Fortune Favours The Bold — some guy Aristotle taught

I got into a discussion today about why characters have to be empathetic, if not likeable. And the guy I was talking to said he would rather try to break the rule than play it safe. It made me think of Alexander’s quote. I also spent some time talking about the Donner party and marvelling over how many times they were told to turn back. At each point they could have, half the party turned back and went the long route. Some looked at the first mountain range they had to cross, some of them were told by a rider who had just taken the pass and the guy who said the path existed told them twice, once in writing, once in person to go the long way. Each time, more people turned back until it was just a handful of families.

Every wagon that went the long way around that year made it to their destination but the Donner Party. If fortune favours the bold and the well educated, failure favours the foolhearty.

Don’t save the cat. But don’t kill it, ironically or otherwise.

We went to go see Kubo and the Two Strings and it was beautifully done, but yet another “kids'” movie with terrifying moments that all the “kids'” movies are hip to. For a while there in the 90’s through to the early 2010’s the most physical contact you could have with the baddies was hugging it out. Now we’re back to death and dismemberment, but instead of 80’s beta tapes we have in HD detail. It wasn’t gratuitous, but there were a lot more toddler-sized kids in the audience than we expected

The movie was awesome. I took a comparative literature course in my second year that dealt with pre-confederation Canadian literature, and all the French books boiled down to “fuck the English” and all the English books boiled down to “Damn, winter’s cold”, most Japanese stories boil down to “life is fleeting”.

The art design should clean up the Oscars if there’s anything right and just in this world. I didn’t appreciate the one nisei guy (first foreign-born child of Japanese immigrants–in this case, George Takei) getting fourth billing, but I laughed at several places,  alone in my mirth in the theatre. When death came, the screen faded to white. The first time it happened, I thought, huh, that’s an interesting choice, but the second time it was like oh, right. Death in Japan is associated with white, not black. It was very southern Japan, though. I lived in northern Japan, and regionally, it’s as different as the east and west coasts of Canada, if not more so.

Take a look…

And even without seeing it, you could feel the beats of the story. For every up beat, there’s a downturn. Every easy looking path turns into an almost unpassable trail, and I blame Save the Cat 100%.

Save the Cat might have been great for 90’s buddy-cop movies (Like in Lethal Weapon…2? Where they *actually* saved a cat? I’d go back and rewatch but Mel Gibson literally makes me ill now) but it’s been thirty years since cats have been saved. We’ve seen every combination and permutation of it done honestly, aware, on the nose, ironically. The cat is probably as sick of it as we are. When your audience members know the beats of your story as well as you do, it leaves nothing amazing. It’s like going to a haunted house, knowing where the jump-scares are going to come from.

So leave the cat alone. I know this means someone else is coming up with a new formula and eventually in 30 years or so I’ll be saying don’t eat the banana, but at least I’ll have 20+ years of the permutations of that method to get tired of.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t without its flaws, but it was interesting and engaging for older kids and adults. One day we’re going to look back at our casting choices in the future and roll our eyes. And the stop motion art was breathtaking. Take a glimpse behind the scenes. Sugoi!

The gluten-free pancake recipe that makes you forget it’s gluten-free

Tragedy usually strikes when you’re craving pancakes and you have just enough milk for coffee in the morning. Sacrifices are made and regret steams out of no matter what you had to settle for.

But we had a can of coconut, so I was feeling pretty confident about my choices when Elisabeth came home for lunch and the pizza that she had been planning on having for lunch somehow disappeared in the past 36 hours. But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, I offered to make the pancakes gluten-free, making what I thought was going to be a full circle massive compromise. Instead, I may have to change my 32 year old pancake recipe.

Wet ingredients:

4 duck eggs or 5 chicken eggs

1 can coconut milk

2-4 tbs brown sugar or to taste (if you can find coconut sugar use it here)

1-2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon

dry ingredients

2 cups flour (I used 50% bob’s 1:1 and 50% of some featherlight mix I had (50% rice and 50% tapioca starch, but I would use all 1:1 the next time)

1/4 tsp salt

2 heaping teaspoons baking powder

Directions are pretty simple, mix wet with wet and dry to dry.  There’s no gluten in the batter so mix well. Cook on medium heat on a grill or frying pan until the edges are dry and the bubbles in the centre of the pancakes pop and don’t fill back in. The other side cooks in half the time.

Immediately serve to the person you love. Everyone else can hope you remembered to preheat the oven.

Between the coconut milk and the cinnamon, these are fantastic. I had completely forgotten they were gluten-free. My old recipe is for the big fluffy pancake. These are much more crepe-y, even with the leavening. I’d make these again in a heartbeat even if I had enough milk for pancakes and coffee.


Coffeeshop panna cotta — easy and amazing

Panna cotta is one of those things that looks wickedly difficult and fancy but really is one of the simplest desserts out there and cheating even more by getting the base at your favourite coffee shop makes it even easier. Panna cotta is so simple that if you’re comfortable working with gelatine, it’s just bloom, heat and mix well.

The hardest part of making a panna cotta is making the flavourful base, but you can cheat here and just go to your favourite coffeeshop (mine’s Cuppers here in Lethbridge) and ordering your favourite drink. There are a few extra steps — ask for it extra sweet and a breve (brev-ah). That means they’ll use cream instead of milk. If they have 18%, that’s ideal. Most recipes call for a cup of heavy cream and a cup of milk, and that balances that out. Purists may have a heart attack, but with the small serving size, you probably won’t.

Personally, I like a large, cold, extra sweet decaf white chocolate breve with no ice for this, but you do you. I get both the syrup and the powdered chocolate added, and to make it mix, they usually have to blend it a bit. They may charge you for extra dairy for the cream and the extra syrup, but that one cup can make six servings, so it’s still a great value. You can always swap out dairy for soy or coconut milk, but it won’t be so mouth pleasing.

Try not to sip it on the way home. The base is very, very rich. You can use 1 package of gelatine to a twenty ounce drink. Pour out 1/2 a cup of the liquid into a microwave safe bowl and sprinkle your gelatin over the surface. It will take 5 minutes to bloom, so while you’re doing that, heat up the drink on the stove or microwave while you’re waiting. Don’t let it boil, but it should be hot. Nuke the bloomed gelatin for 30 seconds in the microwave and then add it to the hot liquid. You know your gelatin is melted when you rub the liquid between your fingers and can’t feel graininess. This is the only really difficult step. You should stir until it’s completely combined. If you don’t like the way jello can sometimes separate into two different densities, it’s because the crystals weren’t completely melted.

For easier pouring, a measuring cup allows more control. You can get super fancy here; try putting glasses at an angle into muffin tins if you want it slanted in the finished cup or pour into fancy glasses. This is traditionally served in a ramekin — just pop into hot water for a few seconds and invert it onto a plate. Fresh fruit, whether whole or in sauces go really well with a good vanilla base. You can dress this up or down. Whatever you do, let it set completely up, overnight if at all possible.

There’s so much you can do to this. You can use the coffee as half the base and make up your own flavours. Melt chocolate into light cream to make it less of a coffee flavoured base. Starbucks makes you a breve with heavy cream, which will allow you to add 50% of the base as coffee shots. Bringing home espresso and add condensed milk for vietnamese panna cotta coffee. Add gelatine to sweetened espresso on its own to make a rich, dark layer on top.

Cinnamon Buns with Fireball Icing

Photo 2016-06-12, 1 25 51 PM
We went out for brunch today for our friend Ashley’s monthly potluck. Normally I make waffles because they’re easy, but last night, despite how busy we’d been, I decided to make cinnamon buns. I divided the buns up a bit for baking, partly to leave a few at home, and partly because they didn’t all fit in the big baking dish. The picture is of the small pan left at home, pre-icing.

First make an enriched dough.


  • 30 ounces of flour (I use AP)
  • 10-11 ounces of bottled or water that has sat out for an hour (to declorinate it)
  • 1-2 cups of sourdough starter (if you don’t have starter, you can plan on making your dough 2-3 days before hand and let rest in the fridge. It won’t be a perfect match, but it will have a lot more depth of flavour)
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter


  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon

Fireball Icing:

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoon Fireball Whiskey

Mix everything for the dough together. Add as little water as you can get away with. The dough should be shaggy. I’ve made this as no knead dough multiple times, but I needed it to be ready for the morning so I put 2/3 of the dough my stand mixer to knead for seven minutes. I let it rise for 2 hours, then patted it out into a rectangle on a cookie sheet that had a greased piece of parchment on it. I greased the top as well with the last of the melted butter, put another sheet of parchment on top of it, covered it with a tea towel, and put the sheet in the fridge.

This morning I mixed up 1/4 cup of butter with the same amount of brown and white sugar, added a 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon and spread it out onto the dough. Chilled, it was a lot easier to work with. Rolling it up was a breeze. I cut into 1 1/2 inch buns, laid them out in a parchment lined baking dish and let them rise for an hour on the counter. I preheated the oven when the hour was up, so all in they had about 80 minutes rising. They baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

We didn’t have cream cheese, but we had heavy cream and fireball whiskey. So I mixed 1 heaping cup of icing sugar with 1/4 cup of cream, a splash of vanilla, and then 2 tablespoons of Fireball. I’m sure I could have doubled the amount of whiskey and they would have been fine, but I probably would have scaled back on the cream somewhat to keep the icing from being too runny.

They were amazing. Soft, fluffy, and rich. The icing was amazing. A little sharp and yet still creamy. The sourdough wasn’t just there for the yeast, it provided a depth of flavour that just yeast can’t provide. The enriched dough can sit in your fridge for up to a week, and each day it will be better for the extra time. I couldn’t plan anything five days in advance, though, so there is so much richness in the dough the extra time or starter isn’t necessary. This made thirteen huge buns and an extra little loaf, and the eight that went along to brunch with us did not last!

Quality vs. Quantity

I got into an argument today over how much a writer *should* write in a day.

The idea that there is any set amount a writer should write is just ridiculous. I’ve read so many books by newbie authors where it was obvious that they had religiously wrote every. Single. Day. whether they felt like it or not.

Writing isn’t like walking to the next town over. When you walk, every step counts. When you write, every word doesn’t. If you write 2000 words every day, you’ll have a book finished in a month and a half. If you haven’t given those words enough thought, there’s a big risk that of those 100,000 words, only 25,000 of them count as steps towards your goal.

When I read unpublished fiction, there is nothing worse than words that don’t have a point. I would take an interesting story that has been put through Google Translate to and from Armenian than a story that is not bad. Bad writing has a charm to it as you are left wondering what ridiculous analogy or purple phrase the writer is going to write next. I’ve scanned books looking forward to see what word the author will use instead of “said”.

But writing that looks polished but says absolutely nothing? I’d rather shoot myself in the foot. There’s such a huge difference between not bad and good. Writing that isn’t bad has a long, long way to go before it ever hits good, and good writing has a long way to go before it hits great.

Just because you’ve written a 100,000 words, doesn’t mean you’ve written a novel yet. I once cut 40,000 words of a novel because I’d written myself into a corner and couldn’t get myself out. It was like cutting off my foot. And as much as I liked the final product, it still was just a practice novel.

Having a short story stretched out to a novel still isn’t the kiss of death. The second draft is where you take all the problems of the first draft and smooth them out. When I was first starting out I thought that writers who rewrote drafts without referring back to their original drafts were mad, but after I tried it a few times, I really saw how useful the technique is.

There are a lot of changes you can make in the original draft. You can edit characters in and out, you can add a significant event or cut it out, but one of the things you can’t change once the story is on the page is your point of view character’s motives. Anything that is tangible can be cut out or sewn in, but intangible things, like a character’s motive or what’s at stake is going to affect every single sentence.

There are a million writers out there writing in your genre, but the only competition out there is yourself. Writing isn’t a lottery that you win by getting your book selected, it’s the culmination of all your hard work. If one publishing house doesn’t recognize the value of your work, another one will. Good story telling only competes with itself.

And if you’re not willing to put in the work, up to and including rewriting the whole story or abandoning the whole project as time well spent, but not worth the time and effort to fix all that is wrong with it, the next person will. Nothing is more heartbreaking than watching a writer write their first book and then throw a decade behind trying to get that book published instead of accepting it as what it is and going on with the next story in their heads.

Writing needs craft as much, if not more, than it needs talent. Whether a first draft takes you ten years or two weeks, it’s going to need to be tightened. The old saying, you have good, fast and lots, pick two is only half right. You only get two, but even if you’re cursed like I was at having lots and fast, you can still make it good, it just takes more time.

And time, as an unpublished writer, is the one thing you have lots at. The only person standing in the way between you and publication is you, and not as your evil twin

Though if you do have an evil twin, that’s awesome.

What do your characters want?

When I was first starting out, I had a few leg ups. One was, by the time I was sixteen, I was talking to writers who were already published. When I talked about my stuff, my mentors always made sure I kept what the main character wanted first and foremost in the scene.

I’ll admit, when I started out, I didn’t understand why it was important to have the main character want anything at all other than to keep everything exactly what it was in the beginning. I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it as maintaining the status quo, but that was exactly what it was. All my stories were something bad had happened, and the main character’s job was to go out, deal with the big evil, and come back to his home where everything would go back to the way it was.

Obviously, I was unpublished for a very long time. The hero’s journey specifically says that the hero can never go home again. Frodo, upon return to the shire, was miserably unhappy. Luke had evolved far too much to go back to being a moisture farmer. Any story is defined by the length of time it takes for the main character to change, whether it be a short story, a novella or a four book and growing book about a fae king and the people who love him, all stories focus on one character’s change.

In The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons, I was highly aware of making the tension of the piece not be “will Cy be able to go back into the relationship he’s had with Patrick these past five years,” but “will he be able to change enough to turn the fly-by-night relationship that they’ve been stringing along into something bigger and better than the both of them?”

Your character should want something more than just being afraid of change. The writing I wrote as a teenager revolved around the fear of leaving the house wrapped up in the inability teenagers have to plot their own course through life quite yet. As an adult, we have a thousand more wants and needs. Maintaining the status quo is the bare minimum amount of effort that can be called from an individual, in real life or in fiction. In real life, you should always be trying to learn something new.

In fiction, your characters should be shooting for the moon.

Only evil people in an evil world would want to maintain things they way they are. Everyone else should be at least trying to make things better.