Blog

Ultimate Cajun Salmon Recipe #AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blogs

Wait! This a writer’s blog. What has this got to do with writing?

Well, last time I checked, we gotta eat. And since we do, we better cook, which is one of my favorite hobbies outside of eating.

Now, wouldn’t it make me a complete ass not to share a superb recipe, that I discovered quite by accident, by combining actually several recipes.

My wife, Susie, loves fresh salmon, and insists on it at least weekly. She also has a passion for Cajun style salmon. Her other honorable mention is anything piccata. I believe she would eat capers on ice cream.

Her sister came over on her birthday and fixed salmon with dijon mustard on it. Now I prefer the heat of the cajun style and try to fan the flames with a good single malt, so I decided to combine all the recipes (while drinking a tad of scotch while I labored, of course I did).

The result was the Ultimate Cajun Salmon Recipe. Enough said except for Mmmmm…

 

INGREDIENTS for Two Servings

2 center cut pieces of wild-caught salmon filet about one inch thick
olive oil
Dijon mustard
3/8 teaspoon Tony’s Creole Seasoning
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon paprika
Panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup White wine (if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter sliced thinly
Capers

Oh, and a good single malt scotch. (For you, not the recipe)

PREPARATION

1. Pre-heat oven on 475 degrees.
2. Drink some Scotch. You gonna need it!
3. Mix seasoning ingredients in small bowl.
4. Spray glass baking dish with cooking spray. Much easier cleanup.
5. Drizzle olive oil in bottom of dish.
6. Pat fish dry and tell it how good it’s gonna be.
7. Place fish skin side down and move around in baking dish to coat bottom.
8. Spread mustard generously over fish.
9. Sprinkle seasoning on top all over.
10. Cover top of fish with Panko bread crumbs.
11. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top.
12. Put in oven for 15 minutes.
13. Serve with jasmine rice and asparagus.

LEMON-BUTTER SAUCE

1. Heat 10” omelette pan on medium.
2. Add wine.
3. Reduce to half.
4. Add lemon juice.
5. Reduce to half.
6. Add butter whisking quickly to thicken.
7. Add amount of capers desired. (Susie would add whole jar)
8. Serve over fish.

 

 

Make Your Character Interesting with a Few Bad Habits. #AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blogs

Make your character interesting with a few bad habits.

Mine smokes, swears, and drinks, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why does Old Mr. Banos cuss do much? That is something that I hope you never have to realize. It’s called frustration. A lifetime of frustration and now living in a shell of his former self.

We all get there, or we die. There is in the moment of illness that we sense that frustration and permeate it upon the people that love us.

When I had a stroke during the writing of this book, I reflected upon how Mr. Banos might react to his old age at 93, stuck in a nursing home after being for most of his life basically a superhero.

His scotch drinking and cigar smoking are about the only rebellions that he can withstand these days, so he partakes generously.

In the character’s youth, he was not obnoxious with his foul demeanor, except in rare circumstances. While he still enjoyed scotch and cigars, he showed a much kinder and gentler behavior.

To add contrast, we have old Mr. Banos pictured as a grumpy, foul-mouthed old man who has given up on life, or as he sees it, life has given up on him.

The resulting banter from the characters that interact with him will surely bring back a memory or two of a friend of yours sitting at the bar.

Spencer’s Two Cents

Part of the reason it’s a good idea to give your character a few “bad habits” (I use scare quotes because I think scotch and cigars are GOOD habits!) is to make them more interesting, sure. But I think the most valuable concept to walk away from this blog with is what constitutes believability.

Dad explains the rationale behind why Old Mr. Banos talks and acts the way he does because we took the time to interrogate the character when writing his story. Yes, I’m talking about Old Mr. Banos like he’s a real person. Why? Because if your characters don’t become real to you, they won’t become real for anyone else.

So when deciding which bad habits, idiosyncrasies, or mannerisms to give your characters, you have to sit down and have an honest chat with them. You have to assume the role of Dr. Miki MkDabbs, esteemed paranormal psychologist, and get inside the head-space of these people that you’re making. Old Mr. Banos curses and lashes out from frustration, he drinks and smokes to regain some sense of power in rebellion or independence.

Some of the best writing advice I ever received early on is that you should never ever use your characters as plot devices. This means that a character should make decisions, say things, and do things based on their own personality and positioning, not based on where you need the story to go. If you can stay true to this, you’ll be writing more believable and flawed characters who create more nuanced and complex plotlines for your readers.

If you’d like to practice, try taking some characters you’re intimately familiar with (you could have invented them for different stories or maybe they’re famous on their own) and write a scene where they have to work together. The best example for an exercise like this is having the characters move a couch together. How does each character approach the task? Who tries to lead the group? Who disagrees or causes conflict? Would the characters be able to figure out a way to accomplish their goal or would they not be able to get along long enough? Try it—could be fun.

How We Reinvented Ourselves and Became Published Authors. #AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blog

When writing If, I never even considered the publishing aspect of it all. It was simply an exercise to combat the frustration of being out of commission for a spell during an illness. I found myself on the back deck contemplating the past and what I might do in the future and when. After spending entirely too much time with myself, I decided to create new “friends” in the characters in the book that I had put off writing for about 20 yrs.

Mr. Banos and I had a lot to talk about as he had many ills and his days were filled with crankiness. He also had a fondness for scotch, which I also had quite an interest. Master Bennie filled my days with continual comic relief as well as led me back to practicing daily meditation, which has been a key to my recovery. Even the bastard William gave me something of a daily puzzle to look forward to as I had to make sure he got the due he so richly deserved, but yet somehow save him as all life, even his, has value. Besides, it would be bad for my karma if I had killed him, although I still might. I guess you’ll have to read the second book in the series to find out.

And that brings me to the second part of this topic, how did I become a published author?

That was easy. NOT. Like most writer’s I scoured all of the publisher’s lists for answers and finally determined that nobody knew me. I then thought, “Why not seek a literary agent to do that work for you?” So, I got hold of a list of literary agents. Now, understand, my background was marketing, so most of you might not have done this to begin with. The first thing I did was target all of the literary agents that specialize in my genre. Then I began. Writing the queries. Sending the samples of the book along with anything else that they wanted. Some didn’t respond. Most did. Most took the time to write a nice note of rejection versus a form letter of rejection. That was compelling. At least my wallpaper would be original.

About the time I had received the last notice, I looked on my desk at a Chick Lit publisher that I had not sent a query. I was holding off as I was not sure if my genre would mesh with her needs. Let me repeat that, HER NEEDS. You should always know if what you are pitching might fit a person’s needs. I just wasn’t sure in this case, so I did something no one does anymore, I PICKED UP THE PHONE. Surprised? I was. I got a voicemail and said, “Well, she’ll never call back.”

Within 20 mins., I got a call back. We talked for about a half hour. It seems that she had just opened a second publishing arm that would be open to other genres. She asked me to send her a query and the book. She said she would read three chapters over the weekend and let me know Monday. (long weekend)

Monday came, she said it was beautifully written and she was interested. Now this took balls, but I said, “OK, but I want you to read it all before we sign as I want to make sure that you are completely on board.” Here I was, an unknown, telling a publisher that even though she said she wanted the book, she had to read it all. Yeah, nuts, I know, but at my age I just didn’t want my book to end up laying on somebody’s desk forever.

Now that I am a published author, my days are spent relaxing in the sun, writing, drinking lattes and Pina Coladas. Right. If you think that getting published means you’re through, you are in for a big surprise. You have just started.

I start everyday checking marketing stats and answering emails. Then I fine tune my campaigns and make sales calls. Yes, sales calls. The books don’t fly off the shelves when nobody knows you. To make it clear there are 400 books added daily to the market place. Where is yours?

Oh, and then there is the writing time. Afternoons are filled with finishing books two and three for publication and writing blogs and posts like this one.

Piece of Cake!

Spencer’s Two Cents:

Let me just be candid here—I didn’t think If would ever be published. Not because it’s a boring book or because I don’t think there’s an audience out there for it (if I felt that way I would have never finished it) but because it’s the third novel I’ve written. Of the three, I think they’re all great stories that deserve to be read. But If was the one to make a splash. Why? It’s simple—getting published isn’t about writing a good book. It’s about hard work and absolute determination.

My Dad is underplaying the amount of time he spent drafting and revising multiple query letters, combing through labyrinthine lists of submission requirements for publishers, and researching the most targeted markets he could. Like he said, there’s new 400 books coming out every day. It’s a business of selling yourself, and not getting lost in the shuffle.

So, you want advice for transforming yourself into a published author? Start focusing on what you do well. Figure out who would really appreciate those skills. Write an excellent query letter that’s target-specific. Repeat 10,000 times. And smile.

Two Sides of the Coin. #AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blog

 

How working with your dad influenced the storyline within “If.”

First of all, let me just say that working with my Dad is a total bore…just kidding. Honestly, writing “If” the way we did was the most rewarding writing experience I’ve participated in so far in my career. As Dad said last week, we each bring something different to the table and try to use our individual strengths to help supplement each other’s flaws.

And yes, we each have our flaws.

If took two years to write because I’m terrible at scheduling my own time. This is especially true when I let my emotions/stress/anxiety cripple my productivity. But Dad never gives up on me. It might sound annoying or downright intrusive to some of you out there, but Dad would text or call or email me EVERY DAY when he knew I was in a slump to prod me toward reading a new chapter or writing a new section. Even in the moment, I knew he wasn’t being pushy. He wasn’t rushing the book to completion. He was throwing a life saver out to his drowning son.

I started working on “If” because I thought it might be the last chance to produce a work of art with my Dad. I thought it this book was for his health and sanity but, the truth is, it was just as much the light in the dark for me as it was for him. Working with him on a real product gave me substance in a world of meaningless adjunct-slumming and it reminded me that I have the ability to create beauty in this world.

Like he told you last week, the story line of “If” was almost 100% Dad’s invention. My only real contribution to the plot itself was making some suggestions about scene organizations, flashbacks, and point of view shifts. The story remained the same, but I brought my expertise to bear in decisions of perspective. I’ve said this before but its worth repeating—we read the book now and often can’t remember which of us wrote what. And really, I think that says everything about what it was like to work together. We didn’t approach the project as two members of a team, we approached it as one author: Spencer Michaels.

I’d like to echo the sentiment from last week—there have been a lot of great reviews posted on Amazon and other sites. Also, there was a great turnout at our first book signing and I just want to express my eternal thanks to our fans. You are who we do this for and I hope that Dad and I get many more opportunities to interact with you as we continue to promote “If” and as the next two books in the trilogy make their way to you.




The Second Question is Also Why?#AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blog

Why I Write: Michael Bennington

Last week, my son and writing partner told you why he writes. It’s nice to know that all I had to do to encourage his continued effort was to have a stroke. Guess I’ll put the stroke card back in the deck for later use in case he gets lazy again. For now, it will suffice to say that I am living on borrowed time. That is an old family joke as no one has really lived past 60 in my family for years and I really harped on that for quite a spell as I was approaching 60. So now that I am a survivor, I just tell my kids that I’m living on borrowed time. What a dad has to do to get some attention.

Enough of that. You’re here to grab the wisdom of my 60+ years of writing. Salivating at every word for a morsel from the master. Well…forget about it!

No master here. Just a novice writer but a seasoned storyteller, a swapper of lies and tales that have grown over the years.

So just why do I write? For one reason: my memory is fading and I don’t want to forget any of these pearls of wisdom. Another is that I am basically full of it and if I don’t get this stuff out I will explode.

I believe that everyone has a story. Our lives just couldn’t exist without one. Everyone has unique experiences that can be shared with others. Some of these stories are interesting and timeless, but most of them will never be heard because no one bothered to write them down. Hence, we not only miss out on some great tales but also lessons learned from the school of hard knocks that will forever dissipate due to history not being recorded and therefore repeated.

My grandmother told me the account of her driving experience with my dad braving the tutoring. She said she promptly drove into the ditch and that was her first and last time behind the wheel. This was a colorful story that had been told and retold for years in my family. The imagery became much more vivid just last year as I found an old black and white photo showing the car completely on it’s side in the ditch. How my grandmother got out was beyond me. This is just an example of what can be lost if we don’t record these events in some fashion. In this case, it was a photograph. In others it’s the written word that records the events.

So what am I doing except filling in some white space? Am I trying to get rich, become famous or have an amourous fan club. No, my real goal is just to share a tear, a belly laugh or a sense of hope when none exists. Hopefully my characters find their way into your heart and become a part of your family.

Spencer’s Two Cents: This is a pretty interesting take on writing as a technology of remembering. I’m currently in a graduate class themed around this discussion exactly–what is memory, what’s collective or public memory/forgetting, how do information technologies change and impact these ideas of memory, etc. Historically speaking, Plato was of the school of thought that no one should write things down because it would make our minds weak and forgetful. According to the theories of neuroplasticity that the medical/psychological world has adopted, this is actually kind of true. In this day and age, we don’t have to remember (because the internet remembers everything for us) and our brains our actually changing because of it. But I like this answer and the connection to the photograph because Dad’s talking about taking an amorphous idea (memory) and transcribing it into an artifact (story). I see this as less of a preservation of memory and more of an act of knowledge creation. Without writing private memories or thoughts down in some form, how could we come to share ourselves with the world? In other words, if we all have narratives like Dad said, it seems to be a very social activity to embark on transcribing ourselves onto a piece of paper.

The First Question is Always WHY? #AmWriting #MondayBlogs spencermichaelsbooks.com/blog

 

This article was originally written for The Greenville Guardian, an online newspaper for Greenville, NC. To read the full article and see a silly picture of me, follow the link below.
http://greenvilleguardian.org/?p=6047

Why I Write: Spencer Bennington
When you’re a kid, one of the best ways to develop the social skills needed to succeed in life is team sports. So, naturally, being the loving mother that she was and still is, mine wanted to sign me up for tee-ball.
“No,” I said flatly. “I don’t know how to play.”
Mom was all sorts of outdone and swore up and down about how “they’ll teach you to play,” and “it’ll be fun” and a whole mess of other things to make me change my mind.
But I didn’t.
In fact, as a kid, I never played on a single team. As sort of a joke/political statement I joined the cheerleading squad in eighth grade, helped form a comedic YMCA basketball team in high school, and used slow-pitch softball as an excuse to drink way too much beer in college, but I’m not sure any of those really count.
The point is, as with tee-ball, I never wanted to do anything when I was younger unless I was sure I would succeed. If I wanted to learn new skill, I would practice over and over by myself until I was confident enough to demonstrate it to an audience. Nothing really came naturally to me—certainly not sports, but school subjects too, like Math and even Reading. Everything was practiced in private until I could perform in public.
But one day, that all changed. When I was an angsty 12-year-old, I started scribbling down poems in a spiral notebook. It didn’t take long for some of my classmates to take notice or, for some reason, for me to want to share my writing with the people around me. I didn’t care if the poems weren’t perfect because, for the first time, I had something that felt natural. Every word, every mixed metaphor, every terrible cliché somehow felt like an extension of my true self, something I could never be ashamed of.
The Greenville Guardian asked me why I write. The simple answer is that it feels ordinary. Wake up, brush my teeth, have a cup of coffee, write down a few lines that I think are funny or insightful or that I might can use in a book later on. Scrawling down fun ideas and silly little verses is just a habit, no different from dribbling a basketball at the bus stop or sniffing a wine before sipping–it’s part of what makes my soul shine in a different hue.
In a nutshell, writing is one of the few things I’m good at. That being said, finding a publication like the Guardian, which prides itself on paying contributors for content, was a life-changing experience. Until finding it this past year, I had completely resigned myself to life in a world where I had spent thousands of dollars and countless hours refining a set of skills which are entirely undervalued in the current job market. With two college degrees under my belt and a wealth of experience in the writing world, I was content taking a job as a pizza delivery boy because–well, what other job could I get with a master’s in English?
Why do I write? Because I enjoy it, because it’s part of my body, because my heart has things it needs to say.
But why in the world am I still writing?
Because of you.
The Greenville Guardian is the first place I’ve ever felt like I was being appreciated and rewarded as a writer. It’s the first publication that has made me feel connected with a larger audience and a larger community. It’s the first time where I’ve felt that total strangers extract the same amount of joy from my words as I receive in writing them.
Before now, the only person I’ve ever seen do that was my Dad.
Truthfully, he’s why I still write. He’s the one person that has annoyed the absolute piss out of me for years, trying to remind me that my talents are appreciated, are worthwhile, and are important.
Recently Dad gave us all a pretty big scare with some health issues. This is nothing new; he’s been playing chess with Death since I was eight years old. But a few weeks back, when he could barely walk, when he had to be rushed to some unfamiliar hospital, when he could have left this world forever, he texted me every morning. Not out of fear, certainly not to tell me anything about his condition (he hid that from me, actually), but to remind me to write.
In what could have been his last moments, that’s what he thought was most important.
Why do I write? Why am I still writing? Because there are people like Dad who see me try to put a little color and music in the world the only way I know how. Because there are publications like the Greenville Guardian with readers who remind me after every piece that I’m not just some lazy wannabe hiding from the “real world” under the guise of art.
I write because the greatest minds of my generation are not just stagnant films of rail-yard ash, but sunflowers brimming with life, hope, and love; mermaids singing each to each the songs of ourselves, the chorus of every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.*
I write because I believe that beauty still exists in this world, and that we all have the power to create wonder.
Thanks for reading and please check back next week for Mike Bennington’s answer to this question!
*lines from Ginsberg’s “Howl” and “Sunflower Sutra,” Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” respectively.