Reruns/Greatest Hits

I'm deep in Revisionland once again, so I thought I'd take a page from television series: Put up previously-viewed content and call it an "encore presentation"!

So, from my "Greatest Hits" file, here is a post that first appeared on August 30, 2010. Enjoy!

Surreal things happened this weekend; some made me laugh, and some made me cringe.

First up was the Stephen King Special ice cream truck that came through our neighborhood. The fact that an ice cream truck found our street was pretty amazing (he was already doing better than 90% of our visitors, who get lost trying to find us), but the music on this thing was ultra creepy. The new music system is not an improvement over the ol' Pop Goes the Weasel.

This ice cream truck had a recording that featured a calliope (the deceptively cheerful carnie instrument) and the voices of children singing something about "come out before I melt away." I kid you not, it was like a chorus of trapped souls. I don't know if Stephen King has featured a sinister ice cream truck in any of his stories, but this had shades of "It" that made me afraid to make eye contact with the driver.

The second thing was seeing a vanity plate that said AC230--you guessed it, on a Mercedes C230. It cracked me up to imagine this guy's thinking process, "Hmmm, I want to pay an extra $50 for a vanity plate, but I don't want it to be too obnoxiously ostenatious." I guess ASEDAN was already taken.

And lastly, apparently there is a (flabby) arms race going on with chain restaurants, wherein the novelty fried foods are escalating. Cheese seems to figure prominently in all of them, which makes me ever so grateful that I can't have dairy, thereby removing the temptation to consume my entire day's worth of calories (and week's worth of sodium and fat) in one sitting.

What's Your Flavor? A Buffet of Contests

Writer's Digest is not only an invaluable source for improving your craft and keeping up with market news, they also offer contests throughout the year. Their biggest two are annual well-established competitions:

The annual Short Story Competition (in its 12th year) with a maximum of 1,500 words. Any genre, any style, but 1,500 words is challenging! If you're up to it, the entry fee is $20 and the deadline is November 15, with the winners notified by the end of February 2012.

The deadline for the 80th WD Annual Writing Competition has already passed, but the winners will be announced in October, and details for the next competition in November. WD also has competitions for poetry, screen plays, self-published books, and "Your Story" (which uses a writing prompt).

New this year are separate genre short story competitions, with a maximum of 4,000 words. Entries are also $20, with a chance to win up to $1,000. The deadlines for each genre are:

September 15
Science Fiction/Fantasy

October 1
Young Adult Fiction

October 15

October 22

October 31

So start pondering some story ideas now, so that you'll have a finished story by the deadline! I may enter more than one category, just for the challenge of stretching my genres.

What about you--do you find yourself keeping to one genre when you write, or do you write all across the board?

Images courtesy of

RTW--D'ohn't Try This At Home

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What's the biggest writing/querying/publishing mistake you've made so far?

I think others will also be featuring this biggest mistake: querying before the manuscript was actually ready.

Three years ago, I absolutely thought it was ready. Well, this close to being ready. But you see, I was going to beat the system. I knew it would take a while to hear back on queries, so that bought me more revision time, right? Yes, technically it did--but I didn't do anything else during that time period that improved my craft, so it didn't matter.

Sure, when the requests started coming in, I caught a few more spelling errors or typos, but there were not any drastic improvements. So those requests turned into form rejections when they got the pages.

It wasn't until we formed our current YA crit group that I felt like I made real progress in my writing, partly from what we cover in our meetings and partly from all the links and resources we exchange. Couldn't do it without the cannibal club!

Now, if the question had been about the funniest mistake, I only have to go back to last week on Twitter. An agent posted that they were going to start a "Query All-stars folder" for the really crazy queries she gets.

It struck me that some twisted soul would take that as a challenge, a way to get her attention. So I jokingly tweeted, "Challenge accepted! Something new to strive for!" Only she didn't know I was joking and I think I kind of scared her.

I Blame Buffy and Joss Whedon

I've been working with an excellent beta reader, Alison Kemper, and we were talking about our efforts to make our books scarier, while at the same time keeping the humor intact.

We both do really well writing pithy, sarcastic dialogue for our main characters. You know, those hilarious off-the-cuff remarks a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that break up the tension without somehow diluting it.

The difference is that in an episode of Buffy, we're also seeing the big scary monster (so we're scared too), her reaction (which might not be verbal), and everything moves at such a snappy pace that if they dwelled on something too long it would feel awkward rather than more meaningful.

All those things are so much harder to do on paper! For me, I tried to maintain the pacing over all else, so my main character never really had a chance to process the trauma or experience her own emotional reaction. And that meant the reader wasn't feeling it either.

Because that pithy dialogue is somewhat like having the last word--it's so funny on its own that it doesn't leave any room for you to explore any emotional depth. Like one of those movies that you see where you go away feeling it was only a collection of catchphrases, with no actual plot development. We've all seen those, haven't we, where we should have just saved the $10 because all the funny bits were in the trailer?

So I blame you, Joss Whedon, for giving us expectations that novels for teens can have that same mix of scariness, humor, emotional depth, character growth, and kick-ass pacing that Buffy showed us. Thereby making my job a lot harder.

RTW: Picture This

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: Share some images that inspire your WIP(s)

Alas, we got a new computer over the weekend and haven't transferred the hard drive with all my pix on it yet, so I didn't have any photos to tie into my novel Spirits from the Vasty Deep. But, I have blogged pretty extensively on the source of my inspiration for the setting of Crow's Rest, my WIP.

Here are a few pix you may not have seen:

This one's from an earlier post where I was messing around with dummy covers for Crow's Rest.

An exterior view of Preston Castle in Ione, formerly the Preston School of Industry

This is an interior shot of the castle's basement, and it showcases the mixture of decay, beautiful textures, and atmosphere that made me so inspired to set part of my novel here. This is one of my favorite photos I've ever taken.

And I think I'll leave you with that pic, but if you want to see more Preston Castle pix you can go to my gallery. Can't wait to see everyone else's photos!

Recipe for Gluten-Free Drop Scones

I've mentioned on occasion that I eat gluten-free and dairy-free (and also am allergic to chicken and their eggs, but can eat duck eggs) but I've never posted a recipe on here yet. When I tweeted a while ago that I'd made GF lemon blueberry scones (pictured below), I got a few requests for the recipe so I decided to share it. I am planning on posting other specialty recipes, but it will likely be on a sporadic basis (mainly because there are some recipes I have put quite a bit of research into and would like to find a home in print somewhere).

I always make sure to credit the inspiration for a recipe, even if I've departed drastically from the original, but in this case I no longer know where I saw the recipe I began with. It's in my handwritten recipe book, and I probably recorded it sometime in 1992. It is similar to other recipes that yield a more biscuit-like scone, much less sweet than traditional scones, and lends itself to variations. Without further ado, the recipe:

Gluten-free Drop Scones (with a dairy-free option)

1 cup yoghurt, sour milk, or buttermilk*
1 egg**
3 tablespoons mild honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend***
1 cup almond meal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon egg replacer (optional, but it helps with texture)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine (Earth Balance rocks!)
1/2 cup currants or raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F)
1. In bowl of a stand mixer, beat together milk, egg (or its substitute), honey, and almond extract if using.

2. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, egg replacer, and salt.

3. With mixer on low, add two cups of flour mixture a cup at a time, mixing well with each addition.

4. Turn mixer up to medium and gradually add melted butter, then raisins and orange zest.

5. Add the last of the flour mixer and mix until well blended. If mixture seems a little too dry, add a splash of milk of choice. It should be slightly stiffer than cookie dough.

6. Spray a cookie sheet or tray with non-stick oil, or use a non-stick cookie sheet. Drop batter by generous spoonfuls, spaced 2-3 inches apart.

7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until they are golden and firm to the touch. These freeze well, and are best reheated slightly before serving.

Substitute chocolate chips or dried cranberries for the raisins
Add 1/4 cup toasted chopped nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts

For lemon blueberry scones: use lemon-flavored yoghurt, and substitute blueberries for the raisins and lemon zest for the orange zest. If you can't find a lemon-flavored DF yoghurt, use your milk of choice and add 1 tablespoon lemon extract.

*can use non-dairy yoghurt, or ND milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar added
**or suitable replacer, though they will be slightly more crumbly if using an egg substitute
***I use a combination of brown rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch

Other special diet recipes on my blog:
No-Fuss Chocolate Cake (Gluten free, dairy free, egg free)
Oatmeal-to-Go Cookies (Gluten free, dairy free, with egg free option)