Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Adventures in Baking

Okay, so I normally blog about writing and writers, but since I actually had a very successful baking experience (which isn't super rare, but is still notable for me), I thought I would share, especially since I was using a modified recipe of my own design.

I love oatmeal butterscotch cookies (sometimes called oatmeal scotchies), but have never made them before. Since I needed to bake something for my family's Christmas get-together (okay, I could have gone with a store-bought pie, but I'm better than that), I thought I would give them a try. It was easy to find a recipe online, but fortunately before I grabbed the first one and started baking, I read the comments. There were three main complaints: the cookies came out too thin and hard; they crumbled/fell apart; and they were too sweet. So, with base recipes in hand and comments in mind, I set out to develop my own formula for perfection.

(Note: the base recipe is the one provided on some packages of Nestle butterscotch morsels, which I found online with comments here.)

My recipe:
1 cup butter, softened (original is 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup white sugar (original is 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour (original is 1 1/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (original is 3 cups)
1 2/3 cups (1 11-oz package) butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix butter, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.
Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl, then add to butter mixture until thoroughly mixed.
Stir in oats and butterscotch chips.
Roll dough into 1" balls and place on ungreased non-stick cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.

There are two deviations in the cooking directions. First, the original recipe calls for dropping dough in spoonfuls on the cookie sheets. I saw a suggestion in one of the comments that rolling it into 1" balls (about the size of a donut hole) worked better, and after trying both, I have to agree. The spoonful method produced cookies that were too thin around the edges, and which got very dark by the time the centers were fully baked. The ball method produced better looking and more consistent cookies with good, thick edges. I think rolling the dough also helps push the chips inside the cookie, so they do not melt and burn onto the cookie sheets.

The second difference was a very minor one, but is the sort of think that I appreciate when people tell me. The recipe calls for baking the cookies until they are golden brown around the edges. Well, considering the dough and the finished cookies are almost identical in color, that did not work too well for me. What I figured out was they were done when the tops of the cookies were no longer shiny.

Here is a picture of the finished results. The two cookies on the left were rolled, the two on the right were dropped.

I may make some additional changes to the recipe next time (I think taking out 1/4 cup of flour and adding 1/4 cup of oats back in might be good), but for now I am very happy with the results.

Now back to writing. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Voice Recognition Software

For some time now I have been considering buying voice recognition software because it seems to me that I'm likely to be able to talk faster than I can type. Okay, it doesn't just seem to me that I can do that, I happen to know it for a fact. So today I started looking for voice recognition software. I started by looking for freeware because I work on a limited budget and if I could find something that would work for me at least half decently and I could get for free, it would probably be my best choice. I was not surprised to find that there are very few freeware options when it comes to voice recognition software. However, I was very surprised to find out that there is actually free voice recognition software built in to Windows 7.

This has to be one of the best hidden secrets that I have ever encountered. It seems like this is the sort of thing that they would widely advertised (and looking back, maybe they did) but obviously it did not stick too well in my mind. In any event, now that I'm aware of it I plan to use it. Only time will tell if this will work out as a good solution for me. There are no doubt better engines out there, but for now it is free and I'll see if I can make it work.

And yes, I did record this blog entry using the windows 7 speech recognition software (and with relatively few corrections needed).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Five More 5-Star Picture Books

Here are five more excellent picture books that have been released in the past couple of months:

Matilda is a very good cat, but Hans is very naughty. Yet somehow, when Hans goes too far and a reward is offered for information about him, Matilda knows exactly where he can be found. In Matilda and Hans, Yokococo masterfully blends a simple story with striking illustrations. While the story teaches the basic principles of naughty and nice, it also shows that everyone contains at least a little bit of both. Matilda and Has makes a great read-aloud for preschool children.

In No Fits, Nilson!, Amelia and Nilson go everywhere and do everything together. The problem is, whenever something goes wrong, Nilson throws a major fit, and Amelia must do whatever she can to calm him. OHora has crafted a short but highly relatable story of temper tantrums that recognizes how little it can take to spark one but which also offers encouragement for controlling them. The acrylic paintings have a cartoon-like quality to them and effectively support and expand upon the story. The final illustration may confuse some children, but makes a great starting place for discussions (what was really throwing the fits?). This is a great book to share with preschool to early school-age children, especially those who might need a little help with their own tantrums.

Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) tells the delightful story of Zoe, self-proclaimed Queen of the Universe. Every night after the lights go out, she builds empires, explores uncharted territory, and holds tea with the royal court. But when her little sister moves in, everything changes. Murguia has written a very short but lovable story that will resonate with any child who has a younger sibling, or who is facing any sort of big change. Her ink and watercolor illustrations are uncluttered and inviting, with just the right tones to set the mood and ample white space where appropriate.

Clementine receives exactly what she wants for her birthday: a nurse's outfit and a first-aid kit. As Nurse Clementine, she is ready to leap into action at any sign of injury, no matter how small. But she is not ready to deal with the biggest problem of all--when no one needs her help. Simon James' watercolor and ink illustrations are cartoon-like but expressive and full of action. The situations throughout the book are entirely realistic and will resonate with any child. It is also very easy to empathize with Clementine when she has no one left to help.

Dozens of Cousins is the story of a huge family reunion, complete with uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, and of course dozens of cousins. The story is told by the cousins, who scramble, race, jump, dive, stuff their faces, get muddy, and generally have a fun, noisy time. The story is actually a free-verse poem, and as such has some wonderful word choices and arrangement. It begs to be read out loud. The illustrations are wide, double page spreads covered from edge to edge with color and action, along with plenty of details to examine through multiple readings. One of the best new picture books I've seen this year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Flash Fiction Contest

Columbus Creative Cooperative is running a flash fiction contest through August 31. Your story must be based on three randomly assigned images and cannot be more than 500 words (less, if you use any sort of formatting, so keep is simple--it's about the writing, not the presentation).

You can see my entry here.

Also, if you want to read my entry in the last contest (which was a Judges' Choice winner), you can find it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10 for 10 Picture Books

Here are my August 10 for 10 must have picture books (in no particular order). For more info on #pb10for10 and links to other lists, see Reflect and Refine and Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I could actually fill the entire list just from Dr. Seuss, but I decided that I would only include one book by each author. While Dr. Seuss has many wonderful books that I could have picked, I decided to go with The Lorax. Not only is it an excellent example of Seuss' work, but it contains a timeless message that should be shared with every child.

2. Tuesday by David Wiesner

Tuesday is a (nearly) wordless book, but Weisner's illustrations more than carry the story (and won him the Caldecott Medal in 1991). There is so much to discover and share in every picture that students enjoy going through it again and again. Not only are the illustrations exceptional, they contain a lot to find, and convey a wonderful sense of humor.

3. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
I love reading this book aloud (especially the moos), and students love to hear it. But more than just being a great and fun read, I use this book to introduce students to the concept and format of formal letters: how they are opened (Dear Farmer Brown) and closed (Sincerely, The Cows). As a follow up activity, I have the students write their own letter to Farmer Brown (I usually do this with first graders, so a one sentence body asking for something they want seems to work well).

4. The Full Belly Bowl by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

One of the things that I enjoy reading and sharing are books that have a solid story behind them. The Full Belly Bowl is written in traditional folkloric style, making it well-suited for folklore units. The illustrations are lively and complex, with multiple panels and borders full of activity. While the story is a cautionary tale, it does have a happy (or at least, happy enough) ending and is written and illustrated with plenty of humor.

5. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Another story that I like to use with folklore units, this book puts a double twist on the well-known classic, both by making it more modern and by telling it from the wolf's point of view. Naturally, the wolf considers himself the victim of circumstances beyond his control, though children will love pointing out clues that this may not actually be the case. This book makes a great centerpiece for discussing how traditional stories change over time and from teller to teller, either deliberately or unintentionally.

6. Miss Hunnicutt's Hat by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken

Miss Hunnicutt usually doesn't like to make a fuss and always does what everyone wants her to, but when the people of Littleton object to her wearing her new hat (complete with a live chicken on top), she stands her ground. If you have never read this book, you must find a copy now. The story is excellent and is supported by beautiful watercolor illustrations full of action, minute detail, and hidden bonuses. One catastrophe after another befalls the townspeople, not so much because of Miss Hunnicutt's hat but because of their reactions to it. This is a great book for children and adults.

7. Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Tim Bowers

This book just came out in February, but I had to include it on this year's list. It tells the story of Crispin, a young dragon who breaths just about anything--except fire, that is. Students will love trying to guess what will come out of his mouth next. Acrylic paintings in a cartoon-like style support and expand upon the story, and contain some interesting twists of their own (such as when the edges of the illustrations get scorched at one point). This is a great story of friendship and acceptance that works just as well for independent readers as it does for a read-aloud.

8. Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Janet Stevens
A modern retelling of a traditional African folktale, Anansi represents the Trickster found in nearly every folklore tradition. The story is well-written, and students will love seeing the other animals being fooled by Anansi, as well as Anansi getting a small taste of his own medicine. Bright, energy-filled illustrations with anthropomophized animals add to the telling and make this great both as a read-aloud or for independent reading. (Note: I almost went with Gerald McDermott's classic Anansi the Spider here instead, but while the illustrations of that book are wonderfully representative of traditional Ashanti art, the story is told too traditionally for some students to really relate to it.)

9. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Wow. That's just about all I can say. Wow. And if that doesn't make any sense to you, you need to read this book. Lily has a purple plastic purse that she thinks is just wonderful, and she can't wait to share it with everyone, even if it interrupts her teacher. When the purse proves to be too distracting and is confiscated, Lily seeks revenge. This is an excellent story that is so completely relatable for any child. Beautiful, expressive illustrations (including one not so nice one drawn by Lily) intermingle with the story to provide a nice blend of pictures and text.

10. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz
This is, and will always be, one of my all-time favorite books to read aloud. One disastrous event after another befalls for Alexander, though most of them are not quite so world-shattering as he might make them out to be. The book reads almost as stream of consciousness, which I think is a large part of what makes it so powerful: it reads just like a young boy telling you about his day. The black and white illustrations are simple but detailed and expressive. In the classroom, I use this book to discuss the concept of a sequel: what if Alexander had another bad day? Students each write and illustrate a page for the sequel, Alexander's even worse day.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Myths Inscribed Ezine Issue 3

Just a quick note to mention that the latest issue of Myths Inscribed, the ezine from the creators of the Mythic Scribes writing community, is now out (actually as of July 31). This issue inclues a nonfiction piece by yours truly about the Sumerian/Babylonian myth of Etana. You can find it it http://ezine.mythicscribes.com.

If you are a writer of any sort of fantasy fiction (any they are very flexible about defining fantasy), they are also accepting submissions for the next issue, so take a look at their submission guidelines.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Five 5-Star Picture Books

Here are five recent picture books that I loved:

There are tons of dirty fun in Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. Cowpoke Clyde likes a clean home and has just gotten his spotless when he spies Dawg, all caked with mud. Clyde figures on a quick wash, but Dawg has other ideas and leads Clyde on an outrageous chase. Written is tight, fast-moving rhyme and just enough dialect to be entertaining but not distracting, this book will appeal to kids of all ages. Gorgeous, full-color illustrations done in acrylic and colored pencil highlight and expand on the text as Dawg goes running and sends soup, chickens, fleas, hogs, and a host of other things flying. One facet that many children will love are the cliffhangers left on several pages where the rhyme is not completed, allowing them to guess how to finish the rhyme, or chime in if they already know. The story includes a humorous and satisfying ending (complete with rubber ducky). This is a winner that kids will want to hear again and again.

Goat thought he was special until Unicorn showed up and started showing off. In Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great, anything that Goat tries to do, Unicorn can do better without even trying. Or so it seems, until Goat starts learning about some of the things Unicorn can't do. There is suddenly a chance that they might be friends (or even a crime-fighting duo!). Bob Shea has done a delightful job of capturing the attitudes of so many children when they are feeling jealous of others. Goat perceives Unicorn as trying to show off when really he is just being himself, and once they start talking is more than ready to admit that he has many shortcomings ("I can't play soccer. One head butt and it's game over!"). Shea combines several media to craft colorful, animated illustrations very similar many modern cartoons. Differing fonts and colors make it easy to tell who is speaking without having to state it. The book carries important lessons about seeing beyond preconceptions without ever belaboring the point, and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Snippet the Early Riser is about a snail who likes to get up early, while the rest of his family does not. When he wakes and wants to play, Snippet tries a number of ways to wake up his family (with the help of a few friends), but does not succeed until he gets an idea from watching Caterpillar munching on a leaf. Murguia's blend of ink and water colors creates a wonderful mixture of sharp lines with soft hues. Most pages contain both large and small illustrations interspersed with text, making the action fast paced and immediate throughout. It is also incredible how expressive the characters can be with just three dots for eyes and a mouth. A fun, creative book and highly recommended both for independent readers and as a read-aloud.

In A Long Way Away, Viva has done a remarkable job of crafting a story and accompanying artwork that can be read from either end of the book. A young, smiling alien travels from deep space to the depths of the ocean, or vice versa, depending on where you begin. The illustrations appear simple, but on most pages there are several things to discover. Lines of color against blue and black backgrounds allow even very young children to follow the progress of the traveller. And regardless of which direction you go, the traveller ends up in a happy place, either deep asleep or at home with a family hug. This book makes an excellent bedtime story that your children will want you to read forward and backward (literally) again and again.

Flora and the Flamingo comes without any words, but contains plenty of story just waiting for a child to discover it. Flora does her best to imitate a flamingo, both in her attire and her actions. The flamingo, noticing her and apparently disapproving, contorts into increasingly difficult poses until Flora topples. Then, noting her distress and feeling apologetic, the flamingo enters into a duet with Flora to finish out the book. The illustrations are simple but elegantly crafted. Ample white space, framed by trees and blossoms, focus attention on the characters and remove any background distractions. It is easy to follow the emotions on the faces and in the body language of both characters. Perhaps the nicest touch is the yellow of Flora's bathing cap, which keeps the book from being too pink. This book will appeal to a wide range of readers from preschool and adult. It is particularly suited to young children who do not want to be confined to a story with words, but would rather use their imaginations to tell their own story.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Smokescreen by Nancy Hartry

Kerry has lived her entire life in a city, and is completely unprepared for her summer job deep in the bush in northwestern Ontario. Her coworker Yvette seems to be everything that she is not: worldly, outgoing, poised, and confident. They are set to spend a summer hunting for cottage sites when they are suddenly called up to provide support for nearby firefighting efforts. Neither of them is prepared for a sequence of events that points at Yvette as the arsonist responsible for the fire and which may cost both of them their lives.

Smokescreen is a short, fast-paced read that should have a strong appeal to young adults. There is plenty of action to drive the story forward, although there are spots that drag due to overly detailed descriptions. The story is told from Kerry's point of view, and throughout she is an easily likeable and relatable character. Yvette is less consistantly likeable, but this is generally colored by Kerry's current opinion of her.

The main issue I have with the book is the character development. Both girls see considerable change in their actions and attitudes through the story. While this is to be expected, it happens in sudden spurts rather than a more gradual change that might be expected. There is also some inconsistancy in their development. Kerry starts off very nervous about a job for which she knows she is entirely unprepared, but within a few chapters is much more at ease, even after being thrown into an even more stressful situation. As the story progresses, she wavers back and forth between the two extremes rather than a steady growth from one to the other. Yvette's behavior is even less consistent at times, often without enough information given to understand her sudden changes.

The book is written by a Canadian and published in Canada, so there are a few spots where the language seems just a little off to a U.S. native like myself. However, they are very minor and far between, and should not cause any problems for YA readers.

Overall, Smokescreen has a very strong storyline with a satisfying ending (despite a bit of info dump following the climax), but I can only give it four out of five stars.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sharknado and Ben Bova on Conflict

Like so many others, I was swept up with Sharknado fever a couple of days ago. We all knew going in that there was not the remotest chance of the movie having even a little bit of scientific accuracy. With that attitude, it was easy to sit back and laugh at the utterly unrealistic events that unfolded. At the same time, following the #SharkNado feed on Twitter enhanced the experience in a way not seen since Mystery Science Theater 3000 (they would have loved Sharknado).

This morning as I was reading the section on conflict in Ben Bova's The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells I found a passage that I think sums up Sharknado and the movies like it so well. In talking about "space operas" and other works with overly simplistic conflict, Bova notes:

"But the pattern is the same; physical action is the mainstay of the story. Instead of cattle rustlers in black hats we have an invasion of earth by horrid alien creatures. Instead of a battle with the Indians on the prairie we have an interstellar war. But the conflict is all physical, all good guys vs. bad guys.

"Although space operas had virtually disappeared from science fiction writing by the 1960s, they are still a mainstay of Hollywood's sci-fi flicks, which usually draw their inspiration more from comic strips than from real science fiction published in books or magazines. In fact, sci-fi movies are about as closely related to science fiction as Popeye cartoons are to naval history."

(I absolutely love the last sentence.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

The environment has collapsed, and is no longer able to provide enough oxygen for humans to survive. Until it can recover, humanity has moved into a set of domes that are under the control of the corporation Breathe, the sole supplier of oxygen. Bea is the daughter of two Auxiliaries, or “subs,” who struggle to earn enough to pay their oxygen bills. Quinn, from a Premium family, does not have this problem, but must face his parents’ disapproval at his friendship with Bea and their plans for his future. Alina is a member of the Resistance, labeled terrorists by Breathe, and is trying to find a way to end Breathe’s monopoly.

When circumstances drive them together on an excursion beyond the dome, they learn more than they ever expected about themselves, their society, and the true extent of Breathe’s power.

In Breathe, Sarah Crossan has created a compelling YA dystopian story. The world she has created is all too believable, and does not suffer from problems often found in other dystopian novels. The characters are multifaceted and relatable (even if they are not always likeable), although they do at times seem to accept radical shifts of their world views with limited resistance. Settings are well described, but done briefly enough that they do not interfere with the story’s fast pace. The use of present tense throughout and shifting viewpoints in each chapter also drive the story forward to the point where the reader will not want to stop.

Breathe is an excellent read, and highly recommended. The only problem is, now I need to wait a few months to read the sequel (and conclusion), Resist, which is due out on October 2.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: The Water Castle

When his father suffers a debilitating stroke, Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family leave Cambridge to move to the Water Castle, an ancestral home he has never seen in the small town of Crystal Springs, Maine. The Water Castle, so named because of the once-thriving bottled water company run by Ephraim's ancestors, is large, old, and very odd. There are countless hidden spaces, secret passages, and entire rooms that don't seem to fit. Add to that a mysterious hum and flashes of blue light, and Ephraim and his siblings are kept busy trying to fathm its secrets.

For Ephraim, though, the most important thing to find is the original source of the water, once known for its nearly magical healing powers, and possibly even the fabled Fountain of Youth itself. If he can find the healing water, he can cure his father and make his family whole once more.

Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Water Castle is a well-crafted story that weaves together several storylines into a compelling whole. During his search, Ephraim is brought together with Mallory, the daughter of the hereditary caretakers of the castle, and Will, the son of a family that hates the Appledores. Much of the story centers around their family histories and attitudes, which often seem to be in conflict with the present generation. The plot is solid and fast paced, with a satisfying conclusion. I was particularly happy that the author did not feel the need to reveal the truth about Mallory's parents, allowing the reader to realize it on his or her own (or not).

Unfortunately, while the story is quite good, I did have a problem with the writing itself. There were many spots, particularly in the first few chapters, where I would suddenly be pulled out of the story. There were some awkward phrases, but the more common issue was a case of Blakemore explicitly telling how a character was feeling or what he or she was thinking, rather than demonstrating it more indirectly. Perhaps years of concentrating on "show, don't tell" have made me overly sensitive to this, but I think it could be an issue for more casual readers, even if they do not understand why the writing sounded a bit off.

Overall a very nice story, but I feel the execution could have been better. Four out of five.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Six More Ezines Seeking Submissions

Still looking for somewhere to submit your work? Here are six more ezines that are seeking fiction submissions.

The Future Fire (futurefire.net) is looking for social-political and progressive speculative fiction. Accepts submissions up to about 10k words. Particularly interested in feminist, LBGT, multicultural themes. Pays $20 for fiction, $10 for poems.

Quantum Muse (www.quantummuse.com) publishes science fiction, fantasy, and alterative (cross-genre) writing and artwork. Does not accept poetry. Does not pay authors, but does have an online “tip jar” where you might make a tiny bit of cash if your readers are feeling generous. Must register on the site and critique others’ stories to earn submission credits. Accepts stories up to 8k words, possibly longer for serial works.

Anotherealm (anotherealm.com) is a free monthly magazine that features science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Stories must fall into the listed categories. Accepts stories up to 5k words, sometimes has contests and flash fiction with 1k limit. Pays $25. There can be a delay of up to a year before a story is published, so not your best bet if you want quick publishing credits.

Pif Magazine (www.pifmagazine.com) publishes mainly fiction, poetry, and author interviews, but considers some other types of works. Prefers unpublished work; no simultaneous submissions.

3AM (www.3ampublishing.com) is “a loose, eclectic forum for literary upstarts, degenerates and loose cannons.” Seeking fiction, criticism, and politics; generally does not publish genre fiction. Accepts submissions up to 3k words. Prefers unpublished works.

Vestal Review (www.vestalreview.net) specializes in flash fiction, and only accepts works up to 500 words. Publishes a printed edition twice a year in addition to online. Reading periods for submissions are Feb-May and Aug-Nov. Only accepts unpublished work. Pays 0.03-0.10/word depending on length (max $25) plus a free copy of the printed magazine.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: My Homework Ate My Homework

Eleven-year-old Zaritza has a big problem. Acting is her life, and she is about to get her big break. The Laramie Traveling Children's Theater Troupe is coming to Zaritza's school, and she is determined to claim the lead role in the school's production of Calamity Jane. The problem is, in order to participate in the play at all, she needs to pass all of her subjects, and she is in serious danger of failing math. Her only hope is to take on a truly dreadful extra credit assignment: taking care of Bandito, the class ferret.

While many of her classmates would be happy with the assignment, Zaritza has never liked Bandito. She thinks he is hideous and creepy, and smells like boiled cabbage. Nevertheless, she is willing to do anything (other than her math homework, that is) to land her starring role. When Bandito escapes confinement, Zaritza discovers that her homework has eaten her homework, but this is only the first in a series of "disasters" that threatens her big chance at becoming a world-renowned actress.

Patrick Jennings has produced a funny, fast-moving, and exciting book that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Short, snappy chapters make the book good both for reluctant readers and as a classroom read-aloud. Zaritza and the other characters are well-developed and believable, and run the full gamut of human emotions as the story progresses. Every bit of the action is realistic, but that does not prevent it from being madcap and zany, at least when told from the perspective of an eleven-year-old drama queen. There are a few good moral lessons worked in, but none of them are too blatant or detract from the story.

Overall My Homework Ate My Homework is an excellent book, and highly recommended.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Six Ezines Looking for Submissions

Looking for somewhere to submit your work? Here are six ezines that are seeking fiction submissions.

The Were-Traveler (theweretraveler.wordpress.com) has published eight issues so far. Each issue is centered around a specific theme, but there is a good deal of latitude for creativity. Upcoming issues include Crossroads: The Realm of Death; The Little Magazine of Magnificent Monsters; and The Day the Zombies Ruled the Earth. They normally look for works from 100-2500 words long.

Myths Inscribed (ezine.mythicscribes.com) is the ezine associated with the Mythic Scribes website, a site devoted to fantasy writers. They are seeking primarily fantasy, but consider cross-overs with a significant fantasy element as well. The ezine is published quarterly. One special feature of Myths Inscribed is their Warp and Weft feature each issue, which is a story that has been extensively revised through one-on-one interaction between the author and one of the editors.

Strange Horizons (www.strangehorizons.com) specializes in speculative fiction, and looks for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and slipstream. They accept fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, and interviews. New stories are published on the website weekly.

Lightspeed (www.lightspeedmagazine.com) is a science fiction and fantasy magazine that publishes its stories free online, as well as selling in an ebook format. According to the site, "No subject is off-limits, and we encourage our writers to take chances with their fiction and push the envelope." The magazine has been closed to unsolicited submissions, but will start accepting them again on June 20. Lightspeed pays .05 per word for unpublished fiction.

Crossed Genres (crossedgenres.com) is published online monthly, as well as in print anthology form twice a year. The magazine looks for science fiction and fantasy, and every issue has a specific theme that must be followed. They do not accept poetry. Word count 1000-6000. They pay .05 per word, and reserve at least one spot in every issue for a new/unestablished author.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com) is published biweekly, with two stories in each issue. It is a well-established magazine with more than 120 issues published so far. They are looking for "literary adventure fantasy" - that is, exciting character-driven fantasy adventures written with a strong literary flair. The magazine pays .05 per word.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Research Gems

You never know what you are going to find while doing research. I was skimming through old newspapers in a mostly fruitless attempt to find something else when I happened across the article below. I don't know if I will ever work it into a story, but I am definitely keeping it in my idea file. Note that the operation time was about 11,000 times shorter than the travel time.


PHILADELPHIA, June 25--(U.P.)--Three-year-old Kelvin Rogers of Boort, Australia, who traveled more than half way around the world to see a doctor, successfully underwent an operation today at Temple University Hospital for removal of a nail from his lung.

It required 53 days for the boy and his mother to make the 9000 mile voyage from Australia for the operation which lasted seven minutes. The nail was removed by Dr. Chevalier Jackson, who used his famous bronchoscope in the delicate operation.

The Columbus Citizen, 25 June 1936, p. 1, c. 1.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Pantheon

#NewPantheon - The First Two Days

On March 13, 2013, author Steven Brust (@SteveBrust) began a new movement with the following tweet:

"In honor of the Pope, it's time for a new religion. Here is my first entry:
Scandasota: God of passive-aggressive behavior. #newpantheon"

The tweets that followed came fast and furious, and the New Pantheon has exploded to nearly 120 deities in less than two days. Now, for the first time,the entire pantheon (to date) has been gathered into one spot. Search for the #newpantheon hashtag to keep up with the latest list.


Adobeus: God of annoying software updates

Agora: Agora, God Of Recursive Acronyms

Agricola Puellam-Amat, the god of first semester Latin

Ahglit, God of common things no one remembers the name of

Anthropomorpheus, god of the talking bear

Anthropomorphic Personification, the god of gratuitous verbosity

Awesomezorz, god of ROCKET LASER DINOSAURS

Azif: God of sarcasm

Bayleout, god of wall street

Bestguess: God of airline departure and arrival times

Bloody Mary, Goddess of morning cocktails (admittedly stolen from Archer)

Bluesmell, god of synaesthesia

Brainsneeze, god of disappointing orgasms

Bubblios, the god of milking venture capital for party money

Bureaucratus: God of the DMV

Chedarus, God of Cheese

Crimea: River, God (morose)

Diurnalspeech, the god of wishing you could be like John Scalzi so not being able to stop throwing spitballs at him in class

DubStep, god of wub

EasyToReadius: God of intercapitalization

Ephemeres, the god of deicide

epi: God of irrational number

Not to be confused with Epeen, god of irrational ego

Essspin: God of making money off of other people's athletic activity.

Fireflius: Goddess of TV shows killed before their time

Fokin-Skwrl: Goddess of Misplaced Persistence and Running Jokes

Foldimus: God of the busted flush

Forfendis doesn't care what your beliefs are, they are wrong. Repent.

Frank: god of people named Frank. #theresagodforthat

Fryicus, god of kickstarters

Furst: the holy spirit of those who speak before anyone else on Internet

Gargleflab- god of hangovers, regret, & cotton mouth

Geedubs: God of stealing and devouring things no one thought were edible

Gladys, the Goddess of Parking Spaces

Godhead, the god of synecdoche

Greader, god of the premature destruction of still-useful software

Gridlock: God of Governmental Inefficiency

Gridlock, cruel god of inner-city traffic

Grimsexy, the god of cyberpunk dystopias

Guliblotok: God of the easily decived. Not really a god, but some believe in him anyway.

Haertutortuz, God of people who speed up to pass you then slow down

Hashtagi: goddess of social media, graffiti, and the 20th of April

Heeshee: God/Goddess of gender neutral pronouns

Higher-Being-With-A-Self-Descriptive-Name-Designed-To-Not-Be-Offensive, God of Political Correctness

Hipsteronius: God of stuff too cool for you to understand

Hopesquick, the goddess of online dating

Hugger: for people who are forever alone #HasAHugeFollowing

Hyperbolus, BEST GOD EVER -- EVER!

iGodname<escape><escape>: God of vi

Imagod, deity of self-proclamation

Ironicus: The god of all atheists

Iscargo, God of merchant marines and strange food choices

Ism, God of Political Correctness

Justificanius: God of excuses

K: God of conversation killers

Kehk, The Starter With Five Faces (god of crowdfunding)

Kent Blivet, the Immortal Idol of Incredulous Interjections

Lalala, goddess of those who do not back up their data

Lisaberg: Goddess of grammatical pickiness

Lorraine: Goddess of all things fabulous

Ly: Goddess of Adverbs

Lye-Kra: god of middle aged cyclists

Lynnetruss, Patroness of Punctuation Pedantry

Mechawaii, the goddess of spunky Japanese schoolgirls who pilot giant military robots

Mememe: capricious, impossible to monetize goddess of things which go viral

Menageamonster, goddess of paranormal romance

Minas Bigar, god of penis wars

Misherd: Goddess of homonyms

Noteventrying, God of airline prices

Oblivia: goddess of people who walk or drive and play with their smartphone

Onomatopeus: Not actually a god, but sounds like one

Onyonia, goddess of ****ing good food smells that distract me from getting work done

Oontzoontz, the god of raves

Peebeear n'Baykan: God of hipsters

Pidei: God of Irrelevant Geek Celebrations

Pittha, goddess of physically impossible things that happen anyway, such as self-tangling stereo wires

Pixel: God of very small dots and Texas dogs

Polyadora: Goddess of Non-Monagamous Relationships

Positive Ideation Focus Figure, the god of political correctness

Press-On God of perserverance & fake nails

Procrain: god of laziness, and etc.

Raaarghwaah, the god of fake-nerd-girl rage

Raymondeer: God of disappointing book sales

Regex, god of smug awareness that you can do things more efficiently than most

Saint Brain Bleachia, who miraculously unsaw the heretical and obscene temptations of dreaded Baron Trente-Quatre

Self-insert (Godname): God of emacs

Sellowt: god of bands that you were into like last year before they went all fm radio mainstream and started sucking

Sermochorus, the god of DARE programs populated entirely by the kids who'd never touch drugs in a million years anyway

Skizzix: god of gross statistical improbability

Steptoo: god of monetization and vague, hand-wavy plans for profit

Taremyhareot: God of long-distance romance

Tautologosh, God of All Who Worship Tautologosh

The god Tautology who is a god! His first commandment is the commandment that is first.

Tealdeerhackenslash, the god of editors

Ted: God of intriguing yet ultimately vacuous things technocratic liberals like, and also of people named Ted

Tellusalie: Goddess of Politicians, Priests and Television News Anchors

Temple, the god of metonymy

Theravtorus, God of conspiracy theorists

Thompsonellis, the god of addiction to hypothetical drugs

Thrinticker: god/goddess of transient erotic obsessions

Thyngumjeg, god of, you know, wassit, forgetfulness, something like that...

Tomorrius: God of procrastination

Trendius: God of what's currently cool. Look it up on the Tumblr.

Twitterus = God of the Lost Hours

Ugo: God of praise, encouragement, and unwelcome house guests

UisgeBella: the god of it's time to stop typing

Upyose, God of Unspoken Replies to Authorities

Wasanme, god of passing the blame

Wasdove: Goddess of irregular verbs

Wavikal: God of Particle Physics

Whiskeylung, the god of writers

Wikilrie: Knowledge maidens and choosers of procrastination, delivering information to those who should be working

Writersquee: God of getting cover quotes from favorite writers

Xena: Goddess of sex-positive feminism

Your Mom: Goddess of sick burns

Zod, god of genuflection

<god name="Taggus">

$DEITY, god of shell scripting.

ʤ, the god of things nobody knows how to pronounce

And of course, we must not forget:

Brust, God of Procrastinating Authors

Monday, February 25, 2013

Author Interview: Patrick Matthews

Patrick Matthews is author of Dragon Run, a middle grade fantasy adventure that will hit bookstores on March 1. His stories have appeared previously in Of Dice and Pen, Six Words about Work, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings. In addition to writing, Pat develops software, is president of Live Oak Games, an award-winning game design company, and writes DaddyTales, the story of his real-life adventures in fatherhood, both online and as a weekly column for the Seminole Chronicle. Dragon Run, published by Scholastic, is his first novel.               

What inspired you to become a writer?

Growing up, I had three things that I love to do more than anything else: reading, playing, and adventuring. In fact, when I wasn't doing one of those things, it was a safe bet I was thinking about them. I loved the idea of being a part of that, of helping other people enjoy the things that I loved. So, after about two decades of being a software developer, I decided to get back to my first loves. I started a game company (Live Oak Games), and got back to my writing. Four books later, I managed to get one published! The adventuring I do as a hobby - and write into all my books.

What is your writing process? Do you prefer to plan carefully before writing, or just jump right in?

Kind of both. When I get an idea, I do what I call "the first 50." These are the first 50(ish) pages of the book, and they're written completely off the cuff. I throw myself into the story and just go. Once the first 50 are done, I go back and look to see what I've got. Is the story going anywhere? Are there enough thematic elements for the reader to chew on? Are the characters interesting and/or surprising? More importantly, am I energized to continue the story? Do I want to write the rest of the book? If the answers to all of those are yes, then I get serious. I flesh out the characters, decide on key plot points, and start looking at possible subplots. Often the book changes a lot during this period. At the end of it, I have a very rough outline that I write to, one that helps guide me, but which I'm still willing to change.

How did you come up with the ideas behind Dragon Run?

There are lots of ideas in there. Rather than tackle them all, I'll focus on the idea of being powerless. In my opinion, that's the key to the story. It's all about power: who has it, who doesn't, what they do with it, and what they do to get it.

My first 50 on Dragon Run were written from the point of view of a dragon (Lord Archovar). I couldn't get them to go anywhere, so I walked away from it. I came back about a year later, and wrote another first 50 from the point of view of Magister Lundi (a powerful mage). Once again, I couldn't go anywhere. I shelved the whole thing. Then, while I was working on another book, I found myself thinking about being powerless. Dragon Run immediately popped into my mind. What about writing the story of Dragon Run from the point of view of a boy who has absolutely no power at all? He has no magic. He has no stature. All he has is a sword that he doesn't fully know how to use. I dove back in, and the book practically wrote itself.

How long did you spend writing Dragon Run?

If you just count my last attempt, three months. If you count the two failed attempts prior to that, three years. The truth is somewhere between those two numbers. I never could have done it in three months if I hadn't spent three years thinking about it.

Tell us about your journey to get your book published.

When I first started writing children's books, I went to an SCBWI conference and had a publisher pick up my very first book. It was a chapter book about a giant wolf, and he absolutely loved the concept. I was thrilled and excited and couldn't wait to hear back from him. I didn't. After months of trying, I finally tracked him down and asked what the story was. He told me that while he liked the concept, I'd written a book that was so ridiculously scary that he could not publish it. Whoops.

After that initial bump, I settled into years of process. I focused on my craft. I worked with writing groups. I wrote and revised and wrote and revised and submitted and revised. Finally, I reached the point where Dragon Run was picked up. If there's one takeaway that I'd share from that experience, it's this: don't be discouraged by rejection. Instead, learn from it. I had a friend once tell me that if five agents don't want your book, there's probably a reason. It really flipped a switch for me. We all hear stories of authors who had hundreds of rejections. What we don't hear is that they probably went back and edited and learned and honed their craft after each rejection. At least, that's what I do.

In fact, I'm still doing it. During each pass of the editing process with Scholastic, I went back through each of my unpublished novels and applied the same edits and concepts.

What kinds of help have you gotten from others while writing and publishing your book?

Every kind of help imaginable, from voice to structure to character to encouragement. I'm a huge fan of the right kind of writing groups. By right kind, I mean those that manage to be both supportive and critical. Everyone is different. For me, having an immediate audience, one that is informed enough to point out my missteps and question my decisions, is invaluable. I'm currently in three different groups, each with their own specialty. One is a group of published children's book authors. Another focuses on science fiction and fantasy. The third is an eclectic collection of authors and poets who write everything from mysteries to poetry to literary fiction.

What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

"Stay Excited." I don't know where I read it, or who told it to me, but I think it's absolutely vital. You need to be excited about the piece you're working on. Even when you're ripping it apart, even when other people are ripping it apart, you need to keep your passion for the story.

You write a regular column called DaddyTales for the Seminole Chronicle and online, you design games for Live Oak Games, you develop software, and you write books and stories, all in addition to raising two kids. How do you find time to do it all? And what are your favorite parts about each?

My professional life is threefold: writing, game design, and software development. I love all three, and you're right: time management is my biggest challenge. I work out of my home, though, which saves a lot of time and gives me flexibility. I often work after the kids go to bed, for example, or steal time on the weekend if they're busy with something that doesn't involve me.

Favorite parts of each? For software, writing, and parenting, it's all the same: being in the moment. I love losing myself in what I'm doing, whether it's crafting a story, solving a knotty software problem, or laughing with the kids. For game design, it's a little more complicated. The payoff there comes during playtesting, when other people lose themselves in what I've created.

Do you have any more books in the works?

Absolutely! I'm almost always working on multiple books. That's one of the ways that I keep my own fires burning. If I get stumped on one book, I work on another one and give my self some breathing space on the first one.

To learn more about Pat Matthews, you can find him online at www.pat-matthews.com, or check out his book at www.dragon-run.com.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Twenty Titles

Whenever I can't think of something to write, or more often when I am avoiding working on my current WIP because I don't know what comes next, there is a certain exercise I like to do. I sit down with pen and paper and try to come up with as many interesting titles as I can. For most of these, I have only a title. I haven't the faintest idea what the story is about. On occasion, though, I have come up with a title I really love and batted it around until the story eventually revealed itself.

Here is my latest batch of titles. As far as I know, none of these have been used for books (checked on Amazon) but no guarantees. On the other hand, its not like the same titles don't get used again from time to time. If any of these titles speak to you, feel free to claim them. If not, I might get around to writing some of them one of these days.

Twenty Titles (some with annotations)

1. One Skull Short of a Thousand (I see this one as a thriller, but I don't write thrillers, so...)
2. Frequent Fireflyer
3. Hedgehog Salad (made FOR hedgehogs, not FROM them) (though, I suppose...)
4. The Missing Mountain
5. How to Sit on a Cactus
6. Porcupines and Beach Balls Don't Mix
7. Seventeen Shoes
8. I Swallowed an Alien
9. Laughing at Hyenas
10. My Imaginary Friend Hates Me (true story; sadly, it was mostly my fault)
11. The Rotten Apple Riot
12. The Broken Ocean
13. The Forgery Museum (I want to start one of these some day, think it would be cool)
14. The Biggest Pipsqueak in Town
15. Lemonade by Moonlight
16. The Dinosaur in My Closet
17. It's Only Breakfast, and I Have Cheese in My Pocket (I actually said this once, about 18 years ago - good times, good times)
18. Enthusiastic Blasphemy
19. The Deconstructor
20. Ostrich Orchestra

That's the 20. Now for some bonus titles.

Two I thought of, but which are already in use:

21. Baked Beans for Breakfast (1970)
22. Shards of Chaos (2012)

And two that popped into my mind, but which are not likely to ever be used for obvious reasons:

23. Hooway for Wodney Wombat
24. Fifty Shades of Puce

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Madman's Daughter

Based generally on the story of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, The Madman's Daughter introduces a new character into the mix, Dr. Moreau’s daughter Juliet, and tells the entire story from her point of view. Abandoned by her father when he fled London in disgrace, Juliet’s privileged life quickly crumbles, especially after the death of her mother. Several years later, she discovers that her father is not dead, as she had thought, but now lives on a remote island. Through sheer force of will, Juliet secures passage to the island, there to discover that her father has continued and expanded on the experiments that forced him out of England.

Megan Shepherd’s The Madman’s Daughter is a remarkable debut novel. The prose is beautifully constructed and executed. The settings and characters are vividly described without being overdone. The customs, technology, and language all appear to have been carefully researched, and are presented as part of the natural flow of the text, without excessive elaboration that would detract from the story. The plot contains both major and subtle twists that keep the reader engaged and trying to guess what might come next.

For me, the only thing I found overdone was Juliet’s repeated introspection over her fluctuating romantic feelings. But then, I have never been a fan of romance; I can easily see others enjoying those elements as well.  

The Madman’s Daughter is the first of a trilogy, but is complete in itself, and while it leaves the reader wanting more, it did not create for me any feeling of being cheated by leaving too many questions hanging.

Overall, an excellent book and highly recommended.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Five Rules for Twitter

Okay, I will be the first to admit that with just two weeks on Twitter I am quite the neophyte and still have a lot to learn. However, it did not take long for me to realize several important things that I think should be incredibly obvious to everyone but, based on what I see constantly, are not. Here are five guidelines that I personally wish everyone on Twitter would use:

1) Quality is much, much more important than quantity. If you tweet 100 times a day, I will not follow you, no matter who you are, your qualifications, or how much you might be able to help in getting me published. Chances are, if you are tweeting that much, you are probably guilty of violating my next point, too.

2) Don't constantly hock your wares, be it a book, website, lecture series, or whatever. Nothing turns me off faster than a person who sends out the same 4-5 tweets over and over again, with a link to his/her latest (and often only) book. I want news and other original information, and if I can't get it from you, I will check elsewhere. Sure, reposting things from time to time is fine, but once or twice a day is more than enough.

3) Your tweets should have value, and not just to you. If all of your tweets are self-promotional, I have no reason at all to read or follow them. Again, give me something that can help me, or off I go to follow those who will. Naturally, a lot of people tweet about what is happening in their lives, and while this is not necessarily "of value" to me career-wise, I often enjoy them simply for their entertainment value.

4) #Hashtags are your friends. They make it possible to find relevant posts from people you are not currently following. Using them well can make your tweets far more visible, but use them properly and sparingly. Using 3+ hashtags in a single tweet is an almost certain sign of off-topic spam, which I will immediately ignore.

5) If you want to follow me, wonderful. If you expect me to reciprocate, follow the guidelines above. I do not feel any obligation to follow people just because they follow me, nor should anyone else. If that means they decide not to follow me anymore, I can live with that.

That is all for now, except to say that, should you want to follow me, I can be found at @ajwyckoff.

Happy tweeting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: This Is Not a Test

There can be no question that Courtney Summers' latest YA novel, This Is Not a Test, is a zombie book, but it is zombie book where the zombies are barely seen.

This Is Not a Test concentrates on the social dynamics and gradual breakdown of a group of six teens trapped in their school. They are safe from the zombies, at least for the time being, but they have no way out. I found the characters to be unique, well-imagined, each with complex motives and backgrounds, all blending together to form a constantly changing matrix of interactions and alliances. The prose is excellent, with descriptive passages that were vivid but not overdone. There is quite a bit of introspection and less action that you might expect, but still more than enough plot twists to keeping the reader engaged throughout.

The story is told in first-person by Sloane, a girl who had no intention of going on living even before the zombies appeared, but who is unwilling to do anything to endanger the lives of the others. She finds herself faced by situation after situation that force her into surviving and persevering for their sake. The entire book carries a dark, depressing undertone, but as a zombie apocalypse book, I would be worried if it didn't.

If you are looking for a ton of zombie-slaughtering action, this is not the book for you. But if you want a well-crafted, imaginative, and believable story, this is it. Overall an excellent read, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Write, write, write!

One of the best pieces of advice that I can give is to write every single day. I can't take credit for that advice - many, many authors have been saying the same thing for years. My experiences, both those times when I do write daily and those where I don't, have firmly convinced me that daily writing is essential to becoming a good writer.

I can see the questions and objections running through your mind. Why do I need to write every day? How can I find the time? What can I possibly find to write about? And what happens if I really, really need to skip a day? Here are my answers.

Why write every day? There is one and only one good way to get better at anything: practice. You need to practice writing (I know I sure as heck do). The more often you practice, and the more consistently you practice, the better you will be. Imagine a football team that only practices once a week. How good would they be? The same applies to writing. Without daily writing, you are not going to get better very quickly, if at all.

How can I find the time? The answer is you don't find the time, you make the time. You have to set priorities, and writing should be one of them. This does not mean that you let other important things go--we pretty much all have day jobs--but you do need to figure out where writing will fit into your life. If you can, set aside the same time every day to write. You do not need to spend hours writing every day, but try for at least 10-15 minutes.

What should I write about? The answer is: anything. And I really mean anything. You don't always have to be writing a story or poem. Write a diary entry. Practice writing descriptions by describing your friends or your house. Write a letter to your mother telling her what you have been up to lately (it's good writing practice, and she would love to hear from you). Write a guest post for a blog that could really use more content, but whose author can't always come up with good ideas (hint, hint). Write anything you want; just write.

And what happens if you have to skip a day? Skip a day. Yes, you should write every day if you can, but it won't be terrible if you have to miss one day. The important thing is, try not to skip more than one day a week, and never skip two days in a row. Once you start missing days, it is very easy to keep missing them. Pretty soon, you are not writing at all. So, skip a day if you have to, but not more than one.

Now, it's time to practice. Choose something to write about, and for the next ten minutes do nothing but write.

(No ideas coming to mind? Write a story that ends with the line: And that's how the cow ended up on the roof.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not just for book nerds

I just ran across the Nerdy Book Club blog this evening, and I already love it. The best feature, in my opinion at least, is that the site is a group blog with a diverse set of authors posting on a range of subjects. Recent posts include book reviews, insight into the Newbery selection process from someone who has actually served on the selection committee, urban fiction top picks, and one post on why reading is dumb (at least, until it isn't any more). The end of December also saw several lists of best books of 2012, which, as someone who did not have time to read all, or even a particularly large chunk, of the books that came out last year, I find quite helpful. Overall, I like what I have seen of the site and definitely recommend it.