Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Research Heaven

I don't think I've ever had so much fun researching a book. No, strike that. I know I haven't. I'm an eyelash away from finishing the first draft, and raring to get to the editing stage where I can go back and add all the neat little tidbits I've picked up along the way in this researching journey.

I already posted about the Navy pilot I interviewed and the other contacts I've been put in touch with, but I just had the most amazingly informative conversation with an Army medevac pilot. He has a lot of experience flying Black Hawks (pictured at the beginning of this post), and took time out of his day at the firehall to go through a list of questions I had. The info and level of detail he gave me was incredible, and will hopefully allow me to add a depth of flavor to the manuscript that wasn't there before. Used sparingly of course, like truffle oil or saffron in a gourmet recipe. I hope it seemed to him like I had done my homework and had a clue, but maybe not. I'll have to ask my ball player buddy later on what her buddy thought of our conversation :)

My hubby came home from doing errands shortly after I'd finished the phone call and I immediately dragged him over to my whirring laptop to show him all the notes I'd made. He pasted on an interested smile and nodded a lot, but I'm sure he wasn't even one percent as excited as I am. But what's not to be excited about? This is fascinating stuff! Plus, my PJ contact (and can I just say that I have a huge crush on all PJs?) came through with some really valuable information, giving me as much as he could without compromising classified material. And to top it off, Santa bought me the book I'd asked for that came out recently about PJs in Afghanistan. Basically, I'm in research heaven. There's not a lot of information out there regarding PJs (maybe because there aren't very many of them), so this book is a really valuable source. Loving this! Now to finish off that pesky first draft...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Chrithmath

Here's wishing everyone a very joyous and safe Christmas. I couldn't resist this picture from A Christmas Story, my favorite holiday movie. Well, that and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Since I've got two little boys, the first movie really rings true. It looks like we're in for yet another green Christmas this year in Vancouver. Last year we got spoiled with a rare cold, snowy winter, and it made the whole holiday season magical. I guess I should be grateful it's warm this year. At least my kids can't stick their tongues to frozen metal poles! As for snow, we might head up to Pemberton (just outside Whistler, where the Olympics will be held in February) and stay with my sis-in-law/best pal for a few days between Christmas and New Year's. The kids will get all the tobogganing they can handle, and we might even hit the ski hill.

My shopping is done, the house looks amazing, I have a Starbucks nonfat half sweet hot chocolate in my hand (I seriously have an addiction problem here), and one of Loreena McKennitt's Christmas albums is playing on my stereo. I love her music! If you haven't listened to her, give her a try. She's awesome to write by. All I have left to do is wrap the stocking stuffers. It's a lot of extra work, but that's how my mom always did up our stockings and it's way more exciting to open up a bunch of little presents than just dump out a stocking. Here's a shot of our living room (AKA parlor, since it's a Victorian house), with the arbor and one of our five Christmas trees tucked into the corner. You can see my treasured Santa sitting in his antique chair next to the fireplace. He stays out all year long, because he's too big and too delicate to go into storage. The lighting isn't great in the photo, but you get the general idea.

On the weekend we hosted our annual Christmas bash, and even Santa came to take pictures with all the children. The next day I escaped the house (and the rest of the mess we didn't clean up on Saturday night!) and spent the day at the spa using the gift certificate I got last year. I had a massage (most people never realize how touch starved most RMTs are, but we are!), facial, manicure and pedicure. She even did some nail art for me :)Recognize Frosty the cartoon character there?

In writing news, I've finished with the galleys for Relentless (book 4 of the series), and am just waiting for a release date. I expect it will be next fall sometime. And, I'm over 75% through the draft of Turbulence, so the finish line is almost in sight. Yay! Another couple of months and it should be ready to send out.

Those of you that know me understand what a huge Civil War buff I am, so I wanted to include this picture of a Christmas Eve in the early 1860s. Let's not forget all our soldiers spending this Christmas overseas in harm's way and far from their loved ones. Keep them and their families in your thoughts.
Have a wonderful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Molasses Spice Cookies

I was at Christa's house last night because she invited me over to bake cookies, and I got an extra surprise because Bryn was in town for a visit too. Rayne was working a night shift, so all of us ladies sat around the kitchen chatting and laughing while the snow fell outside and carols played from the stereo in the family room. It was pretty magical. You should have seen the house! It's a pale yellow Victorian with a wrap-around veranda, and twinkling with swags of white Christmas lights. With the light snowfall we got yesterday, the place looked like something out of a Christmas card. Christa's got three trees done up, one decorated entirely with baseball ornaments, and the inside smells like fresh cut cedar boughs she took from her yard and made into a garland on her banister. Her border collie-cross Jake was running around with his reindeer antlers on, and loving all the attention we gave him.

While we baked we got to talking about Bryn's story (Cover of Darkness), which is coming out the end of February. I don't want to give any spoilers away, but Bryn seems pretty happy with it so I was tickled pink. But I have to tell you, she's not much of a cook. Or a baker, for that matter (don't you dare tell her I said that, because I'm actually a little bit afraid of her). She pretty much supervised and finished off a bottle of wine while Christa and I did the work until I made her do some of the measuring. We made four different kinds of cookies and a batch of sinful rocky road brownies, and then Bryn gave us all a belly dance class workout. It was a blast!

My favorite recipe follows, which Christa graciously gave me. She's a real sweetheart, and looking forward to getting married next November. I can't wait either!

These cookies are great fresh from the oven, but they're just as good up to a week later if you keep them in an air tight container. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas from Christa, Bryn and me.

Christmas Molasses Spice Cookies
2.5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 heaping (and I mean heaping--heck, just put in 2) tsp ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground allspice
big pinch of cracked or coarsely ground black pepper (don't wimp out on me, it's worth it!)

1.5 sticks (0.75 cup) room temp butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
0.5 cup molasses (not blackstrap!)
1 large egg

0.5 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

-preheat oven to 350
-combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper
-using a mixer, beat butter, sugar and molasses until smooth and creamy
-add egg and beat for 1 minute
-add dry ingredients and beat slowly until flour and spices disappear (make sure to scrape bottom of bowl to get everything evenly combined)
-dough will be very soft, so divide in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour
-put "rolling" sugar in a small bowl
-using one half of dough at a time, cut/break into 12 pieces and roll each into a smooth ball between your palms (Bryn wanted no part of this step!)
-roll each ball in sugar and place on parchment/Silpat lined baking sheet (Christa and I both use Silpat sheets and we love them, FYI). Don't put them too close together because they'll spread out.
-dip bottom of drinking glass (wine glasses in our case :)) in sugar and press down on each ball of dough until they are between a quarter to a half inch thick
-place sheet on center rack of the oven and bake 12-14 minutes, or until tops of cookies are set, then transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temp if you can wait that long
-the cookies will be crunchy around the edges and chewy in the middle. Yum!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Whirlwind weekend

This weekend was action packed for us. We finished the outside decorations, and I'm a bit scared because my hubby has been bitten by the decorating bug. Give him a couple years, and our house will be visible from space :)

Saturday night was my hubby's staff party, and the whole group of us went curling. I used to be into that pretty heavily (just as serious as ball, but I think I was even better at curling), but since my knee surgeries it's not very comfortable for me. The last time I played was a year before I got pregnant with my first born, so it's been a while since I've been on the ice. We all had a pretty good time though, and the newbies stopped making fun of the sport real fast. It's way harder than it looks, trust me!

Yesterday I hosted our Vancouver RWA chapter Christmas party, and had a great time. The house was all sparkly and smelling like homemade mulled cider, and hosting a big group like that always makes it feel more like the holidays. Our meetings don't leave a whole lot of time for socializing, so it was nice to mingle with everyone and talk about the writing industry from people "in the know".

Bad news is I burned the back of my left hand late last week. I was pulling the lid off my potroast in the oven and the steam got three of my fingers and my knuckles. I yelped and let out some choice words that had my little guys running into the kitchen with wide eyes, and I kept expecting the skin to bubble and peel off right then. I rarely (if ever) drink, but I'm telling you I was eyeing the rum in the pantry pretty closely. The pain was unreal. I didn't sleep much that night, and the next morning I thought my hand would look like a piece of blackened meat but it was just kind of mottled and swollen. Jeez, did I feel like a wimp. No bleeding, no blisters, nada. Of course, there is now. The burns are kind of a rusty red color and itching like crazy now that the skin is getting ready to peel away. And I've got a patient tomorrow night booked for an hour treatment. Should be interesting!

On the plus side, I've now got the final pesky plot details worked out, so now I can finish off my draft of Turbulence. Good critique partners are a godsend, I tell ya!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's a Small World

Connections are strange and wonderful things sometimes. For instance, my current project features female aviators and Pararescue Jumpers, and the book is set in Afghanistan. Books and Internet research are great starting points, but I wanted to go a step further and talk to people who have walked the walk, if you know what I mean.

It occurred to me that an old ball playing buddy of mine (We were on the Canada Games team together, but she went on to the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. She's one of those naturally talented athletes that the rest of us would just have to hate if she wasn't so damn nice) used to be married to a special ops pilot. I remember having an in-depth conversation about Navy SEALs and their training one of the last times I saw her when she came home from the States. You gotta admit, that's not a common thing to talk about, especially for women--and Canadians at that, eh? :) Plus, who else would have cared, let alone understood what the heck I was talking about? Love you, Jackie!

She had made many connections in her years stateside, and is now a firefighter in New Mexico. Anyhow, I shot her an e-mail asking if she might be able to put me in contact with someone who could share some insider knowledge about flying Black Hawks, and Pararescue Jumpers. Less than a day later she responded saying, "I work with a retired PJ and a retired Black Hawk pilot." Holy hell, talk about a small world!

The information I've garnered so far is invaluable, plus I love getting an inside scoop from service members that have been out in the field. This makes me odd, I know, but I have two stacks of books on my bedside table: special ops non-fiction, and romances. What can I say, it works for me. Just last week my hubby was in bed next to me reading his Sports Illustrated (unless there's a baseball article, I'm not really interested). He looks over and sees me reading a text on SERE training and says, "You're weird." Yeah, I guess I am.

This past weekend I also met with my dad's flight instructor and a retired Canadian Navy helo pilot who was involved in a crash to get a realistic feel of what that would be like for my heroine, Devon Crawford, a medevac pilot. Both meetings were incredibly interesting.

I'm having a great time researching this, almost moreso than writing it! Who knows who I'll meet next in my research travels? I can't wait to find out.