Blushed with Fame . . . and a Touch of Garlic

I’m hard at work on Gretchen’s story, Blushed with Fame, the next novel in my Girls Who Dish series. Gretchen is in southern Spain to film segments for her cooking show, Dessert Diva Does Spain. So naturally I’ve been researching all things southern Spain – the landscape, the people and, of course, the food.

Convent cookies play a significant role in this novel. These cookies, prized by tourists and locals alike, are a big deal in Spain. Many of the recipes are centuries old and carefully guarded. Gretchen is determined to get her hands on one of those recipes so she can share it with her viewers. Her show is all that matters. She’s intent on turning it into the top cooking show on TV.

However, a funny thing happens as Gretchen pushes forward with her plan. The charm of southern Spain, along with regular servings of garlicky pan con tomate, works some kind of magic. She begins to soften, to wonder if there’s more to life than being a TV star. Complicating everything is the return of Ashton Carter. The owner of Food News TV is so aloof she’s pretty sure he has alien DNA. Unfortunately, he also happens to be the only man she’s ever met who makes her want to hang curtains and buy flowers and cook pot roast.

And that’s just not right. The whole domestic goddess thing totally creeps her out. Domestic is not her style.

But garlic and pan con tomate weren’t her style before coming to Spain either and she’s been eating a lot of both. Or, rather, she’s been eating a lot of pan con tomate. Lately she’s been passing on the garlic. Because things are starting to heat up in interesting ways with Ashton Carter.

He may not have alien DNA after all.

Fuzzy Puppies and Cotton Candy

Some days – some weeks – all you want is fuzzy puppies and cotton candy, or at the very least a story that gives you a happy ending.

Last week I started reading a book by an author I particularly like. It was billed as a love story so I had high hopes. But there was a stalker and a dead ex-wife and lots of angst and even a slimy government official. While I expected an escapist romp, I had to force myself to finish the book. Finish it I did, partly because I will go wherever this particular author takes me, but also because I wanted to see how things ended up. Maybe the sun would come out and things would brighten up. Maybe the characters would redeem themselves and cheer up. If that’s the mark of a good book – that we care enough about the characters to keep reading – then the author did something right. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as invested in the characters as much as I wondered if they’d go through any character growth, and if the tone would lift as the story concluded. It didn’t. No fuzzy puppies or cotton candy there. And certainly not the happy ending I envisioned.

Around the time I read that book, the list of Oscar nominated films came out and we started doing our annual movie marathon. We try to see as many of the nominated films as we can because it makes awards night fun (though it leaves me feeling slightly guilt-ridden because I know many good movies never make the short list just as many good books are never nominated for awards). Still, date nights in January and February are good diversions when the weather’s bleak. We’ve seen quite a few of the movies and with the exception of two (Hidden Figures and Lion) the tone of many has been grim. No fuzzy puppies or cotton candy there either.

I began to feel grim myself. That could be because, along with my choices in movies and books, I’ve been watching the news. Way too much of the news. And I’ve been worrying about the state of our world, particularly the mindset of a recently elected official with a love of Twitter.

Writing began to feel hard. (For excellent tips on how to keep writing during hard times read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  ) I began questioning the legitimacy of my current project, a Laura Tobias novel. It’s a romp of a story about a woman who happens to win a lottery and uses some of the cash to promote herself as a Dessert Diva, a TV cooking star famous for – you guessed it – desserts. Of course she has problems (it wouldn’t be a novel if she didn’t) but it’s not grim, there’s no stalker or dead wife, no ‘the-world’s-about-to-end’ scenario. It’s set in Spain. There’s good wine and nice scenery. A hot love interest. There’s humor. Some of it’s even a little wacky.

How, I wondered, could I write something so frivolous when events in the world felt so weighty? When the world is struggling with terrorism, and issues around immigration, climate change and economics to name just a few? Maybe I should write another serious book. I’ve done my share. My latest Langston release addresses terrorism from a teen perspective. I often gravitate to serious topics and serious books. I like reading them and I like writing them too. At least I do sometimes.

But sometimes you don’t just want fuzzy puppies and cotton candy, you need them. Sometimes a break from reality is a gift. It’s a gift to read and it’s a gift to write. So I’m giving myself permission to take a break from reality and I’m spending part of my writing day in Spain where my larger-than-life character breaks into a convent in search of a top secret and highly coveted angel cookie recipe. Will she or won’t she get caught? I’m leaning to yes, though I’m not entirely sure. But I do know one thing: caught or not, she’ll get her happily-ever-after. She’ll also rescue a stray Greyhound and she’ll bake dessert. Plenty of dessert. It’s not fuzzy puppies or cotton candy but it’s close.

And that’s good enough for me.

Having Fun While Pursuing Goals

joy-1804593_960_720Last week, as part of an inventory for the New Year, I wrote a few lists:  things I love and activities I love to do; places that make me happy; my strengths and the things I’m good at; and some accomplishments I’m proud of. I called it my joy inventory and I did it to psych myself up for my annual goal setting session.

Goal setting is all well and good but achieving those goals can be an insidious business. It’s a little like going on a cycling trip. The planning stage is great. You sit down with a cup of coffee and surf travel sites or read guide books. You dream about where you’ll go, what you’ll see. Departure day comes and you’re psyched. And the trip starts out great, it really does, and you’re taking in the scenery and enjoying the daily work out and the feeling of accomplishment. The destination is an eventual goal but the journey is what it’s all about. Everybody knows that including smug little you.

At some point along the way, however, possibly after a day of bitter rain or being forced to detour up a grueling hill, pedaling becomes a chore. You aren’t covering as many miles as you expected to and you’re running into roadblocks as well. Your ass hurts, you stop taking in the view, and the only accomplishment you care about is getting to your destination. So you put your head down and you pedal. You pedal and pedal and pedal on. The trip, you decide, was a terrible idea and clearly not yours. You’ll never do it again.

Until you do.

It’s a lot like goal setting. If you set goals this new year, there’s pretty good chance at some point over the next twelve months you’ll curse yourself out for not reaching your goal fast enough or you’ll get discouraged when you hit a roadblock. You might even decide goal-setting isn’t for you. And maybe it isn’t. But pacing yourself and learning to enjoy life while you work towards your goals helps prevent disappointment and burnout. At least that’s my theory. I’m going to test it out this next year.

I’m going to make time for the activities I love to do. When crap happens and I feel beaten down, I’ll pull out my list of simple pleasures (most of the things I love are simple pleasures) and renew myself that way. If I get discouraged and feel my goals are still out of reach, I’ll skim my list of accomplishments and remind myself that I’ve achieved other goals in the past. If I get a bad review or a rejection, I’ll revisit my list of strengths and tell myself I can handle this new challenge too. And at least once over the next year I’ll visit one place that makes me happy and renews my spirit, even if it only takes me a few miles from home.

I’ve done my joy inventory. I’ve set my goals. And I’m pedalling with optimism into 2017.

A Holiday Treat for You

christmasforlangstonsiteThe lights are strung, the tree is decorated, and we’re pretty much ready for the holidays. I’ll be away from the blog for a few weeks while I celebrate with family and friends. With a little luck, I’ll fit in some reading time too.

I leave you with a recipe for one of our favorite Christmas treats. If you like peanut butter and chocolate, you will love Tiger Butter. It’s a staple around our house during the holidays and it’s so easy even kids can make it. Best of all, it’s fast. You can put it together in about ten minutes, and after a rest in the freezer, it’s ready to be cut up and enjoyed. Or be given away to a lucky recipient.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tiger Butter

250 g/8 ounces/1/2 pound good white chocolate, chopped

250 g/8 ounces/1/2 pound good semisweet dark chocolate, chopped

½ cup smooth peanut butter (note – in this particular recipe, it’s important to use processed peanut butter and not natural peanut butter which goes moldy after a day or two at room temperature)

Line the bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan with wax paper. In a double boiler over hot but not boiling water, melt white chocolate. Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter and blend thoroughly. Keep warm while you melt the dark chocolate. In a microwave bowl or glass measuring cup, melt semisweet dark chocolate.  Pour white chocolate/peanut butter mixture into the cake pan and spread evenly. Pour semisweet dark chocolate over top, and spread evenly. Draw a butter knife through the chocolate to create a marbled effect. Place in the freezer for an hour, or until solid. Remove from freezer and let it sit for about ten minutes to soften before cutting into squares. Enjoy!

Books, Books and More Books

christmastreeJust in time for holiday reading, Million Dollar Blues is now available through a number of ebook suppliers. I’m excited to finally have this story out and I’m hard at work on book two in the series! For links, head to my books page and click on your preferred retailer.

But enough about me. It’s the season of giving and I’m giving books to friends and family this year. Since I tracked the books I read in 2016,  it’s easy to look back and find some favorites. Here are some titles to help you buy for the readers on your list.

For fiction lovers:

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Phillips is the undisputed Queen of character-driven romance and her latest novel doesn’t disappoint. Private Eye Piper Dove has been hired to trail former Chicago Stars quarterback Cooper Graham. It’s all spark and snap from the minute they meet. There’s a touch of mystery in this one too. Perfect for the romance reader on your list.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan. Polly escapes to a seaside British town after a relationship ends. In an effort to forget things, she begins to bake bread . . . the locals hear about it . . . and so does a reticent local beekeeper. A cross between chick lit and women’s fiction with a dash of romance.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. This debut novel by Sharon Guskin centers on five-year-old Noah who has overpowering memories of a past life, a life that seem to have ended with many unanswered questions. Desperate, Noah’s mother turns to an aging psychologist who is near the end of his own life but is still willing to take on one last case. Captivating with a number of twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

Close to Home by Lisa Jackson. For the suspense lovers on your reading list. Vowing to make a fresh start, Sarah McAdams has come home to renovate the old Victorian mansion where she grew up, but there are some horrifying secrets buried within the house. If that’s not enough for you, teenage girls are going missing . . . and Sarah has two girls of her own.

With Malice by Eileen Cook. This YA thriller has the 18-year-old heroine in a hospital bed for a large part of the book and yet it still manages to hold your attention and draw you forward. Jill Charron wakes up in the hospital after a car accident she was involved in during a school trip to Italy left one person dead. Jill can’t remember what happened . . . she only knows she’s at the centre of a murder investigation.

For Food lovers:

My Kitchen Year: 136 recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I love Reichel’s writing and the only thing wrong with this book was that it had to end. The book chronicles the year after Gourmet Magazine unexpectedly closed its doors putting editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichel, out of work. Facing an uncertain future, Reichel turned to the one place that had always provided solace: the kitchen. The book follows the changing seasons and provides an intimate look into a woman who is struggling with change at mid-life; it also delivers some of Reichel’s favorite recipes.

Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon. We try to eat vegetarian once or twice a week but I’m not a vegan. This vegan cookbook, however, could turn me into one. The recipes are amazing. You feel healthy just reading them. If you’re gifting this book, buy an extra copy for yourself. And check out Liddon’s blog too.

For non-fiction lovers:

10% Happier by Dan Harris. Subtitled ‘How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story, Harris’s book is smart, brave and funny. Harris is an ABC news correspondent and after a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America he knew he had to make some changes. His search for a deeper understanding of what makes all of us tick and his ultimate solution to destressing led him to meditation – or as he puts it ‘sitting around and doing nothing’. He went in a skeptic and came out a believer and in the process he gained some helpful insights. Highly recommended.

Unearthed by Alexandra Risen. As Risen uncovers and revives a large, neglected garden in the centre of Toronto, she comes to understand, accept and make peace with her past. A deeply personal testament to the healing powers of nature.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Told in an exchange of letters between mother and son, this book came about because of Cooper’s desire to get closer to his mother after she suffered a brief but serious illness at the age of 91. It’s an interesting glimpse into the private life of two public people, and Cooper’s journalistic take on things is quite a contrast to his mother’s sunny optimism.

Happy gift giving!


Just in time to kick off the holiday season, MILLION DOLLAR BLUES is now available for pre-order. Book one in the Girls Who Dish series is all about what really happens when you strike it rich. Here’s the synopsis:

Take one 75 million dollar lottery win. Toss in a struggling restaurant and a weasel of an ex-husband. Spice heavily with one true love. Is it a recipe for disaster or the recipe of Temple’s dreams?

Winning the lottery will help Temple turn her restaurant, GIRLS WHO DISH, into a world-class establishment. Except, everybody wants a piece of lotto pie: her mother, her daughter, her best friend . . . and the furious staff members who didn’t win and sue for their share.

As Temple struggles with a case of MILLION DOLLAR BLUES, she’s blindsided by the return of her first love, James LeShan. Now a successful lawyer, James will help Temple out of her legal mess . . . but he has something much more personal in mind for the two of them.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering for your e reader, you’ll find the book here:





A Fall Makeover

website-redesign-for-marketing-350x282It’s time for a new look and a new website. Laura Tobias has been completely redesigned, thanks to the talented Jessica Veinot. She revamped my Laura Langston site too. Pop on by and take a look. While you’re there be sure and subscribe to my new mailing list. You won’t hear from me often – only when I have a new release or special offer.

Speaking of which, Million Dollar Blues is scheduled for publication by the end of November. Watch this space for your opportunity to pre-order!

Seeding Heavy

I plant heavy and I tend to write long. That means my garden overflows even after I thin and prune. And it means my novels sometimes get a little out of control before I revise them down to an acceptable length.

I can plant sparsely. I’ve done it plenty of times. I can write lean prose too. I do it when I wear my Laura Langston hat and write novella length books for reluctant teens (watch for In Plain Sight coming in 2017).

Gardens and books start with seeds – the seed of an idea or the seed of a tomato – and in the beginning stages, it’s my nature to seed heavy. With garden seeds, you rarely get 100% germination so it’s prudent to allow for some failure. With novels, you never know which tiny tangent, random piece of dialogue or secondary character might play an important role in the final novel. I outline, but not rigidly, and I like to leave room for surprises.

That means starting out like this if I want a garden bed of basil:

And starting like this if I want to work my way down to something publishable:

Then I need to take that overwritten book and revise it, and take that over seeded flat and thin it. I like the process. But last weekend, as I worked outside transplanting peppers I’d grown from seed, I felt a little sad at the number of plants that wouldn’t make it to the garden. They’d germinated but they were either stunted or so far behind the other seedlings that there was no point potting them up.

Coincidentally, the day after I finished my garden work, I was back at the computer editing Million Dollar Blues and feeling a little blue myself at the passages and phrases I had to delete.

But if I want to get to this:

And eventually this:

Then the work of thinning and revising has to be done. It requires a certain ruthlessness that can be painful. But the end result is always worth it.

A Matter of Perception

Writers love getting their books reviewed. You hear that all the time, and it’s true. We do. But every once in a while, a review comes along that makes me wonder if I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone. Or if the reader has. Those reviews inevitably reference something – it could be a person, place or a plot point – that never happened in the book I wrote. And yet there are always just enough references to make it clear that the reviewer read my book and wants to share their views. Unfortunately they seem to be viewing things through their very own, highly polished, fun house mirror.

I thought this particular treat was reserved just for me. Apparently not.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this in her latest book Big Magic. In her case, a reader approached her at a book signing for Eat, Pray, Love and thanked Gilbert for writing about a restraining order she’d put on her ex-husband because she’d had enough of his violence. The reader went on to say that Gilbert’s words had given her the courage to leave her abusive marriage. Those words, however, were never written. In fact, Gilbert says you can’t even read that narrative between the lines of her memoir because it’s so far from the truth.

Rather than being shocked/angry/frustrated/amused (pick one), Gilbert was philosophical. She decided the woman had every right to misread her book. “Once my book entered her hands,” Gilbert says, “everything about it belonged to her, and never again to me.”

I’ve always known that not everyone will like the novels I write. I also understand that while 100 readers might find one of my characters strong and sympathetic, 100 others may see her as wimpy or harsh or critical or simply rotten. It’s all a matter of perspective. I get that, objectively. But it can be brutally hard to maintain objectivity when a reader reads something into my book that I never put there in the first place. Especially if they don’t like what they think they read. It can be crazy-making.

My cousin is a visual artist. Some of her paintings are abstracts. They’re open to interpretation. People see whatever they see. That’s the nature, and the joy, of her work. But my books, at least the ones I’ve published so far, are reality-based. There’s only so much interpretation possible. They’re like flower beds – w hat you see is what you get. At least, that’s what I used to believe.

Now Gilbert’s perspective has me re-thinking. Maybe I should embrace whatever readers find (or think they find) in my words. Hand each book off and let the readers own it. After all, Elizabeth Gilbert says their reactions don’t belong to me. My only job is to create . . . create . . . and create some more.

And that’s more than enough for me to handle.

Just One?

It’s always fun to be interviewed or contacted on Twitter. Under my Laura Langston persona, I have a YA novel coming out this month (Stepping Out), and another up for several reader’s choice awards (The Art of Getting Stared At). Because of that, I’ve been receiving lots of tweets and emails. I’ve even been interviewed for a couple of blogs which is both cool and a little weird (as a former journalist, I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them).

Last week, a theme of sorts emerged. I was asked to identify my favorite color, my favorite meal, and the book that had changed my life. In other words, a kind of favorite too.

The last question was posed on Twitter and I wasn’t the only writer asked. There was also a deadline. A book club wanted to know as they were discussing our latest releases the next day. I read tweets from the other authors offering up their single life changing book. I mulled and fretted and walked Team Sheltie and got my daily writing done and mulled and fretted and went to the gym and mulled and fretted some more. Eventually, I responded with several tweets saying I couldn’t pick a single book because different books had impacted and changed my life at different times. I picked a couple: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Mike, Karen, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Alchemist, The Lovely Bones. But there were so many I left off: Green Eggs & Ham changed my life because it taught me to read; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull changed my life at thirteen because it affirmed for me that there’s more to life than meets the eye; every single Junie. B. Jones book I read to my daughter changed my life because I saw the importance of humor in storytelling. Interview with a Vampire changed my life because it opened my eyes to a completely different style of writing and a new genre. Lady of Hay changed my life because I read it and said, “I want to write a past life novel too.” And I did.

I can’t pick a favorite color either. I adore the pale green of a seedling bursting through the soil. The blazing orange of a sunset. The black of my velvet throw. The rich purple of an amethyst cluster. The voluptuous white of summer clouds. The shocking red of fireworks. Even gray, which I never really thought much of before, has become a favorite. I’m letting my gray hair shine and, to me, the color speaks of authenticity and courage. Because in our culture, it is still far more acceptable for men than women to embrace their gray hair.

Don’t get me started on food. How can people pick a favorite food? Or even a favorite meal? A last meal? Faced with that challenge, I’d be starting my last meal several weeks in advance. I’d feast on crepes and smoked salmon . . . avocado and shrimp on a ciabatta bun . . . baby greens with my homemade raspberry vinegar . . . juicy peaches with wedges of brie. . . dim sum . . . curried scallops and biriyani rice . . . scones with clotted cream and chunky strawberry jam . . .spicy basil tofu . . . and steamed crab and mushroom risotto and a fatty rib eye and baked potatoes loaded with everything and French press coffee and popcorn with lots of butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter. Oh, and halloumi cheese. Maybe not with the popcorn but crispy fried halloumi would be in there somewhere too.

I can’t pick a single favorite anything. Except when it comes to love. I do have a favorite man. I married him. I also have a favorite son and a favorite daughter but someday, when they commit to their ‘one and only,’ my list will surely expand. I hope it does. For their sake and for mine. For them because we all deserve a life filled with love. And for me because I like my favorites multiplied.