Thursday, November 20, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Rachelle Ayala, Author

Rachelle Ayala, Author
Asian American author Rachelle Ayala recently published the second book in her Sanchez Sisters Series, a new romance titled CLAIMING CARLOS, described by one reviewer as a book with “Humor, food, hot cook, smoking hot passion... And quite the plot twists.” Ayala says she basically just likes to write a “good story,” and creates her characters to “feel real.” She believes that humor and her characters' natural good-will contribute to their likeability.

In addition to writing and publishing more than a dozen fiction or non-fiction books, Ayala is a leader in the writing world. She started an online writing group, Romance in a Month, and is actively engaged in other writing groups, including the California Writer’s Club and the World Literary Café.  She currently lives in California where she continues to write both fiction and non-fiction books and novellas.

Don't miss the opportunity to enter a giveaway at end of this interview.

Q: You’ve written romances set in a variety of times and locations. What inspired you to create the Sanchez Sisters and specifically your most recent contemporary romance CLAIMING CARLOS?

Rachelle Ayala: The Sánchez Sisters Series started with TAMING ROMEO, a book I was inspired to write by a group of Filipino authors who wanted to write a contemporary “steamy” romance. Since I love Filipino food, I decided to write a romance that centered around a Filipino restaurant. Choco and Carlos are characters in the first book, and it seemed natural to do the second book with them. Carlos is the chef, and Choco is the head waitress as well as assistant manager. I had a lot of fun with recipe disasters and pranks being played in the restaurant setting, as well as the introduction of a new character, Johnny Dee, the flashy restaurant consultant who tries to shake things up a bit.

Q: Reviewers tout CLAIMING CARLOS as a “refreshing story” and mentioned the “soul and hope that flowed throughout this storyline.” They were pleased to have read it. How did you create this sense of well-being?”

Rachelle Ayala: It’s really hard for me to describe, because when I’m in the writing process I just write and the characters speak and create their stories. I think the sense of well-being comes from the close family and the way the characters really care about each other.

When my characters care about other people, their natural goodness and vitality comes out. A character can be flawed and have problems, but when they show concern for others, this makes them sympathetic and someone readers want to follow.

Q: Reviewers also enjoyed your “incredible” characters and said, “You find yourself not just cheering them on in reaching their goals, but you rejoice in their successes, and ultimately have your heart ripped out when their world falls apart.” What makes an “incredible” character? How do you engage your readers to care about your characters?

Rachelle Ayala: Readers care about characters who feel real. One of the ways to engage readers is through your character’s voice. In Choco’s case, I think it’s her self-deprecating humor, her insecurities, and her bossiness of being the eldest sister that gives her the spunk she has to carry the day. Plus, she is the eldest, but the shortest, so she’s kind of like that miniature Chihuahua who has to prove herself by acting tough. She yaps louder than her bite, because she’s really a powder puff inside.

As for creating “incredible” characters, I don’t create my characters in advance. I find filling out “character sheets” dull and boring. Instead, I discover them while writing. I wrote CLAIMING CARLOS during the first Romance In A Month class I was holding in May-June 2014. One of the daily exercises we did as a group was to answer a daily question about our characters. It was a lot of fun to answer the question and in the process discover something about them. We also shared the answers to our questions with the group and talked about them as if they were real people. I think writing in this group and sharing about our characters made them more unique and “incredible.” I’ve since published the 366 Daily Questions in a ebook called “366 Ways to Know Your Character.” I think answering random questions makes your characters more well-rounded because there is the element of the unexpected.

Q: Several reviewers also mentioned that the “story kept me on my toes.” How helpful is suspense to telling a good romance story?

Rachelle Ayala: Ha, ha, the suspense usually happens because I, the writer, don’t even know how something is going to turn out. I write without planning and am prone to changing my mind in the middle of the story. It’s obvious when I’m writing a mystery or romantic suspense, as there are culprits and clues, however even in a romance there are opportunities for suspense. In CLAIMING CARLOS, we have someone sabotaging the restaurant as well as “what” does Miranda have over Choco’s father? There’s also a big bomb in there, but I won’t give it away because it would spoil the fun. I should add that the answer to that big one was actually not known even to my beta draft. In my beta draft I gave a different answer than the ultimate story. It took some rewriting to iron all of that up.

Q: Did you intend to deliver a message with your story? One reviewer was pleased to learn about the Philippines and its background. Was it your intent to educate readers? Or, were you just trying to tell a good story?

Rachelle Ayala: The message or theme always comes up during revision. When I first start to write the story, I’m going for entertainment. Therefore you’ll find quite a few slapstick or what I think are funny scenes. For example, the dumpster plays a role in CLAIMING CARLOS as well as TAMING ROMEO. The cooking disasters, the food fights, and the restaurant toilet mishaps are all meant for fun. So, I’m mainly telling a good story.

Later on, maybe I can think about a theme, or maybe not. I’m not exactly sure what it is. Second chances? Or maybe recognizing what you have in front of you instead of reaching for what’s not there? I think I’ll let my readers decide what they learned from the story, and I’m always happy when I hear what someone got out of the story.

Q: How relevant is the concept of heroes and villains to your story? What makes an effective villain?

Rachelle Ayala: I do use villains, even in a light-hearted romance. The villain doesn’t have to be someone who is a criminal or an obvious bad guy. It can simply be a person whose goals are opposite to that of the hero. I enjoy writing “villains” primarily because I remember that no one believes he or she is a villain. They feel they are the heroes of their story. It just happens that their story opposes the story of the protagonist. So they end up in the villain role. I usually like to make my villains memorable by being quirky and slightly unhinged. I go for colorful, flamboyant, or plain annoying. I don’t like flat all-bad villains, and therefore even a villain has redeeming qualities. I think a complex villain with good traits makes things more interesting.

Q: I notice that you were a software engineer in your career. What turned you to become a writer of romance novels?

Rachelle Ayala: Since my first book, MICHAL'S WINDOW, was about one of the greatest romances in history, I naturally continued to write romance. I’m not really sure how I turned to writing romance. I just know that I’ve always been a daydreamer and made up stories about people around me in my mind instead of paying attention at meetings.

Q: How useful is humor to telling your stories or developing your characters?

Rachelle Ayala: I’m always giggling or laughing when thinking up humorous scenes, so I believe it is very important. It’s a lot of fun to make up minor characters just to have something funny happen. For one, it makes the characters more likeable. People like seeing a character with a sense of humor. The other benefit is that I get lots of laughs as I’m revising or proofreading. Humor keeps me from being bored.

Q:  What’s next?

Rachelle Ayala: This year was a watershed year for me. In 2012 and 2013, I averaged two novels a year. However in 2014 I’ve already written 4 novels, 3 novellas, 2 non-fiction books, and am in two multi-author boxed sets.

I credit this explosion to an awesome group of writing friends that I interact with almost daily in my Romance In A Month class. I will continue to write with this group of fine authors as I not only find myself more productive while writing in a group, but also am happier with my writing and having more fun.

Q: Tell us about Rachelle Ayala. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Rachelle Ayala: I enjoy visiting with friends and going places. Of course these days, every experience could turn into research for writing, or end up in a scene, so I’m never “not writing.” I even dream about my characters while sleeping.

Everything I read about or observe in my daily life is grist for “what-if” questions. As I mentioned before, I daydream about people and situations. Not everything makes it to a story, but you’ll be surprised what does. I’m always learning new things and therefore everything I do is “research” for my writing.

Thanks Joyce, for having me talk to your readers.

About Rachelle Ayala

Rachelle Ayala is a bestselling Asian American author of dramatic romantic suspense and humorous, sexy contemporary romances. Her heroines are feisty and her heroes hot. She writes emotionally challenging stories but believes in the power of love and hope. Rachelle is the founder of an online writing group, Romance in a Month, an active member of the California Writer's Club, Fremont Chapter, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has won awards in multicultural and historical romance.

About CLAIMING CARLOS: Book #2 of Sanchez Sisters series

Choco Sanchez is stuck in a rut. She's never hit a softball and has been friends forever with Carlos Lopez, the head cook at her family's Filipino restaurant. When flashy restaurant consultant Johnny Dee hits her with a pitch, she falls head over heels and gets a makeover

Carlos Lopez is not about to lose one for the home team. Johnny launches a full scale change on the menu, and Carlos sends him straight into the dumpster. Claiming Choco's heart proves more difficult. But never underestimate a man who can cook hot, spicy, and steamy, and we ain't talking just food.


“Stop.” Miranda waves a spatula and blocks our way. “No members of the wait staff allowed in the kitchen.”
“I need another order of vegan spring rolls. No meat!” Sarah yells.
“She stole my gluten-free bangus.” Susie pushes her way past Miranda, who bounces against the door to the cold room, opening it.
“Out, out of the kitchen.” Miranda sticks a finger in Susie’s chest. Big mistake.
Susie’s nostrils flare and her piercings dance. “Out of my way.”
With a hefty push, she shoves Miranda who stumbles back into the cold room. Her arms windmilling, she falls in between the sides of raw pork belly hanging up to dry.
“Ai ya!” Miranda slaps at the pork bellies and pulls on a trussed whole duck for balance, right when a wooden tray of balut, fertilized duck eggs with the intact embryo, falls and splatters over her. The slime and partially formed embryos ooze down her hair and face.
Everyone except Johnny bursts out laughing. I whip out my cell phone and snap as many pictures as I can before Johnny blocks my view to help his mother.
Out of nowhere, Carlos appears, and he gives Johnny a kick on the back of his tight leopard printed butt, sending him sprawling against the skewered suckling pigs. They tumble like dominoes, knocking Johnny on top of his balut-covered mother.
Carlos picks up a tray of the Vietnamese style transparently wrapped no-fry spring rolls and flings the contents into the cold room all over Johnny and Miranda. “Vegan spring rolls is off the menu.”


Purchase Links

Author Links

Selected Other Books by Rachelle Ayala
For a complete selection, go to

Taming Romeo, SánchezSisters Book #1 - Evie Sanchez is recovering from heartbreak when she runs into Romeo Garcia, the boy she left behind. Now a movie star, Romeo reignites her love with romance and skillful lovemaking. But is the fantasy real or revenge?

Broken Build, Chancefor Love Series #1 Dave and Jen must thwart a killer while rescuing a victim from their past. Love blossoms, but Jen is suspected of being an accomplice of the kidnapper who ruined Dave’s life.

Hidden Under Her Heart, Chance for Love Series #2a heartfelt love story mixed with controversy over difficult decisions.

Knowing Vera, Chancefor Love Series #3 Every woman needs a Zach by her side, and Vera Custodio is one lucky girl, if only she can solve the mystery of their families’ past.  

Michal’sWindow (A Novel: King David’s First Wife)a powerful and emotional journey as lived through the eyes of Princess Michal, King David’s first wife.

Whole Latte Love (Contemporary Romance) - A career oriented young woman has no time for distractions—especially the sexy, guitar-playing barista she rooms with. But how can she resist his hot looks, lattes, and heart for the homeless? Set in Berkeley, California, this opposites-attract romance mixes bluesy rock music, hot, steamy love scenes, and financial shenanigans.

A Father forChristmas – (Holiday Romance) Single mother Kelly Kennedy can’t afford lavish gifts for her four-year-old daughter, Bree. Homeless veteran Tyler Manning doesn’t believe he deserves a Merry Christmas. When Bree asks Santa for a father and picks Tyler, both Tyler and Kelly must believe in the power of love to give Bree her best Christmas ever.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Olive Oil Producer Bill Schweitzer

Bill Schweitzer, VP of Operations
Ramona Olive Oil Corporation
Bill Schweitzer, VP of Operations for Ramona Olive Oil Corporation, joins us today to answer questions about the characteristics of outstanding olive oil. Schweitzer stresses the importance of locally-produced olive oil and tells us how olive oil should taste, defines “extra virgin olive oil,” and offers tips on how to select the best olive oil. 

Schweitzer is one of the founders of the Ramona Olive Oil Corporation that uses locally grown olives to produce their olive oil in Ramona, California, available throughout the Ramona area and for shipping. For more information on Schweitzer, his company, and Ramona Gold Olive Oil, check out the article, “A New Oil Boom? Ramona Gold Leads the Way in Local Olive Oil Production” in Edible San Diego; or the company’s web page at:

Q: What should I taste in olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer: Olive oil should taste like olives. It should be fresh, herbaceous, lively and a bit peppery.  The flavors might mimic an artichoke or green, fresh cut grass. It should be pleasant and distinctive. Olive oil should never be bland. It should never have “off odors.” It should never have flavors of mustiness, rancidness or “old” anything.

Q: What does it mean for olive oil to be “extra virgin?”

Bill Schweitzer: The definition of “extra virgin olive oil” is simply, oil which has NO flavor or odor flaws and has the correct, very low, percentage of broken molecules called “free fatty acids.”

Q: How do you create extra virgin olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer: Olive oil is a strong anti-oxidant. It preserves itself in the bottle. Olives, on the other hand, are like any other fruit. Once they are picked they are subject to bruising, heat, light and air. The oil should be pressed from the fruit within 24 hours of picking. If not, the oil may pick up the flavors of the slowly fermenting fruit. Olive oil is at its absolute best the moment it comes out of the press.

Q: So, if a bottle of olive oil says it’s “extra virgin” that’s the best kind to buy?

Bill Schweitzer:  No. Fifty years ago it was hard to find olive oil at any place other than the local Italian market. Today, the shelves are full of "olive oil" choices. They come from all over the world, and many of them say "extra virgin” in large and cleverly formatted ways. The truth of the matter, according to Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller, most of the supermarket oil you can buy may have passed by an olive tree in Southern Italy while traveling from the chemical factory to a tanker ship. It's likely that the base oil was some cheaply available nut oil, chemically modified with a little olive flavor added with actual olive oil or another method. Consumer Reports did a study of numerous readily available brands and found few that could rightfully be called “Extra Virgin Olive Oil." The product in local restaurants is probably even less likely to be anything but bulk oil bought from a large importer.

Q: How do I know which olive oil to buy?

Bill Schweitzer: Here are a few tips:

(1) Look for a “pressed by” or “produced on” date. That date should be reasonable: November or December within 12 to 18 months for northern hemisphere sources and May or June for Australian oil.

(2) Look for a clear and unambiguous indication that the olives were grown by the same people who pressed the oil and put it in the bottle. “Estate grown” is usually a good clue. “Organic” is less important as a growing method, but may indicate that the trees are controlled by the bottler.

(3) If there is a choice between clear glass, dark glass or a tin container, always go for the oil that has seen the least light. Ultraviolet light is not good for those healthy molecules in the oil. The tin or dark glass make it harder to see the golden product, but they show that the producer has respect for the oil.

(4) Avoid any that says “produced in Italy” or “bottled in Italy” without the date and estate reference mentioned above. If it is actually olive oil, it still has taken too long to get from grove, to the mill, to the tanker ship, to the Italian bottler, back to a cargo ship, across the ocean through the distribution process and to that grocery shelf in front of you.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of good olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer:  Olive oil is best from someplace local. It has traveled less, it has been processed less and it has been lovingly produced by someone who knows where the trees are growing. California is emerging as a fine producer of quality oil. From north to south, from coast to desert, there are small producers who are selling quality oil in the exact flavor profile you’re looking for.  Early harvest sharp, late harvest smooth, Tuscan style, French style, whatever…someone in California is doing it and they are putting the details on their label. And here in California we are fortunate to have a significant and organized olive oil industry that is willing to put its stamp of approval on our product.  The “California Olive Oil Council (COOC)” is dedicated to improving the quality of locally grown oil, educating consumers about the importance of that quality and stamping a certificate on oil that meets those high standards.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Rose Dunphy, Author and Cook

Novelist Rose Dunphy, an Italian by birth, responded to her fans’ request to bring her family’s recipes for sumptuous Italian dishes to her readers. She published her new cookbook THE SCENT of ITALIAN COOKING with recipes handed down from her grandmother, mother, and other family members and also produced by her own experimenting. Reviewers praise her use of photos to demonstrate her kitchen and the foods, and claim “As I turn the pages of this beautiful book I can ‘smell’ the aroma of Rose Marie’s recipes.”

In addition to her cookbook, Dunphy published her most recent novel in both English, ORANGE PEELS and COBBLESTONES and Italian CIOTTOLI e BUCCE D'ARANCIA, and has also been published in many magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Newsday. She has a new novel on the “back burner” and plans to get to it soon!

Q: You first wrote ORANGE PEELS and COBBLESTONES, a novel described as a “coming of age love story.” What made you decide to create a cookbook, THE SCENT of ITALIAN COOKING?

Rose Dunphy: Food plays a role in the relationship Marietta, the protagonist in ORANGE PEELS and COBBLESTONES, has with her mother once they reunite.  Readers of the novel have written telling me how much they enjoyed that aspect of the book and did I have more recipes and could I put them in a book or in my next novel?  My family and friends know how much I love to cook.  When they found out that readers wanted recipes, they pushed hard for a cookbook.  So I spent most of the summer writing down the recipes I knew by heart and those handed down to me by my mother, grandmother and other Italian relatives living in Italy.  Included in the cookbook are an Introduction, How to Shop for Foods (a request by male relatives new to cooking) and colorful photos of meals alongside the recipe, as well as photos of my mother, cousins and the Italian landscape.  

Q: What makes your recipes “Italian?” How would you characterize Italian cooking? Is it just pasta, garlic, and tomato sauce?

Rose Dunphy: It’s much more than that.  Italian cooking means using only the freshest ingredients possible, especially vegetables.  In fact, many Italians I know grow their own tomatoes, string beans, peppers, eggplant and herbs in summer gardens.  It’s simple cooking in that you would use vegetables, meats, fish and herbs in their most natural state and blend the flavors to produce the most delectable tastes, aromas and colors our senses can enjoy.  Yes, pasta is a consistent part of the Italian meal, but each pasta, especially if it’s fresh, has its own distinctive flavor due to its shape and the type of sauce put over it, whether it’s tomato sauce with or without meat, pesto, oil and garlic, béchamel or Alfredo sauce.

Q: What are your top 3 to 5 tips to guide us on how to cook Italian?

Rose Dunphy:
1.     Buy the freshest ingredients possible and cook them within a day or two.
2.     Use extra virgin olive oil in all your cooking instead of butter for better health.
3.     Cook vegetables together, blending and enhancing flavor and nutrition, for example, broccoli and carrots, zucchini and string beans.  The natural sweetness of one complements the other.
4.     Use fresh herbs and don’t be afraid to mix those in many recipes, for example, sage leaves, a sprig of rosemary, chives, parsley, basil, oregano, whatever you like.  Be creative.  The final flavor will astound you.
5.     For pastas and bread, the flavor of fresh can’t be beat.  If you don’t have time to make pasta or bread yourself, today you can buy fresh pasta or freshly baked bread in most supermarkets.

Q: What do you consider a satisfying, superlative Italian dinner?

Rose Dunphy: One made simply with fresh vegetables as a side, some meat or fish for the entrée, a pasta dish at the beginning of the meal and, at the end, a Romaine or other green salad with basil and arugula that’s dressed with salt, oil and balsamic vinegar.  A cup of espresso with one or two biscotti clinches the final act. 

Q: How do you test your recipes? (I’d like to volunteer, if you still need any help.) What was the best and worst comment you’ve received from any of your “testers?”

Rose Dunphy: I use the taste test.  I taste the finished product and my husband tastes it, too.  If we agree, I know the recipe is a “wow!”  When an entrée or dessert has not come out as expected, both my husband and I are not afraid to say it.  But I am its worst critic.  I go back and try to ascertain what went wrong or what I could have done differently and note it so I don’t make the same mistake again.

I’ll never forget the time I made Talapia in the oven.  Because the colors are similar and I was probably distracted, I inadvertently added cinnamon instead of paprika to the fish.  While it was baking, I detected a sweet scent I wasn’t used to in cooking fish.  When I opened the oven, I realized my mistake.  I tried to rub it off, but it wasn’t easy as the fish was already cooked.  We tried to eat it, but it was not enjoyable.  “It’s terrible,” my husband and I both finally said.   I rose from the dinner table and pulled out two more pieces of Talapia from the freezer and paid more attention to how I dressed them.

Q: Where/how did you get your recipes? Did you do much research?

Rose Dunphy: My recipes have come from my mother, grandmother and other Italian relatives living in Italy.  They’ve been handed down from one generation to another for many years.  I’ve also gotten some from my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, friends and newspapers from which I’ve tweaked them to create my own versions.  My research involved asking my relatives for their recipes that I did not have and confirmation of what I did have.  Also, some of my recipes have evolved over the years.  I like to think they’ve improved due to my creativity to try different combinations of ingredients.

Q: What did you find the most difficult about writing a cookbook?

Rose Dunphy: Following the format of listing the ingredients and steps in an organized fashion to make it easiest on the reader was a challenge as was making sure that I didn’t omit an ingredient or step.

Q: Which was more fun writing – your novel or the cookbook?

Rose Dunphy: The novel was much more creative and, perhaps, more fulfilling.  But both books were work.  The fun comes at the end, when I finish.  It also comes when I speak about my books at author talks in libraries, schools, book stores, etc. and people come up to me and say, “I loved your book.  It really spoke to me because…”  Or, “I made your shrimp recipe last night and it came out delicious.  And it was so easy.”

Q: What’s next? Will you be writing another novel?

Rose Dunphy:  Of course.  One is already on a back burner ready to be lit.  But I have to finish editing someone else’s novel first, which I’m hoping to complete in a month.

Q:  Tell us something about Rose Dunphy. What do you like to do when you’re not writing or cooking?

Rose Dunphy: I love to read, go for walks, exercise at the gym and do some traveling, especially to see my family in Italy.

About Rose Marie Calicchio Dunphy

Rose Marie Calicchio Dunphy was born in Italy and educated in Italy and New York. Having spent her childhood years in her native country, she knows the Italian culture, language and culinary arts from both sides of the Atlantic. A New York State licensed science teacher, writer, lecturer and experienced cook, the author has written a number of books: ORANGE PEELS and COBBLESTONES, a novel; CIOTTOLI e BUCCE D'ARANCIA, the Italian translation of the novel; THAT FIRST BITE-CHANCE or CHOICE, non-fiction about eating disorders with co-author Mary Sullivan, r.c.; THE SCENT of ITALIAN COOKING, a book of recipes gleaned from generations of Italian women and men that delight everyone's nostrils and palates. In addition, the author has been published in THE NEW YORK TIMES, NEWSDAY, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, THE EAST HAMPTON STAR, and in numerous magazines across the country.

THE SCENT of ITALIAN COOKING is a cookbook of Italian and Italian-American recipes passed down to the author from her grandmother, mother and other Italian relatives in Italy that delight everyone's nostrils and palates. It also includes recipes the author created on her own by experimenting with different foods and flavors to create in her home and hopefully in yours the wonderful scent of Italian cooking. The recipes are easy to understand and to use. The author wishes to display a love of cooking that she hopes is contagious. The book contains many photos of foods and Italian scenery as well as how to shop for foods, a Table of Contents and an index for quick access of recipes.



“The best memories I have of my childhood are walking into my grandmother’s kitchen.  It was like entering heaven.  All my senses were stirred and I became alive.” 
For many of us, our senses were stirred and we became alive when we entered our mother’s or grandmother’s kitchens.  The aroma of food cooking on the stove or baking in the oven intoxicated us, overwhelming us with joy and building a tradition of lasting memories of the people who loved us.  For me it also includes the kitchens of my Italian relatives in Italy.  Every time I visit my aunts, uncles and cousins, or they visit me, it’s in the kitchen where we congregate.  In the kitchen our minds, mouths and eyes feast on the most delicious food and drink that the earth can provide and our human hands can prepare. It is where we are family, where we become one.
I want to continue this tradition for my children and grandchildren and for others who wish it – to stir their senses, for them to become alive, not just at holiday times but every day or as many days of the year as possible. 
For this reason, I am collating my family’s favorite recipes into this cookbook so they can live on not only in our kitchens, but also in our hearts and souls and senses and in those of our children.
Pesto Sauce

You can buy pesto sauce, but it won’t taste like the kind that’s home-made.  And it’s so easy to do especially if you grow basil in your garden outside or indoors in a pot.  You can also buy a bunch of fresh basil at the store any time of year. You can put parsley in the mix by using one cup of basil and one cup of parsley, if you prefer. 

Tip: If you double the recipe or make more, you can freeze what you don’t use by pouring several spoonsful (serving for one or two) onto a piece of waxed paper, fold closed and cover with aluminum foil.  Place on a flat cookie sheet and put in freezer.  Once frozen, place packages in a freezer bag, label and date and put back in freezer for future use. 

2 cups fresh basil ½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. pine nuts 1/3 cup grated cheese
3 chopped garlic cloves or more if you like it more garlicky.

1.     Wash basil and parsley, if using it, under running water.  Dry with paper toweling.  Cut off any thick stems.
2.     Place oil, half of basil, pine nuts and garlic in blender or food processor and blend.  Add remaining basil and blend to a fine texture.  Puree.
3.     Add cheese and blend quickly.  Puree.  Yields one cup ready to serve or freeze for a future time.  

The Scent of Italian Cooking

Ciottoli e Bucce D'Arancia

Orange Peels and Cobblestones


Twitter: @RoseDunphy

Thursday, October 30, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Crissi Langwell, Author

Crissi Langwell, Author
Reviewers describe Crissi Langwell’s books as “those books that have a story that stay with you weeks later.” In her most recent novel, THE ROAD TO HOPE, Langwell’s “believable and real” characters turn grief into hope, in a way that reviewers say “hooked them right from the start.” She also has published two other novels, a book of essays, and a book of poetry.

Langwell sets her books in Sonoma County, California where she lives with her blended family, and says, “Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.” In 2015 she plans to release a series of more “lighthearted” projects that mix magic with desserts. In addition to writing books, Langwell works for her local newspaper and is editor for her regional writing club newsletter.

Q: Your newest book THE ROAD TO HOPE has been described as turning “grief and affliction” into “beauty that exists when hope prevails.” Why did you write this story? How did you conceive it? Where did it come from?

Crissi Langwell: 12 years ago, I lost my third child to stillbirth. It was such a shocking loss, one I don’t think anyone could be prepared for. There isn’t much that hurts more than to lose your child. For years, this loss defined me. However, with time, I was able to heal. But because of that loss, I’m forever changed.

Fast forward a couple more years, and I witnessed a toddler fall from a Trader Joe’s shopping cart headfirst onto the floor. He ended up being okay, but something about the whole scene stuck with me. Everyone was watching the mother but not helping. And she was just sitting in the middle of the store, soothing her screaming child. It was this event that became the first scene of my book, and the whole story evolved into a love letter to myself and to anyone else who has gone through hardship or trauma.

Q: As in your previous books, reviewers of THE ROAD TO HOPE tout it as “an amazing story. Hooked right from the start” and “I was absolutely RIVETED!” How do you make your story “riveting?” What pulls your readers in and won’t let them go?

Crissi Langwell: I try to keep the boring parts out. ;-) Really, I do my best to keep the story moving forward at all times. Each action that happens, you can bet that it will lead to something pivotal a few scenes later.  And I write about real life, the kinds of things we all are thinking or feeling, even if they’re not the kind of stuff we’ll admit out loud. I try to be authentic when I write.

Q: Reviewers say that you have “a gift for creating believable and real characters.” What makes “real” characters? Why do readers believe them?

Crissi Langwell: I love writing about people and how they affect each other. I draw from real experiences, but I also let the characters tell the story, not me. When I begin writing a novel, I always have a loose plan in place. But as soon as I get to know the characters better, they take over and throw my plans out. I think that’s why readers find my characters believable, because I do my best not to interrupt the story that’s taking place.

Q: Family seems important to you throughout all of your writing—fiction, non-fiction, reporting. What is it about the family that inspires you to write about it?

Crissi Langwell: I started my family a little younger than most, with my first daughter born when I was 20. I got married and divorced in my 20s, raised my kids as a single mother, and I’m now happily married into a blended family. I’ve experienced all sorts of different types of families – from my intact and totally normal family when I grew up, my chaotic family in my 20s, and now in a family of all different personalities under one roof. Family is my life! I was even the family columnist for my local newspaper for a time. So when it came to writing books, I couldn’t think of anything more I wanted to write about. Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.

Q: Did you write THE ROAD TO HOPE to entertain readers, to deliver a message, and/or to educate? To inspire?

Crissi Langwell: It could be a little of all three. I love writing about the underdogs, and THE ROAD TO HOPE is no different. In this book, I touched on themes of homelessness, poverty, teen pregnancy, and child loss. I offered points of view that many would be too uncomfortable to get close to in real life. But I offered insight as to how easily these situations could happen to anyone. It’s my hope that someone who reads my book will be able to walk away with a new way to look at life.

Q: How relevant is the concept of villains and heroes to your stories?

Crissi Langwell: The concept of villains and heroes is not only relevant, but it can also be a muddy concept as well. Sometimes the heroes can be villains. Sometimes the villains can be heroes. In my novels, I’ve written about bad guys/girls who are cruel, have caused bad things to happen, say mean things, are rude or dismissive… But there’s always a backstory. WHY are they mean? Why do they hurt people around them? I do my best to answer these questions. Sometimes the villains in my stories end up being readers’ favorites, because their bad side is also their human side.

Q: How helpful is setting to telling your stories? Could they occur at any time in any place?

Crissi Langwell: One little secret I have is that I like to place my characters in the same place I live – Sonoma County. There are a few books out there that have used Sonoma County (which is north of San Francisco) as their setting, and it’s always a treat to come across my home in a book. I imagine one day I’ll write a book that doesn’t take place here at all. But so far, every one of my stories is set in a nearby town. It’s also helpful to be describing a scene, and be able to completely envision it because it’s based off a real place, even if just loosely. As for the timing, so far all my books take place in the present. I haven’t done any serious writing that takes place in the past or future. But it’s not out of the question.

Q: Er, just to let you know, my next mystery, Hilltop Sunset, is set in Sonoma County. I love it there.

Q: You have also written poetry. When do you prefer writing poetry over prose?

Crissi Langwell: I always prefer prose over poetry. Poetry is hard! But for a time, it served as a way to loosen my pen in preparation for writing a novel. It helped teach me to dive into description and draw the reader into the scene I was painting. Much of my poetry was written years ago during a very confusing time in my life. I never even meant for it to go public! But when all was said and done, I realized that what I wrote wasn’t half bad. My book of poetry, Everything I Am Not Saying, is not one that I publicize a ton, but it is one of my proudest (and most personal) achievements.

Q: What’s next?

Crissi Langwell: After writing three novels that dealt with deep and heavy themes, I am now exploring something more lighthearted. I’m preparing to release a series of 4 books in 2015 that mixes magic with desserts. The first book is titled Come Here, Cupcake, and is about a woman who discovers she has the magical ability to infuse her baking with her feelings. As you can imagine, this leads to some very sticky situations.

Q: Tell us about Crissi Langwell. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Crissi Langwell: I read. A lot. I also can be found at the baseball field or golf course cheering on my son, teaching my daughter to drive (Lord help us all), or just hanging with the family at home. I’m the newsletter editor for my regional writing club, Redwood Writers, I work full-time for the local newspaper, I volunteer for my church, and I help with the year-round planning for the summer camp the kids and I attend every year. I guess you can say I like to stay busy!

About Crissi Langwell

Crissi Langwell is the author of three fiction novels, a book of poetry, and a collection of true stories about single parenting. She lives in Northern California with her husband and blended family of three kids, a whiny cat, and a ridiculous teenage dog.

Jill is a woman who just lost her son. Maddie is a teen mother who has been rejected by her parents. Both are sent reeling at the tragic spin life has taken. And both are on a crash course for changing each other’s lives. This is the story of two mothers, the trauma they experience, and how life’s twists and turns can have an impact on who they think they are, who they’re bound to become, and the lives they touch in between.


Chapter One ~ The Point of Impact
There was no stopping it. In one moment, Toby had been standing in the front of the small shopping cart, grinning at his mom as she filled a bag with green beans. In the next, the cart tipped forward against his weight, sending him head-first toward the checkered linoleum in the middle of Hal’s Market. The look of terror on her toddler’s face was etched in Jill’s mind as she saw him tumble from the cart, falling just far enough away that she knew she’d never reach him in time. But in the eternity that lay in those few seconds, she made a valiant effort, throwing her arms forward to catch nothing but air.

Toby’s forehead hit the slick floor first, the rest of his body crumpling down into his neck, then careening over his body like a rag doll. Jill reached him and, despite everything she had ever learned about not moving accident victims, she turned him over to see if he was okay. She would never forget the look in his eyes. Tearless, they reached into her, grabbing at her guilt with a firm hold while raking over her worst fears. Then they lost all recognition.

“Toby,” she breathed. His olive eyes were fixed on the ceiling, the blank expression frozen on his face. But then his body relaxed into a deep and shuddering breath, followed by a scream of pain and terror. His cries were a sweet sound to Jill’s ears. She scooped her son up and held him tight against her chest.

Jill avoided the stares from the small crowd forming around her and Toby. She could feel the weight of their judgment, their unspoken thoughts screaming at her. How could she? What kind of mother lets that happen? She doesn’t deserve a child. Jill held her sobbing son to her chest, rocking him next to the green beans and zucchini while trying to pretend the growing crowd didn’t exist. The two of them sat until his screams subsided into hiccupped breathing. Then Toby lay his curly blonde head against her shoulder, playing with a lock of her chestnut hair as he breathed into her sweater. Jill couldn’t help but see the irony in this—her injured toddler finding safety in the very person who had let him fall.


Twitter: @crissilangwell