With My Head In The Clouds

This past week, I finally knuckled down and did something I’ve been meaning to do since…well, since NaNoWriMo last November.

No, not that cloud. At least, I hope my cloud isn’t that dark and stormy looking!

I moved my works in progress (WIPs) to the Cloud.

I still have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, it means I can edit from any computer or device, as long as I have a wi-fi connection.  And it means I have a backup copy that’s not on my hard drive (I had a painfully expensive encounter with data rescue a year ago December, one I’m not anxious to repeat).

On the other hand…there’s that little “as long as I have a wi-fi connection” issue.  Because sometimes, it’s nice to unplug from the Internet and go hide someplace where I’m not connected, and just write.  Better for productivity, too.  No Facebook or Twitter to tempt me away from my work.

I just have to keep reminding myself that I still have the option of saving a copy onto my hard drive, for when I’m going to be off-line.  I’ll need to work out some kind of version control, though.  Because having to reconcile two different versions of a novel, one of which got some of the edits, while the other got the rest, is a pain in the tuchus.  I know, because that’s what I’m doing now with the first book of the Winterbourne series.  (That has nothing to do with cloud storage and everything to do with user error.  Sigh.)

I chose GoogleDrive as my solution, and so far, it seems to be working well.  It’s also free, which fits my budget nicely.  I’ve installed it on my netbook, laptop, and iPad so far, and only had problems synchronizing files between them when I couldn’t get the netbook to connect to the network at work.  (Apparently her wi-fi adapter is too old and slow.)  Installing the GoogleDrive app creates a virtual drive to which you can save documents just as if it was a hard drive or network drive attached to your machine.  It really is simple.

The true test will come in July, when I’m thinking about doing a mini version of NaNoWriMo, to see if I can make some further headway on any of my current WIPs.  My plan is to spruce up my front porch and find a comfy chair to put out there, so I can have a little writing “retreat” for the summer.  I’ve only been meaning to do this for the last three years.  It’s time I got off my tuchus and did something about it.  Right?

But there will be times when I need or want to take my mini-NaNoWriMo on the road.  I find a change of scenery is often helpful.  Fortunately, there are a number of outdoor locations in the Denver area that have wi-fi availability, including the Botanic Gardens and the 16th Street Mall.  So having the ability to store my writing in the cloud and access it from my iPad, which is lighter and easier to carry than the netbook, would be handy.

I’ll let you all know how it goes.

Have you experimented with cloud storage/backups?  What solution(s) did you choose, and why?


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Cooking Gets Creative

Okay, so I also haven’t been very good about posting anything about my cooking adventures.  That’s because I really haven’t had any.  Or rather, the one I was having just wasn’t any fun.

When we moved into our house, one of the first things that happened was that the oven door broke off.  Well, that was less than optimal.  But you know, you can do quite a lot of cooking without an oven.  (We do have plans to replace it, eventually, but we plan to replace the gas model with an electric one, and that will require $$$$ for wiring.  So it hasn’t happened yet.)  I have tabletop roasters, and a couple of toaster ovens.  And we’ve gotten better at cooking pizza on the gas grill.  So not having an oven isn’t horrible.

But when you lose the stove as well, that can be a problem.  And that’s what happened.

Have I ever mentioned that my Beloved Husband can sometimes be hard-headed?  I didn’t realize just how hard-headed until the night I came home from an outing with a friend to find the range hood dangling by its cords over the stove.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I hit my head on it,” came the sheepish reply from the other room.

“Do we need to take you to the ER?”  Because the range hood is old and not light.

“No, I think I’m okay.”

But the range hood obviously wasn’t.  We had plans for the next couple of days, so we found some boxes and propped the hood up so at least it wasn’t dangling.  And I made a foray into sub-zero temperatures in inadequate footgear to stand out by the circuit breaker box and flip switches until we had the power to the thing turned off.

As it turns out, most of the other electrical outlets in the kitchen are on that same circuit.  So no microwave, no crock pot, no rice cooker.

We set up a camp table in the living room, and set up a microwave in there.  And then spent the next couple of months “camping”.  Because first I had the flu.  Then he had it.  Then we both had it again.  And just when I started feeling better, I came down with a nasty bout of norovirus.  And there were other things that needed to be done.  So the range hood didn’t get fixed.  And it didn’t get fixed.

Finally, three weekends ago, we got it put back to rights and turned the power back on in the kitchen.

So now there will be cooking adventures — of a happier sort — once again.  Starting with our annual Steampunk-themed tea party at the Denver Botanic Gardens this weekend.  Pictures and recipes to follow!

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Back In The Saddle Again

I’ve been a bad, bad person.

Not only have I been neglecting my blog, but I haven’t been getting a lot of writing done, either.

I could lie and make up some excuse about how life has been busy (it has, and the City of Aurora, with its draconian yard maintenance rules, hasn’t helped in that respect), and that I’ve been sick a lot (two bouts of flu and one of norovirus, ugh!), and that my netbook has been needing some maintenance (it’s five years old now, and sometimes cranky).

But the truth of the matter is that none of these are the real reason I haven’t been writing much.

No, if I’m being brutally honest, the real reason I haven’t been writing much is because I gifted myself with an inexpensive Android tablet at Christmastime, and then my employer gifted me with an iPad at about the same time, and, well, I’ve been playing games.  A lot of games.

Beloved Husband got an Android tablet, too.  And for a couple of weeks, we obsessively played Tiny Death Star morning, noon, and night.  Oh, there were some short bouts of Angry Birds and Angry Birds Go!  But TDS sucked us in.

Beloved Husband lasted longer than I did.  I got tired of how long it took for anything to happen.  And then I stumbled upon the worse obsession:  Pocket Trains (from the makers of Tiny Death Star).

Evil, evil, time-sucking trains

Evil, evil, time-sucking trains

I don’t recommend either of these games to anyone who is trying to write in their spare time.  Because these games will make sure you don’t have any spare time.  It all just gets sucked away.

In the last couple of weeks, though, I started to notice something.  Little voices, tickling at the back of my head, wondering when I was going to come back and finish writing their stories.  Celia Winterbourne, in particular, has been getting downright insistent.  (Nicholas Fletcher, on the other hand, doesn’t nag.  Oh, no.  He sits and glowers darkly at me from his seat in the corner.)

So I think the time has come.  Time to put down the trains and pick up the keyboard and start writing again.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Writing Thursday: NaNoWriMo, Week 3

This week, I feel obliged to start off with a link to a list the Denver NaNoWriMo group shared on Facebook:  Ten Signs Someone You Know Is Doing National Novel Writing Month.  I have to admit doing at least some of these (though with me, it’d be tea instead of coffee).  And #5, well, I might be guilty of that:  “She can be found on Facebook and Twitter at weird hours of the night and early morning posting things like, “1,837 words in an hour!” and “What’s another word for ‘burnished’?” and “Did Vikings wear bedroom slippers?”

Also, I did just Google “adjusting to blindness in one eye.”  Though my query didn’t include tropical diseases or pirates.

So things are going along swimmingly.  Word count goal for today is 35,000, and I’m currently at 39,958.  Almost three entire days ahead of schedule.  The NaNo website says I’ve been averaging 1,900 words a day.  Not bad.

Story-wise, I’m also kind of pleased.  I have a tendency, in my stories, to land my main character(s) in a world of hurt, only to come along a chapter later and make everything all better for them.  So this time, when the story offered me an opportunity to heap more misery onto my beleaguered young wizard, I made a concerted effort not to tidy everything up for her.  Which means she’s now got to deal with both a minor disability (sharp minds will note the topic I Googled, above) and a renegade wizard with a major grudge who’s out to get her.  And he’s already killed once in order to evade the authorities…

I had originally planned to remove the renegade wizard from the story, once he’d done his small bit to further the plot (which was to allow my young wizard to reveal/discover that she has the ability to sense when other wizards are casting spells on her).  But looking at the outline for the rest of the story, I realized there was a bit that comes later where I would require an apparent villain who was actually a front for the true villain…and this particular renegade wizard would fit the bill perfectly.  Not to mention giving my poor main character yet another thing to worry about as she goes about her daily business.  He’ll be a bit tricky to write, since his wizarding talent is the ability to cast spells that keep other people from seeing him.

Of course, the story has now topped 100,000 words, and I’m about a third of the way through my outline. {facepalm}  This story’s definitely going to have a theatrical version and a director’s cut!  You’ll just need a small U-Haul to carry the director’s cut around with you. {sigh}  Obviously, I need to add a second middle initial, then contact HBO regarding television rights…

Okay, time for me to toddle off to bed.  Good night, everyone.  Hope you’re all having as good a November as I am!

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Writing Thursday (on a Tuesday): NaNoWriMo Week 2 (just a little late)


I really meant to post last Thursday. Really, I did. But, you know, life hap–

Okay. I’ll be honest. Sometimes life doesn’t just “happen”. Sometimes you do it to yourself. So since I’m, being honest, the real reason I didn’t post last week was because I distracted myself with a new gadget. A tablet computer, to be exact. A really, really basic (and inexpensive) one. But still a lot of fun to play with. (Specs here if anyone’s interested.)

And I’ve been pretty good about at least getting in my 1,667 words/day before I let myself go play. Yes, I could have been using that time to build up more of a cushion. Sometimes, though, we’re all still kids at heart. And play is good for the soul–and the creative juices–right?

Distractions aside, I’ve been doing pretty well with my daily word count. As of last Thursday, when I should have posted, I needed 23,338 words in order to be on a pace to finish by November 30. I actually had 24,427, and I’ve widened the gap a bit more since then. Granted, I’ve had a few days when I haven’t been able to make my minimum word count, for one reason or another. Two Sundays ago, we attended an awesome wedding up near Estes Park, which is about two and a half hours away, each way. It was a beautiful drive (though a bit sad, when we passed through areas devastated by the flooding back in September), and a simple but heartfelt ceremony, followed by a nicely laid-back dinner and reception. But it did mean that word production–other than a short burst on the first part of the drive up–didn’t happen that day. But on days when I can, I’ve been trying to get just a little more than the bare minimum, so I have a bit of a cushion. For those days, when, you know, life happens.

Story-wise, the words are rolling along. I’m a bit alarmed by the fact that the story is now well over 80,000 words and my young wizard hasn’t even reached the first day of wizard school. (I know, yikes!) I spent about 20,000 words just describing a simple shopping expedition to get her properly outfitted–and to have a crucial encounter in the marketplace. It includes a lot of detail that I, as the author, need to know–what different fabrics are called, how money works, how bath houses work, a fairly detailed description of The Big City, and some character building for a secondary character–but which would probably put the reader to sleep. A lot of that will be trimmed down or edited out later, so I’m not as alarmed as I could be. (If I’d done proper NaNo prep, this is all stuff I’d have written in advance, so as to be better able to concentrate on the story now. Oh well.)

But the thing that pleases me most is that I’m finally, once again, finding the joy in writing. I’m not having to chip words out of my head with a pickaxe. I’m not staring at the screen wondering how to resolve a scene. I’m putting my hands on the keyboard and words are flowing out in all their repetitive, overblown, exuberant glory. Inner Editor has finally been kicked to the curb, and instead of fussing over whether I’ve chosen exactly the right word, or straining to find a more succinct way to say something, I’m connecting with my characters and their world. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and tasting and smelling, and what they’re going to do next. I’m in their heads, and they’re in mine. So what if I’m using twice as many words as I need to describe it all? I can always edit later. For now, I’m just letting the words flow. And it feels good. Damn good.

Because, this. This is why I write.

{looks around}
{realizes audience is staring as though I’ve lost all marbles}
{sheepishly steps down from podium}

Ahem. So. How goes everyone else’s November?

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Writing Thursday: NaNoWriMo, Week 1

Well, week 1 of NaNoWriMo has passed.  And I’ve made good progress; at the end of the first week, in order to keep on target, I should have written 11,669 words (that’s 1,667/day times seven days).  I’ve actually written 12,748, and I might squeeze in a few more before I go to sleep.  So I’m a little ahead of the game, which is good, because sometimes unexpected things come up.  Having a cushion can really save your backside in those situations (yes, pun intended).

In many ways, continuing a Work-In-Progress is a lot easier than starting a new story from scratch.  For one thing, since I spent all of last NaNoWriMo struggling to define this character and her voice, I can now just sit down at the keyboard and let her take over.  Or at least I try to; I have a tendency to be wordy, and she wants to be a touch more terse.  I keep trying to tell her that terse doesn’t build the word count, and we can edit later.  She conceded the point, but I can feel her glaring at me.

In some ways though, I’m finding it a little more difficult.  For starters, I keep having to go back and see how I worded something before, and which terms I used for things, and where certain scenes took place.  Plus, I’ve introduced some inconsistencies–for instance, I gave my main character an interesting faith to follow, one that involves extreme bodily modesty.  So when she’s out in public, she’ll want to have her head covered.  She won’t wear low-cut bodices or short sleeves or skirts that might show {gasp!} her ankles.  Of course, I now want to go back and edit out earlier references to her head not being covered or her neckline being too low, but I’m forcing myself to wait until next month to do that.  I figure by then, the beliefs will have penetrated her character thoroughly enough that the inconsistencies will stick out like sore thumbs (as my dad used to say).

As far as my pre-NaNo goals, I achieved most of them.  I did get my second computer monitor installed.  I did get my desk tidied, at least a bit.  And while I didn’t get them finished, I did at least get started on my maps.  Unfortunately, they’re on another computer at the moment.  So I guess I’ll save them for next week’s post.  Unless I decide to do a bonus posting over the weekend.

The other thing I did was to acquire a new writing buddy.  My Beloved Husband and I went to the Denver Zoo last weekend, and this little guy followed me home:

WriMo the Rhino

This is WriMo the Rhino, and he’s here to help me pile up the word count–and stomp out occasional fires [1].  (And as an added bonus, you can see my sorta-tidy desk and my second monitor in the background.)

So that’s how my NaNoWriMo is going.  Is anyone else out there taking part in this craziness?  If so, drop me a comment and let me know how your month is going!


[1] This is a reference to “The Gods Must Be Crazy”, a cute, quirky little film in which a rhino plays a minor part.  If you haven’t seen it, you really should.

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Writing Thursday: NaNo Is Coming…

Okay, so unless you’re brand-new around here, you know that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which I and millions of other people across the country endeavor to prove ourselves certifiably insane by attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days.

And you’ll know that I’ve previously participated in six NaNoWriMos, and that I’ve reached the 50,000 word finish line, er, six times.  With four novels that were later completed, and two more that are “in progress.”

The problem is that the two that are “in progress” haven’t been making a lot of “progress” lately.  So I’m seriously considering turning this year’s NaNoWriMo into a NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month).

I’m pretty sure I can write at least 50K more words on either story.  And at the moment, I’m leaning kind of heavily toward spending my November adding to the word count on last year’s wizard story.  So as long as I can convince myself that it isn’t really cheating, that’s probably where I’ll go.

I’ve posted previously about NaNo prep (here and here, among others), and there are plenty of other people who have good and useful advice about how to properly prepare for a month of insanity (like Kronda Seibert, for example).

So instead of going over all of that again, I’m going to share my “to do” list of things I’d like to get done before November 1:

  • Make Maps:  This story takes place in a fantasy realm.  Which doesn’t automatically mean I need to include maps in the final product, but making some to help me keep my own head straight would certainly be helpful.  As I see it, I need a number of maps:  One of the “entire world” (at least a rough sketch), one of the “near world” (my protagonist’s country, the neighboring country–both islands–and “the continent”.  And no, they’re not England and Ireland in disguise).  Then one of just the protagonist’s country, with a fair amount of detail (like roads, rivers, towns, etc.).  And then I need one of the capital city (Tayendia), and of the wizard’s school (Balincove).  I might also need a floor plan of the protagonist’s rooming house.  My plan was to try to find some kind of freeware mapping tool, but I haven’t had much luck with that.  So I may be toting a sketch book off to Mile Hi Con this weekend and doing a little doodling between panels.
  • Review Outline:  Yes, you read that right.  I’ve actually got the entire book outlined–at least roughly.  Some details will certainly change.  I’ll probably re-order some events.  But I actually know where this story is headed, for once.  We’ll see how that affects the writing process and the outcome.
  • Adjust Attitude:  I need to start swapping my brain from Edit Head to Writer Head.  Because Inner Editor is a very pushy bitch and tries to horn in when she shouldn’t.  Perhaps I’ll make myself some reminder signs, like “Write Now, Edit Later” and “ALL First Drafts Suck”.
  • Gather Research Materials:  My protagonist is–or was, before she got picked to go to wizard’s school–the cook at a country inn.  Now that she’s in the Big City, she’s going to earn money for books, supplies, tuition, and clothing by getting a job at a restaurant.  But she’s in for a few surprises.  For starters, the country-style cooking she’s used to back home (based heavily on medieval and Renaissance foodways) is far too old-fashioned to fly in the City.  Not only that, but she now has access to types of fish and seafood she’s never even imagined.  So I need to scan my post-Renaissance cookbooks for some seafood dishes she can make or adapt.
  • Manage Infrastructure:  For starters, I need to clean my desk.  Which means clearing it off as well as dusting it.  Then I need to get my second monitor installed, and do a few other hardware chores (like swapping the DVD drives between my computers, since my old one actually has a better one than my “new” one).
  • Connect With NaNo Community:  I still haven’t registered on this year’s NaNoWriMo website.  (My handle there will be arwensouth, as in previous years.)  And I need to verify when my local write-ins will be happening.
  • And finally, Update Playlist:  I put together a pretty good playlist last year.  I just need to dust it off and fine tune it a bit.  Because picking just the right music for writing is a tricky business.

So is anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year?  If you are, what preparations are you making?

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Dragon Friday #18

(Sorry.  A little late this week.  Stuff happened.  Y’know.)

The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2013 Sheila McClune
Part 18

Lucinda pulled up outside Maddie’s apartment building and switched off her car. Maddie’s windows were dark, but that didn’t mean anything–the living room was on the other side of the two-story building, and if Maddie was kicking back after a stressful day, that’s where she’d probably be.

Except…her car wasn’t in the parking lot. That wasn’t a good sign

Lucinda pulled her laptop and suitcase out of the back of her car, then climbed the stairs to the apartment door. She knocked first, but when there was no answer, she let herself in and switched on the light. “Maddie? You here?”

“Rew?” A long-haired calico cat padded out of one of the bedroom doors and came over to rub up against Lucinda’s legs.

“Hallo, Paisley.” Lucinda set down her bags and crouched to stroke the cat’s silky fur.

Instantly, the cat began to purr, butting her head against Lucinda’s knee, then curling back around so Lucinda could stroke her again. “Rew?”

Laughing, Lucinda complied. “You never did learn to meow properly, did you, cat? It’s “meow”. C’mon. Repeat after me: Meow.”




Lucinda snorted. “Fine. I give up.” Giving the cat one last stroke, she stood and looked around. Maddie’s keys weren’t on the hook near the door. Another bad sign.

“Rew.” Paisley head-butted Lucinda’s leg, then stalked pointedly over to her empty food dish. “Rew?”

Lucinda followed the cat into the kitchen. “Guess that means Maddie’s really not here. Either that, or you’ve just figured out how to trick me into giving you a second supper.” She opened a cupboard and squinted at the stack of small cans.

Paisley stropped herself against Lucinda’s legs with renewed vigor. “Rew? Rew? Rew?”

“Either you really are hungry, or you’re the best method actor I ever saw. ‘Cause if I didn’t know better, I’d say you hadn’t been fed in weeks. Maybe even months.” She sorted through the cans. “So what’ll it be? Grilled salmon and cheddar cheese? Ocean whitefish and tuna? Turkey and giblets pate? Damn, cat, you eat better than I do.”

“Rew! Rew! Rew!”

“All right, all right. Pate it is.” Lucinda popped the lid emptied the can into the cat’s dish. Or at least she tried to, but Paisley thrust her head between the can and the dish, and she nearly dumped the food on the cat’s head instead. “Hey, you gotta let me put it in the dish first.” Pushing the cat aside, she finished emptying the can. “There.”

Purring madly, the cat began to wolf down the food.

“At least you’re easy to cook for. And you have better table manners than some of my roommates.” Lucinda tossed the empty can into the garbage and started toward the sink to wash her hands.

The sound of a ringing phone interrupted her. “Holy crap. Maddie still has a land line?” She located the phone on a table beside a stack of mail and debated whether or not to answer it. After all, it could be Maddie, checking to see if she’d gotten into the apartment okay. But why wouldn’t Maddie call her cell phone?

While Lucinda debated, the answering machine picked up. “Hi, this is Maddie. I can’t talk right now. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back.” The message finished with an emphatic beep.

“Maddie?” Lucinda didn’t recognize the man’s voice. “Maddie, it’s Paul. If you’re there, please pick up. I’ve been trying to call your cell phone for over an hour, and it just goes straight to voice mail. I stayed up waiting for you to text me when your plane was ready to take off, but you never did, and then I saw the news on the television, about the thing at the airport there, and I started to get really worried—”

Lucinda snatched up the phone. “Hello?”


“No, this is her sister, Lucinda. I’m house-sitting for her.”

“Oh.” Lucinda could practically hear the man’s shoulders sag even over the phone. “So have you heard from her?”

“No. Her boss tells me she sent her off to the airport at about nine o’clock. And she can’t reach her either.” Lucinda’s knees suddenly went wobbly. Fortunately, the phone cord was long enough to reach the nearest armchair. “Say, are you that guy she was going to Boston to meet?”

“She told you about me?”

“Not in so many words. But I put two and two together.”

“I see. Well, yes. I’m Paul. Paul Rogers.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise. So how do we get in touch with your sister?”

Lucinda sighed. “I wish I knew. I wonder why her phone’s turned off?”

“What if it’s not turned off? What if it’s broken? I mean, if she was on that train when the tunnel collapsed, her phone might have gotten smashed. Then it would go straight to voice mail. Wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose.” Lucinda didn’t want to think about that. If Maddie’s phone had gotten smashed, Maddie might have, too. “I don’t know how we tell the difference.”

“Me either.” The man sighed. “Look, surely there’s something you can do from your end. I mean, can’t you drive out to the airport and look for her?”

“I doubt it. They said the airport was closed. If I try to go out there, they’ll probably just arrest me. Hell, they’ll practically arrest you if you take too long getting out of your car at the drop-off.” Lucinda reached over and grabbed the TV remote from the coffee table. She switched on the set, then hit the “mute” button. “I’ve turned on the TV. Maybe one of the local stations has a number you can call for information.”

“Or maybe it’s on their website. Hey, that’s a thought.” Lucinda heard clicking noises. “Here it is. Got a pen?”

“Hang on.” Lucinda fished around in her purse for a pen and grabbed an envelope from the pile of Maddie’s mail. “Okay.”

Paul read off the number. “After you call them, will you call me back right away and tell me what they said?”

“I’ll need your number, too. Oh, and Maddie’s flight information, if you’ve got it.”

“I do.”

Lucinda scribbled more numbers. “All right. I’ll let you know what I hear.”

“Thanks. I’ll stay up until I hear from you.”

Lucinda settled more deeply into the armchair and dialed the information number. “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and we’ll answer your call in the order it was received. Thank you.”

“Argh!” She studied the phone until she found the “speaker mode” button. Then, keeping an ear open, she hauled her suitcase into the spare bedroom and pulled out her pajamas. Not that she expected she’d get to use them anytime soon.

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Writing Thursday: Advice for Aspiring/Perspiring Writers #3: Supernatural Forces Do Not Govern Your Writing

Since I seem to be on a roll with advice for aspiring/perspiring[1] writers, here’s my third entry, and I’ll admit up front that this one may be controversial:

Supernatural forces do not govern your writing.

So here’s the deal:  Yes, some days, it’s easier to get the words to come out of your head and onto the paper/computer screen than others.  Some days, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’d be easier to pull out all of my own teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than to write even a few words.

And when that happens, it’s easy to blame it on forces beyond my control.  “I really wanted to write today, but my muse just wouldn’t come.”  Or:  “Dang.  I’ve got writer’s block really bad today.  Can’t do anything until I break through that.”

Yeah.  Okay.  But if you’re being really honest with yourself…isn’t the real reason something far more mundane?

Could it be that you’re really just more focused on that big presentation you have to give at work tomorrow?  Or maybe you’re worried about that funny noise your car was making on the way home, or the note your kid’s teacher sent home, or your mother-in-law’s impending visit.

In other words, you’re distracted.

Let’s face it:  very few of us are independently wealthy and able to focus full-time on our writing with few or no distractions.  And you know what?  Sometimes Real Life is going to get in the way.  Sometimes you’re going to have to spend the evening mending your daughter’s jeans, or cleaning up cat gack from the living room carpet, or rehearsing that big presentation one last time, instead of curling up with your laptop and your latest WIP[2].  And that’s okay.  Really.

Other times (as happened to me this past weekend), the day’s tasks are just going to leave you too dead-dog tired to even think straight.  When that happens, just admit it and retire early.  No need to blame your lack of writing production on an absent muse, or an imaginary brick wall.  It’s all right.  The Writing Police are not going to materialize from your ethernet port and arrest you for being human.

The other thing that can happen–at least for me–is that I just plain don’t know where the story should go next.  I stare at the last bit I’ve written, and I simply can’t tell where the next scene should start.

Part of the problem, I know, is that I tend to be more of a pantser (someone who unravels her plot “by the seat of her pants” as she goes along) than a plotter (someone who constructs outlines for her stories, or at least has an idea of the overall plot of the story).  I always have a starting point, and I often know where/how the story should end, but the path joining the two is usually murky at best.

Lately, when that’s happened, I’ve had to bite the bullet, sit down, and at least write a rudimentary outline.  I don’t always follow it, and it often shifts around along the way.  But when I feel as though I’m stuck, sometimes looking at the outline helps me figure out where to go next.

Other times, I’ll be in the middle of a scene and I don’t know what a character should say or do next.  Or I have them say or do something, and it just feels…wrong.  Usually that’s because I don’t know the character well enough.  If I take a little time and either write up a character sketch, compile the character’s background and motivations, or “interview” the character, that helps to point me in the right direction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means.  But what it comes down to is that when the words just won’t come, there’s usually a good, down-to-earth reason for it.  If it helps to call that reason “writer’s block” or “muse failure,” once again, the Writing Police aren’t going to write you a ticket for it.  But it might be worth checking to see if the real reason for your “writer’s block” is something within your control, rather than beyond it.


[1] The “perspiring” part seems particularly appropriate here today–it’s the first week of September, and we’re still suffering through high temperatures in the upper 90’s (F).  Aren’t things supposed to be cooling off now?

[2] Work In Progress.

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Writing Thursday: Advice to Aspiring/Perspiring Writers #2: Writers Write

Okay, since I sort of started down this path last week, when I talked about the fact that first drafts suck, I got to thinking about some other advice I’d give to someone who wants to write fiction.

And I decided that the second most important piece of advice that I wished someone had given me years ago is this:

Writers write.

I know.  It almost seems simple enough to be stupid.  But you’d be amazed at how many people out there say they want to write.  They’ve got a great story they’re just bursting to tell.  And they’ll get right to it…right after this week’s episode of America’s Next Big Fake Media Star, or the campaign they’re running in WoW, or one last check of Facebook after supper.

And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have other hobbies, because you should.  Especially the kind that feed your creative spirit and set your mind free to explore new possibilities.  Nor am I saying that you should neglect family, friends, job, or basic household chores.

But if you really want to call yourself a writer, you have to write.  And the best way to do that is to try to get into the habit of writing on a regular schedule.  Whether it’s every day, or every other day, or once a week on Sundays, if you’re going to write, establish a schedule and try to stick with it.  I usually find that I can squeeze in (or squeeze out, depending on the kind of day I’m having) about twenty minutes in the morning before work, and twenty minutes before bed at night.  That’s not a lot of time.  But, as it turns out, it’s enough to let me eke out between three and five hundred words a day.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it?  But 300 words times 360 days (giving myself a few off for holidays) is over 100,000 words.  More than enough to produce a big, meaty novel every year.  That’s nothing to sneeze at.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always take this piece of very good advice, though.  For whatever reason, I find it difficult to be productive, writing-wise, in the summertime.  Too many distractions, I guess.

But one thing that’s been helping me this summer is that my friend Kristin put together a little band of writers whose goal is to write at least 250 words a day.  Every day, members post to the group about their writing progress (or lack thereof).  It’s not a critique group; rather, it’s more of a support group and cheerleading squad.  I’ve found it very helpful as far as prodding me to make at least a little forward progress on my current writing projects.  Even though some days it’s not easy!

But what it all boils down to is that words don’t just fall out of the sky and land on your computer screen.  You have to make them happen.  And if you choose to do that, on whatever schedule works best for you, then you’re a writer.

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Dragon Friday #17

Okay, since it’s been a while–a long while–since I did one of these, a few words of introduction are probably in order.

Once upon a time, I decided to write a story in weekly installments and post it here, more-or-less live.  It went along pretty well for a while, but then Life Happened and I kinda got out of the habit.

So this is me trying to get back into the habit.  But since it’s been so long, and I know I’ve picked up a number of new readers/followers in the interim, a bit of a refresher is probably in order.  You can access past entries via this link, or by clicking on the “Dragon Friday” button on the menu above.  They’re fairly short, quick entries, averaging around 750 words apiece.

Once you’ve caught up, here’s the latest, hot-off-the-wordpress installment:


The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2013 Sheila McClune
Part 17

Over at the bar, the manager–his name tag said, “Drew”–poked a forefinger at the register’s computer screen. He scowled. “I see two charges on your card here. This one,” he held up Lucinda’s ticket, “and another one for…seven dollars and eighty-five cents more.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.” Lucinda took a deep breath. The manager didn’t deserve the full brunt of her anger. He was trying to fix things, after all. “I only had a burger, a side salad, and two house margaritas.”

Drew nodded. “Got it.” He prodded the screen again. A few seconds later, a charge slip spat out of the printer beside the register. “Okay. Here’s the slip showing the cancelled charge.” A second slip emerged. “And this one shows I’m comping your drinks, for your trouble.”

Lucinda blinked. She hadn’t expected that. “Oh. Thank you.” She took the second slip, marked an emphatic zero on the tip line, and totaled and signed it.

Drew took the slip back and raised an eyebrow. “So your service wasn’t great tonight?” A grin teased the corner of his mouth.

“Well, let’s see.” Lucinda peeked at her cell phone. “It’s what, almost eleven now? I’ve been here since eight-thirty. Plenty of time for more than two drinks, don’t you think?”

“I’m really sorry about that. For what it’s worth, Dee Dee’s going to be looking for a new job about five minutes after you leave.”

“Thanks for that, at least.” She slid her charge slip into her purse and started to turn away.

“Say, wait a minute. Let me give you a couple of gift cards for the next time you come in.”

“You don’t need to do that. Really.”

“But I want to. Wait here just a sec, let me run back to the office to grab them.” Flashing her a grin, Drew ducked down the short hallway that led to the restrooms, the back door, and–presumably–the office.

Lucinda let her attention wander back to the television screens over the bar, then did a double-take. The three that had been showing sports recaps had all switched over to news reports–all showing reporters with DIA’s distinctive roofline in the background.

Unfortunately, the sound was turned down on all of the sets. She was just scanning the counter beside the cash register in hopes of finding one of the remotes when Drew returned.

“What’s up?”

“Something must’ve happened out at the airport.” She gestured toward the televisions.

Drew pulled a remote out of a drawer beneath the cash register and pointed it at the nearest television.

“…don’t have a final word as to what caused the collapse, or whether there are any injuries or fatalities. We’ve seen a number of emergency vehicles go by, including several ambulances. In the meantime, the airport is officially closed pending an investigation of the tunnel collapse, with flights being diverted to Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, and Cheyenne.”

The screen split to show a news anchor sitting behind a desk. A frown creased his immaculately groomed brow. “And how long ago did the collapse happen, Brenda?”

The newswoman hunched her shoulders and covered her ear for a moment. Then she straightened up and pinned her steely gaze back on the camera. “Just after ten this evening, Ed. At least, that’s what we’ve heard from passengers who were evacuated from the B and C concourses by bus. They were stranded in the remote concourses when train service stopped.”

“And do we have any idea how many people might have been on board the train involved in the collapse?”

Brenda shook her head. “No, though I’m told there were only a handful of flights left to go out tonight, and that there probably weren’t many passengers on board the train.”

“Thanks, Brenda. We’ll check back in with you in a few minutes.”

The picture shifted to show just the news anchor. “And if you’re just tuning in, one of the train tunnels out at DIA appears to have collapsed this evening, and that at least one train was operating in the tunnel when it collapsed. We’ve not received any word of the cause of the collapse, though authorities don’t suspect terrorist activity at this time.”

Drew hit another button, and the word “MUTE” flashed on the television screen. “Huh. I always thought those trains were a bad idea.”

Lucinda pulled her phone back out. “My sister was supposed to be flying out to Boston today. I hope she wasn’t involved. Though I think her flight was supposed to have been earlier.” She punched in Maddie’s number and hit “send.”

The call went straight to voice mail. Lucinda waited for the beep. “Hi, Maddie. You’re probably asleep or something right now, since you’re two hours ahead of here, but when you get this message, can you please call me? I just saw the news reports about the train thing out at DIA, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay. Thanks. Talk to you later.

“Didn’t answer?” Drew leaned forward, elbows on the bar.

“No. But if she’s still in the air, her phone would be turned off, wouldn’t it?” Lucinda bit her lip. “I’d better get going.”

Drew might have said something to her as she left, but she was too distracted to notice. Yeah, the odds were thousands to one against Maddie being at the airport at just the right time to have been caught in the tunnel collapse. But she hadn’t answered her phone, and that was unusual for her.

Lucinda didn’t even make it all the way to her car before her phone rang. She snatched it out of her purse and hit the answer button without even looking at the caller information. It had to be Maddie, didn’t it? Who else would call at this hour? “Hello?”

“Is this Lucinda Anderson?” a woman’s voice asked.

A chill ran down Lucinda’s spine. “Yes, it is. This is about Maddie, isn’t it? Is she…is she dead?”

“God, I hope not. This is Teri Sardachowski. I’m Maddie’s supervisor. She has you listed as her emergency contact.”

“Oh.” Lucinda reached her hatchback, clicked the button to unlock it. “So is this an emergency?”

“As I said, I hope not. Have you been able to reach Maddie at all?”

Lucinda plopped into the driver’s seat. “No. Have you?”

“No, and that’s why I called. You see, we had a big project we had to finish up today, so I changed Maddie to a later flight, and….”

“Oh. My. God. And you think she might have been involved in that thing out at the airport?”

“I really hope not. But her flight was scheduled to leave just after eleven, and I put her in a car to the airport at about nine o’clock, so chances are good she was there when it happened.”

“And now she’s not answering her phone.”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“There could be lots of explanations for that, though, couldn’t there?” Lucinda pulled her legs into the car and closed the door, pushing the button to lock it. That small action made her feel a tiny bit better. “I mean, if I know Mads, she’s probably just run her battery down, or lost her phone, or something. She’ll figure it out pretty soon and find a way to call us. Or maybe she caught a cab and is already back at her apartment. I’m on my way there now.”

“I hope that’s it. Can you do me a favor and call me back at this number, either way?”

“Sure thing. Right after I finish yelling at her for making us worry.”


Lucinda cut the connection and started the car, turning the heater on full. But before she pulled out of her parking space, the forced herself to take several deep breaths. Maddie would be at her apartment. She had to be.

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Writing Thursday: Contest Results and Writing Advice

Hi, everyone!

Yeah, I know.  I haven’t blogged about writing in a while.  Frankly, while I’ve still been writing, I haven’t had a lot going on that I considered blog-worthy.

This week, that changed.

A couple of months ago, I decided to enter the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ “Colorado Gold” contest, and this week I received my feedback from my two judges.

It’s the first time I’ve entered a contest at this level, but I think it’s been a good experience for me.  Before I entered, I tried my best to make sure my expectations were realistic, and it turns out they were–I didn’t make the finals, but I did get some encouraging feedback, and some respectable scores.  Both of my judges marked me well on craft and format, and one pointed out that the story in general, and the beginning of it in particular, could use more tension.  Which I kinda suspected, but having outside confirmation feels good.  And the other judge paid me the compliment of telling me that if she was an agent, she’d definitely ask to see more pages.  That felt really good.

This week, they also published their list of finalists, and I was pleased to see a friend of mine on it.  (Terry Kroenung, for “Paragon of the Eccentric.”  He read a scene from the story at MileHiCon and it was hysterical.)  Good luck, Terry!


In other news, a friend of mine has decided to try her hand at writing fiction, and asked me for advice.

The first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “First drafts always suck.”

And really, that’s arguably the best advice anyone can give a new writer.  For people who have never actually sat down in front of a computer screen or a blank piece of paper and tried to compose a work of fiction, the revelation that perfect prose does not fall freely and automatically from one’s fingertips often comes as a shock.  I’ve heard many people talk about how discouraged they became when they discovered that editing might consist of more than just cleaning up spelling and punctuation errors.  Even worse, they might have to go back and edit the same piece…more than once! {gasp!}

Well, yeah.  The reality of it is that even though you might have gotten all As in your high school English classes, and you know how to compose sentences and even paragraphs that are grammatically correct…you’ve probably never learned how to go about writing a piece of fiction.  Oh, you might’ve gone over the basics of a story arc in your eighth grade composition class.  You might have gotten lucky and had a semester of creative writing.  You might even be a competent and experienced non-fiction writer.  But none of those things will teach you everything you need to know to become a writer.

So, yeah.  The chances are very, very good that your first draft won’t be very good, especially when you’re just starting out.  (Even later on, when you’ve learned more about the process–and practiced it more–your first drafts will still suck.  They’ll just suck in different ways.)  Things like pacing and character development are hard to gauge while you’re in the thick of writing.  And whether you’re a pantser[1] or a plotter, you’ll sometimes still find your plot or characters taking unanticipated turns, ones that need to be smoothed out later.

The point of all of this is to say that it’s okay if your first draft isn’t quite Pulitzer-worthy.  It’s even okay if your second, third, and fourth ones aren’t.  The key is not to get discouraged.  Keep plugging away at it.  Trim a few excess words here.  Beef up a conflict there.  Slay a few darlings[2].  Skim off those excess dialogue tags.  Polish that rough diamond until it sparkles.

But in the meantime…give yourself permission to let that first draft suck.


[1] someone who approaches a writing project without a real plan or outline; someone who writes by the seat of his/her pants.

[2] bits of writing that you really, really adore…but which don’t do anything to further the plot or develop the characters.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Blog Housekeeping

Okay, so I’ve finally gotten my blog and my domain name and my e-mail account to all be on the same page together.  Yay!

So sheilamcclune.com should bring you here, and e-mails to sheila(at)sheilamcclune(dot)com should reach me.

I’ve only been trying to do this for a year.  I could get the domain name and the blog to talk to each other.  Or I could get the domain name and the e-mail to talk to each other.  But I couldn’t have both at once.

But I have it working now.  Yay!

Just don’t ask me what I did now that’s different from what I’ve been doing, because I don’t have the foggiest.  And that might cause me to whimper.

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Recipe Wednesday: Blasts From The Past

I’ve got some new cooking adventures to tell you about (including the easiest curry you’ll ever make), but Beloved Husband and I keep eating all the evidence before I can remember to take pictures of it.  So that’ll have to wait until a less hungry week, I guess.

Meanwhile, the two of us have embarked on a new project.

It started when I acquired a metric boatload of e-book versions of historical cookbooks for free via the interwebs.  (That’ll be a separate entry later, I think.)  Anyway, I was organizing them, and being totally gleeful about obtaining a copy of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook (which I have in hardcopy, but it’s stored away in a box at the moment).  My glee only lasted until I opened up the e-book…and discovered that it had been processed via OCR (Optical Character Recognition)–and that not only had the people who’d posted the book on the interwebs not bothered to clean up some of the typos, but every single fraction in the book had scanned as gobbledygook (yes, that’s a technical term, I’m quite sure).

And, since almost every recipe uses fractions in the ingredients list…it meant that the book was all but useless.

Well, nuts.

So I went back out onto the interwebs.  And I found a couple of sites that had better versions, but not as downloads–you have to be connected to the internet to access them.  I want a copy I can store on my netbook and have handy even when I’m someplace where there’s no wireless (like my in-laws’ house, for example).

A bit more poking finally yielded a scanned version of the book where the scans had been saved as whole-page images, rather than having been OCR’d.  Which works fine as far as addressing the fractions issue…but when I want to look up a specific recipe, I can’t do a search on the title, or on an ingredient.

So what I decided to do in the end was to use the whole-page version to correct the fractions on the e-book version.  I discovered a program called Sigil, which essentially allows you to open up an e-book file and tinker around under the hood.  It’s actually pretty cool…and I’m planning to use it to edit a few e-books I’ve downloaded that had typos in them.

But…when I sat down to work in earnest, I discovered two things:

One, flipping back and forth between the two versions of the book was giving me motion sickness.  And there’s no question of just keeping both apps open side-by-side on my trusty netbook’s tiny screen.  (Now if I could haul my two mega-monitors home from work, I’d be a happy camper.  But alas, I can’t.)

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I came up with a solution:  I asked Beloved Husband for help.  So now, once a week or so, we sit down with our two computers, and he reads to me from the page-image version, and I make changes to the e-book version.

Of course, we hadn’t been at this long when we discovered a major problem:  The page-image version was from the 1898 edition of the book, and the e-book version is from the 1918 edition.  A surprising amount stayed the same in those twenty years, but there are enough changes to keep us on our toes.

We’ve been at it for a little over a month now, and we’re through the chapters on soups  (Soups With Stock and Soups Without Stock are two separate categories, by the way, with subcategories within each.  Who knew?)

So far, the worst-sounding recipe we’ve found is for mock turtle soup, where you use a calf’s head instead of turtle.  I was okay with it until I reached the part where the instructions tell you to cut off the face  and dice it.  Something about dicing a calf’s face just squicked me out. {shudder}  I’m sure there are folks who would consider it a delicacy.  Well, they can have my portion.  And Beloved Husband’s, too.

As we continue our journey through Fannie Farmer, I’ll post some other notes and observations.  And of course, once I have a corrected version of the e-book, I’ll find some way to make that available to people.

But that’s what we’ve been up to.

What sorts of cooking projects are other folks working on?

Posted in Cookery | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Recipe Wednesday: If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Not every recipe I try comes out perfectly the first time.

Case in point:  Last week, after our shopping expedition to the oriental market (see last week’s entry), we decided to take the plunge and try making Hot and Sour Soup, one of our favorite dishes.  We’d found a couple of recipes we could reference, and we stocked up on the ingredients we’d need.

Then we looked at the recipes and decided on what changes we wanted to make.  I’ve developed a sensitivity to mushrooms (sadly).  So we crossed those off the list.  Beloved Husband isn’t a fan of things like mung beans or bamboo shoots.  So off those went, too.

Which left us with pork, egg, and tofu.  Not a very colorful soup, but as long as it tastes good, that’s okay with us.

And then we carefully prepped everything.  We pressed the tofu to remove excess water.  We cut the pork into matchsticks and marinated it.  We built the broth, layering in ingredients.

And it looked more or less like you’d expect it to look–a dark brown broth with bits of tofu, egg, and pork swimming in it.  (My bowlful had sliced scallions sprinkled on top for color.)

But one bite told us:  Too much vinegar.

We’d gone to the effort of hunting down Chinese black vinegar, since that’s what the recipe called for.  For the record, Chinese black vinegar is a very strong, very fragrant vinegar.  Also very sour.  So we’ve decided that next time, we’re going to use two tablespoons of vinegar instead of five, and we’re going to use half Chinese black vinegar and half rice vinegar (which is much milder).  We figure we can always add a bit more later, if there isn’t enough.  But when there’s too much, there’s not much you can do about it.  I’ll report back on the results once we’ve tried it again.  (And it wasn’t totally inedible; it was just a lot more sour than either of us likes.)

Another not-completely-successful recipe we tried were Shu-Mai.  We started off with the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, but again made modifications to suit our likes and dislikes (and also because we forgot to get the gelatin called for in the recipe, so we subbed egg instead).

This time, we had mixed results.  Beloved Husband didn’t want shrimp or vegetables in his shu-mai, so his batch ended up being a little bland–basically just pork and seasonings.  (They did look very nice; unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures.  Next time.)  When we make these again, I plan to add small amounts of vegetables he likes (spinach, perhaps, or a bit of finely-chopped broccoli), along with extra seasonings (and the gelatin we’d have put in if we’d had it).

On the other hand, my batch turned out very well.  Because I didn’t have a lot of pork on hand once we’d made the soup and Beloved Husband’s shu-mai, I decided to substitute a piece of flounder I had in the freezer instead.  Nor did we have the chestnuts called for in the original recipe.  So I put in some scallions and Napa cabbage.  Finally, my filling turned out a bit soupy, so I stirred in some panko crumbs to give it some body.

The results were extremely tasty.  I’d definitely make these again.  And I’ll even share the recipe with you:

Seafood Shu-mai

1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb. white fish (e.g., flounder)
2 ribs Napa cabbage
1 scallion
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons mirin (or sweet sherry)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 egg (yes, I know it’s awkward)
3-4 tablespoons panko crumbs
1/2 package round gyoza wrappers

Rinse shrimp and fish and pat as dry as possible.  Cut the fish into 1″ chunks.  If the shrimp are large, cut in half.  Place shrimp and fish in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 6-8 times, until the meat is fairly finely ground.  Transfer to medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Cut the Napa cabbage and scallion into 1″ chunks and place in bowl of food processor.  Again, pulse until fairly finely chopped (aim for 1/4″ pieces), about 5-7 pulses.  Add to fish mixture.

Combine soy sauce, cornstarch, mirin, rice vinegar, and sugar and pour over fish mixture.  Add ginger, salt, pepper and egg and mix until well blended.  Sprinkle in panko crumbs, one tablespoon at a time, and stir.  The mixture should hold its shape, but still be fairly soft.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper.  Wet the edges of the gyoza wrappers and put about a tablespoon of the filling in the center of each.  (Work with 3-4 at a time to make the process easier.)  Leaving some space open at the top of each dumpling, pinch the sides shut, pinching into halves, then quarters, then eighths.  Gently squeeze the top of the dumpling so the wrapper sticks to itself, and use a knife or the back of a spoon to compress the filling that’s trying to come out of the top of the dumpling.  You should end up with something that looks like a little bag, with filling even with the top edge, and slightly bulgy on the bottom.  Set on parchment-lined baking sheet while you finish the rest.

Line the baskets of a bamboo steamer with parchment paper, poking ~20 holes in the paper to let the steam get through.  Place shu-mai in the baskets.  They should not touch each other.

Place steamer over boiling water and steam for 10-15 minutes, or until internal temperature of the dumplings reaches 160F.  Serve with chili oil sauce (a recipe I’ll post once I’ve tweaked it to my satisfaction) or dumpling sauce.  Makes 18-20 shu-mai.

So out of three recipes we tried, we came out with one keeper, and two that need a little tweaking (though we know where to start with that, at least).

What recipes have other people tried that maybe didn’t work out so well on the first outing, but which you later tweaked and cooked successfully?

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Recipe Wednesday: A Walk On The Wild Side

Last weekend, Beloved Husband and I decided we needed to take a trip to our local Large Asian Supermarket. The one closest to us is an H-Mart, a chain with stores mostly on both coasts, but a few scattered here and there across the midlands.

I love shopping at Asian supermarkets for a number of reasons.  For starters, they have great produce.  Stuff you can’t find anywhere else:  lychees and weird squashes and things you’re not even sure what they are.  And fresh herbs in good-sized bundles, rather than the anemic plastic packages found inWestern supermarkets.  Varieties you’ve never seen before, like five different kinds of eggplant.  FIVE.  Most local markets only have pathetic examples of the common type at best.  And even the “normal” stuff–apples, oranges, potatoes–looks better and fresher than what you find in the American chains.

Then there’s the seafood.  Fresh fish in types you might never even have heard of.  Ginormous shrimps–for $6.99/lb.  Sashimi-grade fish.  Even eel.  You might find some of those things at the overpriced specialty markets, but at much higher prices.

We actually went in looking for some key ingredients.  We’d found a recipe for hot and sour soup that called for Chinese Black Vinegar.  Finding it–amid rows and end-caps of bottles mostly labeled in languages we can’t read–proved to be something of a treasure hunt, but in the end, we emerged victorious.  And with a few other interesting-looking sauces in hand as well.

This time out, we also learned that going into H-Mart on a Sunday is a bit like going into Costco on a weekend.  All across the back of the store, tasting stations tempted us into trying things like rice cake, seaweed salad, and fish cake (the latter two of which I brought home with me).

Another thing most Asian markets stock in glorious profusion are frozen dumplings and stuffed buns of just about any kind you can imagine.  We keep saying that one of these days we’re going to go raid the place, then come home and have a huge dim-sum party.  I’ll need to pick up a few more steamer baskets before then, though.

Speaking of which, Asian markets are also great places to look for cooking equipment and serving dishes.  They’ve got rice bowls and chop sticks and woks and steamer baskets and…well, you get the idea.  And the prices are usually quite reasonable.

Perhaps the thing that amuses us the most, though, is that H-Mart (unlike some of the other Asian markets) has aisles set aside for foods from other ethnic cuisines.  So they have an Indian section, and a Middle Eastern section, and a Hispanic section, and yes, even an American section.  And while selection within those sections isn’t very deep–they have one brand of canned hummus, for example–it’s very broad.  So you can find things there that you might not even find at an ethnic market specific to that cuisine.  I was amused to fine decaffeinated Lady Gray tea, something I’d been seeking, in their “British” section, and some verjuice (juice made from unripened grapes, often called for in medieval and Renaissance recipes) in their American section.

So far, all I’ve made using what we brought home from our expedition was a salad of bean thread noodles.  I’m not thrilled with how it came out, though, so I’m going to tweak the recipe some more before I share it.  However, plans for supper tonight include making that batch of hot and sour soup, along with steaming some pork buns and maybe making some pork shu-mai.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

What other experiences have people had shopping at ethnic markets?  Any exceptionally good (or even bad) ones?

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Recipe Wednesday: Spice of Life

Last week I talked about stocking foods in my pantry.  I like to keep certain staples on hand to use as the basis of meals, and as emergency meals (in a pinch).  Things like canned goods, pasta, frozen meats, etc.

But equally important, at least to my mind, is having a well-stocked spice cabinet.  Adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that to otherwise-boring foods can bring them to life, and make them interesting rather than ho-hum.

But if you’re like me, you look at the prices of the teeny little jars of spices in the grocery store and think, “Yeah, if I didn’t actually want to have any money left for food….”

There are a couple of ways to deal with this.

Where I live, I’m lucky enough to have access to a couple of really good spice shops.  They sell spices either in jars or in plastic bags.  One will even measure out specific amounts of spices for you.  Why is that a good thing?  Well, for starters, you don’t have to keep paying for the spice jars over and over again.  You buy the jar once, then get just enough to re-fill it, which saves you a significant amount of money.  Also, it doesn’t even need to be an actual “spice jar”.  I keep my spices in 4-oz. canning jars.  They stack neatly, have wide openings that let me reach in and grab a pinch, can be labeled on top or side, and fit neatly in a drawer (which is where I currently store most of my spices).

And the second is that you can buy only as much as you’ll use before it goes bad.  While it’s true that spices don’t necessarily “spoil,” they do lose flavor over time.  In general, leafy herbs (thyme, sage, parsley, and so on) won’t hold their flavor for more than a year.  Ground spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger might be good for a little longer, but definitely not more than two years.  Whole spices, like black peppercorns and whole nutmegs will last the longest.  And anything that’s been in your cupboard for more than five years needs to be thrown out.  Period.

Other places that might sell herbs and spices in bulk are health-food and natural-food markets like Sprouts or Whole Foods.  If you’re really lucky, you might find an old-fashioned food co-op, an ethnic market, or a new-age boutique with an herb and spice counter.

And if you don’t have any of those options available to you, I’d suggest mail order.  Three companies I’d recommend are:

Like most cooks, I have certain herbs and spices I consider essential, and that I try to keep on hand at all times.  My essentials include:

  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Italian seasoning
  • Bay leaves
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Sea salt
  • Mild curry powder

With just that list, there’s a lot you can do.  Don’t be afraid to experiment; if you’re not sure how a spice will taste in a dish, sample a little bit on a spoonful of food before you throw it in.  Be conservative with your spicing, as you can always add more, but you can’t take the spices out once they’re in.

Note also that I recommend garlic and onion powders rather than salts.  It’s far too easy to end up with a too-salty dish when the salt comes mixed with the seasonings.  And yes, when possible, I prefer to use fresh garlic and onion, but sometimes you just need a dash of flavor, or you want something that will spread evenly throughout the dish.  But I also make sure my powders are as fresh as possible, so they has plenty of flavor.  Likewise, fresh herbs would be preferable, but they’re not always available or affordable.

(I also have a list of more exotic things I like to keep on hand.  But I think I’ll save that for a later post.)

So in order to save money and have the freshest spices available:

  • Buy the smallest amount you think you’ll use in the next year.
  • Buy in bulk and re-use existing jars.
  • Buy herbs and spices as whole as possible:  leaves rather than powders, seeds rather than ground.
  • Buy the essentials first, and augment as finances allow.
  • Season carefully.  Try a little at first, and add more if it works.

What spices and herbs do other people consider essential?  What other tips do you have for buying spices on a budget?


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Recipe Wednesday: Stocking Up

Hullo, blog.  (pets gently)

I know.  I’ve neglected you dreadfully.  And I am sorry.  I’ll try to do better.

Things haven’t been terribly exciting, I’m afraid.  In fact, the most exciting thing we’ve done in the past few weeks is to go grocery shopping.

I know, right?

On the one hand, grocery shopping can be frustrating, and expensive, and exhausting.  Especially if — like most folks with 8-to-5 jobs — you have to do your shopping on the weekend, when the stores are crowded and they’re out of everything that was on sale this week.

But it can also be very satisfying.  I know I’m probably weird, but it actually makes me feel good to haul home my load of groceries, and re-pack the “family-sized” package of meat into smaller portions for freezing, and line up all of my canned goods, and stow all of the produce neatly away in the veggie bins.

And there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in looking at the pantry — which, in my case, is a set of shelves on my enclosed back porch — and seeing all of the potential meals lined up and waiting to happen.

I’ve gotten into the habit of picking up certain staples and storing them away for the proverbial “rainy day”.  So should the zombie apocalypse happen tonight, Beloved Husband and I have enough pasta, tuna, and cream-of-whatever soup to keep ourselves in tuna casserole for at least a month.  Should we have an unexpected encounter with a skunk, there are enough tomato products to bathe us thoroughly.  We’re almost as well-stocked on creamed corn, canned carrots, and cranberry sauce.  And just for fun, there are stray cans of things like stir-fry veggies, baba ghanooj, and coconut milk.  (FYI, 1/2 lb. sauteed shrimp + 1 can coconut milk + 1 can carrots + 1 teaspoon curry = a very tasty soup!)

And yes, we have ramen.  Because sometimes, you just want ramen.

Likewise, there are certain staples we try to keep in the freezer.  1-lb. packages of ground beef, boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, and bacon, for example.  And even though Beloved Husband doesn’t like seafood, I generally keep some shrimp and fish on hand.  I usually try to keep some ham tucked away, too, but we used it last month and haven’t replaced it yet.  And at the moment, we still have a whole (small-ish) turkey in there.  Because, hey, when you can pick up that much meat for $5 at Thanksgiving time, you do.

I try to keep a good base of ingredients on hand so that with the addition of just a few fresh things (vegetables, salad, fruit, etc.), I can produce a meal.  (I also try to keep my spice cabinet well stocked, but I think that’s next week’s entry.)  There are times when this has come in handy, like when Mother Nature suddenly dumps three feet of snow on you and you can’t get out of the house for several days.

So what sorts of things do other people keep in their pantries?

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Writing Thursday: NaNoWriMo Ate My Brain; or, How NOT To Do NaNoWriMo

Hello, blog.

{shuffles feet}

It’s been a while.

I know, I know.  I never call, I never write, I never even send e-mail.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try to do better, really I will.  It’s just that sometimes, I get distracted.

Like in November, when National Novel Writing Month–a.k.a. NaNoWriMo–rears its ugly head once again.

Now, I’ve done NaNoWriMo before and managed to keep at least a little bit of a grip on my life.  But somehow, this time around, it Just. Ate. My. Brain.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple:  Write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days–during the month of November, to be precise.  The goal is to learn to set your Inner Editor aside, to just write now and worry about editing later.

It’s not really all that hard.  You only have to write 1,667 words a day, every day.    That’s not that much; about two and a half to three pages, single-spaced.  Which isn’t nothing, but it’s normally quite manageable, especially if you take certain steps first.

For example, you really should:

  1. Have at least a rough outline of where the story is going.  Even if you’re a pantser (someone who plots “by the seat of their pants”), like me, you ought to have at least a vague sense of which direction the story’s headed.  By no means should you wait until 11:59 pm on Halloween night before you even decide which of the seven or so stories you’ve got rolling around in the back of your head you want to write this year.  (I’m not saying I did that, mind you.  I’m just saying you definitely shouldn’t do it that way.)
  2. Have at least some idea who your characters are.  Which is not to say you have to have complete character sketches or interviews with each of your main characters and most of the minor characters as well.  Nor do you have to have a detailed back-story for each.  But you really, really, really should have more than just a first name for your main character, and you really, really, really ought to have some idea of who your secondary characters are.  Just sayin’.
  3. If your story is set in a fantasy world, you really ought to take the time to at least sketch out a map of where your cities are in comparison to one another.  And if your world includes magic, you ought to at least think about how the magic works, even if you don’t write down a bunch of formal rules.
  4. And finally, you really shouldn’t plan to get in your car after work on November 1st and drive halfway across Kansas, then spend the next four days doing things like touring the Cosmosphere (unless you’re writing a sci-fi story with rockets.  Then it’s “research”!) and attending a steampunk convention, and driving home.  Even if one of your favorite bands (*cough* Abney Park *cough*) is playing.  Because that’s just crazy-talk.
I'm not blaming Captain Robert for my NaNo problems.  But if Abney Park hadn't been playing in Wichita, just 7 hours or so away... (Note: this picture is actually from their concert in Denver this fall.  Because of NaNoWriMo, I haven't gotten my pictures from Wichita uploaded yet.)

I’m not blaming Captain Robert for my NaNo problems. But if Abney Park hadn’t been playing in Wichita, just 7 hours or so away… (Note: this picture is actually from their concert in Denver this fall. Because of NaNoWriMo, I haven’t gotten my pictures from Wichita uploaded yet.)

So, yeah.  I failed at NaNoWriMo prep this year.

I was 5,000+ words behind by Day 5.  By all rights, I should have failed at NaNoWriMo altogether.  I’m still a bit surprised that I didn’t.

There were certainly days when I felt like giving up.  Days when it felt as though I was carving each and every word out of granite.  With a bobby pin.

But then I remembered this piece of sage advice about writing:

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
–E. L. Doctorow

That’s exactly how it felt–as though I was picking my way through the night, never seeing any further than my headlights would reach, but always able to see at least someplace to go next.

The other thing that helped was that this time, for the first time, my Beloved Husband decided to do NaNoWriMo with me.  Which meant that instead of having to try to carve time out of the family schedule for writing, this time, writing was the family schedule most nights.  And I have to say that there’s something very comfortable about sitting in a room with one’s spouse, clicking away at our separate keyboards, each on our own separate journeys, but still traveling side-by-side.  (We were within a few hundred words of each other for most of the month.)

What finally saved NaNoWriMo for me was the fact that on about the 23rd of November, my main character did something I didn’t quite expect, but that turned out to be a defining moment, not only for her, but for the entire story.  After that, things started to flow more naturally, with less of a struggle.

Looking back now, I can see that about 2/3 of what I wrote during November was really the back story and character sketches I should have been doing in October.  So there’ll need to be some editing (no surprise there).  I had a hard time finding my main character’s voice, though I think I’m finally starting to get a handle on her.  She’s got just a touch of snarkiness to her.  Though after three years of writing in my steampunk/Victorian universe, I’m having a hard time remembering that her dialogue needs to be simpler, more direct.  I’ll get it figured out, though.

So that’s why I’ve been away for so long.  I’ll try to keep up better now.  ‘K?

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Dear Internet: Please Help!


So…panic time.

Two days to NaNoWriMo, and I have no idea what I’m writing. So, as always, I’m turning to the Great Interweb’s Hive Mind for advice.

My options are:


Story_Title: The Daughters of August Winterbourne, vol. 3.5

Genre: Steampunk/Adventure/Romance

Quick_Synopsis: Celia and her sisters have gone to America as part of an exchange program with the Boston Technological Institute. But while she’s there, Celia has a second mission: To win the American people’s support for England in the war against Tarmania.

Description: This is actually the second half of the story I started last year, which stalled out at about 60K words. Since it’s me we’re talking about, it’s a sure bet that the story has at least another 50K words in it.

Notes: I need to finish this one, because I really want to write Book 4.

Pros: Already familiar with characters, plot, setting.

Cons: Strictly speaking, doesn’t meet the NaNo guidelines. Also, the story is kinda stuck, and I’m not sure how to unstick it.


Story_Title: A Taste for Magic

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Quick_Synopsis: A young woman longs to be an apprentice wizard, but while she appears to have talent, no one can find her magical specialty…until she cooks up a little magic.

Description: All the kids in the village of Dortinger dreamed of being selected for the wizard academy in Balincove. After all, the Balincove Academy took only the best, most promising of those blessed with the Talent – not to mention, those from the best families — leaving those with lesser abilities and connections to the hedge schools and private tutors.

Jessenia knew there was no way she would ever be selected for Balincove. She was an orphan; her foster parents were innkeepers, with no wealth or connections to smooth the way. Moreover, Jess didn’t appear to have any of the standard Talents – not Singing, or Dancing, or Potion Brewing, or Spellwriting, or even Charm Making. All she could do well was cook – which was lucky, since it seemed she was destined to spend the rest of her life doing just that.

Then the Balincove Wizardfinders made their annual visit to Dortinger, and Jessenia was bidden to make the best meal possible for them. To her surprise, thanks to that magical meal, Jessenia found herself among those selected for the Academy. Now she only has to prove to her classmates – and her teachers – that cookery magic can be just as potent as any other kind of spell!

Notes: I see this as being the first in a series of 3-5 books.

Pros: This one’s been kicking around in my head for a LONG time. Would be nice to finally do something with it.

Cons: On the other hand, it also seems like the kind of idea that deserves better than the rush treatment I’d have to give it during NaNo.


Story_Title: Diary of an Ugly Stepsister

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Quick_Synopsis: The story of Cinderella, as retold from the POV of one of the “ugly stepsisters”.

Description: You probably think you know the story — about poor, abused Ella, and her fairy godmother, and the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the prince and all that. And it’s true that some of it, at least, happened the way you’ve read.

But I’m here to tell you that there’s a lot more to the story than you know. You probably never stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, Ella’s “evil” stepmother and “ugly” stepsisters weren’t really that bad, just misunderstood. I suppose it’s only natural that you’d never consider that Ella was perhaps just a tiny bit spoiled and self-centered. And as for that godmother of hers…could it be that she was a few pence short of a shilling?

I should know. I was there. My name is Griselda, and I’m an Ugly Stepsister.

Notes: Another one that’s been kicking around in my head for a while now.

Pros: This one doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it might be good for a NaNo project.

Cons: I worry that there’s not enough story there to make it to 50K. Also, it might be hard to keep it fresh. Also, variations have been done.


Story Title: Miss Kendall’s Dilemma

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Quick_Synopsis: Philippa Kendall tries to rid herself of an unwanted suitor by taking a friend’s advice – but it backfires!

Description: “Everyone knows that the fastest way to make a man lose interest in you is to tell him you love him,” said Pippa’s worldly friend, Marianne Somersworth. So when young Philippa Kendall, who is head over heels in love with the handsome young Viscount Wolfsholme, finds herself suffering the unwanted attentions of the nebbish Lord Hepstead, she decides to give it a try. But when Marianne’s advice backfires, Pippa finds herself accidentally betrothed to Lord Hepstead!

Notes: Again, not as well-fleshed-out as some of the other ideas here, but one with lots of possibilities.

Pros: Writing Regency is fun. And not too serious.

Cons: I don’t know these characters well enough to know whether I’d want to spend an entire month with them.


Story_Title: Kintheriny and the Locked Door (working title)

Genre: Fantasy

Quick_Synopsis: When Kintheriny’s Gran died, leaving her heir to her holdings, she sealed her magical laborium closed with cold iron. But when Kintheriny befriends a bedraggled young man who appears on her doorstep, she soon finds that she needs access to her grandmother’s spellcasting resources in order to save both their lives.

Description: Opening chapter of the story is here.

Notes: I really want to read the rest of this.

Pros: I like the characters, and I have some vague notes as to where the plot might go.

Cons: Also doesn’t meet NaNo guidelines, as I have about a chapter already written, and the idea is to start from scratch. Though I could work around that by simply subtracting the word count for the already-written snippet from my final count.


Story_Title: The Heart of Jasper’s Wood

Genre: Fantasy

Quick_Synopsis: Some doubted whether the lost city of gold at the heart of the wood even existed, but one thing was certain: Of the scores who tried to find it, the few who returned came back without their minds. So when Pendalmon’s little sister Talitha announced her intention to find the Heart of the Wood once and for all, he has no choice but to accompany her on her quest.

Description: They say you can wander Jasper’s Wood a hundred years and never find its heart. The Lady knows plenty of people’ve tried; the legends of the lost city of gold at the Wood’s heart draw them like honey draws flitterbats. Living on the edge of the Wood, as we do, we see ‘m all: gallant warriors, armor all a-gleam; noble wizards, sparks of magic flashing from their fingertips; doughty halflings singing brave songs; and even a plucky orphaned child, now and again. Ever’ so often, one of ‘m straggles back out, drawn and haggard and stark-staring mad. But most all we see are the bones Skitch drags home in his mouth after we let ‘im out for a run in the Wood. Which is why, the day my sister Talina announced her intention to find the heart of the Wood, I knew she’d gone insane.
(An entry from stillnotbored‘s monthly first line contest)

Notes: This one was actually a contest winner.

Pros: A strong first paragraph. Pendalmon’s voice really comes through.

Cons: Actually not sure whether the MC in this one is a brother or a sister. And I obviously have no idea where this is going next.


Story_Title: The Duck, The Squirrel, and Liretta

Genre: Fantasy

Quick_Synopsis: Liretta, down on her luck, tries to sell her dreams to the keeper of a mysterious shop, but he sends her away, telling her to come back when she has something more interesting for him. She doesn’t plan to go back, ever…but then she wakes up the next morning clutching two enchanted items from his shop.

Description: A sign in the shop window promised top dollar for broken promises and threadbare dreams. What can I say? I was cold and hungry and thoroughly tired of my own stink. As I grasped the grimy doorknob and pushed open the rickety door, a trio of silvery bells chimed a greeting. In their notes I heard promise and hope and even a trace of glory, and I caught a whiff of lilacs and fresh-cut grass. I made my way to the counter, past shelves and racks of oddities, tchotchkes, and just plain junk. Yet somehow, the shop was full of rustlings and whisperings my hesitant footsteps didn’t quite drown out. Then a clockwork squirrel, perched on a high shelf, seemed to wink at me. A duck-headed walking stick stuffed into an umbrella stand shifted to follow my progress, though when I glanced back, it clearly hadn’t moved. Feeling the skin on the back of my neck prickle, I approached the desk. A man with a mop of greying hair hunched over a leather-bound ledger, oblivious to my presence. Until I cleared my throat, that is. Then his head snapped up; his eyes glowed a pale yellow as they bored into mine, lancing into my brain like icy knives. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move, couldn’t blink, couldn’t even breathe. With a sneer, he wrenched his eyes away. “Sorry. Not interested. I’m already overstocked with what you’ve got to sell. Come back when you’ve something….” He cocked his head, then smacked his lips and gave me a snaggle-toothed leer. “Something more succulent to offer me.” With a blink, I found myself back out on the sidewalk, my half-formed protest frozen on my lips, my hand on the grimy doorknob. I twisted it, intending to go back in and beg him to reconsider, but the knob refused to turn. Then I noticed that the sign was gone from the window, and when I peered inside, the shelves were empty, bare of everything but a thick layer of dust.
(An entry from stillnotbored‘s monthly first line contest)

Notes: As a first paragraph, the above sucks. But as the beginning of a chapter…

I do have a vague idea where this story might be heading. The duck-headed walking stick is an enchanted prince, and the squirrel is his fairy godmother. They got enchanted by the Shopkeeper, and Liretta’s job will be to free them.

Liretta, an orphan who has been living with her great-aunt, came to [Big City That’s Like London But Isn’t London] to become a governess to the child of a prominent government official. But once the official’s wife saw her—Liretta has some kind of obvious physical defect I haven’t determined yet: either she’s extremely short, or extremely tall, or has eyes that are two different colors, or some such—she refused to let someone like her tutor her precious little darlings. And so she turned Liretta out into the streets to beg.

Pros: I like the magical undertones of this world. And Liretta could be a fun MC to play with. Not to mention the duck and the squirrel.

Cons: I haven’t really worked out anything of a plot, beyond “the duck and squirrel are enchanted and Liretta has to free them.”


Story_Title: Shifting Perspectives

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Mystery

Quick_Synopsis: Shapeshifter Jana only meant to frighten the boy who was bullying her daughter. But when the boy’s father turns up dead, she becomes the prime suspect.

Description: Her bones remembered the proper shape, even though it had been years, no, decades since she’d last shifted into that form. Jana bit back a cry as muscles twisted and tendons stretched. The promise she’d made to her dying father poked stiff fingers into her conscience, adding to her pain. It’s for Rissa. She had to save her daughter from the beast who tormented her, didn’t she? The pain faded and Jana straightened, looking into the mirror. A monster stared back. Vivid red lips, twisted into a parody of a grin, contrasted sharply with her pasty white skin. Raised eyebrows gave her an expression of perpetual surprise, and tufts of orange hair over her ears framed eyes that disappeared into the blue-pigmented skin around them. The nose, ah, that was perfect, bulbous and red, just as it should be. She smiled, revealing three rows of inch-long fangs. Yes! If that little brat bullying her daughter wasn’t afraid of clowns now, he soon would be.
(An entry from stillnotbored‘s monthly first line contest)

Notes: The idea here is that Jana, in her “scary clown” guise, finds the body. She shifts back, but not before she’s seen leaving the scene.

Jana comes from a family of shapeshifters. They can take any form they choose, though most pick a few “favorite” forms and practice them. Her shapeshifter husband died under mysterious circumstances (probably using his shifting talent to do something illegal). Their talents must be kept secret from the world at large.

Jana has a clouded past. Seems a “mean girl” high school classmate of hers committed suicide…after describing dreams involving a “scary clown” that looks a lot like one of Jana’s alternate forms. And the (handsome, single) detective working the case links the two cases…

Pros: This would be a very different genre for me. And it has series potential.

Cons: Don’t know if I could make a murder mystery that really worked.


Story_Title: Undead In The City

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick_Synopsis: Nora didn’t want to be dead. But she didn’t seem to be alive, either.

Description: I was supposed to be dead, but for some reason, I hadn’t stopped moving yet.

At least I wasn’t in pain anymore. That was the biggest thing I could remember — the engulfing, overwhelming pain from the car accident.

I could also remember the EMTs pulling a sheet over my face as I lay on the ground at the side of the road. I remembered the feeling of being zipped into a body bag. And then nothing, until now.

Why was I still walking around? I looked down. Okay, maybe shambling was a better word for my current gait. I hadn’t quite fallen over. Yet. But I’m pretty sure I’d fail a roadside sobriety test based on that alone.

Not that I was on a roadside. I was in the middle of a field. I stumbled again and nearly faceplanted. When I looked down to see what obstacle had almost caused my downfall, my heart chilled.

It was a gravestone.

Notes: Obviously, our MC is a zombie. The question is, what is this story really about, besides being a story about a zombie that’s written from the zombie’s perspective?

Pros: Zombies are hot right now.

Cons: Not sure there’s enough idea here.


Story_Title: Something Sinister in Sugarloaf

Genre: Weird Western

Quick_Synopsis: Forced to travel for her health, Philomena Kettlewell finds herself Out West in Colorado in 1880. But there’s something strange going on in the frontier settlement of Sugarloaf—and Philomena intends to get to the bottom of it—even if she has to ride a demon horse to get there.

Description: “Only horse I got is that’n there,” drawled the stable owner, “‘n you don’t want him.”

I looked at the horse standing in the corner of the corral, head down, dusty, hipshot, not even bothering to switch his tail to drive away the numerous flies. “Why? What’s wrong with him?”

The man snorted. “Look fer yerself.” He gestured me in the direction of the horse.

I walked around the outside of the corral to the corner. As I approached, I expected the horse to lift his head, to turn to look at me, but he did not. He just stood there, not switching his tail, not really moving at all, that I could tell. I wasn’t even certain he was breathing.

But when I stopped in front of him, he suddenly flung his head up.

A pair of glowing red eyes stared back at me, and in that instant I knew that this, this was my horse.

My hand shot out and snagged the lead rope as I turned back to the stableman. “I’ll take him,” I said.

Notes: This is a character I created for a Weird Western RPG that is now, sadly, defunct. But I like the idea of the plucky MC basically being a demon hunter who rides around on a possessed horse. The horse, by the way, talks—but only between sundown and sunup. The rest of the time, he’s essentially a zombie.

Pros: Weird west could be LOTS of fun. And it’d be fun to set a story in my home state.

Cons: Again, I don’t really have any idea as to where this story might be going.


So…if you’ve made it this far, you probably have an opinion.  Right?  If so, then please take my quick poll:

Thank you!

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