28 March, 2014

Fiction Friday: Agents & Editors can Make or Break a Conference

Last weekend I attended the Unicorn Writers' Conference for the first time. A small, Connecticut conference in its fifth year, it draws a national audience of writers from a widely diverse genres, everything from romance and mystery to paranormal and non-fiction. In fact, one writer characterized his work as "a novel of Time, Magic, Myth, Murder & the American Revolution."

Arriving at the gorgeous venue — St. Clement' Castle — I was reminded of how much I enjoy to opportunity to mingle with other writers, swapping experiences and war stories. 

Maybe I've become jaded, but it seems to me that every conference has the same panels and workshops.  How many times do you need to be told to spell check your work before submitting, or to check out an agent's interests before querying?

I find I'm far less attracted by sessions than opportunities for critiques and personal interaction.
While most conferences provide some opportunity for manuscript reviews and agent pitches, Unicorn has one of the largest panels of agents and editors.  This year there were a total of 32!

In addition to sessions and one-on-one manuscript review sessions (at an additional, but very reasonable price), opportunities to meet and mingle with fellow writers and agents/editors abounded.  A buffet breakfast, sit down lunch, cocktails, and finally a buffet dinner. These informal interactions are so important because yes, we all want to sign with an agent, but it's also nice to get to know that agent, to understand if your personalities are going to mesh.  All to often, writers sign with agents they've never met face to face--and may not meet for years.  In person is so much preferable to phone/email/text/IM when you're signing on for that all important working relationship.

I had signed up for one review, but after the editor panel (there were also 3 agent panels) I signed up for a session with an editor from Kensington Press.  Although she had not had the opportunity to read my manuscript, Esi Sogah spend a half hour with me discussing concepts and ideas.  In all honesty, that half hour was the most productive session I've had at a conference in a long time.

I came home with a list of revisions to make and questions to ponder.  All in all, a good conference! Plus I met some very nice agents and some I know I don't need to query.

If you're curious, here's the list of agents/editors from Unicorn 2014.
  • Meredith Bernstein, Literary Agent
  • Mackenzie Brady, Literary Agent
  • Malaga Baldi, Literary Agent
  • Regina Brooks, Literary Agent
  • Dawn Dowdle, Literary Agent
  • Stephany Evans, Literary Agent
  • Jita Fumich, Literary Agent
  • Doug Brad, Literary Agent
  • Christina Hogrebe, Literary Agent
  • Carrie Howland, Literary Agent
  • Katie Kotchman, Literary Agent
  • Sandy Lu, Literary Agent
  • Erica Rand Silverman, Literary Agent
  • Kathleen Nishimoto, Literary Agent
  • Gina Panettieri, Literary Agent
  • Laura Blake Peterson, Literary Agent
  • Rita Rosenkranz, Literary Agent
  • Shira Hoffman, Literary Agent
  • John Rudolph, Literary Agent
  • Katharine Sands, Literary Agent
  • Rachael Dugas, Literary Agent
  • Alec Shane, Literary Agent
  • Brooks Sherman, Literary Agent
  • Bridget Smith, Literary Agent
  • Julie Stevenson, Literary Agent
  • Sarah Younger, Literary Agent
  • tephen Frazer, Literary Agent
  • Stacey Barney Editor, Penguin
  • Rose Hilliard, Editor, St. Martin’s Press
  • Elizabeth Poteet, Editor, St. Martin’s Press
  • Esi Sogha, Editor, Kensington Books
  • Annie Stone, Editor, Harlequin

18 March, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Mixing research and pleasure

When not actually plotting or writing, what do authors do most?  Research.  Beware of an inaccurate fact in your manuscript – your readers will never let you forget it. My mystery features a caterer who lives next door to a white witch, a wonderful herbalist who not only practices magic but also natural medicine. This led me to research the use of herbs in spells, poison, and medicine— and cooking—beginning with the most basic quartet of herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

"Parsley seeds must go to the devil and back nine times before sprouting."
                                     (Folk Saying)
Parsley is a grossly underrated plant. Who hasn't lifted that little tuft of parsley off their veal cutlet and dropped in on the side of their plate? Bad move. Did you know that parsley is a source of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamins K, C, and A?  Not to mention lycopene, alpha carotene beta carotene, and Lutein+Zeaxanthin. Pretty impressive for a little sprig!

In medieval times, parsley was associated with the devil, leading to the belief that only the wicked could successfully grown the herb. It's earliest medicinal uses were to fight kidney stones, bladder infection, and jaundice, as well as a digestive aids. It should not, however, not be used during pregnancy since the oils in parsley can induce miscarriage or preterm labor in high doses. 

Externally, oil of parsley leaves and roots is effective in repelling head lice, while an ointment helps reduce swelling and itching from bug bites. Just pound the leaves into a paste and mix with a little water or tea and apply. A little oatmeal can be added to this mixture for better consistency.

Parsley is a natural breath sweetener.  Eat the leaves right off the plant to combat garlic breath. The Romans did.

Felicity, my white witch, suggests using parsley to counter bad luck. Here's her suggestion:
  • Choose the day and time. The following is most effective when carried out at 12pm on a Tuesday.
  • Fill glasses with water. Have at least one glass for each room of your house. Fill 3/4 full with tap water.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a few sprigs of fresh parsley to each glass.
  • Place one glass with the mixture in each room of your house.
  • In homes with high positive energy, the parsley remains fresh. Wilting occurs quickly in homes with negative energy. In case of wilting remove parsley and replace with fresh sprig.
  • To notice positive change in your luck the glasses must remain in your home for at least a week. The longer you keep them the better your luck will be.
And now for the good stuff!
Beef Roulades with Parsley Pesto (serves 6)
  •   1 cup chopped fresh parsley (do not substitute dried which has little taste)
  •   1/2 cup shelled almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts (about 1 3/4 ounces)
  •   1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  •   2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  •   1/4 teaspoon salt
  •   1/4 cup olive oil
  •   12 slices beef bottom round, cut for bracciole, each 1/2-inch thick
  •   12 slices imported Italian Prosciutto
  •   12 pieces of Fontina cheese, cut into 1/4 x 1/4 x 2-inch sticks
  •   Salt
  •   freshly ground black pepper
  •   3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  •   2 small onions, chopped
  •   ½ cup dry red wine
  •   1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  •   1 can beef bouillon or consomm√©
  •   1 Tbsp room temperature butter mashed with 1 Tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the parsley, cheese, garlic, salt and walnuts into a food processor. Pulse to combine. Turn the machine on again and slowly pour in the olive oil, just to combine. Reserve.
Pound each slice of meat to a thickness of about 1/4 inch between two pieces of heavy duty plastic wrap. Arrange one of the pounded meat slices in front of you with one of the short sides closest to you. Spread slice with a thin layer of pesto. Top with a slice of prosciutto and place a piece of Fontina near the top edge. Fold the side borders in to overlap the edges of the stuffing. And roll burrito-style  into a compact roll about 4 inches long. Secure the end flap with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining beef and stuffing, then season the rolls with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy casserole over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook until the onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add as many of the braciole as will fit in a single layer and cook, turning the braciole as necessary, until golden on all sides, about 7 minutes. If necessary, repeat with any remaining braciole. Adjust the heat under the pan as necessary to prevent the beef from scorching.

As they brown, transfer to a plate. When all rolls are browned, pour in the red wine and boil for 3 minutes, scraping up any brown bits (fond) with a wooden sppon or spatula.  Add in the tomato sauce and return the beef rolls to the casserole, along with any accumulated juices.  Try to fit them into one layer.

Pour in beef broth until it reaches about ¾ of the way up the meat.  Bring to a slow boil, cover and place in preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender, about 2 ½ to 3 hours..
Remove rolls and cover to keep warm. Place pot on stove over medium high heat until it boils.  Slowly add in the butter/flour mixture stirring constantly.  Cook until thickened.   Remove the toothpicks and serve with sauce.

Tip: Keep parsley fresh by washing, spinning dry and wrapping in papper towels.  Refrigerate in a plastic bag.  The small amount of water remaining on the leaves keep it crisp.  Or place parsley stems in a glass of water (like flowers) and refrigerate.
Next time: Sage.

10 March, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Rustic Sausage and Squash Tart

By the end of winter - and this year is pushing the limits - I'm looking for something different to serve for dinner.  I found a couple of sausages in the freezer and came up with a rustic tart. Yummy.
  • Pastry Dough, rolled into a 13-inch round (see recipe section of this website or use your own, just be sure to roll it thin)
  • 1 medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2"-in chunks
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ Tbsp butter
  • Coarse salt
  • ¼ lb Smoked chicken and garlic sausage, diced (buy the fully cooked kind)
  • 1 large yellow onion. sliced thin
  • ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water
Position the rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat oven to 400°.
Place the rolled out pastry dough on a rimless baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate.
Place the squash on a rimmed baked sheet, drizzle with 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil , sprinkle with coarse salt, and toss to coat. Spread into a single layer and roast until almost tender (10 minutes). Remove from oven and cool.
In a frying pan, melt the butter with the remaining ½ Tbsp oil. Add the onions and cover. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes longer. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the sausage. Saute until lightly browned. Add to the onions and cool.
Spread the chilled dough with the onion, squash, sausage mixture, leaving a 1 1/2" border. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Fold the pasty edges up and over the filling, forming loose pleats to fit. Brush the pastry lightly with the egg mixture.

Bake until crust is browned, about 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with a green salad.
Feel free to ad lib with other types of sausages and squashes.  Butternut squash and chorizo would be good.  If your sausage doesn't have garlic already in it, just add a clove of minced garlic when the onions are almost finished cooking.