Monday, February 28, 2011

Magical Food

Did you know that food can be magical?

I don't mean just that it helps your body. I don't mean the process of converting food to energy, either.

Food can hold magical properties.

Consider the whole idea of "comfort food." There are just some foods that make you feel better, aren't there? For me, it's chocolate. Thankfully, I have a husband who knows and appreciates that fact.

I wanted to share a recipe for some magical food that I mention in my book Ghost Mountain. Cerri Baker makes a Gypsy Casserole as comfort food. This casserole is said to help with clearing a person's thoughts—something Cerri really needs!

I found this in A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook and wanted to share it with you.

Gypsy Casserole
1 18oz can hearty beef or chicken soup
1 cup cooked noodles
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon dried dill week

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Microwave on high for 8 minutes, stopping twice to stir. (Or heat for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F in a conventional oven.) Garnish with cheese for change, parsley for protection and health, or tomatoes for love.
That's Cerri's comfort food. Although she is a huge fan of chocolate, too. What's your comfort food?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where to from here?

People seem to be under the impression that being a published author is glamorous, that there’s oodles of money involved and there’s some sort of mystique attached to getting a book contracted. I’m almost sure I’ve blogged along a similar vein before. To be honest, whether you get contracted to a small press operating out of someone’s home in NYC or a big publishing house in London offering a five-digit advance, there’s still a helluva lot of slog involved.

Granted, with the small presses, you end up looking forward to those monthly or quarterly royalty statements. With the big book deals, you worry about whether you’ll earn out that lovely advance your revenue service probably snitches about a quarter of before you get to spend it. One means working on the whiff of an oil rag; the other adds a bit of performance anxiety. What if my agent hates my next novel? That sort of thing.

Ja, hey, so I’m still languishing with the small presses. I should look back on my career at this point and feel some sort of thrill, since I’ve now published two urban fantasy novels, an erotic romance (under my TherĂ©se von Willegen brand) and an upcoming urban fantasy novella to be released in March.

But I sometimes have these days, like today, where I’m feeling the ache of burning muscles and exhaustion. And I understand that no one ever said it was easy. It’s a slow crawl forward at snail’s pace while other authors seem to live charmed existences. Hell, stabbing myself repeatedly through the hand with a ballpoint pen is less painful than being an author.

It’s not easy maintaining perspective but I need to remember where I was in 2008 before I made my first sale. I need to remember where I was: hopeful, reeling from countless rejections. A lot of people say they want to write a novel then never finish it. Some write novel after novel but then don’t bother polishing their text, putting out one title after the other in a blizzard of sub-standard schlock.

I need to remember why I write. I write because I have stories that need telling. I write because if I don’t, my life is smaller, empty and colourless. I write because words are magic, that shape my world and touch the lives of others. I write because I have to, because there are stories itching at the tips of my fingers. I must never forget that. It’s not about that PayPal deposit at the end of the month because, to be quite honest, I’d be starving pretty quickly if I had to rely on that pittance.

And, while I won’t be giving up my day-job anytime soon, I will continue to write and breathe life into my dystopian visions because, as broken as my characters are, as twisted and dark as the tales are that hit the screen, they are a small way in which I can continue to live my dreams. The best part is that I can share these dreams with my readers, and drag them into other worlds for a little while. If we lose the ability to dream then there’s no point to living, is there?

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day history lesson

Isn't it interesting that I would be the one to post on February 14? I think I'm the only one at Frightening Journeys who doesn't write even the hint of romance.

Clearly the Universe has a twisted sense of humor.

Or maybe the entire celebration is a little twisted.

Do you know the history of Valentine's Day? Sometime around the year 278 AD, a priest in Rome disagreed with the government. See, the ruler (Claudius the Cruel) decided to ban marriage. His thought was that if the men were single, they would be much more willing to go fight in some unpopular war. I'm sure it made sense at the time....

Anyway, Valentine thought that was kind of a dumb law. So, much like my father with the speed limit, he decided to ignore it.

When Claudius found out, he was livid. Really. He did some ranting and raving and decided that Valentine should be put to death.

Bad news for Valentine, but it didn't stop the priest. Legend has it that while in the slammer, Valentine befriended the jailer's daughter. Before his execution, he left her a goodbye note signed "From Your Valentine."

He was put to death on February 14.

Today we celebrate the day of his death by giving chocolates and flowers to each other.

A little twisted, don't you think?


Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy birthday, Laura!

Today is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series and one of South Dakota's most famous daughters.

I didn't know that it was her birthday until I was searching for inspiration for today's blog post. I confess that I wasn't a big Little House fan as a kid. I didn't care much for horse books, or the idea of living on the prairie.

My youngest daughter, however, went through a big Little House phase. She is a huge history lover and the idea of Westward expansion fascinated her for a time. As an adult, then, I became well acquainted with the Little House story. I've even been to the family homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota, and seen the shack where Carrie was born in Kansas.

Even if you've never read the books or seen the television show (which ran from 1974 though 1982 and can still be found on re-runs), you know who Laura is. Isn't that amazing?

It made me think of what stories did inspire me as a child, so I thought I would share some of my favorites.
  • Anything by Dr. Seuss: Nothing can be too wrong with the world when you can be silly and laugh.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: This story of a young girl who risks her life for her brother only to be left alone for years on an island is inspirational.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: Another story of a young lady who does something incredible to save those she loves.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: Those who know me won't be surprised that I really enjoy satire and Orwell is one of the best.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Anyone surprised that I selected a series where children are empowered to save their world? I didn't think so.
I know there are more, but these were the first five I could think of. Now I ask you: What stories or authors from your childhood have stuck with you?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Villainy is in the eye of the beholder

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables - meet it is I set it down
That one may smile and smile and be a villain.

Without a doubt the best villains are the ones that are such fully-formed complex characters, it's not hard to imagine them as the protagonist in their own story. Motivation is a big factor in this: is the villain evil just for the sake of being evil, or is there something more interesting going on underneath the surface? Something that makes you understand why the villain is doing all these villainous things, even if you don't agree with their actions.

Here's a kind of sideways example:

Laertes is a young man who sees his family destroyed. His sister Ophelia is treated horribly by her suitor, a man who seems to toy with her affections before ultimately rejecting her. Then that same man murders their father Polonius. It's a case of mistaken identity, but the killer shows no remorse. Worst of all, Ophelia is driven mad by grief and heartbreak from these events, taking her own life. When offered a chance at revenge, Laertes of course accepts. In the end, though, both Laertes and the man who destroyed his family, a prince named Hamlet, die by a poisoned sword.

But the play's not called Laertes, is it? I called this a sideways example because while Laertes wasn’t a villain in Shakespeare's play, I do think it's a good example of how one person's protagonist is another person's villain. Meaning Hamlet, of course. I used to have kind of a thing for Hamlet. Not a literary crush, exactly, more like a mild obsession. I saw him as this punk slacker who couldn’t live up to his destiny, and consequently was relieved to greet death. This eventually transformed into a mild obsession with Kurt Cobain, but that's a different topic. It's been a number of years since I read the entire play instead of leafing through the pages that mark my favorite quotes. My favorite line will always be this:

In my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep.

There's another one that I have found myself looking at frequently. It fits with the sideways view of the melancholy prince as a mad villain.

Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.

Dare I say it - Vampire Hamlet?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wrapping grey matter around new technology

Sometimes the universe makes decisions for me, decisions like “Thou shalt have an electronic reader device other than the laptop or your computer at work.”

Last week a friend of mine in Oz told me she had a spare Kindle floating around, which she kindly donated to my cause until we discovered that the thing’s lithium batteries create a bit of a tizz with the postal services. Hence, I told her not to bother…only to have another friend drop down from upcountry for a visit, and give me his old Sony Reader, which he isn’t using anymore.

It’s taken me less than a week to fall irrevocably in love with my new Reader. No more getting my nice books munched at the bottom of my bag. No more having to haul out the laptop to read ebooks. I can read in bright sunlight. I can make the text bigger. The document opens on the same page where I left off.

The Reader is compact, it’s slim and it doesn’t weigh as much as a book (or at least the doorstoppers I'm accustomed to reading). I’ve now got almost 90 books stored on it, with plenty of space for more. There are two SD card slots as well, so I can expand with further memory, should I need to. And, after hearing some of the frightening capacities of the memory cards coming onto the market nowadays…

I’m a happy puppy. A really happy puppy.

Because, to be quite honest, I’ve run out of shelf space at home. It’s chronic. I have to start making some hard decisions about letting some books go. And, while I’ll always have a bit of a book problem **laughs** I’m so chuffed I’m now fully into this ebook thing. It feels more “real” now that I’ve a reading device in hand.

I’ve been keeping pace with some of the changes the publishing industry is undergoing, and I’m glad I got my toe in the door about two years ago because I’ve a feeling this whole electronic publishing shindig is still going to do some amazing things for a lot of authors who wouldn’t ordinarily have had an opportunity.

I don’t care much for the attitude that “ebooks” aren’t real books. To me it’s the words that count, how the content of what I’m reading makes me feel. It’s not about holding paper in my hand. New forms of media are changing the way we exchange information, and I embrace this change with open arms.

Gone are the days with me stressing about a package in the mail, of waiting sometimes more than a month for my precious book to arrive from the US or UK. What I’m getting now is instant gratification to feed my reading weevil.