June 21, 2020 • No Comments
For those days when life requires comfort food, I give you this recipe for the best cheese scones ever. It’s light and tasty and goes with soup, salad, or a ploughman’s lunch.
Heat oven to 425 F and grease a baking tray or two (I usually double the batch).
. 2 cups flour
. 1 tsp baking powder
. 1 tsp cream of tartar
. 1/2 tsp sea salt
. 1 tsp dried chervil (oregano would probably work, too)
Work in so it’s not clumpy:
. 1/3 cup minced parsley
. 1/3 cup minced fresh dill
Cut in 1/4 cup of soft butter until it’s like fine breadcrumbs. Then add:
. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Make a well in the center and pour in:
. 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup heavy cream.
Start with a half cup of liquid and mix with a wooden spoon until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add more liquid if it seems too dry. Turn onto a floured board and knead just enough to make the dough elastic. Pat into a round about an inch thick and cut into rounds with a cookie cutter until all the dough is used up. If you prefer, rolling the dough into snakes will make pretty good bread sticks for dipping into hummus or tzatziki.
Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Don’t be shy about doubling or tripling the recipe – these are perfect for taking to the office, making care packages for friends, or freezing in smaller amounts. They can also be split and toasted in a toaster oven. I like them with avocado and sliced tomato with a pinch of carrot and beet sauerkraut. In another mood, they’re great with a tart currant jelly.
June 20, 2020 • No Comments
This first appeared in my newsletter, May 24/20
In strange worlds different from the Very Strange World we currently inhabit, work on the Hellion House series continues. I’d like to take this moment to address the notion that the series contains zombies. In a word, no. The forest beyond the walls of Londria contain many strange creatures, but not the walking dead. There are the Unseen, which are scruffy flesh eaters with shockingly bad social skills, but they are very much alive.
Then what are the Unseen and where do they come from? Can they be taught to use a napkin? Do they vote for a particular party? Those, dear reader, are the story questions of Leopard Ascending, the Hellion House installment currently under construction.
In the meantime, I’d like to offer some general advice for those occasions when one does have a zombie on one’s impeccably-gloved hands.
- For hostesses short a guest to make up the correct numbers at table, the recently-deceased might be pressed into discreet service, given sufficient repair. Of course, no one wants to admit that it was necessary to summon the dead to their party—it smacks of disinterest on the part of the living. As a precaution, instruct the footmen serving the meal to politely but firmly decline the revenant’s insistent request for brains.
- For committee work, whether charitable or in commerce, it is commonplace to send a proxy when it becomes impossible to manage every meeting. Many do send the dead for this purpose. If you have long suspected there were no signs of life amongst your fellow board members, now you know why.
- As a post-script to the above, employing zombies in any capacity is optimal where there is plenty of fresh air and discreet staff prepared for unusual emergencies. More than once, a garden party guest has been quickly disposed of among the rhododendrons, much to the gratitude of the greenery. Imagination and flexibility are key. So are a shovel and quick lime.
- Finally, while the care and feeding of the dead requires human brains, please do so sparingly. There appears to be a general shortage.
June 14, 2020 • No Comments
Happy book birthday to Flicker, a prequel novella in the Crown of Fae series.
Wait? Why release a prequel halfway through the series? Well, I wanted to tell a story about Fliss, Ronan’s charming little sister and how she met Laren, the dashing water fae. She’s been a supporting character until now deserved a tale of her own. And, that largely happened.
What I wasn’t expecting was that these were TEENAGERS. Whether I liked it or not, my characters were crazy, wrong-headed, adorable, and insane—rather like most of us are at that age. As a result, this book has action galore, school problems, scary teachers, and a dash of sweet romance. This makes it more YA than the rest of the series, but (I think) in a fun way.
What was intended as a short story became a novella. In amongst all that youthful drama, I was able to set up some characters and circumstances that shape the next few books. Keep an eye on that enchanted bird. There might even be a clue to an Easter egg buried in one of the books already out.
For those who’ve read the books so far, the timeline between Flicker and Shimmer is as follows (no real spoilers here):
- In the prequel, Fliss is thirteen.
- The Shades arrived a hundred years before.
- The battle of Ildaran Falls, after which many of the fae fled Faery, was twenty years before.
- After the events of Flicker, Laren joins the older dragons in some of their exploits, becoming friends with Ronan. Ronan and Fliss, however, don’t see much of each other until Shimmer, where she is a fully adult fae.
- Ronan’s journey begins in Faery, but when Shimmer begins, he’s been in the human realms for some time. Since time runs differently in the human and fae worlds—and wherever else he might have been—It’s difficult to measure exactly how many years pass between the two stories, but to Ronan’s perception it is centuries.
And handsome Telkoram? Why yes, we will see him again.
For more about Flicker and to read an excerpt, click here.
Or simply buy it here.
April 27, 2020 • 2 Comments
I started planning the series some time ago, as good worldbuilding (at least for me) needs time to mature. I wanted something that was a little more fantasy and less strictly Victorian than my previous steampunk books, mostly to provide scope for adventure.
I have a fascination with how people live under threat, whether that’s in gated cities or under strict social regulation. Crime doesn’t take a holiday just because everything else is turned on its head. Even dire circumstances, we still manage to form hierarchies, establish ceremonies, build a system and then cheat it. It’s the phenomenon that launched much of reality TV.
When I wrote the Baskerville Affair, I found inspiration in a map that marked the boundaries of various utility companies. This time, I went back to a 1572 map of London and then took a left turn. What if history had gone on as per normal until the Elizabethans, and then…well, science was in a different place back then. What we now regard as fact was mixed up with alchemy, astrology, and theoretical systems we don’t use in the lab these days. Burning witches at the stake was fine entertainment. What better time to unleash something that transmogrified the world?
Fast forward to my characters’ era, in what would have been Victorian London. Cities everywhere are fortified physically and by magic to protect the populace from the wilderness—now occupied by monsters. Airships and river boats are a necessary means of travel, because going by land is suicide. Agriculture is a harrowing endeavour, with private armies and mages on tap. There are dragons, huge wildcats, and the ever-hungry Unseen. Probably Nessie. Undoubtedly trolls. (Please note, there are no zombies, as they are smelly and prone to leaving their body parts in inconvenient places.)
However, because people are people, there are also Society events, fashion, slums, politics, crime, detectives, murder, whorehouses, gentleman’s clubs and newspapers. But civilization comes at a terrible price, as our protagonists discover.
And then there’s the River Rats, and astronomy, and the tarot, but more on that later.
Image by Comfreak on Pixabay
March 9, 2020 • No Comments
Consider setting versus worldbuilding. According to Novelist and screen writer Chuck Wendig, when we say worldbuilding “We’re talking about the revelation of your story world and its details through the story itself. It’s easy to think this means “setting,” but that’s way too simple — world building covers everything and anything inside that world. Money, clothing, territorial boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, imports and exports, transportation, sex, food, the various types of monkeys people possess, whether the world does or does not contain Satanic “twerking” rites.”
That means there is work to do on your story. The basic place to start is forming a clear picture of your setting. Chances are, it is a real place or it is similar to a real place that can be investigated.
If you’re writing about a real time and place, research the history of your setting up to the time period you’re working with. Your characters will know the history–at least the recent history–of their world, so you need to as well.
- One question you might ask is who founded your location? Why?
- Does that matter to your story (for instance, what would the old prime-time soap opera Dallas be without the oil industry)?
- Think about taking your story and putting it someplace really different. How much of it would work? What would you have to change? What does that say about your choice of time and place?
Writers with a contemporary setting need to do as much or even more research. People live in the city you’re writing about, and they’re not a homogeneous group.
- Different parts of an existing town have different characteristics.
- Different groups of people have different hangouts, different language, different food, dress, etc.
PRO TIP: Climate is important and often a defining characteristic of a region. However, don’t assume. Most of the world thinks of Canada as snow country. Victoria, where I live, has palm trees and rarely more than a few days of snow a year.
You might want to make a story bible, which is a collection of facts, documents, ideas, and everything else about your story world. This is a lifesaver if you’re doing a series.
Here are some tools:
An article on How to use Scrivener for Worldbuilding
An amazing customizable template from Sarah Perlmutter
The type of information you collect and how you collect it will depend entirely on your story and working methods. The only important thing is that you keep the relevant information in a way you can access quickly. Start collecting information before it becomes unwieldy. The time when I normally decide I want a story bible is long past the time when it would be convenient to start one.
Other, more entertaining ways to deal with research:
- Youtube videos about places
- Blogs about visiting places
- Pinterest for pictures of places
Of course, the very best option is to visit a location. Taste the food. Smell the air. Feel the dryness or humidity, and whether the atmosphere is high and clear or soft and sea level. Look at the flowers. Fall in the mud (speaking personally). Find out what is the same and different from the place you live.
March 6, 2020 • 2 Comments
Here is the map (beautifully done by Zenta Brice) for the Crown of Fae series:
March 4, 2020 • No Comments
This is camellia season–a fleeting glimpse of perfection before rain yellows the pristine blooms. I took some photos around the neighborhood and then by chance saw some old illustrations that echoed those beauties. I put them together here:
March 2, 2020 • No Comments
Why care about a story’s setting?
A lot of people think of setting description as the specific surroundings where the action occurs. “There was a red camel in the corner.” “The curtains were blue lace with tiny hearts woven into the fabric.”
This is true. Most of us learn to write this stuff when we’re in grade school. We learn to use our specific and colorful words and our imaginations and once we’ve mastered that, every writing book ever tells us these passages of prose are wrong and bad. This is also true.
Setting is way more than a blob of description.
It’s also the “big picture” where the story was set: the Wild West, the Weird West, Las Vegas in the 1930s, the Antebellum South. With that comes history, culture, and the way that society works. This is why, in my opinion, some theatre directors take a huge risk when they move Shakespeare or other stories from one time period to another. If a story is integrated into its setting, it relies on the dynamics of that world. It needs the power structure, the cultural norms, and the societal context of that world to inform it.
One reason West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) worked as a story was because Arthur Laurents transplanted a story about an Italian gang culture in the renaissance (seriously, what were the big families in the Quattrocento but gangs?) to a modern American gang culture. There are enough common elements in terms of social mores, power structure, and all the things that make action and consequence function that the rewritten story still makes sense. In this way, it’s the setting and all that goes with it that provides an important mechanism for story tension.
Think on a small, specific level (the curtains) and a global one (the Renaissance)
Setting can indicate past, present, or future on both a literal level (story time line) and an emotional one. The book Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson) very successfully uses contrasting settings to keep the past and present storylines separate and he makes the tension dance between them. It’s a courtroom drama about the fallout from a Japanese-American internment camp. The way he uses setting to convey mood is brilliant.
Setting is the difference between a script and a movie. It’s all the information—the colour, the history, and the context—that exists around your dialogue and your plot. It’s your costume and stage sets. It often overlaps with character and motivation. It reveals theme, point of view, culture, power dynamics, and emotion.
Setting grounds the story in a time and place and can convey mind set, culture, mood, and personality. Whether your protagonist hangs out in a historic English pub or a moonshine still in the Kentucky woods says a lot about him. For this reason it can be used for situational irony. Most common are fish out of water stories like the shows Hart of Dixie or Northern Exposure. It is a useful shorthand for establishing character.
Setting is context. Consider that readers may not understand the setting of your story, even if they know the city. Think of the difference between The Gangs of New York and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. With a global market for readers, you especially have to explain it to them because other people from other backgrounds or cultures may have no understanding of your story world, even if it is set in modern times.
March 1, 2020 • No Comments
I have a long list of “I really should watch that someday” documentaries, especially ones about lifestyle and stuff.
Forks Over Knives
Last week I finally watched Fork Over Knives (2011, Virgil Films), which talks about the virtues of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. It’s a few years old but some of the scientific studies cited were new to me. The film spells out why chronic diseases can be reversed through lifestyle. Given my family’s incidence of cancer, this caught my attention. For example, casein, an animal protein, “switched on” cancerous growths in test animals when it formed more than 5% of their diet. When it dropped back down to 5%, the disease retreated.
I know that no study is perfect (for instance, I have strong feelings about animal testing) but it infuriates me that there isn’t more focus on this kind of evidence. There is an epidemic of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Something like one in three adults develop diabetes in North America. Diet will at the very least alleviate the symptoms in most victims. Why don’t we see the same action on this file as on, say, a virus that kills a mere few thousand world-wide? Because the virus doesn’t have a corporation to lobby on its behalf? I resist conspiracy theories, but one has to wonder.
Will I become vegan? I’ll definitely explore the diet and see how I respond. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for decades but never seriously considered dropping all animal-based foods. I know many people who have and their health is amazing. What’s important, I think, is to have a handful of reliable recipes in advance. That’s how I cut out meat without feeling deprived. I was already able to turn to familiar dishes. Click here for more on Forks Over Knives and its community.
Two other great documentaries I’ve watched recently while doing my ironing are:
Playing With Fire, which is all about the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” movement. This is inspirational and so common-sense, especially if one has a rebellious streak. It definitely made me rethink my savings plan!
What’s With Wheat I saw this one on Amazon Prime. The approach here isn’t “wheat is bad” so much as “what the heck have we done to this crop?” With the recent rise of gluten intolerance, it’s a good question. Some friends who have eaten bread while visiting Europe don’t notice the same side effects, which lends credence to the idea that it’s hybridization and agricultural practice, not so much wheat itself, that’s the problem. Interesting stuff.
As you might have guessed, I’m fascinated by food, lifestyles, and other health stuff. Especially food, because it’s the cornerstone of health, pleasure, and social interaction.
February 23, 2020 • No Comments
Weekend coffee was well earned this time. These were catch-up days after doing a hard sprint of editing. Lots of email, answering questions from graphic artists, paying bills, cooking, and scheduling the release of a new series. Plus, lightly plotting the next project, which is a bit like flirting with pen and paper. The characters and I are doing a dance, but it’s not too serious yet.
At this moment, my desk looks almost sane. I know it won’t last, but I’ll enjoy the clean surface for today.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the level of administrative detail involved in being a writer. I spent an entire afternoon filling out copyright info on four books, which isn’t hard but does take time. I’m caught up filing applications for now, but too many of those jobs on a long list can give me brain freeze. I’ve been picking them off one by one in a bid for sanity, but I have a long way to go before my halo is sparkling.
Actual writing is more fun. Feedback from my alpha readers is arriving in my inbox, and that means more work before the book goes to a developmental editor. That’s tomorrow’s problem–tonight I’m making a birthday dinner. And eating a doughnut with my weekend coffee treat, because one has to grab the small pleasures as well as the big goals. That’s toffee-pecan icing, BTW. Check out Empire Donuts.