Writing Thursday: Entitlement; or, What To Name The Baby (Chapters)

At the end of my latest round of editing on my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne (Book 1), I came to an inevitable conclusion:

The story is set in the Victorian era, so in order to give it a little more of a Victorian flavor, my chapters ought to have titles.  Because some of my favorite books from that era have fantastic chapter titles.  Just look at Jules Verne’s “Around The World in Eighty Days,” for example.







…and so on

(Taken from the Project Gutenberg version of the book.)


Just look at all of those lovely “in which-es”!  Doesn’t that just make you yearn for a comfy armchair where you could settle in for a good read with a crackling fire nearby!  Well, it does me.

Or how about this sampling from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess”:


Chapter 1 Sara
Chapter 2 A French Lesson
Chapter 3 Ermengarde
Chapter 4 Lottie
Chapter 5 Becky
Chapter 6 The Diamond Mines
Chapter 7 The Diamond Mines Again


(from the University of Virginia version on-line)


Maybe not as evocative as the ones from Verne, but enough to let you know that we’re going to be meeting some interesting characters, and that there will be diamond mines involved, not once, but twice.  Hmmm….

I will admit that these titles work far better once a person has read this story.  Reading a character’s name invokes a mental image of that person, and how they affected the plot.  Do you suppose Burnett ever guessed that her books would be read over and over by generations of girls and young women?

Of course, not all Victorian novels had imaginative chapter titles.  Instead, some had little chapter headings that summed up the chapter’s events, but in a cryptic form, like this example from Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men In A Boat”:



Three invalids. — Sufferings of George and Harris. — A victim to one hundred and seven fatal maladies. — Useful prescriptions. — Cure for liver complaint in children. — We agree that we are overworked, and need rest. — A week on the rolling deep? — George suggests the River. — Montmorency lodges an objection. — Original motion carried by majority of three to one.

(Again, from the Project Gutenberg website.)


I mean, aren’t you just dying to read that chapter now?  Who here doesn’t want to know what those one hundred and seven fatal maladies were, or the cure for liver complaint in children?

So chapter titles can be a good hook to draw readers into a story.  And from looking at the above examples, chapter titles ought to sum up what happens in the chapter, or at least give an indication of the major character or outside force acting on the characters in the chapter.

With the help of Beloved Husband, I sat down and came up with titles for all sixty-three* of my chapters (plus one for the epilogue).  I tried to focus on a single item or event that was important for each chapter.  I strayed from that theme in only a few places, but not so far from it that it doesn’t still work.

So for anyone who is curious, here are the first fifteen chapter titles from my story:

Chapter One:  Sophie’s Lightning
Chapter Two:  Papa’s Slide Rule
Chapter Three:  A Squashed Hat
Chapter Four:  The Royal Academy of Science
Chapter Five:  Lawrence Hall
Chapter Six:  The Clock Tower
Chapter Seven:  A Wager
Chapter Eight:  Project Plans
Chapter Nine:  Outing Plans
Chapter Ten:  An Inspection
Chapter Eleven:  An Outing
Chapter Twelve:  A Revelation
Chapter Thirteen:  More Revelations
Chapter Fourteen:  Demerits
Chapter Fifteen:  Punting on the Thames

So how did I do?  Do the chapter titles intrigue or interest you?  Or are they more like the ones from “A Little Princess”–better once you know the story?


* Yes, I have a lot of chapters, but they’re short chapters.  That was a conscious decision on my part–because short chapters tempt the reader to read “just one more…just one more…” until before they know it, they’ve read the whole book.  Coincidentally, my chapters end up being around a NaNo (1,667 words) each.

(Interestingly, the original draft of the story was half again as long, word-count-wise, but only six chapters longer.)

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Recipe Wednesday: Currying Favor

I had a deprived childhood.  I grew up without curry.

My dad was never fond of curry to start with, and the fact that he spent several months in Pakistan at one point didn’t help at all.  So Mom never made anything with curry in it, nor did we ever go out to eat at Indian restaurants.

Which means that I spent a significant portion of my life without knowing the culinary joy that is curry powder.  Once I discovered it, of course, I enjoyed it whenever I could.  My favorite is Vietnamese curry, where potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and some kind of meat all get cooked together in a bright yellow broth.  But I’m also fond of Thai coconut soup.  One day when I was jonesing for some of this, I came up with a quick and easy version of it:


Thai Shrimp And Coconut Soup

1 pound shrimp, raw
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons lemon grass, sliced
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mild yellow curry powder, divided
1 can coconut milk
1 can potatoes, sliced, drained
1 can carrots, sliced, drained
4 leaves fresh basil, julienned (if available)

Peel, wash, and de-vein shrimp.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place shrimp in pan and immediately season with garlic, lemon grass, ginger, salt, and about half of the curry powder. Stir-fry just until cooked, about a minute. Reduce heat and pour in coconut milk. Add potatoes, carrots, and remaining curry powder (taste to see if it needs more). Simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into bowls and garnish with basil (if available).  Serves 2.


This recipe is good with just plain yellow curry powder, but even better with red Thai curry powder.

Of course, I’ve already posted my recipe for Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches, but eggs and curry are so good together, why stop there?


Deviled Eggs

1 dozen eggs (bring to room temperature)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce OR 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Paprika or additional curry powder to garnish
Caviar to garnish, optional

Place eggs in saucepan and cover with lukewarm water so that they are completely covered. Bring to boil over low heat to minimize cracking. Once they are boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool eggs by running cool water over them.
Peel eggs carefully and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in small bowl. Mash thoroughly with fork. Add mayonnaise, mustard, spices, and Worcestershire sauce or curry powder. Blend thoroughly with fork. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika or more curry powder; add 1/8 teaspoon caviar to tops of eggs if desired.


Curry powder gives just the right touch of savoury warmth to deviled egg filling, I think.

And to finish up for this week, one of my recent inventions, a light and easy cucumber salad spiced up with a bit of curry:


Curried Cucumbers

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and shake to mix. Refrigerate several hours, or preferably overnight.


I like this one because I’m currently counting calories, and a substantial serving of this still fits neatly within my daily calorie allowance.

But where do you find good curry powder, you ask?  Just about everywhere.  I’d bypass those little glass jars in the grocery store, if you have other options.  And if you’re on the internet, you have other options!

  • Penzeys:  Still my favorite on-line source for herbs and spices, they carry sweet, hot, and Maharajah-style curries.
  • Savory Spice Shop:  Also a fine purveyor of herbs.  I got my red Thai curry there.
  • Local ethnic markets:  We have a fair number of ethnic markets in the Denver area, including middle eastern, Indian, and oriental.  Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t see what you’re looking for!
  • Specialty markets:  Specialty grocery chains, such as Sprouts and Whole Foods, sometimes carry gourmet brands as well as bulk spices.  I also got a jar of very yummy-smelling curry powder the last time I was in a Trader Joe’s.

So if you’re like me, and you grew up curry-deprived, maybe now’s the time to find out what you’ve been missing!

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Dragon Friday #15

Okay.  Now that I’m done with my epic-length editing project, maybe our dragon and his friends can go back to making regular appearances here.  Worth a shot, anyway.

The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2012 Sheila McClune
Part 15

As soon as I touched his wrist, Max screamed.  A lot.

I’d expected that.

He threw up again.  I guess I’d sort of expected that.  (At least he didn’t get any on me.)

And then he passed out, which I hadn’t expected.  But it did make things easier.

While he was out cold, I tightened my grasp on his wrist, grabbed his elbow with my other hand, and pulled as hard as I could.  The bones in his arm made a wet, grinding sound, one I could hear all too clearly now that he was no longer screaming.  But at least his forearm was more-or-less straight again.  Gingerly, I tried to trace the bones beneath his skin.  I couldn’t really tell if I had them properly lined back up again.  When he stirred and moaned at my probings, I decided it was close enough, at least for now.  I grabbed the metal bars from my suitcase and slapped them up against his forearm, one on either side, tying them in place with my belt and scarf.  Then, for good measure, I wrapped one of his t-shirts around it, tying it in place with most of a roll of dental floss.  I figured the extra padding wouldn’t hurt, nor would keeping the arm warm.

“Is he better now?” asked the dragon.

“I don’t know.”  Max’s forehead felt as clammy as ever.  And if anything, his pulse was even faster and threadier.  “I may have killed him.”

Within a few minutes, though, Max groaned and came to.  “Oh, God.  What happened?”

“You passed out.  But I straightened your arm out, and splinted it.  How does it feel?”

“Hurts like hell.”  He shifted it a little, and I was afraid he was going to scream again.

“How about your fingers?  Any better yet?”  In the light of the cell phone, they still looked pretty bad.

He shook his head, lips clenched tight.

“Damn.  I’m sorry.”

His mouth worked, but he didn’t say anything.  Finally he whispered, “So thirsty.”

I’d been trying not to think about it.  “Me too.  But I don’t have anything to drink.  Sorry.”  Damn TSA anyway.

“There is water nearby.”  The dragon thrust his head down next to me.  “There is a pool two caverns over.  The water is cool and sweet.  I could take you there.”

I didn’t need to see the panic in Max’s eyes to know how he’d feel about that.  “Umm, I don’t think we can move Max yet.”

“Then I could fetch you some.  Have you a bucket?”

I snorted.  “Yeah, right over here with my hacksaw and cordless drill.  Dragon, you’ve seen my luggage.  Where would I have kept a bucket?”

He poked at my suitcase with a claw.  “You had metal sticks hidden in there.  How can I tell what else there might be?”

I pulled the suitcase over to me and unzipped it.  “Nope.  No buckets.  I’ve got a spare pair of shoes, but while my feet are big, they’re not that big.”  I pulled out the plastic bag I’d tucked in for laundry and shook it open.  “There’s this, I suppose.”

The dragon cocked his head at it.  “Hummm.  What is that stuff?  Some kind of silk?”

“Plastic.  It’s made from…umm…petroleum.”  Which came from dead dinosaurs, but maybe he didn’t need to know that.  Dinosaurs being kind of like dragons, after all.

“It looks flimsy.”

I remembered how easily the dragon’s claw had sliced open my hand.  “Yes, it is.  Maybe it’d be better if–”

A loud clang from the direction of the tunnel interrupted me.  We all turned to stare at the train.

“What was–” Max started to say.

Then we heard more sounds:  Thumpings.  Bumpings.  And a loud, male voice, shouting, “Move! Move! Move!”

I jumped to my feet just in time to see a stream of fatigue-clad figures pour out of the train’s open door, brandishing firearms.

I turned to the dragon, waving my arms.  “Get out of here, now!”


“They’re armed.  And they’ll hurt you.  Go!”  Not waiting to see whether he listened, I turned and started running toward the uniformed figures, my hands in the air.  “Don’t shoot!  Please!”

I hadn’t gone more than about six steps when the dragon’s paw swooped down out of nowhere and scooped me up.  He whirled and began running away from the soldiers.  Shots rang out, and shouts echoed in the cavern, but the dragon kept going.

For the first few moments, shock kept me from realizing that two of the dragon’s razor-sharp claws had gone right through the flesh of my thigh, and that another pierced my upper arm.  But then the pain hit me, searing through me with each of the dragon’s jolting steps.  I couldn’t even draw breath to scream.

I struggled to make some kind of noise, any kind, to let the dragon know of my agony.  When that didn’t work, I tried pounding on his claws with my other hand.  But my feeble attempts only made the torment worse as my body twisted against the claws that stabbed through me.

And then, just when I wondered how much more I could endure, the world went abruptly away.

* * *

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Writing Thursday: Show Me; or, Making The Words Count

So as I mentioned last week, I had a dilemma with one of my scenes.  It was telling, not showing.  But at the same time, I was also trying to reduce my overall word count for this story.

After looking at it some more, though, I decided it was worth it to add a bit to the word count in order to put a little more tension into this scene.  So I dove in, and about 400 words later, decided that I was right.

The original scene looked like this:

By the time they were over the Black Sea, they’d stacked up enough wood to last a little while, so they all pitched in to help with the water-gathering plan.

Unfortunately, the sea’s surface was far choppier than the alpine lake Celia and her father had used before.  Even after Celia reduced their speed to a minimum, the canvas buckets simply bounced across the waves.

Here’s the revised scene.  As a recap, our heroes are fleeing across eastern Europe in the airship Sophie’s Lightning.  They’ve just escaped an enemy fortress, where they were imprisoned and tortured.  Our main character, Celia, has an injured hand; her father is suffering from pneumonia.  Eudora and Adja are two of Celia’s three half-sisters.  Lillian, little sister of Celia’s fiance, is also avidly interested in airships.  They’ve discovered that they’re low on fuel, so they’ve started to burn parts of the ship so they can keep going.  They’re also low on water (the craft is steam-powered).


By the time they were over the Black Sea, they’d stacked up enough wood to last a little while, so they all pitched in to help with the water-gathering plan.

With Lillian by her side, Celia brought the Lightning closer to the water.  Their longest rope was about ninety feet long, which meant that they’d need to skim about fifty feet above the surface.  Celia’d done it before, but during daylight over a relatively calm mountain lake, and with two good hands.  Now it was dark, she was injured, and the sea below looked rough and choppy.

“There’s too much glare from the glass.  I can’t judge the distance well enough.”  She leaned back in the pilot’s seat, rubbing her eyes with one hand.  “We have to take the windows down.  It’ll be chilly, but that can’t be helped.”

“I’ll get them.”  Eudora set down the canvas bucket she held ready to throw out the back of the ship and touched Lillian’s shoulder.  “Come on, sprout.  You can help.”

Celia turned to her father.  “Perhaps you should go below, Papa.  At least until we can put the windows back up.”

He shook his head.  “I’ll be fine.”

He didn’t look fine, though.  He looked drawn and tired, and even when he wasn’t coughing, his breath rasped in his lungs.  Celia shivered.

“Let me bring you another blanket.”  Adja disappeared down the ladder to the lower deck and returned a moment later.  She swathed her father’s head and shoulders in warm wool.  “There.”

“You needn’t fuss over me.”

“Of course we must.”  Adja smiled.  “You are our father.”

Once the windows were down, the chill sea breeze made Celia wish for a blanket of her own.  “Lillian, let’s turn her about ten degrees to starboard, to get us facing into the wind a little better.  There, that’s good.  Now, just a little lower…perfect.  Brace yourselves, everyone.  There’ll be a bit of a tug when the bucket hits the water.  Eudora, go ahead.”

“Aye, aye.”  They heard a splash from behind, but the expected tug never came.

“It’s not working,” Eudora called from the rear of the ship.  “The water’s too choppy.  The bucket’s just bouncing across the surface.”

“All right.  Pull it back in.  I’ll slow her down a little, and we can try again.”

But their second try wasn’t any more successful, nor was their third.  Celia pounded the control panel in frustration.

Papa put an arm around her shoulders.  “There is another option, you know.”

“I know.  But those ships might still be following us.”

“If they are, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Very well.”  She leaned forward and cut power to the propeller.

Adja looked from Celia to their father.  “What are we going to do?”

“Land.”  Celia couldn’t help cringing a little as she pulled the cord to vent precious hot air from the canopy.

“In the water?” Lillian asked.  “But….”

Papa smiled.  “The gondola is designed to float.”


I think the scene is a big improvement; it helps showcase the relationships between some of the characters, and adds some tension to the story–not only by showing their failure to fill their water tanks, but by showing the worsening condition of Celia’s father, and that Celia herself is tired and frustrated.

It’s worth noting that even with the addition of 400 words or so, the total final word count still came in at around 123,175 (before the addition of the table of contents, which I’ll discuss next week).  This is well below my targeted 125,000 words, and a good 60,000 less than the novel’s original finished length.

So I’ve declared this particular draft done, and I’m now looking for a couple of beta readers.  (Sharon, you’re already on the list.  Check your mailbox.)  What I’m looking for here is not a detailed, line-by-line or even page-by-page critique.  What I’m looking for is:  Does the story make sense?  Does it flow well?  Are the characters believable and engaging?  Does the story hold your interest?

If you’d be interested in giving me that kind of feedback, please drop me a comment.

In the meantime…I get to start pondering the synopsis and cover letter.  Whee!

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Recipe Wednesday: More Tea Pictures

Hi, everyone!

I’ve got a few more photos from our recent tea party at AnomalyCon.  Sadly, we don’t seem to have gotten a picture of everything, but we got as much as we could before the locusts descended…er, I mean, before people started eating.


Cupcakes!  The little top hats, I’m told, were made from Tootsie Rolls.  In this picture, you can see the silver decanters of tea in the background, as well as the urn of non-alcoholic sangria (sadly, alcohol was not allowed).


Avocado and Bacon Tea Sandwiches.  My friend Melanie made these; the recipe can be found in the Denver Victorian and Steampunk Society recipe group on cookeatshare.com.


Roast Beef and Bleu Cheese Tea Sandwiches. Melanie also made these, but hasn’t posted the recipe yet.


Another shot of the nifty folding server thingy. (Yes, that’s the technical term.)  In the background is a Victorian-themed tote bag we got at Trader Joe’s.



Feta dip.  Really yummy.  This was served with bruschetta.


Taking Tea

People enjoying the spread.  We had quite the buffet, and not much left over.

I love tea parties.  I can’t wait until the next one!

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Writing Thursday: Showing, Not Telling; or, How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You?

I know this one.  Really, I do.


Don’t tell.

But when I’m trying to keep my word count down, sometimes it’s more economical to tell.  Because showing involves using lots of words, you know.  That “thousand words to paint a picture” and all.

Turns out I need to re-write part of a scene in the WIP I’m currently editing.  I couldn’t figure out why my airship chase, which ought to be exciting, was actually kinda boring.

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I figured it out.  It’s because I’m telling too much and not showing enough.

Here’s what I mean:

My heroes are in an airship, fleeing across eastern Europe.  They’ve discovered that they’re low on fuel, so they’ve started to burn parts of the ship, just so they can keep going.  They’re also low on water (the craft is steam-powered).  But our heroine, Celia, thinks she knows how to deal with this.  She’s planning to lower a canvas bucket at the end of a long rope and scoop up some water as they skim just above the Black Sea.  She knows this will work, because she did something like it once before.  So:

By the time they were over the Black Sea, they’d stacked up enough wood to last a little while, so they all pitched in to help with the water-gathering plan.

Unfortunately, the sea’s surface was far choppier than the alpine lake Celia and her father had used before.  Even after Celia reduced their speed to a minimum, the canvas buckets simply bounced across the waves.

Anyone still awake after that?  I thought not.

So obviously, what I need to do is to take that last sentence and show our brave crew trying, multiple times, to make this plan work, and failing.  Since I’ve edited out about a picture and a half of words (1,500) beyond my 125,000 word goal, I guess I’ve got a little wiggle room.

Time to start painting.

I’ll let you know how it turned out next week.

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Recipe Wednesday: Pictures From An Exhibition…er, Tea Party

As promised last week, I have a few quick photos from last weekend’s steampunk tea party at AnomalyCon.  Note that Beloved Husband took many more (and probably better) pictures, but I grabbed a few as well.  I’ve been wanting to practice my food porn; I’d also like to start collecting pictures of food I’ve prepared so I can add them to the “deluxe edition” of my cookbook.

So, keeping in mind that you’ll probably get to see more pictures later, here’s what I’ve got:

These are my favorite Cucumber and Mint Butter Sandwiches.  Note that for this particular occasion, I made the sandwiches on “sandwich slims” rather than on regular bread.  I think they held up better to being stored for a couple of days, then transported and set out for a picnic.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwiches.  These were a last-minute “pinch hit” for the watercress sandwiches I’d planned to make.  Alas, while my regular supermarket usually carries watercress, on the day I went in to shop for the tea party, they were out.  So I punted.  Note that for these sandwiches, I used what they bill as “smoked salmon trim,” which I’m guessing means the leftover bits after they make nice little slices of lox.  They’re a little thicker and more randomly-shaped, but a little less expensive, and sometimes, pennies count.

The recipe is about as straightforward as it sounds:  Soften one 8-oz. package of cream cheese and spread onto both parts of eight sandwich slims.  Top one side with smoked salmon bits (this was about a package and a half, or 12 oz.).  Cover and cut into triangles.

These are my famous Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches.  Well, I don’t know how famous they are, but I do get requests for them.  And oh, gosh darn, there was some left over!  It made a couple of breakfasts for me this week.

And finally, per Beloved Husband’s request, Ham Salad Sandwiches.  I didn’t post the recipe last week, so here it is now:

Ham Salad Sandwiches

3/4 pound ham, diced small
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/8 teaspoon dill weed
8 sandwich thins

Mix filling ingredients and spread on sandwich thins. Cut into interesting shapes.  Makes 32 tea sandwiches.

And as a bonus, here are some pictures of the overall spread.  (As I said, Beloved Husband got more/better pictures of this, so I might post those later.)

My nifty serving doo-hickey.  I’ve been dying to use this ever since I found it in a thrift store.  The middle tray swivels into a vertical position, then the two side trays fold up for storage.  (I meant to get a picture of it in its “stored” position, but forgot.)  I was surprised to see how many sandwiches it held.

The spread, part 1.  This was before the rest of the food showed up.  The table is actually two of our roll-up tables (like the ones sold here), covered with an India-print bedspread my dad brought back from Pakistan 35+ years ago.  (Mom kept it around for years and never used it for anything, and recently passed it along to me.)  In the bowls are (top to bottom) marniated cucumber slices, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and sweet pickles.  We also had a lovely fruit tray.

The spread, part 2.  The other two varieties of sandwiches, made by my friend Melanie, are avocado and bacon, and roast beef and bleu cheese, both very yummy.

Of course, after this, I got too busy prepping stuff to take more pictures–there were actually two more tables full of stuff, along with decanters for beverages.  But this gives you a basic idea.

In the meantime, a couple of members of the Denver Victorian and Steampunk Society (DVSS) and I decided it would be cool to have a place to share our recipes.  So to that end, I created a group for us on cookeatshare.com.  Feel free to drop in, leave comments, and browse through our recipes.

What’s everyone else cooking up, now that spring is here?

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Writing Thursday: Brief Updates; or News From The Trenches

In a bit of a rush today, so I’m going to keep things brief.  But this week’s exciting news is that I’m about halfway through my current desperate hunt for extraneous words in my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne (Book I), and yesterday, finally, my word count dipped below the targeted 125,000 mark.

Which technically means I could stop now and declare it done.  But since I found 2,300 extra words in the first half of the story, isn’t it possible that I might find another 2,300 in the second half?  And if I did that, I might have room to squeak one or two of my deleted scenes back in.  Because there are a couple I really miss.

But something I am finding is that removing or revising wordy passages seems to be improving the overall pacing of the story, as well as keeping up the tension a little better.  It’s made it easier to add slight tweaks to certain characters to make them stand out better.  And it means that the parts that remain are more important and more obvious.

I’m delighted that, even after staring at this story for the better part of three months now, I don’t hate it.  In fact, a few of the tweaks I’m making this time through are really helping to bring the overall picture together, and I’m feeling happy about that.

Which isn’t to say I won’t be glad when I can declare this part of the job to be “done,” and move on to the next stage (synopsis and cover letter, eek!).  And it would be nice to get back to work on Book 3, so I can get that finished up.  Not to mention my long-neglected fairy story, and my space pirate series, and a couple of other things that are rattling around in my brain.

And now, must dash.  Off to AnomalyCon this weekend.  See y’all next week!

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Recipe Wednesday: My Favorite Tea Sandwiches

This weekend, some friends and I are planning a potluck tea/picnic with friends while we all attend a local steampunk convention.  Like most convention venues, dining options are limited, so we decided to bring our own.

I’ll post pictures and more recipes next week, but this time out, I wanted to post my top three favorite tea sandwich recipes.

First my all-time favorite:


Cucumber Sandwiches with Mint Butter

1/2 cup butter, softened
3-4 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
12 thin slices white bread, crusts removed
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced thin

In a small bowl, combine the butter and mint. Mix well.
Spread the mint butter on all of the bread slices. Cover half of the buttered bread slices with cucumber.  (I usually figure 6 cucumber slices to a sandwich.)  Top with the remaining bread (butter side in, of course).  Cut off crusts, then cut into quarters, triangles, or fingers.  Arrange nicely on a plate and serve.


I love the flavor of mint and cucumbers together.  And of course, the mint has to be fresh (which, this time of year, sadly means those nasty plastic packages from the supermarket).  Use a mandolin (carefully!) to get the cucumber slices nice and thin and even.

This is probably my second-most-favorite tea sandwich:


Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches

8 eggs
1/2 – 2/3 cup mayonnaise
Onion powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Curry powder, to taste
12 slices thinly sliced sandwich bread

Hard boil eggs; cool and peel. Chop finely. Mix in mayonnaise and spices. Spread on thinly sliced sandwich bread and cut off crusts. Cut into interesting shapes. Makes 6 sandwiches (before cutting).


I don’t know what it is about curry and eggs together, but now that I’ve tried it, it’s hard to imagine egg salad without it.  As far as “to taste” goes, I usually start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder.  The generic yellow curry powder that you buy at the grocery store seems to work best, though you should feel free to experiment with other types, too.

And finally, what would a tea party be without watercress sandwiches?


Watercress Sandwiches

1 bunch watercress
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
8 slices bread

Layer watercress on half of the bread slices.  Chop the parsley as finely as you can. Blend with butter, cream cheese and chives. (Alternatively, blend using a food processor.)  Spread on the other half of the bread slices, and make into sandwiches. Remove crusts and cut into interesting shapes.


A couple of tips:

  • When slicing off crusts and cutting tea sandwiches into interesting shapes, use a serrated bread knife, and keep a damp cloth nearby to wipe off your blade between cuts.  That way, the finished sandwiches look tidier and more appetizing.
  • Pick the squarest loaves of bread you can find, and do your best to get them home without squashing them.  If your bread slices seem too thick, flatten them a little with a rolling pin before making sandwiches.
  • Don’t overfill the sandwiches, especially if you need to transport them somewhere first.
  • Garnishes do wonders for the presentation of your finished plate.

What other tea sandwiches do people enjoy?

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Writing Thursday: Why Not Take All Of Me; or, Reducing Wordiness

For the past few weeks, I’ve been a woman on a mission.

I’ve been trying to reduce my work-in-progress, The Daughters Of August Winterbourne (Book I) down to 125,000 words.  The first draft weighed in at around 185,000 words; the second draft, which I considered pretty solid and lean, was 145,000 words.  But I knew I had to cut more, and so (as chronicled previously) I embarked on my most stringent edit yet.

I’m now about 2/3 of the way through that edit, and I have the manuscript down below 131,000 words.  It’s going to be close, but I might, just might, be able to meet the 125,000 word goal.

In the process, I’m learning a lot about how to reduce wordiness in a manuscript.  Here are some of my most frequent offenders:

  • “All of”.  In most cases, “all of” isn’t needed.  In this story in particular, I have “Celia and all of her sisters” doing things together.  A lot.  But removing “all of” doesn’t really change the meaning:  “Celia and her sisters” conveys the meaning just as well, if not better.
  • “That”.  I thought the 7,652* occurrences of the word “that” I’d already removed in the previous edit round would have been enough, but going through the story again, I found plenty more.
  • Contractions.  Okay, yes, it’s the Victorian era, and it might be more correct to limit the use of contractions…and it might help add to one’s NaNoWriMo word count…but dialogue without contractions ends up sounding stiff and stilted.  I can still do things with sentence structure and word choice to lend an antique feel to the dialogue, but replacing parts of words with apostrophes has improved dialogue flow.  And characters who don’t use contractions–ones for whom English is not their native tongue, generally–now stand out more.
  • Dialogue tags.  I could do a whole entry on just dialogue tags, but I think I’ll save that for another day.  But one particular form of dialogue tag needs to be mentioned here:  the kind that combines a dialogue tag with an action.  For example:

“Very well,” said Celia, turning to leave.

Which isn’t horrible.  But if I change it to:

“Very well.”  Celia turned to leave.

It’s cleaner, tighter, flows better…and I just saved two words.  Which, I blush to admit, adds up to a lot.

  • “Just”.  About nine times out of ten, I can remove the word “just” from a sentence without significantly changing the meaning.  So “A voice rang out from just beyond the trees” becomes “A voice rang out from beyond the trees.”  I’d be willing to bet that your mental image of where the speaker was standing didn’t change much between the two versions of the sentence.
  • Adverbs.  I’m not going to say you can’t use them, ever.  But make sure they add something to the sentence that couldn’t be done by making better word choices elsewhere:  “He walked softly” vs. “He crept”, for example.
  • “Seemed/Felt/Couldn’t Help”.  If your POV character feels something, the reader assumes that she’s the one feeling it, so you don’t need to state that.  For example, change “It seemed to Celia that the night air was growing colder” to “The night air grew colder.”  I also have a lot of characters who “couldn’t help” doing something–couldn’t help grinning, couldn’t help laughing, etc.  While it’s okay to do that once or twice, most of the time, “grinned” and “laughed” work just as well, if not better.
  • “Was [verb]ing”.  You can usually change these to [verbed] instead:  “Celia was looking down at the crowd” vs. “Celia looked down at the crowd.”

Looking at this list, I can see that not only do these culprits add unnecessary words to my word count, but they keep my writing from being as tight and strong as it deserves to be.

What other tricks have people learned for reducing word counts?


* Okay, I didn’t actually count them.  But it seemed like that many.

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Recipe Wednesday: Meatballs From History (Part 3 of 3)

For our third excursion into “Meatballs From History,” I present a dish called “Golden Apples”.

Medieval and Renaissance-era cookery texts contain numerous examples of “illusion foods” — foods that are disguised as other foods, or even non-food objects.  One of medieval cooks’ favorite games to play seems to have been to dress up strings of dried fruits to make them look like animal intestines.  Surprise!  Yes, the fourth-grade-boy mentality was alive and well, even back then.

Golden Apples, or Pomme Dorryse (as they were called in 1390) are meatballs that have been painted with an egg batter so as to resemble apples.  Here’s the original recipe:

Pomme Dorryse

Farsur to make pomme dorryse and oþhere þynges.
Take þe lire of pork rawe, and grynde it smale.  Medle it vp wiþ eyren & powder fort, safroun and salt; and do þerto raisouns of courance.  Make balles þerof, and wete it wele in white of ayren, & do it to seeþ in boillyng water.  Take hem vp and put hem on a spyt.  Rost hem wel, and take persel ygrounde and wryng it vp with ayren & a perty of flour, and lat erne aboute þe spyt.  And if þou wilt, take for persel, safroun; and serue it forth.
–Forme of Cury (c. 1390), #182, as quoted in Curye on Inglysch

What’s that you say?  You’d like to see that again in English?  But…that is English!  You’ve all studied your Chaucer, right?  (Hint:  Say the words aloud, and most of them will make sense.)

Oh, all right.  Here’s a slightly-modernized rendition:

Forced meat to make pomme dorryse and other things.
Take the meat of pork, raw, and grind it small.  Mix it up with eggs & strong powder, saffron and salt; and do thereto currants.  Make balls thereof, and wet it well in white of egg, & do it to seethe in boiling water.  Take them up and put them on a spit.  Roast them well, and take ground parsley and wring it up with eggs & a party of flour, and let turn about the spit.  And if you will, take for parsley, saffron; and serve it forth.

So, essentially, you take ground pork and mix it with eggs, spices, and currants.  Roll them into meatballs, dip them in egg white, and parboil them.  Then put them on a spit and roast them, coating them with a mixture of eggs and flour that has been colored with either parsley (for green) or saffron (for yellow).  Here’s my rendition:

5 pounds pork, ground
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon poudre fort (or substitute a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and nutmeg)
5-8 threads saffron
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups currants
1/2 bunch parsley, washed and plucked
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup rice flour
5-8 more threads saffron

Mix pork, eggs, poudre fort, saffron, salt, and currants, mixing thoroughly as possible.  Form into 1” (or slightly larger) meatballs.  Bring salted water to a boil and poach meatballs in it just until they float.  Skewer meatballs on bamboo skewers and suspend above a roasting pan.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, take 6 eggs, the parsley, and half the rice flour and puree together in a food processor or blender.  Set aside.  Take the other 6 eggs, the remaining rice flour, and the saffron, and likewise puree it in the blender; set this aside, also.  When the meatballs are cooked, remove them from the oven, and while they are still hot, baste half with the first egg mixture, and the other half with the second; return to oven for a minute or two until this coating solidifies.  Repeat until you run out of the egg mixtures.

(Note that for some reason, I seem to have skipped the step of dipping the meatballs in egg white before boiling.  Hmmm.  Wonder why I did that?)


I don’t think anyone would actually be fooled into thinking these were apples, but they do make a pretty dish.

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Writing Thursday: Responding To A Prompt; or, I Commit An Act Of Short Fiction

A little something different this week:  A friend of a friend, whose blog I follow, runs a monthly writing contest, where she throws out an orphaned first line and invites people to write either the first paragraph of a story or the first stanza of a poem in response.  Which I think is wonderful fun, and it’s always amusing to see the different takes people come up from the same starting point.

This month, the prompt was, “Her bones remembered the proper shape.”

And to my surprise, what came out of my brain was a paragraph-long short story, probably the shortest story I’ve ever written (165 words):

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 bathroom mirror. A monster stared back. Vivid scarlet 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.


Which, I later decided, would also make a great first paragraph for an urban fantasy/murder mystery, with shapeshifter Jana as the main character–and suspect in the murder, when the bullying boy is discovered dead at his own birthday party.  But it makes a great little story just as it is, I think.

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever written?

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Recipe Wednesday: Meatballs From History (Part 2 of 3)

My next entry in my “Historical Meatballs” collection is embarrassing, in a couple of ways.

The first is because I’ve been making these yummy meatballs for at least ten years now, and for almost all of that time, I’ve been calling them by the wrong name.  Which is one of the hazards of using a secondary source as a reference; the incorrect name I’d been using was the one assigned to it by the author of that source.

And the second reason is the name of the dish itself:  “Farts of Portingale.”

(Admit it:  Your inner seven-year-old giggled, didn’t he/she?)

The name I called them by for lo, these many years was “Fysts of Portingale”.  But when I finally had the opportunity to track down the original source, I discovered that “Fysts” actually referred to the next recipe in the manuscript (which seems to be a ball made of suet and eggs).  But the one I knew and loved was, without a doubt, “Farts of Portingale.”  (It would appear that Fysts are larger, “as big as tennis balles”, while Farts are smaller; I make mine about the size of a walnut.)

But regardless of the name, these little guys are tasty.

So first, here’s the original source recipe:

How to make farts of portingale:
Take a piece of a leg of mutton, mince it smal and season it with cloves, mace, pepper and salt, and Dates mixed with Currans, then roll it into round rolles, and so into little balles, and so boyle them in a little beefe broth and so serve them foorth.

–The Good Huswife’s Handmaid, 1594; recipe originally quoted as “Fysts of Portingale” in Seven Centuries of English Cooking

This actually seems pretty straightforward.  So here’s what I came up with:

1 pound ground lamb
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon each salt, ground mace, and ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup currants
1 quart beef stock

Mix all ingredients except for the stock.  Form the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut and poach in the beef stock for 5-7 minutes.

The original implies that they should be served hot, but they’re quite good cold as well.  (They make a great picnic or sideboard dish.)  Or, if you need to make them ahead of time, you can easily re-heat them before serving by re-poaching them in broth.

And don’t throw out that lovely, rich broth when you’re finished!  After you skim off the fat, the broth is great in soups or to flavor other dishes.

I like these best when made with lamb, but since I’m often making them for an SCA feast where cost can be an issue, cutting them half-and-half with beef is a good compromise.  I’ve even made them with just beef and had them turn out well.

Oh, and an on-line source says that “Portingale” means “Portuguese”.  In case you were wondering.


Has anyone else later discovered that they’ve been calling a favorite dish by the wrong name?  Was it funny or embarrassing?

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Dragon Friday #14: Dragon Friday Falls On Monday This Week

Sorry this is late. But it means you get to have a Dragon Monday instead of a Dragon Friday this week!

The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2012 Sheila McClune
Part 14

* * *

“Little hoo-mun?”

I jerked out of my doze.  “What?”

“You fell asleep again.”  The dragon craned his neck down to look more closely at me, his eyes glowing a deep red.

“Sorry.  It’s been a long day.  I’ve been up since six, and it’s now…” I squinted at Max’s cell phone, “just after two, and I’m tired.”  I was also thirsty and needed to pee, but I wasn’t sure what I could do about either of those things.  I moved to kneel at Max’s side again.  “Max?  Still with me?”

“Yeah.”  He sounded more alert than I did.

I counted his pulse, felt his forehead.  Still fast and clammy, in that order.  “How do you feel?”

He took so long to answer that I wondered if he’d fallen asleep.  He finally cleared his throat and said, “Scared.”

I stroked his hair back from his forehead.  “I know.  Me too.  But hang in there.  They’ll have checked the passenger lists by now, figured out that we’re missing.  They’re going to send someone for us.  They will.  I know it.”

He snorted softly.  “Would you?”

“Would I what?”

He thrust his chin in the direction of the train.  “If it were your decision to make, would you send someone through that portal thing, just on the off chance that we’re here and need help?”

“It’s a Fae gate,” the dragon corrected him from over my shoulder.

I tried to ignore the awful feeling in the pit of my stomach, the one where it felt like I’d just swallowed something the size, shape, and consistency of a cinderblock.  “Of course they will.  Rescue personnel are trained to deal with unusual situations–”

“Not like this one, they’re not.  There’s no way they could prepare for something like this, because we’ve never freaking had a situation like this before.”  The edge of fear had crept back into his voice, making me shiver.  “We have to face the fact that they might choose not to deal with it at all, that they might just decide to brick up the tunnel and forget this ever happened.”

My fingers turned to ice.  “They would never do that!”

“Wouldn’t they?  Then why aren’t they here already?  This is the airport.  How long do you suppose it takes for emergency and rescue crews to get here?  Ten minutes, tops.  If they were coming at all, they’d have come within the first half hour.”

“Maybe…maybe they just can’t get to us.  Maybe other parts of the train tunnel collapsed, and they’re having to dig down to the portal–”

A rumble came from behind me.  “Gate.”

I looked over my shoulder at the dragon.  “Gate.  Whatever.”  I turned back to Max.  “Give them a chance, okay?”  But when I reached for his good hand, he yanked it away and turned his face as far away from me as he could.

“Fine.”  I stood, stretched, and went back to my rock.  Perching on the edge, I drew up my knees, wrapped my arms around them, and tried not to cry.  Dammit.

Minutes passed.  I heard the dragon shift, then felt his warm breath on the back of my neck again.  I found it oddly comforting, like a caress.

Finally, Max spoke, his voice cold with fear.  “Maddie?  I-I can’t feel my fingers anymore.”

The cinderblock in my stomach rotated a hundred and eighty degrees.  I let go of my knees and sat up straight.  “Oh, God.  How long?”

“I dunno.  Half an hour.  Maybe a little more.”

Pulling Max’s phone out of my pocket, I pressed a button to light it and moved to his side.  Even in the dim, blue-tinted light, I could see that his fingertips weren’t the right color.  “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I kept hoping….”  He sighed, squeezing his eyes shut.  “Never mind.”

“So what do we do?”  I was afraid I already knew the answer.

He groped for my hand, and I gave it to him.  “I think…oh God….”


He opened his eyes and looked up at me.  “It might be too late already, but…I think you’re going to have to try to set my arm.”

Yep.  That’s what I was afraid of.

* * *

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Writing Thursday: A Matter Of Some Delicacy; or, Getting Intimate With Your Characters

First off, my apologies for not getting this posted last night.  For some reason, my netbook just didn’t want to talk to the network last night.  It gets that way sometimes.

This is an entry I’ve been saving up since last November when, in the midst of the NaNoWriMo frenzy, one of my NaNo buddies realized she had reached the point in her story where she needed to write a sex scene, and she had no idea how to go about it.

While I’m far from being an expert on such things, I have managed to write a few steamy scenes without blushing myself out of existence.  So here’s the advice I gave her:

  1. First and foremost, the scene should be necessary to the plot.  Because as much fun as it might be to show your characters finally hooking up, just like any other scene, if it doesn’t move the story ahead or help develop the characters in any way, it doesn’t need to be there.  (Unless you’re writing erotica, and even then, it probably works better if your characters have some motivation for being together besides, “We’re horny, let’s have sex!”)
  2. A tactical scene cut can be your best friend. Talk about the foreplay, and how it makes your character feel, and have her ask herself whether she’s really ready, and so on. Show them starting to get down to business, and then…cut to them cuddling together in bed afterward.
  3. This really is one of the times when “less is more” — all you have to do is sketch out the outlines, and the reader’s mind WILL do the rest. I once had reader take me to task for how “pornographic” one of my stories was, when it really only had two interrupted sex scenes (one where they never even got as far as undressing) and one all-out sex scene that lasted all of about two paragraphs. But to her mind, I had written pages and pages of smut.
  4. Remember that the path to true love–or at least, lust–is not always smooth.  Let’s face it, sex can be darned awkward, especially with someone you don’t know well.  Don’t be afraid to show that, or to have your characters involved in a scene where they don’t end up cuddling happily together in bed after having both achieved total satisfaction.
  5. Make the language you use fit the piece.  A gently-bred Regency-era miss having her first experience is going to describe the act far differently than a hard-bitten New York City street kid or a bored suburban housewife.
  6. On that note, however, use euphemisms carefully.  Using clinical, scientific terms will either make the scene sterile and uninteresting, or it’ll turn out sounding like porn.  But you probably also don’t want to go too far to the other extreme and describe things too euphemistically, either–phrases like “his throbbing, pulsating rod” are more likely to make your reader giggle than feel the mood.  Remember that this is one place where subtle inferences such as, “she felt his warmth pressing against her” can work. Your reader can probably figure out what part of him is warm and just where it’s pressing against her.
  7. Keep an eye on dialogue. This is a place where it can easily get cheesy or stilted. Remember that people don’t usually talk in complete, coherent sentences when in the midst of the act. And be on the lookout for cliches–they can slip into a sex scene oh-so-easily!
  8. Finally, relax and have some fun with it. Remember, unlike real life, if it doesn’t come out well, you can always edit–or even delete–it later!

What advice do other folks have regarding those intimate scenes?

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Recipe Wednesday: More Meatballs: Meatballs From History (Part 1 of 3)

After posting some of my favorite meatball recipes last week, I realized that I had more to share.

As some of you may know, one of my interests is historical cookery: looking at cookbooks and manuscripts from various historical periods and trying to re-create the dishes I find in them.  This can be challenging, since a lot of historical recipes don’t bother with silly things like cooking times, temperatures, or amounts of ingredients.  There’s a fair bit of trial and error involved, but occasionally, you end up with a dish that’s really tasty.

So for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to talk about Meatballs From History.  First up, a recipe from Roman times, from Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria:


Esicia Omentata
(Stuffed Meat Dumplings)

Original recipe (or at least a translation thereof):
Grind chopped meat with the center of fine white bread that has been soaked in wine.  Grind together pepper, garum, and pitted myrtle berries if desired.  Form small patties, putting in pine nuts and pepper.  Wrap in omentum and cook slowly in caroenum.
–Apicius 48


The first thing you probably noticed is that there are a couple of ingredients with which many modern cooks are not familiar.  So let’s take a look at those:

  • Garum:  A sauce made from fish that have been salted and fermented.  Which sounds disgusting, I know.  However, Vietnamese fish sauce is essentially the same thing, and saves you the trouble of fermenting your own.  And it does add a nice note to the flavor of the finished dish.
  • Caroenum:  This is essentially a red wine that has been reduced in half by cooking.  Some sources suggest the addition of honey to make it sweeter.  But this is easy enough for a modern cook to do.
  • Omentum:  Pork caul fat, the lacy, fatty membrane encasing the internal organs of an animal.  Which you can probably get if you’re friends with a butcher, or if you’re willing to hunt it down on-line.  But not something you can go into your local grocery store and just pick up.  At least not in Denver, Colorado (which is where I live).  It looks like the purpose of the caul fat in this recipe is to act as a sort of sausage casing, so you could try substituting those.  Or (as I chose to do), you could just leave it out.

So now that we have that sorted out, let’s look at amounts

  • 4 cups red wine — After reducing it by half, that would leave about two cups.  Which should be enough to poach a pound of meatballs
  • 1 pound ground pork or beef — The original recipe says, “Meat”.  So you could go with beef, pork, or lamb.  I usually use beef, just because that’s readily available where I live.
  • 4 slices of white bread — or a chunk of a shepherd’s or French bread loaf
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 8-10 juniper berries — I couldn’t find myrtle berries, so I used these instead
  • 2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce — substituting for garum
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

All of that seems pretty reasonable, right?  Next, the process:

Put the four cups of red wine in a saucepan.  Boil over medium-high heat for about half an hour, or until the liquid has reduced by half.

Meanwhile, remove the crusts from the slices of bread and tear the bread into bits.  Place in a large bowl and pour the 1/4 cup of red wine over them.  Knead until the red wine is evenly distributed; the mixture should be pasty.  Add meat and mix well.
Grind together peppercorns and juniper berries.  Mix with fish sauce and pour over meat mixture.  Mix until spices are evenly distributed.

Form walnut-sized meatballs, making a hollow in each with your thumb.  Place 6-8 pine nuts in the hollow and roll meatball firmly to seal.  Poach dumplings in reduced wine for about 6 minutes, turning once while cooking.  Remove meatballs and allow remaining liquid to reduce by half.  Serve hot, with reduced liquid as a sauce.


There is some debate as to what shape these meatballs really ought to be.  The Latin word “isicia” can translate to patties or sausages.  Because of the “patty” translation, some folks have chosen to interpret these as the equivalent of a modern hamburger patty.  However, given the instructions to wrap them in caul fat, I think “sausage” is a more accurate translation.

Because they’re poached in reduced red wine, the meatballs turn out a lovely, burgundy color.  The flavors of the wine and peppercorns blend together nicely, and, well, I’m a sucker for anything with pine nuts in it.

If anyone decides to try these, please let me know how yours turned out!

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Double Dragon Friday #13: The Return of Dragon Friday

I know.  I’ve been slacking on this a bit.  I’ve got a whole string of excuses lined up, if you want to hear them.  But, bottom line, I’ve been neglecting my dragon and his friends.  So to make up for it, I hereby declare this to be “Double-Dragon Friday.”

That’s right.  This week only, a special, double-length edition of Dragon Friday! *

The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2012 Sheila McClune
Part 13

I hadn’t quite finished shaking when the dragon returned, luggage dangling from his claws.  I snagged our coats from him and spread them out over Max, tucking his gently around his broken arm.

“Thanks, Maddie.”  He gave me a crooked smile.

“You’re welcome.”  I perched on a nearby rock and pulled my suitcase over to me.  “Now, what have we got that we could use for splints?”

Not much, it turned out, thanks to the TSA.  I finally decided that my best bet would be to see if I could somehow pull the extendable handle off of my suitcase.  That would get me two metal bars.  With those, and a couple of scarves I had tucked in my bag, and the belt from my bathrobe, I might be able to put something together that would at least keep Max’s arm from being jostled around too much.

It took me the better part of an hour to figure out how to detach the handle from the case, though.  Having the dragon literally breathing over my shoulder the whole time didn’t help, but it did keep me a little warmer.

“Really, Maddie,” said Max, “you don’t need to go to all that trouble.  Portal between worlds or not, I’m sure someone will be along to rescue us soon.”

“Look, if I’m going to all this work to ruin my suitcase for you, the least you can do is to shut up and let me.”  I looked up from the tweezers I was trying to use as a Phillips screwdriver.  “What, don’t you trust me?”

“How can I trust you?  I hardly even know you.”  He tried to shrug, then winced as the movement jostled his arm.

“It’s not like I’m going to try to set the bone.  I just want to immobilize your arm.”  I nearly toppled off of my rock as the suitcase handle suddenly came free.  I held it up triumphantly.  “There!”

Max lifted an eyebrow.  “I might have more faith if you hadn’t cut yourself three times just getting that thing loose.”

“Only twice.  The other one was from before, when I cut my hand on the dragon’s claw.”  The bulky lump of torn t-shirt I’d wound around it as a bandage hadn’t helped my efforts with the suitcase handle.  I picked up the scarves and belt I planned to use as ties.  “All right.  Might as well get this over with.”

I wasn’t prepared for Max to go into an all-out panic attack.  “No, Maddie, please!  I’m begging you.  Just give the rescue crews a little more time.  A couple more hours.  That’s all I ask.  Please?”

I looked down at him in the dim light, biting my lip.  Between his deathly pallor and the sheen of sweat on his upper lip, I could see that he was terrified.  But why?

“I’ll make you a deal,” he said, clutching at me with his good hand.  “If they haven’t come in two hours, I–I’ll let you do it then.  Okay?”

I set down the handle and the scarves and knelt beside him.  “Why?  What is it?  Is it the pain?  I’ll be as gentle as I can, I promise.  And it’ll feel better afterwards.  You won’t keep bumping it and jostling it.”

“No, that’s not it.”  His eyes slid away from my face to stare over my shoulder, and I knew the dragon was still watching us.  “It’s just…look, I’m fine for now, really I am.  Can’t I just lie here for a little while and rest?”  He looked back at me, and then at the dragon, and then at me again, furrowing his brows pointedly.

I’ve always sucked at charades, unfortunately.  What was he trying to tell me?  That he wanted to talk to me without the dragon around?  But how was I going to manage that?  I glanced around and had an inspiration.  “I suppose giving you a little time to rest couldn’t hurt.  Your heart rate is a bit better.”  I touched his forehead.  “But you still feel clammy to me.”  I reached my hand toward the boulders the dragon had heated for us.  “I think the rocks are cooling off.  Dragon, could you warm them up for us?”

“Of course.”  Claws reached in and delicately plucked the boulder near Max’s head from the cave floor.  The others soon followed.  “I will be back in a moment.”

As soon as he was gone, Max tugged urgently at my sleeve.  “Please don’t splint my arm,” he said, softly.  “If you do, the dragon will think it’s okay to move me….”

Suddenly, it all made sense.  “And there’d be nothing to keep him from scooping us up and flying away to who-knows-where with us.”  I sat back on my heels.  “Oh, God.  I didn’t think of that.”


I ignored his sarcasm in his voice, trying to think what to do.  The dragon’s blasts of fire lit up the cave once again, and I took advantage of the extra illumination to study Max.  The dark pools of his eyes made his face look even paler in the harsh light.  His sweat-soaked hair clung limply to his forehead.  And I wasn’t sure, but the fingertips of his left hand, poking out from under his jacket, seemed a little blue.  That definitely wasn’t a good sign.  Then the light vanished, and I blinked into the darkness.

“Please, Maddie?” he whispered.

Sighing, I ran a hand through my hair.  “All right.  I’ll do my best to stall.  But we really should splint that arm before too long.  And…and if it looks like we’re going to be here for any length of time, I’m afraid I’m going to have to try to set it.”

He winced.  “Yeah, I know.  I’ve been trying not to think about that.”  His gaze shifted over my shoulder again.  “Look out.  Incoming.”

I twisted around just in time to see the dragon’s claws lowering a rock out of the darkness.  The other three followed, and I stretched my icy fingers out to the nearest one to warm them up a bit.  “Thanks, Dragon.”

“You’re welcome, little hoo-mun.  So are you going to splint the male hoo-mun’s arm now?”

I shook my head.  “Not just yet.  We’re going to wait a little longer and see if they send a rescue party for us.”

“But why wait?  The male hoo-mun is in pain, is he not?”

“Yes, he is, but….”  I moved back to my rock, putting my elbows on my knees and dropping my head into my hands for a moment.  “It’s just…I’ve never splinted a broken bone before, and I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong and hurt him worse.”

The dragon sniffed.  “If you hoo-muns are such fragile creatures, why aren’t you better at fixing each other when you get broken?”

“Because we have people called doctors who are specially trained to do that for us.  They’re very good at it.  But I’m not one of them.”  I realized that one of the reasons I felt so miserable was because I was cold.  I pulled out a bulky sweater out of my suitcase and put it on.  It helped, some.

“Ah, I see.  So you’re hoping that one of these doctors is brave enough to come through the Fae Gate and fix the other hoo-mun, then.  Is that it?”

“Yes.”  I was really expecting an EMT, but close enough.  I sneaked a peek at Max’s cell phone.  11:57.  I tried to console myself with the fact that the train accident had probably shut down the entire airport, and that even if I wasn’t stuck in a cave talking to a dragon, I still wouldn’t be in my first-class seat on my way to Boston and Paul.

“Then we shall wait.”  The dragon settled himself down between piles of rocks with a happy hum.  “More hoo-muns.  I can’t wait to smell them.”

“Well, you’re certainly going to be a surprise to them,” I told him.

“So you were going to tell me about your communication device, and why it won’t work with our dwarven towers….”

I settled in to tell the dragon everything I knew about cellular communications.  It was going to be a long couple of hours.

* * *

* I usually aim for 700-800 words for these postings.

Posted in Dragon Friday | Tagged | Leave a comment

Writing Thursday: My “Eureka!” Moment; or, To Make A Long Story Short

I posted a couple of weeks ago that I had finished editing the first book of my “Daughters of August Winterbourne” series.

Turns out I was wrong about that.

See, something was still bothering me about the book, and that was…the length.  Granted, I’d done heroic work getting it down from the original 185,000 word count (yes, I know) to a mere 145,000.  But I’d really like to get it down to around 125,000, if I can.  (I’m not sure it’s entirely possible without excising a sub-plot, and I don’t really have any more that I consider expendable.)

Then I decided to look at it from a purely mathematical point of view: If I want my book to be around 125K, and it’s around 150K (rounding up to make the math easier), then essentially, what I need to do is to get rid of one word out of every six.

So I copied the first scene from the story into a blank document and started playing with it.  First, I took a stab at it at the sentence level.  If a sentence had six or more words, eliminate one.

Yeah.  That didn’t really work.  Too many sentences with fewer than six words.

Next, I attacked it at the paragraph level, starting with the first paragraph, which, at that point, looked like this:

The airship Sophie’s Lightning gleamed golden in the late afternoon sun as it hung over a grassy meadow just outside Windmill Hill.  The errant ocean breezes would have made landing the craft a challenge for a lesser pilot, but Celia Winterbourne had flown this particular ship since its maiden voyage five years earlier and knew its every nuance.  Her fingers danced over the control panel, making minute adjustments to the rudder and the steering propellers.

Not the worst first paragraph ever written, by any means.  But, I’ll also admit, not the best, either.

Okay, doing the math, it’s 75 words.  1/6th of that is 13 words (rounding up).  Subtract that from the starting total means that our target for this paragraph is 62 words.

So, which words can go?  I copied the paragraph and had at it with the delete key, and ended up with this:

The airship Sophie’s Lightning gleamed in the afternoon sun as it hung low over a grassy meadow near Windmill Hill.  Errant breezes buffeted the ship, complicating the landing, but Celia Winterbourne had piloted the Lightning since its maiden voyage five years earlier and knew its every nuance.  Her fingers danced over the control panel, adjusting the rudder and steering propellers.

Hey, that’s actually not too bad.  And it’s exactly 62 words.  Bingo! Though…wait.  Something’s not quite right….

I stared at it for a few minutes, and then I realized:  The rest of the first chapter is from the point of view of my main character, Celia Winterbourne.  And while she’s mentioned in the paragraph, she doesn’t really own the first paragraph the way she should if this is going to be her story.  (Which it is.)

I’ll be the first to admit that the first draft of this story struggled with POV in a few places.  So I decided to employ a trick a member of my critique group shared with me:  If you’re having trouble getting a scene or paragraph into a tight third POV, re-write it as a first-person POV.  When you do that, the snags will pop right out at you.

Ah-hah.  Yes.  Because Celia’s in the airship, she can’t actually tell us what it looks like in the light of the setting sun.  So what can she see?  What’s important to her at this moment?  Landing the airship.  So now the paragraph focuses more directly on that.  And with the focus, it becomes a better, tighter paragraph, thus:

I checked the landing markers chalked on the grassy meadow below as I prepared to set down my father’s airship.  Errant breezes buffeted the ship, but I’d flown Sophie’s Lightning since her maiden voyage five years earlier, and I knew her every nuance.  I touched the controls for the rudder and steering propellers, making minute adjustments to both.

Yes.  I think that’s got it.

So the next thing to do would be to convert it back into a third-person POV.  That’s pretty easily done:

Celia Winterbourne checked the landing markers in the grassy meadow below as she prepared to set down her father’s airship.  Errant breezes buffeted the ship, but Celia’d flown Sophie’s Lightning since the ship’s maiden voyage five years earlier and knew her every nuance.  She touched the controls for the rudder and the steering propellers, making minute adjustments to both.

YES!  That’s much better, AND, at 58 words, it not only makes but beats my word count target.  Yay!

Okay, next task:  Do this for the rest of the scene.  Only, some paragraphs, it turns out, were short dialogue pieces that really can’t be trimmed.  All right.  I’ll settle for trimming this at the scene level, rather than at the paragraph level.

And I did.  I pared, and pared, and snipped and trimmed and cut, until I had turned the 1,690 word scene into a 1,399 word scene.  Success!

Or so it seemed, until…

I went back and read it.

And wanted to throw up.

All of the flow was gone.  The scene was choppy, uneven.  It lurched badly from one sentence to the next.  There was no joy, no grace, no life left in it.  I’d killed it.  It was, in a word, horrible.

Okay, self.  Don’t panic.  Deep breath.  Let’s go back and put in some of those apparently-not-so-extra words.

I eked them back in, a few at a time, keeping a nervous eye on the word count.  After several passes, I finally breathed life back into the scene.  1,477 words.  69 more than it was supposed to be, but still better than the original 1,690 words.

I took a short break, came back, and read the scene one last time from the start.

Holy crap.  It wasn’t just passable, it was stronger, better than it had ever been.  When I read my own stories, to me, they often seem…I don’t know, not quite “finished”, if that makes any sense.  But when I re-read this scene, it suddenly seemed to me that this bit, at least, had been transformed.  It was now Finished.

Yes, I actually got goosebumps.

Which is not to say that I won’t still go back and tweak a word here or there after I’ve had a chance to let it sit for a little while.  But dang.  This is actually starting to feel “good” instead of just “good enough.”

In the week and a half since that “eureka!” moment, I’ve gone through about 30% of the book, and eliminated about 5000 words.  Which means that I’m on track to get it down to about 130,000 words, give or take.  (Some bits compress better than others; there are a few key scenes that had already been edited several times, and it’s hard to take many more words out of those.  Other scenes really haven’t changed that much since the first draft, and I seem to be able to pull excess words out of those more easily.)

Oh, and an aside for people who’ve read the earlier drafts:  I’ve finally bitten the bullet and cut the cricket-playing scene (which was amusing, but once I’d eliminated the excess verbiage around it, it suddenly became clear that it didn’t fit the tone of that section of the story at all).  It was a darling that had to die. {Sniff.}  I’ll save it to post on the website once the book gets published (she said, optimistically).

130K isn’t quite 125K.  But it’s in the ball park and it may be close enough to get me in the door with an agent.  Here’s hoping, anyway.

What editing tricks have other people used?

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Recipe Wednesday: Once Upon A Meatball…

First, apologies for not posting last week.  Beloved Husband and I were off celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary.  Next time, I’ll try to plan ahead a little better.

This week, I thought I would share three of my favorite meatball recipes with you.

Once upon a time, there were meatballs.  You usually found them in your spaghetti.  There was even a whole song about it.

And that was fine and all, but a bit limiting.

So one day, folks figured out that you could have meatballs *without* the spaghetti.  Like this:


Italian Meatballs
Mom (Terry Vandenberg)

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage, hot or regular
2 eggs
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 – 2 large jars spaghetti sauce

Mix all ingredients (except sauce) together and form into meatballs.  If you have a microwave bacon tray, put meatballs on this and microwave until done.  Otherwise, fry in a pan.

Transfer cooked meatballs to crock pot.  Pour spaghetti sauce over meatballs; season with a little additional Italian seasoning and garlic powder.  If possible, let set overnight to allow flavors to blend.  Then heat and serve.


I remember my mom making up a crock pot full of these to serve at my wedding.  They were really good.  And really popular.

And then we discovered that other people had been messing with their meatballs, too.  They’d even been combining really unlikely ingredients to make a sauce for them:


Grape Jelly Meatballs
– Sheila McClune, based on a recipe from the Holy Chow Cookbook

1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 10-ounce jar chili sauce
1 8-ounce jar grape jelly

Mix together the meat and spices and form into balls about the size of a walnut.  Place in skillet over medium heat and cover, allowing to cook for five minutes before turning.  Cook another one to two minutes or until just cooked through.  Drain on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Meanwhile, pour chili sauce and grape jelly into a crock pot and stir to blend.  Turn crock pot to high; add cooked meatballs and stir to coat.  Cook for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve warm.  Makes 25-30 meatballs.

Notes:  If you don’t have time to make meatballs from scratch, look for frozen meatballs at the supermarket.  Go for the “homestyle” ones, rather than the ones with Italian seasoning in them.


For years, this was my “go-to” dish for potlucks.  People would say, “This sauce is great!  What’s in it?”  And I’d smile and say, “Grape jelly and chili sauce” and watch their jaws drop.  But the secret’s pretty much out, now.

Then, when Beloved Husband and I were in the supermarket sometime around Thanksgiving, we found a cranberry sauce display with cards for this recipe on it:


Ultimate Party Meatballs
Ocean Spray

1 14-ounce can Ocean Spray® Jellied Cranberry Sauce
1 12-ounce bottle Heinz® Chili Sauce
1 2-pound bag frozen, pre-cooked, cocktail-size meatballs

Combine sauces in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth. Add meatballs. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until meatballs are heated through, stirring occasionally.

Slow cooker Preparation: Place meatballs in a slow cooker. Combine sauces and pour over meatballs. Cover and cook 4 hours on HIGH.

Makes 30 appetizer servings.

Notes:  Look for “homestyle” meatballs rather than Italian-spiced ones.


We were thrilled to find this variation on an old favorite.  I might like these just a little better than the grape jelly ones.  The sauce is slightly tangier, and not as overly-sweet as the grape jelly recipe can be.

Of course, these are all great dishes for a potluck.  But they also make a good main course for an informal meal (serve with veggies and pasta, rice, or potatoes), or line them up on a hoagie bun for a yummy sandwich.

What meatball recipes have other people used?

Posted in Cookery | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Writing Thursday: Help Wanted; or, Would You Like To Read A Story?

My big news this week is that I’ve finally, finally finished my second draft of The Daughters Of August Winterbourne, Book 1.  (And yes, I know I need a snazzier title than that.  Working on it.  Really.)

So now I’ve reached the point where I need some help.

And by “help”, I mean beta readers.

See, I’ve been staring at this story for so long–and made so many changes–that I’m not even sure whether it makes any sense anymore.  I can guarantee you that it’s a lot cleaner and less rambly than the first draft.  It’s also about 40K words shorter.

Here’s what I’m looking for from a beta reader:

Overall impressions:

  • Did the story catch and hold your interest?
  • How did the pacing feel?
  • Were there parts that bogged you down?
  • Were there plot points that were totally incomprehensible?
  • Were the characters interesting, consistent with themselves, and easily distinguishable from one another?
  • Was the setting clear?
  • Did you at any point wish the story was in hardcopy format so you could fling it against the nearest wall?

What I’m not looking for at this point are line edits (spelling, grammar, word choice, etc.) — unless they keep you from being able to evaluate the story based on the above criteria.

Here’s my quick (and rather rough) synopsis of the story:

Celia Winterbourne wants nothing more than to follow in her airship-designer father’s footsteps.  So when she hears that the Royal Academy of Science at Oxford, home of the most prestigious Aeronautics program in England, has finally decided to open their doors to four select young women, her delight knows no bounds.  She applies for the program and is accepted, and it seems as though her dreams are all about to come true.

Celia soon finds that life at the Academy is full of obstacles, from fellow students unhappy with the presence of women on campus, to agents of the evil Tarmanian Empire bent on abducting Celia and stealing her inventions, to three half-sisters she never knew she had.  Handsome Nicholas Fletcher provides a different kind of distraction, singling Celia out for his attentions.  But when he starts acting strangely, she wonders:  Is it her love he’s after…or something else?

Then something happens that throws Celia’s whole world into a spin.  She and her half-sisters are forced to work together to undertake a daring rescue.  Can they succeed, and if so, at what cost?

If you’re interested in being a beta reader, please leave a note in the comments.  Thanks!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments