Baking Therapy

Greetings, and welcome to this edition of  Friday Rambles. Did everyone have a great holiday?  Mine was quieter than expected due to snow and ice; we stayed home instead of driving out of state to visit family. Given how busy my life’s been the last six months, that was an unanticipated slice of heaven. I sat in front of the fire most of the day and wrote (I’m working on Matt Archer 3 at the moment, in addition to thinking through a serial novel I plan to launch in the second half of the year). After weeks of stress prepping for Christmas while in the midst of my busiest time at work, a day with nothing on the docket was just what I needed.

But what if those little moments of rest don’t come? How can you maintain your sanity in a society that is perpetually getting busier, faster and more complex? For me, I go old school.

My grandmother always said she was a terrible cook, evidenced by the fact that the rest of us fought over the last piece of fried chicken or spoonful of black-eyed peas like a band of ravening wolves. Modesty was her motto, and even if we argued the dinner was magnificent, she’d find some flaw to point out. See, Grandma was a perfectionist (gee, wonder where I got that personality trait), and did all of her cooking by hand. For big holiday meals, she’d spend twenty minutes chopping up five onions at the kitchen table. She didn’t know the trick about how to slice the onion into strips and dice it quickly, and no food processor was going to invade her kitchen. No, she carefully cut those onions up, one section at a time, into uniform pieces no matter how long it took.

This is also how she made pies.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she’d mix and roll out her pie crust from scratch, make the chocolate pie filling…from scratch…and whip the meringue (she cheated here, using an electric hand mixer instead of stirring, thank goodness). Grandma would bake pecan pies and caramel pies and cobbler, too, all of it from the basic ingredients. I didn’t even know what canned pie-filling was until I saw it in the baking aisle at the grocery store when I was in high school.

Thanksgiving Pie

A Chocolate Meringue Pie I made for Christmas Eve dinner.

Grandma taught me to bake, and once I got the hang of it, I never looked at boxed mixes again. There’s something so therapeutic about working flour and Crisco into dough that’s still dry enough to be flaky without falling apart, fighting to roll it out so that it doesn’t crumble and carefully transferring it from the baking parchment to the pie dish. Baking is chemistry, artistry and magic. Whether it’s cookies or a double-crust apple tart, you have to  work with your dough, through trial and error, to figure out the little quirks that will make it perfect. And there’s gratification in the end-result–a well-made pie doesn’t last very long.

Books are like that, too. It takes an author a lot of time (and some chemistry, artistry and magic) to create a novel, and the end result–if the story is done right–is devoured quickly, but with great enjoyment.

What about you? Do you love baking? Hate it? Any other holiday stress relievers to share?

The Next Big Thing — Matt Archer Blade’s Edge

It’s Friday Rambles time on Monsters and Mayhem and today I’m participating in a fun author blog hop called The Next Big Thing. I was tagged for this exercise by the super-talented Teresa Frohock  (if you haven’t read Miserere: An Autumn Tale, what are you waiting for?!), and I’m excited to participate.

So, what’s my next big thing?  I have a sequel to Matt Archer: Monster Hunter coming out!

What is the working title of your book?   Matt Archer: Blade’s Edge

Where did you get the idea for the book?  I originally wrote the first book as a short story for my son that grew into an adventure tale about a teenager who fights monsters. The deeper I got into the “mythology” of the tale, though, I realized I had a series on my hands. But with all the “I love vampires” fiction out there, I thought it would be fun to have a straight-up “I’m going to kick demon butt” book aimed at YA readers, particularly the guys.

What genre does your book fall under? Young Adult Paranormal/Adventure

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Matt:  The younger version looks a lot like Joel Courtney from Super 8, but as he matures over the course of the series, he grows into someone more like Liam Hemsworth (at age nineteen).  If central casting can find an amalgam of those two guys, the movie for MA2 would be set!

Uncle Mike:  I’ve known who would play Uncle Mike from the get-go—Michael Trucco. His character on Battlestar Galactica, Sam Anders, partly shaped Uncle Mike’s personality.  It doesn’t hurt that Trucco looks almost exactly how I’d picture Uncle Mike.

Ella:  I need a redhead with a great smile and a somewhat no-nonsense attitude. Rachel Hurd-Wood fits the bill. She’s lovely, but the look in her eye says, “I might just be up to something.”

Mamie:  She’s easy – Hailee Steinfeld. There’s just something about the way she played Mattie Ross in True Grit that screamed “Mamie” to me. She’s tough, smart, strong-willed and goes her own way.  Mattie is certainly stronger and more outgoing than Mamie, but at the core, they are very much alike.  Plus, Hailee can rock a pair of pigtails!

Master Sergeant Schmitz: This might sound odd, but after seeing JGL play a cop in The Dark Knight Rises, I realized that Schmitz sort of resembled Joseph Gordon-Levitt in my head. He’s not a perfect match, but close, especially the mannerisms and the nervous energy.

Will:  He’s the tough one. I need a big, dark-haired kid who looks like he has it all, but doesn’t have a huge ego about it. I need a guy who would give his best friend the shirt off his back, the keys to his car…and help him hide a monster’s body in the woods.  And so far, I haven’t found the perfect actor.  Any thoughts?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Wow, lets see:

Saddled with a supernatural knife–and its consciousness in his head–Matt Archer’s fight against monsters, demons and other nasty creatures goes global, making his double life as a normal teen even more difficult than before.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  Self-published (late December/early January release)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first iteration took me about six-seven months, but the editing, rewriting and polishing has taken much longer. I actually finished the first draft in late 2010, and here it is, two years later, and I’m finally wrapping it up.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? People have compared it to Percy Jackson, but the mythology, level of “darkness” and age level is fairly different.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Primarily my son, and other tween/teen guys who weren’t interested in YA paranormal romance…but who wanted a fun adventure to read.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? There are really big revelations about the nature of the knife itself, along with some significant family drama and more romance in this book than in the first (Matt has a girlfriend!). There’s still a lot of adventure, including a few trips to India and Afghanistan to take care of some really freaky monster infestations. Matt has to grow up a lot, and it’s tough for him.

Next up, I’ve tagged five awesome authors to participate and tell you about their Next Big Things:

Kari Ramadori writes all kinds of cool stuff, include YA, middle grade urban fantasy, and science fiction.The first book in her Olivia’s Realm series, Olivia’s Field (Olivia’s Realm), is out now and later installments are on the way!

RebeccaHenderson is a YA writer I met through Crits for Water. I had the opportunity to read her wonderful YA From the Tea Village. She used her experiences living in China to write a gorgeous work about a young girl from a rural village seeking higher education. It comes out next spring — be on the lookout!

Sarah Gilman is a paranormal romance author with a thing for wings–Angels. Her debut novel, Out In Blue (Return To Sanctuary) is an amazing, romantic, sexy read.

Elizabeth Hull (writing as C.N. Lesley) is a romantic fantasy writer who is also one of my first critique partners from our days at OWW. She’s been a constant friend and teacher as I began working on the Matt Archer series. Elizabeth’s debut novel, Darkspire Reaches, is coming soon from publisher Kristell Ink. I read this novel in beta version, and it’s amazing. If you like sweeping romance, magic and Wyverns, add this to your “to read” list.

Kelly Jo Crawley   is a fantasy writer who just made her NaNoWriMo goal of 51,000 words in November! Whew, that’s a lot of words for a busy mom with a full-time job, but she made it!  She blogs about life with her kids and is a really fun follow on Twitter! Get to know this awesome lady!

Well, that’s it for me!  Until next week, stay safe and keep watch for monsters. : D

Ode to Firefly

It’s Friday Rambles time on Monsters and Mayhem, and today, I’m singing the praises of a show that changed the way I look at SciFi and television: Firefly.

When Joss Whedon’s Firefly first aired (during it’s one and only season–stupid Fox), fellow geeky friends of mine said, “You have to watch this show.” It’s a western. In space!” Well, I love a good Western (btw–if you haven’t seen Open Range with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, that’s your homework for tonight). And I love me a good space show. I’m old enough that I watched Star Trek: TNG when it was first-run on Sunday nights after the news. Yes. I really did.

Back to Firefly. It came out in September, 2002…and that’ s why I missed it.  In September, 2002, I had a toddler who, incidentally, now wears a size 7 men’s shoe and stands 5’5″ in his socks. But I digress.  In 2002, I was doing one of three things:  trying to keep said toddler from killing himself with a spoon, changing said toddler’s diapers, or working. If I had time, I slept. Then ate. Then read. In that order.  I wasn’t watching TV, because all the TVs in the house were auto-programmed to show The Wiggles. Moral imperative.

Fast forward nine years, when I had the time and energy to watch TV. I noticed Firefly was in my Netflix instant queue service. Half the people I run with on Twitter were always saying,  “Browncoat-this,” and “Serenity-that,” and “Jayne’s hat, LOL!”  so I decided to enlist my husband and figure out what the fuss was about.

We watched all fourteen episodes in less than two weeks. Yeah, we liked it. So what was it about this show that swept us up so completely, nine years after it went of f the air? Even though we knew once we finished watching those fourteen episodes, all we had left was a movie to tie things up. Why is there a special coming on this Sunday (November 11) night called “Browncoats Unite” on Scyfy, with a cast reunion, and it’s considered a National Geek Holiday in addition to an actual holiday (a huge shout out to our Veterans. Y’all rock!)?  Why did the Serenity panel at Comicon fill up the big theater–in 2012?

I have a theory–damn good storytelling.

“Earth that was.”

In that one line, I was sold on Firefly. I’d pretty much fallen in love, but that line solidified it. It’s just so simple, yet so dang perfect. In that one line you hear several things: 1) The Earth we know is gone. 2) The person speaking isn’t highly educated, and sounds a little bit like a West Texan. 3) There are humans alive in the future, but they live somewhere else.

Three words, and you have an entire backstory.

 That’s what impresses me most about the show–how complete it is. The world-building is extraordinary–no detail is missed. From developing their own slang (like calling space-travel “going out into the black”) to the mismatched technology between the Independents and the Alliance to costuming. Heck, I could devote an entire post to Jayne’s freaking hat. The costumers drew from Communist China, the American West, World War II and Samurai Japan for inspiration, and it made for a unique culture fusion that somehow worked. The clothing also added tiny details to the characters, from Inara’s gorgeous silks, to Simon’s stiff vests and wools, to Captain Mal’s brown coat to Zoe’s kickass leather vest. 

The writing is where the show really kills, though. The lines, delivered in perfect-pitch by a cast well-matched with one another, are genius. The incorrect grammar for the settlers, so reminiscent of Old West towns. The cold, cruel, indifferent lines of the Alliance soldiers.  And my favorite–the way the crew curses in Chinese. What a brilliant way to make a point, and get around the FCC (kind of like BSG developing the word “Frak” — which I tend to use). The stories are full of hope, danger, comedy and pain. And the show is quotable in the same way The Princess Bride is–there are multiple zingers, funny exchanges and oddball statements that leave a lasting mark.

Even the theme song is perfect. The first time I heard “The Ballad of Serenity,” I looked at my husband and said, “That was pretty cheesy. I hope the show is better.” I now acknowledge my blasphemy and find myself singing bits and pieces of the ballad in the car or the shower. I also tell my children, when they get a little wily, “You cain’t take the sky from me!” They have no idea what it means, but for some reason, it’s effective. You can take a listen here:

 

So now I’m a Browncoat, and proud of it. The funny thing is that I wrote a post-apocalyptic YA with western elements three years ago that I’m looking to bring back out. Fireflyshowed me that this genre-fusion can work. Thanks, Joss!

What about you? Have you watched Firefly? If so, what are your favorite scenes/lines?

Hunger Games Nation (aka Archery Mania)

It’s Friday Rambles time! Ready for flight?

 Today, I’m sounding off on the popularity of archery. I did, after all, name my main character Matt Archer, but I have more than a passing interest–more on that in a moment. Anyway, the archery events at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games had the most viewers for non-primetime coverage. Millions of kids, some as young as five, are joining archery clubs, while more and more schools are adding archery teams and programs.  It’s always been a cool sport, but it used to be relegated to summer camp and outdoor programs, not school teams. Why this sudden burst of interest? Well, that actually seems to be somewhat simple:

We have Katniss Everdeen (and her creator, Suzanne Collins) to thank. 

According to several news articles, archery is entering a kind of renaissance as a skill kids want to learn. Thanks to the National Archery in the Schools Program (started in the early 2000s), schools had been adding archery classes and teams at an increasing rate. But this interest has exploded in the last three years…about the time The Hunger Games did.

Now, my son’s middle school has had an archery team for 10+ years. It’s one of the things they’ve become known for, and they’ve won state more than once. His coach is a task-master of the first order; he has to be. He’s allowing dozens of 6th-8th graders to handle DEADLY WEAPONS at school on a daily basis. No kidding–if T (the aforementioned son) wants to take his own equipment to school, the bow has to arrive in a padlocked case and be under adult supervision or in a locked storage room at ALL times. If an archer doesn’t comply, he/she could be arrested or expelled.  Ouch. This is serious business.

When T decided he wanted to try out, I balked. Not because of the DEADLY WEAPONS–he started shooting arrows at Cub Scout camp when he was seven. In fact, he was only one of two kids to shoot well enough to earn his archery merit badge at Boy Scout camp this past summer, despite being one of the youngest scouts there. He knows how to shoot, how to shoot safely, and to respect the privilege of handling a bow. Rather, my concern was the time commitment. In addition to attending tournaments across the great state of Texas, T has to be at school before 6:45 every morning for practice. If anyone is late, everyone does a two-minute wall-sit or thirty push-ups. Coach–being a physical education instructor for more than 20 years–wants them to be strong in body and mind for those meets.   As Coach put it, “An archer with an elevated heart rate is gonna lose. Period. You have to be utterly calm to excel in this sport.  We don’t run, bounce or high-five before a flight. We don’t pace. We don’t drink sodas or eat candy, either. And parents, don’t let me catch you jacking up your kid with a pep talk.”  Or, in other words, discipline is King for a competitive archer.  

That’s ultimately what decided it for me. T is already a fairly disciplined kid. But being an archer takes a higher level of self-control. Only shoot on command. Make sure the range is clear. NEVER mess around with the equipment, even if you’re sure no one is in range. Listen to everything the coach says. Follow directions. Practice, practice, practice. Is it regimented? Sure–but he’s having the time of his life.  

Katniss Everdeen is the very picture of discipline and perseverance.  Before the Games, she rose every morning to hunt to ensure her family had food and enough fresh meat to sell to provide for the other things they needed. After taking her sister’s place in the Games, facing near-certain death, she survived the Hunger Games not only because she could shoot an arrow dead on target ninety-nine times out of a hundred, but because she had self-discipline and could take care of herself. Find water, ration food, tie yourself in a tree to sleep out of harm’s way, make a fire at dusk to ensure the smoke is harder to see from a distance. Learning to be an archer may not teach you how to survive in the wilderness, but it will teach you about yourself and the way you approach a new task. For that reason, archery might be a good skill for a writer to practice. Finishing a novel takes some dogged determination. Like any other major skill, you have to work hard in order to master it.

 

 This is T’s practice round at 15 meters yesterday. 

I think he’s learned this lesson pretty well so far.

 

 

How about you? What sport/activity/passion has taught you about perseverance and self-discipline? 

 

 

Cut Scene: Mamie’s Nickname

Greetings All!

It’s Friday Ramble: On the Road Edition. I’m traveling for work this week (and trying to get a new Matt Archer short story launched, but more on that next week), so I thought this might be a good time to present a cut scene from Matt Archer: Monster Hunter. If you’ve read the book, you know that Uncle Mike calls Mamie “Daisy May.” Well, the story behind her nickname hit the cutting room floor, but I’ve always liked it, and I thought I’d share it with you. Cheers!

***

A knock on the door interrupted us.  Mike stuck his head in.  “Hey, Daisy May, can I talk to Matt a minute?  I’m staying for dinner; we’ll have a chance to visit more then.”

Mamie nodded and drifted off to her room.  I sat up and put the pillow back on my bed.  “You never told me why you call her Daisy May.  Or why you don’t have a nickname for Brent.” I didn’t want to talk about the monsters now.  I wanted to pretend everything was normal.

Mike laughed.  “Well, that’s one way to start a conversation.  When Mamie was born, I had just come back from a stint at Fort Carson.  I mean, literally got off the plane and drove to the hospital to see her.  I wanted to bring a huge bouquet of pink roses, but I couldn’t find any.  The best I could come up with was a bunch of half-wilted daisies from the grocery store.  So, to make up for that, I brought them into their hospital room, acting all dramatic, and said ‘Daisies for my little Daisy May!’  Dani cried her eyes out, and Mamie’s been Daisy May ever since.”

“How about Brent? Does he even have a nickname?”

“Oh, that’s not a safe story for you to hear,” Mike said with a sly smile.  He was daring me to ask again.

“I killed a monster last night.  I think I can deal with Brent.”  Not exactly true, but so what.

Mike got that hard look in his eye for a moment.  Then it faded and he grinned at me.  “You have to swear on a stack of Bibles not to tell Brent I told you this.  When he turned seven, he told me if I ever called him anything but Brent again, he’d run away from home.” He sighed happily, lost in a memory.  “You were so little you don’t remember, but I used to call him Pickle.”

“Pickle?”  I started to laugh.  “What did he do to deserve that?”

“When he was two, he went through a phase where all he wanted to eat was sour food – green grapes, pickles, lemonade, and so on.  To get him to eat chicken or hot dogs, we had to bribe him with pickles.  I told him if he kept eating tons of pickles he’d turn into one.  Then one day I came over and Dani looked like she couldn’t decide whether to murder me or cry.”

“What happened?”

“Brent came out of the kitchen, with his face and hands scribbled all over with green permanent marker, and said, ‘See, I’s a pickle now, Unca Mike!’  I nearly wet my pants, laughing.  Your mom wasn’t amused, but the nickname stuck until Brent vetoed it.”

What Would Bruce Do?

*Cue Spotlight and Big-Voice Announcer* —  Are you ready for some MAYHEM?!

The crowd goes wild! 

Welcome to Monsters and Mayhem! If this is your first visit, howdy! We like things a little rough and tumble around here…just warning y’all. There might be explosions. Volcanos. BAMFs with attitude.

Since the monsters had their turn (Zombies and Favorites), it’s time for a little demolition. Or, as I see it, basically every Bruce Willis movie ever made. (See the aforementioned “BAMFs with attitude.”)

Oh, wait…maybe not all Bruce Willis movies. There was that one…um…oh, yeah–the one with…huh.  Okay, basically every Bruce Willis movie ever made!

(Well, there is one…but I’m saving that one for Halloween.) I digress–moving on:

Formula for a successful Bruce Willis flick:

Bad guy takes over skyscraper/tries to kill the Supreme Being/wants to eliminate retired CIA agents.  Mr. Willis snaps his fingers, pops a magazine into his pistol and saves the freaking world. Barefoot.

The End.

Except…when Bruce goes dark. Two of my favorite Bruce Willis movies are The Jackal and The Whole Nine Yards. Why? He’s not there to save the day. He’s there to wreak total havoc on anyone daring to cross his path. In other words? He’s a one-man Mayhem Machine.

In The Jackal, Bruce goes very dark. He plays the assassin as a cold, calculating killer, but there’s a mean edge to it. Like when he lies in wait for his target by stretching out on a sofa while they enter the house? Holy crap. Don’t know about you, but I kept screaming at the TV–“Look at the couch. LOOK at the COUCH! LOOK AT THE COUCH!!” Did they listen? No. As a result, chaos reigned. Frankly, the Jackal is nearly as scary as John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire.

Bruce plays an assassin in  The Whole Nine Yards as well, but this is more dark comedy than anything. As the double-crosses mount, Jimmy “The Tulip” takes everything in wry stride, figuring out who he can (kind of) trust and who needs to be shown the forever-door. Matthew Perry is at his spaztastic finest in this movie, too. There’s car chases, shoot outs, a blown up house, a crazy-twisted-mixed-up romance. In short, the whole thing is mayhem from one end to the other. And it’s funny! In fact, it’s one of those movies where you tell yourself, “I really shouldn’t be laughing”…but you do anyway.

Most of Bruce’s characters are roguish heroes–good guys who are sarcastic, don’t play by the rules and are total pains-in-the-butt. And he’s great in those roles.  But when he drops the good-guy bit? That’s where the real magic begins.  (Disclaimer…I did say that I like my heroes a little bit bad, remember?)

Of course, if a giant asteroid is headed toward earth, I’d want the Harry Stamper version of the mighty Bruce instead of Jimmy “The Tulip.” Jimmy might just let the world burn.

All right, sound off — what’s your favorite Bruce Willis movie? If Bruce Willis and Jason Statham went into a room, who would come out? If Bruce Willis got into a staring contest with Samuel L. Jackson, who’d break eye contact first? If Alan Rickman took over the Empire State Building…oh, wait, I’d move in! But that’s a post for another day.

Did Someone Say Zombie Apocalypse?

Double Tap.

Sorry, I just had to put that out there. But it’s Tuesday, and Tuesday means…Monsters! (Or mayhem…and in the case of this blog post–both).

Zombies, for some unfathomable reason, are all the rage these days. And why not? Zombieland was one of the funniest horror flicks I’d seen since the original Scream. “I hear Tallahassee is nice this time of year.” *Snort* — my inner twelve-year-old was satisfied on a number of fronts.

We’re not just obsessed with zombies themselves, though, are we? We’re obsessed with the idea that zombies will someday take over, turning the world into a post-apocalyptic brain-munch-fest. Like The Road, except with the Undead. And seriously, what could be more terrifying?

But…zombies? Why do we think they’d be able to take over? They’re slow (usually), they’re not that smart and they’re bound to lose a limb if they try to make a sharp turn. That’s what cracks me up about this. Assuming you don’t get infected during the outbreak of zombie flu, you have a pretty good chance of survival, if you keep your wits about you. The idea of zombies is pretty darn scary…but zombies themselves? Stay in shape and tote a pump-action shotgun, and you likely won’t become dinner. Now, if you’re being chased by an unrelenting mob of zombies and you’re backed into a corner, yeah, you’re toast. Or…lunch. But outrunning just one, even slow as I am, doesn’t seem insurmountable. Then again, I tend to be more scared of the alien in Aliens than a zombie. Mainly ’cause that could totally happen.  Even Stephen Hawking  warns against alerting extraterrestrials to our presence. And he’s a freaking genius. Just sayin’.

Okay, okay, I hear you. Zombies have freakish strength! Zombies never stop! Zombies can run! That’s true, but let’s think about this for a sec.  The United States military has gas masks, containment suits and all the firepower you’d need to mow down legions of zombies. Assuming the “virus” is short-lived, i.e. isn’t airborne and can’t be contracted again later, the Zombie Apocalypse would be pretty short-lived. Although, I still think it’s completely awesome that a firearms company sells zombie-repellant bullets. Double Tap! (Nor does my skepticism dampen my enthusiasm for a good creature-flick. It’s escapism, y’all.)

So where did this legend of brain-eating undead come from, anyway? There are a lot of myths about flesh-eating monsters, vampires and such, but the notion of a true zombie–a reanimated corpse under the influence of a master (Bokor) originates in African and Haitian myth. Zombies aren’t created by some mysterious illness, but by a combination of drugs and powerful magic, being enslaved to the “witch” who created them. In other words–if we’re talking about true, mythical zombies–there isn’t much chance of an apocalypse. An army? Maybe, but that would depend more on the badassedness of the witch, right?

I might still buy some of that zombie-slayer ammo, though. You know, just in case.

(Disclaimer: The CDC told the Huffington Post that “Zombies are not real.” Derive from that what you will. )

So, what’s your favorite zombie flick or book? I have a very fond spot in my heart for Night of the Comet.  What others should make the list of Undead Entertainment?

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