Review: The Book Of Speculation

The Book of SpeculationI have to admit that I first became interested in The Book Of Speculation after learning from Goodreads about her over-the-top method of submitting her debut manuscript to publishers.

As if writing a book isn’t daunting enough, learning that she handcrafted aged pages and hand-bound enough ‘old’ books to submit to various publishers… well, I was impressed with her tenacity and absurdity.

Author Erika Swyler explains her method at her Tumblr site in “Adventures in making a fake old book”.

The plot hinges on the idea that a particular old book is such a fascinating object that it could consume someone’s life. It felt very important to create that experience for a person reading my manuscript. It was a simple thought: if they connected with the manuscript as an object, it would pave the way for connecting with the story. I had next to zero experience in bookmaking when I decided to bind and age the manuscripts. I might have balked if I’d known from the start how much of my life the project would devour. — Erika Swyler in an interview with Shelf Awareness

When an author is invested in her work to that level, I have to believe she’s given her all to writing the story, too. At least, I hoped so. And the synopsis promised me mermaids and carnivals. She’d landed a publisher with her unconventional methods, and so I decided to give her story a chance.  I’m glad I did.

The story is really two tales, one set in the distant past (and written in past tense), and one set in present day (written in first person).  The stories are connected, and as I read, the connections between the two became clear. I could attempt to describe the plot in some clever words, but I feel the story really should speak for itself. You can read an excerpt at Tor.com, and if the words intrigue you, perhaps you should allow a new-old book into your life—just as a librarian named Simon Watson did.

Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep?

A dear friend’s dream just became a reality. As we all know, the best dreams come true not so much from sleeping as from hard work. This author has put in the work. I’ve not only read the book, I have been lucky enough to know little Nika Thought-werk in another world (it’s complicated. Just smile and trust me), and have spent quite a bit of time with this clockwork girl. Just as I would with any friend, I slowly got to know her over time, and came to appreciate her talents and her quirks. I learned not to use long words, and tried to be helpful if she ran down and needed her key turned.

When it became clear that a book about her life was in the works (or is that werks?), I was thrilled. To have the rare privilege of getting to know a character to the point of calling them a close friend, before reading their book, is a once in a lifetime experience.

Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep? is an epic adventure with lovable, likable, but certainly not perfect characters.  Whether you are comforted by the underlying message of the book, or are simply enjoying it for the adventure, I can assure you this is a singular tale, the likes of which you haven’t read in a long, long time. Please take a moment to  read the full synopsis, quoted below. And might I request you linger a bit over the final sentence. This truly may be a groundbreaking novel in the realm of classic fairy tales.

This tale of the Robot Nika (Volume One) is available for $9.99 in a good old fashioned, comforting, hold-in-your-hands  paper book.

Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep“An epic fantasy that echoes some of the most beloved classic children’s tales of all time, E. P. Isaacs’s Do Clockworks Dream of Gear-Toothed Sheep? inspires children to see themselves for who they truly are—and never let go.

Nika Thought-werk may not be made from ordinary flesh and bone, but this doesn’t make her any less loved by her friends—or any less needed by those who find themselves in trouble. Although she is made of porcelain, glass, and wax—a doll brought to existence through the astonishing work of a doctor in 1894 Ireland—Nika refuses to live a life that is anything short of extraordinary.

As she makes her way through tornadoes, a lake filled with stew, giant bubblegum bubbles, and a sheep-napping, Nika must find the strength to go on—even when faced with the gravest of dangers.

Along the way, she meets friends of every size and shape—all of whom help Nika learn to see herself for who she truly is.

This enchanting kid’s tale bravely tackles some of the issues that transgender children face, providing readers with hope and encouragement that they are not alone in their quest to find their true identity.”

Learning To Adult

I have three websites. One is a commercial site for chocolate and coffee, one is for promoting my books, and there’s this one – for whatever I damn well wish to write at any given moment.  Still here?  Buckle up, bumpy ride ahead.

This is going to be rather personal and probably a lot maudlin. Feel free to close the browser tab and I send no hard feelings if you do.  By way of explanation, a younger relative of mine is on the cusp of one of life’s greatest adventures – waving farewell to the parents and getting her own apartment. This got me remembering my own rite of passage. Those days are burned into my brain with the red-hot poker of nostalgia.

That’s the weirdest sentence I’ve yet written, but I stand by it. I can still remember the smallest of details. How the cheap wood floorboards creaked. The slam of the trunk of a Yellow Cab. The annoying crackle of a single paint-splattered speaker I laughingly called my ‘stereo system’. The squeaks of an air mattress every time I moved in the night.

Seattle, Washington – Me, age 19. Clueless about the reality of living on my own.  I’ve just spent a couple of years swabbed tightly and not by choice in the clutches  of a religious cult centered around Green Lake, Seattle. Prior to that, I had a couple of great years sharing a house with my dad, and prior to that, I watched my parents go through one of the most weird divorces ever. Let’s just say it involved the previously mentioned religious cult, a barely-running 1940’s car that dragged my mom and my brother out of Southern California and up to Seattle, and prior to THAT, I had the picture-perfect classic suburban childhood with everything a kid could ask for.  Except for a perfect future. But I … well I don’t digress. I ingress. Whatever. My blog.

Back up to age 19. The cult had pushed my final buttons by trying to pressure me into an arranged marriage. This was in Milwaukee. Not Seattle. Why Milwaukee? I spent a year there by reasons of their insanity. Then I went back to Seattle, where the cult was waiting for me with another hidden agenda. My existence was a badly bouncing, rapidly deflating ball.

One not-so-bright day, I woke up and thought, “Screw this. Where’s my life?” I packed all my belongings. Sum total, they’d fit in the trunk of a Yellow Cab. I said goodbye to the cult-family I was staying with, and was told, “We’ve spoiled you for the world. You’ll be back because no one else will accept you.”

I’m so thankful for that sendoff. Those were the best words I could every have heard. They gave me the strength to prove them wrong.

Olive TowerThe Yellow Cab took me off to the Olive Tower in downtown Seattle. It was an old 14 story  re-purposed hotel built in 1928. By my current standards, it was amazing! An historic building with all the vintage touches in an apartment overlooking Seattle from the 10th floor.

At the time I arrived though, it was a scary, empty place. I had four cardboard boxes of belongings. I walked to a store that evening to buy an inflatable mattress to sleep on that night.  I heard every sound in the old building that night, and all of them seemed dangerous.

The next day, I took a taxi home. I’d given up before I even got started. My first experience in an apartment as an adult had lasted exactly one day.

True Story. I was a failure.

Two months later, and with my head screwed on more tightly, I moved out again. This time I landed at a rather bland cookie-cutter apartment building on Capitol Hill called Sahara Manor. Awful, cheesy, tacky place. But the managers were kind, they let me borrow some furniture and use their vacuum cleaner when I needed to. I had no idea grown-ups bought their OWN vacuum cleaners so I just kept asking. They must have thought I was hopeless, but they smiled and let me use theirs.

I figured out how to be an adult at Sahara Manor. I learned to live with what I had. I worked hard. I walked two miles to and from work because I couldn’t afford a car (And damn, that gave me some killer gams!) I lived on cheap bread and pasta. Slowly I made friends in my neighborhood, and was invited for dinners (ohgod, MEAT) and then later, invited friends to my place for crappy but sincere meals. My adult life started in that cheap little vanilla box of an apartment. In retrospect, I LOVED THAT PLACE. I’d tell you all the fun memories of slowly collecting the niceties of life and building friendships away from that damn cult, but that’d be a novel. Maybe someday. (okay, I started it some years ago, It’s 6,000 words on my hard drive. One day that novel may see the light.)

What’s my point? I guess this. Moving out of your parents care isn’t always the exhilarating experience you see portrayed on tv and movies and in novels. It’s more often a clunky experience and nothing is what you really want it to be.

But then again, it is. It’s the gun, and you are the bullet. Being an independent person is freedom, make no mistake about that. Maybe you’re eating spaghetti for the fifth night in a row, but dammit, you’re having it out of a bowl you own, and if you want to soak in a bubble bath while you dine, no one can tell you you can’t. Because it’s your life, and you will make it whatever you need it to be.

My younger relative that’s about to take this step – don’t be scared. Well, you will be, I suppose, but try not to be TOO scared. Know that so many of us have been here, and we DO understand how it feels. Don’t worry about furnishings. You’ll accumulate possessions slowly as time goes on, so don’t sweat it. Try not to run up debts if possible. Focus on your job, getting enough sleep, friendships, good cheap food and remembering the moments. Because in years to come, you WILL remember this stage of your life, and I hope it is with fondness. This is the time when everything changes – it’s when you become YOU!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Life Cycle of a Loaf of Bread

 

Bread Basket
Yummy Fresh Bread

Life Stage One: Fresh bread!
It doesn’t matter what type of bread it is, as long as it’s a loaf you love. Around this house, we always have a loaf of classic soft white bread, perfect for peanut butter and jelly sammiches. But I’m also madly in love with dark, hearty, cracked-grain breads, especially when toasted, buttered and heaped with smooshed avocado. That’s my notion of perfection, but I digress. I also enjoy baking sourdough bread. My method is very similar to this: Sourdough Bread from Potato Flake Starter.

Life Stage One Point Five: Why is my bread blue?
If this is happening, our adventure ends right here, alas. This bread is dead. I don’t recommend eating moldy bread EVER. Toss it out, all of it, immediately. Don’t try to be frugal and cut away the mold, as most likely it’s sent tendrils deep into your loaf. Okay, this is ewwww, so let’s stop talking about mold and move on. Hopefully we’ve avoided the blue death, and can proceed.

Bread Upon Close Examination
Bread Upon Close Examination

Life Stage Two: This bread’s okay, but it’s getting stale.
You can be a brave soldier and endure another few days eating of stale bread, but why? Get yourself a fresh loaf and enjoy! Meanwhile, your stale loaf is ready to be re-born into a wonderful new form. You get the best of both worlds. More fresh bread, AND homemade delicious treats as well. Win/Win. You can buy croutons and stuffing mixes at the grocery store, but think about it. You already paid for your stale bread. Why would you willingly pay again for food made from stale bread when you can easily make these items at home?

Crunchy Croutons
Crunchy Croutons

How To Make Croutons
I linked to some basic instructions, but don’t limit yourself. Be creative. Use herbs you enjoy in any combination you want. Don’t get too fussed at the oil-coating steps. We live in a magical age of spray can oils, and I swear that was invented by a crouton-lover.

 

Banana Bread
Banana Bread Just Before a Sweet Rebirth

Sweet Bonus! You can make dessert croutons if you’re starting with a sweet bread, like apple cinnamon or banana bread. Stale muffins will work too as long as you can cube them, (and if you can’t… oh, let’s experiment with sweet bread crumbs!) Instead of herbs and oil, use butter and toss them with sweet coatings such as white or brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, or whatever you like and bake till at least dry. Bake them all the way to browned if your bread can handle it.

Pop a few dessert croutons on puddings, ice cream,  or straight into your mouth. Make a pile of them on a dessert plate and hit it with a dollop of whipped cream. Yum.

How to Make Stuffing
Here’s a mix and match chart to get you going on your own signature stuffing mix. The chart doesn’t mention using croutons, but you totally can. In fact, I prefer to use croutons instead of mushy bread cubes.

Life Stage Three: I made croutons!  I’m done, right?
Well, maybe. Do you have leftover bits of bread that are too awkward to make into cubes? Is your bread board covered in crumbs from all that slicing?  Want to make that loaf of bread go even further? You can! Here’s How to Make Italian Bread Crumbs. I love adding these (along with an egg for binding and lots of chopped onion for happiness) to ground beef just before forming it into hamburger patties. There’s heaps of uses for herbed bread crumbs. They can be a bit pricey at the store, but again, you already paid for the bread. You’re 90% there already.

Feed The Birds
Feed The Birds

Bonus Afterlife Suggestion 
So you want to be thrifty, but you just can’t be bothered to make croutons or crumbs, not this week, not with that deadline looming and the oven needing cleaning and shouldn’t you be mowing that lawn?  Take a short sanity break, find a park bench, and feed the birds. Again, it’s a Win/Win.

Life Stage Four: Readers Speak Out!
This is a PS to my post. There’s been a flood of bread pudding fans reacting to it on Facebook and Plurk – so let’s GO there. I’ll admit I didn’t grow up on bread pudding, but I’ve enjoyed it on occasion.  Since I’m not the expert here, please share your bread pudding recipes in the comments!

And let’s not forget…. FRENCH TOAST, too!

All Pics from MorgueFile

Mary, Maria, Murray, no, MARK! Wait. Jim.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s cute, Shakespeare… now, can anyone tell what those other names actually are?

Did you just blink and draw a blank? You’re in good company. Let’s say you’re a writer. You’ve just conjured up a skinny teenaged boy with an incredible backstory, anger issues, perfect hair and an allergy to squirrels. That’s all well and good, but what’s his name? There’s nothing like being at a loss for the right name when writing an otherwise meaningful character, and I know for me, the quest for a name has often stopped my writing dead in its tracks.

I’ve browsed nearly every name site on the web at one time or another, and eventually I manage to scrape a name or two out and run back to my manuscripts, but it’s rarely been a fun experience.  And never a social one. Now, that’s all changed . Meet Nameberry! This cheery, interesting, sociable site focuses on choosing baby names, but isn’t your story your baby, too? Next time you get stuck trying to name a talkative grandmother who can’t bake but still lifts weights, give Nameberry a go.Nameberry Logo

(From Nameberry’s ‘About’ page) the What’s a Nameberry? Think of it as a baby name….only juicier, smarter, cooler, better. Nameberry is the site created by experts Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, coauthors of ten groundbreaking books on baby names widely quoted on the subject around the world. Nameberry includes an authoritative 50,000 name database developed over two decades, a daily blog on baby names, unique lists and features , and a vibrant community of expectant parents and name lovers. With two million monthly visitors and ten million page views from every country around the world, the Nameberry family includes a daily email newsletter, a popular shop selling personalized products, an active Facebook group, and a wide Twitter following.

Schroedinger’s Rat Lives!

Helen Sarros works new pneumatic tube system to take cash at the Marshall Field s store. Queen of Mighty Basement Consoie November 26, 1947) Sun-Times files

I wrote the first draft of Down The Tubes in November of 2013, for NaNoWriMo. I had such a great time, too! I loved my concept, utterly and completely. I’ve always been fascinated by pneumatic mail systems and had a great time hauling them into my universe. I felt so very clever, and especially enjoyed launching the adventure by killing a rat.

Now, approaching two years and two drafts later, that initial thrill has worn off, and I’m seeing the manuscript through more critical eyes. Earlier this year, I had distinct plans to have Down The Tubes finished by the end of spring. After wrestling mightily with the first two chapters, I adjusted those expectations to late summer.

rat with cheeseThen it was decided that the rat should live. And that notion led to an entirely new chapter two. Suddenly, chapter one looked awfully boring in comparison. You see where I’m going. My new mantra is, ‘Do you want it fast, or do you want it good?’ Down The Tubes will be ready when it’s ready. I’d like to say by the end of the year, but really, it will be done when its done and I’m not able to predict when that will be right now. I will probably write more short stories about the adventures of various kids in my land of Industralia now and then too, whenever I need a break from the Tubes.

lettersBut the good news is, I still love my concept. Once I get the first three chapters re-hammered out, I think the entire middle section flows well and is filled with interesting people and situations.  Lots of people from many walks of life and a variety of attitudes and priorities.  Due to a letter mix-up with the pneumatic mail service, many of them end up crossing paths,  which creates some unlikely new partnerships and friendships. It’s a big cast of characters, and I like em all. I hope you will too.

And I hope you will be happy that the rat lives, this time.

Olive

A new film project has caught both my eye and my heart. It’s called “Olive”. I’ll be talking more about Olive in the weeks to come, and I hope you’ll stay with me for the full ride! Let me introduce you to the film and some of the people working hard to produce it. There’s a very good chance you will also be charmed by this story of life and hope, against the odds.

I’d like to introduce you to three good people who are helping Olive to thrive.
Aaron MartinezWriter and Director Aaron Martinez
We will be sending $60 Kickstarter supporters a real baby Olive tree to promote environmental awareness and help fund our film.  This was a big priority for me. I am not just making the film, I want the world to be beautiful for my children!
 Cinematographer  Sara Ross-SamkoSara Ross Samko
Fairy tales, hairy tales, children on the run, lovers on the run, runners on the run, rumors of a gun, hitting home, running home, lonely hearts, lonely hunters. Floating weeds, sumptuous flowers, voices in the water, heart music from space, a ring in her ear and a fly in your beer. Ghosties, gullumphs, buffoons, mad monks, kings and punks, jesters and skunks. There isn’t a soul you couldn’t learn to love if you only heard their story, and we all get to meet at the movies.
ProducKitStolention Designer Kit Stolen

To be an Anachronism is to be out of place for the time-period a person, object or idea currently inhabits… Naut is indicative of a profession that involves travel… A Chrononaut would be a ‘Time Traveler’ [Chronon being a unit of time]. As an Anachronism isn’t a substance, or space; one does not travel through it in the physical sense. Therefore Anachronaut is not a literal word. It is an abstract concept that implies a person who makes a journey through that mode of concept and style.

Stay tuned for more news about Olive soon!

Misrembered Quasi Italian Peruvian Salsa

Misremembered SalsaA million years ago, I enjoyed a ‘Peruvian Salsa’ as made by an Italian. Long story. I loved the stuff! I’ve held it in my memory for many years, and never wrote it down till right now.  I’m sure it’s warped a lot being stored in my brain so long. My brain does that to things.

 

(Measurements do not need to be exact. Adjust to your liking.)

1 Cup finely chopped red onion
3 Cloves finely chopped garlic
2 Tbsp oregano (chopped fresh leaves if possible)
1/2 Cup olive oil
1/2 Cup red wine vinegar
1 Lime – juiced
Approx. 1 Tbsp Ground fresh pepper

Combine everything in a container with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerate a few days. Let it warm to room temperature so the olive oil smooths out, and enjoy!

UPDATE! After hearing from the daughter of the one who taught me this recipe, I am corrected. GET THESE PEPPERS.  She says, “Its only red onion, small amount of garlic, toreador chili peppers, a splash of the pepper juice, wine vinegar, and oil but only a little oil. Love this stuff.”

 

 

Who Will Be King, Queen and Chancellor of Fantasy Faire?

(I am sharing this post from the official Fantasy Faire blog, in hopes of getting the word out! )

In the run up to Fantasy Faire, we asked you to select your favourite characters from fantasy to be chosen as King, Queen and Chancellor of Fantasy Faire.

Well, the nominations are in – and your five top selections are ready to move forward to the vote. Let’s find out who they are!

Vote for the King!

FF-KING1-BKWulf FF-KING2-GILGA FF-KING4-HAVELOCK
FF-KING3-LEGOLAS FF-KING5-TYRION

As you’ll see, we have two characters from the Girl Genius universe – the Wulfenbachs, father and son. Will they split the vote and let another candidate in?

From Discworld we have the Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. All powerful and more than a little sinister, will he be the people’s choice?

Lord of the Rings supplies the Elvish candidate for King, Legolas, while our final candidate is Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Fire and Ice / A Game of Thrones. Tyrion is the sole representative of this fantasy element – but with Lannister gold to back him, no-one would rule him out!

Vote for the Queen!

FF-QUEEN3-AGATHA FF-QUEEN4-GALADRIEL FF-QUEEN2-GRANNY
FF-QUEEN5-MALEFICENT FF-QUEEN1-ZANTA

The Queens represent a similar range of fantasy genres – but now we have fairy tales popularised by Disney – or is that the right term for the anti-heroine Maleficient?

From Girl Genius we again have two characters – Agatha Heterodyne and Queen Zantiabraxus. Will they split the steampunk vote?

From Lord of the Rings we have our second Elvish nominee – Galadriel. And last, but definitely not least, we have Granny Weatherwax, that source of common sense and magical skills (not to mention headology) from Lancre in the Discworld.

Vote for the Chancellor!

FF-CHANC4-GENIE FF-CHANC2-GREEBO
FF-CHANC1-KROSP
FF-CHANC3-TREEBRD FF-CHANC5-VONPINN

The Chancellors are drawn from a similarity variety. There’s the Genie from Aladdin (immortalised by the late, great Robin Williams in the Disney movie), and there’s Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s cat from theDiscworld (nursing a secret passion to be ginger).

Once more, there are two Girl Genius characters nominated: this time Krosp (our second cat nomination!) and Vonn Pinn – looking human but really a clank – that world’s robotic forms.

And finally, from the Lord of the Rings, we have the Ent, Treebeard.

Which will you vote for?

You can visit the vendors and place your vote in a special gallery under the waves at Poseidons Abyss.

OR you can pay via Convio.

Read more about how to vote here.

I’m A Contender!

45 of 267 books officially cut in the first round so far in The Great Self-published Fantasy Blog-off – And The Flight To Brassbright is still in the running. Even if the book doesn’t make it to the next level (this is like a playoff series for indie authors), I made it through a round! This makes me so happy. My book was assigned out to Bibliotropic, and I’m really enjoying checking in there to see how it’s going. The blog posts are interesting, thoughtful and educational, all about reading, reviewing and writing. Do check it out (And follow along to see how I do in the next round).

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: Strong Contenders