25 June 2012

Sopping Up Good Ideas with Cheesy Bacon Bit Biscuits

Every morning Grandma Smith would cook a pan of biscuits, fry up some bacon, and make some coffee. Sometimes I would drop by in the afternoon to see how she was doing, and I always found a biscuit or two and a couple strips of bacon left from that morning. I loved to take a biscuit, split it open, and put the bacon between the two halves to create a snack. I thought then that an egg, bacon, and biscuit breakfast would be a great menu item.

I was doing this before McDonald’s, Burger King, and Whataburger came up with their individual breakfast menus.

Great ideas are a dime a dozen and no one has a claim on any one of them. The greatest ideas are the simplest ideas, born out of frustrated necessary or sparkling epiphany--the “Oh, wow!” moment.

Grandma Smith’s biscuits were straight out of the can. I would think at times that when I got to be a granddaddy, some of my grandkids would stop by to see how I was doing, and I would have a couple of biscuits and some bacon left over so they, too, could also make their own snack. Except I wanted my biscuits to be homemade from my own special recipe.

In order to create my own special recipe, I borrowed basic ingredients from other recipes, tweaked them with my own favorite flavors and have finally come up with a biscuit recipe that My Liz and I really enjoy eating.

NEVRLANDWithout realizing it, I did the very same thing with my story NEVЯLAND.

NEVЯLAND is a good idea. It came to me when I asked one simple question: What does a young teen fear the most? I thought about it all weekend--no friends, pimples, unpopular, too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, no boy/girlfriend, can’t dance et cetera.

None of those answers were very helpful. Too many tales had already been written about such teenage angst. I wanted something different.

I asked a friend at work the same question, wanting her to think about it until the end of the day.

Actually, the answer came to me when a student was talking about her parents being away for the weekend. Some of the students thought it would be cool to have their parents gone. Some wanted her to throw a party. When my parents left town for a couple of weeks during the summer between my junior and senior year, I had a party.

This senior girl, though, was worried about being alone without her parents. She didn’t like the idea of not having her adult parents around and worried how she would get along without them. Some of the students joked with her about still being a “child”, but I’m sure their reaction was more bravado than brazen chiding.

I had my answer: For all their talk about not liking parents, about being embarrassed by their parents, about how they wish their parents would just go away, teens need and want their parents around to guide, to instruct, to protect them.

That was my answer: a world in which all adults have disappeared.

When I asked my friend that afternoon what she feared most as a young teen, she replied, “My parents disappearing.”

So, I knew I had a good idea.

In fact, I thought I had a great original idea. I got  to work brainstorming as soon as I got home from teaching.

I was in touch at the time with another writer, and I told her my idea about a story in which all the parents disappear, leaving only children behind.

She liked the idea, but then said, “That sounds like Gone by Michael Grant.”

I was devastated. I thought I had a very original idea. I had never heard of Gone, so I checked up on it, and, sure enough, it was about a community in which the adults had disappeared and how the children reacted.

I had already done much brainstorming and research on my own tale. I had a steel blue knot in my stomach as I realized how similar my idea was to Grant’s. I didn’t want to go further with it.

A few days later at a library book sale, I found a YA novel called Whispers of Death written by Christopher Pike in the 1980s that was quite similar to Gone and to my idea as well.

I was even more upset and definitely didn’t want to continue with the story.

I put NEVЯLAND aside after a few months of working on it.


Larry Mike’s Cheesy Bacon Bits Biscuits

The Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (a mixture of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and American is best)
  • 1/3 cup bacon bits
  • 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp red curry powder
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (3 teaspoons)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup milk or buttermilk or yogurt

The Process
  • In a big bowl, put the flour, baking powder, shredded cheese, garlic powder, parsley flakes, red curry powder, thyme, crushed rosemary, onion powder, and salt into the bowl.
  • Add the shortening and bacon bits, and, using your fingers, gently mix with the dry ingredients.
  • Don’t over mix. There should still be a few lumps of shortening, the size of peas, or even a little bigger. Two minutes or less of mixing  should do it.
  • Next add the milk, buttermilk, or yogurt--or a combination of these three.
  • Stir into a soft dough. It’s best not to use a blender
  • On dry days you may need another spoonful or two of milk.
  • With your hands, form the dough into a soft ball.
  • Lay a piece of waxed paper on your counter and sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of flour.
  • Place the dough ball on the flour and knead it exactly 10 times. No more, no less. This activates the gluten in the flour just enough, but not too much.
  • Flatten out the dough with a rolling pin or your hands so it is about 3/4″ thick.
  • Cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter, or the rim of a clean cup or can. I use a tomato paste canfor small biscuits and a tuna can for large biscuits. Works really well.
  • Lay the biscuits onto a cookie sheet or pizza pan and bake them at 425° for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.
  • Makes about a dozen medium sized biscuits.
  • Brush them with melted margarine when you take them from the oven if you want them to look pretty when they arrive at the table.


When I relayed my angst and distress about the similarities of NEVЯLAND to Gone and Whispers of Death to my writing friend and that I put my story aside, she laughed and told me about one of her books that had been published a year earlier.

Unbeknown to her, another writer had written a book that was being published at the same time. Both books took place in a similar time period, used similar events, and even had similar opening scenes.

Both were quite different in style, tone, voice, and climax--but, still, the similarities were such that my writing friend was sure she would be accused of plagiarism.

She wasn’t. In fact, she and the other writer began a conversation and both had had the same fear--that readers would think one writer had borrowed from the other writer’s work. Before this incident, neither writer had heard of the other writer or read any books the other writer had written. Eventually, they just laughed it off.

Great ideas are a dime a dozen and no one has a monopoly on any one idea.

The point is is that no idea, whether for biscuits or post-apocalyptic adults-have-disappeared stories, is new.

NEVRLANDNEVЯLAND is nothing like Gone or Whispers of Death. In fact, I read Gone and thought it lacking.

Just like sometimes I don’t like the hamburgers, steaks, or chimichangas at the so-called best restaurants and prefer my own recipes for these repasts.

I did like Whispers of Death very much. Kept me in suspense, something Gone hadn’t done.

A writer’s mind is like a biscuit: it sops up ideas, facts, and emotions of life around us. We all have stories that are similar to other and perhaps more established tales.

I’m sure somewhere out there a recipe for cheesy bacon bits biscuits similar to mine exists.

However, a determined writer (or cook) will ignore any similarities between his and other stories and concentrate on taking the basics of the tale and creating a story (like my biscuits) that is familiar but uniquely his own.

Bon Apetit.
Good Writing.

Larry Mike

15 June 2012

Gnomic of the Novel Gnome & Ginger Chicken Curry Fajitas ala Liz

A Christmas CarolBecause I was an avid reader in elementary school, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Potteroff suggested I read a book called A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The school was having a book fair, and the book was among those being offered, so I bought it and I read it, and I fell in love with not only the story, but the power of the narrative.

A Christmas Carol was one of the first books that introduced me to the world of "grown up" literature. Unlike the chapter books I had been reading that were of the same length, A Christmas Carol was actually something Mr. Potteroff called a "novella".

I knew then I wanted to be a writer.

I've read hundreds of books since then. They have ranged from 1,500 page tomes to Ayn Rand's under 100 pages Anthem and every length in between.

I've read Lord of the Rings four different times: as a teen; while on three-month cruise while serving in the US Navy; the summer I turned 30-years-old; and, more recently, two summers ago for my 55th birthday.

During this last reading, I found myself growing impatient with the story--not with the quality of the writing, the richness of the characters and the world, the depth of the themes, and the multitude of enduring heroic tales--but with the length of the story itself.

LotR is often described erroneously as a trilogy and printed in three different volumes. That’s the way I read it the first time 40 years ago. The last three times, I read it as Tolkien intended: as one long novel.

The same is true of The Hunger Games: It's actually one large novel published in three distinct volumes.

On the other hand, the Harry Potter Saga is seven different novels, each written following the same plot template.

The problem I have with such long story arcs is the invested time required to get through each tale from page 1 to page 1,000 (LotR) or page1 all the way through to page 42,000 (Harry Potter).

In recent years, I have found myself tending towards shorter novels--especially what I call the Novel Gnome.

Who doesn't like cute little Gnomes?

(Although, even cute little Gnomes can be dangerous, as Chuck Sambuchino points out in his How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will).)

You probably know the Novel Gnome as the Novella.

I find myself not only reading more novelle in recent months but also writing in the novella format as well.

NEVRLANDWhen I was younger, I wanted to be the next Edgar A. Poe and Ray Bradbury, to be known as a great short story writer. Then I grew up, and the short story market dried up

A good writer cannot make a living as a short story writer as he did in the days of old.

As I work through my present novel NEVЯLAND, I’ve made a fantastic discovery: NEVЯLAND is nine novelle, each novella separate, complete, and distinct, the combination of each creating a unified whole.

So what do I like about the novella--both reading and writing?

The novella appeals to a deep brevity, just as the ingredients for a good quick meal that is delicious and healthy, like Ginger Chicken Curry Fajitas ala Liz.

Larry Mike’s Ginger Curry Chicken Fajita ala Liz

1 teaspoon pure chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of the following:

ground cumin
curry powder
onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 whole skinless, boneless chicken breast (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 green bell pepper—cored, seeded and cut into thin strips

to make it quite colorful and a more interesting taste, use strips of orange bell and red bell pepper with the green bell pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
8 flour tortillas, warmed in the microwave
Shredded lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, salsa and sour cream, for serving

Ginger Chicken Curry Fajitas--In a resealable plastic bag, combine the chili powder with the salt, cumin, ginger, curry, cayenne, thyme, sage, rosemary, onion powder, garlic powder, cornstarch, water and 2 tablespoons of the oil.
--Add the chicken, bell pepper and onion, seal and knead gently to coat.
--Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
--Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet until shimmering.
--Empty the contents of the bag into the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 6 minutes.
--Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.
--Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a large bowl and serve with the warmed tortillas, lettuce, cheese, salsa, sour cream and lime wedges.

What I like to do is put a helping of the GingerChicken Curry in a tortilla, fold, and then place in an oven to broil for 15 to 20 minutes.

So, what does the novella offer for the writer and for the reader?

Only the best of both the short story and the novel worlds, that's what.

The only job of any writer is to entertain, whether writing a short story, a novella, or a novel.

Essentially, length is unimportant. A great novel of 1,000 exciting pages is a quicker read than a short story of ten boring pages.

ShadowsIn a well-crafted story, the perks for the reader is a tale that is factually, mentally, and emotionally rewarding. A well-stocked tale helps the reader to understand the life around him and how to live with himself--no matter the length of the story.

However, finding good short stories is hard and, sometimes, a reader doesn't want to invest dozens of hours, days, or weeks required to read the thousands of pages of a ten-novel series that is populated with dozens and dozens of characters, vast amounts of scenery, and subplots that multiply like rabbits every five pages.

The novella combines the unity, the impact, and the economy of the short story with the broader scope, large cast of characters, and more extended time of the novel.

AnthemOther advantages for the reader (as well as for the writer) of the novella are as follows:

--read in one sitting
--strong single center of interest
--often a single strong character without the distraction of a half-dozen other characters vying for attention
--very limited number of sub-characters in close connection with each other
--more range of action than in a short story but not as exhausting as the novel
--broader expanse of settings than a short story but doesn’t require the reader to have a Google Maps memory of the imagined world
--pace is not urgent as in a short story but more immediate than in a 350-page novel
--the situation is seen as a whole, one solid movement from beginning to end
--state of being in some detail and depth but not overwhelming
--provides for a variety in style and shading without getting lost
--not just an incident or an episode
--doesn't require an extensive knowledge of the history and composition of the imagined world setting (Harry Potter; Lord of the Rings; Game of Thrones)

Of course, many readers want all the depth and history of 1,000 page novels and novel series that number into the 10,000 page realm.

What I like about the novella is that the novella combines in a manageable length the virtues of the compactness of the short story and the complexity of the novel.

Multum in ParvoThe narrated time of the novella serves as a window to illuminate a remoter past and to reveal something of a foreseeable future, and all in one reader's sitting. I can begin a novella after supper and be finished by bedtime.

The novella is Multim in Parvo at its finest.

While working on NEVЯLAND, I’ve discovered that dividing the trilogy into nine distinct and unique novelle has tightened up the story and created a tale that is exciting and rewarding--for the characters, for me, and, more importantly, for the hurried reader.

Bon Appetit.
Write Well.

Larry Mike

10 June 2012

Rock of Eggies & Junebug Journal

“Those look like rocks,” said my friend Lisa after I had taken out my Eggie-made hardboiled egg from my lunch pail. 

“Yep, it does.” She was right. Lisa is one of the more astute observers I have ever known. 

My hard boiled Eggie wasn’t egg white, it was gray and pitted, like a weathered conical stone sitting on a flat bottom. 

The reason my hard boiled Eggie looked like a pitted conical stone with a flat bottom was because rather than merely crack and pour the egg into the Eggie mold I  had scrambled the eggs, mixed them with some spices, and then poured the concoction into the Eggie molds. 

I had seen the Eggie commercials for some time, and I finally bought a set of six Eggies a few months ago. After some failures, I learned how to cook the perfect hard boiled Eggies, and I refuse to hard boil my eggs any other way.  

The trouble I was having with the Eggie molds in the beginning is that my eggs were sticking to the inside of the mold and when I took each egg from the mold, it ripped. 

Yes, I followed the enclosed instructions by coating the inside of the Eggie mold, but my finished Eggies looked nothing like the perfect Eggies on TV.

So, I decided to do it my way, and I’ve made perfect Eggies ever since. The same thing was happening as I worked on NEVЯLAND. Something about the structure of the story just wasn’t right, despite the fact that I was following the “enclosed instructions” for writing a YA post-apocalyptic tale. 

To get myself out of the funk, I returned to my beginnings--as a journalist. I started writing news and sports stories when I was 15-and-one-half-years-old and by the time I was sixteen I was the sports editor of the Wyoming State Tribune, a state-wide newspaper. 

I also took up photography under Pulitzer Prize nominee Pat Hall, and my photojournalism career was launched as well. 

So, I begin to write NEVЯLAND as though I were reporting the news. “Junebug Journal” was born. I had not intended for Junebug Journal to be any more than a writing exercise, but after I had shared it with a couple of friends, they suggested I post the fictional newspaper and published more editions. It’s these same friends that suggested I publish some of my recipes along with my journal about writing. 


Larry Mike’s Rock of Eggies 

This makes for a spicy hard boiled egg that does look more like a rock sitting on flat bottom, but it sure is good! The mixture & eggs

Six Eggie molds 
Six eggs 

⅛ cup Bailey’s Creamer (non-alcoholic) 
1 tsp soy sauce 

¼ tsp cumin 
¼ tsp curry 
¼ tsp thyme
Mixture & eggs¼ tsp sage 
¼ parsley
¼ tsp black pepper 
¼ tsp cayenne pepper 
½ tsp horseradish
2 tsp capers, chopped 
2 tsp jalapeno peppers, chopped 

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl 
Put all six eggs into a blender cup and then pour the spicy mixture into blender cup with the eggs. 
Blend until well mixed. 100% virgin olive oil

Coat Eggie molds with 100% virgin olive oil. (I always use virgin olive oil to coat my Eggie molds) 

Pour egg mixture into Eggie molds. If you have any mixture left, just cook as a scrambled egg. 

Boil for 20 minutes 
Remove egges from Eggie mold while hot and let set out until cool. 

Tastes great with a beer or Irish Breakfast Tea 

Producing a weekly newspaper about the horrific events and terrified Children of NEVЯLAND has had its benefits. Writing the news articles is helping me with both plot and characters. 

I’m looking at the story from different characters’ points-of-view instead of only my protagonist’s point-of-view. Junebug Journal

I’m giving voice to other characters, developing the setting, getting insights into the type of world that would exist if everyone over eighteen disappeared and some 2,000 children were left alone and trapped in their small town. 

Not everything that appears in Junebug Journal will find space in NEVЯLAND, but the newspaper is helping to keep my story fresh for me, which juices me to continue writing the tale as characters and ideas pop up. 

The point is--do whatever you have to do to keep writing your story. Yes, the prescribed enclosed directions you’ve gotten in creative writing classes and writing conferences and workshops are good, but somewhere in your writing, you’ve got to step out on your own and just do it your way. 

A writer must be brave. A writer is like every other person except that the writer has the courage to run fifty yards up the beach, plant his flag, turn around, and shout to the others standing on the shoreline, “Now: Follow me!”

To read the various editions of Junebug Journal, visit the NEVЯLAND website.

 Bon apeptit 
Good Writing 

Larry Mike