Sunday, 26 February 2012

My Shot at Chicken Chili

Now for something completely different. I love to cook. I'm strictly an amateur and can't measure up to the standards of people who actually know what they're doing, but that doesn't hold me back when it's time to take over the kitchen and make a mess. Yesterday I decided to have a crack at chicken chili after having seen a version of it on a recent episode of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food TV network. As usual I went off the rails and didn't follow the recipe exactly as presented, but the dish turned out pretty well and I thought I'd share it with you here as a change of pace from my usual posts. Ingredients and amounts are listed at the end of the post.

I began with a package of chicken quarters, which I generally buy to make pot pies and so on because they're inexpensive and convenient. I boiled the chicken in a big pot with a couple of bay leaves, then removed the pieces and set them aside to cool. I kept the chicken stock in the pot for later. When I could handle them comfortably I pulled off the meat and set it aside, discarding the rest.

In a large skillet I browned chopped garlic and onion, then added a diced sweet red pepper and a quarter cup of the chicken stock and let it boil for a few minutes, then added tomato paste, diced tomatoes, a quarter teaspoon cumin and quarter teaspoon chili powder, folded together, then added the pulled chicken, all on a medium heat. I let this simmer.

In a second skillet I started with garlic and onion again in a bit of olive oil, then added a can of black beans and a can of red kidney beans. The recipe calls for pinto beans but I didn't have any in the cupboard. Anyway, we all prefer the kidney beans in our chili around here, so it worked fine. I added chili powder and some curry powder, which is definitely not part of the recipe but something I can't resist with black beans. I added another quarter cup of the chicken stock, let this simmer for a while and enjoyed the aroma.

When the beans were ready I combined both skillets into one. Here's where I really cheated: when everything had been folded in and was working together over the heat, I went to the cupboard and grabbed a bottle of butter chicken cooking sauce and folded this in. My wife had suggested this as a sauce and I knew it would be great. When this had worked for a while I added a careful amount of sriracha chili sauce, just enough to know it's there. The original recipe calls for cayenne pepper but I really like the way sriracha sauce works with stuff, so I used it.

The recipe that Guy Fieri presented called for the chili to be served on a bed of corn chips, but this didn't appeal to me. Instead, I went with angel hair pasta, a.k.a. capellini, which is what I like to use when I'm making Cincinnati chili.

Finally, when I plated the chicken chili on the pasta I shredded cheese on top. I used cheddar because that's what I had in the fridge. Now, Fieri had put the dish in an oven for a quick bake of the cheese topping but I was lazy and settled for nuking the plate 25 seconds in the microwave, just enough to soften the cheese. It melted the rest of the way with the heat of the chili itself.

This made for a very enjoyable and filling meal with a lively combination of flavors. Extra note: it was just as good for lunch today out of the refrigerator!

The final verdict was that I was told I could make this dish again if I wanted to. The ultimate compliment around here!

Ingredients: chicken and stock, bay leaves, garlic, onion, olive oil, sweet red pepper, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, black beans, red kidney beans, curry powder, butter chicken cooking sauce, sriracha chili sauce, angel hair pasta, cheese.

Amounts: eyeball the quantities to maintain proportions and season to taste. The kitchen isn't a laboratory, it's an artist's studio, as far as I'm concerned! But then again, I'm an amateur....

Friday, 24 February 2012

Snow Storm

Today, as promised, winter provided a reminder that it's not quite finished with us by bringing a snowstorm to our doorstep. We've received about 10 cm. so far, and there might be more before it's through.

Thankfully I was able to stay around the house today. Tomorrow morning, though, I'll have to get up and get the snowblower out to clean off this driveway to go into town. Last year I was shoveling it, but this year my wife bought the new snowblower, so I can roll out the heavy artillery and fight back.

Cody ran down the driveway to see what the road looked like, so I followed. A neighbor was blasting down the road in his pickup truck, carving a trail for others to follow. We probably won't see the snow plow go by here until the middle of the night. We're not exactly at the top of their list..... Thankfully, Cody's not a car chaser. He's smarter than your average herd dog and understands the difference between an animal with heels for nipping and a loud, fast vehicle.

After that there was no more traffic to be seen. Snow quietly began to fill in the tracks left by the truck as though not impressed at all. The silence was remarkable. There's nothing more silent than a country road in the middle of a snow storm.

I could listen to it for hours.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Marcie's Murder: We Have a Cover

The Plaid Raccoon Press is pleased to announce the cover design that has been chosen for Marcie's Murder, the second in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series. Marcie's Murder will be published in e-book format in late March and in trade paperback format in early April.

This design, which you see on the left, was selected after much deliberation, agony, mind-changing and consultation from a set of four proposed designs. After debating the pros and cons of each design in-house, we invited readers of this blog to weigh in with their comments. We were pleased with the responses but a little dismayed that each design was chosen as the favorite of more than one person. After reviewing all the blog comments, tweets and e-mails from everyone we decided on one last eyeball test in which we printed out all four covers, stuck them onto copies of Blood Passage so that we could see what they would look like in their final 5.5" x 8.5" trade paper format, and gave them an old-fashioned eyeball test. They sat for three or four days on a lovely black lacquer table next to my computer and we looked at them over and over again. Finally, we put them up on a bookshelf as though they were on display in a bookstore and looked at them that way for another day. It was all very scientific and could end up as the basis for a paper to be published in some journal that deals with this kind of stuff....

In the end, I realized that throughout these eyeball tests I kept looking at this particular design. I won't explain what I like about it, because I'd rather that readers decide for themselves, but by the end of this process there was no longer any doubt in my mind which design I wanted.

My business partner (a.k.a. my wife) ultimately agreed with me and as a result the Raccoon has made its choice.

We hope you like it!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Walk In The Woods

Today, after a week in which I found little time to work due to family-related responsibilities, I was able to resume revisions of Marcie's Murder, the second Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel, which will be published in April.

Marcie's Murder has already undergone a couple of revisions and has been read by four of my regular readers. I'm now putting it through another revision to incorporate their feedback and tighten it up. After all, it's been about six months since I last read it. I'm doing some light rewriting and copy editing this time through. The plan will be to finish this revision, do another copy editing to tighten it up as much as possible, then do a final proofreading to catch any stray typographical errors that made it through that far.

I'm a little behind schedule, I think, but not too much. If I pick up the pace a little I should be able to take it upstairs to my son's Mac in the week of March 12 and create the book block for uploading to Lightning Source. In the same week I'll upload it to Smashwords and publish the e-book edition, which I'd like to have available for reviewers before the paperback hits the stands, figuratively speaking....

After such a productive day's work my reward was to go for a walk in the woods behind the house with my border collie. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was able to shut down the computer at 3:00 p.m. and grab my camera. I thought I'd share with you a few of the moments I enjoyed in my little slice of the Limerick Forest:

Cody does what he loves best: run in the woods
Shot through the lens of my sunglasses
Did I mention how much I love this dog?
Late afternoon sun picking out the trees

Time to head back to the house
Tomorrow I'll announce which cover design I've chosen for Marcie's Murder. I probably have some 'splainin' to do.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day today, and so it's time for a little indulgence as I take advantage of this space to wish my beloved wife a Happy Valentine's Day.

The first time I saw my wife was in early September 1978. We were both graduate students in the English program at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and it was the first week of classes. I was twenty-three, new to Kingston and feeling a little out of my depth. She was a new PhD student and I was there to do my Master's. I showed up early to that first class and was sitting with my back to the wall in the seminar room, watching the other students file in to take seats, trying to get a sense of what I'd gotten myself into. The room was nearly filled when she walked in. I took one look and thought to myself, "Wow. Now I'm in a completely different league." She went around the far end of the table and along the wall, taking an empty seat about four or five down from where I was sitting. I was aware of her the entire class and caught a few glimpses of her profile when I dared to lean forward to glance down toward that end of the table. I knew, however, I didn't stand a chance with someone that beautiful, so I was content simply to stay in my seat when class was over and watch her walk out. She left a room as stunningly as she entered one, believe me.

The greatest mystery of my life will always be why she decided I was the one for her. When we married the following summer I didn't really know what had hit me, other than that I'd been married by the most compassionate, the most intelligent, the most patient and the most stunningly beautiful woman on the planet. My hair was too long, my clothing belonged in the thrift store donation bin and my conversational skills were non-existent but for some reason she looked past all that and decided she would share her life with me.

As for myself? Well, I was poleaxed and speechless with love. Any other questions?

Time handles us with rough hands and none of us are what we were when we were young and full of promise, but my wife and I are still in love. We still greet each other warmly in the morning, we can still make each other laugh, and I still feel that really weird sensation in the pit of my stomach when I look at her sideways down the length of a room and she's not aware of it. To be still so passionately in love after thirty-three years is truly a blessing, and I consider myself the most fortunate human being on the planet to have found her that day so long ago.

Happy Valentine's Day, darling. I love you.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Capital Crime Writers: February meeting

Last night I attended the February meeting of the Capital Crime Writers in Ottawa, where I had an opportunity to hear a presentation given by Sgt. David Christie of the Arson Unit, Ottawa Police Service.

Sgt. Christie gave us a fascinating walk-through of the basics of arson investigation. He covered motives for arson, file closure rates, the investigative process, fire patterns and other indicators of arson, and the roles and responsibilities of police as related to the fire department and the Fire Marshall's office. I made a ream of notes and found his presentation to be extremely interesting.

The sergeant explained that he normally delivered such presentations to police recruits, but he seemed to make the adjustment quite well to a collection of crime writers with over-active imaginations wanting to pick his brain on the psychology of arson, how pour patterns can be recognized, and why their budget doesn't have room for service providers to help with clearing and sifting debris for physical evidence. Kudos to Sgt. Christie for being informative, humorous and patient all at the same time!

New abbreviation for my collection: BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion). Thanx!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Marcie's Murder: The Cover Post

As regular followers of The Overnight Bestseller will remember, this month I'll be finalizing the proofs of the second novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, Marcie's Murder, and getting the book ready for publication in April. It's a busy time, as I'm promoting Blood Passage, the first in the series, while continuing to write the third novel, The Fregoli Delusion. As promised, I'm now starting to crank up the promotional machine for Marcie's Murder.

As a first step in this direction, I'm asking for your input. I have four draft designs for the cover of Marcie's Murder and I'd like to know what you think about them. Read the description of the novel below, take a look at the four draft designs, and leave a comment at the end of this post telling me which one you like and why. Or, if you don't like any of them, tell me to send the graphic designer back to the drawing board! As always, I appreciate your input.

As a special thank you for reading this post, please feel free to use this Smashwords link to download a free e-book copy of Blood Passage, the first book in the series. Use coupon code DJ53C before February 8, 2012, and enjoy the novel with my compliments. This free copy is yours whether you leave a comment or not.

Now, down to business!

Marcie's Murder: Description
Homicide Lieutenant Hank Donaghue is on a much-needed vacation when he stops overnight in the small town of Harmony, Virginia. He checks into a motel and spends half an hour in a nearby bar before heading back to his room. In the middle of the night the local police kick down his door, drag him out of bed, give him a brutal beating and lock him up in a cell, accusing him of the murder of a woman found strangled behind the bar not long after Hank returned to his motel room. The victim, he learns, is the wife of the chief of police.

An eyewitness swears he saw Hank coming from the back of the bar not long before the body was discovered, and the chief of police is determined that Hank will pay for his wife's murder. When he finally is allowed to make his phone call, Hank dials the number of the one person he knows can help clear his name: Detective Karen Stainer.

What follows is a rollercoaster ride through southwestern Virginia as Hank and Karen track down a series of suspects, including the abbot of a local monastery who looks a lot like Hank, the victim's illicit lover, and the chief of police himself!

Cover Designs:
Cover Design #1
Cover Design #2

Cover Design #3

Cover Design #4

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned About Twitter: Lesson #1

This week I've been sharing with you five lessons I've learned in my first three months or so as a Twitter user promoting my crime fiction novel, Blood Passage. Yesterday in Lesson #2 I explained how I discovered that it's better to spend the time on Twitter than to auto-tweet.

Today's lesson: My Top Ten Followers Include at Least Thirty People.

It’s tough to swing a proverbial dead cat these days without hitting someone anxious to tell you about the 80/20 rule as it applies to social media. Known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule states that for many events, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Applied to business, the rule states that 80% of your results (e.g., sales) come from 20% of your clients.

(For the purposes of this post I'm going to overlook the interpretation of the rule which states that 80% of your tweets/posts must provide personal value to your readers while 20% is devoted to self-promotion. Frankly, I'm not making the cut here and I'd rather not talk about it right now, if you don't mind.)

I recently read an interesting article about Effective Tweeting that suggested I should know who my Top Ten followers are. Understanding their characteristics and how they can help me will assist in growing my influence in Twitter. I could see right away that this idea was a kind of application of the Pareto Principle, in that my Top Ten would lead the 20% of followers who represent 80% of my payoff from Twitter participation.

I spent a few days mulling this one over. My Top Ten would be based not only on who retweeted me the most, but also who replied to my socializing tweets, who was fun to banter back and forth with, and who was just plain charming (yes, you know who you are!). I didn’t factor in Direct Messages because I’ve quickly discovered that most of my DMs are auto-messages. (Is it wrong of me to have stopped responding to most of these auto-DMs? I feel so guilty, but there you have it.)

Finally, I made a list of my top ten Twitter people. Here’s what I learned.

First of all, I’ve met a lot of people through Twitter in only three months who’ve made a very positive impression on me. People I’m pretty sure I’d like if I met them in person. That’s remarkable, even if very subjective and not verifiable, but I feel good about it just the same. Second, I’ve met several people willing to help me promote my book either in exchange for me helping them promote theirs, which is normal and fine, or simply because they’re really nice people and just want to help, which is weird and wonderful.

Third, I’ve discovered I’m one of the people in the second group. I retweet for people who are tweeting to promote their band, their hand-crafted jewelry, their paintings and photographs, whatever. It feels good. It’s cooperative. It taps right into that indie spirit I’ve been blogging about all along in this space.

So when I was finished listing my Top Ten followers, I had a list that was more than 30 people long. Everyone on that list has been helpful, kind, fun, interesting, cooperative. It's a good list.

What does it mean? Well, if I summarize what I've learned so far about Twitter, I can say that it's a medium that has helped me market Blood Passage and will definitely help market the rest of the series as I get better at using the medium effectively. It has plenty of potential and I'll learn more about that potential, the more research I do. It's an easy application for me to use, compared to other social media such as Facebook, and it's most effective for me when I sit down in the chair and invest a little personal time in it, rather than program auto-tweets and let the computer do all the work. It's better to tweet in person, I've learned, because then I get a chance to interact directly with all the great, fascinating, engaging people I've listed as my Top Thirty Twitter contacts, and many more that will soon join the list.

Like everything else, it's all about the people, folks. Another slice of the never-ending human experience.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned About Twitter: Lesson #2

This week I've been sharing with you five lessons I've learned in my first three months or so as a Twitter user promoting my crime fiction novel, Blood Passage.Yesterday in Lesson #3 I explained how I discovered that Twitter is easier for me to use than Facebook.

Today's lesson: It's better to spend the time on Twitter than to auto-tweet.

When I first opened my Twitter account I tried to keep track of everyone I was following and those who were following me. This lasted a couple of weeks before my list became hopelessly unmanageable.

After a little research I found Friend or Follow, the free online tool I mentioned yesterday. Instead of scanning a two-column document trying to spot who was missing, I could use an automated process that takes about three seconds, then begin pruning the Follows who obviously weren't going to follow back.

It wasn't long before I noticed there were quite a few tweets being repeated by certain people, day after day. The same quotation, the same book promo, the same invitation to "Like" on Facebook. Either these people were dogged and relentless, or they were using another kind of automated process. On top of that, I discovered during a few sleepless nights they were also up, tweeting away. The same tweets. What the--? Are they cyborgs that never sleep? A little more research revealed they must be using an auto-tweeter app. Write your tweets, set the time, and go to bed. The program tweets for you, sends an automated Direct Message to new followers, and does all sorts of other very useful, time-saving things.

I looked into several of these apps, thinking I could streamline my own processes, being rather conscious of the amount of time I was spending on Twitter. It seems, though, that Twitter is getting serious about the repetitive nature of some tweeting, i.e. spamming. Some of these apps have now been hamstrung so that they're no longer the insane robot spam machines they might have been. Given the clutter I see in my own timeline, I'm just as glad.

More importantly, though, I realized how impersonal automated tweets seem to me. At first when I saw something clever or interesting I'd tweet a reply, hoping to engage them in some kind of dialogue. When nothing happened, I clued in. It's obvious the person posting them is not online, they're off at work or they’re curling or they're snoozing or something while I’m sitting here like a schlub reading their tweet.

Part of what makes Twitter so effective as a social medium is the opportunity to interact with the online community I've joined. I've become acquainted with some very friendly, quirky, fascinating, intelligent and utterly charming people through Twitter. I have an opportunity to learn from them, joke with them, share my own experiences with them, console them, encourage them, and be encouraged back.

I can't do any of that nearly as well through automated tweets, automated DMs or the rest. Although Twitter is an important marketing tool for me to spread the word about my book, I like to think that the people at the other end of this constant stream of electrons would prefer to interact with another real person rather than an autobot mindlessly doing my bidding while I catch a few zees.

As a result I've concluded that it's much better to spend the time to sit down at the keyboard and tweet my tweets in person than to auto-tweet. If you tweet to me, I might be on long enough to tweet back. Fun, that. And I'll just have to settle for less than machine-perfection and 3:00 am book promos. So be it.

Tomorrow: Lesson #1: My Top Ten Followers Include at Least Thirty People