Monday, September 27, 2010

Black and Red Bean Tortilla Bake

This is one of my low-fat recipes, so feel free to add fat back in if you want. You could use full-fat Cheddar cheese, for example, and regular sour cream.

The recipe is from THE DIABETES SNACK MUNCH NIBBLE NOSH BOOK, 3rd Edition, by Ruth Glick, published by the American Diabetes Association.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

12 servings/serving size: I piece about 3 by 2½ inches

Tex-Mex flavors predominate in this easy layered bake. It’s great as part of a buffet or when you want to feed a gang of hungry male snackers.

2 cups frozen mixed pepper and onion stir-fry

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp olive oil

1 cup mild salsa

1 15-oz can reduced-sodium tomato sauce or regular tomato sauce

1½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and well-drained

1 16-oz can reduced-sodium kidney beans, or regular kidney beans, drained

12 to 14 6-in corn tortillas

1 cup reduced-fat cottage cheese (1% fat)

2 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (8 oz) (5 grams of fat per oz)


1 large tomato, chopped

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion tops

½ cup nonfat or reduced-fat sour cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small pot or very large saucepan, combine the pepper-onion mixture, garlic, and oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, about 5 or 6 minutes.

2. Add the salsa, tomato sauce, cumin, and chili powder. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the black beans and kidney beans. Remove from burner.

3. Spread one half of the bean mixture evenly in the bottom of a 9½ x 13 inch baking pan. Top with one half of the tortillas in an overlapping layer. With the back of a large spoon, spread the cottage cheese evenly over the tortillas. Top with one half of the Cheddar cheese. Add the remaining tortillas, then the remaining bean mixture.

4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar cheese, and bake uncovered an additional 5 to 6 minutes or until the cheese is partially melted.

5. To serve, cut into 12 rectangles, and garnish with tomatoes, green onion, and sour cream.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Columbus was a fabulous place for a conference. I wouldn't have believed it before I went, but I loved the city. The hotel and conference center were right next to the High Street area, a very lively part of town. We walked down there to a couple of wonderful restaurants. And on Sunday we went over to the North Market where there were lots of food stands. We munched on ham and cheese croissants for lunch.

The conference center, next to the hotel, had a good food court where we had several lunches. We loved the Greek restaurant there.

I think that if you can't be outrageous at RT, where can you be? So I decided to wear the saris I'd bought in India--and also the ones I got at home after our trip to India. Lots of people commented on them. I was planning to also wear them at RWA. Wonder what's going to happen at RWA this year?

Here I am w/ Kathryn Falk at Club RT.

I did a couple of panels--one on Thrillers and one on Paranormal. The most interesting thing to me was hearing how other writers work. I can't imagine doing a suspense plot by the seat of my pants. But apparently a lot of people do it. Also fun to hear what paranormal elements authors are putting into their books. I would not have believed you could sell shape-shifter snakes. But they exist.

At the Thriller Panel with Gennita Low, Cindy Gerard, CJ Lyons, Heather Graham and Robert Gregory Browne.

Here are some of my impressions of RT10.

It was fun hooking up with old friends at the conference, like Angela Knight and her husband. But I also got to know some people I hadn't really talked to before.

Michael Woodcock, Angela Knight, me and Norman at the Vampire Ball.

Norman w/ Barry Eisler.

At the Book Fair with Sarah Zettel.

RT makes writers pay to put their promotional materials on promotion lane and limits the amount of space they have. Actually, I think this is a good idea because it keeps down the amount of stuff sitting around. It's fun going through the materials, picking up things from other writers and deciding what works and what doesn't. I personally think that if the thing you're giving away doesn't have your name on it, you shouldn't bother. (I don't mean a business card tied to a back scratcher.)

RT runs a good awards ceremony that clicks along fairly quickly. This year they had the editor of Cosmo as an award ceremony speaker. Since they gave a special award to Barbara Taylor Bradford, she was also on hand. She told a hilarious story about a fan who'd brought a lot of books for her to sign. One had a bullet hole in it. The woman's husband had shot the book, but not to worry. They are now divorced.

I won the award for best Harlequin Intrigue. Here I am with other winners, Charlaine Harris, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Sue Grimshaw.

Here I’m giving Borders Romance buyer, Sue Grimshaw, her Melinda Helfer Fairy Godmother Award.

RT makes it easy to connect with fans at Club RT, where you can sit at a table and talk to readers. I always enjoy that. And there's also a dealers room in the same location, where you can buy unique clothing and jewelry.

Here I am with Lisa Childs at Club RT.

I also did interviews with Between Your Sheets (video--which will appear on and with Circle of Seven for one of their podcasts later this month.

The hotel was comfortable but strangely didn't have an upscale restaurant, only a coffee shop and a bar. Because the conference was spread out, there wasn't one central place where you could see people. But the bar was usually crowded, as you might expect. Some of us got breakfast at Einstein Brothers Bagels. Really yummy! Unfortunately, they were closed on the weekend, and we had to get inferior bagels at a coffee shop (also in the hotel).

In the past few years, I was seeing a lot of e-pub authors at RT and not so many print published, but I see this shifting. There were a lot of NY published authors on hand in Columbus.

RT is also a party blast. The Faery Ball is always fun. You wouldn't believe how much effort some people put into costumes. Also at the Vampire Ball. As promised, I wore my transvestite vampire outfit and had a great time. Norman wore his tux to both balls. (See above)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

India Trip

Norman took so many great pictures in India that it’s hard to choose just a few to show you here. But here’s an idea of what we saw on our trip.

This picture from Varanasi shows the temple grounds where Hindus burn their dead. Like other tourists, we watched some of the ceremonies from a boat in the Ganges. Most boats are small, with one man rowing and three passengers. But I saw some boatmen rowing up to fifteen people. They must be strong.

A little later in the evening you can see some of the boats and the lights along the shore.

Here are women getting ready to bathe in the Ganges. They wear their saris. The men strip to bathing trunks.

Not the usual view of the Taj Mahal. Instead, we’re across the river in a beautiful garden, early in the morning.

This truck driver’s got a problem. He’s transporting an elephant, but it won’t clear the overpass. I guess they had to unload her or go around.

Visitors to the Ranthambore Tiger Preserve. Sadly, we didn’t see any tigers. But when we arrived at the Ranthambore train station, there were special greeters wandering around–-black pigs. And as we headed for the parking lot, I saw a cow going into the waiting room.

This is one of the small towns we drove through on the road between Ranthambore and Jaipur. There were lots of camels pulling carts. Lots of dogs. Cows wandering at will. Trucks. Motor scooters. Total chaos.

And here I am with a snake charmer. I may be smiling, but I wasn’t too happy to be sitting a few feet from a cobra. Norman urged me onto the blanket, though.

Here I am with Norman riding an elephant at the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Remind me that I don’t have to do it again. Twice is definitely enough. (The first time was in Thailand.)

I like this girl because you can see her face painting.

One of the highlights of our trip was when Norman, Patricia Rosemoor and I had dinner with a family in Jaipur. Their extended family lived in one house, built around a lovely courtyard. The living room and dining room were open to the interior court. The house was on an ordinary street in the Pink City, but as soon as you walked up the alley and through their front door, you were in another world.

Five people on a motor scooter was not an unusual sight.

Lunch in the courtyard of a restaurant in Jodhpur. Again, you could never tell from the street what was hidden behind high walls.

On the road between Jodhpur and Udaipur. This was part of a Jain temple complex.

Our fabulous hotel in Udaipur. The Lake Palace, built on an island. Norman, Patricia and I ate dinner on the rooftop restaurant, where we could look across the water at the Maharajah's palace. The food was western-style, for a change. The service was excellent, and the view was spectacular. A very memorable evening.

Outside the hotel coffee shop after breakfast. India is a country of such contrasts. Luxury hotels and people sleeping on the streets

And here’s a road repair crew.

What a fantastic trip. I’d love to go back. I just wish India weren’t so far away.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Recently I was asked to be guest author for a book-in-a-week challenge group. Of course, that got me thinking about my own writing method. I write two to four books a year, which means I have to keep working at a steady pace.

Long ago, I used to write slowly, then spend a lot of time editing. I figured out about fifteen years ago that I could write fast, then fix any problems later–if something needed fixing. But part of my process is to start each day editing the text I wrote the day before. That gets me back into the story.

A key factor that allows me to write fast is having an outline to work from. With an outline, I know where the book is going. Without one, I might write scenes that don’t really fit into the book. I know outlining is difficult for some writers, but it’s a skill that can be learned. And I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to fix a fifteen-page outline than it is to fix the same things in a 400-page book.

Even when I have an outline, I must think about every scene as I write it. Often my outline is very vague on details. It might say, “And then they escape from the psychotic killers,” and I have to figure out what’s really happening and if it’s even going to work the way I thought it would.

Also, I don’t think a writer can justify a scene just for “character development.” It’s got to also advance the plot in some way.

Since I’m writing romantic suspense, I must make sure that each scene carries both the relationship and the suspense. For example, if the hero and heroine are going to kiss or make love, they must also be thinking about the danger stalking them. Often, I also alternate scenes with the bad guys looking for them or planning what they’re going to do to them when they catch up.

There are times when I write a scene that I know isn’t quite right. I write it anyway so I can move forward and think of it as “holding the place” for the scene that’s going to work better. If you’re trying to write really fast, you may have to go with that concept. On the other hand, sometimes I do get stalled. If a scene simply won’t flow at all, it means I don’t understand the character motivation. Or I haven’t blocked out the action well enough. If any of that’s true, I GET UP from the computer. Sometimes just walking away for a while helps me think. Other times, it may take a couple of days to figure out what’s wrong. In that case, I might pick up another project until I get unstuck.

When I develop a story, I think about character and plot at the same time. My h/h must be the right ones for the story I’m telling. And the plot must be designed for THOSE CHARACTERS. I try not to have someone do something “out of character” just because I want or need it to happen. I call that “jerking the characters around for the sake of the plot.” If I want the heroine to do something stupid, I start early in the book establishing that she WOULD do it. In LASSITER’S LAW, for example, I have her creating the crisis for the action climax by turning herself over to the bad guy. I start very early in the story building up to that moment so the reader would believe she’d done it.

In KILLING MOON, my hero, Ross Marshall, is a werewolf detective who uses his wolf senses to solve crimes. His specialty is finding missing persons, and as the story opens, he’s stalking a serial killer. But he’s also concerned about his genetic heritage. Which is why I pair him with a woman who’s a physician and a genetic specialist. They meet after the killer wounds him, and she saves his life. Yet she knows he has secrets and wonders what kind of man she’s fallen in love with. As the plot unfolds she becomes entangled in the investigation. Five years ago, Ross ripped out the throat of another serial killer after the cops failed to act. He’s sworn never to kill again. Until he has to save the heroine’s life.

As I develop the plot and characters, I also think about the location. Where will this story take place? LASSITER’S LAW is set in Western Maryland because I wanted the heroine to be hiding out in the rural environment where she grew up.

KILLING MOON is set in the Maryland/DC area because that’s where I live, and I know it well. My werewolf lives out in the country where he can roam in wolf form. But he has easy access to the DC suburbs. I also picked the location because I think people find this setting interesting.

When I have enough details to feel comfortable with my location, I get to work, although I might have to do some research as I write. For KILLING MOON, I drove to Montgomery Mall and got to know the shopping center.

For LASSITER’S LAW, I relied on trips I’d taken to Western Maryland.

I’ve been asked if I wait for inspiration or work every day. My answer is that a career novelist must make a commitment to a regular work schedule. If I’m writing a first draft, I try to produce ten pages a day. Sometimes I can do more, but if I push too hard, I’m likely to turn out less the next day.

The good news is that the more you write, the easier it becomes. I think everybody’s got a “writing muscle.” Like any other muscle, it becomes stronger with exercise.

So don’t be afraid to plunge in. Give yourself permission to write pages that are less than perfect. You can always fix them later.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Cabin Fever?

I’m still stuck in the house two days after the big February snowstorm of 2010. So far, I've edited 90 pages of my WIP. I need to plow through another 40 before I pick up moving forward again. But I’m emerging to shovel. I shoveled a path from the front door to the sidewalk. That took 45 minutes. I keep going out to work on the cars for maybe 20-30 minutes at a time. When I was a kid, I hated "snow pants." Now I love having the ones I bought for our polar bear chasing trip to Churchill. Also the arctic boots.

Food's my big problem at the moment. Unfortunately, I'm a good cook, so I keep going into kitchen and making hearty stuff. Spaghetti sauce. Beef burgundy. Ham and bean soup. Real hot chocolate. (Not the mix. You can make real chocolate with Splenda instead of sugar.) Unfortunately, I’ve also got a big bag of cheese popcorn that I opened!

Lucky for us, we’ve got power. (Unlike some families in the neighboring counties.) So there’s plenty of entertainment in here. We have tons of Criminal Minds DVDs to watch. We also just finished the 2nd season of The Tudors."

I’ve been floundering out into the deep snow to feed the birds and squirrels. I'm putting birdseed in shallow pans. Squirrels leap on it. Birds are worried that it's some kind of trap.

Are you part of the great whiteout of 2010? How are you surviving?