Bringing you bits & bites you can sink your teeth into

Crave – food & drink

My friends and I rarely leave the coast. (It’s a graysuit thing.) So, when we do head for the hills, we have to have a really good reason—like fabulous wines.

If you want a quick getaway to a wine lover’s paradise, try Murphys in the central Sierra Nevada foothills in Calaveras County, Calif. With 18 tasting rooms within an easy walk down Main Street, there are so many great wines to try, it’s sinful (or, more like, Zinful)!

My all-time favorite red wine is Zinfandel, so it’s no surprise my favorite wines of the trip were Zinfandels—from Calaveras County and Amador County.

All the Zins we tried at Newsome-Harlow were rich, full-bodied and bursting with dark berries—the Calaveras Zinfandel ($24), Shake Ridge Ranch Zinfandel ($36), and Big John Zinfandel ($38). I brought home a bottle of the Calaveras Zin, a bargain at $24. It’s also served by the glass in several local restaurants, including Alchemy Market & Cafe and Murphys Historic Hotel.

Hatcher Winery also had a mouthwatering selection of tasty reds. The Shake Ridge Zinfandel ($32) from Amador County was my favorite—filled with strawberry, candied cherries, blackberry and spice. We also really enjoyed the Shake Ridge Barbera ($32) and the Syrah ($26) from Calaveras County.

At Frog’s Tooth Vineyards, the Tempranillo ($24) was the standout—and it’s considered by many to be the Calaveras County winery’s flagship wine. Filled with berries and a hint of tart plum, this is an excellent wine to pair with meats and cheeses. The Barbera ($28), also from the Sierra Foothills, was delicious too.

Bunting Winery & Vineyards pours Rhone-style wines. Here, the Syrah (Sierra Foothills) was our favorite—and it’s their most popular wine.

We tasted many more fine wines—far too many to mention here. But visit & taste for yourself. It’s an easy walk from one end of Main Street to the other, with lots of restaurants in between.

Our favorite restaurant in Murphys is Alchemy Markey & Cafe. We first experienced Chef Jason Wright’s genius years ago at Bahama Billy’s Steakhouse and Bixby Martini Bistro in Carmel, Calif. Jason describes the food at Alchemy as “craveable”—and we wholeheartedly agree. Alchemy’s menu features “big, bold flavors from around the world with an emphasis on classy American favorites.”

During our visit we started with the Crispy Fried Calamari ($11), cooked to perfection with sliced jalapenos, pepper, coarse salt, Parmesan, and chipotle aioli. We also sampled the Three Hearts Caesar ($10), romaine hearts, hearts of palm and artichoke hearts with shaved Parmesan, smoked gouda, garlic croutons, tomatoes, and creamy house made dressing. Dinner was a super-decadent Crab Macaroni and Cheese ($24), rotini with a creamy white cheddar and Parmesan sauce,  Dungeness crab meat (in every bite!), and Parmesan gratinee.

Dinner reservations are recommended. Alchemy Market & Cafe was hopping when we were there and rightfully so with such “craveable” food. There are also 12 rotating tap handles for draft beers and a selection of bottled beers.

Within our 48-hour trip, we traveled from the Monterey Bay to Murphys, visited 16 of the 18 tasting rooms along the quaint tree-lined Main Street (the 2 we didn’t visit were closed), and then made our way back to the ocean. So this wine adventure is definitely do-able for graysuits & highly recommended for oenophiles. Cheers!

Crave – food & drink

Looking for something romantic for Valentine’s Day? Add a hibiscus flower to your Valentine’s champagne or sparkling wine! Simply place the flower inside your champagne flute, fill it with champagne & watch it unfurl among the bubbles.

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne

For an extra dash of romance, add some of the hibiscus syrup to get a reddish hue & sweeter flavor. The flowers are even edible.

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne with syrup

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne with syrup

For my drinks, I used “Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup” ( from Australia. An 8.8-ounce jar contains approximately 11 flowers. You can find it in places such as gourmet stores and supermarkets, and at

Cheers to you & your Valentine!

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne flute

Wild hibiscus flower in champagne flute

Photos courtesy of Steve Zmak ( 

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

Looking for a fun, unique gift for your loved one this Valentine’s Day? How about the DARK SURF novel?

The first book in the DARK SURF series, this story has romance & action and twists & turns! It’s about friendship, betrayal, revenge, and the lethal power of love. Now what could be better for Valentine’s Day?

Bonus: If you’re in the Monterey Bay area, I can even inscribe it for your Valentine. Contact me at to arrange to get your book signed or inscribed.

Pulse – entertainment

Looking for a bold, edgy, twisty TV show? Try Black Mirror. It’s a dark reflection of humankind in the not-too-distant future.

In this British TV series, human emotions & dark impulses intertwine with technology to create captivating storylines. It’s been hailed as a modern-day Twilight Zone and each episode has a different story, cast, setting & reality. With 2 seasons of only 3 episodes each, it’s easy to binge-watch all at once.

I powered through seasons 1 & 2 in a single afternoon—and I’m hooked. I haven’t yet seen the new episode that aired on Christmas Day but I can’t wait…

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

It’s been more than 2 months since DARK SURF’s release. And as people finish the book, they’ve been asking me, “What happens next???” So here are some answers! (And, don’t worry, there are no spoilers if you haven’t yet finished DARK SURF.)

Will there be a sequel to DARK SURF?

Have you finished writing it?
Yep, a draft of the sequel is complete. It’s now in the hands of my second group of test readers. When this group finishes reading it, I’ll get to work rewriting my manuscript to incorporate several of their comments and suggestions. When I have a new draft complete, I’ll send it out to a third group of test readers. When I receive their feedback, I’ll rewrite again.

What happens after the test readers are done and you’ve finished rewriting?
When I’m satisfied with the story, I’ll send the manuscript to my graphic designer and he’ll lay out the book. When I get the draft layout, I’ll then read the book several times, making minor edits as I go. When I feel the book is ready and there are no more edits to make, I’ll choose a release date and then begin preparing for the big day.

Do you have a release date planned for the DARK SURF sequel?
Not yet. The test reader and editing processes can take several months. So it’s too early to know what the release date will be. But as soon as I do have a date, you’ll be the first to know!

Is there anything I can do to help in the meantime?
Absolutely! Please recommend DARK SURF to your family, friends & acquaintances. And please give the book a rating and/or review on and/or (If you’ve never written an Amazon review, you can find easy, step-by-step instructions here:

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

In our drawing among all our DARK SURF Nightly subscribers (the coolest people on the planet), I’m happy to report that Joyce from California is the winner of a free DARK SURF T-shirt.

Congratulations, Joyce! Your T-shirt is on its way to you!

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

Test reader. Pre-reader. Alpha reader. Beta reader. Critiquer. Whatever you call them, they’re invaluable to authors.

What exactly is a test reader?
A test reader is a non-professional reader who reads a novel before it’s released to the public. These readers provide an author with a fresh perspective on his or her work. They can comment on what works & what doesn’t with regard to the story, characters, setting, dialog, and so on.

Why do authors have test readers?
As an author, when you write a novel of 100,000+ words—and read and edit those words over & over while preparing a first draft of your manuscript—it’s easy to overlook things. Like forgetting to include a physical description for a character or a setting (I’ve done that). Or failing to see an inconsistency in your mythology (guilty). Or using a particular word or phrase too many times (yep).

I highly recommend that any author enlist the services of test readers, particularly if you plan to self-publish. But choose your readers carefully. You don’t want a “yes person” who’ll say your novel is wonderful and perfect. You want someone who can politely but candidly offer a unique perspective and honest opinions about the good, the bad and the ugly in your story.

Who are the DARK SURF test readers?
For DARK SURF, I had an awesome group of test readers—all friends or family members—who each contributed, in their own way, to making it a stronger story. My test readers included: a photographer who minored in creative writing in college, a surfer/novelist, a Twilight enthusiast, an avid reader, a non-fiction self-published author, a former technical editor, and a friend who I felt confident would be brave enough to be totally honest with me about my work.

And I was so pleased with what I learned from each of them that I’ve asked them all to read book 2 in the DARK SURF series.

Do these test readers all read your book at the same time?
No. I divide my test readers into 3 groups. After I receive feedback from my first test reader (who I know will provide the most in-depth, detailed suggestions for the story), I rewrite parts of the book and then send it to my second group of 4 test readers. After I get their comments, then I rewrite again and send it to my final group of 2 test readers, who are also excellent editors.

Right now, I’m in the midst of receiving feedback on the DARK SURF sequel from my second group of test readers—and it’s so helpful!

Is it difficult for test readers to give you their honest feedback? Or for you to hear it?
It can be hard for people you know to give you honest feedback and constructive criticism about your work because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or discourage you. And it can be difficult for you to hear what they have to say. But, trust me, it’s far easier to hear about any potential problems early in the process, while you have time to rewrite and fix those things. You want to know what’s not working before your book gets in the hands of a potential agent, or before it goes out into the world to potentially millions of strangers who will have no problem picking apart your work.

At the same time, it’s also important to remember that it’s YOUR story. For DARK SURF, I carefully considered each of my reader’s comments and suggestions. I decided to incorporate some and I ignored others that didn’t work for my story. And if 2 test readers had a problem with the same passage, I knew it had to be reworked.

Thanks to the contributions of my test readers, DARK SURF is a stronger story. And it’s now garnering 5-star reviews on & DARK SURF was also just named the #3 pick on highly respected genre critic Paul Goat Allen’s Ten ‘Must Read’ Self-Published Vampire Fiction Novels“. 

So I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank my test readers for reading my first novel, DARK SURF, and offering me really great feedback. Thank you Steve, Christine, Susie, Robert, Claire, Christina & Paula! You guys rock!

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

Get the DARK SURF e-book for up to 75% off!

Attention holiday shoppers! You have exactly 7 days to snap up the Kindle edition of DARK SURF for savings of up to 75% off the regular price!

This special Kindle Countdown Deal for DARK SURF starts today Dec. 10th and runs for 1 week on (for U.S. customers only). For the first 72 hours, the DARK SURF e-book is only 99 cents! Then, every 48 hours, the price will increase $1. So shop early for the most savings!

  • Dec. 10-12 – 99 cents (75% off the regular price!)
  • Dec. 13-14 – $1.99 (50% off!)
  • Dec. 15-16 – $2.99 (25% off!)

On Dec. 17, the e-book returns to its regular $3.99 price—still a great deal!

Buy DARK SURF now for yourself or someone else.

It’s getting 5-star reviews on and! And it just snagged the #3 spot on highly respected genre critic Paul Goat Allen’s 10 “Must Read” Self-Published Vampire Fiction Novels. “This debut novel is so good—so insanely audacious—I actually stood up and applauded when I finished reading it!”—Paul Goat Allen

Dark Surf front cover

Dark Surf front cover

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

This novel blew me away—one of the most imaginative vampire novels I’ve ever read.” — Paul Goat Allen

Last week I learned DARK SURF was named #3 on the list of the “Ten ‘Must Read’ Self-Published Vampire Fiction Novels” by highly respected genre critic Paul Goat Allen. Stoked, euphoric, ecstatic—none of those words even begin to capture the elation I felt upon hearing I’d made that list & upon reading the review.

Below are excerpts from Allen’s review. You can see the article in its entirety & check out the 9 other books on the list at BlueInk Review:


Ten “Must Read” Self-Published Vampire Fiction Novels

December 2nd, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blogs by highly respected genre critic Paul Goat Allen that highlights stellar, not-to-be-missed titles by self-published authors in various genres.

By Paul Goat Allen

While traditionally published vampire fiction has been relatively flat since 2010, more than a few exceptionally written—and wildly innovative—bloodsucking novels have been self-published in the last few years. The diversity of vampire-fueled storylines is nothing short of incredible. Of the titles listed below, categories explored include post-apocalyptic science fiction, paranormal romance, noir fiction, horror, dark fantasy, and romance!

And while all of these titles are all extraordinarily entertaining, I consider a few (like Meridian Six by Jaye Wells, Pretty When She Dies by Rhiannon Frater, and Dark Surf by Tina C. Zmak) to be towering masterworks.

So if you’re looking to sink your teeth (no pun intended) into some top-notch vampire fiction, look no further than these ten bloody little gems!

3. Dark Surf, by Tina C. Zmak: This debut novel is so good—so insanely audacious—I actually stood up and applauded when I finished reading it! If Zmak were in the room with me, she would’ve gotten a big bear hug and kiss on the cheek. Zmak reimagines the vampire mythos in classic California style. It’s the story of surfer dude Jake Ryder, who witnesses his friend Cody die while surfing at dusk, the victim of an apparent shark attack. But minutes before his friend died, Jake saw another surfer out in the water with Cody. During his quest to track down this mysterious surfer, he finds a group of surfers who only surf at night… I don’t want to say anything more for fear of giving away too much. This novel blew me away—one of the most imaginative vampire novels I’ve ever read.

In the last 20 years, Paul Goat Allen has reviewed more than 8,000 genre fiction titles for companies such as The Chicago Tribune, Publisher’s Weekly,, and BlueInk Review and is an adjunct faculty member in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program. He has published one novel and two collections of poetry and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

Book Buzz – DARK SURF news & goings-on

DARK SURF has been chosen as one of the “Ten ‘Must Read’ Self-Published Vampire Fiction Novels” by highly respected genre critic Paul Goat Allen: “This debut novel is so good—so insanely audacious—I actually stood up and applauded when I finished reading it!”

So stoked!!!

Dark Surf front cover

Dark Surf front cover