Oatmeal cookies, anyone?

Frankly, I’ve always wondered why anyone would ruin a perfectly good cookie by putting oatmeal in it. Don’t even get me started on raisins. They’re just humiliated grapes, you know. (points to anyone who gets that movie reference)

My darling husband has been lobbying for oatmeal cookies for years. It never happened because I don’t like them and much as he would like it, my DH doesn’t get a whole batch of cookies to himself. Some coworkers have also requested oatmeal cookies, so I decided to make them and see what happened. DH is more than happy to serve as quality control. (or at least, that’s what he calls it when he goes all cookie monster on my fresh baked goodies)

A literary side note: Abbey, my character in Odonata: City of Night would definitely favor anything made with oatmeal, being a health food type person. Katrina would like them because Odonata focus on food a lot. Superhuman senses mean that she can taste individual ingredients. Imagine a constant, intense flavor explosion on your tongue. If you could have that, wouldn’t you enjoy food as often as possible?

I used the recipe on the Quaker Oats lid, doubled it and used my beloved cookie dough scooper. Only alterations: including the optional cinnamon and extra vanilla – because I put extra vanilla in everything. I don’t measure. I just pour and stop when it feels right.

The first three dozen were raisin free, the final four were full of humiliated grapes. The batter was sticky and lumpy, and I couldn’t really tell when they were done. Looking for golden brown around the edges was the answer. Even then, they were pretty mushy when they came out of the oven. I was concerned that they were undercooked, but Cookie Monster… I mean, my DH, pronounced them perfectly chewy and good.

Here’s some pics. I didn’t try them, so I can’t say how they taste. My kind of cookies involve chocolate, not oats and raisins. But I’ll take a bunch to the office tomorrow, and I doubt I’ll get any complaints. 

Without raisins:

And with:

Poor Little Neglected Blog

Okay, I’ve been away for a while. Not really away. Not away from home, though there was a week and a half vacation in there sometime in May. Just away from this blog. Away from all the many things I should be doing to keep myself current and relevant in the cyberverse. I don’t Twitter or tweet or whatever that often either. Shrug.

There have been a few appearances, mostly during a blog tour in the end of April and beginning of May. They’re listed on my website on the Appearances page. http://www.jessicazellman.com/id22.html

Appearing on other blogs was a good way to see what I was doing wrong (or just not doing at all) on my own. So a special thanks to everyone listed above, not just for the reviews or for letting me post a guest rant (I mean blog) on their page, but for the excellent examples they set. I aspire to be more like them.

So, with that stated, here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come:

Book reviews. I’ve zipped through three books in the past week, mostly big name authors who don’t need any help from me, but I’ll start there. And soon, very soon, I promise, I’ll write some for fellow authors who are in the same boat as me. I’m talking about the newly published, those of us who don’t get our own table in the isles of Barnes & Noble so people wandering by will pick up our book and maybe buy it. Writers in that category have to try desperately to get the word out there, and every little bit of publicity helps. I know. I’m right there. So, my fellow unknown authors, I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but I’ll do what I can, and together we’ll muddle through.  Finally getting published isn’t what we thought it would be. I’ll talk about that in another blog.

Baking adventures: In Odonata: City of Night we meet Abbey Marquez, a human and compulsive baker. Since Odonata love to eat, she and my protagonist, Katrina, get along very well. Abbey has a secret element in her baking, but you have to read the book to find out what that is. I don’t have Abbey’s abilities. I really can’t cook worth a damn, but I do bake. My coworkers enjoy the benefits, mostly so I don’t have an entire batch of cookies or cupcakes at home. With just the two of us here, that’s a lot of sweets to go around. So there will be some blogs about the treats I make, and pictures too. Here’s the first one:

 

This is a book I’ve just ordered and canNOT wait to read. I mean honestly, who can resist those beautiful photos? I can’t. Here’s the website in case you want to check it out for yourself: www.sugarbabycookbook.com  Note: I won’t be posting any recipes, just my results. We’ll see if I can make something like Abbey would.

Other Stuff: And of course, there will still be the usual rants about music and the writing life. Maybe I can get some other writers to stop by and say “hello” as well. Because after all, who wants to listen to me all the time? 😉

So come along for the ride. This should be fun.

Astrology and Characters

The recent reports about all the astrological signs being wrong and a thirteenth (how unlucky would that be?) sign are total nonsense. This article explains it better than I ever could.  http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2011/01/13/your-zodiac-sign-is-not-wrong/  (Thanks, Jezanna) Okay, so some people would say that astrology is total nonsense to begin with, but I find it interesting and amusing, also, a fun tool for dissecting my characters.

Katrina, while she calls herself a creature of fire and air, is a Scorpio. Guarded does not begin to describe her. I’m not sure what her rising sign is. Her past experiences make her withdrawn and people have to look past the hard surface to find the fiercely loyal and protective person underneath. She probably has a Cancer or Leo moon.

Greyson is definitely a Taurus. The guy is a rock, which is exactly what Katrina needs when the tidal wave of her life threatens to drown her. He has tremendous self-control which comes in handy on several occasions, but once he is pushed past his limit, watch out. A demon on a rampage would be less dangerous, but even then, is it a controlled fury. He’s still revealing himself to me, to Katrina and the readers. Why is that? Because I see my fictional world through Katrina’s eyes. She’s the narrator as well as the protagonist. I see what she sees. Only problem: she’s often too wrapped up in her own head to look closely at those around her. That’s changing, though. In book two, her old support system disintegrates and she has to rely on a new one. That means trusting people other than her two makers for the first time in four decades. Can she handle it? That is yet to be seen.

Abbey was born under Cancer. She cares passionately for her chosen family and shows that by giving them the best home and safe haven possible. She’s the comforter, and just as essential to the group as Katrina the Protector and Greyson the Rock. I think Abbey might be a Libra rising, she’s social enough. She definitely has a Pisces moon. Many psychic/empathic people do. Abbey’s abilities are going to become more important to herself and everyone else. The problem with that is other “people” will notice her talents as well.

As for the silliness about the extra zodiac sign and everyone not being the sign they think they are… I’m a firm believer in following your feelings. I, for one, feel like a Virgo, and no silly article by a lone astronomer who doesn’t understand the system is going to turn me into a Leo. I am so not a fire sign.

But, baby, it’s COLD outside.

The first time I heard that song, it was a duet between Christopher Reeve and Miss Piggy, but that is another subject for another blog.  🙂

Been in any clothing stores lately? Let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.

I’m switching day jobs. For the first time in nearly seven years, I can’t wear jeans to work anymore. So I’m shopping for office wear, nothing too fancy, just the ever elusive “business casual” standard. Just one problem, the stores are flooded with the “new spring lines” as in short sleeves and pastel tank tops. Personally, I don’t wear pastels. Besides that, IT’S JANUARY!!! Winter has only just begun. There’s even snow (i.e. evil white stuff) in the forecast for this weekend. Target has their swimwear out! SWIMWEAR! I can deal with a hint of spring fashion to remind everyone that these cold gray days are not going to last forever, but hauling out the bikinis is taking it way too far.

Is it too much to ask that stores carry season appropriate clothing at least through the first half of the season? Should it be this difficult to find warm sweaters in early winter? Really?!? Do I have to buy my winter clothes in July? What if my size changes between this, the couch potato season and the later warm active time of year? Am I the only person totally frustrated by retail manipulation?

Sound off, people. I have to go knit a sweater now. I wonder if I’ll be able to find heavy yarn in the craft store. Sigh.

Stop and appreciate the dragonflies.

I’ve always loved dragonflies. Heck, when I was a kid, anything with the word “dragon” in it was cool. I was a fantasy fan from early on. I don’t remember there being a lot of dragonflies around when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time in the woods and near a creek, (pronounced “crick” where I come from) but I don’t remember seeing dragonflies there. So my first encounter, other than nature shows on television, occurred when, on a trip with my parents, we stopped at a rest area, and there were many small dragonflies rising out of the grass. One even landed on my shoulder. I was delighted. Dragonflies were more interesting to me than say, butterflies. Dragonflies seemed to have more of a purpose. Indeed, dragonflies eat evil mosquitoes while butterflies merely help pollinate flowers. Not surprising that in a choice between an interesting, ferocious predator insect and a beautiful insect which is often prey, I would choose the predator.

I moved to New Jersey, and since the state is basically a sand bar and very damp, every now and then I would see one of those big, apache helicopter style dragonflies zooming over a parking lot. Then when Gene and I (mostly Gene) built the pond, they appeared in our back yard. I guess they were attracted to the running water. I enjoy seeing them every summer. The bright, almost electric blue variety is the most common.

The park where I like to rollerblade is next to a large creek. (yup, it’s called a creek down here, not a crick) There, I have seen more varieties. One day, a bright golden dragonfly zoomed in front of me as I skated along. When I returned to that part of the circuit, she zoomed along in front of me again. This went on for each of the eight miles I skated until I was too tired to continue and the golden dragonfly found other ways to amuse herself. In that same park on a different day, a frost colored dragonfly sat and sunned himself on the blacktop. He had beautiful gossamer wings as they all do, but with two black vertical stripes across them. I skated carefully past this small thing of beauty. He rose up and flew away, but returned to the same spot by the time I came around again. Again, I was able to slow down and appreciate this lovely insect in the middle of my work out. The saying is that you need to stop and smell the roses. Well, sometimes, you need to stop and appreciate the dragonflies too.

Dragonflies have made their way into my decorating schemes for years now. They are on the wallpaper chair rail in my home office. A plaster one that I picked up in Florida adorns the wall. I have candles and candleholders covered in dragonflies. More perch on my desk and are attached to a wire below a kitty decoration I bought at a cat show. (I bought it for the dragonflies) Writer Nephew even bought me a string of dragonfly lights to celebrate my book deal. Funny thing, I had been looking at those exact lights and had nearly bought them for myself.

I never thought my favorite insect would find its way into my writing, but it did. Dragonflies, a.k.a. Odonata, inspired my vampire series. For the record, I never thought I would write a series, much less one involving vampires. Just goes to show that inspiration comes from everywhere, leading us to places we least expect… that is, if we stop to appreciate the dragonflies.

“Holding Grudges” or “Why I hate the Allman Brothers”

I try not to hold grudges. My philosophy is that if I dislike a person enough to remember whatever incident(s) made me angry, then (s)he is not worth the time and energy it would take to retain that anger.

That being said, I have one exception: The Allman Brothers. And here’s why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNvWLb1_BBk

I was eight or nine when I finally realized that Paul McCartney, my most beloved musical hero, was singing “Jet” and not “Jes.” I was devastated. So I went in search of a song with my name in it. There was “Jesse” by Carly Simon, but that was obviously about a guy, ditto Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” Besides, I was rapidly outgrowing that nickname.

So I sat down near my brother’s record collection and started searching. About halfway through the stack, I found an album with a little blonde kid on the cover. It was “Brothers and Sister” by The Allman Brothers Band. I had never heard of them, but if they wrote a song with my name in it, they would be my new favorite band. (after Paul McCartney and The Beatles of course.) I checked the song list and sure enough, #6 was simply titled “Jessica.” Excellent!  A glimpse at the record showed that it was a long song too. Wonderful. Here was my new theme song. I envisioned it magically playing whenever I entered a room. (It was the early 80’s and I watched entirely too much television, okay?) I wondered what wonderful things this band had written especially for me. I counted out the grooves on the record and set the needle down to play…

My first thought was that it had a good beginning. And then that it had an awfully long beginning, but that happened sometimes. There was an Elton John song (“Burn Down the Mission”) that seemed like it would never get started. Surely these Allman guys would get to the words soon. About a third of the way through the song, when the piano bit started, and I accepted that this was not “my song” at all, just a long ass instrumental. I was too disappointed to bother listening to the final 4 (or is that 40?) minutes. I just lifted the needle and put the record back in its sleeve.

To this day, when “Jessica” comes on the radio, I turn it off. Many years later, “Mambo No. 5” was released and amongst all the rest is “A little bit of Jessica, here I am…” but it was too late. By 1999, I didn’t care anymore. The child who thought she could have a theme song was gone, replaced by a slightly cynical adult.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, since I have considered “Paperback Writer” my theme for many years. It’s my ringtone on my husband’s phone too. I’ll take a song that describes who I am over music with my name (common name that it is) attached to it any day. Also, it was written by Sir Paul, who is still my favorite musician. Even if he does sing “Jet” when he should be singing “Jes.”

Oh yeah, and screw you, Allman Brothers. Ha.

Krieger is god

I first saw The Doors perform live in April of 2003. Yeah, I know, Jim Morrison died in 1971. I was born a few years later, so it’s not like I could have seen the Lizard King himself. This was as close as I could get. They, meaning Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, two of the original four, called themselves the Doors of the 21st Century, with Ty Dennis and Angelo Barbara from Robby’s band playing drums and bass respectively, and Ian Astbury doing the vocals.

I went in with no expectations. I mostly wanted to see Robby and to hear these songs, which I had loved my entire life, played live.  Our seats were front row center of the balcony at the Tower Theater over in Upper Darby. It’s a small venue, so we weren’t far from the stage and had an unobstructed view. They were late, and the crowd in true Philly fashion started the chant of “We want the Doors!” We had been sitting there so long, I had almost forgotten who we had come to see. Finally, a picture of Jim appeared on a screen and “O Fortuna” blasted out of the speakers. Seriously, the crescendo of that opera makes for the best intro ever! Just as the cymbals crashed and horns blared, came the words “Ladies and gentlemen! From Los Angeles, California, it’s the Doors!” Pandemonium.

That performance blew me away. Ian had all the magic I imagined Jim having. Gene, having seen Jim in the 60’s, actually said that Ian was better, being sober and all. We saw them many times after that, traveling to New York, Montreal, California and even London for the shows. Most times we were in the first or second row and just a few feet away from Robby and his guitar. Wow.

A few things have changed over the past couple of years. Ian Astbury returned to his band, The Cult. Since I am a huge Cult fan, this pleases me, even though I miss him with the Doors. Ray and Robby can’t call their band any version of “The Doors” as a band name anymore thanks to a law suit from John Densmore, the original drummer. My opinion of him is best left unsaid. So now they are just “Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors.” Densmore and his lawyers can’t take that away from them. They have a new singer, Mili Matijevic, who has a hell of a voice and a lot of charisma, if not the magic of Ian Astbury.

Saw them last night in Atlantic City, and it was a hell of a show. Best of all, I got to stand just a few feet away from Robby while he played. At one point, he and Ray were talking, and Robby’s fingers still moved absently over the strings. I guess it’s just that natural for him. Robby plays with a pick, without a pick, fingertips the strings (he did that long before Eddie VanHalen, thank you very much) and makes the fluid strumming of flamenco style seem effortless. I never get tired of watching him. He’s just that good. Together, he and Ray create a musical atmosphere and carry the audience along for the ride. After all these years, the power never fades. It’s still a “dance on fire” and an experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Too Sober for Bourbon St.

I don’t drink much. I’ve been drunk a grand total of once in my life. It wasn’t pleasant, so I don’t feel like repeating the experience. So what would I be doing on the famous Bourbon St. in New Orleans?

 We had to go to Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana for the worst of family emergencies, but were determined to appreciate a bit of the scenery despite the sadness each day brought. Certainly, the Big Easy is a good place to forget your troubles. So we tried some local cuisine, and wandered the streets. One restaurant had a guy playing a trumpet out a window to attract patrons. Street musicians, sometimes entire bands, were common, and most of them were very good. You can hear Bourbon Street from about two blocks away. The street is lined with bars and strip clubs and a few souvenir shops thrown in for good measure. Every bar blares music out open windows and doors, to the point where you can barely differentiate one song from the next. During the day, it’s chaotic. At night, it’s like one giant party stretching well over 10 blocks. Every night is Mardi Gras.

 I got a frozen daiquiri from a bar called Jester’s in a plastic cup as long as my forearm. They gave up some jester beads with the drink, which I was happy to add to my growing collection. No, I did not lift my shirt for the beads. On every side, people crowded overhead balconies and tossed beads to those of us below. Gene kept getting hit in the head with them. I guess I was the original target, though I didn’t actually see anyone throw them to me. Not being proud, I picked up several off the ground. Why not? I ended up with quite a collection that way.

As for my Jester Daiquiri, it never seemed to get any lower. Must have been the slushy ice melting. Either that, or I really am a lightweight. One thing I can say is that everyone was very friendly and nice. With all those people crowding the streets, there was plenty of bumping around, but also plenty of shoulder patting and congeniality. I can’t imagine that happening in New York. It reminded me a little of New Year’s in London. The whole city seemed happy and ready to party. Wow.

The crowd was more eclectic than I expected. It was made up mostly of 20 – 25 year old party animals dressed the way you would expect, but plenty of older people around retirement age wandered the streets too. Several bookish looking young women wove through the crowd, and a few Asian tourists photographed their kids surrounded by all the lights and mayhem. In the middle of it all, an evangelist group held large crosses and handed out pamphlets to the drunken carousers. That reminded me of a group of republicans who came to a Michael Moore speech back in 2004. Some people are confident enough to go anywhere.

And what about me? I’m not the noisy, partying type. I don’t expect, nor require attention from strangers. (Except of course when it comes to reading my books – and maybe my blog?) When I start to get too buzzed, I switch to Coke or Pepsi and look for food. I love live music, but like to actually be able to sit and listen to it, as opposed to barely being able to distinguish it from the general cacophony of the area. The heat and humidity was unbelievable, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and wash off the city grime.

So, Bourbon St. is not for me. It was interesting to see and experience, but once was probably enough. We did party all that night, as appropriate for our last night in New Orleans. Ended up in the hotel bar, singing “Hey Jude” and “Piano Man” until the sun rose. Staggered up to the room and eventually onto the plane back to Philadelphia. As much as I gripe about New Jersey, I was happy to come back. Cliché or not, there’s no place like home.

Love may be like Oxygen, but exercise is like Prozac

I hate springtime. Seriously, hate the season, especially after a winter like we just had. It never warms up fast enough for me. There are a few nice days, like a tease, and then ZAP back to cold and rainy. Throw in some kind of viral chest cold on top of the tree pollen that has had me wheezing for weeks, and yeah, I’m pretty miserable. The Odonata, my supernatural race of creatures, are sun worshippers, and that’s not just because dragonflies can’t move until the morning sun hits them. It’s because I need the sun too, both for the warmth and the mood boost I get from the rays.

 So the viral whatever has finally cleared up, and the recent rain has washed away the worst of the tree pollen. I found that I could breathe again without too much deep chest whistling. Hooray for that. No sun today and the weather is freaking cold. Very tempting to just spend the day like a couch potato, wrapped in a blanket watching TV, preferably with a fluffy purring cat nearby. That is what my main character, Katrina, would do. She’d have some hot chocolate too while she was at it.

Of course, I’m not Katrina. So, while I felt like being a couch potato, I dragged my butt downstairs and got on the treadmill instead. I had the Winchester boys (season 2 of Supernatural ) for company, and didn’t push myself too hard since I have been avoiding aerobic activity for entirely too long. Nevertheless, the workout had the same effect that exercise always has. My mood brightened. Suddenly I had energy. Empty the dishwasher? Sure. Kitty litter pan? No problem. Hell, I even felt ambitious enough to write a blog.

 So yeah, while working out is good for losing weight and getting in shape, it’s also great for staying upbeat on a rainy spring day.

Celebration

(originally posted around 4/11/10)

How to celebrate a major advancement towards a lifetime goal:

 I woke on Saturday morning, fed the bird, prepared my hot chocolate soy drink and picked up my blackberry to check for e-mails. Amongst them was an e-mail from the small but well connected press I submitted to a week and a half ago. Yeah, that’s right, a week and a half.

 At first, I thought they were rejecting me. That’s what a quick response like this usually means. But no, there was a contract attached. Wow. I printed out the contract and my husband and I both read it. It was straightforward and concise. So… how to celebrate?

  • 1.  Send text to Writer Nephew who doesn’t get up before noon and won’t see it for 3 hours anyway.
  • 2.  Post new status on Facebook. Smile at a friend’s immediate positive response.
  • 3. Send e-mail to sister who is not on Facebook.
  • 4. Listen to what has been my theme song since I was a kid, the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and post the video on Facebook.
  • 5.  Go outside and do some yard work.  

Yeah, I know. #5 makes no sense. I think I was in shock. A lot was going through my head at that point. Ripping out some dandelions seemed like a good way to expend nervous energy.  

 Around 1:00, I decided I needed to eat something. Just as I came inside, I heard “Misty Mountain Hop” which is Writer Nephew’s ring tone. Lots of enthusiasm greeted me. It occurred to me that Writer Nephew and his college buddies were more excited than I was. Yeah, it had to be shock. But while I was speaking with him, a smile took up residence on my face and did not leave. Hung up, and seconds later took a call from my sister – the one who is not on Facebook. Okay, now I was getting excited. So, back to celebrating…

  • 6. Shower off garden dirt using favorite LUSH soap. i.e. Rockstar.
  • 7. Pull out my “Writer” ringer shirt and put it on. Grin because I finally feel like I deserve the title.
  • 8. E-mail other sister who obviously had not been on Facebook yet, also a friend who is not on social networks and will be thrilled to hear the news
  • 9. Go out for celebratory dinner. Eat yummy Italian food.
  • 10. Go to the movies. 

Yeah, #10 is a little odd too, but my protagonist, Katrina is (like me) a huge Doors fan, and When You’re Strange, A movie about The Doors came out in limited release on Friday. I’ve wanted to see this film since it was first mentioned on a friend’s site. (www.idafan.com) The timing, working in with my celebration, could not be better. I loved the film. Katrina would have too.

So that’s how I celebrated getting a book contract. How will I celebrate the actual publishing of my novel? With another tattoo, of course. 🙂