There’s a scene in my novel, Blue Straggler, that involves Tex-Mex food, which every Texan knows that, when done right, most specifically enchiladas, can be a gift straight from heaven. Here’s an excerpt from that scene:
I convince myself to get out tonight. What I would prefer to do is curl up on the couch with a box of Godiva chocolates and Casablanca. But I promised Rudy I’d join him, so I throw on a pair of jeans and leave the house. The draw of enchiladas is a powerful thing.
The restaurant is packed. Dusty piñatas hang from the ceiling’s cedar beams, and paper-mache flowers in green and pink are gathered in Mexican pottery around the restaurant. Every table—wooden and scarred and square—holds a black, cast-iron pot of salsa and an orange plastic pitcher of beer.
Making my way through the crowd, I dodge waitresses balancing platters of sizzling beef. I can just make out Rudy’s red head in the back corner bobbing around like a fishing cork, watching for me. Next to him, his blonde-haired guest is flushed from what looks to be several pitchers down.
Wolfgang—I swear that’s his name—shouts “nice to meet you.” Mariachi music blares from speakers near the kitchen, competing with the low-octave hum of the Friday night crowd.
At this point, I don’t know if I would call Wolfgang engaging, but I decide he could be quasi-appealing, especially next to the glow of the orange pitcher.
“You look like someone I should know,” he says, and I try to block out that he’s using a Worst Pick-Up Line from a list circulating on the Internet.
“You’re from Colorado?” I ask, not all that interested. Probably because burritos are being served at the next table.
Wolfgang leans toward me, his thick brows drawing closer together as he speaks. “I’m just in town for a few days.”
I try to draw my brows together like him. But as usual, I’m reasonably sure I’ve contorted my face into some kind of scowl. Rudy laughs; he knows exactly what I’m trying to do.
“Why the scowl?” Wolfgang asks.
“I’m thirsty,” I say.
“Drink up.” He pours me the first of what I expect will be many.
“A toast to new partnerships,” Rudy holds his cup above the table. Wolfgang touches his cup to Rudy’s and looks for mine. I’m pouring myself another.
In honor of Bailey and Rudy, I’m sharing my own enchilada recipe, which I’ve been told is pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that they have an ego all their own.
Look, I’m just saying people ask me to make these. A lot.
Warning: This is not an exact science. It’s more like an art …
Kathy’s World-Famous Enchiladas
Brown 2 lbs. ground sirloin in 2 Tablespoons of oil with two medium chopped red onions, 1 green pepper (chopped), 1 red pepper (also chopped), 3 cloves of garlic (you guessed it – chopped), ½ cup salsa (I use Pace medium chunky), a dash of Tabasco, a shit ton of cumin powder (probably 6 – 7 Tablespoons), 1 large jalapeno (chopped – add more if you’re a badass), and 1 can black beans (drained). Bonus points if your black beans have some Mexican spices in them.
Add 7-8 Tablespoons of GOOD chili powder. (Do not, I repeat, do not use Walmart Great Ffing Value chili powder.) Add 7-8 Tablespoons of water to get it all saucy and such. Do not add too much water or you will ruin EVERYTHING. No pressure.
Simmer about 30 minutes uncovered. Drink some good beer while waiting … or sip some tequila if you’re feeling like a real rebel.
Coat a white corn tortilla in the meat sauce then put in a scoop of meat sauce and some grated cheese (I suggest pepper jack, medium cheddar, or Colby jack or a combination). Then roll that sucker like dice (not really), and place in a long casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve filled up that dish with rolled tortillas full of meat and cheese goodness. You’ll be placing the filled and rolled tortillas side by side. Put a bit of meat sauce on top of them as you are adding tortillas to the dish, to keep them from coming unrolled. (There’s a marijuana joke in there somewhere, I’m sure.)
Top with remaining meat sauce and lots of grated cheese. Don’t be stingy with the cheese. This is not the time to count your Weight Watchers points.
Bake at 375 degrees until things are all bubbling and cheese is melted.
Behold, heaven on earth. Accept your applause.
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Hello all! Thought I’d give my blog readers a sneak peek of the new book trailer for A Good Kind of Knowing, which releases in ebook tomorrow.
I love, love, love it, even though it goes against all book trailer marketing best practices. (I’m such a rebel, you know.) It’s basically just a lovely slideshow put to music, featuring brief excerpts from the novel along with beautiful photographs of rural Texas. My husband told me that it’s like a little break from reality and stress.
So many of my friends provided photos for the slideshow, and I thank you! Ruth Parker, Austin Moore, Tammy Arnold, Scott Smejkal, I’m talking to you. Oh, and my sister Hope, whom I did not even ASK if I could use her stuff. Kinda like she used to do with my clothes in high school, come to think of it.
Tell me what you think! It’s about 2 minutes long, so sit back with a glass of wine tonight or a cup of coffee tomorrow and enjoy. Oh, and turn up your sound because the music feels good, too.
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I’m cheating a little tonight. I was going to write a quick blog post before hitting the hay, but then I realized I had recently answered an Author Q/A for a blog during my two-week blog tour, but the content was never used.
So I think I’ll publish it here, just for kicks. The really cool thing? It includes a quick teaser of content from my second novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, which will be out this summer. I hope you enjoy it. But first, the Q/A.
Q: What inspired you to write this book, Blue Straggler?
I had written a short story with three of the characters that now appear in Blue Straggler (Bailey, Rudy and Idamarie), and I just loved them so much that I needed to put them into a broader story. Plus, the main character in the short story (Bailey) was going through a kind of early mid-life crisis, and I knew a lot of friends who were going through similar things, as was I. I thought the story could be universal and really explore what it means to find out who you are and where you’re meant to land in life.
Q: Do you have a favorite place you like to write?
Our deck in the summer = paradise for me.
Yes! On my deck in the spring, summer and fall. I live in a log cabin in a beautiful area in the Colorado mountains, in the middle of a national forest. It’s so peaceful; I can’t think of a better place to settle in and crank out stories. When winter rolls around, and the deck is not an option due to 20-below temperatures and snow, I write in my back bedroom or in the great room, next to a warm, crackling fire. Thank goodness for laptops (and golden retrievers to keep my feet warm)! We’re talking of moving to a lower elevation soon; it’ll be interesting to see how it affects my writing.
Q: Do you have a favorite author of your own?
So many. I love Barbara Kingsolver. She’s probably at the top of my list. Anna Quindlen would be there, too. (Her new memoir is brilliant.) Anne Lamott and Lorrie Moore. Larry McMurtry. Cormac McCarthy. Toni Morrison. I just can’t choose; it’s like asking me which of my many furry babies (dogs) I’ve had through the years I like best.
Q: A favorite character? One of yours or someone else’s that touched your heart?
A: Not to toot my own horn, but in my Blue Straggler, I love, love Idamarie. She’s just so down-to-earth and real and colorful and she always shoots from the hip. She’s the kind of Texan I miss most, living in Colorado like I do now. If I could have an Idamarie in my life, I think life would be even more fun than it is now. And I’d likely be more grounded with her sage advice around.
Q: Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you give us a tease?
I am putting the finishing touches on my next novel, A Good Kind of Knowing. It’s set in a small, rural town in Texas, and explores how all of these small-town lives are interconnected, and how even though we all come from different places in our lives, we have a lot in common — big things like humanity and small things like a love of good music.
So, I’ll leave you with a super tease! This is the most I think I’ve revealed of any part of the book. As you’ll see right away, A Good Kind of Knowing is a different kind of novel than Blue Straggler. It’s not comic fiction, though there is some humor.
This is the kind of jukebox mentioned in the excerpt below.
This is an excerpt from about halfway through the story. Sera is the main character in the novel; she owns a local music store. She’s married to Bill, but has a “special” relationship, which is growing in intimacy and closeness, to a handsome young musician (Mack). She’s been pretty sick for a while, and most people in town know it. Some of her friends have been trying to help out at her business while she deals with her illness.
Mack waited for her at Antonio’s bar. Antonio stood over by the pool tables, emptying ashtrays from the night before. The afternoon sun filtered in through the small windows up front, sending sleek slats of light into the otherwise dark room and catching the perpetual dust of the place in a kind of suspension around the room. Two men, both in their eighties, sat at a square table in the corner, smoking thick cigars and playing cards. Every now and then, one of them would chuckle and cough. Antonio had turned on the jukebox—an old Wurlitzer with just one remaining front bulb flickering—and pushed the numbers for his favorites, mostly Freddy Fender hits.
Antonio mumbled the words to “Vaya Con Dios” as he picked up the previous night’s litter around the booths in the back. Empty beer bottles knocked together in his hand.
Mack sat at the bar, his felt hat on the barstool beside him, his hands working to fold a square bar napkin into the shape of a flimsy paper airplane. He shifted his weight on the barstool, glanced back at Antonio, then shifted again. “Sure I can’t help you back there?” It was the third time he’d asked.
Antonio hollered his response. Same as before.
The front door squeaked a little, drowning out the low-playing music for a second, and Sera stepped into the bar, jeans hanging loose on her hips and one of Bill’s sweatshirts tied around her waist. A blast of fall slipped in behind her and the wind sucked the heavy door back hard as she came in.
“Hey there. Been waiting long?” She greeted Mack with a quick kiss on the cheek. He wondered if she’d meant to let her lips linger, or if it was only in his mind.
“Thanks for meeting me, hon. I needed to get out of the house for a while.” Sera waved to Antonio as she talked. “I don’t know how long I can stay, though. I never know when my body’s going to give up the ship for the day.”
“I was glad you called,” Mack replied, nodding again at Antonio as he motioned for them to help themselves to the cold longnecks chilling in a long, aluminum tub next to the bar.
Mack picked out a couple and used the corner of his brown work jacket to twist off the caps.
“Can you even have beer?” Mack hadn’t thought to ask before he handed it to her.
“Oh hell yes. Why not? Not like a little beer every now and then ever killed a person.” She laughed at her joke and nudged Mack’s shoulder.
“Funny.” He didn’t mean it.
Antonio walked over to them and put his hands on Sera’s neck.
“How’s my favorite lady today?” Antonio asked, squeezing her thin shoulders. Mack straightened next to her.
Sera smiled and swirled around on her barstool to face Antonio. “Tony. Join us? I’m taking a walk on the wild side, going to see how hops and barley affect pancreatic distress.”
Antonio glanced at Mack, then back at Sera. “Maybe later, okay?”
“Later,” Sera agreed.
As Antonio left to check on his two customers, Sera turned back to Mack and asked how things were at the store.
“Nobody’ll tell me a thing, Mack. Bill hardly even speaks to me these days. I’m lucky if I get a good morning from him, much less a report on how things are going. And I went by the shop on my way here, and Tommy Lee and Ruby D. were down there—on a Sunday, mind you—arguing over shelf space.
“I think it’s all gonna be alright, Sera. Everybody’s tryin’ real hard.”
“I know,” she said, letting out a long sigh. “You know, I’m really thinking you all are crazy and we ought to just close the shop for a while. It would ease my guilt of you all trying to make this work.”
Mack cleared this throat and nodded toward the bar door. “Guess this weather’s gonna stay cool for a while longer,” he said, doing his best to change the subject.
Sera didn’t answer. They sat together, listening to Freddy Fender sing about being there before the next teardrop falls. One of the men sang out to the chorus in Spanish.
“I’ve been thinking about heaven, Mack. I mean, there’s a side of me that wants to believe there is this garden of sunshine up there waiting for me with all the people I’ve ever lost in the world sitting around sipping lemonade in the shade. The weather would never get hot, and there’d be cats everywhere and my mother and Otis Redding and Patsy Cline would all be singing every night at a little dive. But something tells me it isn’t that simple.”
“It could be.”
“Yeah, but what if we’re living in heaven right now? I mean, what if we’ve got it all wrong, and we’re already there.”
“I guess there’d be some people going around missing out on the lemonade.”
Sera smiled. “Maybe we ought to switch the lemonade to Shiner Bock.” She clicked her bottle against Mack’s.
In the back, Antonio turned the key on the jukebox and punched in new codes to start the music up again.
An old Johnny Rodriguez song dropped into play, a melody about being down on the Rio Grande, lovers walking hand in hand. Sera hummed, and Mack watched the beer swirl against the glass as he moved his bottle in circles with his wrist.
“Do you realize we’ve never danced together?” Sera turned to face him.
Mack smiled slightly, concentrating on his beer. “Guess there was never a time, what with me on stage and all.”
Sera waited for a moment. “What about now?”
Mack surveyed the room. “Now?”
He looked at her—this woman with eyes that danced no matter what the music, with a face that could weaken any man, with a spirit that spread around her like a magician’s stardust.
He blushed, then stood up and offered his hand. She grinned and he grinned and the old men in the corner grinned. Even Antonio looked up from his calculator—and slowly grinned.
Together, Mack and Sera swayed and moved in a slow two-step around the center of the hardwood floor. Daylight streamed in around them like nature’s spotlight. Mack held her loosely at first, but Sera moved as close to him as she could, her left hand at the nape of his neck, her right in his leading hand.
He heard her breathe in, but was not aware that she was actually trying to hold on to his scent—an earthy combination—part leather, part cotton. Part hay, part rope. Part beer, part coffee. Part horse mane and part crushed wild weeds.
As she rested her head on his shoulder, Mack let his own breath out slowly, for fear she’d know, finally, full well, the effect she had on him. Her hair, blown in many directions from the wind when she came in, tickled his nose. But he couldn’t brush it away, didn’t ever want to brush it away. He closed his eyes and memorized how her body moved, how somehow he was no longer leading and his body was only reacting to the sway of Sera’s hips, his boots following the sliding of Sera’s across the floor.