Friday, July 24, 2009

Not as Icky as it Sounds

This recipe isn’t so much creative as it was originally conceived out of desperation.

During my college years, my two roommates and I survived mostly on two things: pizza and nachos. Which we chose on any given day depended mainly on how much cash we could scrape together. On good nights, we ordered pizza. On those days were we mostly counted up our change, off to 7-Eleven for nachos.

I think it was me who came up with the idea to combine our two favorite foods by going to the grocery store, grabbing a bag of tortilla chips, pizza sauce and the cheapest cheese I could find (you know, those generic, waxy, individually wrapped slices known as ‘cheese food’.) All-in-all, aside from beverages, I got it all for less than five bucks.

After a minute in the microwave, BOOM! Pizza Nachos! A huge plate of munchies with no nutritional value whatsoever. And, as we accidently discovered, tortilla chips and pizza sauce go together surprisingly well, though the ‘cheese food’ tasted mostly like the plastic it was wrapped in.

I still make them from time to time, though now I’m able to afford real cheese (or Velveeta, which actually melts better).

Anyway, for a quick snack in two minutes:
1 bag of plain corn tortilla chips
1 jar of Ragu pizza sauce
2 cups grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese

On a microwave-safe plate, layer chips, sauce and cheese into a huge pile, stick it in the microwave for 60-90 seconds (depending on the cheese you pick). That’s it. You’re done. And the best part is most people around you will think you’re crazy, so you don’t have to share.

D.M. Anderson

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carnivorous Cow!

Author photo time. My publisher wants me to send them a picture of my ugly mug. Granted, being photogenic isn’t a big prerequisite for being a writer, but I’ve never taken a decent picture in my life, even when I was young and thin. I always hated posing, always hated my smile.

It briefly crossed my mind to hire a photographer and throw a bunch of cash their way to make me look as good as possible. But somehow, the idea of getting dressed up and gazing intellectually into a camera just wasn’t me. My mother also suggested I should cut my hair to better fit what her definition of a writer was. Then again, even though I’m in my 40s, she’s been hounding me to cut my hair for years.

Then my wife said, "Since your novel is about cows, you should have your picture taken with a bunch of them."
What a great idea! After a week or two of trying to find someone we know who actually owns cows (I live in Portland, hardly a mecca for livestock), Michelle, a friend of my wife, offered to let us go to her parents’ dairy farm for a photo shoot. So one Saturday, armed with the family digital camera, we ventured about 25 miles to this farm.

In writing the book, I learned a few things about cows (mostly how bad they smell), but had never frolicked among them. I’m a city boy. The closest I’d ever been to one was the meat department at Safeway. So as I headed into the pasture with Michelle, continually side-stepping cow pies, I was nervous. Cows are huge, and smell far worse up close than they do driving by with the window down. Michelle assured me I’d be okay, as long as I approached them with my head down in order to appear submissive. Trust me, looking submissive is no problem when approaching an animal four times your size.

Michelle shot the pictures, guiding like a pro photographer and urging me to really get close to the herd. She suggested offering some grass to one, which I did before turning to pose with them. A few of the more curious cows soon approached. One started licking my arm. Yuck! Cow tongues aren’t slimy like a dog’s, they’re rough and abrasive, like being licked by a thousand pound cat. While I was basted in slobber and snot, Michelle clicked away and my wife laughed her butt off.

Then the cow decided my clothes were worth tasting. It took in a mouthful of my best Hawaiian shirt and started tugging. Oh my God, she’s trying to eat me!

"Okay, we’re done!" I announced, yanking my shirt from its mouth and stepping into a fresh pie as I backed away. The herd scattered at my sudden movement. Michelle laughed, and since she grew up on this farm, probably thought I was a wussy.

I like cows. Everything about them is funny. But from now on, I think the closest I’ll get to one ever again is on my barbecue. Call me a wuss if you will, but for a brief second, I was worried Killer Cows was about to become non-fiction.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Dose of Reality

How quickly reality hits creeps in, especially when you discover how little you know about how things work.

In the first few weeks since Echelon Press ( agreed to publish my first novel, Killer Cows, every morning I’d turn on my computer, re-read the acceptance letter, and do my happy dance (which embarrasses my 14-year-old daughter to no end). I’d published stuff before, mostly short stories, but nothing like this, nothing which involved signing a contract.

My first contract. Time for another happy dance, this time with a little moonwalking thrown in.

Realizing something you spent a year of your life writing is actually going to be published and read (by people you don’t know) is a feeling like no other. I’m no longer just a writer...I’m an author. God, I love the sound of that. Until now, the only person who cared about my work was me.

So far, it’s been great working with Echelon, who’ve been very patient with all my questions, and helping me with stuff I’m required to provide (bios, jacket blurbs, author photo, this blog site, etc). I’ve been corresponding with other Echelon authors and reading their blogs. Some of it’s been hard work (I’ve never done my own bio, and jacket blurbs are harder to write than most people think), but overall I’ve enjoyed the experience.

But the reality of being an author hit me soon after, in the form of Jennifer Turner ( An Echelon author herself (known to readers as J.R. Turner), Jennifer is working with me in editing Killer Cows, and our first contact was monumentally humbling, to say the least.

It’s important to note that I don’t personally know any other writers. I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in workshops or forums, and none of my friends or colleagues do this in their spare time. People have read my work and given feedback, but not a writer’s feedback, someone who would really scrutinize my words line-by-line. All I ever heard was whether or not they like the story. That was fine by me; I was always pretty confident in my writing ability, anyway, never needing to be told how to tell a story.

When I got Jenny’s email, listing her suggestions for various changes, I was excited to get down to the business of fine tuning the novel, which I prematurely assumed would consist of a few tweaks here and there, perhaps eliminate some unnecessary passages.

Wrong!!! Thanks for playing, Dave. We have some nice parting gifts for you, but no happy dance today!

The list was huge, almost none of it having to do with the story itself. Stuff like too much passive voice, more telling than showing, overuse of dialogue tags and dozens of misspellings I never caught (even after I’d edited and revised the book a dozen times). Jennifer personally went through the first forty pages and attached the manuscript with her suggestions printed in red, then instructed me to go through the rest of the manuscript to address some of these issues. With mounting dread, I opened the file. There was so much red splattered on those first forty pages I thought Jason Voorhees must have chopped through it with his machete. I initially thought, "you’ve got to be joking. No way does my book need this much reworking! I spent too much time on it already! I’m trying to get my third novel finished and now I gotta do this?"

But I signed a contract, so with a heavy sigh, I began trudging through Killer Cows for the umpteenth time, rereading my work along Jennifer’s suggestions for changes, my ego dropping a notch or two each time I hit her red passages, the entire time thinking, this isn’t an’s a freaking re-write.

I first hated addressing Jennifer’s numerous suggestions, until I noticed they were all good ones. It soon became very clear I had some bad habits no one else ever pointed out before. I can’t count how many times I read those dreaded red passages, slapped my head and said, "Of course! Why didn’t I notice that before?" It wasn’t long before I started to depend on Jennifer’s tips, because nearly all of them improved the narrative dramatically. So when they stopped after forty pages, I felt like someone flying solo for the first time after lessons were over. Humbled beyond belief, I thought it was a minor miracle Echelon accepted the book at all.

At the same time, I remembered Echelon isn’t some small press magazine with a circulation of 2,000. It’s a business, a business interested enough in the words I did write to take a chance that Killer Cows could be something good, something special. Knowing that made it easier to revisit a novel I was already sick of.

Thank God my day job allows me to have summers off. I would need them. Putting my third novel on hold, I spent a week of eight hour days going through the rest of the book, this time really looking at each passage with Jennifer’s suggestions in-mind, wincing at every redundant sentence, useless dialogue tag and line that made more sense in my head than it did on the printed page. For the first time in my life, writing was an actual job.

By the time I was finished, I’d trimmed Killer Cows down to 66,000 words (the initial draft was over 80,000), and it’s a hell of a lot better. Is it perfect? I doubt it, and it was with newfound humility that I sent the revised version back to Jenny for her feedback.

I don’t know what Jenny is being paid for her editorial services, but I do know it’s not enough. There’s nothing like having a real writer, who doesn’t know me personally, examine my work with the sole purpose of making it a better read. I don’t think my revisions to Killer Cows are finished, but it’s definitely a better book than it was when I signed Echelon’s contract.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Single Sparrow

Sparrow Club ( was introduced to our school a few years ago by my Language Arts colleague, Laura Queen.

The orgnization itself started several years ago when a Washington teacher’s son was diagnosed with cancer, and his insurance was unwilling to cover the cost of the treatment to save his life. When one of his students, a misfit boy with health problems of his own, emptied his bank account of fifty dollars to give to his teacher, it started a chain-reaction, and kids throughout the community eventually raised a quarter of a million dollars to pay for the treatment to save the life of their teacher’s son. Tragically, the misfit boy who started the whole thing died shortly after.

In the years since, it has flourished, giving schools the chance to ‘adopt’ a single child (their Sparrow) and do all kinds of things to raise money for him/her. But it isn’t so much a fundraiser as it is an opportunity for kids to think beyond themselves and perform community service to aid a single ailing child in need. When Laura first introduced the club to the staff, I was skeptical, especially since it had been my experience that the kids at my school were largely indifferent to anything beyond themselves.

How wrong I was. When we were first introduced to our Sparrow, a 13-year-old with leukemia, the outpouring was enormous. How the club works is go out into the community to perform community service (i.e. volunteering, cleaning up parks, etc.), and for every hour they work, sponsers contibute $10 help help the Sparrow’s family with medical costs, travel, etc. In addition, we held several events at the school (staff vs. students basketball, bake sales, car washes), and all the proceeds went to this single child we adopted. All told, we raised over $15,000, nearly all of it through the initiative of the students at our school, who thought beyond themselves and rallied for a welfare of a single child. Best of all...our Sparrow was eventually cured!

D.M. Anderson