Observations on a Long Drive Through the Country

My family and I spent eight days driving around the US. Well, okay, not eight days entirely in the car. An eight-day vacation in which we drive over a thousand miles to visit my writing partner and friend Sarah’s family in Blacksburg for a few days and then drove over a thousand miles to get home again the next week. We took the opportunity to see a lot of the country we hadn’t been in before and stop in several major southern cities.

But over eight days, we drove about 2,500 miles and experienced (in a variety of ways) the following states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama, and some of them twice in different places. We actually stayed overnight in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Birmingham during our travels, each time arriving in the afternoon early enough to do some interesting stuff (if a little touristy sometimes).

Since my husband wanted to do all the driving, having so much time in the passenger seat of the car let me get a lot of mental work done on a short story I’m currently revising and a novel that’s in rewrites — which was awesome, by the way! — but it also gave me time to make a lot of observations about my immediate environment. So here are some of them, presented as objectively as possible, in no particular order beyond when the observations were made. (I kept a running list as we drove.)

Continue reading “Observations on a Long Drive Through the Country”

FINIS. in July

Hey there. This is just a quick note to let you know the ebook of FINIS. is going to be on discounted sale during the month of July over at SmashWords. Click this link to go to my author profile there and find the book super easily (or click the first link above to go directly to the listing).

Then click on this link to see the rest of the Summer/Winter Sale 2016 catalogue they have.

But first go buy my book. Because it’s awesome. (And you don’t even have to take my word for it: check out the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.)

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Please note this discounted sale is for the ebook only. If you want the print version which includes illustrations by Houston artist Lauren Taylor — and oh my goodness, why wouldn’t you?? — you can find it here.

What I’ve Been Reading: Patrick Rothfuss

You know how sometimes books will have author’s notes at the beginning? Have you ever read one that told you from the get-go that you should probably not read the book? That it wasn’t really much of a story, and that the author’s army of industry professionals (agent, editor, publisher, etc.) would probably prefer he not say any of this to you at all? That if you hadn’t read any of the author’s other works, this was the exact wrong one to start with?

Last week I read that book: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss.

I haven’t read Rothfuss’ two novels yet, I will admit, so I was breaking a “rule” as well, and I’m glad I did, because The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a strange and marvelous story that demonstrates in unapologetic, beckoning prose that sometimes rules aren’t as important as we think they are.

This weird tale of Auri, a waif who lives in the tunnels beneath a setting in Rothfuss’ other books, glories in an inexplicable naming system and an outward premise which perhaps doesn’t pay off. With no dialogue and arguably one character, it defies the expectations of what mainstream fiction does and contains. But I think we need more books like that. It’s just one more way of diversifying what’s available in the marketplace.

I don’t want to tell you much about Auri’s story. For one thing, I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s a quick read, maybe 30,000 words, and part of its magic is in the strange way things are revealed — or not revealed, as the case may be. (It’s definitely a tale for open-minded readers.) But for another thing, I’m not really sure what I would tell you about her story.

Is she an unreliable narrator? Perhaps. Her voice — by which I mean her thoughts — traipse into the realm of mental illness, but in a charmingly benevolent way, if you can imagine. Auri is in some ways a broken girl. But there are moments when I believed it okay: she has found her way in the world, and once I accepted that her world is not my world and that the rules of my world don’t necessarily hold sway in hers, Auri’s differences melted away and I found her to be relatable, and ultimately reliable, too. I found I cared for her tremendously.

Does any of that make sense? Maybe not. Does her story? I’ll let you decide for yourself. I will say that the first few chapters had me bewildered, but I persevered, and on page 84, something so unexpected happened I laughed out loud for several minutes. I couldn’t have appreciated that moment, though, without having first absorbed Auri’s voice and thought process and the mechanics of her daily life. And what followed that funny moment was poignant because, in deft fashion, Rothfuss allows the reader to understand more than the character does in the moment of a scene, and so we can have all the feels while the character has the noble struggle. And he does this without condescending, with patronizing Auri.

Auri’s life is shadowed by past trauma and brightened by future joy. And while it would be a disservice to you for me to explain how the end of the book breaks the rules, I ask you to consider what the rules of story are for. We learn in school that stories must have conflict in order to be stories, and that this conflict must be resolved for the story’s ending to satisfy. But beyond those intelligent guidelines, the details are open to interpretation. If there’s one thing Auri’s story teaches us — both in its details and in its execution — it’s that we can’t always assume that our expectations are fair. And we shouldn’t.

Stories break rules sometimes. They defy expectations, surprise us. They innovate. And if they don’t? They’re not likely to rise to the top of my TBR list.

Electric Car Diaries: The Inspection

So I’ve had my Nissan Leaf for about two years now, and since it was new when I acquired it, I had two years before I needed an inspection. Time is up, and today I got that inspection.

I don’t have anything new to report on the maintenance of the car beyond what you already know from my previous five entries. I still love this car. The only downsides remain my inability to take it on road trips and the fact that my kids make the backseat a mess on a regular basis — though the latter would be the case regardless of what kind of car I drove, of course.

Today I took it to a mechanic for the vehicle inspection, which could be done anywhere that does inspections. (In other words, no special technician needed.) The inspection took TEN minutes. And the cost? SEVEN DOLLARS. That’s right. SEVEN. No emissions, so, there.

HA!

I love this car.

Read my previous electric car diaries here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

 

A Blog for People Who Like Words (and Other Important Stuff)

Near the top of the list of things a writer needs to be successful is a really good critique group. I don’t care if you’re the most talented and dedicated wordsmith around (yes, irony in that word choice intended), you’re only half of what you could be without honest. trustworthy, and knowledgeable outside critiques (and then your own revision). A while back, I wrote a post about etiquette for critique groups and workshops because I’d been asked about what constitutes appropriate interaction so many times over the years, and after working with dozens of people since the late 90s, I’ve come to understand when I’m working with a professional and when I’m working with someone who just doesn’t get it, behavior-wise.

One of my critique group partners, Shirley Redwine, has recently started a blog, and on it you will find a link to my post about the DOs and DON’Ts of being in a critique group as well as Shirley’s commentary on interesting words and phrases — some of which are unique to our part of the country.

Go check out her blog at shirleyredwine.com, and spend a few minutes browsing around. Maybe even leave a comment here or there. (It’ll probably make her day, and she’s the kind of excellent person whose day you want to make.)

But most of all, keep an eye out for her work. She writes really good crime mysteries, and her protagonist Dr. Susanna Lucid is one of my favorites in the genre!

An Interview I Gave…

I was recently interviewed by one of the vendors at the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fest (where my books and poetry art cards were featured last month), and the interview went live today. A couple of other authors are featured in the post, too, including Adam Holt, whom I shared a table with. (Look for that collaboration again in the future, I suspect.)

Here’s the link to the post which includes my interview. Thanks to Dylan Drake for the interest and the opportunity!

Chocolate Chip Cookies That Maybe Shouldn’t Taste As Good As They Do

We found out a few weeks ago that my husband may be allergic to wheat. Seeing as his diet revolves around the enjoyment of gluten, this has ruined his world a little bit. In that first week after getting the news, he would randomly and with great regret announce things, a propos of nothing, that he could now no longer consume. One evening when he was loading the dishwasher, I heard from the next room the sudden outburst: “Cinnamon rolls!” Then a grumble and maybe an expletive. He’s taken to craving sourdough bread.

The Fairy Princess Badass and I decided we would try to find a way to make wheat-free cookies for him. The best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten were made with rice flour, so I thought, Sure, I can do this. Of course, when I’d learned of this and tried to make those cookies, substituting rice flour instead of all-purpose and making no other changes, the result was a textural mess. This time I went to the Internet (or internet now, if you pay attention to the AP). I read a bunch of different kinds of wheat-free chocolate chip cookie recipes and people’s comments about how they’d modified said recipes. Then I cobbled together something that was like them that sounded like fun. Then I went to my pantry and figured out what ingredients I actually had and modified it a little more. I suspect I will continue playing with this one.

The cookies turned out beautifully and were quite tasty. The FPB wanted to use some cute cookie molds she’d gotten for her birthday, but I don’t recommend it with chocolate chip cookie batter because it’s lumpy and doesn’t really conform to shapes well. (The batter does, however, taste delicious.) This batch yields about 3-4 dozen medium-sized cookies.

If you use this recipe, post in the comments here and tell me about it. I’m also interested to know what variations you might experiment with, so do tell!

 

Wheat-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes That Taste As Good As Their Glutinous Brethren

 

ingredients:

1 ¾ c. rice flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ stick (real) butter (softened)
¼ c. refined organic coconut oil
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs (almost room temperature)
1 package chocolate morsels
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg

 

process:

Combine the rice flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

In a mixer, combine the butter, coconut oil, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla till just kind of gooey.

Add the flour mixture one giant spoonful at a time while the mixer is going on a slowish speed.

Add the chocolate chips while the mixer is still going.

Add in the cinnamon and nutmeg while the mixer is still going.

Turn off the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure no part of the batter is left out of the mixing, and give it another spin if needed. Cover the mixture and put it in the refrigerator for two hours. (This is an important step that will prevent your finished product from having a grainy, crumbly, disappointing texture.)

When it’s time to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. (I use a convection oven so I can put three cookie sheets in at once, but this means the oven will burn hot and things will cook faster. Moderate your cooking time, if need be, based on the kind of oven you’re using.)

Put roundish clumps of this glorious batter onto parchment paper on your cookie sheet. (Parchment paper is the best! The cookies will slide off it when they come out of the oven without fighting you and turning into a crumbly, disappointing mess. You won’t even need a spatula. It also makes the cookie sheet clean-up effortless.) Make sure you put the raw cookie blobs at least an inch apart, since they will spread and flatten out a bit in the oven.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes or until golden brown.

 

wheat-free chocolate chip cookie

 

When you take them from the oven, you can lift the whole sheet of parchment with the cookies on it and set that on a cooling rack. They should be ready to eat in just a very few minutes.

Enjoy!