Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sisterhood of the Frying Pan

It was one of those church affairs that I got my comeuppance. The leader of the young moms' group handed out recipes. We were all supposed to follow the recipe and bring this specific all-in-one egg casserole dish for the church-wide Sunday brunch.

Understand that I've never claimed to be a great cook, but I know how to read. And I'd been cooking for my family for a few years without poisoning anyone. Plus, I followed step-wise procedures all the time in the world of science. I could do this.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and it wasn't easy with an infant and a toddler attached to me like rogue octopi, let me tell you, but I wanted to do my part.

Come Sunday morning, the 9x12 casserole dishes were laid out on the counter like a holy jack o'lantern smile. I took some of mine and a few unsuspecting others did as well, but most of the other dishes emptied out.

Come to find out, "follow the recipe" doesn't mean that. Folks substituted lots of things, added more flavors, threw in a little extra this and that. My plain-jane casserole didn't measure up.

That's when I knew.

There was a secret society, one of which I was not a member.

The Sisterhood of the Frying Pan met in out of the way places, they swapped recipes, they watched cooking shows, they even experimented with foods. Ye gads. I was a cooking failure before I even lifted a spatula.

At one cookie-making event I attended, one of the sisters noticed me struggling as I carved the Crisco out of the measuring cup for my gingerbread men. "Don't you know nothing, girl?" she said. "Always crack your egg in the measuring cup to coat it before you measure out the shortening."

Dumbfounded, I watched her execute this move and not a trace of Crisco remained in her measuring cup afterward.

But the sisterhood was wise to the leak. No more tips came my way because I didn't know the secret handshake. But I didn't mind, I'd learned the true secret. Find out who the best cooks were, then only eat their dishes at pot luck functions. I'm more than happy to eat food the sisterhood makes.

Recently, another "sister" let slip a tip that made me realize I'm an amateur on a professional playing field. After spending the night at her place, she pulled out what she called her egg dish and proceeded to crack her eggs on the bottom of the pan. For more than 30 years, I've been cracking eggs on the side of this or that, and there's always that telltale dribble of white everywhere. Cracking eggs in the bottom of the dish. Imagine that.

Since I'm not a member of the sisterhood, I can't be sanctioned for sharing this leaked  tip. From now on, I will always crack my eggs in the bottom of a bowl. No more egg white cast-offs for me!

If you'd like to share a kitchen tip, and aren't afraid of being drummed out of the sisterhood, please leave a comment. You can only dine so many years on perfectly Criscoed gingerbread men....

Maggie Toussaint

large print edition of Death Island Style out now
Murder in the Buff, a naturalist mystery with organic produce, is available now as an ebook. check it out at Amazon.com  BarnesandNoble   Muse It Up Publishing

Monday, June 11, 2012

I've got news!

Nothing like news to put a spark in our heart and pep in our step. I've been sitting on my news waiting for just the right moment and here it is.

Granddog Missie stars in this series
BIG NEWS for me: I've signed a new contract with Five Star for the third book in my Cleopatra Jones series. Since Cleo's an accountant, my books have a money theme. DIME IF I KNOW follows On the Nickel and In for a Penny. This time around Cleo's golf pro boyfriend is suspected of murdering a former girlfriend. The release date is still to be announced, but it's party time in Maggie-World!

Maggie, on left, with Polly Iyer
GOOD NEWS - the fourth outing of my pacing workshop, this time at the Upstate SC Sisters in Crime monthly meeting, was met with smiles all around. My friend Terri Ridgell prompted me to create this workshop for the Amelia Island Book Festival in 2007. Since then, I've given it at the Florida Heritage Book Festival, the Ancient City Romance Writers, and now, SINC. I get a big kick out of showing things with terrible pacing and then taking them apart to make the pacing better.

Here's an example of poor pacing from my workshop: On December 24, no, wait, I think it was the 23rd. No, I was right the first time, it was the 24th because that's the day Amy skinned her knee. Anyway, my insomnia was acting up again. My wife was sound asleep. The kids were snoozing. Even Benjie's teenage anorexic mouse was sawing zees.

If you get rid of the extraneous stuff to keep it in the moment, it pares down to: On Dec 24 I couldn't sleep. My wife, kids and the mouse were out cold. -- bottom line, not very interesting. More fun before, but too dithery for an opening of my work. (The opening of a story is a promise from the author that the rest of the work will be written in the same style)

If you look at the word choices and consider meter and beat, you might end up with something like Clement Moore wrote: Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse... It's all about the word choice.

There's a place and a time for having wandering prose. The secret is knowing when and where to be lean and when to dally. That's the whole point of pacing.

The end of my workshop is a creative writing exercise and folks really get into it. I hope you enjoy the photos of some of the group at work. And thanks, SINC Upstate SC, for such a warm welcome.

MORE GOOD NEWS - My work-in-progress has been through the plot edit, the characterization edit, the Margie Lawson color-coded edit, and most of it has been critiqued. Now I'm letting it rest a week while I work on the synopsis. Then it will get another read, this time on my Kindle, before it heads out to my editor. I'm pretty psyched about this story. It follows the adventures of the cop from Muddy Waters and a hunky arson investigator. Lots of action and romance in HOT WATER!

EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS - The large print edition of Death, Island Style is available now. Here's the listing at Amazon if large print is your thing: http://tinyurl.com/7r7vagc. I've ordered postcard mailers for library notification, and those should arrive any day now.

This book is flying off the shelf (big smile here) with great reviews like these:

“an exciting whodunit” – Publishers Weekly
“Toussaint creates a gutsy heroine whose struggles with murder and romance add up to a very enjoyable read” – Kirkus Reviews
“Eccentric and fun, this book is definitely worth a read” – Romantic Times
“Toussaint's feel-good stand-alone flies by as her initially wimpy heroine develops a backbone and comes out a winner on all fronts. Nice regional flair.” – Library Journal

Thanks for sharing in  my good news! Wishing everyone a happy June.

Maggie Toussaint
Like me on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MaggieToussaintAuthor#

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The cabana boy

Admit it. We all have secret fantasies. In these moments, we stretch beyond our fears and limitations. We become the person we always knew we could be.

Successful. Brazen. Powerful. Rich. Seductive. Unblemished.

In private inner thoughts, our potential unfolds without boundaries.

Let’s consider Molly, a woman whose marriage is on the rocks. A woman who has always felt inferior to bustier types. A woman who needs reassurance that someone loves her unconditionally. A woman who needs an escape from reality.

Molly might have this dream:

Gentle waves lapped the pristine white sand. The sun warmed my bronzed skin as a muscular cabana boy walked toward me carrying a tray of umbrella-topped drinks. He was much too young for me, but he seemed riveted by my svelte body, his dark brown eyes boring into me with animal-like fascination.

I flushed under his rapt attention. He caressed my cheeks with long languid stokes, and my heart rejoiced. His breath came faster and faster, and it thrilled me that he was so attentive to my every desire.

There was something familiar about his scent. I inhaled deeply, freeing all the pent-up tension in my lungs, straining toward his heat. My eyelids drifted shut with pleasure at his repeated caress.

We are all cheering for Molly, right? She’s inhabiting a world where everything is exactly as she wishes. A world where good things come to her by virtue of her existence.

Her rich fantasy of a cabana boy who worships her body with his eyes and hands is likely a near universal ideal among women of a certain age. Having a fantasy like this, particularly in light of a horrible mess in real life, provides an escape into a world where happiness reigns supreme.

However, Molly’s liaison with the cabana boy is in question. Read on:

Something hard, cold, and wet touched my face. I startled awake, surfacing from my cocoon of sleep. I shoved the object away, blinking against the blinding sunlight filling my bedroom. As my brain booted up from dream mode, I was filled with a sense of profound loss.

I wanted to be back on that tropical island with my handsome cabana boy.

“Five more minutes,” I murmured, scrunching my eyes closed and burrowing into my fluffy comforter. The heavy object rolled up to my nose with a thud.

My eyelids popped open at the unexpected impact. Goldie’s slobbery rock lay on my pillow. I groaned and then shoved the rock away, blinking against the bright sunshine. I squinted over at the clock. Seven.

By now you may have guessed Molly is a character in a book and that the snips above are excerpts from Murder in the Buff. The book is a campy, offbeat mystery in which her father is accused of murdering a nudist.

Molly’s dream of adoration by her cabana boy, in this case, her son’s golden lab, link back to her deep-seated feelings of betrayal. Those play into her fears of physical inadequacy, giving a double wallop to this flawed character.

In addition, she’s blindsided by the entire situation. Molly’s a woman in jeopardy of falling apart at the seams.

I wrote her that way because so many times in life, women get caught up in a double boiler of balancing career and family. We know we aren’t keeping all the juggling balls in the air. We can’t. It’s physically impossible. But we try it anyway.

Molly gets a happy ending, but she has to work for it. She has to process her feelings and learn to trust her reactions again. She has to decide what she wants and then she has to go out and get it.

In finding herself again, Molly becomes empowered. Gosh, we could all use a bit more of that!

Maggie Toussaint

Murder in the Buff e-book buy links:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Recharge your creativity tank

I’ve heard rumblings lately. Rumblings about how draggy folks are feeling. And  you know what? I’m feeling a twinge of the dog-days-of-August blues, and it’s only May.

In the publishing industry, the promo whirl is never ending. Got a book? Hype it here. Hype it there. Hook readers on this network or that one. Join the next greatest social media utility and start over collecting friends. And do it all while you maintain a grasp on life, and, oh yeah, don’t forget about moving forward on that next book.

Don’t get me wrong, I love doing all of that, but sometimes the creativity tank gets empty.

Know what I mean?

I notice it most when I spread myself too thin, when I’ve got too many active projects. Or when I start to think about the “have-nots,” as in there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done or not enough “likes” or “tags” or reviews.

When the have-nots and bone-deep weariness hit, writers go into a nasty spiral of inactivity.

It’s easy to get caught in that comparison trap. So-and-so has meteoric sales, a big-time contract, a movie deal, or network TV interviews. We all know people that seem to jet right to the top without “paying their dues.”

What’s a writer to do?

Here are five ideas to help:

Recharge your muse. Not everyone admits to having a muse, but we all know what it feels like when our creativity stalls. Not good. Many writers are also attracted to other arts. Visit a museum or get out your paints. Listen to music or take in a concert. Enjoy an arts and crafts festival. Take a photography course. Putter around in garden centers. Sew something pretty. Whatever it is that makes you happy – go for it.

Narrow your goal focus. Need to get the newsletter out, update the website, and create a postcard promotion for next month’s book release? Focus on one thing at a time. For me the pay-off comes when I check off each accomplishment on my to-do list.

Look outward. To get out of the dismal have-not trap, expand your focus beyond your everyday realm. Connect with real people in your physical universe. See firsthand the struggles others are going through, and your have-nots will pale in comparison. It’s about regaining your sense of perspective.

Nurture your physical health. It’s easy to forget our health. For a change, put yourself first. Whether it’s a foot massage you need, a walk by the seaside, or a medical checkup, make time to be healthy. Feeling a bit dull? Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. One thing’s for certain. An engine won’t run on crappy fuel. It will sputter and grind to a halt. Eat the right foods.

Take a hiatus. There are times when nothing seems to help. Your body/soul/spirit/muse needs a complete break. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a Mediterranean cruise or a Habitat for Humanity house, doing something else shifts your immediate attention and engages you. Before you know it, ideas will start percolating again and you’ll be itching to hit the keyboard again.

Putting this post together energized me. I'm off to work on edits for my latest romantic suspense.

Maggie Toussaint
Read an excerpt of Death, Island Style at http://www.maggietoussaint.com/death_island_style.html

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sell or stay?

I've got two books to promote, but all I can think about is house size.

We changed house sizes as our family grew. At first, the three-bedroom ranch style home seemed huge for my husband, myself, and our dog. But baby one came along. Then baby two. Toys, tools, sewing projects, dog fur, and golf clubs made for an eclectic decor.

But we watched the real estate market and were savvy enough to buy a bigger house - the smallest in a new neighborhood. The kids grew, so did the cats, dogs and guinea pigs. One day it was the two of us again, rattling around like marbles in a two-story shoebox.

Downsize became our battle cry.

To do that, we divested ourselves of 2/3 of our stuff, sold our home, and moved into a rental. Plan A for the smaller house didn't work out, so we relocated in the deep South and built something smaller, about 1800 square feet. The perfect size.


The kids married and each produced kids. Now we're squished like sardines during a visit. What's a grandparent to do?

We're thinking about upsizing again. (Just shoot me now; I hate moving)

But we want to do it smart.

The perfect house would be... the one we're in now with a second story that we can close off when not in use.

Will it happen? I don't know.

Real estate prices are still down from the recession. We can buy a lot at a reduced price, but that also means our property will go for a reduced price. Sell or stay??? That question keeps burning in my brain, and trust me, I don't have brain cells to spare.

What would you do?


Sell or stay?
Death, Island Style - the seashore murder mystery that's a must have for your summer reading pleasure

Murder in the Buff - quirky and fun,  a straight-laced reporter trying to clear her dad's good name from a homicide

check out all my books at www.maggietoussaint.com

Also, naturalist and photographer James Holland, a former Altamaha Riverkeeper, is allowing me to publish his pictures at my blogsite. I'll add one here:

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly and squirrel treefrog on pickerel weed in Lewis Creek - courtesy of James Holland; He's on a mission to show the world the beauty of our Altamaha River

Monday, May 7, 2012

Proactive or reactive?

As a long-time people watcher, I've come up with a way to definitively distinguish between people types. I've been down the Myers-Briggs road, the horoscope road, the gender divide, cultural differences, and more. While each system has it own merits, I find my division makes the most sense to me.

No matter when you're born, what culture you grow up in, what gender you are, it seems that deep within each of us is a kernel of reactivity. We're either proactive in our response patterns or reactive. And it's this difference that determines if people get along.

Have you ever been in a group, say at work, where the leader wants all these contingency plans laid out to the nth degree? Or have you experienced a disaster (computer crash, tornado, vehicle accident on the way to pick up your kids) and had to deal with a rapidly changing scenario?

In either case, the group immediately stratifies into folks who are slow to react and people who want to get ahead of the curve. There's a basic sociological principle that "Like seeks like" so we are naturally drawn to folks who think like us.

I've been caught short before and didn't like it. Matter of fact, the thought of a pop quiz or playing my guitar in front of people without sheet music is paralyzing. To perform at a consistently high level, I need to know what is coming next.

Therefore I like to plan - I fit into the proactive group.

I plan with daily to-do lists, with word count goals and logs, with a weekly chores list, and so on. If I know I'm going out of town, I get stories banked for my newspaper job.

This is fine until I'm in a group of reactive folks. They look at my proactive planning as unnecessary and a waste of time. The important stuff always gets done, somehow. And they seem to think there's no need to go looking for trouble. They are content with the status quo and when something happens, they go with the flow.

Do you agree with this division?

Which are you? Proactive? Reactive?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Maggie Toussaint
like me on FB: http://www.facebook.com/MaggieToussaintAuthor# 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Maggie does Malice

Maggie, left, with Barbara Graham
This was my second year of attending Malice Domestic as a published author. For those who aren't familiar with this event, it's a mystery fan conference, which is a great treat for mystery writers.

Canadians RJ Harlick and Vicki Delany
Like 2011, the conference was held at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. For intrepid travelers, it was a stop off the DC Metro. For the rest of us, it was a shuttle ride from the airport or a threading-the-Beltway adventure by automobile.

My roommate Barbara Graham shares the same publisher, Five Star Cengage with me, and we're both members of Sisters in Crime and members of our respective Mystery Writers of America chapters. You might think a gal from Cody, Wyoming would have little in common with a gal from Darien, Georgia, but we both speak "writer" so all was good.

From our breakfast with the Canadians and a very nice fan named Lexa, to the popular Malice Go Round, Friday morning passed in a blur. The ladies from breakfast became familiar faces that we would meet and dine with throughout the conference.

Barbara Graham, center
Malice Go Round is a speed-dating format where authors get two minutes to pitch their book to tables of fans. There were 20 tables and 40 authors, so it was an intense hour and some change. I partnered with Barbara, and by the midway point I could have pitched her Murder by Music and she could have hit all the high points of my Death, Island Style.

We went right from Malice Go Round to the Guppy lunch over at Booeymongers. How fun to connect with this group of friends from the Guppy chapter of SINC.

Erika Chase, Janet Bolin, Maggie, and Barbara
There was all kind of stuff going on at the conference in the afternoon, but I was toast. Being on grandma duty for the two weeks prior to the conference had taken a toll on my energy reserves. I emerged for dinner, but I wasn't good for much else that day.

Saturday was an easy day for me because my panel wasn't until the next day. We went to the new authors breakfast and enjoyed hearing about their books. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon chatting with authors, shopping in the bookstore, and enjoying the author panels. Barbara earned a gold star for doing everything, including donating an item for the charity raffle and staying all the way through the Agatha Tea on Sunday.

Guppies - Maggie and Liz Zelvin
The conference offered box lunches on Saturday. Barbara and I grabbed ours and joined the throng listening to the Poison Lady. She offered insider knowledge on ways to kill people - in books. The astonishing thing is that she was able to purchase an item at the dollar store for under $2 that would have been enough liquid to wipe out more than a dozen people. Because I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about this, I'm not mentioning the item. Suffice it to say that this was an eye-opening session.

We enjoyed a nice walk outside prior to the banquet. Luckily, we wore our rain jackets because it started raining during our walk.

Lisa Wysocky, Maggie, Nancy Cohen
The banquet was lovely. We enjoyed the company of Canada's RJ Harlick, who sponsored our table. She handed out favors, and I was lucky enough to receive a dreamcatcher, which I've added to the pull of my office ceiling fan. Award winners on this night included Chris Grabenstein, Best YA; Dana Cameron, Best Short Story; Leslie Budewitz, Best nonfiction; Rhys Bowen, Best Historical Mystery; Sara Henry, Best first novel; and Margaret Maron, Best Novel.

Sunday morning I realized I'd forgotten to sign up for the SINC breakfast, so it was breakfast on my own, panels, and networking. Right before my 11:10 a.m. panel, I realized I needed a snack. Lisa Wysocky had the same idea. We were eating and chatting and I lost track of the time, dashing off to my panel at the last minute.

"Down the Shore" panel at Malice 2012 - I'm second from left!
I was so rattled. The entire panel was assembled and there I was, dead last! Fortunately our moderator for "Down the Shore," Trish Carrico, had sent her questions ahead of time, so I had written out my answers in very large print, which I placed on the table before me.

Maggie, Michelle L. Johnson, Trish Carrico
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to sound coherent when you're rattled? I had 100 proof adrenaline surging through my veins and no telling what was coming out my mouth. Thank goodness for my speaking notes or I would have gotten completely off track.

I was especially nervous about the special question Trish had planned for each of us. Through time I've realized I don't do "unplugged" very well, and I approached this question with all the enthusiasm one has for a pop quiz.

But my fears were soon alleviated. Trish asked me about my stream of consciousness style of writing for MaryBeth, my protagonist in Death, Island Style. She said how engaging that style of writing was to her. I was elated that I knew the answer. Even better, people in the crowd nodded their heads in understanding. Thank you, Trish, for being so kind.

After the booksigning time, we had lunch at la Madelaine, and it was time for me to go. I said goodbye to my roommate and good friend, and headed to my daughter's house to see that precious grandbaby again before the long trek back to Georgia.

You know what? I'm already looking forward to next year.

Maggie Toussaint
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