And so farewell, sorta

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I’m phasing out  Anyone who has the address should dump it.  After August 1st, 2014 it won’t exist anymore.

I’ll move my author blog to  All my old posts will be up over there.

So no, I’m not going away, I’m just scaling back.


Goin’ one better on the cookbooks. Again.

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A few years ago I bought a couple of Scandinavian cookbooks.  One is a book on Swedish baked goods, and while I’ve enjoyed reading it, cookbooks being largely recreational reading for me, I’d never attempted any of the recipes.  This week I tried two with interesting results.

Today’s cake began life as a Lingonberry Spice Cake.  I chose the recipe because I had most of the ingredients or their equivalents on hand, and because it was fast to put together and Glinda and I were starving.  So here’s the recipe as I made it:

  • 1 stick (8T) of butter.  (I used salted. If you prefer to use unsalted, I’d add a pinch of salt.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 C dark brown sugar  (I’m partial to Muscovado sugar but that’s awfully dark for some people.)
  • 3 tsp pumpkin pie spice  (I use a blend from The Spice House which is a local business.  It includes: cinnamon, allspice, powdered cassia buds, ground nutmeg, ginger powder, ground mace, and ground cloves.)
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup orange juice mixed with 1/4 cup half and half  (The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have any so I mixed up an alternative. The juice clabbers the half and half and gives it a nice orange flavor.)

So heat your oven to 350.  (What’s that you say?  No lingonberries?  Nope, didn’t have any.  Thought about using Glinda’s leftover cranberry sauce, but decided against it.)  Grease and flour a 6 Cup loaf pan.  Then melt the butter and let it cool.

While it’s cooling, beat the eggs with the sugar.  The book says to beat the mixture until it’s thick and light yellow, and here’s one of the problems I had with the book:  You’re using dark brown sugar. There’s no way this mixture will ever be light yellow!  If you beat it hard for a few minutes it’ll become a nice tan color.  Just beat it until it’s thickened.

Then you add the flour a bit at a time, alternating with the liquid and butter until it’s all blended.  It should be a nice, thick batter, and very smooth.  Pour it into the pan and bake.  Second problem with the book: It says to bake for an hour.  I tested it at 40 minutes and it was about as done as I would ever want a cake to be.  This is a lesson I learned with the first recipe I tried from this book, about which more in a minute.

Breakfast Spice Cake


However, right now, enjoy the sight of an excellent spice cake (which broke in half when I tried to turn it over on the cooling rack) with a beautifully moist, tender crumb, and a crust that had a wonderful sugary snap to it.  It’s very spicy, and might not be to everyone’s taste, so I urge you to add your spices accordingly.  It is, as Glinda pointed out, very good with coffee making it an extremely Scandinavian recipe.  It would be hella good with a bit of whipped cream.

So about the first recipe… Well I’ll tell you.  I never tried making anything like a coffee cake before, and since I have been enjoying my experiments with yeast breads so much I thought “What could it hurt to try one of the raised cakes in the book?”  I chose what’s called an Apple Wreath, and made a couple of changes to the filling, using finely chopped apples and sugar, and adding finely chopped almonds and dried apricots.  I didn’t make any changes to the dough.  I respect the dough.  Here are the problems I encountered:

  1. Yeast starts to die at 120 degrees F.  The recipe called for the milk and butter to be heated to 115 degrees F before adding to the yeast. This is, at least based on my experience, not a great idea.  It took a very long time for the dough to rise.  Now granted, it’s a heavy dough, not at all like the beautiful, silken bread doughs I’ve been working with, but it should not have taken over an hour to double while sitting on top of a stove where the oven is at 400 degrees, the warming spot is on and the hood light, which throws off a whole lot of heat is also on.  Next time I melt the butter, add the half and half and use it as is, which would be about room temperature or a little higher.  The yeast will be just as happy.
  2. The oven is at 400 degrees!  This is really hot for baked goods, especially one with an egg wash and a sugar sprinkle.  25 minutes in that oven produced a vastly over-baked product, slightly burnt-looking on one side.  Granted I should have checked at about 15 and 20 minutes, but still.  Next time 375 degrees and checking constantly.  Yes I have an oven thermometer.  Yes, I checked it.
  3. The filling recipe was kind of mingy. It called for 2/3 cups applesauce or grated apples with sugar and cinnamon to taste.  I chopped two Granny Smith apples, added a healthy handful of almonds, and a big handful of dried apricots and made about a cup, maybe a cup and a quarter of filling, and I still think it was skimpy.  I’d double the amount next time.

I was disappointed in the wreath, but both Glinda and our neighbor, Linda, said it was very good.  I think they were being a bit kind.  I thought the raw dough tasted better than the cooked.  I’ll be trying it again, possibly with a slightly different filling.  I’m thinking almond paste and apples sliced on the mandoline.

Since then both Glinda and I have found a number of problems with the recipes in the book.  That doesn’t make them any less useful, but it does mean that we’ll have to be cautious about the way we use them.


Review: Kathe Koja’s “The Mercury Waltz”

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Revisiting the fin de siècle with two gentlemen of the road

Kathe Koja has a feel for Europe’s fin de siècle, and the themes that inspired writers and artists, poets and musicians. Through the adventures and misadventures of Rupert and Istvan, the heroes of “Under the Poppy,” she again explores the uneasy alliance of sex, politics and commerce, though this time in a more roundabout manner.

While Decca remains at The Poppy, and with Lucy married to Pimm and settled into a theatrical life, Rupert and Istvan are on their own, at least for a short while. But they seem to draw people to them, people who become family. Into their sphere they welcome Tilde, a maid-servant devoted to Rupert’s happiness, Haden St. Mary, a pimp and a spy, and Seraphim, a critic with more than his share of secrets. In this new town, the pair have opened a theater of their own — The Mercury — and their plays tweak the noses of local authority and cause scandal to the moralists of the town. Rupert and Istvan are older, but not necessarily wiser, at least about their relationship with each other, and yet their love for one another is the single enduring thing about their world. Even when that love is tested by a figure from their past.

Relationships are reiterated, forming and reforming in different configurations. Themes dear to the heart of fin de siècle authors — the vigor and strength of the new, the decadence and failure of the old — make the story richer and deeper. As with “Under the Poppy” Koja’s prose is elegant and difficult. It requires your attention and rewards that attention with gorgeous, sometimes dizzying passages that flow like a vast river. And if you haven’t yet read Poppy, I urge you to do so before tackling “The Mercury Waltz” because it may stand on its own, but it is far richer for familiarity with its prequel.

If you love the fin de siècle, as I do, if you enjoy a writing style that makes demands on you, and if you want a story of love that isn’t simple or saccharine, then I recommend both “The Mercury Waltz” and its prequel, “Under the Poppy.”


Release day: Call Me But Love

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Today is release day for Call Me But Love!

Mercutio is a funny, moody, complex foil for Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but in the four stories presented here, each an independent tale, Mercutio’s love for his friend goes far deeper, always somehow entwined with the fates of Romeo and Juliet.

The first tale sets the trio back in Renaissance Verona, where Mercutio vies for Romeo’s love. Romeo is oblivious, but the love triangle has deadly consequences. Next, we find Romeo and Mercutio in Victorian England. Though Romeo knows Mercutio loves him and returns his passion, he struggles to fit his desires into the strict mores of the day. The third story takes us to post-WWII America, where war-weary Romeo, Juliet, and Mercutio long for the right to love whom they choose. The final story in the collection brings the three characters into contemporary times, a band on a road trip that will change their lives forever.
ISBN-13: 978-1-62798-014-2
Pages: 74
Cover Artist: Reese Dante

Categories: Novellas, Contemporary, Americas, European, Tracy Rowan, Historical
Book Type: eBook   File Formats Available: .epub, .mobi, html, pdf

Oddly, they’ve chosen to excerpt the entire first story, so I will too.  Enjoy!

Act One:  His timeless end

Verona, 1320

 ROMEO is fortune’s master, of that there is no doubt. One day, pining for love of a woman who never even knew he existed, the next, wed in bliss to the daughter of his mortal enemy. He is golden, charmed. The sun shines at his pleasure. He can’t help but feel he should do something mad, something more enormous and daring, for he is certain he cannot fail today. He wants to share this feeling with his best friend, his brother, his…. No word describes how he feels about Mercutio, who is dearer to him than any brother, closer than any friend.

He finds his friend lying on the church steps, basking in the sun. Mercutio’s moss-green brocade doublet is discarded upon the worn stones, and his fine ivory lawn shirt is open almost to the waist. His skin is golden in the sun. Benvolio is with him, but sitting a little apart, fanning himself with his cap. Their eyes are shut against the relentless light.


Mercutio shades his eyes and smiles up at Romeo. He is slow in the heat, languid, like a lizard sunning itself on a rock. His black hair is glossy with sweat that drips darkly upon the stone.

“Where did you fly off to last night?” he asks. “We looked for you before we left the party, didn’t we, Benvolio?”

Without opening his eyes, Benvolio nods.

“My life has….” Romeo gestures broadly as if on a stage. “…changed overnight, in an instant.”

“Then sit down and tell me.” Mercutio stretches. “It’s much too hot to jump about like that.” The dreamy languor in his eyes makes Romeo melt onto the step beside him, limbs splayed in unconscious reply to Mercutio’s sleepy abandon.

“I am married.” Romeo doesn’t miss the expressions playing across his friend’s angular face, but young as he is, he neither understands them nor cares that he doesn’t. “Last night, I beheld my destiny in the form of Capulet’s daughter. We spoke, I won her love and she mine, and we made a pact to meet with Friar Laurence, who has joined us in the most holy bonds of marriage. As with us, so too our families. There’s an end to the blood feud, and the start of great joy for a city too long torn apart by this foolish feud. Are you not happy for me? Are you not happy for us all?”

A moment passes before Mercutio replies. “Very,” he says. “May I be the first to congratulate you? But your choice may not be as easy to reconcile as you hope.”

His light-green eyes are unnervingly pale, his pupils like pinpoints.

“I’d leave the city with her,” Benvolio suggests. “For a time at least.” Benvolio is the careful one.

Romeo laughs. “There’s no life outside of Verona’s walls,” he insists. He picks up a pebble that he pitches at Benvolio, hitting him in the foot.

“Have it your way. You always do.”

“Hush,” Mercutio admonishes. “The boy is happy.”

At this, Benvolio opens his eyes, and he gazes at Mercutio with open curiosity. “And you, you’re happy for him?”

Mercutio shrugs. “This is the way of things, Benvolio. You know it as well as I. Now let us put our heads together and find a way to keep this boy’s madness from becoming a terrible mess.”

But before they can discuss the marriage, even before Romeo can say “We’ll simply tell our families and it’s done!”, they are approached by a small group of the Capulets, led by Tybalt, cousin to Romeo’s new wife. Romeo never liked Tybalt. Truth be told, he is jealous because Tybalt and Mercutio are… not friends, exactly, but something like it. In fact, Romeo doesn’t quite know what they are to each other. He has always felt a little left out, in spite of the fact that when they all are together, which is surprisingly often, all Mercutio and Tybalt ever seem to do is quarrel and snipe.

Mercutio smiles lazily up at Tybalt, whose handsome face is twisted with anger and the way he squints against the blaze of the sun. “Prince of Cats, what brings you out on a day so hot? I imagined you slumbering in the shade.”

There is no irony in the greeting, which is rare for Mercutio. The affection in his voice is genuine.

Tybalt starts to smile, but then he disciplines himself to scowl. “It’s not you I’ve come to see.”

“Yet see me you do.” Mercutio looks him up and down. “Your fur seems ruffled.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised since you consort with this dog of a Montague.”

Romeo doesn’t care for the sharpness in Tybalt’s voice, nor is he prepared to accept the insult without replying. He attempts to stand, but Mercutio flings an arm out and knocks him back down onto the hot stone.

“Cats and dogs, cats and dogs,” he singsongs. “Rat-catcher, your yowls and hisses do not please me today.” Though soft, Mercutio’s voice echoes that sharpness, and Romeo, who knows Mercutio’s body well, can see the tension in him. He is warning Tybalt.

Tybalt’s face darkens and he squares his shoulders and fingers the hilt of his sword. It’s a clumsy response. “My business is with Romeo, not you, sir.”

“Nevertheless, you have me.”

“Of course you would bark for him,” Tybalt snarls. “You always do.” At this, Romeo pushes Mercutio’s arm away and stands.

“I need no protection.” He does not like Tybalt, and today is his perfect day. He won’t have it ruined with a fight.

“I think you do, villain,” Tybalt says, his voice dropping almost to a purr.

Romeo measures his reply, knowing he must not give in to the instinct to draw his sword and settle this with blood. “I am no villain, nor do I feel any anger with you for saying so. Please be at peace. Soon you shall know all, and understand when I say I have reason to love you.”

His tone is a bit friendlier than he feels, but he’ll say whatever he must. It’s his day; things have to work out the way he wants them to.

Tybalt stares, mouth open. Come for a fight, he has received nothing but fair words from his enemy. His fingers grow white upon the hilt of his sword. He wants to draw, but something stays his hand.

“Mercutio, let’s go somewhere quieter to talk.” Romeo tugs Mercutio’s sleeve, but Mercutio doesn’t budge. He’s watching Tybalt watch Romeo, and it makes Romeo uneasy. He doesn’t understand the currents swirling around him. He hates not understanding.

“Don’t do it,” Mercutio says quietly, and Tybalt’s eyes widen.

“Who are you to give me orders, you… commodity?”

The answer is the soft slide of metal as Mercutio’s sword is drawn. “And who are you to judge anyone, Rat-catcher? You need to go down on your knees and beg God to forgive your arrogance, for I will not.”

Tybalt hesitates, more shocked than angry. Mercutio’s challenge has taken him aback.

In this moment, Romeo approaches Tybalt. “Cousin—for that’s what I may call you now, sweet cousin—I have glad news.”

He wants to defuse this moment and avoid a fight. He does not want this joy of his turned to resentment. He does not want to see his friend fight this man. Romeo senses resentment roiling around Tybalt like dust in a sirocco, and he is trying to find a way to dampen his anger.

Tybalt straightens his shoulders, shoves Romeo away, and stalks off, followed by the rest of the Capulets. Halfway across the plaza, he turns and shouts, “You and I, boy, you and I have a reckoning coming,” and gives his fawn-colored doublet an angry tug.

Romeo, unable to let the moment go, pursues him. “Your cousin Julietta and I are made one by the church. She is my wife, and there is reason for gladness and reconciliation where there was formerly anger and division. Let your heart be joyful for us, and for the end of this feud, which has ruined so many lives.”

He leans in and kisses Tybalt’s cheek. It’s hot with anger and the heat of the day, yet a chill rolls off the man and Romeo shivers a little.

He has the unpleasant feeling that he’s been hasty in delivering his news so baldly, so Romeo retreats to where Mercutio and Benvolio stand. He can hear the sounds of laughter and outrage mingling all around. “We should go now,” he says as Mercutio’s eyes widen.

Romeo turns, his sword half drawn, for amid the laughter and the cries of anger, he has heard also the slide of steel. Tybalt rushes him, sword in hand and murder in his eyes. “Hide behind your erastes or fight like a man, yet still I will cut you down today, Montague, and you will never plague me or mine again!”

Romeo cannot free his sword in time. Tybalt will kill him there on the church steps, and his bride will be a widow before she is ever a wife.

But as Tybalt lunges, Romeo is flung aside. When he picks himself up, the square is silent, and Tybalt and Mercutio are staring at each other. Tybalt is shaking his head, and Mercutio is clutching the blade of Tybalt’s sword, the blade that was driven into Mercutio’s chest. In the silence and heat, blood blossoms on Mercutio’s shirt.

The moment breaks like a storm over the plaza. The Capulets grab Tybalt and drag him away from the steps as Mercutio falls into Benvolio’s arms. Romeo rushes to them. “Mercutio?”

“Why did you tell him?” Mercutio asks in a ragged voice. Blood flowers turn the ivory lawn of his shirt crimson. Red streams run shining on the stone steps beneath him.

“I thought it for the best.” The sound Mercutio makes is something like a laugh, something like a groan. “Is the hurt a bad one? Someone fetch a surgeon!” Romeo shouts, and he hears an unearthly cry of pain that doesn’t come from Mercutio at all, but from the one who cut him down. Mercutio’s life is flowing away, and it’s Tybalt who is suffering.

“It’s a scratch. He’s a terrible swordsman. Romeo….”


“You know I love you, don’t you?”

“As I love you,” Romeo replies.

Mercutio closes his eyes and smiles. “No, not like that at all.”

Suddenly Tybalt is there, pushing Benvolio aside, falling onto the steps, and shoving Romeo away from Mercutio, whom he lifts and cradles tenderly in his arms. “Forgive me,” he is saying through his tears. “Forgive me, my heart.” He says it to a dead man.

Where the rage comes from, Romeo will never know, but he draws his sword now with cold intent and moves toward Tybalt, who looks up, handsome face mangled by sorrow. In a moment, Tybalt is not only impaled on Romeo’s sword but has likewise impaled Romeo. They stare at each other over the body of their lover until Tybalt’s eyes lose their focus and go glassy. He falls backward onto the steps and is still. Only then does Romeo fall, life seeping out through his fingers, his future fading along with his past.

There will be no reconciliation, no joining of the houses. There will be no wedding night, no children, no old age and honor. He is going to die here in the square with no one but Benvolio and a crowd of Capulets to see him off.

I am fortune’s fool, he thinks as he pulls himself over to Mercutio’s body and rests his head on his friend’s shoulder. For a moment the whole of this tragedy becomes clear, but then the sun grows cold.

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Variations on a Theme by Will Shakespeare

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Theme and variation. Take a musical line — your own or someone else’s — and explore variations on it.  Change the harmonies, add voices, make it faster and brighter or slower and sadder. Embellish the musical line or strip it down to its barest essentials.  Mozart wrote a great number of variations on themes, and one of the most justifiably famous of J. S. Bach’s works is the Goldberg Variations, a series of thirty variations on an aria which is stated at the beginning of the piece and restated at the end.

Theme and variation exists in the visual arts — think Warhol’s soup cans or found object art — but it’s never gotten a lot of traction in literature except, oddly enough, within fandom where the form  ”(x-number) things that never happened to (character)” is popular.  For example: “Three Things That Never Happened to Ironman” might be a trio of stories about 1) How Tony Stark actually died in that cave and all his subsequent adventures happened in his head in the few seconds before his death. 2) How Tony Stark and Bruce Banner went from bromance to romance. 3) How Tony Stark learned humility.  The beauty of the “never happened” part is that while the reader knows this isn’t canon, it can be a compelling and believable variation on canon.

I love this form and one of the stories I wrote in it – Five Things That Never Happened to Ennis Del Mar – is, I believe, some of my best work.  Lately I’ve been working on a novel-length X-things about a character from Dickens.  And I was mightily tempted by the possibilities inherent in the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or, more specifically, Romeo and Mercutio, the brilliant, charismatic character who very nearly steals the entire play away from R&J.  If you squint just a bit, you may just see Mercutio as Romeo’s true love.

As I read it, the text of the play can support the interpretation that Mercutio is in love with Romeo and that he resents Romeo’s amours. Mercutio is good at sniping and sarcasm, and he constantly aims it at Romeo and his love for Rosaline and Juliet. Interestingly at one point, Romeo observes “He jests at scars that never felt a wound,” suggesting that Romeo thinks Mercutio has never been in love.  I think he’s dead wrong.  I think Mercutio is one big, ragged wound.

With this in mind, I wrote a series of four short stories that have been collected under the title of “Call Me But Love” from the line in the play: “Call me but love and I’ll be new baptized. Henceforth I never will be Romeo.”  I chose it because it spoke to my belief that no one can have an honest life if they’re forced to deny who they love.  Each story takes us a few steps further along the social continuum towards an acceptance of same-sex love from Renaissance Verona, through Victorian England and post-WWII America, to contemporary Los Angeles.

Tomorrow I’m guest blogging about Call Me But Love with P. D. Singer, and will talk more about my inspirations for the story.  Please join me.  (Link will work on Tuesday, 8/27/13)  You can pre-order CMBL at Dreamspinner Press or buy it outright on Wednesday, August 28th.

Until then, here’s my favorite example of the musical form: Thomas Tallis’ Why Fum’th in Fight, and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ variations of that tune, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis>.  Enjoy!

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New release: Call Me But Love

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CallMeButLove_postcard_front_DSPI’ve finally revamped my author site (Can you believe it?  I had “The Vampyre’s Revenge” listed as “coming soon.”) mostly because I have a new ebook due out from Dreamspinner Press on the 28th of August.  It’s entitled “Call Me But Love” and it’s four separate but entangled views of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with the relationship between Romeo and Mercutio the central focus of each story.  From the Dreamspinner website:

Mercutio is a funny, moody, complex foil for Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but in the four stories presented here, each an independent tale, Mercutio’s love for his friend goes far deeper, always somehow entwined with the fates of Romeo and Juliet. 

The first tale sets the trio back in Renaissance Verona, where Mercutio vies for Romeo’s love. Romeo is oblivious, but the love triangle has deadly consequences. Next, we find Romeo and Mercutio in Victorian England. Though Romeo knows Mercutio loves him and returns his passion, he struggles to fit his desires into the strict mores of the day. The third story takes us to post-WWII America, where war-weary Romeo, Juliet, and Mercutio long for the right to love whom they choose. The final story in the collection brings the three characters into contemporary times, a band on a road trip that will change their lives forever.

I chose the title from the balcony scene where Juliet, musing on the irony of loving an enemy says:  ”Romeo, doff thy name,/ And for that name, which is no part of thee/ Take all myself.

Romeo replies, saying: “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized./ Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

Love has changed him and he will change for love. This is the thread that follows him throughout the four stories in this collection; Romeo must decide to brave everything, to change, to become a different person in order to love whom he will. In each story he moves a little closer to being able to become the person he wants to be. The path isn’t always smooth or simple. Here’s an excerpt from the second story, “Give Me a Case to Put My Visage In”:

“What are you thinking, Montague?” David Mercutio, Lord Ackham, appeared at Romeo’s side, peering out from behind a red and gold Venetian Scaramouche mask. He was wildly out of place in a room filled with ladies and gentlemen waltzing in their formal attire.

“Why are you wearing that?”

“I found it in the garden. I am of the opinion there was some naughtiness occurring out there earlier.”

“And I am of the opinion you are eccentric and difficult. Take off the mask, and look at that girl over there in the silver-gray gown, the one with your brother. What do you think of her?”

Mercutio shoved the mask upward. The long golden nose made him look like a demented unicorn. “Capulet’s daughter? Pretty enough, not much of a dancer.”

“Really? Lord Valentine just danced with her.”

“My brother is a terrible dancer too. He wouldn’t know the difference.”
“I’m thinking of wooing her.”

Mercutio was gleefully shocked. “Madman! Scandal!”

“No, really. It makes good sense. The feuding has to end sometime, doesn’t it?”

“And how will you do that, Montague? How will you win her father’s consent?”
“By winning the girl, of course. She’s his only child. He almost certainly dotes on his little girl.”

Mercutio nodded thoughtfully. “You make a good point. Perhaps I should marry her and use those earrings to pay my gambling debts.”

Romeo rolled his eyes. “She wouldn’t have you; your reputation is foul.”
Mercutio clutched at his chest. “Harsh words. I am a marquess after all, dear boy. Reputation notwithstanding, my title rather trumps your bank, don’t you think?”

Romeo was annoyed but refused to show it. He was frustrated because his family remained without a single title in spite of owning a successful banking concern and their long-time support of the crown.

“I suppose we’ll see if you decide to woo her, which we both know you won’t.”

“She’ll not have you either.” Mercutio pulled the mask back down over his face.

“I think she will.”

“Shall we wager on it?” Mercutio’s sardonic mouth twisted into a smile beneath the appalling gilded visage of Scaramouche.

“All right, then, what shall we wager? You have no money.”

“If you win the maid’s heart I will….” Mercutio stared upward for a moment or two. “I will speak to my father and suggest that it is past time the Montague family is recognized for its service to the country. Harold Montague OBE has a nice ring to it.”

“So does Romeo Montague OBE.”

“And what have you done for the country, you little upstart?”

Romeo conceded it was a bit early to look for his own honors, but one for his father would be a leg up into the nobility. “Well, what about Sir Harold?”
“I will do what I can. More I cannot promise.”

“I accept.”

“Not so fast. Your wager is not yet on the table.”

Romeo possessed the coin that would bind the wager. It was the one thing Mercutio had wanted from him since they’d met. “You shall have the thing you want most from me,” he promised coyly.

Mercutio tipped his head. “How if I say I am no longer interested?”

Romeo shrugged and looked back at the Capulet girl who was laughing at something. Who had made her laugh? He’d have to get her away from the other men to pursue his plan. “I’ll woo her, wager or no. It matters not to me. And then….” He turned back to Mercutio. “Should I win the wager, what do you lose?”

“All right, then, done. For such a pretty boy, you have the personality of a wasp.”

Remember, release date is August 28th.  Cover by Reese Dante.  Let me know what you think of “Call Me But Love.”

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Scam Calls: What to do

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This summer I’ve gotten two calls from different numbers, telling me that my Life Alert system — pre-paid, mind you! — is ready to ship.  Now once I got over the annoyance of anyone thinking that I was old enough to need a Life Alert system, I googled the most recent number.  (815-977-9558) They’re scam calls preying on the elderly.

What happens is this: You get a robocall from these guys and the recording is just creepily realistic, complete with the sound of pages being shuffled while the speaker looks for information.  However if you’re not particularly polite, like me, you’ll try to interrupt the spiel and discover that no, it’s not a real person, it’s a recording.  This should really piss you off.

The caller says that your new Life Alert system (or something similar) is ready to ship, that it’s been pre-paid, that the shipping is pre-paid, and all you need to do is punch 1 to accept the shipment.  When you do, they start asking for things like your Medicare # (Your SSN) and credit card info.  Identity theft anyone?

Don’t punch 1.  Don’t punch any number.  Just hang up.

Please read these articles if you’re concerned:


From Life Alert

The Better Business Bureau

FTC info  Including a short, must-see video on what calls are illegal and what to do about them.

If you ever wonder about a phone call you’ve gotten, copy the phone number that shows up on your caller ID and google it. You’ll find a lot of information about scammy numbers online. Don’t be afraid to report calls to the FTC if those calls are illegal.




Fresh Farms: an amazing ethnic market

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Ever since Mariano’s moved into the neighborhood we’ve shopped there pretty exclusively.  Yeah, we still go to TJ’s, and sometimes stop in to whatever store is convenient to get one or two items we really need.  Before Mariano’s (which I would refer to as BM, but that would be unfortunate in the extreme) we would go to a place called Fresh Farms International Market because they had a lot of ethnic foods, and really good prices.  It was also a great place to people watch because it was like the UN.  One day I found myself shopping for feta with a Greek priest with a long gray beard.

Well yesterday I meant to pick up some wonton wrappers so I could make pot stickers, and of course I forgot them.  Also Mariano’s didn’t have either of the chutneys we needed to make bhel puri.  We needed coffee and really prefer the stuff from Regulus, so we rented a car and decided to have breakfast at Marilyns in Skokie (Amazingly good blueberry-lemon-ricotta pancakes) then go to Fresh Farms, stop and pick up my scripts, and hit Regulus on the way back.

We got to FF and lost time.  Literally, we spent an hour and a half there without going through most of the aisles.  We talked to a lot of people, asked advice about different foods, sampled a few things, were utterly flummoxed by some of the stuff we found there, said “One of everything please!” several times, and together we spent $70.  This is what we got:


A box of 12 ripe mangos, Aloo paratha (Pillsbury?  Really?) and a 3.5 oz bag of ground cinnamon.


A big bag of bhel puri mix, a big bottle of fish sauce (a really nice woman told us which one she thought was best), a pack of pappadums, 12 oz of pink Himalayan salt ($1.99.  Let that sink in for a minute.), a 3.5 oz bag of ground cardamom, a box of fresh pea sprouts, 2 lbs of organic strawberries, a bag of bulgur, two packs of gyoza/potsticker wrappers and a jar of tamarind chutney.


Plum chutney, garlic ginger paste (fans of Aarti Sequeira will know about this stuff), a lemon, fried tofu pockts for inari sushi, moo-shu pancakes, coriander chutney, and a bag of frozen mixed Indian-style vegetables.


A loaf of crusty bread (sadly they no longer make the chocolate cherry bread I love so much) two bags of Indian snacks, recommended by a very nice Indian man, and a big bottle of soy sauce, recommended by the same nice woman who helped us with the fish sauce.

And this, my friends, is why it’s a great thing to shop locally, and at an ethnic market.  This stuff, even if you could find it at your local supermarket, would cost probably half again as much or even twice as much.  The cardamom and cinnamon alone were less than half of what I paid the last time I went to The Spice House, a place I dearly love, but their prices can be really high.  The pink salt?  A quarter of what I pay at TSH.  Are the spices fresh?  You bet they are.

Last night we introduced our friend, Barbara, to the joys of Mariano’s.  I think next time we’ll take her to Fresh Farms.



My writing process sucks

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I have a cold.  I sound like I swallowed a penny whistle, and whenever I try to do housework I end up soaked with sweat.  As a result I’ve been sitting at the desk quite a bit and trying to write.  Unfortunately I picked today to read over the 17k words of the novel I’m working on.

Oh my god, it sucks rocks.  It’s talky and boring, and none of the characters have much… character. They don’t seem to like each other and they sure don’t want to sleep with each other.  All they do is travel from one place to another, have conversations that skirt the real issues, and eat. Oh, and lie to one another.  Everyone is lying to someone else and the net result is that nobody is really engaging with anyone, including me.

Have I really forgotten how to write? Am I losing my mind?

I expect every writer feels that way in the process of shaping a story.  It’s like being stuck at a dinner party with a lot of people who you were certain were going to be brilliant, but instead keep on nattering about the most inane things imaginable while throwing food or trying to stick forks into the other diners.  You end up wondering if you shouldn’t just nuke them all from orbit.  It’s the only way to be sure.

So what to do?  I could trash it, but with 17k+ words written that seems a lot like buying food and then letting it rot in the fridge.  (Okay, yeah, I do that too. Shame on me.) However I could argue that spending more time on a story that seems to be going nowhere is good words after bad.  Why waste my time if it’s not a good story?

But what if it is?  What if there’s a good story in there, but it’s my attention that’s fragmented, my sense of the story that’s skewed?  I could put it aside for a while and work on something else.  But right now there’s nothing else that’s occupying the space in my head reserved for stories.  None of the old ones are sending me write this! messages.  And maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe I need to spend my time cleaning out closets, scrubbing floors (I did that today.) or arranging my thousands of photographs dating back to the mid-19th century.  Or I could read.  That’s always worth doing, right?

But I want to be writing.  I really feel like I need to be sitting here stringing words together.  It’s like a physical need for me.  So in the end, I think that maybe the best answer is: The damn thing isn’t finished yet. Why be so negative? I need to stop rereading my work because it always makes me want to go rewrite.  The end result is that the beginning of my stories are usually overworked, the middles are  good and the ends read like a rough drafts.

I’ve pretty much decided to stop being such a mope and bash on with the damn thing.  There’s a story there, I’m sure of it, and some interesting characters, even if they are acting like the most boring people on the planet.

Everyone has a different writing process.  I just wish mine wasn’t so weird and time-consuming.