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Let's Pause For Chocolate or the Tipsy Pirate's Return

YA Superhero Action!
For more than a decade, I've been writing columns on the arts.  Interviewing artists is the best part of the gig. I want to know what inspires them, how they keep going in the face of rejection and disappointment, why they decided to perform Macbeth in the nude in a chilly theater (don't laugh, I did see this production!), and so on.

Seattle's many amazing artists in theater, dance, and more have taught me a lot about perseverance, patience, and the importance of pants. OK, I made the last bit up. But I try to apply some of that to my writing career and share some of that collective wisdom here too.

This time of year always feels like the start of something new. The college where I work is getting ready to welcome students back. Theater productions announcements are filling my inbox, and the number of people that I want to write about is increasing exponentially.

But first, let's enjoy a little chocolate. This recipe comes from one of the great Cobalt City writers published by Timid Pirate in Seattle. It is, quite appropriately, a brownie recipe for pirates. Enjoy!

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Tipsy Pirate Brownies

2 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. of butter, melted
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c. dark rum
1 1/3 c. flour
3/4 c. dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 pkg (or approx. 6 ounces) chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°.  Grease 9x13 pan.
Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Stir in the chocolate chips.
Whisk the butter thoroughly with the sugar until the mixture is homogenous.  Then whisk in the dark rum, then the eggs and vanilla.  When everything is evenly blended, gently add the dry ingredients, stirring just until the batter comes together.
Pour into pan and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Let it cool before cutting it into pieces, it comes out very soft.

Marmot Weekend - Indie Publishing, Book Covers, Gothic Novels, And More

I'm back at SpoCon and, just as I remembered from earlier adventures, the Marmots have been delightful hosts. Saturday panels where I will be speaking deal with indie publishing, book cover design, and Gothic literature. On Sunday, I'm back to that age old question of "I'm published, now what?"

Here's the run down if you're at the convention. Over the next few days I'll post follow ups on what the speakers learned from the audiences and how to find out more.

Indie Publishing Today - 10:30 am, Saturday, Spokane Falls D
Trends, resources, and how to find out more. I'm really here to talk about Book Publishers Northwest.

Book Cover Design 101 - 12:00 pm, Saturday, Executive
As someone most frequently published by others, I have never gotten to decide what my book cover should look like. However I've mocked up covers for designers to refine. My favorite resource to do that these days is Canva. The most important tip I can give anyone designing a cover: know your genre! Readers will make a lot of assumptions about a book based on its cover, and you want them to make the right ones.

Gothic Literature - 3:00 pm, Saturday, Parkside II
I think I was invited to speak at this because my Waterdeep adventure novel, City of the Dead, definitely contained a respectful tip of the cap or two to the Gothic novel. I consider the great-grandmother of perfect Gothic novels to be Jane Eyre. Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca also needs to be read by all students of the Gothic. Recently I discovered the novels of Simone St James, who writes a wonderful Gothic-flavored ghost stories. Try The Other Side of Midnight or Silence for the Dead. For more Gothic goodies, check out my book lists on Goodreads.

I Got Published, Now What? - 10:30 am, Sunday, Parkside II
Short answer: keep writing.

Unknown Adventures In Reprints

Apparently I've been hanging out with Alan Dean Foster, Lisa Smedman, Kevin J. Anderson, and, as it says in tiny type on the cover, "many more."

Over the years, I've written multiple short stories and, every now and then, one gets reprinted without my notice.* A prequel story to City of the Dead originally appeared on Wizard of the Coast's website. Called "Dreaming of Waterdeep," it tells how Gustin Bone acquired his guidebook to Waterdeep.  Gustin always has been one of my favorite characters. His story slipped away during a redesign of the WOTC website (along with "Exploding Pigs," another short adventure), one of the drawbacks of publishing only online.

So I was tickled to discover that the story now can be found in the Untold Adventures volume shown here. Having finally got my hands on a print copy, I had an enjoyable Saturday reading the other adventures by now very well-known authors. It's amazing how many folks dropped into the shared-world genre at some point in their careers. I'm also very happy to see that SFWA is starting to accept "game-related" writing as qualification of pro status.

*The publisher uses numeric codes, not titles, for books on royalty statements and for years I stared at the string of numbers and thought the notation was for a different story in a different anthology. This year the format of the statement changed and included titles, hence my discovery of a previously truly unknown adventure.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Pancake Coffee Cake

I'm whacking away at finishing a new novel, which means I'm home and hungry. Also, it's January, cold, grey, and dismal when I poke my nose outdoors. Which means I don't feel like going grocery shopping. So I searched my cupboards for inspiration and found a packet of gluten free pumpkin spice pancake mix that I purchased by mistake. I meant to get the pumpkin bread mix sitting next to it on the shelf at Trader Joe's. Necessity being the mother of cooking experimentation, I searched online for things to do with my mix. Came up with a coffee cake recipe made with regular pancake mix and modified it.

The result was tasty with my coffee, so here's what I tossed into the oven.


Nicely browned while I was editing!
RJ's TJ's GF Pumpkin Spice Apple Coffee Cake

1 egg
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup almond milk**
1 cup of Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Pancake Mix
1/2 cup of sugar mixed liberally with cinnamon*
1 chopped apple 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix egg, oil, and milk together. Add pancake mix and sugar. Pour half into 8" x 8" pan and then spread sliced apple over mix. Pour rest of mix over apple slices.

Cook for 20 to 25 minutes (see note below). 

Baking while editing or what really happened

After popping the pan in the oven, I started reading last chapter written before wandering off to bake. Ignored oven timer because I was puzzling over where my hero would go next. Realized something was starting to smell good in kitchen and pulled cake out of oven at more the half hour mark than 20 to 25 recommended. It may have been a bit crispier on the edges than intended but it still went down well with a cup of coffee.

*I had a mix of white sugar and cinnamon left over from another coffee cake mix. It seemed to work fine. I'd estimate it was mostly sugar with a tablespoon or two of cinnamon. 
**I generally use soy milk or almond milk at home, but I don't see why you couldn't use regular milk for this.And butter instead of olive oil.

Why a deadline is like a lemming

Lemming image from British Public Library
A brilliant collection of free photos drawn
from their archives of historical literature.

I'm a third-generation writer/journalist and I believe in deadlines. If somebody doesn't hand me a contract with a deadline, I'll create a deadline for myself.

For me, a deadline inspires creation (as well as terror, binge eating, and whimpering). Right now I'm staring at a moving deadline. Publisher wants the book three months in advance of the original deadline. This has created a lot of whimpering as well as emails to my friends and relatives to not expect to see me much around Christmas.  I'll be banging out the finish of a manuscript so I can still have a month to polish prior to deadline.

Although I often dream of jobs done well ahead of the deadline, I'm used to dancing up to the very edge of my deadline. Famously, I once ripped open an express mail box at the Post Office, made three red pen corrections to a final draft, and then resealed the box to the bemusement of the counter staff. Luckily, with electronic submissions now the norm, I no longer change my mind in public at the last possible minute. What I do at home in my bunny slippers....well, that's between me and the computer.

Still, I love deadlines. Deadlines cause all the brain cells to sit up and gibber at the approaching behemoth and then take lemming leaps off the cliff of the ordinary into brilliance. Or die. That's why it's called a deadline.


Swan Napkins: A Brief History

When I wrote one of the stories contained Cobalt City Christmas, a fine anthology of cape, cowl, and Christmas cheer, a major plot point in my tale, quite by accident, became swan napkins. Since my swan napkin article has become one of the most visited posts on this blog. As we are rolling into the holidays again, I felt it was time to bring this one back to the top of the pile.

In the story, the Egyptian magician, Doctor Shadow, festoons the dinner table with these little beauties. He uses the telekinetic manipulation of the material and a little sorcery to make the perfect swan napkin.

Anyone who has attempted to fold a swan napkin without the aid of magic knows that you need either Martha Stewart's supervision or a little spray starch to pull off a nice firm shape.

The Victorians used to wet the napkin before folding, a practice roundly condemned in one 19th century book of manners since "the napkin must be damp at the folding, it is not always dry when shaken out. Nothing is so unhealthy as a damp napkin; it causes agony to a delicate and nervous lady, a man with the rose-cold, a person with neuralgia or rheumatism, and is offensive to every one."

Not wanting to cause agony to your guests, you may want to try these directions from the Book of Dinner Serviettes (1873). The anonymous author advises the following to create the swan napkin shown above:

Crimp up on end of the damask in the manner of a fan [as shown left]; then fold under the other end to meet the bottom of it; then take the left side of the Serviette, and roll inwards to the centre of the fan; repeat this on the right-hand side; turn the Serviette over, and bend into the shape the part forming the head and neck of the swan; this completes the Serviette.

If you do manage to fold a swan napkin for your next dinner party, tweet me a photo. I'd love to see it!

Cookbook story inspired by ballad

The ebook version of The Bard's Tale recently popped up on Amazon. Each adventure in the anthology is complimented by authentic medieval recipes by editor Daniel Myers. It's probably the only time that you'll find my writing in a cookbook. 
There's a number of familiar names on the table of contents, including Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood​ and Gabrielle Harbowy​, who edited the terrific Heroes and Villains Come Home anthologies.

My tale was inspired by the classic murder ballad "Cruel Sister." I've found three or four versions of this ballad, but my favorite recording remains Pentangle's, from their 1970 album of the same name.
As always, this is not a straight retelling but rather a rethink of the magic mentioned in the story. And another twist or two.  Enjoy!

More on Greenwood's Publishing Venture

Ed Greenwood's publishing project is coming closer to launch and received attention from industry magazine Publisher's Weekly recently:
Greenwood has ambitious plans for the next 10 years, involving more than a dozen distinct fantasy settings and 50 books published each year. He’s already begun mapping out each series, so that authors and artists can jump in and request to be involved with whichever one interests them. “I am going to sleep very little,” he said. “But on the other hand, I’m going to be doing what I love.”
The first series to be launched by The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) is Hellmaw, with a lead-off title by Ed, and contributions from several friends in the field. I'm not a horror or dark fantasy writer, so don't search for me in the Hellmaw, but I'm looking forward to reading these.