7/31 Report and Chicken Recipe

4000 words, Peaks of Grace feels about a quarter done, maybe a touch more. Walked 2 miles.

Recipe: This would also work well with pork chops, in which case I’d add the spices to the fruit instead of the meat, then combine everything. I’d also skip the sauté step and use a touch more wine, in order to keep the meat moist.

  1. three chicken breasts chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  2. one half cup fresh sweet cherries, pitted and quartered (or more to taste)
  3. one half cup total dried fruit (apricots cut into pieces and cranberries)
  4. about one half to two-thirds cup red wine, NOT a burgundy or other heavy red.
  5. water
  6. 1 teaspoon powdered ginger (or more to taste)
  7. 1 teaspoon ground coriander (or more to taste)
  8. a pinch of dried lemon zest
  9. Olive oil (if using chicken)

Saute the chicken until no longer pink outside. Meanwhile, soak the fruit in the wine. When the chicken is white, add the ginger, coriander, and lemon zest. Cook for a minute or two, then add the fruit and enough water to cover the chicken half-way. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if needed. Remove chicken and larger fruit chunks from juice and keep warm. Raise heat to medium high and cook sauce until it is reduced in volume 2/3, or to a thick sauce. Serve chicken with the sauce. Serves three generously with a fresh vegetable, rice or pasta, or salad.

I probably used closer to two teaspoons ginger, and I’d add more next time, because the wine is rather sweet. For a drier wine, I’d go lighter on the ginger. I also like spicy food.



The Font of Ideas

One of the favorite questions people ask authors is: “Where do you get all your ideas?” THe classic response is that one subscribes to the service provided by the little old lady in Schenectady, NY, who mails out a monthly idea-list. Mercedes Lackey once showed how a cardboard box scooting across the road on a windy day could inspire a horror story. Sarah Hoyt gets characters narrating their adventures in her head, then waiting (most impatiently) for her to catch up and finish the rest of the story. Immersion in others’ stories and then asking “What if . . .” has inspired even more authors.

I’ve been spinning yarns and weaving tales since I was small. And reading everything I could get my hands on, in lots of genres (outside of romance, modern thrillers, and modern mystery, I should add.) I drifted away from fiction in the late 1990s, although at the time I couldn’t tell you why (OK aside from a binge on Ann Rivers Siddons after hearing part of Low Country on “Radio Reader.” That woman can pace a novel, and her setting descriptions? Lush, wonderfully lush.) Instead I read history and horse training books, and history of equitation, and geology. The novels I looked at in the bookstore just didn’t appeal, for some reason. Once I hit grad school, aside from a few M. Lackey brain-breaks, my non-academic reading centered on old naturalists’ books (Edwin Way Teal, Aldo Leopold) and the Stillmeadow Farm books, and related titles.

But I wrote military science fiction to escape. After passing one story to fellow-sufferers  other grad students, and getting lots of praise, I became a little more serious. Science fiction became my sanity outlet. At the same time a fellow grad-student/sci-fi author introduced me to David Weber and other current mil-sci-fi authors. What resulted was the Cat series, now up to almost 100 short stories and novellas. Rada Ni Drako and Joschka von Hohen-Drachenburg took on lives of their own, leaving the author in the dust. Joschka was supposed to be a minor character in one story. Yeah.

Two years ago, more or less, I started worrying about running out of things to publish. The Cat stories seemed to be slowing down and I was fresh out of ideas. Perhaps I was burning out? I decided to write a short story loosely based on a historical character who has interested me for many years. But a short story proved too small, and a trilogy resulted. Then a fourth book. Then an earlier episode from the same part of Europe popped into my memory, and lo, here come book five. Well, how did Colplatschki come to be the way it is? I never intended to write about the Great Fires and the origins of the Babenburgs. So of course here come book six. OK, I’m done, right? Nope. I kid you not, I was pulling into a parking space at the local library and Matthias Corvinus showed up in the cab of my pickup and glared at me. This became book seven. Now I’m totally done, really, period. You know what’s coming, don’t you? I picked up a copy of Medieval Warfare magazine, the recent issue about women in warfare. Un huh. Book eight is now 15,000 words and growing, based on a woman from east of the Alps and a very different woman from an earlier period west of the Alps. And the novella that will come out in August, and possibly another short, maybe.

Meanwhile . . . I’d been kicking around the setting of the Cat books, leading to the Powers stories, including a libertarian version of Beauty and the Beast (I’ll try to get it out in August). Since the Cat stories are in an alt-world version of Earth, I needed to figure out what changed. Two alt-history WWI books, plus a few short stories, are coming soon.

And then, last year, I was reading about nuclear energy while watching the Tour de France. At one point a breakaway rider crested a hill and disappeared from view, and one of the announcers mused that it would be a minute or two before anyone saw him again (low weather kept the telecopters grounded). I thought, What if CERN really had opened a hole in the fabric of the universe and he rides out of sight and crashes into a dinosaur? I need to write that story.

So stories come from a few places. Crazy “what ifs”, logical developments from other stories, and tales stolen from the past. I’m getting a little nervous about what else is lurking in the dark corners of my mind.

Look, Don’t Touch, and Don’t Look?: Cosplay and Objectification at Cons

[Caution, this post contains a blend of serious content and satire. If you don’t want to read about the latest hurricane in a petri dish, skip today’s post and I’ll have lighter content later this week.]

So, once again, problems arose at a large Con because of costumes and the, shall we say, overly touchy (both the cosplayers and the observers.) Which lead to cries for written harassment policies, mandatory anti-harassment and awareness training for all Con personnel, and complaints about “objectification” of (mostly) women.

First things first: here’s the original AP article, and I’m certain more will appear around the blogosphere this week, given the size and importance of San Diego ComicsCon. Here’s the official ComicsCon policy. In short – harassment is not tolerated, if someone is harassed, they are to go to Con security and let them know, and the harasser can be tossed out and denied re-admittance. It’s pretty darn clear, as can be read in the link, and it sounds quite adequate to me, especially if Con Security is easy to find and takes their job seriously.   Continue reading

July 28 Progress Report

3000 words written on Peaks of Grace; 300 words and the first chapter of A Carpathian Campaign sketched out. That is the WWI alt-history novel, set on the Eastern Front.

On this day 100 years ago, WWI began, and Europe began what some consider its slide into cultural and moral confusion. To quote from Kipling’s “Edgehill Fight” “The first dry rattle of new-drawn steel/ Changes the works today!”

Publisher vs. Distributer – the “Great” Book War of 2014

I don’t really have a dog, cat, raccoon, or velociraptor in this fight. But watching the hissing fits, vapors, dueling petitions, and PR battles provides ample fodder for popcorn nights and some musing about publishers and what they do. Or did.

For those not following the latest episode of “As the Pages Turn,” Amazon and Hachette Publishing Group, a branch of the French conglomerate Lagardere, are having a dispute over pricing and payments. This stems from both an expiring contract, and from the federal court decisions last year about publishers and Apple conspiring to price-fix. Anyway, there’s a PR battle being waged along with the contract renegotiation, trying to paint Amazon as an evil empire that’s hurting poor, innocent authors by denying readers the ability to pre-order books and not offering discounts, or big enough discounts, or something. There’s a great deal of slung ink and muddy waters involved, and writers pointing at everyone around them and blaming everyone short of G-d Almighty for the mess. Such as it is.

As an aside, in 2013 Simon and Schuster had a similar tiff with Barnes and Noble over special display privileges and shelf space (among other things), with B&N refusing to stock books from S&S unless people special ordered them by title. No one aside from the authors involved wailed to the heavens, and no one called B&N rude names (again, aside from S&S and the authors caught in the middle.)

One of the results of the Amazon-Hachette fight is that even more authors are looking seriously at self-publishing or small-press publishing. Control over one’s intellectual property is beginning to outweigh the conveniences offered by traditional large publishing houses, especially as more and more information about the sales of genre fiction books comes to light.

Which leads me to muse on publishers. Do you buy books based on who publishes them? I didn’t think so. Oh, there are a few presses and imprints that are known for certain niches: Baen Books developed a brand and niche that is thriving, leading the way with web-scriptions and e-arcs, and a chat network (Baen’s Bar) for fans and authors. Regnery Press publishes generally conservative titles and the Politically Incorrect Guide (PIG) series of history, religion, and economic books. D&K are photo-heavy travel and pop-culture-ish books. De Capo is military stuff. Tor is sci-fi and fantasy, and some horror. Everyone knows Harlequin, especially those who swear they don’t read them (on an e-reader, everyone is reading Tolstoy). But tell me what Borzoi specializes in. Or Little, Brown and Company? Routledge? Penguin? Mirror? Basic Books? Norton? Bueller? Bueller?

If you are in academics or policy work, you probably know a few more imprints, like university presses that focus on works in your field, or Island Press.

Otherwise, who knows what’s published by whom? The Big 5, as the conglomerates are called as a group, also called “Legacy Publishing” by some, have swallowed so many smaller presses over the years that no one knows. And most readers don’t care. That’s what the publishers have forgotten, in their attempts to continue business as it was before 2010. Readers, the people who buy books, rarely shop for books by publisher. They have authors and genres they like, and go to those shelves and names. A history book could be from Routledge or Basic Books, and the reader doesn’t particularly notice. Who’s the author and does the book look good, both to the eye and after skimming through a few pages? That’s what readers want.

That’s why self-published (aka Indie Authors) writers are doing so well. In fact, we’re starting to dominate genre book earnings. We’re also distributing our books through more and more bookstores as well as electronic outlets. We learn the necessary skills and/or hire editors, formatting specialists, cover artists, illustrators, and other specialists, and produce work that (alas for the big presses) more and more often have fewer editing problems than the Big 5 titles seem to have. We’re pushing out of the old, shelf-determined genres, crossing romance with fantasy with police procedurals, or spinning tales of time-traveling mercenary alien-hybrids who work for reptiles and fall in love with other aliens in an alternate-history version of Earth. Cozy mysteries have come back to life, and not in a zombie way, through small presses and indie-authors.

What the fuss over Amazon forgets is that Amazon is a distributor, not a publisher (with a very few, niche, exceptions). Indie authors have other, albeit smaller, ways to distribute our wares, such as D2D, Smashwords, setting ourselves up as presses and going into business that way, B&N, Kobo, Gumroad, iTunes Books, and even smaller, more regional distribution channels.

For the sake of the authors with Hachette contracts, I hope it and Amazon (and B&N) work out a contract soon. As the other contracts with the Big 5 come up, we’ll see the Sturm und Drang repeated. And I suspect more writers will go indie, and more ways to get books to readers will arise. I don’t have a dog in the fight, so I can eat my popcorn and plot my books. But the future will belong to the author and reader, that I’m willing to wager on.

Book Review, Classic Edition: Song of the Sky

In 1954 pilot, navigator, naturalist, and philosopher Guy Murchie published Song of the Sky, one of the greatest love songs to aviation and the skies ever written. Framed by the account of a trans-Atlantic flight in a C-54 four-engine cargo plane with the call-sign CHUN, Murchie describes navigation, meteorology, biology, aviation history, and the dreams of flying in flowing, lyrical prose.  Continue reading

Thursday Teaser – Between Flood and Flame

From the story “Scales of Justice” in the forthcoming Cat Among Dragons collection.

Commander Rada, Lord Ni Drako, daimyo of Singing Pines and Burnt Mountain, wanted to go hunting, not to oversee the Azdhagi version of family court. Damn feudal system, she growled to herself as she took a seat in the meeting hall of Singing Pines village. She’d rather have held the hearing at the manor house, but the number of interested witnesses now crowding into the hall made that impossible. Rada tried not to drum her claws on the top of the improvised desk as reptiles filed in. Her guards were searching both the witnesses and the participants without regard to rank real or perceived, causing grumbling that continued until Rada pounded her dagger handle on the wooden table to call for order.

The plaintiff and defendants walked to the front of the room, followed by Helee, the village priest. He would administer the oaths. On Rada’s left, Assistant Village Headman Zhlee chivied his mate and daughter to the front bench. He glared at Rada, who glared right back. The merchant and craftsman Kikoree and his mate and their son took their places to Rada’s right. The priest and Rada’s guards stayed between the two parties. Father Helee administered the oaths as Rada wondered what in the name of the Blessed Bookkeeper she was supposed to do with the mess.

The night before, Zabet had read the complaint, peering over Rada’s shoulder. <<You’re kidding, right? If she doesn’t like him, and he doesn’t like her, then they marry someone else. That’s easy enough.>>

“Not for Azdhagi, and not with this much prestige and property at stake, silver dancer,” Rada had corrected her True-dragon business partner and “concubine.”

<<Hell, even in a House alliance if the two parties absolutely cannot stand each other, their families find a different way.>> Zabet slapped her tail against the bolster on the sleeping platform as she made herself comfortable. <<Just negate the contract and tell the parents to go soak their heads.>>

“The law does not permit me to do that, boss.” Rada raised her hand, forestalling a pungent description of the Azdhagi legal code. “I know, I know. We’ve tracked this prey before.”

Zabet just snorted, sending a mental picture of just what the long-dead nobles could do with their law code.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but Azdhag anatomy does not allow that.”


Amazon Link: Between Flood and Flame

Barnes and Noble: Between Flood and Flame

© Alma T.C. Boykin 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Book News – July 2014

The next Cat Among Dragons book, Between Flood and Flame will be out on Amazon and Barnes and Noble by Friday. It is a 70,000+ word story collection.

Rada returns to Drakon IV and finds herself up to her ear-tips in politics, feuds, hell, and high water.

Here comes the Sun – A Ghost Looks at Sunscreen

Go by the sunscreen aisle of your local drug store or supermarket, and you will (at least in spring and summer) find a plethora of options for warding off the eeeevvvil UV radiation. Choices range from light sprays to the zinc oxide “Rudy the White-Nosed Lifeguard” creams, with or without scent, moisturizer, critter-repellant, and in more numbers than the Federal Reserve churns out. So what’s a sola-phobe to do?

First off, the good stuff that I like can’t be bought in the US yet. It’s called Mexoryl™, L’Oreal has it, and you have to go to Canada or Europe to get any. The FDA has not approved the testing protocols accepted by the Canadians and EU (yet). I used to have a Canadian friend get me a bottle when he went home to visit, but now I just make do. Mexoryl is a UVA and UVB absorber, and the kind I liked didn’t smell bad or feel too greasy. And it worked really, really well.

My current favorite is Ultrasheer Dry-touch from Neutrogena, in an SPF 55. Yes, anything over SPF 30 is a waste of money (unless you need the opaque paste-type protection), but I like this stuff. It breathes well, doesn’t feel like sunscreen, and while it has a faint scent, I can wear it indoors without people around me noticing.

I prefer the lotion forms of sunscreen to the kind you can get in sticks or sprays. I’ve had problems from the stick because it blocked my pores and my hands looked as if I had some sort of pox. Other people use it without problem, and it is a lot more convenient and neater to reapply over the course of a day’s activities. The spray tends to be messy, IMHO. I’m not covering a large area (that’s what shirts and trousers or skirts are for, so I don’t need the convenience.

If I am outdoors for any length of time (as in more than three-five minutes), even though I’m wearing a hat, I put sunscreen on my face and throat, and usually on the back of my hands as well. Those are the only areas that see sunlight. I don’t wear short sleeves between sunrise and sunset, nor do I wear shorts unless I’m in the gym. For normal people, applying sunscreen to the face, arms, and legs is not a bad idea. Don’t forget the throat and upper chest (open collars lead to interesting triangular sunburns) and the back of your legs. I have sunburned the back of my knees. It makes walking and sitting . . . interesting.

Like the bottle says, put it on about fifteen minutes or so before you go out, and reapply it every few hours, especially if you are swimming. Or working with petroleum products, and if you get gasoline or other solvents on you. The worst sunburn I’ve had in the past 20 years hit after I got avgas on my hands, then didn’t think to reapply my sunscreen. Yes, the backs of my hands blistered, as did my wrists. Yes, it hurt like the blazes. Yes, my flying buddies gave me heck.

I’m not saying avoid the sun. I’m just offering tips for not getting turned into a crispy critter. And I’ll admit, avoiding tans is one reason people think I’m still in my early 20s, not my early [redacted]s. And why I’ve only had one worrisome patch trimmed off (thus far).


FCC/FTC/Whoever else disclaimer: Neither L’Oreal, Neutrogena, nor anyone else mentioned above pays me anything, neither do they give me free samples or ask me to review their products. I buy what I use out of my own pocket.