainbows against the grey sky. Each word a different colour.
Then, there's reading; letters that form sentences, sentences that touch your feelings, being transferred into the depth of your mind while your eyes scan each and every word twice, searching for a deeper meaning.
Now, that the sun is gone, the chill wraps around you like a cold blanket. 
She's like a figure behind frosted glass, showing shades and shapes, but never gives a clear vision of what's behind.

And another passage:

The blue sky has made way for a wide range of grey. Soft warm raindrops fall onto your face, soak through your shirt. In general, you love the summer rain, to sit underneath a roof or window and hear its harmonious drumming. It's the time when you write, a whiskey to one side and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts to the other. No music, as it would distract from the rhythm dictating the tempo of your synapses' transmitting. On days like that you feel free of all your commitments. A man who is one with himself, a soul at peace and a light mind, without the ballast of everyday life; your brain pleased to receive the exercise it so desperately needs. 
The novel is written in second person, present tense, the characters are not named and the reader is mostly in the male MC's head. As soon as I'm finished with revamping the novel, I'll have a few other Beta readers who have expressed interest. Wish me luck. The novel is written in second person, present tense, the characters are not named and the reader is mostly in the male MC's head. As soon as I'm finished with revamping the novel, I'll have a few other Beta readers who have expressed interest. Wish me luck.

Oh and you'll find a slightly longer excerpt here:

Monday, September 12, 2011

The problems with conflicting advice

I've discussed this issue on a writers' forum yesterday. Though I think editing, rewriting and tweaking is essential, I see a lot of writers having difficulties with conflicting advice. Thinking back to my early days, I had comments on my book on what to change, what to delete, what to pad, etc. I personally was relatively sure what I wanted and didn't get confused; my story hasn't changed one bit, but I see others change their ms after each comment they receive, often until it's beyond recognition.
The problem is: it's all down to preference. Someone doesn't like first person, present tense, don't go and change the whole book into past tense. Some think a particular scene could be deleted, some don't. I guess what I'm saying is that you have to stick to your guns, trust yourself, listen to the advice and ponder, but don't change everything that someone suggests, unless it really makes sense and you love it even more after the changes.
Many beginners are insecure and listen far too often to others than to their instincts. People talk differently, in different speech patterns, the more you try to please those who criticise, the more you're losing your voice. 

I, for instance, have sent out my literary fiction novel to five people. Two only wanted to do me a favour, but it was clearly not for them, one got back with suggestions that would alter the whole concept of the book, one got back with excellent suggestions and the confirmation for what I had the feeling might be wrong: it lacks 'excitement' in the middle part, and one loved it so much to actually pass it on to an editor who loves it equally.
I've had men and women reading the book and I got valuable feedback from all five readers. It helps to know your writing, your voice and to see where the changes might affect it. Step back from your ms and think as a reader for a while, would you be excited by the book or do you think it could be improved? Get advice from a hand full of people and take every comment into account. I've once posted an excerpt on facebook and someone went to rewrite the whole scene. Though well-meant it wasn't my voice anymore.
What I look for are suggestions that make the story stronger, not the voice. Some people who mean well, but don't know how to critique will start fiddling with your wordings, change your vocabulary and the way you write in general and they will start correcting each other; if you start listening to those, you'll easily lose your voice by changing it back an forth. 
Same goes for the so-called 'rules' in writing. Some people will try to edit everything out of your manuscript, adverbs are not bad, you just need to keep them under control. I see those 'rules' as guidelines, not as set-in-stone rules to follow. Though you should know the 'rules' to break them. 
Best is to have mentor who will teach but doesn't influence you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Boy was I in for a shock!

If you're following my blog, you are aware of my opinion about making your book as good as possible and don't publish before you have been through editing and proofing several times. I've been banging on about my book being spotless -- I'm a perfectionist and not to practice what I preach would make me a big fat hypocrite, wouldn't it? Yes. Now I've had three people telling me that my novel No Wings Attached is riddled with awkward sentences that don't make sense on top of the usual errors (spelling, typos, etc.). I was gutted! Of course I was, because I know my grammar needs attention, hence I asked around who can help me smoothing out my Germish, as I call it lovingly. I'm writing in second language and though I'm pretty good, it's far from perfect. I know I need someone native who fixes the syntax. And of course, after correcting the corrections, I know I need someone to pick up the errors that sneak in when you take a sentence apart, add words, delete others, etc., plus the usual errors like quotes, commas, spelling and punctuation. So I've had help for both, but when I received that review, I was in for a shock and quite frankly I was more than annoyed.
Please don't understand this as a post to blame, it's not. It's about my experience and to share what I've learned and what I would advise others, especially if you write in second language. I'm extremely lucky to have friends who kindly offered to help me, both natives and absolutely wonderful people. The first went through my book eliminating my Germish, she told me I would need someone to go through the book afterwards, to which I replied, yes, I've got someone who will do that. The mistake I made was to assume she's done ALL the syntax/odd phrasing, which she didn't. That had a snowball-effect: I went to the next person and said, please only look at spelling or typos, missed commas, etc. A clear instruction which she followed. After that was done, I went through the ms in a 7-hour-session and found some more things (missed quotes, capital/lower cases, spaces, etc.) Then, I was sure the book's perfect. But one reader, a German friend, found about twenty more things, which I gratefully accepted and corrected. Finally, I thought, my novel is error free!

As the recent review shows, it's not, the reviewer said, "as there were a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. If I weren't reading it on a Kindle, I would have taken a red pen to it myself. The phrasing and conversation structure was awkward". I first assumed it's the BE spelling, which concerns a lot of Americans, but after checking with her, that was not the case. I wasn't very happy as you can imagine, neither was I about the 'editor' comment, since I'm only editing plot, pace, voice, characters and steer well clear from grammar, except dialogue attributes or the odd comma, for the obvious reasons. I will explain the process of publishing, editors, proof-reading, etc in a different post as there are still some misconceptions of who is doing what.

After I've re-gained my calm, I'm working with another friend on the issue. This time, I made very clear what I wanted/needed. Since I'm writing in second language I can't control things as I could with editing. I have to trust blindly. If I cook a bolognese and ask someone else to season it, I would be able to say if it's overly salted or needs a bit more. That, I can't do with English. If I knew how it's done correctly, I would've done it myself. What I'm trying to say is to be clear with people, tell them what you want, ask them what they have done and where they think it needs more work. I don't support the need for a professional editor/proof-reader for those things, every educated native English person is able to pick up on awkward sentence structures. I know this because I've done that the other way round. But please make sure you get your book double checked, either by another beta-reader or another friend. And if you have someone who's really good with grammar and knows something about dialogue attributes, that's enough, too.

One person said, just put a note on the book that it's written in second language, which I argued against. I'm trying to sell my book for hard money, and that's not the solution. Same goes for the comment another person made, "What are they complaining about? They paid a low price," to which I argued, that's no excuse! As soon as I sell a book it has to be free of errors. I want my readers to enjoy the story and not to feel tempted to pull out a red pen -- let alone the effect it has on my reputation. For the time being, I've stopped promoting No Wings Attached as I'm rather embarrassed about the whole situation. I can't unpublish it without losing all the reviews; readers love the story, the characters, the romance and the twists and turns. I think I can call myself lucky that someone had the heart to point out the mistakes so I can fix them and give readers the reading experience they deserve: being lost in a world I created witout being pulled out of it by errors.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I'm back and that with a bang!

Actually it's not me who's back, but my muse. Don't really know where it buggered off to for the past few weeks, but it's back and sitting firmly at my side, giving me inspiration so I can continue with the sequel to No Wings Attached. Last post, I gave the reason why I thought about not writing it, but readers keep asking where the sequel is and guess what? I'm glad. For the past few days, I've been writing over 1000 words each night, yesterday even almost 2000 and it was fun to see the words flowing onto the screen. As I do touch type, I can let my mind create something like a movie, which flickers across my inner eye and my fingers just type out what I see. That's how I work anyway. I'm a very visual person and will translate either reading or writing into a motion picture. Yesterday, I had a scene where Celia is upset with Tom and jealous of his new client, and some circumstances -- coupled with some wine -- made her go out on her own where she bumped into a rather annoying, yet very sexy guy. He's my favourite man in the book. Dark, rough sex-appeal and obnoxious, but he has a way with Celia. He seems to be a case of love/hate him and is very challenging to create, because I want exactly that: being slap bang in the middle, he does things you want him to hate for, but you can't help but love him. He's got this special something your mum always warned you about. I just love it!
Celia is her usual self, funny, madly in love with Tom, but intrigued by that new guy, who plays a major role in the sequel. For the next chapters I've planned some rather big surprises, twists and turns, action and fun. And of course, the romance will not come short either. The toughest challenge is to top the first book, it has to be the same voice and style, but I'm a fan of big surprises, things that make you go: Oh gosh, I didn't see that coming! That's what I want to achieve and I promise you it will be the case. I'm already excited just thinking about the rough plot ideas, but those are only the cornerstones, the writing to incorporate those cornerstones is the difficult part. I'm plotting as I go along and things usually change here and there. This time, I don't even know the ending, which is new for me. It's blank, totally blank, which means it can take any direction. But one thing I'm sure of: it's going to be great! And who knows, if it's working well and my muse throws some inspiration for a third book into the ring, I'll be inclined to follow that one through, too.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When truth hits home

Yesterday, I blogged about the consequences of 'never give up' advice, mostly given by well-meaning friends or those who have already achieved what most of us wish for. In publishing that usually means a contract with one of the big six or selling so well, that we make a living from writing. That post sparked a rather interesting discussion on facebook. One person, though, was so upset by my words, in quintessence called me an arrogant, inexperienced idiot (not her words, but my translation) and unfriended me. Fair enough, but I seriously wonder how she is going to survive in this business; is she going to pull a Hewitt once she receives a negative review? I knew my post was provocative, but I didn't address her personally, nobody in fact. It's that kind of reaction that puts agents and publishers off. I can't stress enough that they're out there, observing, and you never know when someone's watching you.
Going back to the topic of success: I see publishing as a business, I write, I edit, I proof, I publish. If I'm lucky, I sell -- a product for money. I said that if you don't sell your 'commercial' book despite all efforts to promote it, then it's perhaps one reason for being rejected, agents didn't see a market for it. Self-publishing usually is the last resort after failing to land a deal, or the way to go with beautiful niche-market writing.

Let's take my novel No Wings Attached, a romantic comedy, chick lit-style a la Cecilia Ahern, with a good measure of paranormal a la Charmed. Both very successful and one would think the book could be commercial enough. I got about 30 rejections. I knew it's neither here nor there, the readers who don't like paranormal but love chick lit won't go near it, the ones who love paranormal expect vampires and werewolves, but not comedy.  I've sold about 100 since its release in June. My conclusion: there's no market for it. Not now or never will be. Those who read it, loved it, apart from one person who wasn't a happy bunny. I pondered if I should finish the sequel, asking myself if it's worth it to put time and effort into a sequel when the first book doesn't sell. My decision is: I will finish the sequel because I've been asked by a few people who are waiting for its release and I've promised them. But if it still doesn't sell it will be the end of the series, if it flies off the shelves, I might continue. It's a simple business decision for me.
Of course it's disappointing if you put blood sweat and tears into your book and it doesn't turn out to be the next bestseller, but that's the price you pay for being independent, you have no stamp of approval and the big marketing department in your back. And even if you have, it's no guarantee for success, most of the books being accepted by publishing houses end up being dust-collectors. Only a few really make it into the bestseller lists, so we're in good company. The reader is king and if he or she rejects you, don't get upset, think about the reasons and react with a cool head.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The gloves are off the 3rd! Just because you've written a book doesn't make you a writer

I've been thinking about this for a long while, pondering if I should post this, but I feel I need to say something. It's my blog in the end and I can post whatever I like, right?
I've been watching the Indie community for the past few months and I've been among 'writers' for over two years now. What I have observed is a lot of people who have written a book, think they are now a writer and will be famous author. Their mum, auntie, sister, gran and two best friends said their book's great, too, so it must be true. Bursting with confidence they submit their humble scribblings. Then: the truth hits home, rejection after rejection; soon, they will be able to plaster their entire house with them. Still, they don't think something's wrong with their writing, it's the others who don't recognise their genius.
They decide to go for self-publishing. Heavens thank Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. They get their friends and family to buy a copy each and write a review. Of course it's all praise. Ah, it looks so pretty, doesn't it? When the first real reader buys the book and complains about the bad editing, poor characterisation and plot, apart from the typos and other errors, it's the arsehole who didn't get it, when more negative comments arrive, they cry out for people to put those stupid reviewers right.
No joking, I've seen it all. I wonder if the 'never give up' advice might do more damage than good to some of the 'authors' out there. Stephenie Meyer's and J.K. Rowling's rejections are quoted. Well, Meyer had about 15 and Rowling 12. That's nothing in publishing. I got about 45 for all my three book together. Then, I don't write YA and I don't have a series at the ready. I know why my books got rejected, though I had an acceptance for the shorts stories and an offer to resend after tweaking for No Wings Attached, both of which I denied in the end.
I hear pure readers when they say they have enough of Indies, though there are quite a few who are good, sell well and made themselves a name, there are still far more who receive dream-shattering reviews on their books. Or there are plenty of Indies who don't sell, despite all effort to market their books. Maybe that's a hint for them to either write something else, or just give up. Maybe that's why they got so many rejections in the first place (unless they write for a small market)? Perhaps they need to learn a bit more about writing and hone their skills before they throw their unreadable books at the public. Many readers already voice their demand for some sort of quality for the Indie books, I absolutely agree. I guess that would shake up the market considerably and we'd have about a third of books left. A certain standard would force aspiring authors to edit and proof-read their books until they're green in the face. A shame they're not doing it already voluntarily, it's part of the 'job'.
And: not every person who has written a book is cut out for the industry. To survive as an author, you need to learn constantly, produce at least one book a year - a book of quality, that is, the Indie-market is fast and every changing, before you know it, you're forgotten. And that's the pressure many self-appointed authors can't handle.

Always remember: just because mummy says you've written the next bestseller, doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

JUST ADDED after misunderstandings: I'm not addressing the issue of cutting edge literature or books that don't fit into neat genres, they often have a small readership, hence the low sales.