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:

(source: http://www.my3monsters.com/2011/09/housekeeping.html)

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!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blog Tour: Paul Shortt with Memory War

If you've been around here long enough, you may remember Paul Shortt from his blog tours for Locked Within and Silent Oath. The final book of the trilogy, Memory War, has just been released, and Paul's here to talk about one of the key underlying mechanics for the series: reincarnation. Here's what he has to say about why he chose to go that direction for these books:


Reincarnation - The Ultimate Afterlife?

A major element of The Memory Wars is reincarnation. When I set out to write the first book, I knew I wanted to try something different with it. Typically, reincarnation is the purview of prophecies, the Chosen One, or fated lovers. I didn't want any of that.

No, in the world of The Memory Wars, reincarnation is as common as magic spells and vampires. It's just one more aspect of life. Granted, it comes with ideological conflict between those who view death and rebirth as the natural cycle, and those who fear that only a person's memories survive the process, and the vital essence of who they once were is lost forever.

To the former, the reborn and their conclaves, reincarnation is the chance to live a full life again. The chance to find lost friends, to experience new things. But of course, with that comes another lifetime suffering through the challenges and pain of a typical person's life. And that's to say nothing of the kinds of problems faced by more adventurous reborn like Nathan Shepherd.

So why would I call reincarnation the "ultimate" afterlife?

Let's consider how the afterlife is often represented in fiction. Two examples which spring to mind are Supernatural and Toy Story 3.

In Supernatural, Heaven is depicted as a place where each soul gets to relive their happiest memories. That seems nice, but there's definitely a finite number of happy memories to be experienced, depending on how happy someone's life was. And then there's the fact that most people who die seem to be unaware that they're in Heaven. It's more like a dream, where they don't realise it isn't real. In a sense, when good people die, most of them don't even know that they're being rewarded. But even for those who do, and for the rare few who manage to create a Heaven that's more than just a memory, they know it's not real. It's an illusion. Eternity being granted everything you could desire might sound nice, but eternity is a long time...

It might seem strange to bring a children's movie into this, but at its heart, Toy Story 3 is about death. It features several different stages of the afterlife, from the idea of limbo (the attic), purgatory or Hell (the daycare centre as we first find it), oblivion (the furnace), and finally the last two, Heaven (the daycare centre once Lotso has been removed) and reincarnation (when Woody and the others are left with Bonnie). We even see the potential for immortality (Woody's hope to go with Andy to college). Now, while Heaven is depicted as being pretty great, and everyone is happy and content, the happiest ending comes for the toys who are reincarnated. Even Woody gives up his chance at immortality, because it's not as fulfilling as getting to really live again. The toys have been through the worst, and they receive the greatest reward, experiencing active and fulfilling lives. Even the way some toys recall their previous owners echoes how the reborn in The Memory Wars remember their past lives.

Why would Heaven, ostensibly the greatest reward anyone can receive, always be tinged with a little bit of murk? I think the answer is simple.

Life is not all good or all bad. It is struggle and reward, together. Good things mean so much more to us when we've earned them, when we feel we deserve them. In order to do that, we have to overcome obstacles and challenges. While Heaven is amazing, life is better. And only reincarnation offers another chance at life. The secret is to make each life worth living.

This is something that Nathan Shepherd is forced to consider in Memory War. As his enemies amass their forces, he wonders why he should keep fighting, when there will always be someone else to fight, and even when he dies, he'll come back, just like his enemies, and the fight will begin all over again. Sometimes, the fight isn't about winning, it's about making sure the dark knows there will always be someone to stand against it.

About Memory War:

War is coming to New York. Nathan Shepherd's growing band of followers is dedicated to protecting the city, but they now face their greatest threat.

Athamar returns, plunging the city into chaos. Uniting the forces of darkness against Nathan and his allies, Athamar strives to discover a secret hidden for thousands of years. A secret lost to Nathan's memories. Something so dangerous, even the gods themselves fear it.

Nathan and Elena were once the greatest of heroes, champions against evil. Now, haunted by Nathan's past-life betrayal, they must work together and brave the pain of long-buried lifetimes. Somewhere, locked within their former incarnations, lies the key to stopping Athamar, an enemy who has hunted them from one incarnation to the next.

As the city burns and innocents suffer, as heroes fall and hope dies, Nathan and Elena face their final battle, a battle where legends will be reborn.

About Paul:

A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life.

Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends.

The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica. Their fourth child, Olivia, was born in January, 2014.

Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter, or on his blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three Act Structure and the Saga of the Glasses

I got new glasses last week. (Last week? Really? Seems like I've had them forever already.) I'm not sure what I think of them yet. I like seeing the world clearly again, but they don't look quite as cool. According to (*ahem*) "a certain member of my household" (*ahem*) they are the mom jeans of glasses. But then, my last pair was a super spiffy frameless kind that just didn't hold up with a toddler in the house. What do you think?


If you follow me on Twitter, you may already be privy to the saga of the glasses. It was told in three parts, on three different days, It occurred to me that, silly as it was, it was an excellent model of three act structure.

Act 1: Set Up


This is our introduction. We have a protagonist (me! *waves*) and an inciting incident (acquiring new glasses). We also have a small obstacle introduced with the inciting incident that must be overcome (adjusting to the depth perception).

[Apparently this was from the astigmatism, and was it ever strange! I drove home with the old, broken glasses because I couldn't bear to look long distance for more than an instant.]

Act 2: Confrontation


As you can see, the first obstacle was overcome. But right on the heels of victory came a new, more difficult challenge: the glasses didn't fit! (Seriously, it was so annoying to have them falling off my face every time I bent my head more than 20 degrees.)

I tried to look up options for fixing them myself. Thus I came to the midpoint of my saga: the realization that I could not fix them on my own, and that if I tried I would likely break them(!).

I called the office where I'd gotten the glasses, but they were not open. Disaster upon disaster! What would I do?

Act 3: Resolution


Fortunately, the office opened again at a convenient time the following day. I drove over as soon as they opened, and they quickly assisted me. All was well.

I guess three act structure really does exist in the real world!