Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author Kate O'Connell.........interview by Joyce Oroz

Kate O'Connell is a Cozy Catter mystery writer who lives in South Africa. She leads a very exciting life with her family on the other side of the globe. I can almost hear her wonderful English accent as she answers my questions. Here is Kate:

Kate, please tell us who or what influenced your decision to be a writer, and in particular, a cozy mystery writer?

I was one of those kids always reading a book.  I grew up in London, so my first loves were English authors. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series were particular favourites. My mother then introduced me to American authors and I devoured Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Bloom and Lois Duncan.

All that reading lead me to do well in school, particularly English and History but my real passion was for theatre and dance. My first university degree was a dual major in theatre and history and I then went on to a Masters in dance history and criticism. By the time I began working on a PhD in dance studies I was tired of studying but I loved the research and writing in the field of dance. The decision to stop working on my PhD and write a novel instead was instantaneous and natural. I’d fallen pregnant and with that came a desire to concentrate on something more creative than I was able to in academia. For several years I continued to teach dance classes and lecture in dance history while I tried to figure out what I wanted to write.

I have that proverbial book in the bottom drawer that I wrote that first year. In fact, I received some good feedback regarding the writing but was told that I had three partial novels masquerading as one. That agent was right and I spent the better part of three years tearing the book apart, trying to come up with something I felt passionate about.

Feeling a need for a break from that novel, I decided to start a new project and I have to admit, I went to those two old adages that keep popping up ‘write what you know’ and ‘write what you love’. Well I knew dance, particularly Argentine Tango, (I had been teaching Argentine Tango in London for about six years at that time), and I loved reading mysteries. I tried to fight the idea of combining them because at that point I wasn’t familiar with cozy mysteries. But then I went on to Amazon and downloaded about ten cozies onto my Kindle, as many as I could find with dance or theatre in the theme, and then others that took my fancy. After reading them, it all fell in to place.

How long have you been writing? Are there things you like to write other than mysteries?

My daughter was born in 2001 and after I finished the academic work I had committed to, I began writing fiction. That first attempt at a novel took the better part of a year to write. I still have it and periodically take it out to tinker around with it. What had started as one mystery has turned out to be three. One is a young adult novel that I’m excited to sink my teeth into. The other two are adult, though not so cozy. One features a police detective, 60 year-old widow Amanda Rostham, who finally gets a clue to help her solve a serial killer case that went cold for 20 years.

I also toss ideas around with my daughter and have a couple of other young adult novel ideas set in a dance world I would like to explore. And finally, I have a novel started, set in London. The idea of writing it actually frightens me a bit and I feel that I’m going to need to go away on a writer’s sabbatical to tackle it.

What is your style or method of writing, and what is your typical day like?

At the moment my day revolves around getting my daughter to and from school and to dance classes. I wake up before 6am and have a cup of tea before anyone else gets up, then it’s a military operation to get out of the house. I swim in the ocean three days a week, walk a 10k route another three and have a Pilates class on the seventh. I find I’m more able to focus on my writing when I’ve exercised well in the morning. I’m usually home and working by 10am and then write for three hours.

I’m not a plotter and would rather write a skeleton outline for six chapters or so, then start writing. I like to get stuck into a scene and see how my characters react to the situation. They often surprise me. My husband has overheard me moaning things like ‘I can’t believe she did that’ and ‘oh, no, I didn’t want him to die’ at my computer screen. I usually aim for a first draft that is about 65,000 words, then work through several drafts where the number goes up to 85,000 or 90,000 and then I get it back down to a more manageable 75,000.

Please tell us where you live and why?

I live in a small village on the Atlantic Ocean in South Africa. My husband and I met in London at an Argentine Tango salon (also know as a Milonga) while I was studying. He’s Irish by birth but his family immigrated to South Africa back in the 70s. During the first couple of years we were together we would visit his Mum in Cape Town and during one of those visits we bought a piece of land. After 10 years together in London, my husband decided he wanted to get back to his surfing roots and asked if I would consider trying South Africa out. Um .. duh? It’s one of the most visually stunning places on the planet. It’s politically hopeful, culturally vibrant and there’s virtually no humidity.

Kate, what activities, hobbies, etc. do you do when you are not writing?

I love keeping fit. Swimming is my sport of choice and I’m one of those crazy swimmers who stick it out all through the winter. I also love walking and hiking. We’re blessed to live between the ocean and two nature reserves so opportunities are literally at my doorstep. I still read an awful lot. In fiction, I like mysteries and historical novels. In non-fiction I like books on the environment, education, nutrition, health and science. I also love making quilts and am looking forward to a fabric-shopping spree with my mother this summer when I visit Vermont.

How can we find your work? Website, blog Amazon?

The first book in the Maddie Fitzpatrick Dance Mystery series, DYING TO DANCE is available at Amazon, both print and on Kindle. I’ve started a website on Wordpress and am slowly feeling my way around that. You can find it at www.dyingtodance.com. I’m working on the second Maddie Fitzpatrick book, DEAD MAN DANCING and look forward to it coming out in 2015.

Thank you, Kate for giving us a fascinating picture of your life in South Africa. You are a remarkably talented lady. Thank you for spending time with us today.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gallery Goodies.......by Joyce Oroz

Today is Friday. I love Friday because it is the day of the week when I put up the OPEN sign at the Dragonfly Gallery in Aromas. Cutest little gallery/shop in town. OK, there is only one shop in town, and one restaurant, one gas station, one church, one feed store, two grocery stores, two auto repair and at least two real estate offices.

If you are looking for books by local authors like Giselle Rocha, Nancy Jarvis, Pat Hanson, Rose Ann Woolpert and many others, or me--Joyce Oroz, the Dragonfly is the place.

The Gallery has a splendid variety of paintings, different styles for different types of people. Thank you, Frank Romero, Kati D'Amore, Evelyn Pogrowski, Jerry Harness, Nicholas Johnson and Darlene Boyd for your lovely works of art.

The jewelry is out of this world beautiful, handmade by Grace, Kay, Laurie, Mary, Diedra and others.

Every country gallery/store should have hand-sewn items and an old fashioned antique sewing machine. Every inch of the Dragonfly Gallery has surprises, antiques, objects of beauty, hand crafted items made with care. Did I mention the T-shirts, the plates and exotic wall art? The list goes on, but you gotta be there to know what I'm saying. See you next Friday!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Generations......Joyce Oroz

Because my blog is not a popular newspaper, I do not feel obliged to report news as it happens. My news is mulled over before it hits page 66 of the New York Mimes. My news is generally about touchy—feely stuff like an unusual event with great music or a family reunion or a sermon that touches my heart. In this case it is all of that and it happened three weeks ago at the Palo Alto Unity church. 

Erin Riley, eighteen years old, opened the service with announcements. My cousin John Riley gave the sermon which included inspirational poems from his mother’s new book of poems titled “Color This Day Beautiful.” Poet and author Joyce Riley told a wonderful story. She told us about raising her first three children, and how the family did not attend church on a regular basis. When the fourth and youngest child, John, turned ten years old he said he wanted to go to church. Over a period of months she and John visited many types of churches. When they finally attended a Unity service, John said that was the one for him.
 Zoom forward forty years. Today John is in the last stages of studying to be a minister at the Unity Church in Palo Alto, and fills in as substitute-minister. The men in my family are generally pretty quiet, but not John. He delivers a wonderful message with poised zeal and sincerity. My Aunt Joyce delivered her story with grace and clarity, and Erin looked very sweet and comfortable at the pulpit. So proud of my family!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Author Steve Shrott.......Joyce Oroz

It's always fun to introduce another CCP mystery writer and in this case fun should be underscored. Steve Shrott writes with tons of wit and humor. He writes about Joshua Mclintock, a wanna-be actor who works as a phone salesman on the side. Believe me, it's hilarious. Now let's see how Steve answers my questions.

Steve, who or what influenced your 
decision to be a writer, and in 
particular, a cozy mystery writer?

I guess it began at school.  I used to get laughs with
 some of the things I said, so one 
day I thought that, maybe, 
I could write funny material. 
I started
sending off jokes to numerous 
comedy performers, and began 
selling them. 
Then, I moved onto writing funny short stories.  There wasn’t much of a market for those, and I was reading a 
lot of mystery at the time, so I decided to combine them together.  I ended up selling numerous mystery short stories, some funny, some more serious.  When I decided to try writing a mystery novel, I thought the easiest way for me to write a book, was to make it a humorous one.  I didn’t really think to myself, whether it was a cozy, or what category it fit into.  I just thought it would be an experiment to see if I could do it. 

I love the progression of your writing. Are there things you like to write other than mysteries?

I’ve been writing humor for many years.  Novel writing is more recent.   I do like to write lots of different kinds of material.  I think it makes whatever else, you’re writing, better.  I like humor, of course, but I also enjoy writing more serious stories in various genres—sci-fi, romance etc.  I’m planning on trying to write a thriller novel, at some point.

        Steve, are you a little bit or a lot like your protagonist?

    I guess everyone who writes has a little of their protagonist inside themselves.  My protagonist, Joshua, is a fanatic about acting and I suppose I’m a bit of a fanatic about writing and other things I want to accomplish.  In my mind, you almost have to be a fanatic, if you want to get anything done.  But, unlike my character, I have never been under arrest for a murder I didn’t commit!
Please tell us about your style or method of writing, and what is your typical day like?

My typical style is really to get the first draft written as quickly as possible.  A lot of times, I use my short stories as a basis for my novels.  But, of course, they still require a lot of additional plotting.  I’m basically a pantster, (meaning, yes, I write while wearing pants, but also I tend to just write, not think about it.)  I do try, however, to figure out a little of what’s going to happen in my next chapter.  I have to say, I’m usually surprised at what my brain comes up with. I think my brain might be surprised too.  A typical day is just getting up and writing for as long as I can.  If I’m working on a novel, I’ll usually start with that and intertwine other projects throughout the day.

 Where do you live and why?

I live in Canada.  While, it’s a 
great country, lately with the freezing cold temperatures, I’ve been questioning, why, myself.  It’s hard to write with gloves 
and a ski mask.  I lived in Southern California for a while and loved the weather.  So, at some point, I may consider moving to a place where you 
don’t have to chisel through a block of ice to get into your car.

What activities, hobbies, etc. do you do when you are not writing?

I like to do things that get me around people since writing is such a solitary act.  I sometimes speak to groups about various topics (with a heavy dose of humor.)  I also perform as a magician, as well as create magical effects that are sold around the world.  Of course, I read a lot of mysteries and other types of fiction.  I am always interested in reading books about unusual subject matter, both fiction and non-fiction. 

I would love to hear one of your funny speeches! How can we find your works?  Website, blog, Amazon?

my books at amazon

        My website is steveshrottwriter.weebly.com.  I have my blog there, as well as any events that I have going on.  My book, “Audition For Death,” is up at Amazonat http://amzn.to/1b4LJVX   website

Thank you, Steve for sitting on the hot seat--taking the time to share your work and your life with us today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What's in Your Brownie?........Joyce Oroz

                                                       Thanks for the Black Bean Brownie!

Today's blog is about black beans, not white, not brown...black, because they look good with chocolate and chocolate is the biggest part of the diet pyramid for girls. I am not a food-prevaricator, at least not today. I'm talking about a delicious chocolate brownie made out of black beans. I know it doesn't seem possible, but it's true if you follow the following recipe as follows. And it's so easy! I make mine with honey and canned beans.

Sweet and chewy gluten-free brownies made with black beans (but you'd never know it from the taste)! So simple and amazingly delicious!
16 squares
2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 can, rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
1/3 cup melted butter*
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup honey)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor bowl or blender, combine the black beans, eggs, melted butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, and sugar. Pulse or blend until smooth (or as smooth as possible).
2. Grease an 8x8-inch glass baking dish. Pour the batter into the greased dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips and nuts (if using) over the top and use a spatula to push them down into the batter just a little (but not too much; they will sink some while the brownies bake).
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, until brownies are set in the middle. Watch the edges for excess browning if you're not sure they're done. (Mine seem to take a full 50 minutes, and are still chewy but not gooey.)

Cool and then chill before serving! Store in fridge.

Collecting honey for the brownies.

Adding black beans to your salad or side dish or brownie is a good way to boost your fiber intake and energy levels. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked black beans contains 20 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of fiber. Women need 25 grams of fiber a day, and men require 38 grams. Getting more fiber in your diet may protect you against cardiovascular disease and help you maintain a healthy weight. The carbs in the black beans are used as a source of energy to fuel body functions such as your heartbeat, as well as physical activity. 

And don't forget the eggs.

Beans are a Good Source of Protein with Little Fat.

 A 1/2-cup serving of cooked black beans contains 8 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat. As a plant-source of protein, black beans do not contain all of the essential amino acids, making the beans an incomplete source of protein. But as long as you eat a healthy, balanced diet throughout the day that includes grains and vegetables, you should be able to get all the amino acids your body needs to maintain protein levels.

Enjoy your beans!