Monday, September 24, 2018

Music Mantra Monday ~ The Inspiration of Folk Music

It's funny of what memories pop into your head when certain songs come on the radio, or are part of a soundtrack from a movie.

I grew up in the 1970's (::cough:: dating myself ::cough::). During that decade, people were coming off of a more psychedelic, drug-infested time where they were free to do, and be, whatever they wanted. Yes, they it was also a time of huge social movements and focus on peace. But in the 1970's, I remember the music becoming more focused on these issues in a quieter way. Here and there, we got tiny glimmers of songs that focused not just on where the 1960's left off with trying voice out to make a difference, but also on things that were really important that are often taken for granted (eg: a sense of family, love for children, taking care of our whole health, etc.),  with gentler tones and beautifully meaningful lyrics.

I guess you could call this 'folk music'. In the era of rock and roll bands still trying to hold their own in the music world, and disco (which I still don't understand), some musicians just wanted to add their softer plea for the same things - peace, love, change and unity. The definition of folk music is, "Music that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style. Folk music is typically of unknown authorship and is transmitted orally from generation to generation." And I have to say, this is a pretty suiting meaning.

My Bonus Dad was very much into this genre of music. He'd pull out his acoustic guitar and sing to us and, for some reason, I found I 'heard' the songs and their meaning on a much deeper level. Sure, I've gone through phases where I've turned to other styles and genres of music but, in the end, I always came back to this style. There's just something calming about it that makes you think a little a little more...reach out a little more...inspire a little more.

This particular song makes me think of my Bonus Dad and all he tried to do for me and my brothers and sister. No, he wasn't perfect and neither were any of the rest of us. But in bringing these songs into our house, he helped us think, to care, to reach out and, maybe, to help each of us look at the world and the people in it through a different perspective.

So that's our music mantra for today. What songs lifted you up? Or guided you in a way you didn't expect? Or inspired you to stay on the path you chose regardless of what else was trying to lure you off it?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Writing Prompt Saturday ~ What Do You Do To Stay Positive?

I was feeling cranky when I woke up this morning, not that I'm the best example for a 'morning person'.

First, I got zero sleep because my youngest daughter came into my room in the middle of the night. This isn't an unusual occurrence. Usually, she flops down and sleeps on the floor until I notice her there, then I unsuccessfully try escorting her back upstairs to her own bed. She'll stand there staring at me vacantly, since she's still sleeping, so I end up guiding her into bed with me. Sleeping between a window-rattling snorer and a bed hog does not amount to a restful sleep.

Then I came upstairs to have the one tiny cup of coffee I'm allowed to enjoy for the day. As I passed by the basement door, I glanced out the window to see the blustery, gray, icy day waiting for me, with snow on the ground to boot (thanks again, Mother Nature).

Mumbling to myself, I planted down in front of my computer, grateful to have a job I can do wearing pajamas and sporting an out of control Einstein hair-do (my version of 'bed head'), to start my writing work day with emails. That's when my day started to brighten a bit.

I got a message from a woman responding to an article I'd written on tips for families raising children who have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). As I always remind folks, I am no expert by any means of the stretch on any subject I write about. All I can do is share my own experiences and personal insight with the hope I can reach someone else out there struggling with the same issues.

She seemed rather distressed in trying to find help for her niece. As I read through her message, I nodded with understanding because I'd been there, and still am to a certain degree. I shared a few personal snippets, then gave her links to the best places to get the ball rolling. As I hit 'send', I realized that as grouchy as I'd been earlier, that one person gave me the positive spark I needed to continue on with my day with a much more positive perspective.

You see, it's okay to be grouchy, bitchy and fed up once in awhile. Vent about it, then let it all go. I find that turning to that one positive thing that always brings me back down, that one thing that makes me feel good about me and what I do, makes a huge difference in how I get on in the world. I remember that every tiny bit of good I put into the world, comes back in some way. How wonderful is that?

My 'thing' is writing. I write when I'm angry, happy, excited, passionate or want to advocate for those who need an extra voice the most. I don't have to make everything I write public. I keep a few things just for me to remind me of what I'm doing and why, and helps steer me steady on the road of positiveness.

So, there's your writing prompt for today. When you start the day off grouchy, when things seem to be going wrong no matter what you're trying to accomplish, when those stupid little surprise blips interrupt your routine, what do you do to stay positive? What brings you back to that place of calm?

I wish you all a happy day and please think of me down here wearing three layers of clothes inside as my rebellion to an early winter.

Have fun!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Foodie Fridays ~ Easy Recipe for At-Home Falafels

This week, we're going to share a recipe, much to the delight to some of you out there asking for a new one.

I'm really fussy about my falafels. I've only discovered a couple of places that not only make them 'right', they make them with the traditional spices and flavors that are a good falafel.

This recipe is pretty basic because my kids aren't huge fans of East Indian spices, but it's pretty close. As long as the cumin, garlic and lemon is in there, they'll get gobbled up pretty fast.

As always, you can tweak the recipe to suit your own flavor favorites and diet (eg: using gluten-free pitas). You can always use fava beans in place of the chickpeas. I prefer the latter as fava beans have a very distinct, stronger flavor, whereas chickpeas tend to take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with.

They can be served as mini sandwiches, in a wrap, as an appetizer or even just a tasty, healthy snack. And if you're worried about extra fat (and there's about 8 grams per ball), you can always bake these tasty treats to go on the healthier, lower fat side of things. But this girl likes them fried. :)

No matter how you prepare them, though, be sure to have a yummy sauce for serving or dipping. I'm going to include a tasty Tahini Yogurt sauce. Tzatziki dip is also really good. The idea is to serve a sauce that emphasizes the flavors of what your dipping in it. The garlicky, lemony flavors in both the falafels as well as each of these sauces compliment each other to a tee.

I leave you to your cooking. Let me know how it works for you.

For the Falafels:
1 cup of chickpeas (you can always go with soaking dried chickpeas, but this is faster)
1 small onion
2 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley (yes, fresh makes a difference, but dried is okay too)
2 cloves of minced garlic (I usually add 3 because my family likes to stink)
1/2 cup flour (recipe calls for all-purpose, but you can replace with whatever your diet needs are)
4 tsp cumin
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp lemon juice (I add a bit more but you don't want the mixture to be too mushy)
1 1/2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil
24 mini pitas with the tops cut off (you can also use the big pitas cut in half)
sliced radishes, shredded lettuce, tomatoes or whatever veggies you want to stuff pitas with)

For the Tahini Yogurt Sauce:

2/3 cup of Balkan-style plain yogurt (Balkan yogurt doesn't have gelatin so it doesn't have to be drained like regular yogurts often do).
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cayenne

1) In a food processor, coarsely chop the chickpeas, onion, parsley and garlic. (If you don't have a food processor, you can always use a potato masher. More elbow grease, but works just as well.) Add the flour, cumin, baking powder, lemon juice and salt, then pulse until blended. Shape the mixture, about a heaping tablespoon each, into balls, then flatten them to about 1/2 inch. Place the balls on a wax-lined baking sheet and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 12 hours.

2) Pour enough of your oil into a wok or a deep pan to come up to about 2 inches up the side, then heat to 350*. (If you have a deep-fry thermometer, that would be really helpful, but you can always use your best judgment. Just remember that if the oil is too hot, the falafels could burn or fall apart, and if it's not hot enough they simply won't cook properly). In small batches, drop the falafels into the oil and deep-fry for 3 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Drain on paper towel-lined tray, sprinkle with a bit of salt.

For the sauce, all you need to do is whisk the ingredients together. You can always make the sauce first and refrigerate until the falafels are good to go.

If you were going to do the mini-pita idea, all you need to do is put a bit of the sauce in the bottom or drizzle it on top), then stuff 1 falafel in minis and 3 in a large one with all the veggies.

Any leftover falafels can be frozen then reheated at 350* for about 10 - 15 minutes.

Bon appetit!

(Thank you to The Vegetarian Collection cookbook by Canadian Living for this awesome recipe.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

In The Spotlight ~ Join Our Chat With Author Vincent Zandri

We are excited for today's In The Spotlight as we're being joined by award-winning author, Vincent Zandri. If you are writing in the mystery/action/adventure genres, or just really enjoy reading the works of those who do, this is the chat for you.

Vincent truly understands the keys to becoming a successful author in the very competitive publishing arena, and he's got amazing material out there to prove it. Plus, he's a genuinely nice guy and cares about his readers.

So, grab yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, get comfy and join us in our chat. I'm sure you'll enjoy meeting him as much as I have.

CHYNNA: Welcome to the blog, Vincent! Thank you so much for squeezing me in around your very busy writing schedule. Let’s start with you telling us a bit about your background.

VINCENT: I was born in Troy, New York in 1964 on a very hot 4th of July weekend, so they tell me. Someone tossed a live firecracker in my mother’s room while she was nursing me and that probably explains a lot about the stuff I write. I was groomed for the construction business and started working digging ditches at 14. By the time I was out of college I’d had enough of that and decided to become a writer.

CHYNNA: Well, that’s an interesting start in the world.  I’m guessing that writing is much more fun and exciting for you than the ditches you were digging. ;) But I can see how all of your experiences in your youth inspired a few stories. Now, is writing a creative expression you’ve always practiced, or is it more something that started as a hobby that you focused more on over time?

VINCENT: I played drums in some punk bands growing up, and still play. But I was never as passionate about it, in terms of creative expression, as I am with writing. I feel like I was born to be a writer. That there was nothing else for me writing stories, one after the other.

CHYNNA: I think it’s great that you still play drums. But I totally hear you about the creative freedom that comes from writing. It’s such a rewarding way to get all of those ideas in your head out there, and telling a story others can enjoy too. The story that ‘introduced’ me to your work and talent was a short story you’d written about a man who was blind, and coping in the seeing world around him. I was so impressed how you got the reader to ‘see’ the world through this man’s eyes. Do you do research before tackling stories like these, or do you just ‘wing it’?

VINCENT: I try to research enough to get the details right, but I don’t over research so much that my creativity is stifled. In that story, I closed my eyes and thought about what it would be like to no longer have the use of your eyes. You would have to find a way to make up for the handicap, like counting the steps it takes to get from the bedroom to the bathroom for instance.

CHYNNA: Yes, exactly! Most times, that kind of research is more powerful in the end because you’re actually feeling what the character is. Those of us who know your work look forward to all of your murder/mystery/action/adventure books and stories. Would you consider writing other stories, like the one discussed above, or do you gravitate more to the genres where there is more action?

VINCENT: Lately, I’ve been in love with the action. But I have also been experimenting with some Young Adult and even Erotic Noir (talk about polar opposites). I’ve just finished two psychological suspense stand-alones, and have also been sketching some flash fiction. But my bread and butter is the action & adventure and the hard-boiled stuff.
CHYNNA: Wow! Those really are two polar opposite genres. lol I think it’s great to dabble in different areas to get a true sense of where you’re most passionate. That’s a great approach. What is your writing routine like, or do you have one?

VINCENT: Wake up fairly early, like I would for a normal job. Make the coffee, bring it with me into the writing studio which is also my bedroom. Work for a couple hours either writing new, or editing newly written material. Then break for a jog and some weight lifting. Back at it until lunch. Usually I eat lunch while I work. Maybe a quick nap around 1:15PM, then I’m fresh for the afternoon session. I take a walk around 3:15, rain, shine, or snow, and work again until 4:30 or 5:00PM. By then I can’t wait to get out of the house for a while, so I head over to my favorite bar, have a couple of beers and pick up some food. I have the same routine in Florence, Italy as I do in New York. It’s just that the food and wine is better in the former. I work six days a week, sometimes seven.

CHYNNA: It’s nice to hear someone else takes cat naps mid-afternoon to re-fuel. And if I lived in Italy, or New York for that matter, I’d have more distractions I’m sure. J As you are aware, promotion is a huge part of becoming successful in this business. There is so much media out there to help us authors reach out to our readers. Which have you found most useful and do you have advice for our writers-in-progress on this subject? For example, having a platform even before sending in those writing samples seems to help seal the deal, right?

VINCENT: Building a platform is key. Blogging, creating a YouTube channel, podcasting, writing articles and short stories…all these things help get your name out there. Back in the day, you could post about your book on Social Media and get some sales, but that doesn’t seem to be much the case anymore. Things are changing rapidly, and the new crop of young writers are just as likely to be computer programmers and SEO experts as they are gifted with the ability to tell a story. In order to keep up with promotions I’ve recently hired someone to take care of it for me so I can concentrate on the work. The best advice I can give however, is write one book after the other. That’s your best pathway to success.

CHYNNA: That’s awesome advice. And this sometimes Internet-challenged girl will take notes here on that one. What advice can you give us about how to get that lucky break, aside from platform or promotion? What other skills or knowledge should a writer have?

VINCENT: See the last sentence in the answer to the previous question.

CHYNNA: lol Thank goodness. I think I’m on the right track, then. I hope our readers take double note of that too. Do you have any upcoming work we should be watching out for?

VINCENT: I’ve just signed a multi-book deal with Down & Out Books, the crime imprint I won the Thriller and Shamus Awards with for Best Paperback Original (MoonlightWeeps). Polis Books is publishing The Caretaker’s Wife in March of 2019 in hardcover. In the meantime, I have a new Jack Marconi PI coming out soon, Sins of the Sons. I’m also working on a brand new Dick Moonlight PI. The latest in the Steve Jobz PI series is out. It’s called The Flower Man. Plus a new episode in my Handyman series will be published in a couple of weeks. Also a new short novel in my Sam Savage Sky Marshal series, Tunnel Rats. I pretty much have a book or even a couple novellas coming out every month for the next year or so. Best thing to do is head to my website, to get the real scoop.

CHYNNA: That’s very impressive, and proof that when you have an awesome idea for a series it’s golden. With all of the amazing things you have accomplished, is there anything you can look back on and change or do differently, if you could?

VINCENT: I would have gotten into the indie side of things earlier on. The writers like Blake Crouch, Joe Konrath, Diane Capri, Lee Goldberg, Russell Blake, JR Rain, Scott Nicholson, and others, started in right away and built themselves a huge following. They are not only super talented, but pioneers in the industry.
CHYNNA: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s really important to read in the genre(s) we want to be successful in because there’s a lot to be learned from someone who’s already gotten there. I know you need to get back to your deadlines so I’ll fire one last question at you that I always like to ask. Do you have any pearls of wisdom you live by and can share with our readers?

VINCENT: Never take the literary successes or failures too seriously. If you work hard enough, you’re going to experience plenty of both. You’re never really that successful or really that much of a failure. If you can make yourself a nice little living, help others out when they need it, and enjoy every day to its fullest. That, in itself, is a success.

CHYNNA: Those are some powerful pearls to live by. Thank you again, Vincent, for joining us here today. I wish you continued success and hope that you can come back again when things settle down for you a bit.

Please check out Vincent’s website and follow the links to his books to learn more about him and the fantastic work he’s sharing. It’s well worth it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Writing Sample Wednesday ~ Angels Comforting A Dad-To-Be

Alright, alright. I can just hear those of you who have followed me for awhile and know my obsessiveness...::ahem::...I mean, appreciation for The Beatles. Yes. I do need to include a sprinkle of Beatleness in everything I do. It makes me happy.

When I came across this picture several years ago, I literally teared up. To me, this photograph, which I'm pretty sure Paul's wife Linda took, personifies what a dad is. And there is a huge difference between being a 'dad' and a 'father', which I'll explain in a minute.

I've never been in the excruciating position of having to give up my parental rights to my child(ren). The fact that I am a woman who was never even supposed to be able to have children and I have been blessed with four (what do doctors know? lol) put a lot of this subject into perspective for me.

My father gave up his parental rights. Later on in life when I was ready to hear his side, I found out that he didn't really want this to happen, he just felt it was best for everyone involved at the time. It turned out to be the best decision because I may have lost a father, but I gained three pretty awesome 'dads-in-lieu', which is more than a lot of other kids have gotten in similar situations. I had my grandfather, my Bonus Dad and my uncle (who was more like a big brother than a dad figure, but still a powerful male figure for me nonetheless).

That being said, this is how I have grown to feel about things. Any man can be a father. It only takes one sperm and an egg ready to go in order to create a life. But a DAD is there. He raises you, protects you, supports you, guides you, advises you, gives you the kick in the butt you need when you need it and tells you he loves you, even when you don't believe it or want to hear it. He is there, unconditionally, through the good, bad and ugly.

If you are someone fortunate enough to have both a father and a dad in the same man, consider yourself truly blessed. I don't in any way regret how I was raised because I was still loved, was taught morals, values, strength, self-respect and was encouraged to be all that I was meant to be, even when I didn't think I could.

So, for today's sample, I am sharing a short story I wrote many years ago dedicated to those dads-to-be out there who aren't quite sure they have the prerequisites for the job. All I'll say is angels show up just when you need them to guide you when you feel you've lost your way.

Happy reading!

What made me think I could do this? David thought.
David slouched down in an oversized leather armchair. His right hand held his heavy head up, while his left arm hung limply over the armrest. His bloodshot eyes were slightly swollen under his wire-rimmed glasses. His clothes were wrinkled and his skin itched as he hadn’t showered or changed his clothes in two days. All of that, with two days of beard growth on his face, made him look more like a hobo than a man about to be a father for the first time. But all he had to do to find some comfort was to walk down the sterile halls of the hospital to find other hobo-looking men with the same tired, blank stare.
Only six years earlier, he shared a four-bedroom house with three other bachelors. His only concerns were having enough cigarettes in his pocket, enough beer in the fridge and being able to function at work the next day no matter what he did to himself the night before.
Ah, those were the days.
He wondered at what point he’d shifted from drinking with the boys and being carefree, to knowing enough about the female anatomy to turn him off sex for the rest of his life. Six years ago, he hadn’t even known what dilation was, never mind having to witness it first-hand.
The snap of a latex glove startled him away from his thoughts.
“It shouldn’t be too much longer, David,” a round, overly-friendly nurse announced. “We’re in the home stretch now. Get some rest. You’ll need it!”
The nurse shut the door, which closed off the light from the hallway. He looked over at his fiancée, Lily.
Poor thing.
Being a loyal fiancee was the easy part. He’d been there for her through everything since she first saw the two blue lines in the pregnancy test window. He was there when doctor told her she had a high chance of losing the baby in the first three months. He comforted her through the unexplained bleeding that put her in the hospital several times. He accompanied her to all the tests, the endless ultrasounds and the removal of a polyp from her cervix (the culprit that had caused the bleeding). But, somehow, this was totally different.
Him? A father?
A familiar panic grew in him that made him want to bolt from the room screaming. It made several appearances over the last nine months, and it took everything within him to fight it. He grabbed the arms of his chair and tried slowing down his racing heart. Then he looked back over at Lily’s silhouette.
Tubes were going in and out of her. She had an IV for nutrition, medicine to dilate her cervix, something going into her back for killing pain, something to remove wastes and another machine checked her blood pressure every ten minutes. She looked so peaceful, despite the poking, prodding and beeping of invasive machines. It was hard to believe in that moment that she’d been through so much hell over the last nine months. She stirred a little, letting out a heavy sigh as her belly shifted and bopped.
Why did he have so many doubts when she seemed so strong and smiled every day, even when she was unsure of what would happen?
A young ambulance attendant came into the room to check Lily’s vitals. The young man nodded in David’s direction, and David slowly nodded back.
“Uhm…no offense,” David said. “But what are you doing here? Where’s the nurse?”
“They’re letting me get experience with births so I can be more useful when I’m called in for these situations,” the attendant said. “I’ve witnessed three other women give birth tonight. It’s quite a rush seeing a new life come into the world. Especially when everything turns out well and Mom and baby are healthy.”
Before David had the chance to ask the young man why he was sharing all that with him, the attendant continued. “I lost my wife when we were trying to have children, but before we conceived,” he looked downy. “We never got the chance to make our miracle. After she died, I decided to help bring life into the world. Maybe I’ll even get to meet the lucky baby who got my wife’s soul.”
“What?” David asked.
“When a person dies,” the attendant explained, “their soul is reborn into the baby born right afterwards. I know that sounds a bit ‘out there’, but I’ve seen enough miracles to know it could be possible. Everything will be fine, David. Trust me.”
The attendant left the room, then…silence. The only light in the room peeked out from a small cupboard containing supplies for the nurses. It made an eerie glow over his fiancée’s belly. David shuddered and closed his eyes.
The attendant’s words echoed in his sleepy head.
 “We never got a chance to make our miracle.”
“I decided to help bring life into the world.”
“Especially when everything turns out okay and Mom and baby are healthy.”
That was really what it was all about, wasn’t it? They were blessed with a miracle, they overcame all the hurdles put in front of them, Lily was going to be fine and their baby was healthy.
David must have finally fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, the room was filled with florescent light and a nurse helped the doctor lift up Lily’s legs. “Get ready, Dad,” the doctor said with a grin. “It’s time to bring your daughter into the world!”
For the first time, the word Dad didn’t frighten him in the least.
A half hour later, a nurse gently placed a tiny, screaming girl in David’s nervous arms. As he looked down lovingly on his treasure, his eyes filled with tears. The little girl squeezed his finger, and sighed.
“Hello, new soul,” David whispered. “I’m your Daddy. Hey! Where’s that attendant guy? I’d like to show him our miracle. He was a big help.”
The nurse looked confused. “What attendant?”
“There was an attendant here who came in just after the last nurse checked on Lily. He said he was working around this floor to get experience in births and stuff.”
The nurse frowned. “We don’t usually have attendants up here as they are needed more down in emergency. We did have a lovely young man who used to come up once in a while on his breaks or off days to ask questions. He seemed very passionate about being able to assist in birthing emergencies. Sadly, he died a couple of months ago due to complications from injuries he'd gotten in a terrible car accident. Too bad, too. He'd have made a wonderful assistant in some way.”
David opened his mouth to respond, but simply nodded. As the nurse went back to attend to his fiancee, a sudden thought made his heart skip a beat.
How did that guy know my name? I didn’t tell him…
His baby girl fussed, and he drew her closer to his chest. Then he smiled, and looked up.

Her soul is home.

Video trailer for BLACKBIRD FLIES!

Video Trailor for JUST SHUT UP and DRIVE