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Monday, April 30 2012

Well, I've done it. I've sent the manuscript for my second book off to my editor. You'd think I was sending my oldest kid to a three-month summer camp, the way I could barely part with the thing. I've been sitting on the manuscript for weeks, tweaking it a bit here, a bit there. I ran the spell-check and verified my chapters were numbered correctly. I made sure I'd inserted the same amount of space before and after each chapter heading so everything would look nice and tidy.

At the last minute, I clicked through all three hundred pages to make sure I didn't have any blank pages. I had three. That in itself made me feel like all this tinkering had purpose, but it also made me paranoid that I had extra page breaks or line returns that would slip back in when I closed the file. So I clicked through each page again. Clean. No errant blank pages. But, wait. That meant the book was ready to go. Checking each page had been my last action item. So I clicked through all the pages again. Then I sent it off.

To be clear, I'll see the book again, long before it's ever published. My editor will review it and send me his change requests. Once I get those back to him, all will be quiet for a couple of months, and then the copy editor will review it, and I'll make those changes. Then, the galleys will be printed, and I'll have one final read-through.

All told, I'll be seeing the book three more times, giving me ample opportunity to catch any glaring mistakes or remember an important clue I'd shoved to the back of my mind months ago, positive I couldn't possibly forget it, that I then forgot to include.

Now, I need to focus on my next book. Soon enough, I'll have to send that one off as well. After I run spell-check. And verify the chapter numbers. And check the spacing. And click through the book. Twice. Then I'll finally hit Send. And I'll miss it immediately. It's all part of the writing process.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:24 am   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 23 2012

Would you eat food from a coffin? To be clear, there's no body in there, but I still never thought I'd wonder about such a thing. That is, until I saw a newspaper article this week about a hot dog truck called Dead Dogs.

The "truck" is actually a hearse. At each stop, an employee rolls a coffin from the back of the hearse, pops the lid up, and starts cooking hot dogs. The inside of the coffin has been stripped of all lining and replaced with a propane tank and a hot dog steamer. It's really a genius concept. Everyone who sees an open coffin behind a hearse is going to wonder what's going on. If it's around lunchtime, chances are they'll be hungry and decide to stay for a hot dog.

But would you go back? There's definitely a novelty factor to the whole thing. I'd try the hot dogs just so I could tell all my friends. After that, I'm not so sure. Years ago, an Italian restaurant who shall remain nameless arranged my husband's two meatballs and single sausage in a very inappropriate manner. On the one hand, it was hilarious. On the other hand, the ick factor was pretty darn high. Every time we thought about ordering from that restaurant, we'd think about the meatballs and sausage and get grossed out. It took us years to go back.

I might have the same response if I ate from a coffin. The first time would be a riot, but thinking about a return trip would seem wrong on so many levels. That sense of unease might keep me from returning. I guess I won't know about a repeat visit until I've tasted how good the hot dogs are.

So if you're driving along and see someone holding a pair of tongs while standing over an open casket, you might want to stop and have lunch. At the least, it'll provide you with a good story. Who knows, it might be your favorite new lunch spot.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 16 2012

If you read my first posting for the cheese project, you know it didn't end well. This weekend, I decided I'd give it another shot. I'd remembered to pick up distilled water a while back, so now I just needed a gallon of milk. One of the cheese-making tips was to buy milk from a local dairy in the hopes that it was not ultra-pasteurized, so I drove to the next town to a grocer who I knew bought local milk. Between the cost of gas and the price of the milk, it would probably be cheaper to buy the mozzarella at the store, but there's really no challenge in that.

I carted the milk home and got to work. I must confess, the rennet and citric acid both dissolved much better in the cool distilled water, rather than the boiled tap water I used last time. I made sure to stir the rennet for a shorter period of time, popped the lid on, and sat down on the couch to wait out my five minutes. When the buzzer sounded, I lifted the lid and found a smooth layer of solid white lurking beneath the cover. Could I have done it? Did I make it to the next step in the cheese-making process? I poked the surface layer with my finger but felt little resistance. The instructions said it should be firmer, so I put the lid back on, figuring a few extra minutes might help.

After another five minutes, I checked the mixture again, this time with a wooden spoon. The spoon pushed the silky white layer to one side, revealing a pot full of icky-colored water. False alarm. I hadn't made cheese after all.

 But all was not lost! As I dumped the pot full of chunky liquid down the drain, I noticed the chunks were much bigger this time, some several inches long. While the substance wasn't as solid as it should have been, I'd definitely made progress. I had gotten that much closer to successfully making cheese.

Now I'm off to the company's web site to see if there are any updates to the instructions or tips and tricks I don't know about. With any luck, I'll make my mozzarella before summer arrives, along with all those ripe tomatoes and fresh basil. Caprese salad, here I come!


Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:46 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 09 2012

Shh, don't tell anyone, but I still own cassette tapes. Granted, I'm down to less than a dozen, but I'm unable to part with them. My car, a scant seven years old, has a cassette tape/CD player combo, so it seems wasteful to throw out the tapes, even if I don't play them anymore. Well, except the Cow Christmas tape (lots of mooing and cow bells included). My kids love that one. Lately, though, I've been thinking I should dump them.

I managed to throw out my VHS tapes a couple of years ago with only one or two wistful sighs, but that was because we got rid of our VCR. I knew I would never buy another VCR (do stores even sell those anymore?), so without a machine to play the tapes, they were fairly worthless, except for their sentimental value.

And now, I'm ready to leap into another technological marvel: the e-book. When e-books first hit the scene all those years ago, I scoffed. Who in their right mind would spend all that money on an e-reader when they could go down to a bookstore and buy a physical book? Who would choose to read a book on a screen, making it more akin to watching TV, than hold a book and turn an actual paper page? Apparently a lot of people, as it turns out. And I can definitely see the advantages. You can pack a dozen books on vacation just by downloading them to a device that doesn't weigh much more than a single paperback. You'll never be without a book again, not at the DMV, the doctor's office, or that beach in Cancun.

After all this time, my avoidance of e-books is about to change. Maybe. I got my husband a tablet for Christmas, and it came with an e-reader. Up until now, I never thought about using it since my husband won't allow me to touch the tablet, his most precious toy. Oh, sure, he'll occasionally hold it up to show me something on the screen, but if I lean in too close, he snatches it away. Why bother pleading and cajoling just to surf the web when I already have a laptop?

That all changed last week, when I won a free download of Zoned for Murder, by Evelyn David. Here's a free book. How could I pass up that opportunity? Turns out I can't. After several minutes of guilting my husband into sharing his tablet (but only on rare occasions and when he doesn't want to use it himself), he agreed to set up his e-reader account. The only problem is that I haven't been able to sign up for Smashwords, and that's the only way to get the book. I filled out all the information a few days ago, but I still haven't received the confirmation email that I need to activate my account.

Maybe it's a sign that I'm not ready to make this big leap. Maybe I should go sit on the couch and read one of the many actual books waiting for me. Or maybe I'm just making excuses.

Because once I read my first e-book, I know I'll take that final step and throw out my cassette tapes.


Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 07:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 02 2012

I've just returned from Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, and what a fun weekend. I met so many friendly people, both writers and readers, and attended some fascinating panels. The panels ranged from talks about historical novels to lessons on e-publishing to a game show for the panelists who had to answer questions about their own books. One of the best aspects of the weekend was that between the New Author's Breakfast and the slew of panels, I found out about a lot of new writers I wasn't familiar with.

During the New Author's Breakfast, I sat at Heather Haven's table. She's a very funny lady with a fascinating background. She's written ad copy for the radio and one act plays, as well as ghost written a book. Plus, both her parents were in the circus. How many people can say that? She's currently writing the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery series, starting with Murder is a Family Business. At the same table during that breakfast, I also met J.A. Kazimer (a fellow Kensington author - woohoo!), who's written quite a few books, the most recent being Curses! She has a master's degree in forensic psychology and once worked as a private investigator. She must have a wealth of information for those mystery books, from digging into the mind of the killer to knowing the ins and outs of how to become a PI. The next morning, I had breakfast at a table with Annette Mahon, another fantastically nice woman, who has a quilting mystery series. These are three people that I hadn't heard of before, but now, I can't wait to check out their books.

In fact, the hardest thing about this weekend was how to lug all those books out to the car. Between the free books they included in my registration bag, the books I purchased at the on-site bookstore, and the free James Rollins book they handed out at breakfast, I could barely drag my tote bag out the door of the hotel. I should have packed a second rolling suitcase just for the books (now I know for next time!). Now my biggest problem is which book to read first!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 12:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email