“I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pencil.” It’s a statement you see often in interviews with writers. It’s a statement that always leaves me feeling a little “less than” because I came to writing later— in my late fifties to be exact. Oh, I did some essay writing in school and I was the editor of my high school newspaper but I never felt that I had enough words to write anything approaching a novel.
Somewhere around 2009, a new shop opened in the little town I lived in at the time—a book store for writers. The owner was a writer and a teacher of writing and she began offering classes. I think the first class I took was something called The Hesitant Writer. It was an interesting group and we did creative writing exercises for an hour once a week. I was amazed at how much fun I had doing this. I signed up for another class, then for an online class on novel writing which was my first experience with people I didn’t know reading and commenting on my work. It was a little scary but I found it was not as painful as I expected.
By this time I was immersed in the experience and I was loving it. Someone at the Writer’s Workshoppe told me about an event that took place each year in November. It was called National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo for short. Thousands of people signed up and committed to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I remember thinking, I’ll never in a million years be able to come up with 50,000 words. But, it sounded challenging and fun. The founder of the event was a guy by the name of Chris Baty and he’d written a book called No Plot? No Problem! The whole atmosphere of NaNoWriMo was crazy, irreverent and laid back. I was hooked.
And, amazingly enough, I did it! I won by completing a little over 50,000 words in one month, writing everyday including on a road trip to San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with my son. That first NaNo book became my first published novel. It took nearly seven more years, many classes and a good critique group but I kept at it. Waltz with a Cowboy was published in May, 2016.
I’m still finding out all sorts of things I don’t know about writing but I’ve come a long way from that first hesitant writer class and I’ve enjoyed all of it. Plus, I’ve met some amazing people along the way. That first book has turned into a trilogy. I’ve promised myself not to wait seven years before publishing the next in the series. One thing I do know—writing is part of my life now and it’s going to stay.
Julie Christine Johnson’s debut novel, In Another Lifeis a story of love and loss, death and re-birth. Historian Lia Carrer finds herself the connection tying Raoul, Lucas and Jordi together. She has no idea how or why but as reality begins to unravel she knows she must find the answers.
I loved this story. Ms. Johnson does a wonderful job of weaving the historical and the fantastical with just the right touch of romance and mystery.
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Luke 12:27
Seeds. My eyes opened to the darkness of five a.m. and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Many of you around the country would find the thought of seeds in February a bit premature but, here in South Texas, February is a time to begin planning for a new growing season.
However, the thoughts of seeds keeping me awake were seeds of ideas. For a writer, that’s a good thing. Even though I prefer to sleep until the sun comes up most mornings.
I’ve just finished editing my first book, Waltz with a Cowboy, and as I prepare to publish I thought of the inspiration for that book. The seeds for Waltz were planted over 30 years when I moved to Montana with my husband and kids.
Being a city girl and a Texan—born and raised in Dallas—the experience of that first winter in Montana, followed by spring (finally) made a lasting impression. We ended up that year in a mobile home on top of a wind-swept hill in what was affectionately known as “The Badlands” outside of Havre, Montana.
I had never seen anything quite so barren as the high prairie in the winter, or felt as cold. But spring, when it came, brought a transformation to the prairie. What had seemed devoid of life was suddenly teeming with it. Oh, you had to look closely but life was all around—shooting stars, crocuses, wild irises—so much subtle beauty.
This was one of the first of many lessons Montana taught me; beauty is all around, sometimes you just have to look a little harder.
A few years ago my DH and I spent some time with friends in Texas doing things we love—fishing, eating and visiting. When we took a break from fishing we decided to head over to Louisiana for a day. We made a stop in Zwolle, home of the Zwolle Tamala Fiesta. Although we missed the fiesta by a week or so, we picked up some tamales to try.
December in the Pacific Northwest where were living at the time was cold and dreary. The memories of the time spent in Texas and the Zwolle Tamales inspired us to try our hand at making our own tamales. We searched the internet for information on how to make tamales, gathered ingredients and invited a couple over to help out. One friend grew up in Mexico so we figured he might have a few tips. Turns out he liked to eat tamales more than make them but we all had fun and our first effort turned out better than we expected.
Fast forward a few years. We’ve moved to south Texas and tamales are a pretty big deal down here during the holidays. We decided to try it again. I went back to the original YouTube video I found for our first attempt. It is a good basic, step-by-step video for making tamales so check it out if you want to try this for yourself: 6 Easy Steps to Little Grandma’s Tamales (https://youtu.be/qSyW6JwwDYw). Virginia Lopez is the chef in the video and I used her recipe for Chile Ancho Salsa and for making the masa dough.
Chile Ancho Salsa
8 dried ancho chiles
2 cups water
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup tamale dough
1 cup pork broth (from pork butt that you cooked for tamales)
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sale
1/4 cup whole tomato
1 tsp sugar (to taste)
Cut open the dried chiles and remove the seeds. Add them to 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes until soft. Add all the ingredients along with the softened peppers to a food processor or blender and puree. Add the sugar after tasting—it cuts the acidity and mellows out the salsa. This salsa is then mixed with the diced pork butt.
Here are a few things I learned that I didn’t find in the recipes or how-to videos.
One recipe of masa dough makes about a dozen tamales so you’ll need to make several batches depending on how many tamales you want
8 or 9 chicken thighs cooked in the slow cooker, boned and mixed with the green chile sauce gave us 2-1/2 dozen tamales
About 2 pounds of pork butt mixed with the Chile Ancho Salsa made around 3 dozen tamales
2 people (fortified with tequila sunrises) can make 5-1/2 dozen tamales in about 3 hours plus an hour for steaming. That includes making the masa dough and the salsas but we cooked the meat the day before.
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