Category Archives: writing

oklahoma, bologna and mac & cheese…

So I just returned from Oklahoma where last week I helped celebrate National Bologna Day in the town of Drumright. It’s a long story on how all that came about. Suffice it to say I like to use real locations and real food in my books whenever possible. It helps gives the fictional novels ‘flavor’, figuratively speaking. Joseph’s Fine Foods in Drumright, OK, and their Signature Fried Bologna Sandwich played a role in the plot of my One Night with a Cowboy (Oklahoma Nights), which is what led to me being part of the celebrations last week. You can read more about all of that HERE.

But sometimes I write about home cooking in my novels, and when I do, more often than not, it’s a dish I prepare myself at home. That is true of the Mac & Cheese that the heroine makes for my hero in Midnight Ride (Midnight Cowboys). Here is that recipe and an excerpt from the book. Enjoy! Cat 

Enjoy the Mac & Cheese Excerpt from MIDNIGHT RIDE then scroll down for the recipe

Midnight Ride SALEFinally, she sat and Tyler lifted the fork full of food he’d been dying to try. Flavor assaulted his senses as the rich sharp cheddar filled his mouth. His eyes drifted closed and a low rumble of appreciation came from his throat.

He opened his eyes again to see Janie watching and smiling. “I guess you like it.”

“Oh, my God. This is the best I’ve ever eaten.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thanks, but you don’t have to flatter me, Tyler. I would have invited you to eat anyway. It’s the least I can do in exchange for all you’ve done for me.”

“Janie, there’s one thing you should know about me.” He set his fork down and leaned forward, his forearms braced on the table. “I never mess around when it comes to food. I’m not flattering you. This is amazing.”

“Thanks.” Her cheeks turned pink and he couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re welcome.” Satisfied she believed he was sincere, he picked up the fork again and dug in for another bite. “What’s the spice? It’s not jalapeno.”

“No.” She shook her head. “It’s a pinch of cayenne. I bought a cookbook the year I got married and I’ve been using the old recipes in it ever since. I know a lot of places use other spices and other cheeses, but I just do the same thing as I always did. Plain old sharp cheddar. Oh, and a little bit of mustard, too.”

“That’s what that other flavor is. Don’t change a thing, whatever you do. I don’t care what else other places are putting in their mac and cheese, you leave yours just as it is.”

She laughed. “Okay. Since you feel that strongly about it, I promise.”

Midnight Ride Recipe: JANIE’S HOMEMADE MAC & CHEESE

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon mustard powder

Pinch cayenne pepper, salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

9 ounces cooked macaroni (elbows or shells—whatever shape you want)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the cheese sauce, melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly as it bubbles but does not brown (about 2 minutes). Add milk, stirring as it comes to a boil and thickens. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and mustard. Lower heat and stir in shredded cheddar cheese until melted (about 2 minutes). Set aside.

To make the casserole, in a 1 ½ quart oven-proof casserole dish, put the cooked macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce over the top. Mix gently with a fork. Bake uncovered until top is golden and the sauce is bubbling (about 30 minutes).

Serves four.

Women and Food Quote

 

how writing is like riding a bull

I’m procrastinating finishing a book, which is nuts because I’m so close to being done, and a book in my computer makes me $0 compared to a book in the stores, but anyway…  I’m reading an article online (for research, you understand) about bull riders, and the difficulties some newcomers to the pro tour, and even veterans, have staying at the top of their game, and the more I read, the more I keep thinking, YES this is what I feel being a writer. Take the below paragraph…

“I think being a pro at something means showing up and being ready to win every weekend,” McBride said. “I think that’s what separates guys and it’s that way in any sport. It’s the guy who can show up and do it every weekend. You don’t know for sure how you stayed on him, but now the next weekend it starts all over and you have to do the exact same thing again…”

You could easily replace parts of that paragraph with writing terms and explain how it feels, at least for me, to be an author.

“…being a pro at something means showing up and being ready to [be a best seller with] every [new book]…I think that’s what separates [authors]… It’s the [author] who can show up and do it every [book]. You don’t know for sure how you [rose to the top of the best seller ranks], but now the next [new book] it starts all over and you have to do the exact same thing again…”

And then there’s this paragraph speaking about the difference expectations for rookies compared to veterans…

“A guy’s rookie year—he’s on his honeymoon,” McBride said. “Everything’s great, you’re excited to be there, there (are) no expectations for you—it’s fun.”

Again, for a rookie vs a veteran writer it would read like this…

“[An author’s first book]—he’s on his honeymoon. Everything’s great, you’re excited to be there, there are no expectations for you—it’s fun.”

I’ve seen this exact thing happen. I’ll throw something up self published under a different, brand new pen name and get all 5-star reviews that read “I wasn’t expecting much at all but wow this was well written” whereas me, as Cat and on my 48th book or so, will get reviews such as “I really liked it but it’s not her best work–3 stars”. It’s all a matter of expectations, and setting the bar high for yourself means you have to leap that much higher each time. Because of that it’s a relief, and actually fun and so much easier to write anonymously. And it makes me dread proving myself over and over again, which is not fun at all.

So there is my procrastination-inspired introspective philosophical post. Do with it what you will. I must go back to wrestling with the bull– now…on the blank page, that is. 🙂

Oh, by the way, as the reviews are piling in for book 3 in my Oklahoma Nights series, Three Weeks with a Bull Rider, which releases 3/25, book 1 is currently on sale for 80% off, just $1.99 for the eBook of One Night with a Cowboy at most digital retailers. Buy links and details at www.CatJohnson.net 

Cat 

my favorite things: last minute gift ideas

It’s getting closer– Christmas. Are you ready? Here are a few of my favorite last minute ideas. Some require no shipping at all and 1 you can pick up at the drug store.

For the book lover…

The perfect stocking stuffer for the lady who loves to read, this class red nail polish’s official color name is “I Red a Good Book” and it’s available on the Wet n’ Wild display rack at the CVS in my area for $1.99 or on Amazon.com 

"Red a Good Book" Nail polish

 Also from Amazon, the gift for those who have everything and it’s something I am now addicted to, Amazon Prime. Yes, it costs $79 a year, but listen to what you get. Unlimited streaming of all the TV Shows and movies they have available, both on your computer or on the tablet app. I had been paying $100 a year for Netflix streaming. And there’s more (and this has been key for my Christmas shopping)…free 2-day shipping with no minimum purchase on Prime eligible items.

For the couch potato…

Next, know someone who loves gadgets and television? Check out Chromecast. If their TV is moderately modern and has an HDMI port, you can plug this $35 device into it, install the app on your tablet, smartphone and/or computer and stream from the device to the television. Now there are limitations. You can stream from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora and HBOGo, but not from AmazonPrimeVideo (which is what I use). But with the Chrome browser extension, I can put anything that’s on my computer browser on the television. Not perfect, but for the price, not bad. Works with Android, iOS, Chrome for Mac, and Chrome for Windows. (NOTE: the Roku 3 streaming device will play Amazon Instant Video but is a bit pricier at $88)

And the perfect gift to go with the Chromecast could be a gift subscription to Netflix ($7.99 a month) or Hulu Plus (also $7.99 / month)

And when all else fails, there’s always my go to last minute gift, available at your local liquor store 🙂

Have a merry!!

Cat

soda vs pop and other literary minefields

Here’s something I worry about while setting a story in other parts of the country–the old “soda vs pop” debate. And also the “sub vs wedge vs hero vs hogie”, “sweet tea vs iced tea”, “shopping cart vs buggie” and now thanks to this article I just discovered I’ve had to add “cole slaw vs slaw” to my list.

Being a New Yorker gives me one perspective and I can throw out a bit of  Italian, Yiddish and what I affectionately call “kitchen Spanish” when I need a colorful term for something, but that’s because that’s what I’ve grown up hearing. I’ve ordered a soda to go with my wedge. I drink iced tea and push my groceries in a cart. But I’m aware enough to know my Southern redneck consultant uses a buggy and drinks sweet tea, and my Oklahoma friends drink pop, and that’s what I have to be aware of when writing.

It’s one reason I looked up on the computer the menu at Joseph’s Fine Foods in Drumright, Oklahoma when writing my ONE NIGHT WITH A COWBOY. I needed to see what my characters would eat while there because I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be an Italian Combo or a Slice with Pepperoni like I would order here in NY.

I come from a land where a good pizza place better have eggplant, broccoli, sausage, peppers and onions, fresh spinach, fresh mushrooms, basil and fresh mozzarella in its list of toppings. Where they throw the dough right there and you wait the twenty minutes for the pie (that’s pizza pie) to cook. I don’t come from a land where fried bologna sandwiches are the house speciality, but that’s what makes this job fun and I can’t wait to get my butt to Oklahoma and try the smoked bologna at Joseph’s.

Until I’ve been everywhere and eaten everything, which could take a lifetime if it’s even possible, Google will be my best friend. Check out the article for more maps like the one below and see what things are called around this great land of ours!

Map of soda vs pop usage

 

 

random romance (w)riter roles

Think I sit around in my jammies all day and spin spicy sexy tales? Think again. Today I bring you random things romance writers are good at, in no particular order…

Shipping-

Should my writing career bottom out, I could probably get a job at the UPS Store because one side effect of being an author in today’s day and age is shipping stuff. Lots of stuff. Prizes to contest winners. Baskets for charity auctions. Swag to readers. Promo for giveaways. And on a side-errand, shipping things to the deployed troops (using the dreaded customs forms. UGH). I’m at the post office a lot. At least one or two times a week. So I got that skill going for me.

PromoPacking –

I travel to conventions with a 40 pound carry-on bag filled with giveaways. A ten pound laptop case filled with technology and pens/sharpies. And, last but not least, a 50 pound checked bag filled with clothes, costumes, toiletries, and the overflow promo, banners, banner stands, scissors, tape, swag, etc. That’s 100 pounds, carried by me who, when I’m at my best, weighs in at 115 lbs. It takes a lot of time and skill to get it all where it’s going, and at a minimum expense. I managed to get a case of 120 glass shotglasses to New Orleans for a comvention unscathed and for free. That’s talent. At left is the other case I ordered of the same shotglass, tucked neat and safe in my carry-on, this time headed to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Kansas City, MO in two weeks.

Travel –

Related to packing but also a bit different, I have become an expert solo traveler. I know to wear no belt, and no shoes with laces. I’ve got my photo ID and boarding pass out, my shoes off, my laptop out, my jacket off and my 3-0z liquids in a clear quart sized ziplock long before I reach the TSA scanners. The agents recognize my vast travel talent and bump me to the expert traveler lane at Laguardia Airport. Expertise has its privileges. I’ve figured out how to send my bags through the scanner in the fewest number of bins and so my most valuable items (wallet, electronics) go through as I walk through so they’re not hanging out unprotected at the end of the conveyor belt while I’m still back on the other side of the scanner. Any jobs out there for professional flyer? I’m your girl!

Promo Ho-ing –

Though on a resume I’d probably have to write Promotions and Marketing or something equally boring. I am an expert at what vendors are best for which promo. Who has free shipping. Who has no set up charges. Whose customer service is the best, and whose sucks. The dirty little secret of being an author today is that writing the book is only step one, promoting it is what they don’t tell you you’ll be spending considerable time and money on. If you’re not a natural ho, this can be challenging.

I was going to list Professional Bum but didn’t because I’m not sure that’s a thing, but I have crafted daytime outfits to write in during the day that are as comfortable as PJs but still look presentable should a deliveryman come to the door.

So there you go. My random skill set that will hopefully keep me off the streets should the world stop loving romance. Let’s all hope that never happens, shall we?

the writing chair – an update

Last I left you, I was sitting in a holey chair with no support and little time or energy for finding a replacement. Well here is a happy ending update for you. We have this building on our property, probably from the late 1800’s, and when we first moved in over 10 years ago, I got it in my head to furnish it and turn it into a ‘playhouse’–bar, bar stools, antique collectibles, big screen TV, chess, cards, books, stereo, and–wait for it–a chaise lounge. So I started thinking, would that fit in my writing room? Would it be comfortable? I made the mistake of thinking out loud and the next thing I know I hear a strange noise outside, and go downstairs to find the husband dragging the chaise from the playhouse, up the stone path to the back door of the house, because, you know, why ask for help.

Anyway, since it was here I thought I might as well try it in the room. Between the two of us we got it up the stairs and lo and behold, I love it. It’s big enough I can fit on it with a few cats (always a consideration in this house). I can sit upright, or lay down. I can work or I can nap or I can watch TV when I’m supposed to be working. And it is finally a chair befitting a romance author. Everyone thinks we lie around on chaise lounges eating bon bons and drinking champagne in our negligees anyway, at least now I’ve got one thing right–a leopard chaise! And I didn’t even have to leave the house and go to a store to find it! Let’s see if it inspires any good stories, shall we?

Cat Johnson's Leopard Writing Chaise

Cat

chair-ity

Those of you who read the saga of my writing sweater know I keep things until they are in such bad shape they need to be thrown out. I wore my last sweater until it was so holey it embarrassed even me. I drove my last car until the mechanic refused to fix it again and told me to buy a new one. You know it’s bad if a mechanic won’t even take your money. Well, today’s item that I am trying to reconcile parting with is my writing chair.

The cats will miss it too, but look close between them and there's the hole :(

The cats will miss it too, but look close between them and there's the hole 🙁

It is about 20 years old…maybe a little more, but things should last! Okay, there are holes in the bottom cushion, so I flipped it over and now there are holes on that side too. And the cushion’s foam doesn’t quite fit because years and years ago there was an unfortunate cat pee incident and I had to wash the foam insert and it wouldn’t dry so I leaned it near the woodburning stove and …well, let’s say foam doesn’t burst into flames, it more like smoulders and melts slowly–hence the new insert.

There isn’t exactly a back cushion any longer, either. I washed that and it fell apart in the washing machine. So for a few years I gathered up the pieces, stuffed them into a plastic bag, and shoved it back into the zippered cushion cover. That eventually got too lumpy and horrible so now I’ve shoved an old bed pillow in there.

So yeah, this is what I’ve been working in. Only now I need to put 2 throw pillows behind my back, and I’ve noticed my left leg going numb. I think it may be time, as much as I hate to say it.

I really don’t like change. Obviously. And searching for a new chair is going to take time. It’s nothing to be entered into lightly. It could be with me for the next 20 years. I’ll have to try it out. Get a feel for it and how it will be after sitting in it for a full day of computer work. That’s hard to do in a store. Even harder online, which is where I prefer to do my shopping.  But as I hear the mournful strains of “Taps” being played in the background, I know it must be done.

I go bravely into the search. I’ll keep you informed on my progress.

Cat

bologna, hushpuppies and smoke sauce, oh my

I’ve traveled enough, you’d think I’d cease to be amazed at how vastly different the culinary offerings are within my own country. Without going very far from home, twenty minutes or less, I can get Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, German, Greek and French cuisine, even Texas barbecue.

What I don’t know where to find in my little corner of New York are hush puppies, or grits, or fried okra, or collard greens, or a fried bologna sandwich.

Keep Calm and Eat BolognaWhat the layman might not realize is that as a writer I have to remember these regional differences while writing stories set in other parts of thecountry. I must remember it’s pop, not soda. It’s a hero or a hoagie, not a wedge or a sub. It’s sweet tea, rather than iced tea. And I have to remember that when my characters stop for a quick lunch in Oklahoma, they’re not going to see the same menu with the same choices I’d see here in NY. And that is why I used for my research the menu of an actual restaurant in Oklahoma for my characters’ date in ONE NIGHT WITH A COWBOY.

That menu from Joseph’s Fine Foods in Drumright, Oklahoma was my first exposure to the existence of a fried bologna sandwich, jalapeno hush puppies and smoke sauce. I wrote it into my book, based a sex scene around it, and even included it in my marketing, because it seems smoked bologna is sexy!

Now, all I have to do is get there and get some!!

gifts for the writer

Deadlines wait for no man. Neither do holidays. So yes, I am one stressed writer as both loom before me, which inspired me to blog. Well, the stress did, as well as a blog post by the brilliantly irreverent Chuck Wendig “25 Gifts For Writers“.

Do you have a stressed writer in your life? Or hell, anyone who works from home. Here is my quick and dirty list of what my personal experience in this area has taught me they would love to receive.

A new mug. It must be big. Giant. Huge. Because I am too lazy to keep going to the coffee pot, or the tea kettle, to refill it. I will however, walk down to the microwave to reheat the contents–hey, I need some exercise, right? One year I saw a mug that said “What deadline?” on it. I didn’t buy it. I have regretted that decision every day since then. Just saying…

A fun new wine glass, perhaps holiday themed, because when it’s too late in the day for caffeine, this particular writer switches to alcohol. Of course, it goes without saying, that a nice accompaniment for the wine glass would be a fabulous bottle of wine to go with it. Possibly with a very fun name. My friend once bought a bottle of Writer’s Block wine. Brilliant gift, if you can find a bottle of that send it on over.

Daytime PJs. You know I’m not getting dressed just to sit in the house alone with the cats and write. Who has the energy or time for that? I will however change from my nighttime PJs to what I call my daytime PJs–some sort of comfy pull-on lounging pants with a big warm cozy sweater. That way I can be comfortable to sit and write all day, but if the man in brown comes a’knocking at the back door bearing gifts in his UPS truck, I can answer the door without feeling embarrassed. Oh, and an update for those who were following the saga of my writing sweater–I bit the bullet and threw out my very favorite holey black writing sweater. But, lo and behold, and thanks to a Black Friday miracle, the store where I’d bought it years ago had a sale and free shipping, and I replaced the sweater with one the same style but in a lovely soft grey. That’s the good news. The bad news is that since getting it, I have spent far too much time and money online buying new lounging pants and a tank top to match it. But hey, it is my work uniform, right?

A throw. While in my chair trying to write, I get hot, and then I get cold. Then I fall asleep. In any event, the perfect thing is a nice BIG soft throw that I can wrap around me when I need, use just to cover my feet if they’re cold, or toss it completely off me if need be–you’d be surprised how much heat 2 cats and a laptop can generate.

And finally (I’m almost embarrassed to write this but I will anyway)–a fake fireplace. Now, if you have a natural gas hookup in the house and a few thousand dollars to hire a plumber to run a gas line, you can install a lovely gas one. If you are cheap, as I am, you can buy this gorgeous electric one at Walmart for $129 with 97 cent shipping. I have to say, my writing lair is so lovely since I bought this thing that I never want to leave it! Yes, we have a perfectly nice real fireplace in the house. It’s downstairs and requires wood like every hour, and cleaning every week, and I’m too lazy for that, hence my totally portable fireplace that turns on with a flip of a switch. It makes me happy. Don’t judge.

So there you go–my suggestions for the writer or any other type of shut-in you may know. Have a wonderful holiday!

Cat