Monday, November 17, 2014

Confessions of a Collector

So here I am, sitting at my keyboard, having a debate with myself. It goes a little like this:

Me; Do I really want to tell people that I, um... do that thing?

Myself: Sounds like time for a true confession.

Me: Now that's just silly. All sorts of people do it! That's like "confessing" to having a piece of chocolate after dinner.

The thing in question is World of Warcraft. Yes, I play. And yes, it is a tad embarrassing if only because it's the big behemoth of MMOs. While I loudly proclaim my love of gaming, I tend to keep a lid on my enthusiasm for WoW. It's not like one of those Korean games that you play "for the artwork" or whatever. It's a guilty pleasure--the sort people can get addicted to. As a friend of mine put it: "it's that awful ex you keep going back to."

Nevertheless, I play, and I have to admit I kind of love it, particularly right now. The latest expansion came out last week, and it's the most fun I've had playing the game since I started years ago. (With several long breaks between then and now (she hastily added).) What makes it so good?

Well, a lot of things, but in particular, for me, it's the collection aspect. World of Warcraft capitalizes on the human instinct to collect, in the past through pets, gear and achievements, and now through a new feature that allows the collection of "followers"--non-player characters who assist your character.

Though I wouldn't say I'm a hoarder, I do like to collect things, and sometimes those things are a bit strange. Books, ink stamps, key chains, crocheting yarn--those are all pretty normal. Toothbrushes, not so much. (Ostensibly they are for cleaning, but I'm not exactly the most meticulous of housekeepers, so really, there isn't much point to them.)

Anyway, in musing on these things, I got to thinking: can I tap into that instinct to collect in my writing?

Books delve into so many other human desires. We love to fall in love, thus Romance. We love self-description, thus the appeal of the Hogwarts Houses in Harry Potter or the magical Ajahs in Wheel of Time.

Surely there are books that resonate with our passion for collecting. Isn't that a staple of fantasy, to go on a journey searching for various items to complete a quest? The signs in The Dark is Rising come to mind.

And yet, I can't think of any books that give me the satisfaction of collecting vicariously through the characters. I'm wondering why that is. Have I not been reading the right books? Or is that feeling just too difficult to get across on the page?

What do you think?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Strange Beast Called November

It's November, everyone! That lovely month of good food and festive feeling and not quite hating winter's guts yet.

Who is doing NaNoWriMo? Who is wishing they were doing NaNoWriMo? Who is lamenting that NaNoWriMo even exists? (I see you, Patrice.)

Personally I've just finished editing a final-ish draft of a new book, and I'm not quite ready to write the next one, in a month or otherwise. So no NaNo for me. Instead I find myself in the challenging but optimistic position of not knowing which of many tasks to take on first.

Exhibit A: Reading!

If I'm not writing a book this month, maybe I should take some time to read a few extra books. I started off strong with Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves (which was just as good as I was hoping), and now I've gone and picked up four more books at the library today. Three are by authors I already know and love (including Clariel by Garth Nix!!!). The other was an impulse grab. If I do nothing but read, maybe I can get through all of them before they're due in two weeks. But that's not likely because of...

Exhibit B: Research!

I absolutely have a new book in mind to get started on writing, but the trouble is, there are a lot of historical elements that need investigation. What do 17th century Holland and 1920s Appalachia have in common? Well I'm not spilling the beans on the answer yet, so I'll have to leave you in suspense. If you do have an answer of your own though, leave it in the comments. I'd love to hear it!

Exhibit C: *mumble mumble*

[Super secret project here.]

And if that weren't enough, there is, after all, a holiday at the end of the month. Happy November!

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Writer Mom's Guide to Housekeeping

So I have this friend who is a wonderful housekeeper. She has three kids of her own and is nanny to a fourth, and she is great at balancing motherhood and cleaning.

Today on our baby group page she posted this handy little cleaning chart:


Now I'm not such a great housekeeper. I maintain that I am a writer and a creative, and therefore I have other priorities, but sometimes that's more excuse than reality.

The real truth, in all its laughably awful glory, is that I generally go by this simple flow chart:

There. Now you know. And if you never want to come to my house again, I understand.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Adventures in Food Land

I used to be the sort of person who would walk past the kitchen aisle of a store and have no interest in it. My tastes have always been a bit like my personality: plain and unassuming. I grew up a very picky eater of the "less is more" mentality when it came to flavor.

Turns out, though, that there was hope even for me of developing a passion for food. Some food, at least. Well, two types of food: Italian and desserts. And where there's passion, there's suddenly an interest in related gadgetry. (Doesn't hurt that kitchen toys are now so cute and colorful.) Which in turn means that the percentage of food prep items on my wish list has steadily increased over the past few years.

Luckily for me, my family has been known to indulge me from time to time. For my birthday a few months ago I got a bunch of nifty kitchen toys, and I've slowly been putting them to good use.

Experiment #1: Pasta

My father-in-law's family gave me a wonderful book recently that has been the source of much culinary delight in my household. It is Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Her basil and garlic tomato sauce is so easy and soooooo delicious. I tried it out with store-bought pasta at first, and I thought the result was the most amazing thing I'd ever tasted.

But then! Oh, but then. My dad's family gave me a pasta maker for my birthday, and I used it (on my birthday, in fact) to make a batch of spaghetti. (I had a bit of help from visiting friends.) Paired with the sauce, the pasta was beyond incredible. It was a revelation! I was completely enraptured.

Me, super excited about using my shiny new toy.

Experiment #2: Truffles

Chocolate-making has been an interest of mine for even longer. I started off with marshmallow fudge bonbons, as described here. Slowly I've progressed through peppermint fondant candies, along with orange and almond flavored. (I collected a double boiler and candy thermometer along the way, gifts from my mother-in-law.) So I was pretty psyched when my dad and step-mother also gave me The Art of the Chocolatier by Ewald Notter.

I picked up a few molding trays and set to work on one of the simpler recipes in the book: chocolate truffles. Here's a shot of the assortment I made for my church's annual tailgate:

Personally, I liked the extra dark chocolate the best.

Bonus: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

For my son's birthday I made a lion cake with cupcakes for the mane.

In hindsight, buying a whole bag of Twizzlers
just for the mouth and whiskers was a bit much.

When I was finished I had a bunch of frosting left over since I had used two different types of frosting. Seeing as I tend to let things go to waste in my fridge more often than I would like, I decided maybe this time I would find a use for that frosting.

What goes with brown and orange frosting? Why, pumpkin and chocolate chips, of course! So I searched online for a good pumpkin cupcakes recipe. I found this one (and added the chocolate chips at the end). The resulting cupcakes were suuuuuuper fluffy. In fact, they were a bit difficult to frost since they came apart so easily! But I finished off the frosting at least...

Not the prettiest frosting job ever, but they tasted just fine!

How about you folks? Any recent culinary adventures?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Paper Magician Blog Tour

You may have heard that the book chooses the writer. Whether stated whimsically ("no one else can write the book in your heart") or matter-of-factly ("you have unique passion and experience to write the books you write"), there is universal agreement on the general concept.

Today we're going to test that theory.

I have the pleasure of welcoming Charlie N. Holmberg to the blog for today's post. Her recently released debut, The Paper Magician, has been doing very well already. If you haven't read it yet, you're behind the times!

Here's what the book is about:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Now if this book was your idea, how would you set about writing it? Where would you start? What would the book be like?

This is how I might write it:

   It was a dark and stormy night. Ceony Twill raced along rain-slicked cobbled streets, her paper mache machete held close to her chest. If it got soaked, it wouldn't be able to hack through anything. Already the glue was starting to run down her elaborate (but sensible!) bodice.
   Hers wasn't the most glamorous of jobs, but somebody had to keep the Chicago streets free of eldritch mobsters. Wealthy heiress by day, magic-wielding hunter by night, Ceony was no stranger to the darker side of the city. She hadn't chosen this life; it chose her.
   Like most graduates of Tagis Praff, the secret school of magic, she used to think that paper magic was for show and whimsy. Now she knew better; the proof was in her hands. Nothing was as sharp as paper, and already tonight her machete had hunted one dark Excisioner. The blood mage's final words still echoed in her mind...

What do you think, Charlie? Have I completely mangled your opening paragraphs?

Charlie: Whoah... I'm already picturing a cliche leather-clad ginger on the cover of this one. XD And a paper machete? Even without rain that would be useless! XD

While this makes Ceony sound Bad-A, she, unfortunately, isn't. Especially on the first page of the book, she lacks skills, hates paper, and is hardly a "monster hunter," even if monsters existed (short of zombie seagulls, of course.)

Let's add more sunlight with a touch of dark and more whine. We'll keep the sensible bodice:

   For the past five years, Ceony had wanted to be a Smelter.
   However, while most graduates of the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined got to choose what material they dedicated their craft to, Ceony had been assigned. “Not enough Folders,” Magician Aviosky had explained in her office.
   Less than a week had passed since Ceony had heard this, and she still felt the tears that had stung the back of her eyes. “Paper is a wonderful medium,” Mg. Aviosky had continued, “and one that’s lost credit in recent years. With only twelve acting magicians left in that discipline, we have no choice but to direct a portion of our apprentices that way. I’m sorry.”
   So was Ceony. Her heart had broken at those words, and now, standing before the gate of Magician Emery Thane’s lair, she wished it had stopped beating altogether.

Well, there it is. I think we have our proof. I was absolutely not the right writer for that book, but Charlie most definitely was. My version was silly and cliche. Charlie's has heart. (Quite literally, actually. It has quite a lot to do with one heart in particular.) She has created a clever magic system and likable characters, and the book is a pleasure to read.

Thanks for joining us, Charlie, and congratulations on such a strong debut!