What’s your blood type?

Stow away that garlic necklace and turn down your collars! It’s National Blood Donor Month where your contribution can provide much needed help to those in need. Be sure to spread the word—every drop counts! To learn more, visit the American Red Cross website for details.

In honor of this worthy cause, we offer you blogging mortals (and immortals!) a few of our fanged favorites. New York Times bestselling author Nina Bangs enchants us with her book My Wicked Vampire. A delectable thrill-ride, this paranormal romance is set in a theme park with plenty of twists and turns to leave you reeling.

“You know all about vampires, right? Wrong! Ms. Monajem has approached vampires from a totally new direction. A direction you are going to be captivated by.” —The Long and the Short of It

Fancy a set of feminine fangs? The incomparable Barbara Monajem spices up the usual flavor of old lore in Tastes of Love & Evil.

On the run and ever-tempted, the femme-fatale vampire Rose must solve the mystery surrounding the elusive Jack and why he is being hunted by underworld hitmen. Or will she be the one to stop his pulse first?

Now what sort of undead line-up would this be without the famed daughter of history’s first vampire slayer, I ask you! Minda Webber’s wit is razor sharp in The Reluctant Miss Van Helsing where our heroine has big shoes to fill. In this particular gavotte through the graveyard, Jane attends a masquerade party and all hell breaks loose. Literally!

What are some of your fanged favorites? Do you prefer the walking undead or the wandering slayers? Tell us! Personally, I’m partial to the slayer’s assistant. What? Somebody needs to hold the bags!

Allow me to thank all those who volunteer and donate to the American Red Cross.

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

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Pardon the Interruption—Christmas movie montage!

Ah, the classic films of Christmases past! Whatever you may celebrate this winter season, the joys of family, friends, and all those films on repeat remain universal. From all of us here at Dorchester, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season! 🙂

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Pardon the Interruption—Selling books by amputation!

Prepare yourselves! This is by no means your ordinary book trailer. With unsuspecting charm and grace only the most skilled of surgeons can master, author Max Barry lends a satirical twist to the usual trailer with a sneak peek (literally) of Machine Man. While not a Dorchester title, a trailer of this finesse deserves spotlight attention!

Don’t try this at home. So help me—if I start getting e-mails that you’ve all gone and hacked off your limbs, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll certainly be impressed, but lacking in sympathy.

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Hot off the presses! Well, oven.

First and foremost, from all of us here at Dorchester, we sincerely wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! Now, what’s the recipe for success you ask, oh ravenous blogging lurkers? The following is a delightful compilation of our favorite office recipes. Feast your eyes on this, dear readers, and be sure to share your own recipe as well.

Hannah starts us off with her mother’s homemade candied yams!

LouAnn’s Candied Yams

  • 8 yams
  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • Half & Half
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly chopped thyme and/or rosemary
  • Mini marshmallows

Roast the yams in the oven at about 350 until tender and oozing (30-45 min). Separate flesh from peel and put in large mixing bowl. Add about 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, a splash or two of half and half; about a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of brown sugar (taste as you go…add more or don’t depending on the sweetness level you want). Add freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste. Add a few teaspoons of freshly chopped thyme and/or rosemary. This makes it a sweet and savory dish, all in one. Mix/mash thoroughly. You can use a food processor, but using a hand masher gets the ‘rustic’ texture. Put into large baking dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Cover with a layer of mini-marshmallows. Put in oven EITHER under broiler for just a minute to brown (don’t walk away or the marshies will expaaannnddd, then deflate horribly) or at 350 for approx. 15 minutes until browned and slightly melted.

Renee goes on to suggest Paula Deen’s version of ‘Turducken’—the three-bird extravaganza only the bravest of culinary experts can hope to achieve. (I’ll nab the stuffing while the rest of you can have the meat. Savvy?)

Paula Deen’s Turducken

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • 18 to 21-pound turkey, skin intact and boned except for drumsticks
  • House seasoning, recipe follows
  • Cornbread Dressing, recipe follows
  • 3 to 4-pound duck, boned
  • 3 to 4-pound chicken, boned
  • Paprika

To make the brine: Mix salt and sugar with the water. Brine is ready when the mixture is completely dissolved. If the water is heated to quicken the process, make sure it is cooled to room temperature before placing meat in. Let the 3 birds sit in brine in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat roaster to 500 degrees F.

Lay turkey skin side down on a flat surface. Dust turkey with House Seasoning and add 1/4-inch layer of cornbread dressing. Lay duck skin side down on top of dressing. Dust duck with House Seasoning and add 1/4-inch layer of dressing. Repeat with the chicken. Read more!

Sam spares no expense when it comes to her former roommate’s superb dessert recipe.

Strawberry Frangipane Tart

Filling:

  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, ground fine
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto (your preference)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled
  • 1/4 cup strawberry or raspberry jam, melted and strained
  • 2 cups melted dark/milk chocolate

(Note! Trader Joe’s almond flour works just as well as ground up almonds.)

Place the dough 1/8″ thick into a 10-or 11-inch round tart pan with a removable fluted rim, and chill the shell while making the frangipane. In a small bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar and beat in the egg, the almonds, the almond extract, the Amaretto, and the flour. Spread the frangipane evenly on the bottom of the shell and bake the tart in the middle of a preheated 375°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the shell is pale golden. (If the frangipane begins to turn too brown, cover the tart loosely with a piece of foil.) Let the tart cool. Heat the chocolate in a microwaveable bowl until melted, stirring periodically. With a spoonula, spread the melted chocolate on top of the cooled tart. Place tart in the fridge to cool for another 20 minutes (or until the chocolate hardens). While waiting for the tart to cool, cut the strawberries lengthwise into 1/8″ thick slices, arrange the slices, overlapping, decoratively in rows on the frangipane. Warm up the jam, then brush it over the fruit. It makes it really shiny and pretty!

Tressia presents her signature Southern dish!

Crazy Crust Peach Cobbler

  • 1  8oz. can of Delmonte peach half in heavy syrup
  • 1 cup of self rising flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of  vanilla flavor
  • 3 dashes of nutmeg
  • Square baking pan glass or aluminum disposable square 9×12

In large mixing bowl add flour, sugar, the 3 dashes of nutmeg and lightly blend so that contents will be well mixed. Add milk and blend all together—can use mixer or by hand. Next, pour mixture into the baking dish of choice. Add can of peaches with most of syrup from the can in no particular order, hence the name crazy crust cobbler. Now slice up stick of butter on top over the entire mix and bake until golden brown at 350 degrees F.

What are your favorite turkey day traditions? Let us know on your way to the table! 🙂

Signing off—

(A very hungry) Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Casting call + giveaway!

Put on your director’s hat and send that assistant off for coffee, my dear blogging lurkers! It’s time to break out those resumes and get the camera rolling—we’re kicking off this Monday morning by casting your favorite books! As an avid film aficionado, I confess I’ve always indulged in literature with something of an eye for show business. If I were to direct the book adaptation, who would I cast in the leading roles? (This is all a bit of fun, of course—purely for entertainment purposes and my own wishful thinking.)

Ever since I first embarked upon the romance genre by traversing the pages of the Sylph series, I can’t seem to shake the stunning world out of my mind. Now, my soft spot for The Shattered Sylph and the rugged ruffians Leon and Ril begs that I cast them first—which is the most difficult! L.J. McDonald’s characters are so thoroughly layered that fitting any one actor into the role feels a bit constraining. I’ve finally settled on the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Go on, laugh! I’m certainly finding this amusing. Kevin Costner as the battle-worn warrior and Christian Slater playing the sarcastic, youthful right hand simply fit the bill, in my opinion. They have to work well together in order to fend off the opposition after all! Their at first strained relationship matures into one of trust and respect, mirroring the struggles of Leon and Ril.

Let me tell you, casting A Lily Among Thorns was equally challenging! Rose Lerner’s unlikely characters are worthy of catapulting an acting career into stardom. A hero with an eye for excellent tailoring and a staunchly independent business owner for a heroine? It was quite by accident that my final decision manifested itself in the form of Becoming Jane (2007), the film starring James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway, where the roles simply fell neatly into place. The scene where hasty confessions are made in light of the danger that is ever looming reminds me of Solomon and Serena’s late night rendezvous, coupled with a spy plot that will leave you reeling. Their quirky chemistry is undeniable, and who better to set the regency period ablaze?

Don’t think I’m letting you off easy! How would you cast your favorite book if you were in the director’s chair? I promise I won’t laugh. 🙂 Reply to be entered to win a prize package of $20 worth of books in the genre of your choice!

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Doppelgängers, duplicity, and dowries, oh my!

Whether it’s tales of long lost siblings finally reuniting, blood relative rivals plotting against each other, or kin that declare they are anything but akin, readers can’t get enough of scheming twins! And so we commemorate today’s date (11/11/11) by delving into fascinating duos of popular literature. Explore the often heartwarming, sometimes tragic, and always complex relationships shared by the twins of these galvanizing novels.

As mentioned in my post regarding literary bromances, Rose Lerner’s A Lily Among Thorns explores the gaping void that arises when one twin passes. Elijah’s death weighs heavily on Solomon, who’s always relied on the special bond he shared with his twin brother. Will Solomon be able to persevere without the much needed support of his brother by his side? Or rather, will he find his own inner strength, and subsequently, be met with a pleasant surprise?

In Anna DeStefano’s Dark Legacy and Secret Legacy , the starring roles feature a pair of twins who must work together in order to preserve their family’s psychic legacy. The very fabric of their relationship is tested with the threat of betrayal all around, begging the question—can they trust in each other? With chaos surrounding them, the Temple twins must find solace and strength in each other to win the day, and their lives. (This makes for a lovely parallel with Lerner’s parted Hathaway brothers!)

Two sets of twins for the price of one! Deborah MacGillivray satisfies any double fixation in her series, The Sisters of Colford Hall, where the heroes and their heroines both happen to be twins! With devastating charm and an oath to avenge the death of their father, the Mershan brothers have every intention of wooing the Montgomerie sisters, the granddaughters of their enemy. Why not flirt with the idea of an entertaining revenge plot? That was entirely rhetorical and you know it.

Don’t forget to make a wish at 11 PM tonight! 🙂

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

John Everson: NaNoWriMo winner and inner-critic squelcher!

Packed with drama, suspense, and even a prize t-shirt, the NaNoWriMo challenge entices the best of us. John Everson tells all in this full spread companion post to his snippet of writer’s block advice on last week’s NaNoWriMo series. Did you know that most of his second novel, Sacrifice, was written during the NaNoWriMo of 2002? John is living proof that all aspiring writers should try tackling so worthwhile a challenge.

Now sit back with that double espresso, clear off the empty energy drinks from your desk, and settle in for a true success story.

Throughout the ’90s, I was mainly a horror short story writer.  I published dozens of short pieces in scores of tiny magazines and anthologies, and they were fun and easy to knock out— a couple hours on the weekend and they were done. But over the course of five years, I had also slowly developed (over many stops and restarts) my first novel, Covenant. I finished the first draft in 2000, and spent the next couple of years trying to sell it, being rejected, going back and trying to polish it some more, then sending it out yet again.

By the end of 2002, I still had not sold that first novel, and hadn’t started a new novel in the 2+ years that Covenant had been languishing on many slush piles. All writers know that the worst thing you can do is finish a project and then wait for it to sell before starting the next one. You need to get back on the horse. And it had really been seven years since I had started a novel project, since Covenant was begun in 1995. I knew I needed to either decide that I was just going to stick with short fiction, or I had to begin a new novel, whether the first one ever sold or not.

I needed a kickstart.

Someone steered me to NaNoWriMo that fall. The group wasn’t quite as ubiquitous in 2002 as it is today—it was just three years old—but it was growing in leaps and bounds each year. I liked the fact that, unlike many writers critique groups, it was strictly a solo challenge. You either made your 50,000 word deadline or you didn’t. People could join together at coffeehouses and commiserate or cajole each other, and there were message boards to help connect, but you didn’t need to. I’m a pretty independent creature in that sense and wasn’t interested in the community aspect of the challenge. I just needed the writing challenge. And the hard deadline.

Just one problem. My day job pretty much owned me the first week of November 2002, because I had to work a convention (anyone who’s staffed a national convention knows that after those 14-16 hour days, there is nothing left of you but a husk that needs sleep).  So I began my NaNoWriMo challenge already exhausted and a week late… leaving me just three weeks to write 50,000 words.

And in October 2002 I didn’t even really know what I wanted to write about. But while I was out of town during that start of November, I figured it out.

I wanted to do a really stupid thing—I wanted to write a sequel to my first novel, the book I couldn’t sell!  I had a whole different kind of story I wanted to explore within the world of the first book, so I knew the second novel, while a sequel, had to be self-contained, in case the first book never sold.

Somewhere on or around November 8, 2002, I wrote the first chapter of Sacrifice. I realized quickly that in order to meet the November 30th 11:59 p.m. deadline, I had to average more than 2,200 words per day for the next three weeks. The admonitions on the NaNoWriMo website were key to achieving that—edit later, write now.  I still find myself whispering that advice to myself today when I start slowing down on a project.

Squelching your inner critic is probably the hardest thing a writer can do. The inner critic is the voice in the back of your head that says everything you’ve just written… or wrote yesterday…or are about to write is utter tripe. Your inner critic can make you stare at a blank screen for those few precious hours you have allocated for writing, or it can make you waste 45 minutes wrestling with a single sentence or paragraph that just doesn’t feel right.

Your inner critic is your biggest enemy to rampant productivity. And rampant productivity is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So I dug in. I wrote before work. I wrote after work. I probably wrote at lunch sometimes. And during every session, I had to keep saying, “don’t worry if it’s crap— just get your 2,200  words down today.” It’s the same sentiment as the movie adage, “just get the shot, we’ll fix it all in post.”

I didn’t have an outline when I started the book— this was a seat of the pants endeavor. I really only had a vague idea of where it all was going. But every couple days I took a few minutes to “backwards outline” what I’d done before, so I remembered the crazy things I was coming up with so I could tie it all together later. Because when you’re forcing that word count, you come up with all sorts of weird ideas and plot departures at 11:45 p.m. that you don’t even remember writing  the next morning.

In the end, I got 50,000 words of Sacrifice written (about 2/3 of what the final novel would become) in three weeks, working right up to the last minute. I uploaded my file, and it was validated. I have the t-shirt to prove it!  I also was sick with a horrible cold for the next two weeks because I had burned the candle at both ends for so long.

But it was something I wanted to prove to myself I could do. I proved that I didn’t need to take five years to write a novel. I worried that I’d written 50,000 words of crap, and honestly, it was months before I re-visited the project to find out. When I did, I  spent 2-3 months writing the other 40,000 words, and found to my surprise that I actually didn’t need to change much in that first half. By gagging my inner critic and just forcing myself to write and not critique, I’d set loose creativity that might never have surfaced if I’d tortuously over-thought the book. I honestly think that Sacrifice is the better novel of the CovenantSacrifice duo, though it was written the fastest of any of my books.

I’m now finishing up my 6th novel, and I have to say, I still think Sacrifice may be my quickest moving book. And that’s got to relate in part to the environment it was written in.

So what happened to the books? Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award for a first novel thanks to a small press release in 2004, and both Covenant and Sacrifice were sold in a two-book deal to Dorchester’s Leisure Books imprint in 2007 and released in mass market paperback in 2008 and 2009 respectively. It was a happy ending!

I’ve never taken the NaNoWriMo challenge again. I don’t need to—I know I can do it. And I still use the lessons I learned that month to this day.  I don’t write books in a month, but I’ve never taken over a year to produce a novel again.

NaNoWriMo taught me how to silence—or at least stifle—my inner critic. If you just start running, you don’t have time to study and get lost in the cracks in the sidewalk!

Now if that story doesn’t inspire you to tackle NaNoWriMo with four weeks to spare, I don’t know what will!

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern