A miscellany post

AKA things that I have been up to.

Preparing for the holiday cookie siege.  I made chocolate chips, and gingersnaps, and following Sally’s Baking Addiction recommendation, froze most of them in little raw balls of dough ready to be baked.  I always forget how much I love doing that.  You can freeze cookies for later (as long as the fat content is high and you wrap them well), but nothing really beats yanking out a half dozen cookies and having them bake up fresh whenever you want a treat.  I really always mean to do this year ’round and forget.

Someday I will treat puff pastry with the respect it deserves.  But this was not that week.  My roommate cooked up a bunch of local apples with cinnamon and butter and cloves and I bunged a bunch of them into the world’s most haphazard puff pastry wrapping.  They kind of looked like softballs caught mid-explosion, but tasted delicious.  And while I was at it, I used up the nutella to make puff pastry pockets.  I would have used lemon curd, but tragically, it had gone bad.

And reading.  I read a lot but every so often I lose it and go on reading binges.  Usually when I find a new-to-me author who has not only an enjoyable book, but an entire backlisk.  So Clara Coulson.  Yeah.  Her books are urban fantasy fun, and I devoured pretty much all of them between the 9th and the 15th.

CoulsonFatePortendsThat’s three of the Frost Arcana, five of the City of Crows, and one stand-alone Lark Nation novel.  Just a heck of a lot of fun, though I’d say the Frost Arcana are probably the best entry points.  Cal Kinsey in the City of Crows takes a little getting used to.  If he were a heroine, they’d be lining up to call him a Mary Sue.  Mostly Clara Coulson scratches the same itch that Mercedes Lackey used to.  I can’t wait for more of her books!  If you like adventure based urban fantasy with a surprising amount of super-violent action and great fantasy elements, this series might be for you!  Seriously.  After a celtic fantasy binge that lasted through most of high school, I was kind of burned out on the seelie/unseelie/sidhe/tuatha de danaan mythos.  These books make it all feel fresh again.

Things that I have not been up to:

Writing.  Ffs.  I’m about six thousand words into Book 2 of the fantasy series and sort of stopped working on it.  There are reasons (decent ones), but primarily it comes down to lack of organization.  Life gets busier and busier in the fall and I need to take steps to make it easy to sneak a few hundred words here and there.  It’s easy to get hooked into the crutch of the perfectly set up desk with all your note files and scrivener and the white boards full of maps and the walls full of setting pictures and character images, but when you do, you find yourself thinking oh, wish I could work, but so-sad, I’m out of the office, and not near my desk.  So, I’m trying something sensible and slightly new.  Setting up the next scene and tossing those few paragraphs into google docs so I can access it while at the day job, or out and about.  I can read the plan on the phone and write on paper, or I can read it on a desktop and write directly into g docs.  Failing everything else, at least I can keep thinking about where I want to go in the scene!

And a snippet of what I was last working on.

Genee’s feet turned her toward the side stairs and the guest quarters, not to seek her own rest, no. She might not know where Cavenner and her boys had bedded down, or even where Calyx Favager had slunk off to. But the girl…
Genee had made sure she knew exactly where to find her.
Sianan Maccuin jerked to attention when Genee melted out of the stairwell’s shadows and Genee made another mental note: More light. GreenStone Hall was as dark as a tomb.
“Commander,” she said, but quietly. “Do you need…?”
“She hasn’t come out?”
“Been quiet as a mouse,” Sianan said, “Did she really….?”
Genee waited. Sianan had a sneaky habit of talking in questions, letting people fill in the gaps. She learned more than she should that way. But she wasn’t supposed to apply that to her commander.
Sianan shrugged, “Sorry, Commander. Just… it’s such big magic, and it shook all the walls…. Hard to believe such a small girl could do so much damage.”
“She’s a Favager,” Genee said. “They’re nothing but damage waiting to be unleashed”

 

Vacation miscellany

So the weird thing about working a day job as well as working for yourself is that you can take a vacation from one or the other as well as both.  Having finished up a writing project (the draft of Ring of Stones is done!  Hoorah! and in the agent’s lap!  Hooray!  Not my problem for a little bit!) I decided I wanted a week off without coming home from the day job and sitting right back down in front of the computer.

Not writing in the evening is giving me a strange, luxurious feeling right now.  It won’t last.  I’ll get antsy and the scene notes I’m taking currently (that doesn’t count as work, right?) will demand to be made into actual scenes and chapters and so forth.  But for right now, I feel like I have all this free time!

I have watched the entirety of The Good Place, season 2!  I do love those characters.  I love how clever the show-writers are in making this premise continue to work for them. As a side note, I hate sitcoms, so the fact that I love this one should tell you they’re doing something quite different than the usual sitcom fare.

I have attempted to make stir-fried rice.  That… was not quite a failure, in that the end result was edible.  Just not good.  I need to figure out the heat issue better, find a more useful recipe (though a friend linked me to an NYT recipe that looks good), and use the good cast iron skillet.  The one I used is still pretty new and not as seasoned as it should be. The cast iron skillet that I took from my childhood home, on the other hand, is amazing.

I have read three books:

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine: seriously intense thriller.  I loved it.  Had to put it down a couple of times just to go breathe.  I think it’s that you know she has significant enemies, but like her, you just don’t know what direction they’re coming from. Recommended if you like thrillers. Or Kelley Armstrong’s Casey Duncan series.

Hazard by Devon Monk: Magical Hockey League.  Wizards and werewolves on the ice, oh my!  Not an unqualified success, but fun to read.

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett: I’m always seeing comedic mysteries compared to Stephanie Plum books, but this one kind of merits the comparison (in the good way!).  Dayna and her friends are funny, a little nuts, loyal, and moving through LA society in a very entertaining way.  That they’re trying to solve crime at the same time–a definite plus.

I’m embarking on City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett, both because it’s been in my TBR pile since it came out and as a consolation prize for being on a book budget at the moment and not buying Foundryside right away.  Later, Foundryside, I’m coming for you!  RJB is a writer I really admire, incorporating great characters–realistic, interesting, compelling–in a wonderful setting. You are definitely “there” when you read his works.

5 am and miscellany

So the puppy needed to go run amok at 5am; a heavy work load currently means she’s been a bit neglected and the boredom has built up.  So out she went into the yard, a neon pink flashing circlet around her neck–have you ever tried to find a black dog in the dark??  Then the little old mini schnauzer wanted to go out as well.

Twenty minutes later, every one is inside, given a cookie, and taken back up to bed.  I lay down and the 5am questions began: how screwed up is my shoulder/neck tonight?  Should I take an advil or a muscle relaxant or will I be able to fall back asleep?  If I do take a pill, I will have to eat something, and while I’m contemplating the idea of wandering back downstairs to joylessly eat a few saltines, Jeffrey (the schnauzer) prompted an entirely new set of questions: Where does he GET the damned spiders and why has he put one on my face!!!

This is a recurring question, sadly.  I swept the spider off, turned the lights back on, and cleared my sheets of an annoyed wolf spider.  Then I took the dog back downstairs and removed the other spider clinging to his fur.  This is the second time Jeffrey has come in from the yard in the middle of the night wearing spiders that he generously shares with me.

I am going to have to institute a spider check at the door, to go along with the other procedures: no sticks? No rocks? Feet not too muddy? Did you roll in something I don’t want to smell in the house?  Are you wearing spiders???

I am very grateful to not be alarmed by spiders.

Still fighting the revision, though I’m hopeful that once I get through chapters 18-22, matters will get easier.  No snippet today though.

Listening to Meg Myers’ Take Me to the Disco.  So far, a lot of powerful songs. My favorites are probably Jealous Sea, Little Black Death, and Funeral.   Also listening to Kandle and really liking her as well. Discovered her via July Talk’s Peter Dreimanis doing backing vocals for When My Body Breaks.

 

 

Time–where does it go?

Not a lot worth talking about at the moment, I think.  I’m nose down to the grindstone, trying to fight my way through a revision that’s fighting me back.  The only saving grace is that as much as I’m whining and complaining about the restructuring and rewriting that I’m doing, I can see/feel the book getting stronger and better.  It’s so hard though!  This year, I’ve really been working on the idea of letting go of perfectionism–because it takes me forever to get shit done if I’m trying to make it perfect.  And “it” could be anything: a comment on Facebook (better think about how to say something for ten minutes!), a blog post (is this really that interesting, what’s the point?), an outline (is this as clear as it could be if I showed it to someone else–not that I’m going to show it to anyone else), and of course, my fiction.

I’ve taken a big deep breath and said, “good enough is good enough”.  I used the wrong word on Facebook the other day and… I didn’t correct it!  I let it go! (I’m still thinking about it, but that’s another issue.)  I’ve written emails that I didn’t rewrite three times!  I’m trying to be more relaxed about whether a post is “interesting enough”.  Which is why you’re getting this ramble.

But the fiction?  There, I’m running into trouble because two parts of my mind are in total disagreement.  The part that says “You haven’t put out a book in a year, what is WRONG with you!” is attempting to rush things.  The perfectionist is saying, “No, you know what?  Good enough is NOT good enough for this book.  We ARE going to rearrange all the events from chapter 12-18 inclusive. And it will be better for it.”  I just might die of waiting.  Revising is SLOW.

So there’s been frustration baking, which is no good.  Because it encourages me to be inventive or aggravated or careless–you can not actually write and bake at the same time.  At least, I can’t.

So I have made failure bagels–so bad I threw them out after my poor roommate was brave enough to test them.  (A combination of screwing up the rise time, and the bath not being hot enough, I think.  Though the recipe seemed suspect.  She kept talking about a stiff, dry dough and mine was quite wet.)

There were NEAR FAILURE BISCUITS, ffs.  My mother’s from the south; we make biscuits in our sleep!  But these just didn’t get as fluffy as I like, or as golden.  At least the cast iron skillet ensured the bottoms were crusty and golden and buttery, yum!  So those got eaten with lashings of cinnamon honey butter.  (Local honey! So good!)

I almost screwed up Rice Krispie Treats.  C’mon, brain!  But no, my brain’s in book mode.  And the important things like marshmallow to krispie ratio get … skipped over.  (8 marshmallows, btw, per cup of rice cereal.)

I did manage to find time to see Ocean’s 8, which I had wanted to see very badly.  I… liked it?  But that was a movie in dire need of an antagonist and some conflict.  The most mellow heist movie ever!  Or, more likely, Leverage ruined me for heist shows.

And a snippet of what I’ve been working on:

Silla asked, “What drove him mad?” Her curiosity sounded perfunctory, but Ferrus felt all the remembered pain and horror of Robere’s death crashing back over him. Rhi rested a hand in his hair, stroked her fingers down his neck, soothing. Her touch unlocked the catch in his throat and he finished the tale he hadn’t meant to begin.
“The spell work. Robere said, before he went mad, that spell casting is like looking into the inner working of the world, a vivisection of sinew and blood and bone and that it fights back—”
“It’s like living light,” Silla said absently, her pale eyes nearly glowing. “Like hot fingers rummaging through your mind, changing the way you perceive, turning your gift in new directions.…”
“You have a spell book?” Ferrus said, attention sharpening.
“No,” Silla said. “It must have been Lanbourne that damped my gifts.” She tipped the water pot over in a fit of temper and Rhi remonstrated.
“We might have had tea,” she said.

 

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.)

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.

 

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.