The End of the Affair . . .

theheistnew-149x237For the last year, I have been hopelessly in love with Gabriel Allon.

Who is Gabriel Allon? Plainly put, he is an assassin. He is also an art restorer and Israeli spy. He can be found walking the streets of Venice in his jeans and leather jacket, with piercing green eyes and dark hair slightly graying at the temples, on his way to work on a badly damaged Caravaggio. Or stalking criminals in Marseilles, or Jihadists in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, or Hamas fighters in the back alleys of Jerusalem. He is the creation of Daniel Silva, who has written sixteen novels about the exploits of Allon.

I am always talking about Allon as if he really exists. In fact, I think The Philosopher is tired of hearing about him. I suppose The Philosopher would like to take me one date in which he doesn’t have to hear about Allon’s latest exploit.

book-confessor-lg-149x237 I normally don’t read thrillers, and I hadn’t read a thriller from beginning to end before reading the works of Daniel Silva. I tried to read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but found myself skimming most of it, and then skipping to the final chapter. It just didn’t capture my imagination. My genre is women’s fiction, interrupted by the occasional traditional romance novel. But I heard Silva interviewed on the radio, was looking for something interesting to read, and decided to give The English Girl a try. Silva’s writing is just so good, and he draws you into his world of spies and assassins so that you begin to believe that The Office, the headquarters of the Israel Intelligence Service on the fictional King Saul Boulevard, really exists. After The English Girl, I returned to the earlier Gabriel Allon novels, following his story from the early days of Black September, when he is recruited by Israeli intelligence to assassinate the terrorists responsible for murdering the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. My favorites so far are The Confessor and The Rembrandt Affair.book-rembrandt-affair-lg-149x237

Silva’s latest, The Heist, came out on July 14th. I was one of the loyal readers who downloaded it on my Kindle at the stroke of midnight. The next day, I noticed several readers had beat me to it. There were already four Amazon reviews. Those folks must have read into the wee hours of the morning.

The Heist is about Syria’s ruling family, and Allon’s attempt to take down Assad (whose actual name is never mentioned) and the billions he has stolen from his own people and stashed in Swiss banks and off-shore accounts. Oddly enough, in the middle of my reading of The Heist, real-word conflicts began to heat up. Hamas began pummeling Israel with rockets, and my Facebook friends began arguing bitterly against one side or the other. Then ISIS began its march north through Iraq, destroying Christian villages and beheading children. The headlines flashing across my computer screen each morning bore an eerie resemblance to Silva’s plot. It takes a good year after a book is written for it to go to print, leaving me wondering what crystal ball Silva had sitting on his desk as he wrote the novel. While the occasional violence depicted in Silva’s novels is not overly graphic, the brutality of the Assad regime, coupled with the daily barrage of news stories, left me feeling depressed and hopeless, and questioning the future of the world we are leaving our children.

Like all affairs, this one must come to an end. I am taking a break from Gabriel Allon. After all, he really isn’t available. His beautiful Italian wife, Chiara, is pregnant with twins, and the four of them probably need to be left alone—at least until the next installment in their history is published in about a year.

JenniferJakes_RafesRedemption_200pxAs an antidote to fiction that is too real, I have downloaded Jennifer Jake’s Rafe’s Redemption. I’ve read it before, and it is always great fun. As part of the Hot Damn Designs team, Jennifer did the interior formatting for both the paperback and Kindle versions of my novel The Year After. Her partner Kim Killion created the wonderful cover. In addition to their design work, both Jennifer Jakes and Kim Killion are best-selling romance authors, and I can always count on them for a good yarn.

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Adrianne Noel

 

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The Year After: Summer Promotions!

AdrianneNoel_TheYearAfter200The Year After launched on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle edition, on April 18th.  In the last month, a lot of folks have asked: “So how is it going?” “How are sales?” “What feedback are you getting?”

I’ve had a lot of readers say they enjoyed the book, and I’m excited that two book clubs will be reading the novel as their July/August selection. The trick is getting the word out beyond family, friends, and friends of friends. The market is saturated with fiction, especially with more and more authors choosing to self-publish. Many readers are hesitant to try their luck with a new author. But I am slowly getting the word out, and I am doing several promotions this summer:

Goodreads: I have a Goodreads giveaway going on through the end of July. Enter your name to win one of three signed paperback copies. (And remember, if you read the book and love it, consider writing a short review. Reviews help point new readers to books they may like).

goodreads-badge-add-plus-7d89c09d2df9777b38fbd808bb3ffb1a

 

 

Kindle Sale: From July 22-29, the novel will be available for $1.99 on Kindle only (the regular price is $4.99). Also, the novel is always available in the Kindle lending library, for those who use that service.

Indie Author Land: Indie Author Land is a site dedicated to promoting self-published authors. I have submitted my author interview to the site and will let everyone know when it is up.

Indie Author Land

Book Party! Colorado Springs and Denver: I plan to hold two book parties/signings later this summer—one in Colorado Springs, and another in Denver area. I will announce these in plenty of time. So stay tuned .. .

Have a wonderful summer, and Happy Reading!

Adrianne Noel

The Year After: Now Available in Paperback and Kindle Edition!

AdrianneNoel_TheYearAfter200I am pleased to announce that The Year After is now available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle edition. The novel is a small-town family drama with heavy doses of romance and comedy. Although the book is categorized as women’s fiction, it will also appeal to lovers of romance and chick-lit. I will be blogging about the inspiration behind the story, the book’s launch, and my next project. But for now, here is a synopsis:

After her overbearing mother’s sudden death, young English professor Maddie finds her world turned upside down when she leaves New York City for her family’s home in the Colorado mountains. She plans to stay only a few weeks, but, then again, she never expects to find her father posting his profile on singles websites or her sister planning a wedding worthy of a bridal magazine.

When a childhood friend shows up to her boozy thirtieth birthday party and looks at her in a way he never did in high school, Maddie jumps at the chance for a love of her own. But when her new boyfriend turns into a rogue worthy of a Victorian novel, Maddie finds consolation in her friendship with the maverick sculptor Jackson. She determines not to fall for him, even though her eccentric aunts remind her that she’s the only one not getting married.

As Maddie adopts the unlikely role of maid-of-honor to both her sister and soon-to-be stepmother, she discovers that she still lives under her mother’s shadow. Only by confronting the past and her mother’s memory can she embrace love and the family she’s always wanted.

The novel is now listed on Goodreads and Shelfari. If you read the book and enjoy it, please consider posting a short review on either Amazon or Goodreads. This will help other potential readers decide if the story will interest them.

And stay tuned for more information about the book, and my current work-in-progress . . .

Ode to Summer: Blueberries

photo (5)Summer has arrived—finally!

I know summer is here when boxes overflowing with soft apricots, smooth nectarines, plump plums, fuzzy peaches, and bright red strawberries line the grocery store shelves.

Last week, The Philosopher brought home several pints of fresh blueberries. I can remember buying five-pound boxes of blueberries from Michigan during our stint in Indiana. Those were spectacular. After filling the freezer with quart-sized bags, we would enjoy them year-round. Blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, and blueberries on the morning oatmeal. The blueberries we get in Colorado come from California, but this latest batch was just as colorful and sweet.

So I had a sudden hankering for blueberry muffins.

I’ve been reading about arsenic levels in rice, especially brown rice, which is bad news for those of us with a gluten sensitivity. Most gluten-free baked goods and flour mixes are made from primarily rice flours. I wanted to make my muffins with something other than rice flour, so I settled on Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour, which you can find in many run-of-the-mill grocery stores (not just Whole Foods or specialty markets). I don’t normally like baked goods made from bean flours, and this particular flour mix combines garbanzo bean, fava bean, and sorghum flours. But by mixing in a little millet four, I mitigated the bean taste. The muffins turned out light and fluffy.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins

1 ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour           photo (6)
½ cup millet flour
2 tsp baking power
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup fresh blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a second, medium-sized bowl, combine the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix well.

3. Fold the wet ingredients and melted butter into the dry mixture, alternating between the milk mixture and the butter. Do not over-mix. Add the walnuts and blueberries and stir gently.

4. Divide the batter between 12 prepared muffins cups (I recommend using those colorful paper liners so the berries don’t stick).

5. Bake for 20 minutes at 400-degrees.

6. Cool in muffin cups on wire rack for 5 minutes before removing. Serve warm with butter.

You’ll want to eat these within a day or two and store left-overs in the fridge.

The Cure-All: Cream Cheese Brownies — About writing and rejection

A big rejection came via e-mail this morning.                                     047

Last April, I pitched my first manuscript, The Year After (re-named from Shadows at Moose Run), to several agents and editors at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It was the second year I was pitching the novel, and I felt better prepared for the scene. I had spent the previous year revising the manuscript, composing two synopses (a long and short version), writing query letters, and refining my logline and pitch. All of that work, in addition to my obsession with detail, seemed to pay off. I had two requests for a “partial” (this means that the editor/agent wants to see fifty pages of the manuscript and a synopsis), and one request for a “full” (the editor/agent wants to see the complete manuscript).

I was particularly excited about the editor who requested a “full.” I had originally dismissed her house because it publishes primarily in e-book format and limits the number of print copies produced. But I gradually came around to the idea after reviewing the market and observing the success of another local author who publishes exclusively in an e-format. I also liked the editor as a person. We shared a table at the conference banquet and she took a genuine interest in my work. After spending the summer revising the full manuscript (yet again!), I compiled the requested materials and clicked “send.”

Her rejection was short but kind: she receives many promising projects, but not all of them are the “right fit” for her company. A rejection may simply mean that her house recently signed a similar project, or that she has decided to move her product line in a different direction.

In the past year, I have worried that my stories are not edgy enough for the current market. I don’t write about dystopias, post-apocalyptic America, vampires, futuristic societies, or paranormal romance. I also don’t write genre romance. The Year After is an old-fashioned family drama about a woman coming-of-age at thirty—with a good dose of sex and comedy mixed in (think The Family Stone). I write within a genre loosely defined as “women’s fiction,” “commercial women’s fiction,” “upmarket women’s fiction,” and “book club fiction.” Based on the success of authors like Kristin Hannah (Firefly Lane), Karen White (Sea Change), Tatiana de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key), Sue Monk Kidd (The Mermaid Chair), and Kathryn Stockett (The Help), I’d like to think that the genre of general women’s fiction is not set to die out any time soon.

Yet there are a few things I must remember—and they are points I wish I could explain to everyone who asks, “So, are you published yet?”

  1. Writing/publishing is a hard business. Agents and editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a week from aspiring writers. Competition is fierce and publishing houses are subject to the demands of the market.
  2. The process of writing and publishing a book takes time—a long time. I spent five years writing The Year After. It took one publishing house three months to review my submission. Even after a manuscript is accepted, it can take over a year for a book to go to print.
  3. Writing is a life-long vocation. Some writers write for ten years and produce several manuscripts before one is accepted for publication. I tell myself: Just keep writing. There is only one thing to do when you fall off the horse: get back on again.
  4. Self-publishing is always an option—although I’m not there yet.

In the meantime, chocolate is the perfect cure-all for rejections, disappointments, or even just the bad day blahs. The following is the Philosopher’s recipe. Several times a year, he will announce that he is heading “up north.” This means he is taking the interstate a few exits to the natural food market and will arrive home with the tell-tale ingredients: brownie mix, cream cheese, chocolate chips, and butter—lots of butter. Usually the brownies are his way of atoning for the end-of-semester grumpies. When we were dating, he would make brownies when I came to his place for dinner on Wednesday nights. After I adopted a gluten-free diet, he changed the recipe to suit my needs.

You will notice that this recipe uses a box mix.  The Arrowhead Mills products are of high quality and can be found in most grocery stores (try the organic section) and in specialty markets such as Sprouts or Whole Foods. I like to take advantage of commercially available gluten-free flour mixes (other brands include Bob’s Red Mill, Pamela’s, and Glutino), as it takes some skill to find the right combination of gluten-free grains and xantham gum. For those wishing to make brownies from scratch using a gluten-free flour or combination of flours, I would recommend consulting the blog of Shauna Ahern, The Gluten-Free Girl.

Gluten-Free Cream Cheese Brownies

1 box Arrowhead Mills Gluten-Free Brownie Mix     044

1 stick butter

4 oz. cream cheese

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk (try almond milk!)

12 oz. chocolate chips (semi-sweet or bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8×8 inch pan. Cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl.  Blend in eggs. Stir in brownie mix and milk.  Stir until well blended.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 30-40 minutes.

Recommendation: these are very rich, so cut into small squares, eat some, freeze some, and give the rest away as post-Christmas thank-you gifts.

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Hunger Games Fever

Everyone’s talking about The Hunger Games

I admit, I read Suzanne Collin’s bestselling novel with some reluctance.  First of all, I rarely read young adult fiction.  I prefer stories that deal with adult problems and feature decidedly adult protagonists.  Second, contemporary YA fiction trends towards edgy themes and a strong narrative voice—neither of which I like.  For today’s teens, those “edgy” themes include everything from eating disorders and destructive, addictive behaviors like cutting or choking games, to problematic sexual encounters, teen pregnancy, abortion, abuse, and parental divorce.  By strong voice, I mean the kind of sarcastic, bad-talking, too-wise-for-their-years teen personalities that started appearing in TV shows like Dawson’s Creek in the 90s and continued in the past decade in popular movies like Juno.  In addition, The Hunger Games is written entirely in the present tense.  When I open a book, read the first page, and realize the author has written in the present tense, I usually put it right back on the shelf.  Present-tense narration is a nice trick that draws a reader into the action, but as a reader, I often feel manipulated and bored.  The limits of tense can prevent a narrator from developing aspects of the story in a more subtle way.

 So why did I decide to read The Hunger Games?  The movie trailer.  Yes, there was something about the heroine Katniss Everdeen (played by a gorgeous, athletic Jennifer Lawrence) darting through the woods, bow and arrow in hand, that caught my interest.  Here was no pale, pining Bella of Twilight fame.  Here was a different kind of heroine.

I found the book under the tree on Christmas morning (thanks to the ESM—Evil Step-Mother), and I began reading it on the eve before good friends were set to arrive from the corn fields of Indiana for the New Year.  I had one night to take down the Christmas tree, clean the house, make up the guest bed, and cook a few casseroles in advance—but there I was, standing in the middle of the kitchen, devouring The Hunger Games while the chili boiled over on the stove and the house remained in an inhabitable state of clutter.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the Philosopher might want to read the book.  Certainly most of his students would have read it, or seen the movie, and he is always looking for examples from popular culture to lighten up the dry topics of critical thinking and logic.  Moreover, I argued, articles about the book continue to pop up in print and electronic media, as devotees of different political, social, and religious agendas have adopted it as a morality tale illustrating their particular ideologies.  In an article in Forbes Magazine, John Tammy argues from the libertarian/conservative position:  the ruthless Capitol overseeing the brutal hunger games represents the evils of big government.  Bob Burnett’s blog on the left-leaning Huffington Post asserts that Katniss and her fellow sufferers of District 12 represent the beleaguered 99%.  Even the Christian Evangelicals have weighed in, with Amy Simpson’s article in Christianity Today, titled “Jesus in The Hunger Games,” which sees a sacrificial Christ figure in the character of Peeta.  My favorite analysis of the book, and by far the most practical for someone involved in education, is posted by Robert Crosby on the religion blog Patheos and examines why the book appeals so much to the millennial generation.

The Philosopher asked for my copy of the book a few nights before Spring Break—probably not because he really wanted to read it, but because he was suffering from mid-semester burn-out, needed a break, and nothing looked appealing on Netflix.  While I went to bed early, he headed up to his study to read for a while.  When I woke at 2:30 a.m., he had not yet come to bed, and the light was still on upstairs.  The following morning, he went into the bathroom and stayed for a very long time (what is it about men and serious reading in the bathroom?).  At different points over the next three days, I found him sneaking a read when he would normally be grading papers, or doing research.  Once, he looked up misty eyed, cleared his throat, and headed upstairs before I could see he was upset.  I glanced at the page where he had left the bookmark.  Rue had just met her demise.  The Philosopher finished the book moments before we left on a date to see the movie.      

It turns out that the book was useful in helping him relate difficult concepts to his students.  Evidently the following exchange took place as he attempted to explain something called “conditional compound statements”:

Philosopher:  We can illustrate conditional compound statements in this way:  Suppose that for any two statements, ‘p’ and ‘q’, in which ‘p’ is the antecedent and ‘q’ is the consequent in a conditional compound statement. The truth conditions for the conditional statement, “If p then q” does not depend upon the truth of the antecedent p for compound statement to be true. The statement:  “If p then q” can be true even if p is false. So if p is “it rained last night” and q is “the streets are wet,” and the compound conditional statement, is “if it rained last night then the streets are wet,” is true, even if it didn’t rain last night, but there was instead a broken main that flooded the streets.

 Student:  Huh?  [Student looks confused and distressed]. 

Philosopher:  Let’s take another example:  Suppose ‘p’ is “Katniss’s number is called,” and ‘q’ is “Katniss is going to the Hunger Games.” Then the statement:  if “p then q” has the value of true, even though Katniss’s number was not called. After all, her sister’s name was called, but Katniss volunteered.

Student:  Oh! I get it now!

 If you didn’t understand that exchange, don’t worry.  I’m not sure I did either.

We have ordered the next two books in Collins’s trilogy:  Catching Fire and Mockingjay

If only Amazon delivered faster.  No Kindles around here.  We like the feel of real paper, the sturdy and colorfully drawn hardcovers, and the sound and smell of cracking that binding open for the first time. 

So what makes a book hard to put down?  What magic ingredients come together to make a bestseller that captures the imaginations of millions of readers, young and old alike?  Is it twists and turns of plot?  A specific type of character?  A setting, mood, or tone?  Shock value? 

I’d love to know.

Cold Weather Fare: White Bean Chicken Chili

The snow has arrived! 

We haven’t had much of a winter in southern Colorado.  But on the same day the groundhog tells us to expect another six weeks of winter, the weatherman forecasts six inches of snow in town and blizzard conditions over Monument Pass and on the Eastern Plains.  (BTW:  Doesn’t the groundhog always predict an extra six weeks of winter?). 

Since noon, thick clouds have hovered over Pikes Peak and the temperature has plummeted.  Looking out the window is like gazing into a giant snowglobe, as fluffy, white flakes swirl in slow motion on the other side of the glass.

It’s time for a pot of soup—something fast and simple, yet hearty and with a bit of spice.  This is one of The Philosopher’s favorites.  Fresh chilies add body and kick to a basic recipe. 

 White Bean Chicken Chili

  •  ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 large Anaheim chilies, seeded and minced (or 2 4-oz cans diced green chilies)*
  • 2 T ground cumin
  • 1 T chili powder
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper
  • 4 15-oz cans white beans (Great Northern Beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and diced (approx. two half-breasts)**
  • Optional toppings:  shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, sour cream, diced tomatoes, tortilla strips

Directions:

  1. In a Dutch oven or soup pot, sauté onions and fresh chilies until soft.  Add garlic and sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes.  (If using canned chilies, add after the garlic).
  2. Stir in the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne until onion mixture is coated and fragrant.
  3. Add beans, broth, and chicken.
  4. Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat immediately.  Simmer on low for 30-45 minutes until flavors are blended.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve with a selection of toppings, a green salad, and gluten-free bread or crackers.

*Be sure to wear gloves when handling fresh chilies and be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.  If you forget the gloves and end up with burning hands, try soaking them in a bowl of apple cider vinegar.

**To save time, buy a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat as you pick it right off the bone.  Check ingredients carefully, though, as some rotisserie chickens are marinated in a broth that may not be gluten-free.

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