Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rescued By Prince Charming

All of yesterday was set aside to edit because I’m doing the last few changes to Screwing Up Alexandria. But then, the weather looked suspicious. It was 9 am and snowflakes were in the air. Although the news said the snow wouldn’t start until 1pm, I decided I didn’t want my sons driving in the weather.  (I have seven years of New England driving experience, they don’t.)

So I drove. It should have been a quick twenty minutes round trip. But the snow accumulated quickly. Cars in the university parking lot were sliding. (And I decided that the university officials were insane for not cancelling classes.)

On the drive back home, I tried to get up a hill, but couldn’t get traction in the fine, dense snow. I did a “controlled” slide backwards down a hill. Eventually, I found a way around the hill.

The problem was the university is on one side of a ridge; our home is on the other. And there was no sand, salt, or slurry on the roads. My lightweight truck couldn’t make it. I did yet another slide. This one into a curb. But I wasn’t alone. Four wheel drive trucks and SUVs couldn’t make it up the icy incline.

My sons called and said that the university finally cancelled classes. I told them to call Dad because I was stuck. My husband got as close to the university as he could and the boys hiked out. Then, they drove as close to where I was as they could, parked, and hiked in.

Nothing is as beautiful a sight coming over a snowy hill than my Prince Charming with his two knights-in-shining armor. My shivering son Jacob offered me his gloves, which I politely declined—I had snow boots and a parka and he was wearing a thin jacket. They pushed my truck uphill (and rescued another stuck vehicle). We found a parking lot, parked the car, hiked the ridge and got home, four hours later.

Then I made decadent hot chocolate (recipe here), rested, and got back to editing—because that’s what writers do.

On the agenda for today, editing, hiking back to the cars, and making snow cream. (Recipe here.)

Yeah, I know only a few inches.
 But without snow equipment, the roads get dangerous quickly.

Editing with inspiration just out the window.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Screwing Up Alexandria

For those of you who may have missed it, this past Saturday Kimberly Afe (author of The Headhunter's Race) interviewed me. Click here to read it.

And while I was there, I shared the first chapter of Screwing Up Alexandria, book three in the Screwing Up Time series. So without any further ado, I want to share it here with any readers who missed it there. I hope you enjoy it!

Screwing Up Alexandria, Chapter One

     I stepped out the door of Yale’s Beinecke Library and scanned the plaza beyond the building’s lights. It looked empty. But was it?
     The buildings around the plaza cast deep, dark shadows. What if someone was hiding in them, waiting for me? The guy had let me go the last time. But the next time…I might not be so lucky.
Standing in the light only made me an easier target. I stepped into the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust, and I listened for a cough or a sneeze or even the sound of breathing. Instead, the only thing I heard was wind whistling between the buildings.
     I scanned the plaza one more time. I couldn’t afford to be reckless anymore. The dagger with the anonymous threat taught me that. I squeezed the car keys that were in my hand. The last couple of weeks I started taking them out of my pocket before I walked to my car. That way when I got to the car, I could get inside as quickly as possible. I needed—
     “Mark, is that you?”
     I spun around, my body tense.
     It was only Professor Prudence, squinting into the darkness. Students referred to her as “Prickly Pru” or even…well, you can guess what they call you when your name has a double P.
     Professor Pru didn’t deserve those names, not really. Once you got past her impatience, she was really nice. Granddad had once told me, “That woman cannot abide fools. Give her the best you’ve got.” So I did. And after one semester, she’d invited me to take a directed study class with her, even though I was a lowly freshman.
     She shook my shoulder. “Mark?”
     I blinked.
     “Are you okay?”
     Say something, I told myself. Make something up. “I, uh, thought I saw a shooting star.”
     “Really?” She looked at the sky. “I’m surprised you could see one—what with all the clouds tonight.”
     I was a moron. Even the moon didn’t how through the cloud cover. “Right. Must’ve been something else.”
     “Do you need a ride home?” she asked.
     I shook my head. “I’ve got a car.”
     “Oh. Are you waiting for someone?”
     I couldn’t tell her the truth, that someone might be lurking in the dark to mug me or kill me. So I said, “I was wondering if you’d like me to walk you to your car.”
     She laughed. The question was funny. Sort of. Pru wasn’t your stereotypical ancient languages professor. She was 5’ 10” with broad shoulders and forearms that a boxer would be proud of. She was more queen of the Amazons than bookworm, and anyone who tried to attack her would find himself with broken limbs.
     “I’m fine, thanks.” She said and started to walk away. “Besides I’m parked in the university lot, and I’ve never heard of any crimes there.”
     Only because no one reported anything, I thought as she disappeared into the dark. I certainly hadn’t made a report when I’d been mugged two weeks ago. Of course, mine wasn’t a normal mugging. This mugger hadn’t wanted my watch, not surprising since it was cheap. And he didn’t want my poison ring, my car keys, or my wallet. Instead, he’d held a knife to my throat and demanded “the tablet.”
     For half a second, I’d considered telling the would-be thief that I had no idea what he was talking about. But if he knew about the tablet, pretending I didn’t was pointless. So I’d told him that I didn’t have it with me, and then I’d dumped everything out of my backpack onto the asphalt to prove it.
     Thankfully, he’d only done a quick search of my car. If he had looked more carefully, he’d have found the tablet wrapped in a blanket and hidden underneath the spare tire.
     When I first got the tablet, I’d kept it and all the others I’d brought back from Babylon in a basket. But when I realized this tablet was special, I hid it in the computer sleeve of my backpack. A few weeks later, I’d found a note in my bedroom threatening “the people you love” unless I left the tablet under a bush at the Hamden Public Library. Even though the dagger that had pinned the note to the desk in my bedroom had given me nightmares, I wasn’t just going to give the tablet away.
      So, I moved it to my car’s trunk, and I shoved the dagger under my mattress. And then, I pretended nothing had happened.
      It worked out great. Until the mugging. After that, I bought a sheath for the dagger and wore it around my ankle. Not that I knew anything about knives, but it was better than nothing.
     Kneeling in the dark, I slipped the knife from the sheath. I was ready. “You are a time traveler,” I said as I walked across the plaza, down the street and to the parking lot. “You defeated an insane alchemist, outsmarted a Babylonian king, and stole mammoth tusk from a Mongol warlord. You can handle a petty thief.” I tried to ignore the voice in my head saying, “Anyone who tries to steal a Babylonian tablet written in Akkadian isn’t a petty thief.”
     When I made it to the car, I held the dagger in my mouth and unlocked the door. Then, I heard a pop. Quieter than a cap gun. The side mirror shattered. Shards of glass bounced on the asphalt, splintering into smaller slivers that looked like needles.
     Not even a fragment of the side mirror was left. But the black plastic compartment that attached the mirror to the car was in perfect shape. Except for a small, perfectly round hole in the back. It was the size of a bullet. I went cold.
     My heart forced blood through my body, but my legs and arms felt numb.
     I didn’t even know I’d begun moving until I saw my hand throw the car door open and toss my backpack onto the passenger’s seat. Before I knew it, I was in the car, the door was shut, and I was turning the key in the ignition.
     The engine purred.
     I expected another bullet to pierce the window and rip through me. But it didn’t. At least, not yet.
The tires squealed as I reversed and threw the car into drive. Something on the windshield fluttered. A sheet of folded paper. Whatever it was, I didn’t have time for it. I slammed the pedal to the floor and raced away from campus.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Meetings With My Muse

Today, I'm a featured author at Kimberly Afe's "Meetings With My Muse" blog. 

Come and visit. There are free books, an Amazon gift card, and the first chapter of book three, Screwing Up Alexandria. Click Here!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What This Writer Does For Fun. Brew Beer.

What do writers do for fun? Besides writing, of course. Some garden. (I do that too.) Some sew or embroider. (Okay, I do those things too.) But here’s something less common, I brew.

A long time ago, I gave my husband brewing equipment for Christmas, and thus began our homebrewing experience. We’ve been brewing for nearly fourteen years.

Yeast, two bags of malt, grain, hops, treacle, Iris moss.
 Add water and you get beer.

Here are some FAQs.

Is it hard?

No. Not much more complicated than baking cookies. But it takes time and patience. If you’re not patient, you’ll have a boil-over. There is nothing worse than trying to clean burnt malt off a stove—think, having to scrape with a razorblade. Yep, been there, done that.

Here's Cal stirred the pot so the wort doesn't boil over.
In the background is the copper wort chiller.

Is it expensive?

It isn’t cheap. But once you start buying equipment and relatives find out, they tend to buy you the next thing. After all, a wort chiller is a much cooler present than a shirt and a tie.

How long does it take before the beer is
Here I am with the grains that have been cooked.

Depends on the beer. We brewed an Imperial Stout, a fairly heavy ale. I’m guessing start to finish will take 8 to 12 weeks. Maybe a bit longer because it’s winter and our house is cool. The brewing yeast is very responsive to temperature. And when we pitch the yeast, we toss in 100 billion yeast cells. (It takes about 24 hours to culture them. Sounds complicated, but it isn’t.) BTW, brewing in the summer can be interesting. We have had the primary fermenter explode more than once. Thankfully, primary fermenters are made of food safe plastic so there aren’t any glass shards. It just blows the lid off and makes a huge mess.

Interestingly, blowing off the lid has never ruined a batch. There so much carbon dioxide coming off the beer that there hasn’t been any contamination.

Five gallons of beer in the primary fermenter.
What do people think?

Some people are shocked. Some people think it’s cool. One time my strict grandmother called while we were brewing. She asked me what I was doing. I said, “Brewing beer.” My grandmother said, “Oh, my mother used to do that every fall. When the wheat was harvested, she made big batches of wheat beer for the workers.” Wow. So I’m upholding a Dutch family tradition. Cool.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Indie Life, Five Ways Writers Know It's Too Cold

Because being Indie doesn't have to mean going it alone 

As I’m sure you’ve heard on the news, it’s been very cold back East (Midwest too). As a writer here’s how I know it’s too cold.

1. You’re eager to put your characters someplace warm. The Bahamas. Bermuda. Heck, even the Sahara will do.

2. You’re writing on your laptop not because it’s convenient, but because it puts off heat.

3. You backup all your documents. Not because you could lose power (which is true), but because pipes are freezing in the walls of people’s homes and you’re not really such where your pipes run.

4. You put a jacket and gloves on your character before he goes outside only to remember that he’s in Egypt. (Okay, this would have worked this past summer. But snow in Egypt is rare.)

5. You wonder if you can manufacture a “writer’s block breakthrough” so you can stay in bed under the covers with your warm laptop.

1.Susan Kaye Quinn, Author2.Steena Holmes
3.Claudia Lefeve4.Author Laura Diamond Lucid Dreamer
5.ali cross6.Katie Klein
7.Larry Kollar8.Faith McKay
9.Civil War Horror10.Ansha Kotyk
11.Terri J. Haynes12.The Open Vein, E.J. Wesley
13.Secondhand Shoes, A Novel14.Eclectic
15.Lisa M. Buske16.Sandra Ulbrich Almazan
17.J.R. Pearse Nelson18.Melissa Pearl
19.Cherie Reich20.PK HREZO
21.Victoria Escobar22.J.L. Campbell
23.K. A. Last24.The Murphey Saga
25.Tyrean's Writing Spot26.Suzy Turner
27.Laura Pauling28.C.M. Brown
29.Stephen Tremp30.Jennifer Writes Things Sometimes
31.Capri Montgomery32.Indiscriminate Writes
33.C. M. Keller, Screwing Up Time34.RaShelle Workman
35.J.J. Bonds36.Why I love the indie life
37.A First Look at Indie Life38.Mary Pax
39.Notes from the Jovian frontier40.L.E. Waters~Fantasy Prone
41.The Indie Children's Authors Connection42.Christian Superheroes
43.Ellie Garratt44.Write Me, Kaye Draper
45.Can You Make a Living Writing? (Author Nikki Jefford)46.Michelle Isenhoff
47.Catherine Stine's Idea City48.The Lina Lamont Fan Club
49.Donna Hosie50.Rinelle Grey
51.Word by Word52.Riann Colton
53.Strange Pegs54.Rachel Morgan
55.sarabeth burke56.Writing, the Universe and Everything Writing
57.J.L. Weil58.Meetings with My Muse
59.Planet Pailly: Where Science Meets Fiction60.Janeal Falor
61.Michael Pierce62.S.K. Falls
63.Donna B. McNicol64.Nadja Notariani ~ An Author's Adventures
65.Alki Nea66.Confessions of a Watery Tart
67.Nicole R. Taylor68.MJ Brodeck - Glitter Writer's Book Blog
69.Inside the Secret World of Allison Bruning70.Talia Jager, YA Author
71.Hunter Emkay72.melanie schulz
73.Books & Legends by Author Ava D. Dohn74.Laura N. Anile, author of VISIONS
75.Agent 5476.The Business of Being an Author
77.Linda Nelson78.Laekan Zea Kemp
79.Joan Leacott80.joannevalentinesimson
81.Jumping From Cliffs82.Tia Bach
83.R. Mac Wheeler84.Gwen Gardner
85.Indie Pub, Then & Now86.Risa Alden
87.Kelly Steel-Chasing Happy Ever After88.Monique's Musings
89.Julie Musil90.The Notebook Blogairy
91.Scattergun Scribblings92.Kittie Howard
93.Amy Jarecki Writes94.T B Markinson
95.Hilary Grossman96.It's all about the brand
97.Marinko Stevanovic98.A Creative Exercise
99.Pippa Hornby100.Ashley Nixon
101.Inside the Secret World of Allison Bruning102.Riley Graham, YA Author
103.Darkness Inside the story104.Bryna Butler

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

 As I think back over the year, there are so many things that have happened. Here are some highlights with pictures.

1. I didn’t get book three of the Screwing Up Time series published in 2013. Life happens and I don’t want to publish a book that isn’t the best it can be. But it should be out in early spring. (Okay, I don't have a picture for this one, but soon.)

2. Two of my kids moved out. That’s sad, but good too. They graduated from college and are moving on to grad school. 

3. I have people over to our house for dinner a lot. But this fall I hosted a Murder Dinner—it was wonderful. Hosting another one is definitely on my to-do list for next year.

4. I got a Screwing Up Time short story published. “Screwing Up Mongolia” came out in September. (Thanks, Tara, for your awesome cover art.)

5. We got a hand-me-down hot tub. There’s nothing like sinking into 101 degree water when the air temperature is freezing. I’m really hoping for snow soon. There’s nothing like sitting in a hot tub when snow is falling.
Okay, this is before we put the water in. But, I am so NOT publishing a photo of myself in a swimsuit.

6. My husband and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and he took me to Paris! It was the trip of a lifetime.

We're in the gardens of Versailles.