RTW: Best Book(s) of August 2011

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 best book you've read in August?

I jumped the gun a little on this post back on August 12, where I listed some great books I'd been reading. You can follow the above link for my comments and a video, but the titles were:

White Cat, Red Glove, and The Poison Eaters by Holly Black
Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst
Zombies vs. Unicorns ed. by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

All of those are definitely recommendations (can't wait for the next Curse Workers book, Black Death) and I'll probably reread them again sometime, but the best book of the month for me was not technically YA (although it was exactly the kind of book I would have been delighted to find as a teen):

I've mentioned before that I used to work in a book store (where I met my husband, but that's another RTW) and one of our former coworkers is now a sales rep for a publisher. He and his wife (who also met while working at the same book store, but that's another another RTW)(and also, HI!, since she reads my blog) kindly send me packages of books every once in a while.

The last two boxes were a treasure trove of titles that I haven't quite worked my way through, including some Gene Wolfe books. Anvil of the World was nestled in there, and I can see that there was a theme going on. Kage Baker does a lot of the same kind of highly skilled character- and world-building as Wolfe, but she adds little brushstrokes of humor a la Terry Pratchett. The closest book in tone that I can think of is The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven.

Here's the little blurb on Anvil of the World from Amazon: "The Anvil of the World is the tale of Smith and his feud-prone people, the Children of the Sun. Smith, formerly a successful assassin, is trying to retire, hoping to live an honest life in obscurity in spite of all those who have sworn to kill him. But when he agrees to be the master of a caravan from traveling from the inland city of Troon to Salesh by the sea, trouble follows.As always, Baker's approach is charmingly distinctive. Smith's adventure is certainly the only fantasy featuring a white-uniformed nurse, gourmet cuisine, one hundred and forty-four glass butterflies, and a steamboat."

This was one of those books that the entire time I was reading it, and after I finished, I kept telling my husband, "You have to read this one!", even though our tastes don't always overlap. But I also say to you, dear blog readers, "You have to read this one!"

Grants Available for Readings and Workshops

Poets & Writers is offering grants to fund readings and workshops in selected areas, so if you're lucky enough to be in one of these locales you can apply for a grant:

"Organizations that sponsor readings and workshops in New York State or California, or Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, Tucson, or Washington, D.C., may apply for grants to be used for writers' fees.

We make grants for writers' fee payments only. Grant checks are payable to the writer and sent to the sponsor, which is responsible for delivering them to the author. We do not fund administrative costs, publicity, transportation, or other expenses related to producing events. We do not fund in-school events, children's events, staged dramatic readings, or storytelling events featuring non-original or adapted works."

There are lots of other details, so go check it out for yourself. Please note that you must apply at least eight weeks before the event--breaking that rule alone is enough to disqualify your application!

Also, new to my critique partner Christina Mercer's blog is a section called Events listing upcoming workshops, conferences, and contests. Go over there and check out her list, too.

Stipends for Starving Writers

Some of the freelance markets have dried up in the last few years, victims of the economy's impact on readers' disposable income. That means there aren't as many good magazines to read, but the flip side is that there aren't as many opportunities for freelance writers to sell their work.

As a result, you might find that you want or need to supplement your writing income in other ways. Contests, grants, and fellowships can be good sources of funds, as long as you know what you're getting into (what are the entry fees, do you retain rights to your work, will your work be tied up for the entire judging period, etc). Here are a few opportunities that don't involve entry fees:

Fellowship for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers

"The American Antiquarian Society (AAS), a national research library and learned society of American history and culture, is calling for applications for visiting fellowships for historical research by creative and performing artists, writers, film makers, journalists, and other persons whose goals are to produce imaginative, non-formulaic works dealing with pre-twentieth-century American history.

"Successful applicants are those whose work is for the general public rather than for academic or educational audiences. The Society's goal in sponsoring this program is to multiply and improve the ways in which an understanding of history is communicated to the American people."

If this sounds like you, go to the AAS link above and apply by October 5 to be eligible for a stipend of $1350-1850

Real Simple's 4th Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest

Enter Real Simple’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest by September 15 and you could:

*Have your essay published in Real Simple

*Win round-trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors

*Receive a prize of $3,000

Entries must be no more than 1,500 words and address the theme "When did you first understand the meaning of love?"

Good luck, everyone, if you decide to get into the running for either of these! You could see a tremendous return on the cost of postage (or no postage at all, in the RS contest since it's email entry) and your time.

Clipart from Clipartheaven.com


Today is the last day for WriteOnCon, so I thought I'd better stop lurking on the site and join the forum. I commented on several posts on Tuesday, but just couldn't keep up with all the good stuff. Now I'm having to play catchup on all the workshops as well as responding to threads on the forum.

The best part is, except for the live events, I don't have to keep up. They archive everything, so you can go back and read and/or watch workshops at your leisure. This is a great idea, because it's difficult to digest all this information at once.

I'm seeing a lot of Absolute Write names on the WOC forums, I guess they share participants. If you'd like to join us, go to http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/gearing-up-for-writeoncon-2011-%E2%80%93-the-full-schedule/ or http://writeoncon.com/forum/ for the forums.

So thank you, WriteOnCon organizers, for providing this valuable service. For free, a bonus to starving writers everywhere!

And it's also a No-Fail cake--never had an issue with this one, and it's so moist and yummy that you won't hear any complaints from guests accustomed to gluten-y cakes. Enjoy!

No-Fuss Chocolate Cake—No Mixing Bowl, Either!
(Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg-free, Contains Nuts)

The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home features a recipe for "Six-Minute Chocolate Cake" that I've adapted to be gluten-free and without refined sugars. Don't bother to dirty a mixing bowl, this cake can be mixed right in your cake pan. (Unless you need to turn the cake out on a plate, like for a layer cake. In that case, mix in a bowl as usual and pour into a greased and floured pan) Great edible science project for kids, too, as you talk about how the vinegar reacts with the baking soda to make the cake rise.

Makes one 8-9" cake

Dry ingredients:
1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
1/2 cup almond meal
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
7/8 cup water or coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375°.

1. In an ungreased cake pan (8" square or 9" round), mix all dry ingredients with a fork or small wisk.

2. Mix the wet ingredients in a 2-cup glass measure and then pour into the dry ingredients. Blend until smooth. Batter may appear a little too runny at first, but let it sit for a moment and it should thicken up. If not, add a couple of tablespoons of sorghum flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it has a cake batter consistency.

3. Add the vinegar and stir quickly. The vinegar and baking soda will react to create lighter swirls in the batter. Don't overmix, just incorporate the vinegar evenly into the batter.

4. Bake at 375° for about 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean.

We serve the cake unfrosted, but if you're feeling indulgent you can mix in chocolate chips and/or nuts to taste.

Other special diet recipes on my blog:
Oatmeal-to-Go Cookies (Gluten free, dairy free, egg free option)
Gluten-Free Drop Scones (Gluten free, with dairy free and egg free options)


I don't usually do book reviews, but I will occasionally recommend books as part of the YAHighway Road Trip Wednesdays that round up the best books of the month. But rather than wait for the next one, I've had the opportunity over the last week to catch up on my TBR list, and to discover some new favorites. So here's what I've been reading and liking lately:

I've been on a bit of a Holly Black binge, mainly because I stumbled across White Cat at the library and liked it so much that I hunted down some more of her titles(Tithe and Valiant are still in the TBR pile), including its sequel Red Glove. I loved the characters and alternate world she created for these two; a good read for boys, too.

The next book is Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, and I stumbled on this video so why not let her tell you about it?

And lastly, I mowed through Zombies vs. Unicorns in a day. And, strangely, it took another week before I had a zombie-filled nightmare. Mmm, that sounds like a delicious snack cake: Zombie-Filled Nightmare! Now with spongey cake! Pardon me, you have some raspberry filling around your mouth . . .

Earlier this year, a unique blend of "playfully dark arts and literature" called Crow Toes Quarterly shut its doors. But another such bold repository of subversive stories cropped up in the form of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

They run contests and challenges, as well as accepting submissions for prose (up to 2,000 words), poetry, and art year round. This quote about their art submissions says it best about what they are looking for:

"All submissions must have a dark, whimsical children’s theme to them. Pictures of fluffy bunnies and rainbows will not be accepted."

So if you have any sinister characters lurking in a corner of your mind, Underneath the Juniper Tree just might like to meet them.

This is an automatic post, so if I don't respond to your comments right away, I'll be back after the middle of the month.

RTW--Senses Working Overtime

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: The Five Senses. How you use them in your writing, how you are inspired by them, pictorial essays, that character with smelly socks, books that have used them well, the ones that are currently missing from your work, etc.

Since I pay a lot of attention to details around me in real life, I think I do a pretty thorough job of covering all the senses in my writing. Sometimes, too thorough--I had a crit partner complain about all the bad smells in my historical novel: vomit, sewage, rotting food, animals, etc. His complaint only made me more proud of those sections--I'd actually grossed him out with writing on a page!

But not all of the sensory descriptions are gross-out. I have some tender touches, gorgeous scenery, whispering ghosts, comforting smells like the love interest's balsam shave soap, and my favorite, FOOD.

In this last dive into revisions, I noticed how much I talk about food in Spirits from the Vasty Deep. How could I not, when she goes to such exotic climes as Spain, Jamaica, and Antigua? The MC, Olivia, is lucky enough to board with a fantastic cook and here's a little teaser section of when Olivia first arrives at her home (this one doesn't go into the taste and smell as much as other sections, but be glad because she's been seasick and vomiting):

The grand name of dining hall led me to picture a richly formal room, but it was quite the opposite. A large sturdy table, like you might find in a farm kitchen, dominated the room, groaning under the food laid out. Pottery dishes held the local fare of baked yams, fresh mangoes and melon, scones and clotted cream. Hard-cooked eggs, a cold chicken and loaves of dark, soft bread rounded out the meal.

"Are we waiting on others to join us?" I asked as Duncan held the chair out for his mother.

Before Mrs. MacInnes could answer, Duncan laughed out loud.

"I warned you she would put out a spread at tea to welcome me home. She believes I eat nothing but moldy salt pork and hardtack when I am at sea," he said in a stage whisper as he held my chair for me.

"Well, you are always thinner when you come back," she said.

"Only because sailing is hard work—not because I starve. I'm all muscle."

To demonstrate, instead of sliding Sonia's chair in he picked it up with her in it and placed her closer to the table. She squealed and said, "Otra vez." Instead of fulfilling her request of "again", he patted Sonia's shoulder and took his place beside his mother. As Duncan filled his plate, he did nothing to disprove his mother's notion of starvation. He took servings of everything, eating with impeccable manners—but much gusto. I confined Sonia and myself to the eggs, melon and bread.

"Aren't you hungry?" Mrs. MacInnes asked.

"I'm sorry we can't do justice to your offering, but Sonia and I suffered from the ‘mal de mer’ on the entire trip from Jamaica to Antigua."

"Then you are wise to stick to bland foods," Mrs. MacInnes said. "Are there any interesting new delicacies from the States you can share with me when you're recovered? I hear brown bear is popular in California."

I gaped at her, spoon raised halfway to my mouth. I had never even seen a real bear, except the stuffed one standing in the corner of my father’s study, let alone tasted one.

"Mother, surely you don't expect us to have a bear haunch in our baggage?" Duncan said.

"Of course not, young man, I merely thought she might have some good receipts to share." Well used to his teasing, Mrs. MacInnes did not take the bait. Perhaps she could teach me how to do that—he always seemed to be able to get the best of me with his banter.

Hope you enjoyed my tease! And no, that's not a typo above--they used "receipts" rather than "recipes" in this time period.

What about you--do you find yourself using one sense more heavily than others in your writing?

P.S. Don't forget, I'll be out of touch electronically for a bit. I've set up auto posts for the next two Mondays (including a recipe on the 15th--more food!)

Geek Delight

For my husband's birthday, I ordered a custom cake of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins's house in the Hobbit and other Lord of the Rings books. It ended up looking pretty cute, but I wanted to add a little more geekitude, so I went online and found some LOTR paper dolls.

Printed out Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins (you can tell which one is Frodo by his determined expression and the tiny ring on a chain around his neck), along with Gandalf. While I was cutting out Tom Bombadil, I kept thinking that it looked like someone, and then I realized he kind of looks like Tom Green with a crazy beard.

Anyway, here's how they look with the cake:

Tom Bombadil is one of my favorite characters from the book, but in that first photo he looks like some kind of lurking hobbitophile. Not really what I was going for, but good for a laugh nonetheless!

Also wanted to note that I'll be taking a break from blogging and other interwebz fun starting August 3rd. I'll set a few posts to go up automatically on the next two Mondays (look for another gluten free recipe, No-fuss Chocolate Cake, on Aug 15), but otherwise I'll reconnect about mid-August.