Cookies, More Cookies, and a Ghost

This past weekend, some writerly friends and I had a nice little writing retreat.  Or an extended slumber party, depending on how you judge such things. (We had two course cookie dinners….)

There were excellent chewy, salty, immensely chocolatey chocolate chip cookies provided by Barbara Webb, which barely made it to baked stage.  I estimate maybe 80 percent of the dough disappeared while in cookie ball form.

I made shortbread, two types!  One, a bizarre little nutmeg-flavored one that I snagged from the book Small Batch Baking.  They’re sweet and oddly savory and the first one you eat makes you go, huh, that’s strange.  The second one you eat makes you think, hey, I could eat more of these.  They’re definitely more-ish.

The other shortbread I made is a cobbled-together monster that I keep experimenting with in an attempt to get a truly chocolatey shortbread.  This involves melting semi-sweet chocolate into a fairly standard shortbread recipe, then grating in dark chocolate until it’s nearly dusty with chocolate.  Then I taste it*, and it… tastes like butter and flour, so I usually start chopping some more dark chocolate into jagged little bits to wedge into the dough also.  It’s kind of a mess.  Then I roll the dough out, cut it into diamonds or stars or rounds (the basic cookie cutters that are always accessible in my kitchen, unlike the fancy holiday ones which involve standing on a step stool), and cross my fingers.

The problem with chocolate cookies is that I always find it hard to tell when they’re done.  Easy to burn them.  And with these, I don’t even know how strong the chocolate flavor will turn out until they’ve had time to cool.  The despair of shortbread cookies: they’re one of the few that do not taste good warm.

These came out all right, but I think next time I’m going to plan ahead and actually buy some cocoa nibs.  And maybe trade out some of the flour for cocoa….

Anyway, full of sugar and with two chapters of the novel revised and rewritten, I headed for home.

I stopped in Sedalia, MO for a salad, and apparently picked up a ghost who wanted to go to KS.  A very strange moment.

I got into my car, hit the ignition, and all my electrical panels ran amok for long enough to make me think, I do not want to have my car break down in Sedalia!  Then it all stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I started off, and… the airbag sensor in the passenger seat triggered itself and said, oh, you have a passenger.  Airbag on.  Then the passenger seatbelt light came on and persistently stayed on, blinking and complaining that I was endangering my passenger by not ensuring they were belted in.

The passenger seat, of course, was empty.  Or looked that way.

Finally, to make the car happy, and remove the blinking red light from my peripheral vision, I pulled over at a gas station.  I belted in my invisible passenger.  The car was happy.

I drove home, and at a stoplight in Lawrence, suddenly the airbag sensor shut off.  I unbelted the passenger seat–still empty or empty again!–and this time the passenger seatbelt light stayed off.  So, I guess the ghost got out at that point.

Either way, it was a polite passenger, and didn’t object to me playing the radio very loudly. or cussing at traffic that refused to behave.

It makes sense, I suppose.  We hear all about the ghostly hitchhikers that end their rides with terror or death–the women in white who steer drivers into accidents, or send them to deserted ruins of homes way off the main path, leaving their chauffeur shaken.  But that can’t be all of the ghostly passengers.  Just the percentage we hear about.  The scary percentage we whisper about.  Maybe there are just some travelers who want to keep touristing around post death.  Inspecting our license plates and peering through windows at our splayed open maps for hints of our destinations and hopping a ride.  Silent companions who are just going the same way we are.

I’m still going to take my car into the mechanics to make sure the system isn’t gummed up.  I might or might not believe in ghosts, but I definitely believe in car repair.

Have a story snippet!  Still drafty, but kind of fun.

Despite her best attempts, Silene failed to convince either of her siblings of the need to flee. Delphine obsessed on the risk—that Harrow would catch them and make their lives worse—and Calyx preached, wait, wait at least until Aceline returned from the Ride. There was no point in seeking sanctuary if she weren’t there to grant it. And Calyx dismissed the young prince as if he’d never been healed, as if he were still the political non-entity he’d been since summersick struck him down.

So instead of arguing further, Silene retreated to her quarters—the small chambers near the gardens—and avoided everyone, only sneaking out to find food. She kept her dree ability tightly leashed, afraid of touching that raging presence again.

The air in the palace tasted sour and brittle to her now, like wet metal, and she couldn’t forget that there was this horrible… thing somewhere impossibly far and near at the same time. Like a mass of rats, united in hunger, slowly scratching through the walls, while the denizens of the palace walked about unaware.

Silene didn’t want to be a rat’s sweetmeat.

*I know, raw flour!  The danger!  I just can’t break myself of the habit of testing the cookie batter.  Even if the last bag of flour I bought came with a boxed warning on the paper–FLOUR IS RAW!!!!  YOU’RE GONNA DIIIIIIIE IF YOU EAT ME!!!  (I paraphrase.)

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Cookies, More Cookies, and a Ghost

Pastelitos! Or an excuse to eat puff pastry.

Though I live in the midwest now, reasonably content, I grew up in South Miami, surrounded by Cuban food.  And every now and then I miss it sharply and terribly.

So the good thing is that we live in a global economy and I can get Cuban foods and ingredients even though I live pretty much in a non-Cuban society.  Kansas has a large hispanic population, but it’s not Cuban-hispanic.  And there is a difference, right down to the languages.  About like British English vs. American.

This took me a long time to get over when I kept going to hispanic food stores out here and wanting “galletas” and being directed to row after row of cookies.  No, I kept trying to explain.  That’s not what a galleta is to me.  But finally, it dawned on me that I could just hunt up a Cuban foods store and hey, have galletasunsweetened hexagonal thick crackers with an appealingly sandy texturedelivered to me.  As well as Cuban sugar cookies which are called torticas, thank you, not galletas…. Life improved.

And then I realized I could order guava paste. I don’t do it all the time.  In fact, it’s a once a year thing.  I cave.  I order a bunch of guava paste, buy multiple boxes of puff pastry, and settle down to make pastelitos– puff pastry sandwiching a filling of tart guava and cream cheese. 

It’s more assembly than actual baking/cooking, and my god there is nothing in the world as sticky as guava paste.  Which is… probably my least favorite sensation in the world.  Sticky.

So making them is always an exercise in slicing guava, peeling the guava paste from the knife, laying down the guava slice, running to the sink to wash my hands.  And doing it all over again until the guava paste is all sliced up.

Worth it, though for the way my friends and family greet the results.

That’s my Monday.

Currently reading: NK Jemisin’s The Stone Sky

Currently listening to: The Bridge podcast for my Speculative Chic 2018 Resolution

Pastelitos! Or an excuse to eat puff pastry.

Cookies as a Healthy Hobby, no really.

So my day job (which I enjoy) involves sitting in front of a computer for 8 to 8 and a half hours.  Then I come home and write books in front of a computer for another couple of, few, several (pick one) hours.  I have an occasional job through Odyssey Critique Service which involves me sitting in front of the computer.  And then there are the other things that arise–reading Alpha stories for the teen workshop, communicating and brainstorming with distant friends, social media, what have you.  Basically, my life is like that fortune cookie game, except instead of ending every sentence with “in bed”, you end it with “in front of the computer”.

The result of this time spent before the screen is not surprising.  I have borked my neck and back.  Because in the end, it doesn’t matter how often I get up and walk around during a work day/writing session/etc., I’m still sitting in front of the computer for the vast majority of my hours.

So I’m trying to make sure I spend time doing other things.  I’m cutting back on book writing hours, which bites, but are the only hours I can actually control.  And how much work can I get done when my neck and back are spasming anyway?  Not a lot, let me tell you.

I’m working out the damage I’ve done with PT and stretching and all that jazz, but that leaves me in this weird limbo.  Right now, I can’t shift over a few hours to “exercise” because my body can’t handle it.  Gentle walking is about as good as it gets.

But I’m determined to stay active.  Right now, that comes down to two hobbies: gardening and… cookies.

Nonsensical as it sounds, there’s a lot of exercise involved in cookie baking.  You can’t sit while you make cookies.  There’s bending and stirring and stretching and going up and down step stools to reach ingredients and crouching to dig out the tools I need, (at least in my crowded to capacity kitchen), as well as the inevitable clean up.  A batch of cookies can keep me moving on my feet for an hour or more.

And in the end, there are cookies and a house that smells delicious.

Tonight’s cookies are the Triple Oatmeal cookies from Stella Parks’ BraveTart, which is a delightful book to read for those of you who like reading cookbooks.  I loved her Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter cookies, which I made last time, but this recipe may be a miss.  It’s too sweet for my tastes.  Oh well, the hobby is in the baking, not the eating.

Since I can’t give the internet at large my surplus of cookies, I’ll give you a writing cookie instead: a snippet from the novel (working title: Ring of Stones) that I’m revising.

Ferrus Loth shrugged off his heavy boarskin coat as he entered the Cavenner family lodge. It might be spring but that didn’t mean much when ice still sailed the river swells, blown by a brisk wind. Once inside the lodge, the heavy door pressed shut behind him, the wind’s complaint cut off. He left his damp coat draped across two stag’s heads lining the stone walls, and moved on, boots thudding softly against thick-laid rugs, some new woven and plush, others so old and delicate that laying them on the floor was a quiet declaration of status.
Behind him, the lodge majordomo, Lugh Casteil, complained about Ferrus’s imprompto coat rack, but Ferrus’s feeling was that if you hung antlered heads in an entryway, you had to expect people to leave their coats and hats and scarves there.

 

Cookies as a Healthy Hobby, no really.

Down the Rabbit Hole

So a couple of years back, maybe more than that, I wrote a book called Gatecrashers, that… well, kind of crashed and burned.  I intend to revise it one of these day.  With all my copious spare time.

Anyway, the actual point of this is that Gatecrashers revolved around a man who looked for missing persons, which led me to reddit unresolved mysteries, and though the book finished long ago, I keep reading the site every so often.

Most of the mysteries are just that: mysteries, with no hope of solution (at least not any solution from reddit readers, home sleuths, or wanna be web detectives).  Except… there’s always one that has to nag at you.  That feels eminently solvable if only you can get enough eyes on it.

There’s always the mystery that you stop reading about and start obsessing over.

I finally ran into mine.

The Flat Tops John Doe.  I just keep thinking: someone out there knows him!  And now there’s a sculptural reconstruction.  He wrote a confident, kind of funny letter before he died, and someone with no one in his life wouldn’t have written that letter.  I don’t know why he was alone out there.  I don’t know if he went out intending to die, or if it was accidental or if it was a combination of both.  I don’t know why they recovered money but no ID (presumably it was corrupted by decay).  The letter is fragmentary, but his personality comes through in his words and in his lettering–all caps, except for the letter i? The reconstruction gave him a distinctive face.  And in the grand scheme of things, 2004 was not that long ago.  They put his death sometime between 1999 and 2004 (the money recovered was all dated pre 1999).

It just feels like one of those events: that all it will take is the photograph reaching the right person at the right time and Mystery Solved.

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Happy Town

Here’s a Halloween Horror for you: the suspenseful, potentially supernatural mystery show that gets canceled before the mystery resolves. Or even before questions can be answered. Technically, they let you know who the bad guy is. But that’s a revelation that raises so many more questions!

The show?

Happy Town, released in 2010, canceled 6 episodes in, with 2 more available.

I always figured this show was a casualty of being too early for its niche. It seems like it would fit right in with some of today’s shows. But back then, maybe it was just too weird. Or maybe some of the middle episodes dragged (which they did!), or maybe I’m the only person in the world who was intrigued by it. It’s a vague precursor to things like True Detective or Fargo. It probably had its own genesis in Twin Peaks. A small town, a detective in over his head, a lot of people playing manipulation games, and of course, lots and lots of secrets.

But I want to tell you all about it, so you can share in my suffering.

The cast was great: all of them believable as who they were, all of them familiar SF actors.

Geoff Stults (from The Finder, also canceled too soon) as the easy-going deputy who just happens to be the Sheriff’s son, promoted beyond his competence level, when a freakish tragedy strikes his father down.

Lauren German (from Lucifer) as the mysterious woman with a mysterious agenda.

Frances Conroy (American Horror Story) as Peggy Haplin, the town’s matriarch, who runs things ruthlessly and effectively.

And of course, no supernaturally tinged story would be complete without Sam Neill chewing at the scenery (delightfully) as the ominous shop owner who knows more than he’s saying.

Also, Amy Acker’s in it.

The premise is that Haplin, the town, is a small, isolated town that seems deeply peaceful, except for that little matter of The Magic Man—a serial killer who snatched one person a year for seven years, out of the middle of crowds, never to be seen again. The Magic Man vanished, but his victims were never found.

Then, someone commits a violent murder of the local pervert and… everything goes to hell. The Sheriff starts losing his mind, and all he can say is that now that blood has been spilled, the Magic Man will return.

At the same time, the Mysterious Stranger ™ in the person of Henley Boone comes to town. She’s got an agenda—to find a specific item and use it against Peggy Haplin, who has somehow wronged her mother.

And once the Magic Man is rumored to be back, so come the hunters: Dan Farmer, the state policeman; Merrit Grieves, there to avenge his stolen son.

Plus, strange birds, dead birds, a random polypterus fish swimming through a dead body, and mystical movies of some significant import (never to be deciphered, damn it), and criminal junkyard brothers, and hallucinations, and kidnappings and truth serum and and… they just keep piling it on.

Which is actually part of the problem. The pacing is rapid-fire for the first three episodes. Then it suddenly slows, content to deepen and add mysteries, but not to move the plot forward. Or even give you small answers. So, I’m not really surprised it got canceled. Only sad, because the pace picks up dramatically again around episode 6, and continues to be quick until the truncated end.

So much is left unexplored. So much is left unexplained.

Is the Magic Man supernatural or not? And either way, what the hell was their motive for their actions? There really aren’t that many options. And what role does Henley’s mother play in all this? That stays opaque. In fact, if you consider Tommy Conroy (Stults) and Henley Boone (German) the two protagonists, they don’t actually meet up until episode 7, which is … probably another reason the show got canceled.

That said, it’s still a source of despair. I really wanted the answers. I really loved the atmosphere and the build-up and the is it/isn’t it taste of the supernatural. At the very least, thankfully the show-writers gave us the identity of the Magic Man, which allows us to chew over motives, rather than a fruitless hunt for his identity. Because trust me, the answer comes out of the blue.

Either way, if you have six hours or so to kill, and you like murder mysteries laced with bizarre and supernaturally-tinged elements, you could do worse than Happy Town. If you watch it, come and tell me what you think.

Happy Town

Reconstruction AKA how I spent a bunch of my writing time.

So, one of the things I’ve been up to this spring is getting a book ready for self-pub.  All on my lonesome!  It’s terrifying!  But I found a great cover artist: Kate Marshall of KateMarshallDesigns.  And I found an equally great formatting group in EMTippets book design.  With them behind me, I felt more confident in going forward.  I’ve put out a few shorts on my own, but oh I am not good at the details….  Ghoulish Works nearly killed me getting that together, even with the cover art provided for me!  I must have screwed up the formatting a hundred times and had to start over repeatedly.

But anyway, RECONSTRUCTION!  This is a sequel to my novel Renovation, available from Blind Eye Books, and it’s the continuing adventures of JK Lassiter, psychic construction worker, and his BF, the adorable professor Nick Collier.  Together, they solve crime!  This should be going live for kindle in a matter of days, if I managed my end of things right.

Reconstruction AKA how I spent a bunch of my writing time.