Monday, October 29, 2012

The Storm, The Writer and The Chicken

So while Hurricane Sandy is making its slow but potentially lethal way toward New York City - which makes me wonder; WHY is it always NYC? Godzilla, Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, Planet of the Apes, and so many more - why is it always NYC that gets battered?
Anyway - while Sandy is making its way toward New York, my  dear friend Johanna Harness is lamenting the fact that I made chicken soup yesterday without documenting and posting the procedure.

To be honest, it never occurred to me. I make chicken soup so often in winter, it's much like making coffee: I don't think about it anymore.
But for Johanna, and anyone else who wants to know, this is how I make chicken soup, how I learned to make it from my grandmother. It is NOT a low-fat recipe. But it's the Number One of all comfort foods on a stormy, cold October day.

The things you need:

a chicken. And I don't mean one of your lean, I'll-be-done-in-ten-minutes chicken. I mean a hefty farm hen that has led a long life and acquired some meat and yes, fat.

some veggies:
- a couple of nice, big organic carrots
- celeriac. Yes, one of these ugly buggers, peeled and cut into chunks, and it won't harm at all if you wash and toss in the green, as well.

- one or two stems of leek, cut into... oh, let's say, thumb-length pieces (WASHED, of course!)
- two or three bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- a cube or two of Knorr chicken stock.
Did you know Knorr is a German company? Just like Maggi.

Now the secret to making a chicken soup that will stay clear and be really aromatic is that you need to put it on COLD.
So put all these ingredients in a large pot, add COLD water until the chicken is well covered, and bring to a boil without a lid. Once the soup begins to boil, cover tightly, and turn down the heat to medium (or less) until the soup simmers. NO more boiling, just gentle simmering. Can you SMELL it? And do you know what makes that heavenly smell so heavenly? It's that ugly bugger, the celeriac!

And then you forget about it for the next two or three hours.
See, this is one reason why I love to make chicken soup. It takes about ten minutes to put in the pot, and then you have all the time in the world to write!

Two hours later, the soup is done - but not ready.
You need something to go inside, right? It's a matter of taste whether you prefer noodles or rice - I've never been able to make up my mind. Basmati rice is really, really delicious in chicken soup, but so are noodles. Don't buy the cheapest you can get. Buy really nice egg noodles of your preferred shape.
But whatever you use, ride or noodles, cook them separately, not in the soup!

Remove the chicken from the pot and cut off the meat. If you bought the nice farm hen I was talking about, you'll have plenty of juicy, tender meat! Distribute it into the serving bowl, add your rice or noodles, and ladle the soup over it. Some people like the boiled vegetables (like my husband), some hate them (like me).
And.. SERVE!

Oh - you might want to know this. A bottle of Maggi condiment is never missing on a German table when there's chicken soup.

It's a total staple in German households! I've seen it in American grocery stores, so if yours has it, buy it. I promise. It will change your life forever. Add a dash to your soup before eating... hmmmm....
If you want to know, it's made from a herb that's called "Liebstöckel" in Germany. My dictionary tells me the English word is "lovage".

So here you go, Johanna: German, homemade chicken soup! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Almost a Hobbit

It's funny how these blog hops change things.
Suddenly, I'm friends with so many more people, people I knew from Twitter but who seemed so far away in space and time that we never really got to talking.
One of these people is the wonderful Carrie Bailey, who lives in New Zealand. It's the other end of the world, for me.
When I asked her if she would participate in my blog hop for Under The Same Sun she agreed immediately, which is why New Zealand is reading about me and my books right now. Well – not all of New Zealand, of course. But some folks.
Here is one interesting snippet about Carrie: she was almost a hobbit.
When Peter Jackson went to New Zealand to film "Lord of the Rings" she almost applied to be an extra in the movies, as a hobbit. But she didn't. Which is why I can't point at the screen every time we watch those movies and say, "Do you see that hobbit girl with the tankards? That's my friend!"

So here is Carrie's guest blog. Welcome to Germany, Carrie!

A month ago I was watching television in my moldy little Wellington apartment with my kiwi (New Zealander) boyfriend when what might have been the single greatest opportunity of my life flashed across the screen. “Watch all your favorite shows at the same time as the Americans!” 
That struck a cord. I’ve always lived in strange and isolated areas and grew up out of range of cable broadcasting. I remember thinking as a kid living on the westernmost point of the Oregon coast, “Hey wait a minute! Those people in Eastern Standard Time get to see National Geographic before we do.” Such things leave one feeling somehow left out, don’t they?
Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve come to believe that time zone related resentment is an understudied phenomenon. I don't often watch television, but knowing I could have access to it at the same time as my family and friends do back home does make me feel very 21rst century. It’s a good feeling, like being part of a global community rather than dangling off the very edge of it. Did I mention we line dry our clothes here? Even when it’s raining, because clothes dryers are considered optional?
And then, there’s the Internet access. A few years ago I would have thought that my New Zealand standard 40 GB per month Internet service might be the basis for a horror movie: The Country that Charged by the Gigabyte! But, hey, that’s the real New Zealand. 
There are no hobbits and all of that beautiful scenery from the Lord of the Rings is largely tucked away out of view on the South island. Geographical isolation has its benefits though. Take the kiwi bird for example. The steep New Zealand hills were full of oddly shaped flightless birds of all shapes and sizes. Isolation allows unique things to develop like a quasi-religious national obsession with their beefy rugby team, the All-Blacks who always perform the indigenous Maori war chant called a haka before games, or Peter Jackson’s movie industry, which sprung up from nowhere almost overnight to make The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. 
With such a small population, it seems nearly everyone participated to make things happen. I admit I almost went to the casting calls to be an extra for The Hobbit, but stopped short, because I feared I might end up remembered forever as female hobbit, scene five, holding the green mug. “Yes, I was bar wench hobbit standing behind Bilbo for two seconds about ten minutes in,” I would have to say over and over again to German tourists in my half-Oregonian half-kiwi accent. 
By the way, that kiwi boyfriend I mentioned earlier was one of the enormous mucous-covered, heavily muscled creatures from the invasion force in the second Lord of the Rings movie. Or, at least, he and half of Wellington helped provide the sound effects for the opening fight scene by loading into the stadium and stamping their feet in unison. So, in a way, he was. In a small-framed-high-fore-headed-accountant-looking sort of way. 
Unfortunately, I’ve never had any real interest in acting. I paint. I do graphic design and I write. I’m writing a dystopian novel set in New Zealand’s future. Though nearly indistinguishable from a fantasy novel set in ancient Babylon, there are considerably more flightless birds in my story. And while no New Zealand authors are household names, I’m not without hope. It is a major global oversight. This country has a unique region of immense biodiversity, isolated and peculiar in the most compelling ways. The largest insect in the world lives here. It’s like a grasshopper on steroids. If you want to see something different, something inspirational, here is good for that. If you want to watch streaming video? Maybe not so much. Fortunately, we’ve got this lovely little shop down the road with a thriving DVD rental business. 
It was The Country that Time Forgot, but for me, it’s the best writing environment I could imagine. And the time zone envy? I got over that once I discovered the DVD shop have a sizeable videocassette collection, too. No, really! I was even asked if I had a machine that played them once. When was the last time you saw one of those? 
Don’t be jealous. You come for the Hobbit premier and you can get the cassette as a souvenir. 
Carrie Bailey 


Monday, October 22, 2012

"Land of Hope" - a mosaic of voices

Today I have the honor of introducing Junying Kirk to you.
She's been an author friend for a long time, and I've watched her write this book with joy and anticipation. Here's my review of her latest novel.

Land of Hope Book Blurb

Every year, millions of illegal immigrants cross borders in search of wealth, happiness and a life of ease in the Land of Hope. Some succeed. Others suffer unimaginable hardships. 

When Jack Gordon, Inspector in the SCS (Serious Crime Squad) hires Pearl Zhang, a professional Chinese interpreter, they join forces to fight injustice in the corrupt underworld of international crime, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

Pearl is the voice of broken dreams, translating raw, deranged, and colorful tales of those who cannot speak for themselves. As Pearl gets more and more tangled in the lives of strangers, Jack becomes a welcome diversion, complicated by the fact that both are married. Their trans-continental roller-coaster ride derails when Pearl tumbles into the sinister world of her clients, a world full of secrets, lies, and unspeakable violence - only this time, it's directed at her. 

Can she depend on Jack? Find out in this third and final book of Junying Kirk's "Journey to the West" trilogy.   

Land Of Hope - a review

Land Of Hope by author Junying Kirk was not at all what I expected. 
What begins like a comfortable English TV crime show—much in the vein of Inspector Lewis or Midsomer Murders—soon spills over into a multi-layered tapestry of interwoven stories. 
Kirk, like her female protagonist, Pearl, is of Chinese origin,and an interpreter of Mandarin. She  too, is married, lives  in England, and works with the police and the courts, which makes her insights into their workings authentic, and at times bleak. As if to counterbalance this, she weaves a love story into her novel, one that seems as surprising to the characters, as it is to the reader. Pearl and Gordon just aren’t meant for each other, and we feel it right away. While around them the many layers of the mystery—that begins with the fire at the fruit packaging plant— unfolds, Pearl and DI Gordon take time out for a break from the reality of their problematic marriages and dreary work days.
Kirk’s language in the chapters dealing with Pearl and Gordon and the investigation is brisk, sometimes even male in its directness, but her real strength shows in the chapters told from the Chinese immigrants’ point of view.
I’m not sure Kirk realizes her true potential lies here: even hardships in a Maoistic China sound lyrical, reminiscent of Pearl Buck, and are alluringly exotic to a European reader. The reason may be that she uses first-person narrative in these parts of the book, but there is also a fluent, comfortable flow to the language that is missing from the crime chapters.
Kirk is not afraid of using violence, and decribes these scenes in realistic detail.
Let me just say, her heroine Pearl is made of sterner stuff than most women.
Land Of Hope is a satisfying read, but since it’s the third in a trilogy, you may want to start with books one and two.

Junying Kirk is an author to watch, and I look forward to her giving us more insights into the culture of China in her future books.


Author Bio: Junying Kirk grew up in the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution. A British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at a top English University in 1988, followed by further postgraduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. She has worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher, cultural consultant and professional interpreter. She loves reading and is the author of 'Journey to the West' trilogy, The Same MoonThe Same Moon Trials of Life and Land of Hope, and she blogs at

The blog hop goes on here: Don't forget to check it out tomorrow!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Buddhapuss Ink: Yes Virginia, It Is a Blog Hop and Other Fun Stuff...

The Blog Hop for Under the Same Sun is on! You can follow all stops from my publisher's page.
Do leave a comment for your chance to win a free copy of the book!

Here's the link:

Buddhapuss Ink: Yes Virginia, It Is a Blog Hop and Other Fun Stuff...: MONDAY, OCTOBER 15th - follow @Mariam_Kobras on twitter as she celebrates the launch of her new book, UNDER THE SAME SUN . Mariam will be tw...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Launch Day, Softly

I always thought it would be different.
In my dreams, "launch day" always meant PARTY TIME, and not more work.
But that's the way it is: it's more work, especially if Amazon takes everyone by surprise again and launches early, and consequently makes a mess of all the carefully laid plans for the real launch day.
Now I could be cool about it and say, "Happens to me all the time!" and it would be the truth.

Happens to me all the time. Both times.
My readers are happy! They get their pre-ordered books earlier than they thought, and I'm glad for them.
For me, though, it's like... you know when you have a shiny, new balloon, a really well-filled balloon, and someone gives you a needle and says, "You can pop this balloon, and there will be a loud and fantastic BANG and all that confetti and glitter hidden inside will POP out and YAY it will be party time! But you have to wait until Monday, or everything will be spoiled!" – that.
And so you sit and wait and stare at the balloon and make all kinds of plans about how everything will be glittery with the stuff inside it, and you'll go out and buy champagne and cake to celebrate the pop – and then you find out that the balloon has a leak! There won't be any pop and sparkle after all, just a gentle leaking, and on Monday, there'll be nothing but a flaccid rubber skin and sadly drifting confetti.

So this is how it went yesterday.
People were telling me their pre-ordered copies of "Under The Same Sun" had shipped, and yay, they would be spending the weekend reading my new book! I went over to the Amazon page, and no kidding, it was in stock.
Which means it had launched. Yay.
I told my husband. He was watching football, Germany vs. Ireland, and the Germans had just been cheated out of a penalty, which did not amuse my husband.
"Great," he said, and I don't know if he meant me or the referee.
My kid, engrossed in Minecraft or something of the sort, grunted an "Aha" at me.
So much for launching a second book!
I went over to Twitter, and tweeted it. Two or three people reacted. Everyone else was watching football or having dinner. Twitter was fast asleep.

So here I was, with my second book released, and all alone with that fact. Even my publisher was out shopping or something.

See, the secret here is the word "second". It's another book. In my opinion, it's the most important book in a writing career. Getting lucky with the first one, getting it published, isn't that hard. But then, after that, you have to follow up. You have to prove to yourself, your publisher and the world that you can do more than spit out one book, and that's where the tough part begins.
I was so much more afraid when I submitted this second book. When I sent it in, I kept asking myself, "Will they like it as much as the first? What if they don't like it? What will happen if they reject it, will I ever have the guts to write another one?"
Well, as you can see, they did like it, even said it was better than the first, and congratulations, you are growing as a writer, you're doing great.

You see me a little dazed today. It's Saturday, and I'm working on the posts for the blog hop that begins on Monday.
I'm an author with two published books.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Twice A Year, And No Mistake

It's that time of the year again, and no, I don't mean Christmas.
It's time to launch a book!
When I was no more than one of those writers wading through untold pages of words, lost somewhere in a manuscript that seemingly had no beginning and no end, while a publisher was sitting on my shoulder and waiting for me to get done with the editing, I promised myself this one thing:
If I ever get published, if this impossible tome ever can be turned into a book worth publishing and I get that elusive book deal, then I'll work my behind off to be a success.
Two books a year, that was my goal. I wanted to publish two books a year, even if it broke my back.
Even if the house never got cleaned again, lunch would only ever be cold and slapped together, I was determined: this would work.
Or rather, I would work. And work hard.
Back then, I had no idea that working hard at being an author would mean so much more than putting out two medium-sized novels a year.
In fact, the novel-writing is like the dessert in this brand-new author world.  Granted, it's a BIG dessert. It's a dessert that makes up most of the meal. But man, the main course and hors d'oeuvre are like fish and birds with many, many bones. Small bones, too, that can get stuck in the gullet easily.
Let no one fool you: being an author means more than writing books. You have to sell them, too.
You have to have the guts to walk into a bookstore, your book in hand, and tell people "Hey, look, I wrote a book and it even won an award, why don't you put it on your shelf?"

Yep, I did that, twice.

One bookstore (a big one with a BIG English department, right here in Hamburg, Germany) wouldn't even give me the time of day. If it isn't at the top of the wholesale recommendation lists we aren't interested, and have a nice day, grasshopper.
At the other one, though, here in my small hometown, they were thrilled, and ordered it right away.
They asked me to come in and sign the copies they had put up – not on some obscure shelf, but on the counter, where everyone would have to see them.
My novel "The Distant Shore", was sold out within two weeks.
In Germany, and a book written in English!

Here is is:

A moment of glory, I can tell you.

So now, in a few weeks, they will be able to put book #2 up there, right next to new copies of book #1, and I'm especially proud of that because I made them do it.
My publisher was delighted, and praised me for my initiative and sheer guts.
It wasn't really that hard.
I believe in my books. They are my product, I wrote them. I created every character, every scene.
If I'm not prepared to go out there and promote them, who will? It's my job, part of my job as author.
Remember the bones I was talking about earlier?

A couple of days ago I told my publisher I wanted to get somewhere with my writing. I wanted to be a success so I could have that Porsche while I was still young enough to get in and out of the damned thing.
They laughed, but I swear there was more than a trace of respect in it. They love my ambition, because it tells them I'm on track, working my behind off.

So now it's time to launch my second book. Here it is:

Not long now. Just a few more days.
By the way, book #3 is written and submitted. Book #4 is well on its way to being finished. I'm guessing by Christmas.
As I said: two books a year, and no mistake.
There has to be a reason why my publisher likes to call me frustrating and obsessive.
They always add, "But you're also imaginative, articulate, silly and cute, kind and gentle, and a really good egg all around."
I kind of like the "frustrating and obsessive" though. It will get me the Porsche in the end. Silly and cute  – not so much, I'd still be using the bus.